Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Thrill of Putting Names to Faces: Identifying Old Photos

Last summer I did a lot of housecleaning at my Dad's house to convert a storage room into his bedroom, so he'd be free of using steps to get to his bedroom. The reward to that huge job was that I found many large, framed family photographs in one of his pieces of furniture. I was able to recognize my Dad's parents in many of the old photos, but there were a few that stumped me. I carried the large pictures that were matted and framed under glass, to his room at the nursing home where he was residing at that time, and I asked if he could identify the people. He told me he didn't know who they were, but was sure they were friends of his parents, since it was customary to exchange family portraits with friends in the early 1900s.

My dad's ancestors were Germany residents until the mid-1700s, when they emigrated to the Volga region of Russia. Then in 1886 my Dad's father's family, Jacob and Katie Margheim, immigrated to the United States. And in 1904 my dad's mother, her parents George and Katie Koleber, and two older brothers George Jr. and Daniel immigrated through Ellis Island into the United States.

A few months ago I joined a group on Facebook called "Volga Germans" and posted the unidentified photos on their "wall", hoping someone would recognize someone in the pictures and help with my identification.

Since my dad is now living in his home again, I spent some time last Saturday showing him those photos and introducing him to more features on Facebook. When I brought up the first photo, Dad said "I know who that lady is, that's Mrs. Schwein." I wasn't quite ready to do the happy dance but his comment sure put a smile on my face! The young woman was posing along with her family, whose names I didn't know. But at least I had the first clue---the daughter married a man in the Schwein family. Dad then gave me a second clue...she had a son who had married Millie, the sister of "Coonie" Wilhelm. Now "Coonie" is a nickname for Conrad Wilhelm, and I knew that he was married to my Grandpa John Margheim's sister, Mary. If you're not a genealogist, you might think that's a rather convoluted connection, but if you've spent as many hours studying this subject as I have, it will make perfect sense to you!

My first task was to look again at the siblings of "Coonie" Wilhelm and see if I could positively identify Millie. I found that Conrad had a sister named Amelia. I looked at census images on and found a Schwein family, also living where my dad's parents were living in Hoisington, Barton County, Kansas. I wrote down the household listing and showed it to Dad, and as he recognized names in the household, he confirmed that I had the right Schwein family. Amelia Wilhelm had married Emanuel Schwein. I found that information in an obituary listing for their daughter Irene F. (Schwein) Trageser that had been published in the Osawatomie Graphic, 31 Dec. 2008! The short obituary listing said Irene was the daughter of Emanuel and Amelia Wilhelm Schwein. Lucky me!

So my next search was for the parents of Emanuel Schwein. I found the household listed in the 1920 census (on for Wheatland, Barton Co, Kansas and found his parents to be Henry and Hanna. Incidentally, I made a note of the family living next door: Jacob Maier, wife Mary and 3 children. Okay.....Dad said Emanuel Schwein married Amelia Wilhelm and that Emanuel's mother was one of the daughters in the unidentifed photo that started this whole search. This find on Ancestry of the census listing for Emanuel's parents told me her name was Hanna! I'm really getting somewhere!

I did a Google search for "Henry and Hanna Schwein". I found an obituary listing for Elise E. Schwein. Elsie had been listed as one of the members of the Henry and Hannah Schwein household in that 1920 census image. In the obituary notice, it said Elise E. Schwein was the daughter of Henry and Johanna Maier Schwein. Johanna's ("Hanna") maiden name was MAIER! How happy I am when I see obituaries that list full names of family members, along with maiden names! Too many times these days that information is omitted from obituaries!
Now my task was to uncover the identity of Hanna Maier's parents, so I'd know who this family was. Back to I found a 1900 Census listing in Lincoln, Russell County, Kansas for a Hannah Maier, born March 1884. I knew from previous research that my grandparents lived in Russell County, so it was reasonable that I had the right family in this location. The listing revealed the father and mother as Jacob, born April 1849 and Mary E., born 1850.

At this point I made a trip to my dad's house Tuesday noon and with great eagerness exclaimed that the man and woman in this photo above were Jacob and Mary E. Maier. He was surprised that I'd discovered this much just from the clue that their daughter was married to his Uncle Coonie's sister!

As I sat at home Tuesday evening, I couldn't stop thinking about this family. I started wondering who Mary E. (Mrs. Jacob) Maier was...what was HER maiden name. You genealogists know that the hunt just continues---there's no place to stop! I was still wondering why my grandparents had this beautiful large family portrait. Back to Google!

Again, an obituary held the answer to what I was looking for. An obituary listing for their son Jacob Jr. said he was the son of Jacob and Mary Elisabeth (Koleber) Maier. I was almost in shock! I ran to the telephone at 9:30 pm Tuesday night to tell my dad that Mary Maier's maiden name was KOLEBER. That's the maiden name of my dad's mother and my grandmother Amalia "Mollie" Koleber Margheim! Now it became more clear why my grandparents were in possession of this big beautiful family portrait. And I was excited that I was in possession of this portrait of a family who were my relatives! From the census I saw that Mary Elisabeth was born about 1850. My grandmother was born in 1902, so I knew this lady was too old to be a sister of my great-grandfather George Koleber. By checking my database, I saw that my great-grandfather was born in 1874, still too young to be a brother of this Mary E. Koleber Maier.

It was late Tuesday evening but I knew I had more hunting to do before I'd be able to go to sleep. And I knew that there was quite an extensive listing of Kolebers and their related families online at By searching this site I found this: Johann Heinrich Koleber and his first wife Maria Katharina Huck are my 3rd great grandparents. After Maria K. Huck Koleber died, Johann Heinrich married Maria Katharina Mai and had a daughter Maria Elisabeth Koleber, whose second husband was Georg Jacob Maier. So the mother of this family in the portrait is my great, great, grandaunt! These is not just a portrait of friends of my grandparents, like Dad and I originally thought. Jacob and Mary Koleber Maier were born in 1849....160 years ago. What a treasure it is to have this family portrait! And what a thrill it is to now know who this family is!

I made another wonderful identification for an unknown portrait from this family searching, but I'll write about that in my next post. So check back soon!

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