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Uncle Anton Ostlander

Here’s the back story: I was recently contacted by the wife of a DNA match to my husband (got that?). She is in England but her husband (who sadly recently passed away) had a German mother. She had found a connection to one of my husband’s family names and the DNA showed a 4th-6th cousin match. It prompted me to work on my husband’s German family lines which I have long neglected.

My husband was born in Karlsruhe, Germany. His mother was German and his father was an American soldier (that’s ANOTHER story!).

My mother-in-law was a teenager in Karlsruhe, Germany during World War II and you can imagine the stories that she had to tell. One on my memories is her story about taking shelter across the street in a neighbor’s house during an enemy attack. (I can’t imagine!) Her aunt realized that she had left her purse behind. The aunt’s husband ran back to retrieve the purse. In the process, he was killed in the street by a strafer.

Fast forward to my research 94 years later. I am lucky that there are a lot of records online at Ancestry for Karlsruhe. Unfortunately, they are all in German. I know just enough German to understand that I’m looking at a birth, death or marriage record, the date and whether it’s a man or woman. The other details are lost to me. I found a number of family records for the time period, one of a family member in the military who died in Belgium and I spent some time on Google Translate to understand the details of that record. It was clear that he had died in the service of his country – noting what military unit he was in, etc. Then I found a death record for Anton Ostländer, my mother-in-law’s uncle.

Death of Anton Ostlander certificate

It is easy enough to see that he died on 3 September 1942, lived at 27 Lamey Street but died at 2 Lamey Street at 6:50. He was 50 years old. We can see where and when he was born, the names of his parents (Vater and Mutter) and his wife’s name, Karoline with the maiden name Hauss. Below that is a line that roughly translates that written registration of the death was reported by “des Polizei-präsidenten in Karlsruhe” translating to “of the police president [chief] in Karlsruhe.” My final question on this record was the line “Tordesurfache” or “cause of death.” “Durch Feindeinwurkung”  translates to “by enemy action.” I’m pretty sure that I found the Uncle who died because he went back to get his wife’s purse.


Jock Tobias and the South African Diamond Mines

Family  stories that are passed down can be a little skewed or outright embellished. I remember my father telling the story of his great-uncle Jock Tobias – brother to his paternal grandmother. He told me how Jock moved from Scotland to work in the diamond mines in South Africa and often brought back diamonds for my grandmother. I searched in vain for many years for Jock Tobias (and WHERE ARE THOSE DIAMONDS?).

Fast forward to my research and confirmation from my aunt. Jock Tobias was actually John Turbyne (although Jock may have been a nickname – we’ll probably never know). He and his wife did move to and live in South Africa. Every record that I could find says that John Turbyne was a woodworker or joiner. Perhaps he was employed in the diamond mines of South Africa – did they use woodworkers to shore up the ceilings as they dug? Perhaps.

John and his wife had no children. They visited his sister in New York several times traveling through Ellis Island. After a long career in South Africa, John and his wife Jessie boarded the Warwick Castle in Capetown South Africa headed to Southampton, England and retirement at 53 Princess Street, Dundee, Scotland. Seven days out from Southampton, John died on board the ship of congestive heart failure. His obituary states that he was buried at sea. He never made it home.

Death of John Turbyne aboard ship highlighted with arrow cropped


Family in an Indian Massacre (Warning Some Graphic Content)

Considered to be one of the worst massacres of colonial times, The Candlemas Massacre, also known as the Raid on York, took place on 24 January 1692 during King William’s War. 325 years ago, in the early morning hours, 200-300 Abenaki Indians led by Chief Madockawando and the Catholic missionary Father Louis-Pierre Thury, raided and burned the settlement of York, Maine. By most accounts the majority of the houses were burned to the ground, leaving only four garrisons standing. Fifty to eighty residents were murdered and approximately another hundred were forced to march to Canada, on foot, a trek of over 300 miles. Many died along the way.

A number of my ancestors and relatives were among the dead or captured. My 9x great grandfather, Nathaniel Preble and 9x great grand uncle, John Preble were listed among the dead.

Taken captive were Mrs. Priscilla Preble (wife of Nathaniel), my 9x great grandmother, Obadiah and Benjamin Preble, both 8x great grand uncles, Mrs. Mary (Rishworth)(Sayward) Plaisted, my 9x great grandmother and two 8x great grand aunts, Mary and Esther Sayward.

Mrs. Priscilla Preble, now a widow, was redeemed from Canada in 1695, when she returned to York and married Joseph Carroll. No further record of her sons Obadiah and Benjamin have been found.

Warning: Graphic content ahead

Cotton Mather in his Magnalia Christi Americana or the Ecclesiastical History of New England, Volume II Book VII, “Decennium Lucuossum, or a History of Remarkable Occurances, in the War which New-England had with Indian Salvages [sic], from the year 1688 to the year 1698” wrote about the massacre:

“Mary Plaisted, the wife of Mr. James Plaisted, was made a captive by the Indians about three weeks after her delivery of a male child. They then took her, with her infant, off her bed, and forced her to travel in this her weakness the best part of a day, without any respect of pity. At night the cold ground in the open air was her lodging; and for many a day she had no nourishment, but a little water with a little bears-flesh; which rendred her so feeble, that she with her infant were not far from totally starved. Upon her cries to God, there was at length some supply sent in by her master’s taking a Moose, the broth whereof recovered her. But she must now travel many days thro’ woods, and swamps, and rocks, and over mountains, and frost and snow, until she could stir no farther. Sitting down to rest, she was not able to rise, until her diabolical master helped her up; which when he did, he took her child from her, and carried it unto a river, where, stripping it of the few rags it had, he took it by the heels, and against a tree dashed out his brains, and then flung it into the river. So he returned unto the miserable mother, telling her, “she was now eased of her burden, and must walk faster than she did before.”

Signature of Mary Rishworth Sayward Plaisted upon baptism during captivity from Banks' History of York

From Charles Edward Banks’ “History of York Maine, Volume 1”

Mary was taken to Montréal where she was baptized in the Catholic church. Her signature appears in the Baptismal Register. She was ransomed by Matthew Cary and returned home more than 3 years later in October 1695. Her daughters, Mary and Esther, did not return from Canada. Mary was placed in a Catholic Nunnery and resided at the Congregation Notre Dame and was known as “Sister des Anges.” She died in 1717 and was buried in Montreal. Esther remained in Canada, was naturalized in 1710 and in 1712 married Sieur Pierre de Lestage.

Surprises in a Military Record!

Years ago I ordered my grandfather’s World War I naval record from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. I doubted that there would be much of interest except for perhaps a  medical record and his rank and duties during the war (much of which I already knew). I was SO wrong. Right in the middle of the 50 page document were three progressively nasty letters from his soon to be ex-wife and a drama that unfolded page by page. The first was dated February 11, 1918 complaining that he had left her and had not given her any support since December of 1917.


On March 1st she sent another letter to the Secretary of War reporting that she had flags that her husband had taken off of one of the ships that he worked on and that he had come to retrieve them and she didn’t give them to him. [When the US entered the war in 1917 several German ocean liners were caught on this side of the Atlantic, commandeered and refitted as troop transport ships. My grandfather worked as an electrician to refit these German ships.] She said he threatened to make trouble for her and that he “forbid the Navy Department to give me my money.”

On March 4th she wrote another letter in response to the Navy’s letter requesting more information so that they could identify her husband, again asking what she should do with the German flags that he had taken off the “Aughtenfelt [Ockenfels] – the first boat he worked on.” She also mentions that he also took a “coniator [?] and a Broneator [perhaps brominator?].” It appears that she was slyly trying to make trouble for him.

By March 22nd the Navy had found my grandfather among the ranks of the ship USS America and sent a letter to him through his commander.


My grandfather’s reply (clearly written by a lawyer) was priceless.


And it was accompanied by a character reference from the local Deputy Sheriff.


The Navy, in their infinite wisdom, washed their hands of the matter.



Warrant Gunner Clyde Colon Pendleton

Two morals to the story:

1. Run, don’t walk, to get your ancestor’s military record.

2. Don’t commit adultery.

The Home of Henry Willard

My 8x great-grandfather was Henry Willard. He was the son of Simon Willard who emigrated from Horsmonden, Kent County, England. Born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1655, Henry built this home at Still River (Harvard), Massachusetts in 1687. The house still stands at 259 Still River Road, which is Route 110, in Still River, which is part of Harvard, Massachusetts.


This photo is taken from the book from the book “Heroic Willards of ’76; life and times of Captain Reuben Willard of Fitchburg, Mass., and his lineal descendants, from 1775 to date; profusely embellished with authentic portraits not heretofore available; register of Willards in the revolution, and other wars, chronology of the George Willards” by Phelps, James Andrew, b. 1835

My surprise in finding this photo? I grew up in Harvard, Massachusetts. How many times did I pass this house not knowing that it was built by my 8x great-grandfather?


A Slave Owner in the Family

My 8x great grandfather owned slaves. It is not something I am happy about, but it is a fact that I cannot change.

Some facts about him:

He arrived along the New England coast in the mid 1670’s, originally from England, coming by way of Newfoundland. As part of the fishing industry he ended up in Kittery (Maine) and there amassed a small fortune along with his son, Sir William Pepperrell, building a fishing and merchant fleet of 17 or 18 ships. His ships sailed all over the world carrying timber, fish, salt, sugar and rum.

Willam Pepperrell from Messrs. William Pepperrell cropped

He was Colonel William Pepperrell. He served as a Colonel in the militia during the Indian Wars. His home served as a Garrison House during those wars. It still stands today at the corner of Pepperrell Road and Bellamy Lane in Kittery. (The original house is on the right, the addition was added later.)

William Pepperrell House

When I found his will I was shocked and saddened to find three slaves. (He referred to them as “servants.”)

  • “I also give to my said Daughter Dorathy Watkins her Heirs & Assigns my Negro Man servant Named George . . .And I do hereby order that if the said negro Servant do faithfully & truly Serve untill he Shall come to the age of Forty years that then he shall have his Discharge Liberty & Freedom given him.”
  • “I give unto my Molatto man servant named Toby his Discharge Liberty & Freedom at one Years end next after my Decease on the Condition that he behave himselfe a true & Faithful Servant until that Time.”
  • “I give unto my Negro man servant Named Scipio his Discharge Liberty & Freedom when he shall be Forty years old Provided & on condition that he truly & faithfully serve until that Time.”

I had to wonder, given his profession, if William had participated in the slave trade. Much of the correspondence from the Pepperrell business still exists, including receipts and bills of lading. From the book Messrs. William Pepperrell : Merchants at Piscataqua by Byron Fairchild, I found the following information regarding their business in Barbados:

“In 1719, . . .[Benjamin] Bullard shipped the Pepperrells a consignment of rum and five Negro slaves. It may be that on other occasions also they engaged in the slave traffic, on a similar scale, for one item in the St. Domingue accounts of the younger William and his brother-in-law, Benjamin Clarke, seems to cover the sale of a Negro slave. But slave dealing was an insignificant feature of their business. They doubtless had no great scruples against the trade, for they themselves were slaveowners; that they refrained because of the perishable nature of the cargo is more likely, since four of the five slaves shipped by Bullard died at sea and the other did not long survive the voyage.”

“Perishable nature of the cargo” is the statement that stays with me from this excerpt – humans as cargo, but I’m glad it was an “insignificant feature of their business.”

To George, Toby and Scipio – I hope you were treated well.

William is buried in a tomb across Pepperrell Road not far from his home.

William Pepperrell Tomb



A Love Story Interrupted by War

While my mother was attending the New England School of Art, during World War II, she worked for a dressmaking firm called Miller and Levine on Newbury Street in Boston. Bernard Levine had emigrated from Stalbonov, Russia in 1924 and had founded the firm in 1940. They made dresses for stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor. My mother drew their newspaper ads and dressed their windows. She had seen her fiance go off to fight the Germans in September of 1944. They had met in high school when she asked him to a Sadie Hawkins Dance. In December of that same year her mother-in-law-to-be received a telegram: Your son is missing in action and presumed dead.

Newspaper Article Wm Millar MIA

And so she had lost her fiance. Or so she thought. Fast forward to June of 1945, shortly after her graduation from art school. The story is that one day my mother was dressing a store window when she saw a soldier walking toward her across the Boston Public Garden. She must have thought she was seeing a ghost, when she realized it was her fiance returning from war. He had been shot and captured and had spent more than 5 months in a German POW camp. Communication at that time was not what it is today! Mr. Levine kindly gave my mother the rest of the day off to be with her soldier.

And THAT is the story that I remember being told, of how my parents were reunited after he had been presumed dead.

Family Treasures – You Never Know What You’re Going to Find!

After my recent success with a family Bible (see my Blog post about that here: I thought I’d revisit some of the family heirlooms that have somehow ended up with me.

I found a treasure. Can you tell what it is?

File Jul 04, 6 01 02 PM

Here’s a hint:

Army Issued New Testament

William K. Millar was my Dad.

One more hint:

Bible - Roosevelt

Now you know what it is. The best part was the page that I found folded and tucked inside, which appears to have been ripped out of a magazine, (maybe Reader’s Digest?) probably given to him by his Mother (I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for her – sending her only son off to war):

Mother's Prayer found in New Testament

As my Dad would have said, “‘Nuff said.”

A Family Bible Mystery – Solved!

I have had in my possession for more than 20 years, a family bible with the name Hutchins inside the front cover. My 3x great grandfather Theodore Hutchings was born about 1789 according to census records, but the Theodore listed in the bible was born in 1890 – about one hundred years later. I had put the bible away, thinking it was worth preserving but that I wasn’t sure how I connected to the family.

Bible 2

Recently, I have been working again on my 3x great grandfather Theodore Hutchings – I have been stuck on who his parents were – and recently found a fourth cousin on Ancestry who had information about his parents. When I asked about her source of the information, she told me that many years ago she had sat down with an elderly distant relative in Bucksport, Maine, who was considered an expert on the family. She was later able to verify the information she received that Theodore’s parents were Jeremiah Hutchings and Sarah Littlefield. I remembered the bible, carefully wrapped in tissue, tucked away in a drawer.  I dug out the bible and took another look. The leather-bound bible is in very sad condition – the pages are brittle and there is a strong odor of mildew. It has had some water damage.

The first pages of the bible are missing, so no publication date was obvious at first glance. Inside the front cover is inscribed “Sarah Hutchins of Old York.”  Hmmm…I know my Theodore was born in Old York.

Bible Cover scan Sarah

I gingerly flipped through the pages and came to the blank page where someone (probably Sarah?) had written the names and dates of birth of eight children. It was on the back side of the first page of the New Testament where I found a publication date for the bible of 1805! Ok, we have a date – the bible is 211 years old! I looked at the list of children again – here’s a rough transcription of how it was written:

“Stephen Hutchings was born in 29 May 1888, Theodore Hutchings was born in November 7 = 1890, Deborah Hutchings was born in February — 1892, –Hutchings was born in January 8 = 1893 [?], Edward Hutchings was born in January 27 = 1897, Prissilen was born in January 23 = 1801, Ebenezer was born in December 20 = 1803, Abgiel was born in January 13 1805.”

Scan of family - children of Jeremiah Hutchings and Sarah Littlefield

The bible was published in 1805. This page was probably written in 1805 or a little later. I researched these siblings and discovered that the first five children, listed as having been born in the late 1800’s were actually born in the late 1700’s. Their birth order makes it clear that whoever wrote this page (Sarah????), put 18__ instead of 17__ for the first five children. Of course they would be listed chronologically! And this is MY Theodore – born November 7, 1790! And the bible belonged to my 4x great grandmother, Sarah Littlefield Hutchings! Oh, Sarah, you had me fooled for a very long time.

Hannah Pettingell, Daughter of…???

The book,  A Pettingell Genealogy, written by John Mason Pettingell published in 1906, states Hannah is the daughter of Eliphalet Pettingell and Sarah Dill. Nope.

Hannah is my 4th great grandmother. She married Edward Hammond on 19 April 1796 in Sullivan, Hancock, Maine.

Born 15 Oct 1768 in North Yarmouth, Cumberland, Maine, she was not baptized until 10 November 1771. She was actually the daughter of Elisha Pettingell (brother of Eliphalet) and Rebekah Prince. Elisha and Rebekah had a habit of waiting (for the most part) at least a year after the birth of a child before having them baptized – a little unusual for the time:

Hannah, born 15 Oct 1768, baptized 10 Nov 1771

Jacob born 3 Jan 1771, baptized 12 Aug 1772

Jane (the second child of this name) born 5 Apr 1773, baptized 14 August 1774

Levi, born 7 Mar 1775, baptized 12 May 1776

Lucretia born 25 Jun 1778, baptized 16 Aug 1778


Birth of Hannah Pettingell microfilm 10812 arrowHannah’s gravestone reads: “Hannah, Wife of Edward Hammond, died June 13, 1862. AEt. 93 ys.” This is consistent with a birth date of 15 Oct 1768.

Gravestone of Hannah (Pettingill) Hammond

Note that the Pettingell Genealogy does not list birth dates, but baptism dates. No date of birth or baptism is given for the Hannah listed as a daughter of Eliphalet and husband to Edward Hammond. I have no doubt that Hannah who married Edward Hammond is the daughter of Elisha Pettingell and Rebekah Prince. John Mason Pettingell got it wrong – and so did 125 family trees on