Cemeteries #52Ancestors Challenge

Quit Claim Deed July 6 1934Temple Cemetery Quit Claim Deed, Fulton County, IL

Some people go to yoga class to meditate, relax and gain some inner perspective.  My farmer husband often goes to the field or pasture to consider weighty issues.  I, however, am the strange one in the family.  I go to the cemetery.

Ask my children what they remember about summers and they will most likely tell you showing cattle, helping on the farm and when they were little, going with mom to the cemetery to discover and write down things.  It’s true!  They had no choice but to come along.


I also enjoy visiting bookstores and libraries.  Cemeteries, to me, have a similarity to bookstores and libraries.  The latter two hold volumes of interesting stories.  Some are romance or mystery stories.  Other books in the library or bookstore are references that help you gain perspective on historical events.  Cemeteries are much like libraries, but the volumes are the life histories of the people buried there.

At first glance, a cemetery looks very barren, cold and sad.  A closer look shows the life stories of people who were born, married and died in the area.  Their tombstones often list their children.  New tombstones even have laser-engraved photos of the deceased.

I like to sit and “listen” to those buried in a cemetery.  I read their tombstones, pay attention to those buried in the same plot and decipher their family connections.  There is often loss of a child at a young age, or a woman widowed too soon.  Blessings of large families dot the rolling prairie in places telling of a strong family who persevered.  Their stories inspire me.  I often dig deeper to learn more about what their lives were like.

In the small town I work in, I’m pretty sure there are more individuals buried in the cemetery than there are people living in the town.  There are many people yet to discover; many individuals to “listen” to, and stories of triumphs yet to tell.  The quiet visit to a cemetery puts my life in perspective and gives me the energy to carry on.


Simply a riddle

We all have those ancestors –  you know, the ones who are your continual brick wall.  August and Theresa Yess are my brick walls or I should say, ‘were’ my brick walls.  My 2nd great grandparents were from what is now Germany, but I couldn’t figure out where exactly or when. Every time I’d start down the path to discover their nativity, they would quickly frustrate me. Then I approached this riddle with a late 19th-century mind and I broke through the wall.

My mom had never heard the names of her great-grandparents before.  Her grandfather had died a tragic death overcome by gasses digging a well when her father was 11 months old.  No family stories were passed down from him, obviously.  Mom found this picture of her great-grandparents after her parents’ death in their attic.  It had only their names on the back.

Theresa Hanlach Yess and August Yess

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910) August Yess (1829-1905)

How do you solve a riddle like this?  We didn’t know any of my grandfather’s cousins very well.  Mom had never thought to ask them the family stories.  So, for over 30 years I simply knew Theresa Hanlach Yess was from Bavaria and August Yess from Prussia.  I had checked census records, city directories, probate records, marriage records, death records, obituaries, illustrated histories of Peoria County, Illinois, and other anecdotal information that was available.  No more clues than Bavaria and Prussia were available.  Yess is a relatively unique last name, much like my married name, Terstriep.  I had searched the United States census records and found some in Milwaukee, WI,. but believed my grandparents had come straight from what would become Germany to the Peoria county.

After feeling I had exhausted nearly every clue I had, I spent a vacation day at the local county clerk’s office hoping to find more information.  No luck.  I finally asked where the local genealogical society was and it was just a few blocks from the courthouse.  One quick lunch later, I went into the library and genealogical area to visit with a lady who worked there.  She helped me search several sources for more information: funeral home records, church records, cemetery records, etc.  No luck.

Then I began thinking like a Prussian and Bavarian immigrant from the 1850s.  “Who would care if I died?” I asked myself.  I thought about it and decided to check to see if there were any German-language newspapers in Peoria at the time of their deaths.  There were at least two – one wasn’t published at the time of their death.  The other newspaper, “Täglicher Peoria Demokrat, was.  The lady helping me in the library said she didn’t read German and couldn’t be of much help.  I, fortunately, had taken a year of German and could stumble my way through it.  German Fraktur font, which most everything was printed in, is not easy to read.  Over time I had become a little more comfortable deciphering it while volunteering to transcribe old papers for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and the National Archives and Records Administration.

She politely helped me load the microfilm and carefully explained how to advance on the film.  She shared what little knowledge she had of the set up of the paper.  As we visited,  I forwarded the microfilm to the day after my 2nd great-grandfather’s death and (I know you’re not going to believe this but, ) as if a light shone on it, I saw his name!


Enlarged copy of August Yess’ obituary in the Täglicher Peoria Demokrat, a German-language newspaper of Peoria, IL.


In the orange higlighted box is the original-sized obituary of August Yess.  You’ll note the German Fraktur makes the name look like “Auguft Deb” rather than August Yess.

I was so excited I couldn’t believe it! Did it tell where he was born and any other information?  I quickly snapped a photo of it, submitted it to the Facebook group I belong where group members translate all languages, and by the time I had made my 1 1/2 hour drive home, I had the answer.

Here is the translation: “August Yeß. 
August Yeß, who died in his flat/house, 203 Fischerstraße, yesterday morning, was born in the area of Stettin, Prussia, and came to America in 1852, where he settled at first in Milwaukee.  1855 he came to this area and earned a lot of wealth through a farm. He has been living in Peoria for 15 years. For a short period of time he was ill and his rapid death was very unexpected for his friends and family. He was appreciated in general and was an admired man. He leaves behind a widow and five children. The burial is on Sunday afternoon half 2 o’clock at the house and the Evangelical Trinity church. May he rest in peace!”

Stettin, Prussia?  A quick Google Map search told me Stettin, Prussia was today Szczecin, Poland!  POLAND!  Szczecin is very near the German border.  I hadn’t even considered this thought.  Today I would be considered part Polish because country’s borders changed so often.

You see, when I thought about it, I considered if  I was a Prussian immigrant, most people in the United States wouldn’t really understand the difference between Stettin, Prussia and Berlin, Germany.   It wouldn’t make much difference to them what town I was born in, it would make a difference whether or not I was an American or a German.  My great-grandfather did become an American before he died, but to his countrymen, they would understand and know the difference.  They would care to know exactly what town he was born in.  Looking for his obituary in the German-language paper opened that door.  Unfortunately,  “Täglicher Peoria Demokrat” was not published when my  2nd great-grandmother died.  What part of Bavaria she was from is still to be solved.

Just Read What You Have!


I’m an avid reader and it seems nearly everyone in my family is.  A set of historical fiction novels I love feature a character who is a historian.  He is a noted professor of History and recognized by his colleagues for groundbreaking research on a specific period of history.  This character is the author of many award-winning books, but for some reason, his family NEVER reads his books!  As I read these novels, I’m constantly saying to myself, “Why don’t you just READ Frank’s book!  It probably tells you the answer.” Recently,  I heard my ancestors saying almost the same thing to me.  “Just read what you have.”

I was putting together another list of documents I needed for different ancestors.  A small voice in my head kept whispering to me, “Just read what you have.”  I should have prefaced this by saying, my ancestors often talk to me.  I’m not always certain which ancestor it is, but I try to listen.  Again, the nagging voice kept saying, “Just read what you have.”

Out came the documents I had gathered decades ago to review.  I was quite certain I remembered everything about them.  They offered no new information,  but I was wrong. I pulled out a document for the marriage of my 3rd great-grandparents who were born in the 1820s in Germany.  I knew they had been married when they reached the shores of the United States.  The 1850, 1860 and 1870 US census showed them with their children.  Why did I have another marriage license for them dated 1887?

Christian Swise marriage certificate_marked

Christian Swise was listed as 64 years old and Mrs.  Louisa Swise was listed as 60 years old.  Why would they have another marriage license in Fulton County, IL ?  Clearly, they were married when they immigrated to the United States.  It listed her as “Mrs. Louisa Swise”, not by her maiden name. What did I have?  What was the meaning of this marriage license?

A quick message to another family genealogist brought the answer and a fascinating story with it!  What I had was the SECOND marriage license of my great-grandparents.  They were married in Germany when they came to the United States, but somewhere along the line and many children later, something happened and they divorced!  What?  Divorced?  My cousin had tracked down the court proceedings from their December 1886 divorce in all its legalese.  After the dissolution of the marriage, Louisa asked for the following items in the divorce decree:

  • one four-leaf table
  • one bureau
  • one feather bed, beadstead (sic) and bedclothes
  • one large brass kettle
  • one sewing machine
  • 1 rag carpet
  • 5 chairs
  • all the dishes bought in and from Nebraska
  • one large chest brought to this country from Germany
  • $50 payment of alimony, AND


That was it!  I could understand the frustration of Louisa’s situation when she DEMANDED the canned blackberries back….all 12 jars!  She had probably collected them, canned them, protected them and looked forward to making a pie with them.  She WANTED THOSE blackberries come Hell or high water!  Something had happened between them and snap, the demand for blackberries was the result!

You’re no doubt saying, “Well, they divorced, but what about the second marriage license?”  It seems to fill in the blanks of the rest of the story.

Article from The Fulton County Ledger, July 28, 1877

….Christian Swise, of Bernadotte, is sixty-five years of age and his wife sixty.  Last December they divorced, but soon got tired of single life; so on Wednesday of this week they were again united according to the laws of God and man.  The venerable couple Swiser than before, in all probability.