Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Tale of Two Johns - Solving the Mystery Using Technology

It began with the answer to a question I asked my Grandmother when I was about eight years old.  "Bockie" I had asked "why don't you ever go swimming when we are at the lake?"  She relied that she was afraid of the water since her brother had drowned as a child.  I accepted her statement at face value and moved on.

Years later when I began researching our genealogy and recording census forms, her answer to my question came to mind.  My grandmother was the youngest of six children, two girls and four boys.  Which of the boys had died?  As I was using HeritageQuest online one day I happened on one line from the diary of a Milwaukee policeman.  The line said only "Burbach's boy drowned today".  This I felt totally substantiated my grandmother's statement.  It was true.  Of course in my excitement, I neglected to cite the source!

I still didn't know which of her brothers had drowned and to complicate matters further there were two related families with children of similar ages.  Brothers John and Herman Burbach operated a butcher shop in Milwaukee in the 1880s and 1890s.  Both men were raising families at the same time.

I used books.google to find the quote "Burbach's boy drowned today" and this time I cited the source and noted the date of the occurance.  Next I checked the Wisconsin Death Records online at ancestory.com for the family name and year of 1892.  I found the name John Burbach as having died on May 8, 1892.

Using obituary records from Milwaukee German Language newspapers (ordered from and translated by Gary Rebholz) I found obituaries for both a John and a Johnnie Burbach cousins, both aged 11. The death dates were 1892 and 1895. Who was who?

Using the 19th century newspapers online, Milwaukee Archdiocese Cemeteries online, and the Milwaukee City Directories online to determine which John/Johnnie lived at which address with which father, I was able to document the story of my grandmother's brother John.  An additional nugget or information disclosed in the 19th Century Newspapers was the fact that John Burbach had made his confirmation at St Joseph's Church on the morning of his death.
John Burbach drowned on May 8, 1892 in the Milwaukee River.  His two friends were rescued but John's body was not recovered for two weeks.  He was finally buried on May 22, 1892 in Calvary Cemetery in Milwaukee.

All of this information was gathered while I was home in Texas!  Hooray for technology!!