This is a work in progress as I work to track the Riddner family that my mother-in-law was part of.  [I have written a couple of past posts about Sarah and her family, here and here.]

Sylvia, Sarah, and Tillie, 1922

Sylvia, Sarah, and Tillie, 1922

In 1974 my sister-in-law started researching her mother’s (Sarah Riddner) early life.  She wrote a lot of letters to all the related people she knew about and asked them what they knew about her mother as a young girl or young woman..

In November 1974 one of the Field cousins answered her letter and provided 2 and a half typewritten pages of what she knew about my mother-in-law and the Riddner family.  This cousin was one of the children of Clara Riddner Field, who was the younger sister of Ben Riddner (Sarah’s father).  Ben Riddner and his second family lived in Ft. Wayne Indiana as did the Field family.  Sarah had been born and raised in Milwaukee so the Fields only saw her occasionally, however this cousin had been closer to her in adolescence and spent time with her in Chicago.

Sometime between 2002 and 2011 I had conversations with my sister-in-law about the family history, and she finally found the letters she had gotten and let me read and copy them.  The tidbit I first followed was the Field cousin saying that her mother had cousins in West Hartford, Connecticut names Leah Portner and Helen Seltzer.  So I went looking for census records and – bingo! – found Helen (Ellen) and her husband Isidore Seltzer living in West Hartford in 1920 with Leah and Abraham Portner’s family, and listed as cousins.   I also found the Seltzer family in the 1930 census in Hartford.  This was 2007 and that was about as far as censuses would take me.  In 2011 I did some more internet searching, having connected a family picture tentatively with the Portners, and I continued some searching on the Seltzers as well.  The Connecticut Death Index showed me that Helen Seltzer’s maiden name was Rudner. .At that point I dropped the ball and did not pursue the likelihood that Rudner and Ridner were the same name.  I didn’t make the connection.  In 2013 when the 1940 census became available, I found both the Portners and the Seltzers living in Hartford or West Hartford but again didn’t pursue them further.

Then this summer I started again trying to put the pieces together and discovered some new sources.  Of course there are many more online databases to search and I have found some useful evidence.  The research question I am focusing on now is: how is Helen Ridner related to Benjamin and Clara Riddner?  I have gotten Isidore Seltzer’s naturalization papers and his World War II military service record from the State of Connecticut which both give Helen’s name and a date of birth, with the place of her birth given as “Russia” with no town given.  So far none of the evidence gives a clue about where in Russia she came from or was born.

I have a list of places I need to look for information (and more will likely occur to me as I look).  I need to comb the Steve Morse and Ellis Island sites for Helen’s entry to the U.S.  A passenger list might just give me the name of the town she came from.  I have looked quickly and did not find her, but haven’t yet dug deeper.  I also have the name of her mother who was living with her in 1930 so I can look for her migration.  I think I have to go to the Town Clerk’s office to look at/obtain a copy of her death certificate, which might provide some information.  I will pull her marriage license and certificate from the microfilm in Salt Lake City in September when Judy and I go.  I have made a first attempt to contact the cemetery where she is buried to see what information they might have.

How did you meet your spouse/sweetheart? How did your siblings or friends meet theirs? Most people I know met at school: college or high school. Of course there have always been more interesting and unusual ways to meet, and these stories usually get told and retold. I suspect there are more matches made these days by online or other dating services as well as fix-ups among people who have settled into a job and place to live without a significant other. As we wait longer to match up, the needs change for meeting a special someone.

For earlier generations I think it was a little different. Do you know how your parents met? Or your grandparents? I know for my parents and one of my two sets of grandparents, so I am doing well. My husband doesn’t know for his parents, and has a family myth for one set of grandparents (never confirmed or fleshed out as far as I know) and doesn’t know for the other set. The stories I know confirm that young people met at school or in a neighborhood, or sometimes through friends (but still in a relatively close geographic neighborhood).

How their parents met is a large question mark for my husband and his sister. Neither parent would talk about the past much by the time my sister-in-law was asking and my husband wasn’t as interested when he was younger. Now both of their parents are long gone, as are my father-in-law’s sister and her husband, who might have known some of the story. The problem is that Sarah, my mother-in-law, was born and raised in Milwaukee and was in school in Chicago (the furthest East I can place her) up until the time they married in Buffalo. Izzy, my father-in-law, was living and working in Buffalo having been born and raised in Syracuse New York. I don’t know that he ever traveled as a youngster or young man any further West than Buffalo. I was thinking about this mystery again, which inspired this post.

The couple who couldn’t have met

Here is what I know about Sarah and about Izzy, along with my thoughts and many speculations and questions about what might have led to their meeting. The basics are as stated in the previous paragraph. Sarah had been raised by her mother in Milwaukee, who was a single parent so life was difficult. At any rate, Sarah graduated from high school and went to college, finishing at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1932. Then in March 1937 she was admitted to the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration as a graduate student, taking one course per quarter (according to her transcript). She attended classes in the Spring and Fall Quarter of 1937, withdrew for the Winter Quarter of 1938, and resumed classes in the Spring and Fall Quarters of 1938. She left after the Fall Quarter of 1938 and did not earn a degree. In March 1939 she and Izzy were married in New York.

Izzy started high school in Syracuse and the family moved to Buffalo in his senior year. He finished courses in Buffalo but officially graduated from Central High School in Syracuse (because he didn’t meet the residency requirement to graduate in Buffalo he always said). He attended the University of Buffalo from about 1928 – 1932 when he graduated with a Law degree. He soon went back (this was the Great Depression) and since he had already completed some of the coursework, he graduated with a B.A. In 1936. There is some reason to speculate that by being a student, perhaps only part time, he was eligible for some student benefits and perhaps even some financial support. From 1936 to 1941 he worked in the Buffalo area but I don’t have an accurate picture yet of where or for how long. He told his children that he worked for the Water Department in what he described as a sinecure, and he had a small (?) private practice as a lawyer.

So how did a graduate student in Chicago and a young lawyer in Buffalo happen to meet and fall in love? That is the $64,000 question. On the face of it, their meeting seems so unlikely as to have been impossible. The first piece of evidence showing them to be in the same place at the same time is when they applied for their marriage license in the Buffalo clerk’s office in March 1939.

So far, I have come up with the following fantasy scenarios. Izzy went to Chicago for a union strike (or to visit a college friend) and they met. Izzy went to Detroit to visit relatives and Sarah was visiting in Detroit and they met. Sarah went to Buffalo for some reason (I’d say a professional conference but in the late 1930s I would guess that was very unlikely). As far as I know they didn’t have any common relatives or even friends. So, for now, while I struggle to think of ways to find out which one traveled and what the meeting circumstances were (?purely social, purely political? something else?), it looks like this is another documented case of ancestors dropped in place by aliens and their lives went on from that time forward. Unless it was just Sarah who was abducted by aliens and she found herself in the clerk’s office where you apply for marriage licenses and Izzy just happened to be there doing some other legal business and they decided it would be a great joke if they got married.

Ben Riddner c 1923

I seem to be focused on family mysteries, so here is another one. This one has to do with my husband’s family and is a result of his mother not talking much about her parents or upbringing, or her life prior to marrying. The mysteries revolve around Ben Riddner, my mother-in-law’s father. The basic family information I started with was that there was a son who died, that there was a divorce, and that he was remarried and killed in an accident between a car and a train with with second wife and one of their two children. That’s it. No names, no dates, no places, no personalities. This is not only about the mysteries but also about my spending a lot of time hitting my head against a variety of brick walls, but in some cases finally breaking through.

The first wall was the son, brother to Sarah, and what his name was and the circumstances around his death were. I was told that his name might be Daniel and that he died as a young child before my mother-in-law was born. So I started combing online databases and writing letters requesting searches. Since many of these resources were Wisconsin vital records, I also searched for the marriage of Ben and Pearl.

Riddner-Scheier Marriage 1905

Lots of negative results. However, as it happens in the genealogy world, persistence and records becoming available finally produced answers. I acquired a marriage record (which also provided their parents’ names, hurrah!) and a death certificate.

I was interested to discover that Ben and Pearl married about 7 months after he arrived in this country.  He and his sister arrived in New York in June 1904 and the marriage was January 1905.  That’s fast work!  My current speculation is that they might have been some degree of cousins, and known each other (or at least known of each other) before they both settled in Milwaukee.

The death certificate for their son, Samuel, showed that he had been born September 6, 1906 and died July 28,l 1908 at not-quite 11 months old. Cause of death was given as Enterocolites (which would have been some sort of severe stomach pain). He died 4 months after my mother-in-law was born. So now we know his name was Samuel (probably named after Ben’s father who had died in Russia before Ben emigrated), not Daniel as my sister-in-law had originally guessed.

Samuel Riddner death certificate 1908

I also tried to locate the family in the federal census, and the Wisconsin state census. Tough going. The 1910 federal census was the first one I expected to find them in, and I knew that they were married and had a daughter at that time. They weren’t there. Anywhere.

Then I did something that you know you should do, but don’t always. I went back to Ancestry and looked for Ben Riddner again. Just casually, just for fun. And discovered that there was a new database up: Canadian border crossings; and look! there was Ben, crossing back into the US at Detroit in December 1910.

Detroit Crossing 1910

The records said he had been in Canada since 1908. Humph. No wonder I couldn’t find him in the 1910 census, he was not in the country. But where was his wife and daughter? As I have posted earlier, I still haven’t found Sarah but I did eventually find her mother (and grandmother and an aunt and an uncle all living together).

When Ben returned to this country in late 1910, he went to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his sister and her husband lived. I think he and his sister must have been pretty close. They emigrated together.  Why didn’t he go back to Milwaukee?  We may never know.

He settled in Fort Wayne, and two years later divorced Pearl. Interestingly, he claimed that she deserted him. The truth is less clear.

Divorce filed, March 1913

On the border crossing records, when he crossed back from Canada to the US, he said he had been in Canada since 1908. Missing information question: when in 1908 did he go and why? In 1908 there were two significant events in his family with Pearl: his daughter Sarah was born in March and his son Samuel, less than 2 years old, died in July. Both of these events happened in Milwaukee according to birth and death certificates. When Ben left did he ask his wife to go with him? Or was he leaving alone to look for work, planning to send for the family? Or was he leaving to escape the family? There is probably no way to know.

In 1914 Ben married Bessie Ganellin, in Chicago.

Ben Riddner and Bessie Ganellin, possibly wedding picture

So far, we don’t know when or why he went to Chicago, or how they met. There is some family belief that the Riddners were related to a Scheier family, and he may have had family connections in Chicago. Ben’s first wife, Pearl, was a Scheier and her younger brother was a physician in Chicago as early as 1917 and perhaps earlier. In 1914, Ben’s widowed mother, Leah Baile or Bella, emigrated to the US, and for some time she lived in Fort Wayne with Ben and Bessie (as listings in city directories show). By 1920 she was living in Chicago, just down the street from one of Bessie’s brothers. When she died in Chicago in 1930, the physician who signed her death certificate was Abe Scheier – a younger brother of Pearl. So there were certainly interactions, whether there were family relationships remains to be discovered.

And now we come to the mystery that started much of my searching for information about Ben Riddner. I had always been told that Ben and his wife and young son died in a car accident involving a train. I looked in every nook and cranny online for several years, trying to find some mention of such an accident. I figured that there would have to be newspaper coverage of an accident like that. But I didn’t even know where they were living, when I started my search. I looked all over the internet, focusing on Wisconsin and Indiana. Again, the strategy of going back and looking in places already searched finally paid off. The Friends of the Allen County Public Library put a death index online, and the Riddners were on it. I finally had a specific date and place, and I ordered the death certificates.

With the information about when and where the accident happened, I was able to find newspaper articles that described it and included pictures of Ben and Bessie. It turned out that they had recently had a stillbirth (a son) and Bessie’s father and 2 nieces were visiting from Chicago – probably to comfort her. Ben had just purchased a car and was still learning to drive. He decided to take a drive on a Sunday to practice, figuring there would be little traffic on the road. So Ben, Bessie, her father Carl and her little niece Evelyn went for a ride. The car reportedly stalled on the tracks of a railroad crossing just as a fast-moving train came through. Carl apparently saw the train approaching and broke the back window and tossed little Evelyn out of the car, saving her life. The three adults were killed at the scene.

Riddner gravestone

She should be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her mother.  She was only 2 at the time of the 1910 federal population census.

This family has been most elusive in the 1910 census.  Over the years I have tried every variation on the spelling of the last name that I can think of.  Finally, in the past year, I had some successes.

I know that her father (Ben Riddner) and her mother (Pearl Scheier Riddner) were in Milwaukee by about 1904 and married there in 1905.  I have copies of the application for the license (which gave their parents’ names – hurrah!) and the registration of the marriage.  I have a copy of Sarah’s birth certificate – she was born in Milwaukee in 1908.  There is no reason to think that the family would be anywhere else.  Except they don’t show up where I expected them to be.  And, except that the family story is that Ben left them and divorced Pearl, at some point, and moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Not clear when.

Then, having looked at everything (I thought), I went back and checked Ben’s name at again and – what do you know?! – a new database of crossings into the US from Canada.  And it turns out that Ben had been in Canada since sometime in 1908 until Dec. 1910.  So, no wonder I couldn’t find him in the census.  But what about his wife and child?

I started looking for Scheiers in the census.  I knew that there were Scheier relatives in Wisconsin in about the same time period.  I thought that a couple of them were brothers of Pearl, although I haven’t had evidence of that (beyond Sarah in later life calling them Uncle Doc and Uncle Louis).  I looked and looked for either of these in the 1910 census.  They, too, should be there and most likely in Wisconsin.  Eventually, and just recently, I finally found Abe (later Dr. Abe) under the name Abe Sheer (at least that is how it was indexed).  And, surprise!, when I looked at the image, he was living with his mother, Susie Sheir (Zissel or Zietle Scheier) and two sisters: Ida Sheer and Pearl Viddne (a misspelling of Riddner I never thought of).  A bonus.  I have some evidence that Abe and Pearl were brother and sister.  And found another sister.

But I still have missing Scheiers, and now I also have a mystery.  Pearl was still married at that point.  And she had a 2 year old daughter, who was not enumerated in the same household.  Why not?  Was Sarah living somewhere else at the time?  Why would she have been?  The remaining person I know about in this family, Louis Scheier, is still among the missing in the 1910 census.  The line for Susie or Zietle also shows that she had 9 children, 8 of whom were still living in 1910.  So I’m looking for at least 3 more Scheiers, somewhere in the world.  I have just finished going through the pages for the Ward and District that these Scheiers were in, page by page.  No Louis and no Sarah.  I tried looking at Heritage Quest briefly today, and still no Louis or Sarah.  So I have my work cut out for me.  Any suggestions are welcome as I make finding these two a goal for 2010.

In my last post I threatened to tell you several stories regarding the fruits of giving things a second look and now I am going to make good on that threat.

What should you revisit when doing your genealogical research?  Everything.  That would make a very short post, so here, instead, are two tales of things I have revisited.

When I was writing my post on Veteran’s Day I went back to look at some of the information I had accumulated about the Blood brothers.  I was missing one small item, so I did a simple Google search on the 1st Mechanics and Engineers. There was lots of stuff I had seen before, but there was also a book named My Brave Engineers, a history of the regiment. I have covered this material so many times, how could I have missed this book?

Here is a wonderful thing about my life.  I work at Yale University giving me access to one of the world’s great libraries.  Many people think this is the only reason I work at Yale and they are not far from the truth.  Here is another wonderful thing, the science library is in the basement of my building and the university will deliver any book I want to the science library.  I am  incredibly spoiled. I looked in the online card catalog, the book was there and, again online, I asked for it.  The next morning I went downstairs to retrieve it.  Everyone in the library knows me.  I’m the one that gets the 100-year-old books that no one has borrowed for years; the ones that are falling apart and that arrive with a note, “return to binding when user is finished.”  Librarians often thank me for keeping the lonely books company.  As I approached the desk people were smiling.  Dave went to get my book. “Not your usual,” he said.  Boy was it not my usual.  It was brand new, the spine had never been cracked, the pages were pristine, it didn’t smell musty.  We both stared at it as if it had arrived from another planet.  I opened the front cover to check the publication date.  It was published in 2007.  Even though I am clearly interested in this material and I know that other people are too, it just never entered my mind that someone would write a book about it.  Happily, Mark Hoffman did exactly that. My Brave Engineers does not directly mention my family members, but it is full of well-researched, useful notes and has an excellent bibliography.  So, when you’re bored do a Google search, you never know what might turn up.

Another favorite place of mine to revisit is crazy Uncle Gordon’s notes.  I’m not talking about your eccentric uncle who sits in the corner at Thanksgiving dinner and eats with his hands.  Uncle Gordon was truly nuts.  Now, before my blog buddy starts giving me a hard time about insensitivity to the mentally ill, I should say that Gordon’s story is actually a sad one.  His life was seriously impacted and limited by his illness. I never knew him but when he passed away my mother-in-law found some notes he had accumulated on the family genealogy and passed them on to me. These notes have quite a bit of useful information, but it is all mixed with what I can only call craziness.   A long list of people’s names suddenly turns into a set of comments on the bumps on their heads.  Apparently in addition to genealogy Gordon had an interest in phrenology.  I really wish he hadn’t seen fit to mix the two together, but I guess in some ways it makes sense. He also talks about married women using only their married names; something like “Mrs. Hamilton lives in Ontario.”  Unfortunately, I have no idea how Mrs. Hamilton ties into our family. But every once in a while I look at the notes again and I sometimes find that a piece of information I found elsewhere makes some of Gordon’s writings make more sense.  So I go back from time to time and if nothing else I enjoy seeing his handwriting and like to think that it would please him to know that someone else is interested in what he did and is using his notes.

Now I’m going to ask Pat to add a story or two.

The 1910 federal census has been a particularly frustrating place to search for my husband’s family.  They just don’t show up (at least not easily) when they really should be there.  My first experience of finding something when I went back to look at a site I had already searched, was on  I tried my husband’s  grandfather’s name, Ben Riddner, once again.  I had looked and looked for him.  And this time what showed up?  The Canadian crossings showed a Ben Riddner – and he was shown crossing back into the US at Detroit in December 1910, having been in Canada since 1908.  No wonder he didn’t show up in the US 1910 census.  Now why did he go to Canada when he did (and how did he go from Milwaukee), and what was he doing there, and why weren’t his wife and young daughter with him??

His wife and young daughter were also missing for a long time in the 1910 census.  I finally, recently, found his wife (my husband’s grandmother) in the right city and with her mother and a couple of siblings.  None of their last names were spelled the way I would expect, and the wife’s last name was shown on the census image as beginning with a “V” rather than an “R” (so she was indexed as Pearl Vidchie, which is a bad reading of the image, rather than Pearl Riddner).  I never would have found her, except for the variations on her mother’s name that I am getting to know (Sheer and Sheir among others for Scheier).  Strangely though, her young daughter (my husband’s mother) who would have been just barely 2 years old, wasn’t shown with that family grouping.  Where would she have been?!  And why?  There is one other brother (that I know of) who is in still missing in this census.  Was the 2 year old with him?  I don’t know whether he was married yet by 1910, although he might have been.  The search goes on!

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