Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Relatives

Recently, I've been working on the pesky Lenertz side of my family tree. The Lenertz crew has always been a challenge because I've had to go and hunt down the information on my own. There aren't a bunch of cousins with stories, photographs and gossip like one might find with other family tree branches. If I don't find it regarding the Lenertz family, it won't be found.

For a while, I could not locate documentation of my great-great grandfather as a child. It was as if John Benjamin Lenertz (1862-1919) fell from the sky at age 38, in time to be recorded in the 1900 census. Then I noticed that in one census, John was living next to a Joseph J. Lenertz and family. Were they brothers? Ten years later, Joseph J. Lenertz was living next to Frank Lenertz and family.

So I did a little searching and found that the three were brothers. John Benjamin Lenertz did not fall from the sky as an adult. He had been a child with at least nine siblings. His parents were Alexander and Margaret.

I could not have learned any of this without the wonderful records available for the state of Minnesota. Along with the federal censuses every 10 years (minus 1890), there exists a Minnesota state census that runs every 10 years on the fives for 1849-1905.

Armed with the information I learned from the censuses, I've started looking at the individual descendants for each sibling of John Benjamin Lenertz. Though the last federal census available is 1930, the Minnesota Birth Index goes from 1935-2002. The Minnesota Marriage Collection runs from 1958-2001. The Minnesota Divorce Index covers 1970-1995. The dearly departed are recorded in the Minnesota Death Index from 1908-2002. (All of these files were accessed via Ancestry.com)

This is one case where it pays to search in Minnesota. Not all states have so many records available to the public. Though the last federal census released to the public is 1930, I can use these MN state records to continue to follow the trail.

That path has led me to become familiar with many smaller branches of my Lenertz-based tree. Through public records, I've traveled to the 1940's and 50's and watched children be born. I've found recordings of their marriages in the 1960's and the birth of their own children (my age) in the 1970's. I've now found those 70's children got married in the 1990's and now have children the age of my own.

What I have concluded thus far is that I am related to a lot of people in Minnesota. Most are not named Lenertz, but they are distant cousins all the same. It's very strange to have this information and know I am connected to living people, wondering if they would even care.

On a side note, John Benjamin Lenertz had a niece who moved from Minnesota to Orange County, California. She passed away in 1986. My grandfather, who was an only child, had been living a hour away from his dad's first cousin for decades. Family is everywhere.

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