Thursday, April 28, 2016

Traveling Through Time to Meet Henry Meinzen

Run!  jump!  fly back in time!  If only it were that easy.  There are so many ancestors I'd like to meet, to watch, to interview, to visit with, to learn from.  I know the experiences of some of them are similar, especially those who lived during the same decades.  But their times were so different from mine, and they've all left so many unanswered questions.

Henry Carl MeinzenHenry Carl Meinzen is my biggest stumbling block and the man I'd most like to meet at the moment.  He is my great-grandfather, my mother's paternal grandfather.  I've been researching Henry for a number of years.  I search everywhere possible, learn a little, and eventually reach the end of options (for the time being), then return to him again a number of years later hoping to find more.  From various sources I've learned that he was born on July 25, 1837;  came to the U.S. in 1866; and settled in Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio.  Elizabeth Armitage and Henry Carl MeinzenThere, in 1870, he married 17-year-old Elizabeth Armitage, an immigrant from England.  At 32, Henry was nearly twice the age of his young bride.  Together they had 15 children, only six of whom outlived them.  Elizabeth died in 1920 at the age of 67; Henry in 1925 at the age of 88. 

Having searched every possible currently known U.S. source for him, I have been unable to find a confirmed record of his arrival in the U.S., nor information of his homeland (let alone his place of birth) other than from census records which vary from year to year and tell me he hailed from Prussia or Hanover or Germany.

To tell me about his life and the kind of person he was, I have one snippet of anecdotal information from my aunt who was about four when Henry died, a few other tidbits from contemporary newspapers, and an obituary.  He sounds like a character and I'd love to get to know him.

Were I able to jump back to the past to spend time with Henry I would like to ask him a few questions.  I'd start with the nitty gritty ones.
  • Where were your born?  
  • What was your full birth name?
  • Who were your parents?  I know you told your children your father's name was Henry Carl Meinzen, but you don't seem to have mentioned your mother's name.
  • Meinzen does not seem to be a common name in German records.  Did you change your name and/or the spelling when you arrived in the U.S.?
  • Was Elizabeth Armitage your first wife?  I ask because you were 37 when you married her:  that's a little late for a first marriage.  If you were married before please tell details about your first wife, marriage dates, and what happened to her.
  • How did you meet Elizabeth?  
  • What are the names and birth dates of all your children?  The 1910 U.S. census indicates that Elizabeth was the mother of 15 children but I've found only 14.  I'd like to create a complete family group for you. 
  • How many siblings do you have?  What are their names and birth dates? 

 And then there are the questions I'd like to ask him about his life.
  • Tell me about your education.  Did you attend school?  If so, for how long?  What kinds of things did you learn?
  • What was your home life like as a child?  Did you have kind parents?  Did you have chores?  Did you live in the country, in a village, in a town, in a city?  What did you like about where you lived?  What did you not like?
  • Did you serve an apprenticeship in Prussia?  What training did you receive?  Your obituary states that you were a carpenter and wagon maker.
  • Did you serve in the military in Prussia/Hanover?
  • What prompted you to come to America?  Did you come alone?  Did you have family members who were already here and settled?
  • What was your departure date and from which port did you sail?  On what ship did you travel?  Did you travel alone? 
  • When and where did you arrive in America?  Where did you live before you arrived in Steubenville?  Your first papers for naturalization were filed in Belmont County, Ohio, the county neighboring Jefferson County.
  • Did you work as a carpenter / wagon maker in the U.S.?  Did you have your own shop or did you work for someone else?  
  • You had a variety of jobs in Steubenville.  How did that come about?

And a few more questions.
  • What was your favorite food?  Favorite color?  Favorite item of clothing?
  • Who were your childhood friends?  What kinds of activities did you enjoy?  Did you have favorite games?
  • What did you miss most about your homeland after arriving in the U.S.? 
  • What was the most joyful experience of being a parent to 15 children?  What kinds of activities did you enjoy with them?  
  • What do you think were your biggest successes in life?
  • What regrets do you have about your life?

I suspect, from these questions and the way they are asked, you might get the idea that I'm a little frustrated with Henry.  You would be right.  How can a person live 88 years and leave so little information behind?  Were I able to talk to Henry in person I would like to develop some rapport before pummeling him with questions.  I would not be so blunt:  kindness is always the best approach.  After all, he is my great-grandfather.  And Heaven knows, he could be a cantankerous old man who needs coddling and a gentle touch. 

I have full faith that I will one day, on the other side of the veil, be able to meet and talk to Henry Carl Meinzen.  I look forward to that experience.

This post is a contribution to Elizabeth O'Neal's April 2016 Genealogy Blog Party at Little Bytes of Life.  The theme is time travel to an ancestor.  I could have told details about the times in which Henry lived but chose, instead, to focus on the questions I'd like to ask to learn about him.  I hope you'll click over to Elizabeth's blog to see other participants in the Blog Party.  Thanks for hosting, Elizabeth.


Copyright © 2016 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Henry is certainly a mystery for someone who lived lived to a ripe old age and as late as 1925. 37 is late for a first marriage, but I have found in my husband's German family and my Scandinavian line that mid 30s isn't particularly late for a man to marry, especially if they followed some sort of trade that required an apprenticeship.

    1. Thanks for the information about marrying in mid-30s not being late, Linda. I won't search for a first wife! I don't want to make Henry any harder than he already is.

      I haven't specifically reviewed at the ages at which men among my ancestors married, but it would be interesting to take a look. For a first marriage (assuming it was), I believe Henry was the oldest.

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

  2. WOW! I love your questions. Germany is a challenge to find details of family. They did seem to travel quite a bit. But that he lived to such an age is great, there should be a clue sitting somewhere. Good luck, I hope you have success.

    1. Thanks, Fiona. As more records become available to search online and as I learn more about possible places to search, I'm hoping to find some record somewhere that leads me to him home town and his family. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

  3. I was intrigued by your question "Meinzen doesn't seem to be such a common name in Germany" and did a small google search. There are still some Meinzens in Raddestorf and Brokeloh. Brokeloh is about 50km (aka about 30 miles) eastern of Hannover and the Meinzens there own a small hotel. Raddestorf is about 45 miles eastern of Hannover. There is also a former university professor who lives in Wuppertal. This is a bit away from Hannover, but there was his chair. This is the bit I found, I hope to have been a little bit of help.

    Greetings from Germany

    1. Did I say Eastern of Hannover? Yes I did, but it's wrong, it's Western, with a small northern touch....

    2. Hi, Jelena. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I especially appreciate my readers from Germany who add information that I wouldn't have known because I'm not from Germany.

      I should have qualified my statement about Meinzen not being a common name. I meant that when I search online German records only a few results for the surname Meinzen turn up.

      As you say, there are still Meinzens in Germany. I suppose I could begin contacting them to see if any are working on family history but it seems like looking for a needle in a haystack -- at least until I have a more local location than the area of Hannover for Henry's birth.

      Thanks for your help, Jelena. I appreciate it!

  4. We have so many questions, don't we? I enjoyed your article.

    1. Thanks, Elise. I would probably have fewer questions if I thought of my family tree as just a list of names and dates. I can't keep from wondering about the people themselves. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I appreciate it.

  5. Hi, Nancy. Thx for visiting my mysterious German ancestor in the blog party. If you don't mind a suggestion, you might try This surname mapping site with your surname reveals a likely area to search. It's still a needle in a haystack, but now it's a smaller haystack! That combined with might yield some clues.

    Also, I went to a day-long seminar last weekend taught by Fritz Juengling. He had some excellent points about finding villages based on names.

    1. Nancy, thank you so much for these suggestions. I haven't searched for Henry for a few years. I stopped because I'd covered all the available bases at the time, but I knew that that more resources would come online during the next few years. Maybe now it's time to resume my search for him.

      My other challenge with Henry is his name and German naming patterns. I know that often a whole string of children have the same first name with different middle names and that middle name becomes the call name. Because I had little success finding Heinrich Carl Meinzen I began to wonder if he changed his given/call names when he arrived in the U.S. I found a passenger list for Ernst Carl Meinzen, arriving the same year as my Henry with the right age, occupation, etc. That made me wonder, too, if Henry changed his name.

      I'll begin with the links you've included in this comment and see what I find.

      Thanks again! I appreciate your taking the time to leave such a detailed comment.

  6. Oh if only there were a record of that one missing child! Good questions. I agree that it would be fascinating to know more about the circumstances surrounding his immigration.

    1. I sometimes wonder if mothers claimed stillborn (and miscarried) babies in census records. I've heard no, but every mother I know these days who has lost a child to miscarriage or stillbirth includes that child when she tells how many children she has.

      AS for Henry's immigration, I mentioned to Nancy in my response to her comment, above, that I've found an Ernst Carl Meinzen who immigrated at the same time as Henry and had the same background information. It just makes me wonder if he changed his call name when he arrived. I hope to sort it all out one of these days.

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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