Sunday, September 3, 2017

Good Grief, Henry!

Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun this week at Genea-Musings was this:
Please answer the question - "Which ancestor gives you the most
researching grief?"
My great-grandfather, Henry Meinzen, began giving me research grief immediately after I found him in the easy U.S. resources -- 1870-1920 census records, city directories, death certificate, etc.  He was one of the first ancestors I began researching nearly 10 years ago -- and will probably be the person I will be researching on my death bed (if I can still research on my death bed).

Here's Henry's information, collected from various records:
  • July 25, 1837 - born in Hanover/Prussia/Germany
  • June, 1866 - arrived in the U.S.
  • April 24, 1870 - married Elizabeth Armitage in Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio
  • October 9, 1871 - became a naturalized citizen of the U.S.
  • December 30, 1925 - died in Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio
  • He attended Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Steubenville.
  • He was a laborer, a gardener, a grocer, a carpenter, and wagon maker.
  • He was the father of at least 14 children.
  • He was survived by a brother, Fred, in Germany.
  • His father's name was Karl/Carl. 
  • His wife and all but 6 children died before him.

And then there are the "legends" and conflicting records

Legend #1
A cousin reported to me that Henry and two brothers departed England on January 31, 1865, on the S.S. Virginia, arriving in New York in 1871.  The ship sank in port but they managed to get safely to land and travelled by train, headed to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Henry made friends with another traveller and when the trained stopped in Steubenville, Henry stayed.

The Problem with this Legend
That's a lengthy passage from England to the U.S.  Other math doesn't work in this scenario.  Henry was already married and living in Steubenville in 1871.  Surprisingly, the surname Meinzen appears in Fort Wayne city directories, newspapers, and census records after 1870, but I've been unable to make a connection.

There was a Henry Meinsen, born September 4, 1836, who lived in Columbus, Ohio, in 1900, and died on December 4, 1920.  His father's and mother's names are "not known" on his death certificate.  I haven't researched him.

Legend #2
There is a Civil War Graves Registration card for Henry C. Meinzen suggesting that he served in the U.S. Navy at the rank of Seaman from August 11, 1862, until August 10, 1863, on the ships "Brilliant" and "Cairo."

The Problem with this Legend
Having researched Civil War records and information about both the "Brilliant" and "Cairo" I've been unable to find Henry C. Meinzen in any of them.  Could he have come to the U.S. just to serve in the Civil War and then returned to Germany?  I've not found him on a passenger's list. 

Conflicting Information
Sophia (Meinzen) Kropp's obituary lists Henry C. Meinzen of Steubenville as her brother, and Kropps did appear in a newspaper article about one Meinzen marriage and may have attended more.   Her certificate of death gives her father's name as Deidrick.

The Conflict
Henry and Sophia do not give the same father's name.  Henry claims his father's name was Karl.  It's possible Henry used his father's call name and Sophia used his first given name.  German naming conventions can make it hard to tell who's who.

The Other Scrap of Information
And what does one do with this?  It is a transcription of an 1866 Castle Garden immigration record for Ernst Meinzen, carpenter, age 28, travelling on the Atalanta from Bremen, Germany, arriving on June 8, 1866.  His declared destination was Ohio.

Every part of this information matches -- age, country of origin, arrival date, and destination -- except this man's name is Ernst and my great-grandfather's name is Henry.  (But was it always?)  I've never found an immigration record for Henry (except on his naturalization papers).  And I've been unable to find Ernst Meinzen in any U.S. documents.  I often wonder if this is really my great-grandfather Henry or not.  Considering German naming conventions, I think it's possible but I'm not willing to assume.

Good grief, Henry!  Don't you think you could help just a little?  Another clue or two?  Just one really good lead?  I'd like to know who your parents are, where you came from....  But once again, for now, I'll lay this search to rest for a while.


Copyright ©2017 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I don't mean to laugh, but I am not a bit surprised to see Henry nominated as the ancestor who makes you crazy. It seems we write most often about those ancestors that give us grief. We feel like we are an inch away from a breakthrough and yet we can't find the answer.

    1. It's okay to laugh, Wendy. I chuckle about Henry myself sometimes. With all the information I do have about him, none of it really leads to his parents or his city of birth. I do write about him much too often, even when I've put him to rest for a while -- if a topic like this one comes up, he's the focus person.

  2. Nancy, You have some tantalizing clues. Maybe Henry is Ernst. My ancestor (Danish) had four given names - Frits Wille Oscar Emil. Maybe Henry had three names with the other beginning with the letter C.

    1. I do have some tantalizing clues, Linda, but they're not good enough to answer the questions I want to know. Even if Henry is Ernst, that document doesn't really lead me back to his hometown or his parents. I've thought about Henry having several names: Ernst Henry Carl Meinzen. Henry Ernst Carl Meinzen. Etc. How I wish documents were required then like they are now!


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