Germany to America, an Ancestor's Life Travels through Documents

Intermediate Genealogy

Johanns Evangelist Zwisler

Johanns Evangelist Zwisler

The photo above is of my husband’s Great-Great Grandfather on his mother’s paternal side, Johanns Evangelist Zwisler. He was born in Germany and traveled to America in 1852. He moved to Pennsylvania, then Iowa, and then settled in Staten Island, New York where he died.

This blog post is going to show you how the documents that are generated for an individual person can provide strong clues about their life and family. I spend time every day researching my ancestors. It is a wonderful hobby and one of my passions!

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Above is a copy of Johanns’s birth record. He was born in Burgberg, Germany, 19 September 1833, and his parents were Gallus Zwisler and Kreszenz Reidle. In 1989 a researcher in Germany found his emigration records which stated that he was a baker and planned to work at his former fellow , the master baker Reiger, now in Philadelphia. This was in July 1852. He showed the authorities a shipping contract that showed his voyage would begin in Le Havre with the ship Merkur. At that time he was living with his father and step-mother in Gorisried, Germany. John actually is listed as a passenger on the ship Germania that arrived in New York on 25 September 1852. He stated he was a farmer and he traveled in steerage.

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John signed an Intent to become a Citizen on the 26th of August 1854 in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. It stated that he arrived in New York on September 28, 1852 and intended to settle in South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

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Catharina Elizabeth Metzler Zwisler

John Zwisler and Catharina Elizabeth Metzler were married 2 October 1855 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania by Bishop Charles F. Seidel. A search of marriage records for that time period was unsuccessful however an entry in the family bible gave this date and minister. (In May 1855 Bishop Charles F. Seidel was a Vice-President of the Moravian Church’s forty-second Provincial Synod in Bethlehem.) John and Elizabeth’s oldest child, Caroline (Carrie) was born in Bethlehem in July 1856 however by the time their second child, John was born in December 1857, they had moved to Fairfield, Jefferson County, Iowa. A search of the 1860 census for the family in Iowa was unsuccessful.


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The 1869 Burlington, Iowa City Directory lists John as a clerk in a grocery store, the same occupation listed in the 1870 census so we know this is our John.

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The 1870 Burlington, Iowa City Directory lists him (with the surname spelled Swissler) working as a porter for Thul but the family has moved to 7 S. Sixth Street.

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In the 1870 Census, shown above, (surname spelled Swisler) the family is living in Burlington, Des Moines County, Iowa. John is a clerk in a grocery store. John’s grandson Perry told me that the family left Iowa because Germans were not treated well where they lived.

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The 1871 City Directory spells the surname as Swissler. John is still a clerk with Thul and the family is living at the same address. (Each Directory is publishing information that was gathered months previously and then published.) By 1871 the family had moved to New York where their youngest child Frieda Ernestine was born in November 1871. The 1872 Burlington City Directory had no entry for John. Elizabeth Metzler Zwisler died 12 May 1877 in Staten Island. On 10 June 1877 the three youngest children, Carl Friedrich, Wilhelmine Frieda, and Frieda Ernestine were all baptized at the German Evangelical Church of Staten Island.


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John married Babette Blyer on the 19th of October in 1879 in Stapleton, Staten Island, New York.

Babette Zwisler

Babette Zwisler

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The 1880 Census shows John and Babette living with John’s three youngest children in the village of Edgewater, Middletown, Richmond County, New York and John is a Machinist.


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The five children of John and Elizabeth Zwisler who lived to adulthood, left to right, Ernestine, Caroline, Frederick, John and Minnie.

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John died 18 August 1895 and he and Elizabeth are buried in Sunnyside Cemetery, Staten Island, Richmond County, New York. In the 1950’s the Family Bible was in the possession of John’s Grandson, Fred , son of Frederick. (He changed his name to Fred Swisler.) It was borrowed and a copy was made but unfortunately it didn’t include the title page with the date of publication. In the 1980’s a relative went back to see it and they couldn’t find it so the present location is unknown.

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I have done research in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in German Parish Registers for John’s ancestors and have been successful for a few generations back but that search can be another blog post someday.