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.

Who do you think they were?

Genealogy for Beginners

1927 in Balboa.

1927 in Balboa.

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I will be posting here about Genealogy from time to time, some posts for beginners and some for intermediate researchers. I will try to identify which is which. I am a Genealogist, I trace family history.  I have been doing this for over 30 years and I taught genealogy classes for many years.  I do genealogical research almost every day, it is a passion for me.  The top photo is my mother on the left at age 11, in 1927, and two of her sisters, Lois and Margaret. Above is a photo from about 1940 of my maternal grandparents (back left) with some of their family including my mother (second row down, third from the left). With all the genealogical resources now on the Internet it can be fairly easy to go back a few generations quickly if you know where to look. If you don't have birth, marriage and death certificates for your parents and/or grandparents that will give you further information, you can start with the 1940 U.S. Census, the most recent Census that is available for the public to use.  It is available online for free at https://www.familysearch.org/1940census. The link leads you to the index where you can search for your family by name and other identifying terms. The other Census decades are available at Family Search as well. The Census pages are very difficult to photograph but when you follow the link and find your family, you will be able to see the columns very clearly.

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This is a page from the 1940 US Census that shows my maternal grandfather and grandmother (at the bottom, Willis and Joanna Leonard) who were living in San Bernardino, California at that time.  The Census shows (along the left edge) that they were living at 3233 Pershing Avenue.

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As you can see, there is a large amount of other information that is provided about them including age, occupation, income, and their state or country of birth.  It also tells where they were in 1935 as well. You should always read across the top and see what the columns include.

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The US Census has been taken every 10 years since 1790 however the Censuses before 1850 only list the head of the household and the 1890 Census was destroyed by fire.  Each Census contains different information and it is important to track your family line back through every decade and read each column carefully so you don't miss anything. The Census may contain errors because the census worker was relying on whoever it was who answered the door and provided the information. Also the information between Censuses may differ from decade to decade because memories of the past might have changed or the information wasn't known firsthand and was inaccurate. 

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This page shows the family (at the bottom) in the 1930 US Census, still living in San Bernardino but now living at 427 Magnolia Avenue.  Willis and Joanna are listed but also in the household are two daughters, Lois and K. Elizabeth and Willis's mother-in-law, Emma L Howey. 

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The Censuses from 1880 on state the relationship of everyone in the household to the head of the household only, no one else. This is important to remember when there are multiple marriages in a family. The 1930 Census also listed what ages the head of the household and spouse were when they were first married and it also gives the state or country where their parents were born.  Again, you need to read each column, across the top, to see what information is provided.

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This Census page shows the family in 1920, again in San Bernardino, and at the same address.  This is 10 years earlier and there are now other children still living at home.

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What is interesting to note here is that for the older children, the birthplace of the mother is different from the younger children.  This is a strong clue that Willis may have been married before he married Joanna. The other clue is the fact that the oldest child listed is only 16 years younger than Joanna, another strong indication of an earlier marriage. Another clue is the gap between the birth of daughters Dorothy and Lois.

As you move back through the Census decades you will be able to find more information about your family.  It can be a challenge but it is worth it! More genealogy tips to come in the future! Send me a comment if you have any questions.