For those who don’t know what a brick wall ancestor is, that is the furthest-back ancestor you’ve managed to find on a branch of your tree, but have never been able to find more. Often this is because of immigration, or war, or other issues that left records scattered or scarce. The two most obvious forms of this in the last few centuries would be American Slavery and the Nazi purge in Europe during WWII, but most could probably come up with several other examples of such in their own family tree.
I’ve been lucky in the fact that from the beginning of the time I began working on my genealogy, I had my tree traced back on all sides through my great-great grandparents. That is, my grandparents’ grandparents. In all cases I have full (or mostly-full) names, and in many at least a year of birth and/or death. However, in too many cases, that’s almost all I have, aside from children. And in a few cases, barely even that.
Brick Wall I
My grandfather, Sam Hillinger, was born in Frankfurt shortly before the rise of the Nazis. His family were Jewish, and his father was a shopkeeper, which means they were targets of the growing aggression around them. His family emigrated from Germany to the US in the mid-thirties, thankfully, but it has left that part of our family tree rather sparse. Especially since the Nazis systematically destroyed all records of their victims—birth, weddings, any documentation about Jews in Germany were quickly destroyed. Which means all we know about our family came from my grandfather, who was, unsurprisingly, close-mouthed about his family.
But here’s what we do know. Sam’s parents were Alex and Dora (nee Kresh) Hillinger, a couple who met in Frankfurt and decided to raise a family there together.
Alex was born 1883, to Leon Seneft and Mindel Hillinger, though we’re not sure where, precisely. We have no idea if his parents had any other children, or his parent’s birthdates or birth places. Only that they were German citizens when he was born. He was born Alex Seneft, but after World War I, he was ejected from England as a German national. When he arrived in Germany, he was told that his parents’ wedding could not be recognized, since it was a religious (Jewish) rather than civil ceremony. So he had to take on his mother’s maiden name of Hillinger. Alex died in 1948.
Dora was born January 15, 1892, possibly in the border area between Germany and Poland, as my grandfather was listed as Polish on his immigration card despite being born in Frankfurt, Germany. Her parents were Benzion and Feige Golda (nee Reich) Kresch. Again, we have no birthdates or other kids for either of her parents, though I do know that there are siblings on either her side or Alex’s side, as I have recently heard mention of a cousin. Dora died in April of 1969.
Alex and Dora had six kids. Ben (born 7/20/1920), Sam and Mina (born 1/5/1922, Helena (1923), Hilda (1927), and Selma (1931), in that order. I also know that there was a cousin Selma (as mentioned above), but I do not know to whom she was related. I have more information on the kids and their families, but what I truly need is the information about Alex and Dora and their families.
Brick Wall II
My great grandmother, Julie Oline Hansen (known as Oline), died when my grandmother was nine years of age of pneumonia, so my grandmother and her siblings (all younger than her) lost contact with her mother’s family, most of which was still back in Denmark, since my grandmother’s parents had set up their home in Cleveland, Illinois.
In the early 80’s, my grandmother’s sister, set out to find more about that side of their family, and sent a letter to the town where their mother had been listed as being born in the documents she was able to find: Fjenneslev, Denmark. The town mayor was kind enough not only to respond, but to send along detailed information about Oline’s parents and her siblings.
So here’s what we have for certain. Oline’s parents were Rasmus Hansen, born October 20, 1845 in Knudstrup, Denmark, and Maren Sophie Olsen, born June 27, 1855 in Slots-Bjergby, Denmark. Rasmus and Maren had six children: Herman (born June 20, 1882), Maren Hansine Marie (born October 15, 1884), Julie Oline (born December 26, 1886), Hans Kristian (born July 5, 1890), Johanne Kristen (born October 24, 1891), and Ole (born August 7, 1892).
We speculate that Oline came over to the US with her brother Hans and possibly an aunt or uncle’s family, and did not meet her husband Holger until she came back from a visit to Denmark in the nineteen-teens on the same boat he was on when he first came to the states.
We know nothing for certain about Rasmus or Sophie’s families, though one very helpful online friend did help me by looking for them in the census of the area. He was able to find a farming family in the area Rasmus was born with a son named Rasmus who was the right age, so that may be my great-great grandfather. The head of the family was Hans Nielson, and his wife’s name was Maren Rasmussen. They had five children listed on the census: Ole, Niels, Rasmus, Jorgen, and Jens. I’m still looking for any information that will verify that connection, and I have yet to find any information on Sophie’s family.
Brick Wall III
This is the first branch of my family tree that drew my attention when I started working on my genealogy. And it is the one that has given me the most headaches. As I said in an earlier post, my grandfather’s death in 1991 was the reason I got into researching my family tree in the first place. He was the last of his direct line, and I worried that we would have none of it recorded because he was now gone. It turned out not to be completely true. The Norwegian side of the family, his father’s, is well-traced out. But his mother’s side of the family, we have almost no information.
Mary Dunlop Park was one of seven children born to Robert James and Elizabeth (nee Curran) Park. The two immigrated from Ireland to Philadelphia sometime in the late 1800’s, and most if not all their children, including Mary, were born there. Sometime after that, the family left Philadelphia and, according to the family story, they returned to Ireland, followed sometime after by another move—this time to Canada, eventually settling (I believe) in Vancouver BC.
Their children’s names were Robert, Elizabeth, Mary, Rhoda, Margaret, George and Florence. The only two children whose birthdates I’m certain of are my great-grandmother Mary, who was born January 5, 1891, and her younger sister Margaret, aka Margie, who was born February 7, 1895. Robert’s birthdate I have down as June 1852, and Elizabeth I have listed as February 19, 1861. I also know that she apparently was born in Belfast, and had at least two siblings—Sarah and Rhoda.
Beyond that, we know nothing at all about this branch of the tree, and navigating the maze of the Curran family online is difficult at best. But I keep trying, in hopes that I will eventually find something someday.
To my family reading this: if you see anything in here that I’ve left out—names, dates, other information you know on these specific areas of our tree, do let me know. I would love to add it.
And to anyone else out there searching for these names…if you have info that looks like it fits, I would love to talk with you about the similarities and differences between our bits of information.
For everyone that read this far, thank you, and good luck in your own research.