Thursday, January 13, 2011

Start with what you know

When I dove into the genealogy pool last March, that's exactly what I did. After entering myself, my brother, our parents and grandparents, I started with my mother's maternal grandparents.

Edith, Ella, Hubert and Elsie Buss, children of Fred Buss and Maude Bogenrief
abt 1910, holding their most prized possessions
My mother's grandfather, Frederick James Buss, dictated his life story to my grandmother, Ella Louisa Buss, on his 77th birthday. Several years ago, my mother and I took that typewritten copy and re-typed it into the computer so we could all have a copy of it.

February 9th, 1940. - National City, California
By Fred J. Buss
Maude and Fred Buss on their wedding day30 Jun 1897
This day I will write the history of my life to my four children: Elsie, Ella, Edith, and Hubert-all born on the farm in Douglas Township on section fifteen (15) south-west quarter, Sac County Iowa. Your mother was born on the north-east quarter of the same section in the same township, in 1877. I went to school with her brothers and sisters in Illinois seven or eight years before she was born. She had one sister about my age whose name was Elizabeth. We were in the same class and studied from the same book and I thought she was the nicest girl in school. But she died of typhoid fever October 3, 1880 in Iowa on section fifteen (15) in Douglas Township and I waited seventeen years and then I married her youngest sister, Maude Bogenrief in 1897. We spent forty-one years of happy life together and then she passed away and left me alone in this wide world like I was the first thirty-four years of my life.

In many ways, Great-grandpa Buss's life story was full of specific details.

We lived fifteen years on this farm and there were nine children-six live ones. Henry was four years older than myself; John two years younger than Henry; Louis four years younger than me; Sophia seven years younger than me and Elizabeth ten years younger than me. Father found plenty of work on the little farm for all of us and enough to eat. We never were without bread and potatoes and cabbage and all kinds of garden stuff. We had six or seven cows and some young cattle that we let run all over in the timber that didn't cost anything for pasture. The land belonged to a speculator who didn't fence it. Father would go to the neighbor's and stack straw for half of it. That way he always had plenty of feed. We dug out big stumps and cut them up for firewood and saved all the trees for fence posts and rails. But he broke down in health and the last three or four years he had the Ague every fall. So he sold the farm for $1000 to Ward Howard and we came to Iowa in the spring of 1874 on April 17th. We arrived in Newell and the prairie was all one pond close by another. Half of the country was under water. Old Bill Stoot was running a delivery barn so father got him to bring us to Sac County. It took four hours to go seven miles to my wife's parents. The people were all glad to see us come and settle. Father rented a farm from Sam Armstrong for one-quarter rent. It had lain idle and the fire had burned up all the buildings except the house. We built some sheds and stables the best we could. We lived there seven years but we saw some hard times. In the winter of 1876 Mother died and father was too feeble to do any work so us boys had to stay home from school and do the work to keep the wolf away. Crops were poor on account of the grasshoppers and gophers. The blackbirds would take in the corn as fast as it came up. I had an old muzzle-loading gun and I was out in the corn field from early in the morning until late at night shooting as fast as I could load my gun or else we wouldn't get a crop at all. On the other hand we had all the wild game that we wanted. Ducks, geese, cranes and prairie chickens were so plenty that there was no sale for them but they were good to eat. In the winter we would catch muskrats and sell the hide for seven or eight cents and feed the rats to the hogs, but hogs at that time sold for two cents or three cents a pound. Cows sold from fifteen to twenty dollars; butter six to ten cents a pound. I picked corn for fifty cents a day in the winter when we got ours all done and I thought I was getting big pay. The first four years we were in Iowa we had to plant all of our corn by hand. It was a slow job. Four of us would plant about five acres a day. We used a hoe to cover the corn and we had a cropper attached to the mower that we used to cut the oats and wheat with. It worked pretty good but we had to bind it by hand and get it out of the way so it could cut another swathe.

As a beginning genealogist, I was thrilled by the details, but frustrated by one detail he left out: his mother's name. He doesn't dwell on the deaths of loved ones (his childhood sweetheart, the three siblings who didn't make it, and his mother), but in the brevity of those details, I hear emotional pain, and I feel for the guy, but I really, really wanted to know his mother's name.

The first census record I found (ever) was this one from 1880:

It completely supports every detail Fred mentions and leaves out everything Fred left out. After this census record, I found many records going forward, but eventually, I found the 1870 census record.

The first thing I noticed was my great-great-grandmother's name: Louisa!

Next, I noticed the difference in spelling of the last name (Busse, rather than Buss), but wasn't sure what to make of it. We had one of those family stories that so many people have, which was that "they" (some authority figure at the gates of America) changed the family name when my g2grandfather immigrated. He was illiterate and didn't speak English, so "they" did the best they could to understand his name and write it down, and from then on, we were stuck with Buss. Except that makes no sense, because it wasn't like they would have handed him a piece of paper and told him, "Here's your name from now on." At any rate, I found the variation in spelling interesting, but not significant.

The next thing I noticed was that Louis was missing. And who was Minnie? I found Louis at the top of the next page, but I realized that I had made an incorrect assumption about those three siblings that didn't live. I assumed they had all died as infants, but there was Minnie, four years old in 1870, and Fred never mentioned her by name. I don't know if she died before they left Illinois, or after they came to Iowa. This was the first of many times when a census record of bald facts would break my heart.

(clockwise) Lizzie, Sophia, Fred and Henry Buss
My next goal was to find the elusive 1860 census, the first one on which my great-great grandfather would have appeared. I had no expectation at the time that I would discover my great-great grandmother's maiden name. It seemed impossible.

Over time, I got more adept at searching for people in census records when I knew where they lived. I knew where they were living in 1860, but I couldn't get any hits on name/age or name/spouse combinations. I knew they would have had a baby by then, so I searched on males named Henry between 0 and 4 years old. Nothing. Eventually, I remembered that the Buss family had been friends with the Bogenriefs (my great-grandmother's family) in Illinois before coming to Iowa. The reason the Buss family left Illinois was because the Bogenriefs had left. They all settled on the same section of land, which is where Fred's childhood sweetheart died and where her younger sister was born. So I paged through the enumeration district where the Bogenriefs lived, and I finally found this:

W. Buzzy, age 27, male
Elizabeth, age 25, female
Henry, age 2, female(!)

The index search hadn't picked up this record for a number of reasons.
  • The last name was transcribed as "Buggy," not Buzzy.
  • I hadn't found William because he was listed by first initial only.
  • I hadn't found Louisa because she was listed as Elizabeth (still not sure why, but given that one daughter was named Sophia Louisa and the other Elizabeth Mary, it's possible that Louisa's middle name was Elizabeth. Or not. Aunt Lizzie might have been named for her mother's older sister who died of typhoid).
  • Henry is listed as female and born in Germany.
  • The ages of the adults are off by several years.

On the surface, it would seem these people couldn't possibly be my great-great grandparents, and yet, I am completely convinced that they are. I have found many errors in census records, and many reasons to question whether a record that looks off is off because it's not my people, or for another reason. In this case, I think it's off because there was either a language barrier, or William and Louisa weren't the ones answering the questions. Recently, when looking for one of my husband's ancestors, I found a census record that caught my eye, but when I saw the first names of the adults, and their ages, I dismissed the record.  Tthe kids' names were exactly right, and they were the right ages, but the parents' names and ages were wrong, as was their country of origin. And then I found the ancestor's sister living two doors down, and realized the address where the questionable ancestor lived was the same as the address in the city directory for that year. The questionable ancestor lived in a multi-family dwelling. My guess is that someone else told the enumerator the "facts" about my husband's ancestor.

So I am quite certain this 1860 census record is that of my great-great grandparents. The one question I did have, was why the enumerator would spell the name "Buzzy." I wondered if it was somehow related to the spelling from the 1870 census, "Busse." I asked a friend who speaks German how "Busse" would be pronounced. First, she told me that no German word would end with "ss," so the "sse" ending was likely correct. Then she told me "Busse" is pronounced "Buss-eh," so "Buzzy" is a pretty fair phonetic spelling of that pronunciation.

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