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Monday, February 1, 2010

Creating Timelines and Listing Clues in Census Records

Cindy asked
I have been looking for the ship passenger list, birth and marriage records for my great great grandfather
Sebastian Steltzlen, without any luck. He was born in Alsace, France in 1842 and he arrived in America in 1873...I think. (All of the census records that asked "how long have you been in this country" corroborate this year.) I also found a New York arrival of a Sebastian "Steltzner" in 1873. His Surname is spelled wrong, and I think his birth year is incorrect. I would like to look at the actual document but, haven't been able to find the P. William Filby
"Passenger and Immigration ships lists 1500's-1900's" book, that I'm able to actually look at. Also, I haven't been able to find his birth or marriage records.

The 1880 US census in Iowa lists him as "L. Steltzlen" (The last name is spelled correctly but, this is the census I'm not sure is his!)
The Nebraska State census collection 1860-1885, has him listed in 1885 as "Sylvest Steltzer" birth ABT 1838. The1900 US census in Arkansas lists him as "Sebastain Stellzlen" and the 1910 US census in Arkansas lists him as "Sebastian Stillzlen."The only photo I have of Sebastian, Hannah and their children Mary Elizabeth, William Whitney, Maud Mae, and Manley Sebastian Is of them standing in front of their sod house in Nebraska. The 1880 census I mentioned above, lists a "L. And Elizabeth Steltzner" from Nebraska that looks like It could be Sebastian and his wife Hannah Elizabeth Whitney-Steltzlen but... I'm not sure. Their birth dates and birth places (France and Ohio), ages, all 4 parents birth places (Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and France) , Their daughters' name and age ALL match. So...could Sebastian's first name actually start with the initial "L" and his middle name be Sebastian?

I also found land grants in Nebraska belonging to "L. Steltzner". (Sebastian was a farmer.)Problem is, they were issued by Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and Ulysses S. Grant in 1884 (?) . If Sebastian didn't arrive until 1873 this couldn't be him. Right? So would that mean the 1880 census mentioned above for "L. Steltzner" is for a different person with lots of coincidental facts? I'm really stumped now.

OLIVE TREE ANSWER: Dear Cindy, you have a challenge with this surname. You will have to be very creative and remember that spelling was not exact back in Sebastian's time. Also his is a foreign name and you may find it recorded in an Anglized version. As well, old handwriting can be very difficult to read! It is very common for upper case S to be confused with upper case L. So if you are finding records that say "L" instead of "S" and if those records are not the originals, you need to seek out the original document to see for yourself. In other words, you can NOT trust an index or a transcription to be 100% accurate. There is always the chance of error.

The surname Steltzlen could have a dizzying variety of alternate spellings! Steltzier (misread of "n" for "r"), Steltsen, Steltzen, Steltsien, and so on.

Taking this in chronological order, you need to find Sebastian in census for 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910 and so on. I had quick look just to see if there were clues you may have overlooked in those census records where you found your ancestor. I like to make a timeline too, and list in point form what I have found in the various records. I always check the images for myself, I don't list what is in the index or transcribed version unless the image is not available.

1880 census Scott, Henry, Iowa. I assume this is where you saw "L" and Elizabeth Steltzlen? This is the index, so you must look to the image to see what you make of his name. Before you do though, note that their daughter Mary is the right age and born in the right location to be the same Mary shown in the 1885 census. Plus the father is born France, the mother Elizabeth in Ohio, all of which fits your man. I feel quite confident that this is your ancestor Sebastian.

1885 Census Custer Nebraska. As you noted, Sebastian is recorded as Sylvester, as is his son Manley Sebastian. But it is definitely your ancestor as the places of birth and ages as well as names agree with later records. The first 3 children were born in Iowa, the eldest being age 9 so born circa 1876. It may be that Sylvester is a middle name for your Sebastian, you should just keep this in mind as you search for him.

This census says Sebastian/Sylvester is a farmer so you would expect to find land records for him. I suspect the records you found for "L" Steltzner is a matter of that upper case letter S being misread as an L.

1900 census Morris, Arkansas, Arkansas. Sebastian is recorded as born in France in 1842 and married for 22 years. This gives him a marriage year of circa 1878. You can see there is a discrepancy with the birth year of his daughter Mary shown in that 1885 census, so you will have to be very careful to search a few years on either side of the year of marriage given here. Also don't overlook the possibility that Sebastian may have been married more than once. In fact, given his age (approximately 36) for that marriage to Hannah Elizabeth circa 1878, it would not surprise me to learn he had a previous wife, and perhaps another child or two.

Since his wife, Hannah E. is recorded as born Ohio, we might assume they married in America, so we know he immigrated before 1878. The census indicates that he is naturalized (wow, have you looked for his naturalization records??), and that he immigrated in 1873. She says she is the mother of 5 children. Daughter Maude was born in 1884 in Nebraska and Lizzie 1885 same state.

1910 Vaugine, Jefferson, Arkansas shows Sebastian as a widower (have you looked for his wife Hannah E's death record? You know she died between 1900 and 1910 from the census records) living with his son Manly who was born about 1882 in Iowa.

I see that Manly's death took place 21 Nov 1948 in Searcy Arkansas. I would order his death certificate if I were you. It may contain his father's exact place of birth.

Regarding that passenger list entry you found for Sebastian arriving 1873, it says that he came in to New York. That means you can look for the actual passenger list online. has those ships passenger lists to New York so I would check there first. If you want to consult Filby's book Passenger and Immigration ships lists 1500's-1900, a large library should have this. Have you checked The Library of Congress website?

I hope that my outline of how I approached your genealogy puzzle has helped, and that new clues have been found that will aid you in your continuing search. I think you have done a very good job of gathering facts, and thinking about what they are telling you. You have been diligent in not dismissing a find simply because the names are not quite identical. I am sure you will find more records for Sebastian as you continue.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lorine!
    Thank you so much for responding to my questions!!! In the Iowa land records of 1864/1884 it actually doesn't use the name
    "L. Steltzlen", it is written out as
    Louis Steltzlen. Since you are pretty confident this "L. Steltzlen" in the Iowa 1880 census is my ancestor Sebastian Steltzlen then, these must also be his land grants. Right? How was he able to get a land grant issued before he immigrated to the US?? Could he have come here more than once? LOL! I will look up all of your great suggestions, and I really appreciate all the time you took to help me! Thank you again! Cindy Sowell RN