An elegant resolution

When I first began to explore my family tree, I asked my mother what she knew about her ancestors. She pulled out some old typewritten papers and documents that contained most of the information the family knew, and I pored over them. One of the family lines that caught my attention was my great-great-grandfather Henry John Dauber. He was born 23 October 1834 in New York City. The family notes even specified he was born on Delancey Street, near the police station. But there was no mention of his parents, either in the notes or on his death certificate.

As I researched Henry, I discovered it was unlikely there was any record of his birth in municipal or state records. New York did not begin keeping vital records until the 1880s. But I did know Henry, also called Heinrich, served in the Civil War and he received a pension. Hoping there would be some information about his birth or parentage in his pension application, I ordered a copy from the National Archives. Luckily the file did contain his birth info, but it was not what I expected!

In his Civil War pension application, Henry exhibited a "Wanderbuch" or passport, which was made in Germany in 1852 as proof of his birth. The passport stated Henry was born on 23 October 1834 in Marburg in the German state of Hesse. I knew from family lore the Daubers were supposed to be from Marburg, so the passport confirmed that location. But why did Henry’s passport say he was born there? Unfortunately, the Wanderbuch must have been lost, as it was not among the family papers. Maybe the family notes about the New York City birth were wrong?

The passport stated Henry was born on 23 October 1834 in Marburg in the German state of Hesse.

More research followed and I discovered a passenger arrival record that seemed to be his. Heinrich Dauber, born circa 1834 to 1835, from Hesse-Kassel (where Marburg is located), arrived in New York City on 12 May 1860. Before this I was unable to find Henry in census records. On 6 June 1861 he enlisted in the 41st Infantry Regiment, a special German regiment recruited in New York. Everything seemed to be pointing to a birth in Marburg rather than New York City.

But other records suggested the New York City birth was correct. After his service in the Civil War, all census records listed Henry with a New York birth. And I could find no record of a naturalization for him. Clearly more information was needed to figure out this conundrum.

Although I had no indication they were related to me, I researched all other Daubers living in Cleveland in the 1800s. This was the turning point in my research. It soon became apparent that Henry had siblings who emigrated from Marburg to Cleveland after he established himself there. Their death records named their parents.

It soon became apparent that Henry had siblings who emigrated from Marburg to Cleveland after he established himself there.

With parent and sibling names I now had enough information to search in German church records. Surely these records would solve the mystery of where Henry was born. Although the church records I needed had not been microfilmed, I was able to determine the archive that would have the records and write to them. A month later I received Henry’s baptism record and the records for the rest of his siblings. The cover letter said that Henry was born in Marburg! Or was he?

A closer look at his baptism record revealed that the official who pulled the records for me did not read them carefully. Henry’s baptism stated he was born in New York on Pitt Street. Pitt Street crosses Delancey Street one short block away from where a “watch house” (the precursor to a police station) stood in 1834. Now I had my answer. Henry was born in New York City. And while he was not born “on Delancey Street,” he was born near the police station located on Delancey Street.

It turns out Henry’s parents, Heinrich and Katharina (Wick) Dauber, left Marburg soon after their first child died there in January 1834. Heinrich was a mauremeister, or master stone mason, and may have gone to New York City in search of work. One of Henry’s baptismal sponsors was his uncle Heinrich Wick, another mauremeister who also went to New York City. However, New York may not have appealed to either family. Heinrich Wick was back in Marburg by 1836, and according to Henry’s baptism record, the Dauber family returned to Marburg on 29 August 1838.

Henry knew he was born in New York and all post-1860 census records correctly list that.

Finally, the puzzle pieces all fit together. Henry’s baptismal record was copied into the Marburg church records when the family returned there from New York. Henry was a stone mason like his father and, when he began his time as a journeyman mason, he needed a Wanderbuch to travel from town to town. This passport listed his birth, found in the Marburg baptismal register, in error, as occurring in Marburg. Henry returned to New York in 1860, and that is why there were no early U.S. Census records for him. Henry knew he was born in New York and all post-1860 census records correctly list that. Henry did not need to naturalize as he was a U.S. citizen by virtue of his birth in New York. When he needed proof of his age for his Civil War pension, he showed them his Wanderbuch. The pension inspector did not care where he was born; only his age was necessary to determine his benefits.

Pam Guye Holland

About Pam Guye Holland

Pam has been researching family roots in Ireland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Germany for over twenty years. She is the genetic genealogy director for the Massachusetts Genealogical Council and is a certificate holder from the Boston University Genealogical Research Certificate program. She lectures internationally, is a regular contributor to the NEHGS blog, Vita-Brevis, and has published articles on genetics and genealogy in the American Ancestors magazine. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, she grew up in West Virginia, and currently resides in the Boston area. During her earlier career she earned a BA in International Relations from the College of Wooster and a MS in Computer Science from Northeastern University. Areas of expertise: Irish immigration, Irish records, DNA, church records, German, New York (both city and state), and New England.View all posts by Pam Guye Holland