Geneablogy: An occasional Journal about our experiences exploring our heritage

Sunday, October 8, 2000

One of the most fun days of my trip to Michigan in August was the day I spent in Saginaw with my cousin Carol, whose post to a genealogy query board about her great-grandmother Helen Prillwitz got me started on this whole thing in the first place. Carol and I had agreed to meet in Saginaw, but had trouble connecting to finalize the details. I tried calling the day before, but I think all I got was her answering machine. I tried calling her again from a rest area on the way up to Saginaw in the morning, but her phone was busy. I had mentioned that I was going to the Hoyt Public Library, so as I was sitting there in the morning looking at microfilms, one of the librarians came in asking if there was a Ralph Brandi there, saying that there was a young lady on the telephone wanting to know if I was there and saying that she would be there within an hour. I'm glad she did that, because we had a lot of fun together.

When Carol arrived, I had been looking at naturalization records from the Saginaw County Courts. I found a bunch of records, but since they were all from before 1906, they didn't give me any new information. Still, it was interesting to see them. One interesting thing I found was that when I looked at Michael Brandi's Petition for Naturalization, right on the opposite page was a petition for someone else, Vincenzo Damiano, and that petition had been witnessed by and Mr. Damiano vouched for by my great-grandfather, Ralph Brandi. So that was a neat find.

Vincenzo Brandi declared his intention to become a citizen in August, 1890 (the actual date is kind of obscured). Carlo Rapa, who Vincenzo worked for for a while and who I figure was related somehow to Maria, although I haven't figure out how yet, declared on March 29, 1892. Emil Prillwitz, Ralph's father-in-law, declared his intention on August 30, 1902. And Michael Brandi, who still signed his name "Michele", declared his intention on May 31, 1904, witnessed by Alf Malmberg, who either was at the time or had been at some point Michael's employer. There's not much information beyond that in these, so they're mainly interesting for showing the signatures of the people involved.

I had also looked at some Census records. One thing I found was that in 1920, Helen (Prillwitz) Brandi was living in Detroit with her daughter Melvina, her husband Warren Hooten, and their daughter Gwyneth. Helen was working as a domestic, which seems to have been her life-long occupation. She shows up doing that in the 1889 Saginaw city directory, in the 1920 Census, and later, in the Detroit city directory in the early 1930s.

When Carol arrived, I showed her some of the stuff I had found and how I found it. We talked for a little while, then went out to get some lunch and to try and find the houses where our family had lived. I had a number of addresses. Vincenzo and Maria lived at 235 Dwight from 1889 to 1909. Ralph had boarded there until 1891, then in the 1893 city directory is listed as living at 235 Dwight, where he lived until roughly 1900-1901, when he moved to 627 N. Franklin St. He lived there until 1912, then in a variety of other places, including 2020 N. Fayette, where my grandfather was born, until moving back to 627 N. Franklin in 1921. We thought we found the lot on N. Franklin, but in retrospect I'm not so sure. It became clear that Saginaw had at some point renumbered all the addresses in the city. Dwight St. is a very short street, only a block or two long, but there were no addresses in the 200s there; all the houses were in the 1300s as I recall. And N. Fayette St. ends in the 1500s, with 1600 N. Fayette being the address of a park. There is no 2020 N. Fayette. So I think we'll have to do some more research to find out what the addresses have become, maybe find some plat maps of Saginaw or something. Maybe the librarians at the beautiful Hoyt Public Library could be of assistance here, either to Carol if she has time to go there or to me next time I come back.

We stopped and had lunch at a fast food joint on the west side of the river, which is apparently the nicer side of Saginaw (and where Fayette St. is, so perhaps Ralph Sr. was making a nice living as a tailor by the late teens), and talked on Carol's cell phone with her sister Sharon, who would like everyone to know that she does in fact remember much more about her great-grandmother Helen than just sitting on her knee. Sharon also insisted that Ralph came from San Marino, the world's smallest republic, but given that I've found the birth records, marriage records, and death records for family members in San Potito, I think it's time to put that theory to rest. Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet Sharon face-to-face, since she was pretty busy with her job that day, but hopefully I'll get to next time I'm in town.

Carol and I figured it was time to visit the cemetery where Ralph Sr., Antonina, Vincenzo and Maria, and Philip and Vincent were buried. I had received from the Catholic Cemetery Commission the page from the Calvary burial list that showed which Brandis were buried there, and they were all in the same plot, Lot 130 in Section N. But the cemetery itself wasn't that easy to find. I knew roughly were it was, but the roads were under construction in the area, which didn't make things any easier. We found the main cemetery in the area, but there wasn't any way to get to Calvary from it. So we drove around a little more and ultimately found the cemetery in a park! There was an amusement park in the park, which we were able to go into for free because we needed to get some film for our foray into the cemetery. When we got to the cemetery itself, we found that the gates were locked, and there was a sign that said that people should go to the commission offices to get the key. I guess that they keep it locked because it's not really an active cemetery any more. But that would waste time. Carol suggested we just hop the fence. So we did, something that I suspect Carol found a little easier to do than I did. :-) We wandered around for a while, looking for the grave, but the cemetery wasn't particularly well marked, and we didn't find it. So we hopped the fence again, and decided to do things the right way and stop by the commission offices and see if maybe they had a map. Sure enough, they did, they gave us the keys, and we went back and were able to find the marker with no difficulty.

The monument was quite impressive, not huge, but big enough, about 8-10 feet tall I would guess, with a statue of some sort at the top. I took pictures, and Carol and I dragooned someone else who was in the cemetery at the time to take pictures of the two of us in front of the monument, but I haven't gotten the pictures developed yet. I'll post them here when I do.

One thing that I found interesting was that there were only two names on the monument, despite the fact that I knew that there were six people buried there. We checked to see if any of the nearby markers were family, but they didn't seem to be. There was plenty of room for the other four people, but they just weren't listed. Maybe we can rectify that at some point.

We returned the keys to the commission office, and I asked if they had any other records. All they really have for Calvary, apparently, is a file of 3x5 index cards listing who is buried there. They made copies of the six Brandi 3x5s on two pages, but there really wasn't much information there.

We were thirsty after wandering around the cemetery, so we decided to stop at a party store and get some sodas. We passed on one because it looked too grubby. We stopped at another one, but before we could even get out of the car, there was an incident where someone was being forcefully bounced out of the store. When they threw him out, he almost hit my car, actually. We didn't stick around to see what happened next.

After that, we went back to the library for a few hours. We spent some time looking up obituaries from the list I had made up by looking at the Saginaw Public Library online obituary database. That was a goldmine of information. I think I'm going to hold off on everything we found there for another post, but one thing that we discovered was that Helen had two sisters who had come to Saginaw as well. Helen's obit said that she was survived by two sisters, Mrs. George Reiger, Saginaw, and Mrs. John Rellox, Detroit, plus two other sisters in Germany. So Carol looked at the obit database and found an obit for Mrs. Anna H. Rieger, who died in 1968 at the age of 91. Anna's obit also mentioned a surviving sister, Mrs. Martha Hyden of Germany. Unfortunately, none of this said where in Germany, but no matter.

When we went back upstairs to the genealogy collection, we looked for marriage records and found one for Anne Prillwitz and George Reiger. We also found one for Ralph Brandi and Helena M. Wendt from 1890. It appears that in Germany, daughters used their mother's last name, because Helen's mother is listed as "Wendt". Her first name was indecipherable, lost in the shadow of the binding when it was microfilmed. Helen's father is listed as "Emil", which is the first proof we've found that Emil was Helen's father. Anne and George's marriage record give a little more detail, but not much; her mother is shown as "ha Wendt", with the rest being lost in the shadow. (I eventually discovered what her full name was.) I also found a marriage record for Michael Brandi and Mary Zito, dated February 5, 1902, which I mentioned in my previous entry. The interesting thing here is that it shows Michael's father's name as "Daniel" and his mother's name as "C. Fredericke". As I noted below, that fits nicely with the marriage record I found for Daniele Brandi and Maria Chiara Federico in San Potito Sannitico.

There was a bunch of other stuff at the library. They had a nice card catalog that listed businesses and stuff. I don't remember what else it listed; that's what I get for taking two months to write all this stuff down. :-P I remember looking through it, but I don't remember finding anything in it. Carol and I also looked through the book room next to the microfilm room. I found a few city directories. Carlo Rapa is listed as Charles Rappa with his wife Martha, working as a grocer in 1922. Ralph Sr. is residing at 2020 N. Fayette in 1919, which is the year and place my grandfather was born, and his mother Mary is listed as living at 627 N. Franklin as the widow of Vincent. By 1922, Ralph and Anthonia (sic) have moved back to 627 N. Franklin, and Mary is still there. One thing that was interesting that we found there was that they've got the Germans to America series of books. I showed Carol how to use them, but we didn't have much time left at that point, so we didn't find any Prillwitzes or Wendts.

By then, Carol needed to get home for her kids. She invited me to crash at her place that night, but I figured I needed to get back to Detroit for the next day. Hopefully next year. :-) We took some pictures of the two of us in front of the library, but again, I don't have those developed yet. I'll post them when I do. Carol wasn't sure how to get to the highway, so we drove out to the exit together, and she went west to Mt. Pleasant, and I went east (and then south) to Detroit. All in all, it was a lot of fun, and Carol was a blast to spend the day with. :-)


Census Records

Cemetery Records

Marriage Records


City Directories

Posted at 11:19:55 PM