Geneablogy: An occasional Journal about our experiences exploring our heritage

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I've been digging into my great-great grandfather Charles Leon Schmitt's ancestry, as I promised. I haven't made any firm conclusions yet. As they say on Facebook, it's complicated. This has been a brick wall for several years now.

Charles' death certificate gives his parents' names as Robert Schmitt and Anna Souliere, as I noted back in 2004. I now think that this information, provided by his wife Daley, is partially wrong.

Charles' death certificate and burial record both give his birth date at March 29, 1880. Robert and Anna appear not to have married until 1891, and it was not the first marriage for either of them.

The only Robert Schmitt I've found in the Census in Michigan was the son of John Schmitt, a grocer/liquor merchant and politician (he was a Detroit alderman in the 1880s according to my research). John was quite wealthy as a result of his business activities, and owned farmland out in Grosse Pointe in addition to his house at 379 St. Aubin and his grocery/liquor store at 37 Michigan Grand Ave., later renamed Cadillac Square. Robert was the sixth of eight children. His older brothers eventually took ownership of the liquor business (and later became alcohlics and died, except for the brother who became a doctor and moved to California, but that's another story), but Robert wasn't an owner; he worked as a clerk there in the late 1870s, then went on to take care of his father's farm in Grosse Pointe. Robert married his first wife, Emma Pfiefle, on May 8, 1879. In the 1880 census, he shows up in Grosse Pointe as Robert F. Schmitt, with Emma and her brother Adam Pfiefle. The 1884 Michigan Census of Grosse Pointe, as transcribed by the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, shows Robert and Emma still living in Grosse Pointe, and John now living next door to them. I found an paragraph in the Detroit Free Press in 1887 saying that Robert had filed for divorce from his wife Emma on the grounds of alleged cruelty, desertion and improper conduct.

On February 3, 1891, I found a marriage record for Ferdinand R. Schmitt and Anna Kleiber, nee Soulliere. I've found that Germans in Detroit often switched between their first and middle names, so I believe this is Robert. Both are shown as having been married once before. Anna's maiden name is shown as Suthier, but on the marriage affadvit I found that she was illiterate and signed with an X, and given that the pastor who married them, Otto Haass, was German and may not have understood the French pronounciation properly, I don't find it hard to believe that the name was mis-transcribed. So Robert and Anna were married in 1891, almost 11 years after Charles was born. They're unlikely to both be Charles' parents.

I note that the 1880 Census was taken on June 1st of that year. Charles is not living in the house with Robert and Emma then, when he would have been two months old, and he is not living with them in the 1884 Census transcribed by the DSGR. I think it's more likely that Charles is the son of Anne than of Robert.

So I went looking for records involving Anne and her first husband. I found a birth record for Stella Cliebare, parents Charles (born in Detroit) and Anna (born in Canada), born 14 August 1883, and a birth record for Minnie Cliber, parents Charles and Annie, born 29 November 1881.

One last note about Robert. I found an article about his death on June 18, 1895, in the Detroit Free Press. It was front page news. He was working on his father's farm, chasing after a colt who was a little wild, trying to get his attention with a handful of bran. In doing so, he didn't notice a mound in the field. He tripped on the mound, fell down into a hole, and broke his neck. He was 38 years old. One of his sons was there with him when the accident happened. The article and the associated obituaries mention that he was survived by his wife Annie and three children. The article specifically says “one of his sons”. I've found no record of him having any children either with Emma or Annie, and Annie appears to have had either two or three children, two of whom were girls, so I wonder if the son mentioned here is my great-great grandfather Charles. Robert's funeral was held at St. Leo's Church, according to the death notice in the Free Press on June 20, 1895. Neither the state of Michigan nor Wayne County have a record of his death, so this is the only proof I have of it happening, plus a mention in the 1895 Detroit city directory.

Incidentally, family legend has it that our family used to have a farm on Belle Isle, before it became a park. I suspect that the farm in Grosse Pointe is actually that farm, and that we never had a farm on Belle Isle. According to the city of Detroit, owners of Belle Isle had names like Campau and Macomb, some of the oldest families in Detroit. The city bought the island in 1879.

I found mention of Annie in a tree on It mentioned that she married one Joseph Stanley in December, 1899. Armed with this, I went looking for them. I found their marriage record in Watford, Ontario, where Joseph Stanley was born, on December 21, 1899. Her name is given as Annie Smith, an Americanization of Schmitt. Her father's name is given as Leo(n) Soulliere. Her mother's name is given as Ang something. In the 1900 Census, Joseph and Annie are living at 74 Beech, with Joseph's step-daughter Estelle Smith, born in August 1883. That tells me that Stella Klieber/Cliebare, born in 1883, took Robert Schmitt's last name when Robert and Anna married. Maybe Charles did too. The 1900 Census shows that Annie has had two children, both of whom are still living. I don't know what that means, given that I found birth records for Stella and Minnie. Incidentally, Stella also shows up with Joseph and Annie in the 1910 census, this time as Stella Marsh, with an 8 year old daughter. Note that at Census time, Charles was not living with them. Stella worked as an actor, and later married Walter Fishter of Dayton, Ohio, another actor. I found the marriage record for Stella and Walter in 1911, and that record shows Stella's parents as Robert Schmitt and Anne Soulliere. Again, not likely since Stella was born in 1883 and Robert and Anna weren't married until 1891.

So I started looking through Detroit city directories. Robert is shown as having died in the 1895 directory, and Annie (wid Robert F) is living at their old house, 1103 3rd Ave. In 1896, Annie is not in the directory. In 1897, she's back, listed as Anna (wid Robert), living at 671 17th Ave. In 1898, she's at 243 2nd Ave as Annie (wid Robert), and this year, for the first time, Charles shows up, listed at the same address as a ship clerk. She's at the same address in 1899, and Charles is working as a molder, again boarding at the same address. Interestingly, in 1899, Joseph Stanley shows up boarding a few houses away at 249 2nd Ave. In 1900, there are two Joseph Stanleys listed, one at 74 Beech as in the Census, and a second at 628 Michigan, both working as linemen. I'm not sure if this is the same Joseph counted twice, but the one at 74 Beech matches up with the Census. No Charles or Annie that year. Annie disappears from the city directories at this point, now being secondary to Joseph Stanley. In 1901, Charles is working as a lineman and boarding at 996 Baldwin; Stella Schmitt is working as a seamstress and is also boarding at 996 Baldwin, an indication that maybe Stella and Charles are related (brother and sister?) Joseph, a lineman, is shown as being the head of household at, you guessed it, 996 Baldwin. Joseph stays at 996 Baldwin for several years, working as a lineman, wireman, and eventually inspector. Charles moves out, rooming at 200 Randolph in 1902, but 1901 has established the connection. I wonder if maybe Joseph got Charles his job as a lineman for the phone company.

Charles' death record and burial record both listed his birth date as March 28, 1880. They're both secondary sources, so they could both be wrong, but there's a primary source where Charles himself gives his birth date as March 28, 1880, his World War I draft registration. So that's presumably his birth date. Or is it?

I went trawling through the first birth records again. I found a record for a Charles Kliber, born to Charles and Mary Kliber on March 13, 1880, 15 days before the date Charles Schmitt gave as his birth date in World War I. Charles the father was a machinist, which is the same occupation given for him on Stella's birth record in 1883. Is this Charles Leon Schmitt? I don't know. And who is Mary? Charles Kleiber remarried on 11 August 1891, to Augusta Tegge, nee Kolaski. That record shows he was married once before, not twice before. Is Mary an incorrect name? Maybe it was Anne's middle name? Hard to tell at this point.

I got a film from the Family History Library of probate record indexes for the name Schmitt in Detroit up to 1901. I don't see any mention of Robert Schmitt in there. I was really hoping for one so that I could get some clarity on his family relations, particularly since he died unexpectedly and so young. There's a probate packet for Robert's father John, who died in February, 1900. The index for that had a lot of Schmitts in it, but no Robert Schmitt and no Charles Schmitt. I've ordered the film with the full packet so I can read it for myself, but given the apparent thoroughness of the indexing, I don't hold out a lot of hope there. There's another interesting packet in there that I've also ordered for Rosalia Marie Davenport, nee Schmitt, who married Henry Davenport in 1878. She was declared insane and placed in an asylum in Pontiac, where she shows up in the 1900 Census. Among the people listed in the proceeding is Annie Schmitt, who is listed as the guardian for Rosalia's daughter Myrtle. That may not be Annie Soulliere, though; John Schmitt remarried after his wife Rosalia passed away in the 1870s to a woman named Anna. One thing that may have caused poor Rosalia to go insane is that two of her children died within a couple of days of each other. Her daughter Rosalia Davenport, age 5 years and 2 months, died on March 3, 1886, and her son Henry Davenport, age 7 years and 10 months, died on March 5, 1886, both of diptheria.

I've also ordered a film of records for St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church. I had gotten a number of records from this church for Schmitts in the 1900s from their archivist several years ago. I need to look through the records to see if I can find anything about Charles and Robert here. I'm running out of places to look for them. Robert was pretty good at hiding himself. So was Charles. I feel like I'm so close on this one, but maybe not.

Charles Schmitt

Charles Kliber (Schmitt?) b. 1880

Stella Klieber(Cliebare) Schmitt Marsh Fishter

Minnie Cliber

Robert Schmitt

Anna Soulliere Klieber Schmitt Stanley

Posted at 10:34:04 PM