|My big day at the Strasbourg Archives. Some of you may know that I was unsure if or how this day would unfold when I first thought of coming to Alsace to possibly discover more about my paternal great-grandfather’s family.
All of the things I had heard about searching for French, especially Alsatian, records indicated that I would be lucky to find anything here. First there is the fact that Alsace was tossed back and forth between Germany and France. Second is that all the records were supposedly in the churches in the village where the person lived. And since I was not sure where Louis Groshens was from, I didn’t even know where to start looking.
Louis Groshens was born in June 15, 1868 in "Elsass" (according to 1 document we found, the rest simply say France) and emigrated to Iowa in either 1880 (according to 1 family story) or 1890 (according to a NY passenger list I recently found). We have 1 family picture from France (you will see in the entry for August 26) with a number of unknown family members. Documents from the US for Louis show his father as George or A. George or Jean Groshens and his mother as Mary Loux.
Just so you know how to read these names, Groshens is pronounced "Grow Sens" by some here in Alsace (such as in Selestat, where the family name also exists), but "Grow Hans" is the way they pronounce it for our family (local variations abound on names). The clue originally for us was that my grandmother’s maiden name was misspelled on her death certificate as Grohence. The pronunciation has since been confirmed after my visit into the small villages. As for Louis’s mother, Marie (French form of Mary) Loux, the surname is pronounced "Loucks".
So how to back-track and find where Louis came from? The only clue that we had was that Louis emigrated to Woolstock, Iowa which, as it turns out, has a "sister city" of the Ban de la Roche in France. (For those of you who are saying, "WHERE in Iowa?", Woolstock is famous for being the birthplace of the original Superman, George Reeves. And you can see a picture of the Sister City designation on the website here.) Ban de la Roche is actually an area consisting of 9 villages in the Vosges mountains just to the west of Selestat.
However, another family story has George (Louis’s father) being a baker in Reims, a long ways away from Alsace. But the fact that he went to Woolstock, where others from that area of Alsace were, and the 1 document mentioning Elsass, both focus my efforts in Ban de la Roche.
This trip fell into place with my connection to Cecile. I asked Cecile if she knew of anyone that would possibly be able to help by accompanying me to the archives to translate from Alsatian, German and/or French, whatever the documents would be recorded in. She put the word out, and within just a couple of days, I was put in touch with Francine, who agreed to act as my translator! Not only that, but I also found out that all of the records were in Strasbourg -- no need to know exactly where Louis was born! As a final stroke of luck, all of the records from Bas Rhin (the northern section of Alsace) were put online just a few weeks ago!
Now, that would mean that I could do all of the research online. However, I still needed the translation. Plus, Francine informed me that the most valuable pieces of information were NOT online. These are the succession records, which are filed for all French citizens within 6-8 months of their death. The succession record is a recording mainly for inheritance, so it lists all property, plus the spouse and all children (it is a law in France that 1/2 of the deceased person’s property goes to the spouse and the other 1/2 goes to the children).
As it turns out, Francine’s husband, Jean-Michel, is also an expert at researching through the Strasbourg Archives, mainly about the houses in the city (his website can be seen here). So I have access to 2 translators/experts!
Before I arrived in Alsace, Francine was kind enough to look for the names of the 3 individuals who we would look for in the succession documents -- Georges Frederic Groshens (who we now know to be Louis’s father’s name), Louise Morel (who we now know to be Georges’ 1st wife, and Marie Catherine Loux (Georges’ 2nd wife and Louis’s mother).
Getting to today ....
I met Francine at 8:30 at the Selestat train station (she has been keeping up with me on my trip to date, so she knows what I look like), and we travel together to the city (20-minute train ride). As soon as we step out of the train station, it starts pouring! But we trudge on, and she leads me down streets, across bridges, until we make it to the archives. I had made a reservation for a seat (required at most archives now) and we ordered the 3 books which we hoped would contain the succession documents for Georges and his 2 wives.
The 1st book at hand had succession records for 1895, the year that Marie Loux died. Not only would we be looking for the names of her children (not knowing what siblings Louis had), but it should give indication that Louis was in America. Each document takes up anywhere from 1 to 3 pages, and since this was the time that Germany had control of Alsace, all documents are in German. We carefully looked through each page (about 200 pages?), but NO Marie Loux! (By the way, all documents in France for females are filed by their maiden name.) But the documents are not in order of death, only by order of their filing. And since the document could be filed a number of days to months after death, we order the next book and continue on.
The next book covers 1876, the year that Georges died. Again, we sift through each document, and we are getting to the end without any luck. Then, on the LAST document, we see the name -- Georges Groshens!
In part, the document states:
On the 5th April 1877 came Marchal Charles, public servant for the city of Neuviller,
acting as the guardian of the 4 first next-mentioned children
He is proxy for these heirs.
He said Groshens Georges when he was living innkeeper widow from 1st marriage Morel Louise and husband in 2nd marriage from Marie Loux living in Wildersbach died in that place on the 7th October 1876 without having written his last will/testament and he has left his children as heirs.
Emile unmarried reached majority
All those 3 have not reached the majority age and all those 4 were born with the marriage with Louise Morel.
Louise (this should be Louis)
All 4 have not reached majority and were born in the marriage with his surviving wife Marie Loux all living in Wildersbach.
So now we know that Louis had 3 full siblings and 4 half siblings (1 more died in infancy). Also we know that Georges was an innkeeper at 1876.
We found the succession document for Louise Morel (died in 1866) in the 3rd book. Since we know that Louis was not born at this time (he was born in 1868), we were not looking for any new information. However, in part the document said:
On the 13th of February 1867 came Georges Groshens, baker in Wildersbach, being proxy and legal guardian of his underage children which are mentioned below, who stated that Louise Morel his wife died intestate in Wildersbach on the 30th of last August leaving her succession to her children.
So the family story about Georges being a baker was correct, but it was in Wildersbach, not Reims!
Finally, we get the 4th book, to look for Marie Loux’s death in 1895 and indication of Louis being in America. However, it states (see picture), that Ludwig (German for Louis) is a weaver IN WILDERSBACH! Now this document was filed in 1896, and at the time, Louis was married and living in Iowa! So why did this document state that he was in Alsace? We don’t know at this point. Was there a legal reason that the reporter wanted to indicate that Louis was still in France? Did it have something to do with inheritance? Did Louis return for a time before his mother died? Perhaps we will never know. The only other thing that we know from Marie Loux’s succession document is that there were more debts than assets at her death, so no inheritance taxes were paid. In fact, her personal belongings were listed as simple things like a skirt, a pair of shoes, 2 shirts, 2 simple beds, and 4 chairs.
Since there was no further need to be at the archives, Francine and I went for lunch at La Petite Mairie on rue Brulee in Strasbourg. We both had choucroute aux poissons (sauerkraut with 3 types of fish and potatoes, cream and different coloured peppercorns, baked in individual ceramic pots), a delicious Alsatian dish. Choucroute (link here) is the French form of the Alsatian word sürkrüt (sauerkraut).
Back at the hotel, I looked for further evidence of records for Louis’s siblings (marriages, deaths), but haven’t found anything to date. So the search will continue. Now the job is to examine further immigration records and the surrounding area in Alsace as it appears that Louis’s siblings left Wildersbach some time after Marie Loux’s death -- there obviously was nothing to stay for. Times were tough for the Groshens family.
One of the more interesting records I found for the Groshens family was the marriage of Michel Groshens to Marguerite Grandgeorge in 1704. The record states "a été béni et confirmé dans l'église de Rote après y avoir fait amende honorable en réparation du crime de paillardise que les dits mariés ont confessé avoir commis ensemble".
The translation would be "the marriage was confirmed in the church at Rothau after making amends for a lewd crime that the two confessed having done together."
That "lewd crime" resulted in the birth of Elisabete a few months later, and in the margin of Elisabete’s birth record it says that she was "ex immature concubitu" or born less than 9 months after the marriage. Many secrets are uncovered by people doing genealogy! :)