Proof of Relationship: Seeking & Locating Maiden Names of Grandmothers


Great-Grandmother Louisa Julianne Felix and Family

I started my genealogy passion when I was a young boy spending time listening to my Uncle Arthur Rettammel (my father’s third oldest brother, born 18 years before my father) talk about my grandparents August and Ernestine Rettammel. My father was the youngest in a family of 12 children, so he rarely talked about his younger days and when he did it often was about his own lifetime and not about his own parents’ life with his older siblings. So I was fortunate to have an older Uncle-who I consider as a grandfather I never knew on my paternal side. Uncle Art spend time going through pictures and talking about relatives I never met, such as my grandpa August H. Rettammel, Sr. and his life prior to my dad.

As I developed my interest in family history after my Uncle Art died in 1980, I knew who my great-grandfather was-his tombstone is in the same Lutheran cemetery as my grandparents- August F. Rettammel, born in Germany in April 1837 but died in Lyndon Station, WI. in 1915. The one person I wanted to learn more about was who was my great-mother? For a number of years this part of the story was incomplete.

It was about 1999 that I started to actively do genealogy research at archives and historical societies in Wisconsin. The largest one in my areas is the Wisconsin State Historical Society (WHS) located in Madison, WI. I started to ask questions to WHS librarians about resources and records that I could start to learn more about my own genealogy. At the time I looked through various indexes of birth and census records looking for my great-grandparents in the late 19 century Chicago, Illinois. I started there because of previous family stories I learned from my Uncle Art about my grandfather August Rettammel Sr. Who was said to be born and raised in Chicago. I learned and located a birth record for my grandfather that was proof of birth in Chicago in June 1876 with his mother’s first name listed as Louise. So I finally knew a name for my great-mother Rettammel. However, I did not stop there, I wanted to learn more about her maiden name and own family to gain a complete picture of my ancestry beyond the Rettammel side.

How I learned of my Great-Grandmother’s Surname (maiden name)

When I was researching my grandfather Rettammel in 2001 I located his marriage record to my grandmother Ernestine at the county register of deeds office. In this primary source document it stated that my grandfather’s mother maiden name was Louise Felic or Felix. The handwritten document was not easy to confirm the exact spelling but it was a key finding for looking at the next generation related to me – one of my-great-grandparents on my father’s side.

Prior to my grandfather Rettammel marriage to my grandmother he was previously married. His first wife died a few years after the marriage. While at the Wisconsin Historical Society in 2003, I searched for the marriage record for this union. I reviewed (at the time) the manual card catalog of marriage index and with the soundex number located a marriage of my grandfather, with the county it took place, the date, volume, page number and sequence number. The review of this record on microfilm, I learned the name of my grandfather’s mother’s name before marriage, written as Louise Felisc.  At the time I had possible spellings of my paternal great-grandmother’s surname as Felic, Felix, and Felisc from two primary sources.

For a number of years when I did research on this name I did not come away with any proof that these surnames or possible records linked to my family tree. Until, in 2010, I discovered while researching in FamilySearch’s Collection, Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers, 1871 – 1915, a record of my grandfather’s younger brother Edward Herman birth that lists the mother’s name as Louise Felix, nationality as German, place of birth Platenrode, Neustadt, Prussia (now Poland). This primary document was a very valuable find for a couple reasons. It showed that the surname spelling could be Felix as I saw in another record, but it also informed me the location of origin for one of my great-grandparents. This was a new finding with exciting opportunities to do more research on the surname but also to start on the place of origin in the former state of Prussia in Germany.

Proof of Relationship: Seeking & Locating Maiden Names of Grandmothers

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