Wedding Wednesday – Piecing Together Details About a Marriage

On Saturday, January 12th, it will be the wedding anniversary of my second great-grandparents, Charles Schwenk and Marian “Mary Ann” Burd. They were married in 1871 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


This photocopy of the marriage certificate is from a file of family records and images that my grandfather had with his pictures.[1]  I do not know who has the original image, but my father believes that several family heirlooms and records were photocopied in the 1970s and given to my grandfather by one of his sisters.

This certificate confirms the marriage that I found in a complied book of marriage returns from the City of Pittsburgh: Charles Schwenk, age 24, married Mary Ann “Bird,” age 21, on 12 January 1871 in a Civil Ceremony by Samuel McMasters, Ald.[2]  Both Charles and Mary Ann were from Saltsburgh, Allegheny County (a village in North Versailles Township).

While it’s fantastic to find documents and abstracts about our ancestors, there is so much more that I would love to know about Charles and Mary Ann.  I don’t have any pictures of them, or diaries or letters …  but what if I could know a little more about their wedding?


Charles was a Civil War Veteran who applied for an invalid pension. In the many, many incredible documents that were included in his Compiled Service and Pension records, there is an affidavit that Mary Ann submitted for her widow’s pension. She needed to prove that she was married to Charles. The affidavit was from Isaac and Martha Mason and dated 3 March 1899.[3]

That the soldier Charles G. Schwenk and Mary A Schwenk now a Widow were married on January the 12″ 1871 at Pittsburgh Pa. That said Mary A Schwenk was living with them at Saltsburg Pa at the time of her marriage to the soldier Charles G. Schwenk.
That after the return of the couple from Pittsburgh were the marriage took place, they had the wedding supper at their (Deponents House) and that they the Deponents participated at the wedding festivities held in honor of the said marriage.
That the said Mary A. Schwenk lived with them (Deponents) for about 2 years before her marriage to the soldier and know that she was not married prior to the marriage to the soldier above named.
That they know the facts testified to in this affidavit of their own Personal knowledge, having had an intimate aquaintence with Mary A Schwenk before and after her marriage to the soldier.

Wow! So now I know a little more about Charles and Mary Ann’s wedding. The wedding “supper” was held at the home of Isaac and Martha Mason in Saltsburgh, after they were married in the City of Pittsburgh. In the 1870 census, just a year before the wedding, Mary Ann was living with the Masons in North Versailles Township, and working as a domestic servant.[4]  Charles was also living in North Versailles in 1870 and was enumerated on the same day and only a few pages apart in the census book.[5]  Both were no longer living with their parents, and it appears that they met in Saltsburgh.

There is another interesting item in this affidavit that needs further research. One of the witnesses to this affidavit was Margaret Orris, who was Mary Ann’s sister. When Margaret Orris died in 1922, her obituary listed eight children including Mrs. Harry Mason.[6]  Harry Mason was the son of Isaac and Martha Mason, whom Mary Ann worked for and lived with in 1870. There seem to be some connections between the Burd, Orris and Mason families that need to be explored. Maybe that’s how Mary Ann found work with the Masons and ended up in Saltsburgh? Or maybe Mary Ann introduced Harry to her niece?

In the meantime, I’m happy to know a little more about the wedding of my second great-grandparents and how they celebrated this important event!

Have you found details about a wedding outside of a marriage record?


1] Marriage Certificate, Charles Schwenk-Mary Ann Burd, 12 January 1871; photocopy privately held by the author’s father, ca. 1975.

[2] Western Pennsylvania Genealogy Society, compiler, Marriage Returns City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, PA, 1870-1875. Pittsburgh: Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, 1999.

[3] Affidavit of Isaac and Martha Mason, 3 March 1899, Mary Ann Schwenk, widow’s pension application no. 586124, certificate no. 475533, service of Charles G. Schwenk (1st Sgt., Co. C, 82nd reg., Pennsylvania Infantry, Civil War); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications …, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files, Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

[4] 1870 U.S. census, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, North Versailles, population schedule, McKeesport Post Office, p. 20 (penned), dwelling 137, family 137, Isaac Mason; digital image, ( : accessed 13 January 2014) citing National Archives publication M5393_1294; Family History Library Film 552793.

[5] 1870 U.S. census, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, North Versailles, population schedule, McKeesport Post Office, p. 23 (penned), dwelling 156, family 156, John Rogers; digital image, ( : accessed 13 January 2014) citing National Archives publication M5393_1294; Family History Library Film 552793.

[6] “Former Creighton Woman Summoned by Death,” The Valley Daily News (Tarentum, PA), 17 February 1922; photocopy, Community Library of Allegheny, copied by library staff, 12 October 2012.


Happy Birthday and Happy New Year!

Happy Birthday Pop-Pop! 


I love this picture of my grandfather, Art Cubbage, taken on New Year’s Eve 1959. This was probably taken at a neighbor’s house in New Providence, NJ. Art’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Linneman Speck Merz is on the far left and I believe the other two women lived on the same street. My grandfather was born on December 31, 1912 in Swissvale, PA. Since his birthday was on New Year’s Eve, he always had a party!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year! May you find exciting new discoveries as you climb your family tree!


Family Recipe Friday – Pierogi!

Family recipe Friday is a daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggersTRIBE which encourages the family historian to share a family recipe, as suggested by Lynn Palermo of The Armchair Genealogist.

Food can be such a big part of our family history, culture and memories. Family recipes are often passed down to children and grandchildren, sometimes after been kept a secret. There may be family stories and traditions attached to these recipes, adding richness to our family narrative.

I come from a pretty German-inspired food tradition in my family. My husband’s traditions are much more Slovakian-influenced. Three of his four grandparents were born in Slovakia! At Christmastime, they always had pierogis on Christmas Eve – those yummy filled dumplings associated with Central and Eastern Europe.

The pierogi filling varies by region and country. My husband’s maternal grandmother filled her pierogis with farmer’s cheese. In the 1980s, my father-in-law took over making them, but he made them with potatoes and cheddar – my husband’s favorite!

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About 12 or 13 years ago (we can’t seem to remember which year), my husband took over the tradition of making pierogi for the family after both his father and grandmother had passed away. He makes his father’s recipe, with a cream cheese dough and a potato and cheddar filling. Every December, Hubby spends a day making around 8 dozen pierogi, and then freezes them until we are ready to cook them on Christmas Day.


The first years were tough … the dough was too thin and broke easily, or was too thick to stay closed.  Sometimes the pierogis broke open when they were boiled. On Pierogi Making Day in those yearly years, I would take our young boys out for some Christmas shopping, as Hubby’s language got a little salty 😊.


But practice makes perfect, and they are delicious! He’s figured out the mechanics of making the dough, found the perfect sized cup to cut out the circles (we can never get rid of that NY Giants cup!), and the filling is just the right mixture of potato and cheesiness.

Whatever we make on Christmas Day (usually a pork roast) feels like the side to the main dish – pierogis! Hubby boils them, and we have melted butter with onions on the table to put over them (except for my German family who puts gravy on them, and everything else!). If it’s possible, I think the leftovers are even better – we fry them up with the butter and onions, and add a little garlic salt. Yum!

This recipe, and its connection to past generations, is such an important part of our Christmas traditions. The next time you make a family recipe, jot down some memories of the meal, the holiday or the traditions. Or call you mom or grandma and ask about the recipe, then add this to your family history.

What is your favorite traditional holiday recipe?


Women’s Words Wednesday – Oma’s Origin Story

So much of our history is recorded, remembered, and influenced by the views our male ancestors. But that’s only part of our story, and I am fascinated by the stories of our female ancestors. I have added a new blogging category called Women’s Words Wednesday where I will post and reflect on these important words that I have found in my research, in whatever form they arise (letter, photo, official document, etc.).

My Oma (“grandma” in German), Elise Gegenheimer, was born in 1919 in Ittersbach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Her mother, Louise Gegenheimer (age 22), was not marred and died from an infection contracted after childbirth, when her daughter was only 5 weeks old. I had heard bits and pieces of her story as a child: I knew that she was raised by a foster family, but that’s about it. Many years ago, my mother was preserving old family pictures and records and typed up Oma’s story:


“After Oma’s mother died (Oma was 5 weeks old), she was raised by her grandmother. Her mother and father were not married and he didn’t want anything to do with the baby. When Oma was around 5, a letter came from the state telling the grandmother that they were taking her grandchild away from her because she was not able to care for her properly. That was very tragic for Oma and her grandmother. Oma was placed in a foster home in Ispringen (she ended up going to school with Gretel there). The foster family had 2 children, age 2 and 6. The husband was an alcoholic and beat his wife. He also beat Oma. They only took in foster children for the money. Oma was there for 9 months until the neighbors reported the poor care of her and that she was losing weight because they were not feeding her well. Also, every Sunday she had to clean out their barber shop. She was only 6.

            The state contacted Maria Fuchs of Stein to see if you would take in a little 6-year old girl. She was hesitant to do so because she was afraid that she would have to give her up some time. She finally said she’d take Elise on a trial basis. The state supplied new shoes for Oma and money to send her to Stein on a train. The foster family kept the new shoes and put old shoes with holes in the soles on Oma and also kept the train money. She and the foster mother walked to Stein.

            When she got to Stein, the first night, Maria Fuchs put Oma in bed between her and her husband. Oma was crying at night (very lightly) and Maria Fuchs decided then and there that she was not giving this child up and that she would stay with her in Stein.”

Louise Gegenhimer, age 19.

The story of my grandmother, as told by her daughter, is an important part of our family history. These words show the upheaval of changes in living situations, the dangerous and heartbreaking year with the foster family, and the eventual placement with Maria Fuchs. We are still connected with the Fuchs family in Germany. They were my grandmother’s family – and are our family today. And my mother still stays in touch with Oma’s biological mother’s family. I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for Oma’s grandmother, having lost her daughter, to then have to give up her granddaughter (I don’t know too much about the reason why they felt that she was unable to care for Oma).

The only picture of my Oma as a child: around age 4 while still living with her grandmother in Ittersbach.


As hard as it is to read these words about my beloved Oma’s origin, I am thankful that I have a better understanding of where she came from. And I am so thankful for Maria Fuchs, and her willingness to say “yes” when asked to take in little Elise Gegenheimer. Because of her, Oma grew up healthy, married Adolf, had my mother, moved to America, and lived to be 91 years old.

Oma, Opa, and my mother in Dumont, NJ, 1953.


Favorite Photo Friday – James & Barbara Cubbage

Above my desk I have two large images of my second great-grandparents:


These images were in possession of my grandfather, then my father, before being passed down to me in 2014. My guess is that James and Barbara sat for these in the 1890s in Butler County, Pennsylvania.

James Cubbage was born in 1829 in Allegheny County to John Cubbage and Mary Jane Stoup.[1] He moved to Butler County around 1850 and married Barbara in 1852.[2] Barbara Black was born in 1837 in Butler County to John Black and Margaret Sarver.[3]

James and Barbara had nine children between 1853 and 1873 (20 years of childbearing!).[4] They did not own any property until 1873, just before their last child was born (my great-grandfather Charles).[5] James died in 1906 in Penn Township, Butler County.[6] Barbara died just under a year later.[7]

I love having these images over my desk … they inspire me as I research, write and learn more about my ancestors. I see some other Cubbage men in the face of James – especially in the eyes. Barbara looks pretty serious … maybe even stern a bit stern, but it might have been the 20 years of childbearing. Or it reflects what life was like with a large family in rural western Pennsylvania. Or maybe it was because that around this time, five of her sons began to move away from Butler County and scatter around the country.

These treasured family heirlooms bring me joy every day. Do you have any family photos or images that are important to you?


[1] Pennsylvania Department of Health, certificate of death no. 13513 (1906), James Cubbage; Bureau of Vital Statistics, New Castle.

 [2] 1850 U.S. census, Butler County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Buffalo Township, p. 22 (stamped), dwelling 308, family 310, John Black household; digital image, ( : accessed 28 February 2018), citing National Archives microfilm publication M432, roll 760. Also, James Cubbage, drinking glass, ca. 1852, privately held by William Arthur Cubbage, Jr. [address for private use,] Long Valley, New Jersey. The glass is etched with “James Cubbage married 1852.”

[3] Butler County, Pennsylvania, Probate file B-120, will of John Black (1851). Also, “In Memoriam – Barbara Cubbage,” obituary from unidentified newspaper; photocopy privately held by William Arthur Cubbage, Jr. [address for private use,] Long Valley, New Jersey, ca. 1975.

[4] James and Barbara Cubbage Family Bible Records, 1853-1902, The Holy Bible (New York: American Bible Society, 1870), “Births”; privately held by the author, Metuchen, New Jersey.

[5] Butler County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book 36: 150-151, James Bartley and wife to Barbara Cubbage, 28 April 1873; Recorder of Deeds, Butler.

[6] Pennsylvania Department of Health, certificate of death no. 13513 (1906), James Cubbage.

[7] Pennsylvania Department of Health, certificate of death no. 11927 (1907), Barbara Cubbage.