#52 Ancestors: Frank F. Speck – My Brick Wall

This post is part of Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge. The prompt for this week is “Brick Wall.”

My great-grandfather Frank Speck died 79 years ago yesterday – 7 April 1940 – in Monessen, Pennsylvania. I know much about his life in Monessen, yet almost nothing about him before he appeared around 1915.

Frank and Elizabeth in 1915.

Frank was born around 1886-1888 in Germany, although there is some speculation about his place of birth. His death certificate and funeral card both report his birth date as 21 May 1887. Frank married my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Linnemann, in January of 1915. Their marriage license application records that he was a hotel clerk living in Monessen, and he was born in Germany. His parents were deceased but named them as Peter and Agnes (no maiden name). Frank and Elizabeth’s daughter Agnes was born just over nine months after they married. I am fairly certain that Frank was working as a hotel bartender in nearby Manor (Westmoreland County) in 1910.

Frank F Speck

I have yet to locate a passenger record for Frank’s arrival into the US. Three census records for Frank have three different immigration dates (1894, 1904, and unknown). I also wonder if he could have Americanized or changed his name after he arrived in the United States. He used the name Frank Friedrich Speck, but could it have been Friedrich and he went by Frank? Or was his last name Specht or Speckmeyer or something else? I have yet to locate a record that gives the name of a town, or county, or region of Germany. Plus, the borders of Germany had changed so much – could he be from Poland? The 1910 census recorded Frank as “Aust. Polish.”

My father remembers a time when he was young and his grandmother Elisabeth (Frank’s widow) had some papers out. He remembers seeing what would have been Frank’s birth certificate and said something to the effect of “He was born in Poland?” His grandmother put the papers away and never really answered him. I’ve gone through my parents’ pictures and records from my Dad’s family and haven’t been able to locate that birth certificate. My Dad said that his father tossed a bunch of old papers many years ago – ugh!

The Speck Family circa 1927.
The Speck Family circa 1927.

I am hoping that using DNA data and matches could help me narrow down some possibilities for Frank’s family. Unfortunately, my father is the only living descendant of Frank (his son never had any children), so it may take a while or be difficult to weed out other ancestors. Frank’s obituary said that he was survived by a sister in Germany (unnamed). I really need to learn chromosome mapping and DNA Painter (I’ll report on that when I do!).

Another place that I need to research further are Pennsylvania court records. I have found some newspaper articles about Frank and his company, which was involved in some lawsuits, plus a bankruptcy case. I wonder if any of those records may hold a clue or a more specific place of birth for Frank. Also, I need to take another look for local church records in Monessen.

Frank’s origin is still a mystery … a brick wall that I plan to take down a little bit at a time. I’ll keep you posted of my progress.

Which ancestor has you stumped??

© 2019 LAURA CUBBAGE-DRAPER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

#52Ancestors: A Woman I’d Love to Meet

This post is part of Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge. The prompt for this week is “I’d Like to Meet.”

There are so many ancestors that I’d like to meet – too many to list here (and why). But one that stands out is Polly. She was my husband’s 5th great-grandmother. I’ve done a little bit of research on Polly and her family, but I have much so more to learn as I have not yet been able to get to Bedford County – it’s on my research travel list!

So what makes me want to meet Polly? Her Last Will and Testament. Here’s a quick timeline of her life to give you the basics before we get to her will:

  • Mary “Polly” Boyle was born around 1789 in Virginia, probably in Bedford County.
  • She married Reuben Kerns/Karnes in 1808.
  • Reuben died in 1835 at age 51, leaving Polly with four daughters (the youngest still a teenager, the oldest married). Reuben’s will provided that his plantation and household items were to remain with his wife until her death, and then be divided among his children.

On 21 July 1859, Polly wrote her own will. The will was signed with her mark, indicating that she could not write, and likely dictated it to someone. It starts as standard will:

Polly directed that all of her estate (real and personal) be sold by the executor. The resulting money was to be held by the executor as a trustee for equal use and benefit of her four children (which she named) during their lives and after their death to their children. If any daughters died without heirs, their share was to go to the surviving sisters (or the sisters’ children).

This is the part that caught my eye:

“… it being my wish that no part of the legacies herein given to my children shall be under the control of their present, or any future husbands they may have, or be in any manner liable for their debts.”

Wow. Nothing to the husbands, nor can they control the “legacies.” I have not seen anything like this in a will thus far! The following year, Polly was still living in Bedford County with her youngest daughter, and enumerated next to two other daughters and their husbands (and children).

Polly likely died in the early spring of 1864 – her will was proved in April. But not before Polly’s three sons-in-law “opposed the proof of the will.” But the court found it to be a valid will and that Polly “was of sound and disposing mind and memory and that she was under no undue influence.” The will was to be executed according to the law, and the court ordered that it was to be recorded as it was written.

So they opposed the will! I wonder if these men knew about her stipulations, or if they learned it after Polly’s death? And why did Polly exclude them for having control of her estate? Did she know something about them? Did she feel that her daughters married poorly?

Back to the 1860 census … Polly’s real estate was valued at $1000, which was an average value compared to those who lived nearby. But the daughters who next next-door did not own any land, and their personal property was valued at much less than Polly’s. Were these sons-in-law just looking for her money? So many questions!

1860 census polly

And what about Polly? This woman – at a time when women were just beginning to be allowed to own property (let alone control it without a guardian) – wrote a will that clearly didn’t permit her sons-in-law to control any of the estate that would go to her daughters. I wonder what lead her make this stipulation in her will. Was it the husbands, or did she want to give her daughters the ability to control their own assets?

Again, I have much more to learn about Polly, her daughters, and their husbands. She is definitely an ancestor that I’d love to meet one day. I’d have so many questions for her!

Have you found any interesting wills? Which ancestor would you like to meet?

© 2019 LAURA CUBBAGE-DRAPER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.