Sunday, August 25, 2013

Lena Schmidt: Breaking Though A Brick Wall

I joined my local genealogy society this year, and have been immensely enjoying the education and camaraderie it provides.  This coming week, our meeting is devoted to brick walls.  Members will ask for help with their genealogical mysteries, and share stories of how they cracked their toughest cases.  In the spirit of this discussion, I wanted to share my recent success in breaking through a very difficult brick wall.

The biggest brick wall I’ve faced in my research is in my husband’s family tree, and involves his great grandmother, Lena Laun.  She was the wife of Harry Laun of St. Louis, and the mother of my husband’s grandmother, Lucille Laun Towell.

Harry Laun, husband of Lena Schmidt Laun
Lucille Laun Towell, daughter of Harry and Lena Laun

 I started researching Lena after it became clear that no one in the family knew much about her, including who her parents were or what happened to her after her divorce from her husband, Harry.  Family records indicated that Lena’s maiden name was Schmidt, but this was really the only information we had about her, initially.  I started combing through census, birth, death and marriage records online, looking for any clues as to who her family might have been, and where she went after separating from Harry.

The first record I found mentioning Lena was the 1920 census.   In that census, Harry Laun is shown living in St. Louis with a wife, Lena, and daughter, Lucille.  The record indicates that Lena was born in approximately 1893 in Illinois and had parents who were also born in Illinois.

The next bit of information came from Harry and Lena’s marriage license in St. Louis.  On 12 November 1913, Lena married Henry "Harry" Laun at the Winnebago Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri. The Missouri marriage license for Lena and Harry lists the following information:

License no: 185008
Harry H Laun of St. Louis, Missouri (over age 21) and
Mrs. Lena Smith of St. Louis, Missouri (over age 18)
License date: 11 Nov 1913
Marriage date: 12 Nov 1913
Filing date: 1 Dec 1913
Marriage performed by Jerrie Johnson, Presbyterian Minister, at 3438 Winnebago St.

This information led me down several paths.  First, I investigated whether Lena’s maiden name was actually Schmidt or Smith.  I also researched whether Lena might have been married prior to her marriage to Harry Laun, because she is listed as “Mrs.” on the marriage license.  After extensive review of records, I could not find any indication that Lena was married prior to her marriage to Harry, so I will chalk the listing of Mrs. up to a clerical error for the time being.  Also, we know that Smith is the Anglicized version of the German surname Schmidt, but the records I uncovered during my research indicated clearly that Lena’s maiden name was Schmidt, not Smith. 

I hired a genealogist to search the archives where the Winnebago Presbyterian Church’s records are kept, at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia.  The church in St. Louis closed some years ago, and all of their records are now in storage.    The genealogist located the Winnebago records in Philadelphia and discovered that the marriage of Lena and Harry was noted in church ledgers.

Page 198, entry #80
Name of Man - Harry H. Laun, 3341 Vir. [Virginia Rd., St., etc.]
Name of Woman - Mrs. Lena Smith
His Residence - St. Louis
Her Residence - St. Louis
Date of Marriage - November 12, 1913
Names of Witnesses - Oliver A. Laun & Bertie (Berta?) J. Geiger

This record indicates that Harry was living at 3341 Virginia in St. Louis at the time of the marriage.  It also tells us the names of the witnesses to the marriage.  Oliver Laun was Harry’s brother.  I don’t, at this time, know who Berta Geiger was or how she was connected to Harry and Lena, although I have looked long and hard.

On August 29, 1915, Lena and Harry had a daughter, Lucille Ruby Laun.  Lucille was born in St. Louis, Missouri.

The next step was to look for a baptism notice in the records of Winnebago Presbyterian Church.  Sure enough, the notice for Lucille Laun’s birth was located in the records for 1915.

Page 154, entry #259
"Lucile Ruby Laun
Parents - Harry H. & Lena Rose (Smith) Laun
Born - Aug 29 1915
Baptized - Nov 7 1915

This gave me one piece of new information.  Lena’s middle name was Rose.

I knew that by 1924, Lena and Harry were no longer together.  Harry remarried Minna "Minnie" Bilderbeck before 1924, when their first child, Emmett Laun, was born.  Lucille was raised by Harry and Minnie after the departure of her mother.  I started searching the 1930 census to learn where Lena Laun might have been living after her divorce.

I could not find a Lena Laun, Lena Smith or Lena Schmidt of an appropriate age in the 1930 census.  I also was not been able to obtain divorce records from the city of St. Louis that might shed more light on what happened to Lena after her separation from Harry, or the cause of the divorce.

The next two critical pieces of information came from baby books.

My mother-in-law, daughter of Lucille Laun Towell, found a baby book belonging to her son (my husband), and inside it there was a small family tree.  It listed Lucille’s mother as Magdalene Schmidt.  My mother-in-law thinks that only her mother could have filled out this information, as she herself did not know her grandmother’s full name. 

This told us that Lena’s full name was likely Magdalene, with Lena being a nickname.

Another big discovery was made in the baby book of my husband’s uncle, Lucille Laun Towell’s son.  It in, there is a list of everyone who sent gifts when he was born.  Among those listed are “Grandma and Grandpa Hook.”  Several years ago, his wife went through the list of names and identified each of them, but could not be sure about “Grandma and Grandpa Hook.” She suggested that perhaps Hook was a remarried surname for Lena Laun.  I researched this possibility, but could not find any connections.  Years passed.  I continued to work on finding documents pertaining to Lena, but nothing panned out.  She became my biggest and most frustrating brick wall, driving me absolutely nuts.

To be continued...

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