Monday, August 26, 2013

(Part Two) Lena Schmidt: Breaking Through a Brick Wall

In my last post, I discussed the biggest brick wall encountered in my research.  I spent many years searching for information about the fate of my husband’s great-grandmother, Lena Schmidt.  Here’s how I recently managed to crack this difficult case. 

Lena Schmidt: Part Two

In April 2012, the 1940 census was made available to the public for the first time.  Records were slowly transcribed by volunteers and became visible on, among other genealogy sites.  I searched the database initially, but couldn’t find anything that seemed connected to Lena.  A full year later, a search I ran for “Lena Hook” turned up a possible match.

Lena Hook
Estimated Birth Year:
abt 1893
Marital Status:
Relation to Head of House:
Home in 1940:
St Louis, St Louis City, Missouri
View Map
Nicholson Place
House Number:
Inferred Residence in 1935:
St Louis, St Louis City, Missouri
Residence in 1935:
Same Place
Attended School or College:
Highest Grade Completed:
Elementary school, 8th grade
Household Members:

The birth year and location of residence looked like a match for Lena Schmidt Laun.  However, no one in the family had heard that Lena might have had another child, and this census clearly states that Lena was the mother of Billy Hook, age 8.

I searched death records online and found a Missouri death certificate for this Lena Hook.  It listed her date of death as October 5, 1947 in St. Louis, Missouri.

This also told me Lena Hook’s birthdate, September 3, 1891, and the place of her birth, Belleville, Illinois.  It listed her cause of death as coronary artery disease.  She was survived by her husband, William D. Hook.  However, because Lucille Laun Towell’s children both remember their mother attending their grandmother’s funeral in the early 1950s, there was still a big question as to whether this could be the correct Lena.

I wrote to the St. Louis Genealogical Society and asked them to search local records for an obituary for Lena Hook.  They located an obituary that was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 6, 1947.  It reads as follows:

HOOK, LENA R. – 5544 Chippewa, Sun., Oct. 5, 1947, beloved wife of William D. Hook, dear mother of William Ray Hook and Lucille Towell of Houston, Tex., dear mother-in-law, grandmother, sister, sister-in-law and aunt.
Funeral from C. HOFFMEISTER Colonial Mortuary, 6464 Chippewa at Watson, Wed., 10:30am to Sunset Burial Park.

This tells us pretty conclusively that Lena Hook was the Lena Schmidt Laun we’d been trying to locate, since she is identified as the mother of Lucille Laun Towell.  I can’t even articulate how excited I was to have this breakthrough after so many frustrating years of searching for Lena!

Now that we know what happened to Lena after her marriage to Harry Laun, there are more things to research.  Firstly, Lena had another child, William, born in about 1932.  I reached out to someone on who has William R. Hook in his family tree, and lists him as the widower of Marian Claire Schemkes.  That contact confirmed that he is a relative of the late Billy Hook, but was unable to tell me any more about Lena.  He was also searching for information about her, and was eager to hear what I knew.  I am still hoping that someone on this side of the family might turn out to have photos of Lena or more information about her.

The other thing left to determine is who Lena’s parents were.  The records I’ve already located tell us quite a bit about them.  They were both born in Illinois, and were living in Belleville, Illinois when Lena was born, just a half-hour drive from St. Louis.

I started searching for a Magdelene Rose Schmidt born in Belleville around 1891, and uncovered a census listing that looks likely to be Lena’s family.  This is not conclusively proven at this time, but is a strong possibility.   The 1900 census lists the family of Howard and Elizabeth Schmidt of Belleville, Illinois, along with their 7-year old daughter, Magdaline.  Magdaline was the youngest of ten children, with her parents being in their 40s at the time of her birth.  Further research into this family reveals that the father’s name was actually Herman, not Howard, and the mother’s full name was Elizabeth “Elisa” Bosch.  Herman Schmidt died on December 14, 1913, just a month after Lena Schmidt married Harry Laun in St. Louis.  Hermann and Elisa’s parents all came from Germany.

I have two question marks surrounding this family.  The first is that Magdaline Schmidt’s birth is listed as September 1892, when Lena Laun Hook’s death certificate establishes her birth as being September 1891.  This doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t the right person, but it warrants some additional investigation.  After all, two of the census records listing the person we are certain is Lena record her year of birth as 1893, so there is some overall discrepancy about her birth date.  There is further research to be done before Lena's parentage can be proven.

Of Lena’s second husband, William Dewitte Hook, I’ve learned quite a few things.  He was born March 11, 1890 in Round Prairie, Missouri.  He was the son of Benjamin Hook and Viola Pemberton, one of nine children from this marriage.  William had been married earlier, to a woman named Naomia, but they’d had no children together.  He served in World War I.  William Hook died in St. Louis in December 1962.

The next steps will be to continue trying to prove Lena’s parentage, and ultimately learn more details about her life.  I'd love to find a photo of her!  Hopefully, there will be more information to come in the near future.

So, my biggest brick wall is smashed, which is absolutely thrilling.  As often seems to be the case in genealogical research, every question answered creates many more riddles, so I suspect I will still be working on Lena for quite some time.

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