One of my major research goals for 2014 was to determine the parents of my husband’s great-grandmother, Lena Schmidt. I am very glad to say that I’ve managed to accomplish this. Not only does it tick a goal off the list, but it’s the culmination of many years of work on the toughest brick wall I’ve yet encountered.
|The grave of Lena's father, Herman Schmidt in Belleville, Illinois. (Photo by Donnie Goss, Jr., 2011)|
When I last wrote about Lena, I had learned what happened to her after her divorce from Harry Laun. I also had a good lead on her parents, but wasn’t yet able to prove my hunch. I had found a census record from 1900 that appeared to list her with her parents and siblings. However, I could not prove conclusively that this was the correct Lena. Lena Schmidt was a common name at that time and in that location. Part of being a good researcher is adhering to the Genealogical Proof Standard. Evidence must be analyzed, sources must be cited, and contradictory evidence must be resolved. Just because a set of potential parents looks right doesn't mean they are right. Proof is necessary. I dug deeper into available records and tried to build a solid case for Lena's parentage.
Lena’s death certificate stated that she’d been born in Belleville, Illinois in September 1891. Her father’s surname was given as Schmidt. Lena also used the surname Schmidt in all of her marriage documentation. Using this information, I zeroed in on a 1900 census listing for a family in Belleville that included a young girl named Magdalena Schmidt. This child had a stated birth date of September 1892. Given the known inaccuracies in census records, I didn't immediately disqualify her as a candidate. Other than that discrepancy, this family looked promising. Both potential parents, Herman and Elizabeth “Elisa” Schmidt, were born in Illinois, and Lena’s marriage documents and census listings state that both her parents were born in Illinois. I could not find any other family in Belleville that had this correct combination of factors. Still, promising does not equal correct. I needed something that proved that young Magdalena Schmidt grew up to be Lena Laun Hook.
I found an obituary for Herman Schmidt but it listed his daughter as Mrs. Magdalena Lang of St. Louis. I searched and searched for a Magdalena Lang but could not find one that seemed to be connected to Herman Schmidt. Was it possible that Lang was a misspelling of Laun? I requested probate information for Herman Schmidt from the Belleville Public Library. Jackpot! The very thorough document that I received lists in two different places that Herman Schmidt’s youngest daughter was Mrs. Magdalena Laun of St. Louis. Lena had married Harry Laun in St. Louis just one month before her father’s death.
Why I believe the mystery is now solved:
1. Lena’s marriage license and death certificate list her maiden name as Schmidt. Her death certificate lists her place of birth as Belleville, Illinois. I found a 1900 U.S. Census record showing a Magdalena Schmidt of the age of our Lena living in Belleville with her parents, Herman and Elisa.
2. In the 1920 census, Lena gives her parents’ birthplace as Illinois. Both Herman Schmidt and Elisa Bosch were born in Illinois.
3. Herman Schmidt’s will twice references his daughter, Magdalena Laun, after Lena’s marriage to Harry Laun.
4. This point is more circumstantial, but worth mentioning. The address that Herman Schmidt gives for his daughter, Magdalena Laun, in his 1913 will is less than a mile from the home where Harry Laun was living in 1910 and only a half mile from the church where Harry and Lena were married. This is clearly the neighborhood where Harry and Lena settled after they were married in 1913, so it puts Herman Schmidt's daughter in the correct location.
So, I believe that I have now exhaustively analyzed the evidence and can come to a strong conclusion. Lena Schmidt Laun Hook was the daughter of Herman Schmidt and Elizabeth “Elisa” Bosch of Belleville, Illinois.
The Schmidt family was Catholic with German roots. Herman Schmidt fought for the Union in the Civil War. They lived in Belleville, Illinois for decades, establishing deep ties there and owning several plots of land in the city.
Lena was the youngest of eleven children born to Herman and Elisa. At the time of Herman’s will in 1913, nine of those children were still living. As I continue to explore this family, I hope I can connect with some other Schmidt descendants and learn what they may know about the family.