My Schmidt ancestors really liked naming their kids “Julius” and “Traugott”. While fun for them, honoring fathers and godfathers and such, it makes for a bit of a mess, genealogically speaking. I’m in the final edits of my second family history book, and it’s been sticking in my craw that I could not track down my great-great-great-grandfather’s brother, Traugott (what can I say? I’m a completist).

You can see my direct lineage above in the boxes marked with a red bottom stripe. In 1863, Gottlieb immigrated to America with his second wife and his two living sons, Traugott and Carl, along with his widowed father, Gottfried (note that this was the second son of his that he named Traugott!). For a long time, this was all we knew of the family. We ended up hiring a genealogist in Germany to travel in person to the local church and sift through many undigitized records, finally fleshing out the rest of the family.

As I wrote Carl’s chapter in my book, I couldn’t help but wonder what became of his brother. I had not found him in any census data, and a memoir by Carl’s daughter Alma simply said “Nobody heard from him since about 1894”. Later, she wrote, “The undertaker in Menomonee Falls and Milwaukee were children of the uncle Traugott Schmidt. I did not get to know them, they had moved to Lymore when I was too young to remember.”

A clue! And an oddly specific one. Perhaps I could contact city hall in Menomonee and ask for a town historian? In a Hail Mary move, I typed “schmidt undertaker menomonee” into Google, held my breath, and hit Enter. What were the chances of anything relevant surviving all these years?

Pretty. Darn. High.

I discovered a Schmidt funeral home with locations in Menomonee Falls and Mequon (home of my ancestors)! My heart pounding, I clicked on “History” and read about how it had been handed down from father to son, going back and back to … not Traugott. Sigh.

But this had to be the right family. The coincidences were too significant to ignore. I started emailing and calling anyone I could through the website, telling my strange story and hoping for a hit. Perhaps Traugott had changed his name to “August” to sound more American (only slightly more, but still). He was born in 1844, so it wasn’t too strange to imagine him starting this business at the age of 43.

Fortunately, I quickly heard back from the current Schmidts. Unfortunately, they did not have good news. They provided some more information about August A. Schmidt’s son Willmer, and I was able to find him and his children on FamilySearch. Finally, I found a wedding record spelling out the parents of August Albert Schmidt … Julius and Dora Schmidt. Rats. No Gottlieb.

“Traugott Schmidt”

But then … one of the present-day Schmidts found a portrait that had been labelled as “Traugott Schmidt”! They could not recall the source, but a cousin confirmed that the same photo had hung in her mother’s house for years. We were on to something.

The man who sent me this photo said he presumed the woman to be Christine Sophia Ludwig Becker. This was interesting, because she was the wife of the elder Traugott Schmidt – Gottlieb’s brother, instead of his son! They had immigrated to America 20 years before him, along with their infant son, Julius. Perhaps I could find a photo of them to confirm or disprove this one.

Ancestry informed me that I had hints available for little Julius. As I opened each hint, it seemed there were two different Julius Schmidts, with two different wives – one in Mequon, and one in Outagamie. It’s not uncommon for separate people to be conflated on Ancestry, and I spent considerable time trying to puzzle out which one was “mine”.

Finally, an obituary, with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to a stepdaughter that led me to conclude that both Juliuses were mine! He had married Frederike and had 8 children with her before she died … and then married Theodora and had 8 more. Busy guy. I set about untangling the many census records, Find a Grave entries, and obituaries to sort out which children went with which mother. Theodora was a widow herself, bringing two children to her second marriage, complicating things further. As I continued in this tedious task, I vaguely wondered why I was bothering to go so deep on what was clearly a tangent. Then I laughed and remembered I’m a genealogist, and it’s what we do. It’s often where the magic happens, actually.

I finished the re-org of children and started double-checking birth years, trying to determine if there was a set of twins or if I had mistakenly assigned two kids to the same year. I started collecting census records for each kid to cross-check the births, and found that Albert August Schmidt had a son named … Willmer.

Yes, Willmer! His father, Albert August aka August Albert, had indeed been born to Julius and “Dora” Schmidt. I had found the link.

Alma, as it turns out, had been writing about her father’s uncle Traugott, not her own uncle Traugott. And it was his grandson, not his son, who owned the funeral home. Still, pretty good memory for a woman in her 80s!

So, I found Traugott Schmidt. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found the Traugott Schmidt I was looking for. The search continues …