52 Ancestors: In the Census


Oh gosh, let me tell you the story of my great grandfather, John August Gall, and the United States census.

John Gall in Prussian Army uniform

John Gall in his Prussian army uniform, taken in Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland).

John Gall was born on August 28, 1874, somewhere in Germany. (The case of his hometown will have to be a story for another day.) At some point as a young adult, he immigrated to the United States where, as of what I have currently uncovered, managed to avoid any official records until he married my great grandmother Ida Borchert in 1912.

Censuses are a tricky thing. While sometimes they can uncover something interesting, they can also be a source of frustration, both of which are true for John August Gall. He appears on three censuses (1920, 1930, and 1940), each one listed different information for both his arrival and place of birth. I understand errors can occur on the census-takers end, but as someone who wants to learn more about this little-known branch of my family tree, it gets a tad frustrating.

The 1920 census:

John Gall is listed as the head of household, living with his wife Ida and their children, John, Jr. and Pauline. His age checks out (45), but his place of birth is off. He is listed as from Lorraine (as in Alsace-Lorraine, the territory between Germany and France which changed hands often), with a native tongue of French. His immigration year is listed as 1894, with naturalization year of 1900.

John Gall 1920

His parents are also listed as being born in Alsace-Lorraine with a native tongue of French. His wife Ida’s father is listed from France (he was from Luxembourg), but her mother is listed from Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, which is correct.

John Gall parents born 1920

The 1930 census:

He is listed as the head of household once again, living with his wife and daughter Pauline. However, this census lists his place of birth as Germany and his native language as German. His immigration year is listed as 1892, and while the census lists John as naturalized, there is no column for the year.

John Gall 1930

The census is hard to read, but shows the changes from the 1920 census.

John A Gall

John Gall, date unknown, probably in the 1920’s or 1930’s.

The 1940 census:

This is the census where things get interesting. I had heard that John Gall had been in a home due to illness at some point in his life (at a time my grandma could remember), but I was surprised to see his name on this census. In 1940, John A. Gall is listed as an inmate at the Patton State Hospital, a mental hospital where he was a patient. His birth year remains Germany, and there is no longer column for immigration year.

john gall 1940

This census added a new set of columns, to list the residence of the individual on April 1, 1935. According to the census, John Gall lived at the state hospital on that date as well. Family lore is that he suffered a brain injury at work and was forced into the hospital, but due to HIPAA we cannot get his medical records.

The Differences:

The 1920 census lists his native language as French, but family members disagree with this, as they heard stories of him speaking in German. (I read an article once that said many German immigrants claimed to have been born in Alsace-Lorraine, due to the anti-German sentiment after World War I, but of course I cannot find this now.)

The immigration year is a frustrating one. I have no idea when he came to the United States. I assume it was after he turned 18, and probably later, due to his service in the Prussian army, but I am not sure. The two years listed, 1892 and 1894, would have made him 18 or 20. Due to the fire at Ellis Island in 1897, his records are probably lost.

The census only has limited information, and due to the nature of collection, language barriers, and other issues, but they can still be a wealth of information. I remain determined to uncover more about John Gall, and will try to rectify the inconsistencies listed on the census.


52 Ancestors: Invite to Dinner


When I think of family dinners growing up, dinners where other family members came to our house, I think of our dining room.

The dining room in the house I grew up in was right off the kitchen, but it was only used in special occasions, primarily for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was the room that housed all the breakables and family momentos.

Two particular items that hung on the wall when we were older were two fruit paintings. My maternal grandma died when I was nine, and one of the many items my mom took were these two paintings. She had them reframed, and hung them on the dining room wall.


These pictures now hang by our table. One is signed “Adler” and the other “F. Adler 1853.”

It turns out, these paintings were some of the only possessions by great-great grandparents, Hermann and Dora Borchert, brought with them when they immigrated from Germany in 1885. They married in Kiel on May 27, 1885, and left for the United States the next day. Dora even used her maiden name on the passenger list.

Marriage certificate page 1

Hermann Borchert and Dora Adler’s marriage certificate (first page), which listed her parents.

My mom always knew of Dora’s dad as Fritz, but the marriage certificate lists his full name as Ernst Johann Martin Adler.

The paintings are on metal (possibly tin), and have a great level of detail.


Closeup of a painting.

Yes, that is a fly on the fruit. And yes, when I looked at this painting yesterday I thought it was an actual bug and tried to swat it away.

I haven’t been able to uncover much about the Adler family. I don’t even have a picture of Dora. But these paintings now hang in our home, a reminder of their journey and the life they left behind in Germany.


One of the paintings is signed “Adler 1853,” five years before the birth of my great-great grandmother Dora.

They are remarkable in condition and color, especially for being 165 years old, and are a pretty and unique piece of our family history.




52 Ancestors: Longevity


In 1993, my parents took us on a road trip through California. We stopped in little towns, spent days at Disneyland, and visited San Diego for the first time, where my maternal grandma had grown up and still had family. I met Katherine, my great-grandmother’s youngest sister, who at the time was 95 and still lived alone. She was friendly and spry, and the last living sibling of my mom’s Grandma.

Katherine was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 17, 1897. The family moved around throughout the midwest in her childhood, and in the early 1920’s most of the family moved to San Diego, California. On September 10, 1924 she married her first husband, Ward Otto Nelson, who my grandma referred to at Uncle Ott. They would have two kids: Violet in 1926, and Benjamin in 1927. Ward died in 1933, when Katherine was 36.

Sometime in the 1940’s Katherine married her second husband, James Howell. (On the 1940 census, he is listed as her lodger.) In 1957, she lost her son Benjamin, and in 1969 her second husband died.

Sometime in the 1940’s and 1950’s, Katherine worked at the Marston Co. department store, in the fur department, one of the many members of my family who worked for the Marston family.

Katherine was the longest living of her siblings. Her sister Minnie lived to 101, the second longest.

Katherine Borchert Howell, Wilhelmine _Minnie_ Borchert Vock, Ida Borchert Gall, George Borchert

Katherine, Minnie, Ida (my great-grandmother), and their brother George, sometime in the 1960’s in San Diego.

George died in a car accident at the age of 93, while my great-grandma lived until 73. Their sister Pauline lived until 91, while their brother Hermann lived until 67 (he died of cancer, by Mom believes).

Katherine celebrated her 102nd birthday in 1999, and received a letter from President Clinton in recognition.


Letter celebrating 102nd birthday from President Clinton

Katherine died on May 25, 2000, at the age of 102.

These siblings were first-generation Americans, and lived long lives here. The sisters stayed close together in California, while George and Hermann remained in Ohio when the family moved West.

(On a side note: writing this made me realize I need to ask my mom’s cousin for more pictures of the siblings!)

So tell me, do you have any longevity on your family tree? How long did the oldest person live? Did you have a chance to meet?



52 Ancestors: Favorite Photo

dazzle-2Oh man, I thought this was an easy one: favorite photo. I am sure everyone has one. I thought I knew the one I wanted to post, but the more I thought about it, I wanted to post more than one. I ended up choosing three: one I find funny, one I find “real,” and one that I always remember being displayed in our home growing up.

The funny one:

Myrtle and Chester Crowe, 1938

Myrtle and Chester Crowe, 1938.

These are my great-grandparents, Myrtle and Chester Crowe. On the beach. In full dress. You can see their shadows, so it was sunny. I assume they were in Oregon, and the beach here is typically windy, but I still wonder what the reason was for being so nicely dressed at the beach. Plus, the pipe is a nice touch.

The “real” one (for lack of a better description):

Eby children

Six Eby children: Luella, Gerald (my grandfather), Ruth, Gene, Zelma, and Dee.

My grandfather Gerald was the second youngest of seven. The only sibling not pictured here is the oldest, Helen. I love this picture because it isn’t perfect. Not everyone is looking at the camera, it isn’t serious, they aren’t trying to look perfect. Plus Ruth, with the bottle and cigarette, looks like she is having a lot of fun.

I never knew my grandpa, but I do have memories of both Zelma and Luella, who both passed over the last few years.

The one I remember:


Me, with my dad Richard and sister Meaghan, 1984.

Growing up, this photo sat on my mom’s china cabinet in the dining room. I always remember it in this frame. My mom would later tell me that this frame was once pink, but had faded and turned yellow. Even though it was always out, it reminds me a lot of the holidays, because that was usually the only time we went into the dining room.

What makes a favorite photo for you? Is it tied to a memory, or something else?

You can follow me on Instagram: @familyhistoryfood or on Facebook. I would love to hear from you and your thoughts on your own favorite photos!



52 Ancestors: Start


This year I want to focus more on documenting and sharing my ancestry, in the hopes it will inspire others to do the same, or even help people with their own breakthroughs. Using the prompts provided by Amy Johnson Crow, each week I will share something about my own family history. This week: start.

I am unable to pinpoint the exact time I decided to begin tracing my family history, but once I began, I was hooked. I built a tree on Ancestry and love trying to grow it. I began about eight years ago, and just last month I had a big breakthrough and was able to grow my line on my mom’s side. It’s exciting to see records online and finding family members.

My dad and paternal grandma did a lot of research on their own lines, so I was able to get a large jump on that side of my family.

Gerald Eby family

My grandparents, Gerald and Veva Eby, with their children, my dad Richard and his sister Susan.

My maternal grandma also researched a lot, but I do not have access to this, so I basically have started from scratch. My mom was able to fill in some names, but her side is a little more challenging. Only one of her grandparents was born in the U.S., and right after her parents immigrated from Germany. Her maternal grandfather was also from Germany, and her paternal grandparents immigrated from Canada.

Ida Gall and family

My great-grandmother Ida Gall with her family: her son John, his wife Barbara, and their daughter Bobbie, along with my mom Margaret, her brother Peter, and Ida’s daughter (and my grandma) Pauline and my grandpa William McCallum.

That’s a funny thing about my ancestry: I am fifth generation Oregonian (from my paternal grandma’s line), but only third generation American on my mom’s side. I love that family history not only shows where you came from, but just how everything had to fall into place for you to exist. I am at awe at the fact that if one of my ancestors wouldn’t have immigrated or moved or been at the right place at the right time, I would not be here. And to me that is the most incredible thing about family history.