The Whys That Are Not There

The records our ancestors left behind only tell us a part of the story. One has to be careful reading more into documents than is actually there.

Johann George Trautvetter and his wife Sophia Elisabeth (Derle) Trautvetter immigrated from Wohlmuthausen, Thuringen, Germany, in June of 1853 with their three sons and one daughter. They arrived in July of 1853 in Baltimore and immediately settled in Hancock County, Illinois, where they purchased property. Approximately in 1869 Johann George returned to Germany and died there in 1871. His funeral entry in the church register at Bad Salzungen indicated that he had returned to Germany and left his wife and family in America.

He and Sophia sold their farm to their youngest son in the late 1860s.  No reason is given. It could have been as simple as they were retiring, wanted to avoid the eventual costs of an estate settlement, and needed the money from the sale.

And I really can’t speculate as to why he returned. There’s no diaries, family letters, or records that provide any specifics. Did he return for a visit and become too ill to return to his family? Was he unhappy in America? Was the marriage an unhappy one? Did he want to return to Germany while Sophia refused to leave her children? While the biography of one of their sons simply says Johann George “returned for a visit” to Germany and died there, that explanation may have been one that put a positive spin on his travels and looked better in publication than the actual situation.

All I have are records. I don’t have reasons.

And I’m hesitant to spin a story explaining someone’s behavior when that person is dead and gone and did not leave reasons behind.

There are times where it’s a little easier to see the probable reasons behind someone’s behavior even if those reasons are not stated.

It’s slightly different when a woman with small children is widowed by her husband in the 1850s and remarries in short order. In that case it’s reasonable that economics forced her hand. The same is likely true of a widower in a similar situation during the same time period.

A young male who leaves Prussia in the late 1860s probably did so to escape serving in the Prussian Army. Probably. But is there anything specifically stating that he did? Such a story may be in a biography, obituary, or family story passed down through the generations. And even the family story may have been started by relatives long after the immigrant himself was dead.

Try and stick with the facts as evidenced by records as much as possible. In some cases there is an amazing amount of detail in what records are left behind without trying to “figure out” what else happened without any sources to back it up.

Would you want your descendant taking the documented details of your life and spinning stories around them?

 

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