My 2nd great grandmother’s sister has always been a source of curiosity for me. Her name was Tillie, a pet name for Ottilie. She was born in 1888 just outside the village of Kalwaria (today Kalvarija) Lithuania, and came to America in 1904. I first discovered her when I read my 2nd great grandmother’s obituary from 1943, in which it mentioned a sister, Tillie, living in Chicago. I eventually discovered more and more about Tillie and her family, both from my own research, and from speaking to some of her descendants. I eventually uncovered that Tillie had a child before she was married, who died in infancy. What was even more curious was the several documents that listed Tillie’s maiden name as “Dittman” instead of Wiemert, which was my own 2nd great grandmother’s maiden name. What was that about?
Dittman appeared on other documents as well, including her marriage application, her first child’s birth and death certificate--even on the baptismal record of a nephew in Cleveland, and her brother Friedrich’s will from 1908. Even more confusing, there were other documents where her maiden name was listed as “Wiemert.” So which was it? And why?
At first, I started to think that perhaps Tillie was previously married, which would seem an obvious answer to this question--she was simply stating her maiden name before she married her second husband. Since I couldn’t find any records of a marriage here in America, I began to wonder if perhaps she was married back home in Lithuania. I decided to search the name Ottilie Dittman in ship manifest records when I finally came across something promising. In 1904 an Ottilia Detman, aged 15, sailed from Bremen to New York, and her destination was listed as Cleveland--her relative as a brother-in-law, William Klimack--the husband of her sister Anna née Wiemert. That all added up--and the fact that her last name was listed as Detman on the ship manifest further fueled my theory that perhaps she was previously married. Until of course I read on the manifest that she was listed as single. Very curious.
I knew that my 2nd great grandmother was likely from Kalwaria because it was listed on her 1893 marriage record from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cleveland. While I was able to find the baptismal records of her sister Anna and brother Friedrich, I was unable to find hers. What made matters more difficult, is that because Lithuania was under Russian rule, by 1868, churches were required to keep metrical records in Russian Cyrillic--a language and a script that I am extremely illiterate in. Therefore, I had to rely on the work of a researcher friend of mine who is based in Poland. I asked for him to search through the records from the Lutheran church in Kalwaria for anyone with the name of Ottilie Dittman or Ottilie Wiemert. His hard work paid off.
It turns out that in 1876, Wilhelm Wiemert (my 3rd great grandfather, and father to my 2nd great grandmother and her siblings Friedrich and Anna) died, leaving his wife Esther née Wolinska, a widow. That same year, she married a man named August Dettmann, a carpenter. In 1888, the couple had a child, Ottilie. Not only that, but a few years later in 1891, the couple had a son, Gustav.
Now, you may be thinking “wow, her husband dies and she marries only a few months later? How heartless!” and that’s a reasonable assumption for someone of our own time. But things in the late 19th century were quite different. Without a husband, Esther would have struggled greatly to support herself and her family. While she may have been able to do some craft work for money, it’s likely that she wouldn’t have been able to find good paying work both because of her sex, and her age. Marrying was a way to secure herself and her family, ensure that she had a home to live in, and food to feed her family. In fact, my other 3rd great-grandmother Marie née Renkiewicz Saleker, had done the same thing in 1891 when her husband Johann Andreas died. This was a common practice.
And so it turns out that my 2nd great-grandmother’s sister, Ottilie, was actually her half sister, and not only that, she had another half brother name Gustave. What is so amazing about all of this to me, is how easily this information could be both lost and uncovered. Had I never really pined for an answer to why Tillie’s maiden name seemed to change between Wiemert and Dittman, it’s possible I may never have found out about my 3rd great grandmother’s second marriage, or another son. Not to mention, that the information contained within the baptismal and marriage records in Lithuania, helped me greatly in overcoming some brick walls that seemed, up until now, impenetrable.
It goes to show that the devil is in the details--and it’s important for any genealogist or family historian, to always remain curious.