A Wagner Family Artifact Comes Home to the Family

You never know what contacts you might make as a result of an online family history blog. Sure, I’ve had the great pleasure of being contacted by long, ‘lost’ cousins but never before did I imagine that a family artifact would find it’s way back to the family as a result of my blog.

Don Wagner (no known relationship to my wife) runs the Soldier’s Museum website. As a history buff, Don also finds and collects historical artifacts. One of Don’s finds was a small, hard covered book (pictured below) entitled, “Americans’ Guide to Hindustani.” The book is best described as a pocket-sized dictionary containing the Hindi-Urdu translations of useful English language phrases and words, likely a useful book to have if you were born in Saskatchewan, Canada and posted during World War 2 to north India.

On the inside flyleaf of the book (pictured below), the soldier who owned the book had written his name and regimental assignment, “F/O Gordon Wagner – 229 Group RAF India.”

When Don decided to do a little research to see if he could find any additional information about the soldier, a Google search lead him to my blog post about Ellen’s uncle, Gordon  Gilbert Henry Wagner. Don left a comment on my Gordon Wagner blog post and then also contacted me by email to see if we could determine if ‘my’ Gordon Wagner was the same Gordon Wagner who had written his name inside the book.

There are precious few records available in Canada covering the 1,159,000 Canadians who served in World War 2 and there are access restrictions to the service files of those who survived the war, including Gordon. Fortunately for me, Gordon had two passionate interests that he pursued in his retirement. Genealogy and writing.

Gordon’s genealogy research served as the initial basis for my own research of the great history connected with Ellen’s family. Gordon’s passion for writing resulted in the publication of several books, including his autobiographical recollections of his time in the Royal Canadian Air Force, entitled “How Papa Won The War” (published by the Flying-W-Publishing Co. in 1989). 

On page 157 of the book, Gordon wrote, “In their campaign to chase the Japanese out of Burma, the British army needed aircraft to transport supplies and paratroops into the jungles of north-western Burma. The Royal Air Force received the army’s request and asked the Royal Canadian Air Force to supply the aircrews. The RAF would fly us to India, providing the planes and the base. The RCAF would form two squadrons, train the crews and take the squadrons into Burma. At least that was the plan, a good one really.”

Gordon provided a copy of his new assignment to the RAF, dated September 12, 1944 to the 229 Group India.

So both ‘my’ Gordon Wagner and the Gordon Wagner who owned the book were both assigned to the 229 Group in India during World War 2. It’s still possible that they are two different people but I doubt that very much.

I agreed to a price for the book (or maybe it was a finder’s fee) with Don and he mailed the book to me. It arrived back in the hands of the Wagner family today!

Sometimes My Genealogy Stars Are Aligned

As luck would have it, I stumbled into a gold mine of family records while I have continued to pursue my wife Ellen’s ancestors. As I have recorded through many blog posts, Ellen’s ancestry is rich and compelling, with roots that include United Empire Loyalists and American Revolutionaries  I can trace her ancestors back to the 1620’s in New England, their arrival occurring just a few years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Ellen appears to be one of the few people who can claim U.E.L. (United Empire Loyalist) and D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution) status (although neither has been applied for to date).

With such a lengthy and deep ancestry in North America, spread over hundreds of years, family members in subsequent generations have been found in all corners of the United States and Canada.

In the past couple of weeks, I have devoted time to tracking down the family members directly connected to Ellen’s second great aunt, Elizabeth Nusbickel (nee Wagner). Elizabeth was the sister of Ellen’s second great grandfather Jacob Wagner. Both Jacob and Elizabeth had immigrated to the United States along with their parents Heinrich ‘Henry’ and Anna Marie ‘Mary’ (nee Eckhard) Wagner around 1833, settling in Wayne County, New York. Henry provided for his family by both farming his land and by plying his trade as a cooper. The photo, above right, was taken by Ellen’s uncle Gordon Wagner in 1976 and was provided to us by Gordon as part of his genealogy work charts and papers on the Wagner family. The photo, which I scanned, depicts Stewart Smart (a cousin) with a barrel made by Henry Wagner over one hundred years prior to the photo.

Elizabeth Wagner married Frederick Nusbickel around 1843. Elizabeth and Frederick had five known children, the youngest, Catherine or ‘Kate’ was born in 1855 in Rose, Wayne County, New York. Around 1880, Kate married a Lyons, Wayne County, New York school teacher named Josiah F. Kletzing. Subsequently, Josiah and Kate left New York state and moved to the Chicago, Cook County, Illinois area where they settled down and raised their family.

While I have used the Ancestry website to view and save many records connected to the families, when the Ancestry ‘well ran dry’, I turned to FamilySearch.org to explore the Cook County databases that are available. This is where I got lucky. Through FamilySearch, I was able to locate and save vital records for the births, marriages, and deaths for the five known children of Kate and Josiah. In the case of their daughter Kathryn Kletzing, I was able to go one generation further by finding an image of her 1912 marriage license to Ralph Clayton Moulding as well as the birth records for three of their four children.

Fortunately, I was possibly one of the last people to access the record images online. Yesterday, FamilySearch ‘announced’ through it’s wiki that these images would no longer be available directly through FamilySearch. The wiki now explains, under the “Image Visibility” section, that, “Due to the provisions and guidelines of a newly revised contract with Cook County, FamilySearch has removed all images for Illinois, Cook County vital records from its historical records collection online; free indexes to the collections will remain.”

This affects the following databases:

  • Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878 – 1922
  • Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers. 1871 – 1915
  • Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878 – 1922
  • Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871 – 1920

Although the images are no longer available online, they can still be acquired through microfilm viewed at a local Family History Centre, through the Cook County website for a fee, or through a Family History Library “photoduplication” request. I feel lucky that timing was on my side in the past few days as none of the now current acquisition methods is nearly as convenient as my experience.