Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wisdom Wednesday - Julius Henry Kurtz, The Key To My German Ancestry

My great great grandparents, August & Minnie Kurtz came from Germany, but I had no idea where they originated in Germany.  They arrived in the US in 1882.

After talking to my oldest surviving relatives, I had run into nothing but dead ends of their origins.   However, I am a optimist, I knew there had to be a way to find this just may take a while, so I just kept looking and sleuthing for leads.

Sometime those leads are right in front of and you don't realize it.

My breakthrough began with the discovery of an article about the untimely death of my great great grandfather, August Kurtz.  It mentioned that he met with a lifelong friend, Peter Russenberg, at the time of his death.  Maybe this was the clue I was looking for.  Find out where, Peter Russenberg was from and I would know where August Kurtz was from.  There was only one problem.  I couldn't find any record of Peter Russenberg.  

Another frustrating dead end.

The key clue ended up being something that was more subtle.  In the article it mentions that August Kurtz was going to meet his oldest son arriving by train from Pittsburgh.  It also mentioned that he had eleven children and several of them were grown up.  It had always baffled me that August and Minnie were married about 1875, but hadn't had any children until after they arrived in 1882.  A seven year gap between getting married and having your first child would have been very unusual at that time.  The only source I had for their children's names and year of birth was the 1900 US Census, which showed 9 children.  Based on those census records, I conducted research on each of their children and looked up copies of their obituaries, but none had mentioned that they were born in Germany or the German origins of their parents.  

More dead ends.

But when August Kurtz died in 1903, the census records indicated that his oldest son, Edward Kurtz, would have only been 19.  I didn't consider the age of 19 being "grown up", which seemed to indicate their were potentially two Kurtz children that I hadn't accounted for.  

I went back to Minnie Kurtz's obituary, who died in 1917, to see if I had missed anyone.  I have to admit, I had looked at all the Kurtz's obituaries for clues to their origins, not for missing children.  Minnie's obit mentioned two people I hadn't accounted for:  Henry Kurtz of Trotter and Mrs. Mary Biber of Pittsburgh.  These had to be the older children who were born in Germany!!

I reviewed several of the other Kurtz children's obituaries and found Henry Kurtz mentioned several times.  How had I missed him before?!  There was no further mention of Mary Biber.  I focused my efforts on Henry.  From when he was mentioned in his siblings obituaries he must have died between 1944 and 1953.  I did some newspaper searches of the Daily Courier of Connellsville, PA and I tracked down the obituary of a "Julius Henry Kurtz".  Initially, I was unclear if this was the Henry Kurtz I was looking for, but the obituary mentioned 3 of his brothers.  No question that this was the RIGHT Henry Kurtz!

But the obituary didn't say anything about where he was born in Germany.  

Was this another dead end?  I kept digging.   

I am very grateful to the US government for requiring 62 year old men to register for the draft in WWII! While a little too old to probably be fighting in WWII, it is a great source of ancestral information.  On I found a copy of Julius Henry Kurtz draft registration which showed his answer for "Place of Birth" as ESSEN, Germany!  

YAY!!!!! There it was, what I had been searching for for months and months!

Essen, Germany is an industrial center of Germany and was the coal and steel center of the country.  Essen was part of Prussia, but is now part of the region of Germany known as North Rhine - Westphalia.  The coal industry grew rapidly in Essen throughout the 1800's and it went from a medium sized city to almost 100,000 residents by the time August and Minnie left.  It is possible that this influx of people was a contributing factor to why they decided to emigrate to the US, to find new and better opportunities.  This would be consistent with family stories that my mother told me about the family being coal miners in Germany and they came to Western Pennsylvania because it was the center of coal mining.  

I am not content to let my search end by knowing that my ancestors came from Essen, I would like to see if I can uncover vital records from Germany pertaining to August and Minnie's birth's and marriage.  Can't wait to see what more I can find out from my research in Germany.

Just goes to show that sometimes the clues are right in front of you!  Keep digging and you will find what you are looking for.


  1. Nice job Chris, thanks for sharing. This is very interesting to know.

  2. I thought you would appreciate that information. I hope I kind find out more about them through some German records.

  3. Your post just proves that you should never give up your search for answers. Congrats,your determination paid off and encourages others to stay the path.

  4. Thanks, Kathy! Seems like when you keep at it and exhaust every possibility that good things happen.

  5. You are correct, that a child of Minnie's was not accounted for—Clara Kurtz. She married Casper Ortner and resided in Iowa, passing away in 1990. Clara is my great-grandmother, and I'm in the process of uncovering some of my ancestry (more often than not, I have been plugging names into Google to see what's accessible online—low and behold :D ...)

    Anyway, below is a link to Clara's obituary. I will bookmark this page and try to revisit soon. I must admit, this is neat.

  6. @Christin, Glad you find the family history blog interesting. I was hopeful that when I created the site that it would be useful to distant relatives researching our family. I have not found anything about Clara Kurtz. To the best of my knowledge, Minnie and August never lived in Iowa.

  7. I'm also a great grandchild of August and Minnie Kurtz. Their child, Henry is my grandfather. Let me know which of their children is your grandparent. My mom has many pics of them. Maybe we can help each other out. Amy

    1. Hi Amy, Great to hear from you. My great grandfather was August and Minnie Kurtz's son, Albert. I would love to hear more about your side of the family. Feel free to email me at

    2. Hi Chris, I am Amy, the one that said August & Minnie Kurtz were my great grandparents. Do you know Minnie's maiden name? I'm starting to think that we may be related to two different August & Minnie Kurtz families. My Minnie's maiden name is Falk. My grandfather is Henry Michael Kurtz born in Black Hawk County Iowa and I see where someone mentioned Clara Kurtz Ortner. Clara is my grandpa Henry Kurtz' sister.

    3. Hi Amy, Minnie's last name was Salefski. I am pretty sure that August and Minnie didn't live in Iowa and none of their kids had moved there. Seems likely that you and I have two different August and Minnie Kurtzs. Strange coincidence.
      Good luck with your family research.