Infidelity or Second Marriage?

I heard a story recently which occurred on my father’s side of the family which happened in the late 1800s with my 2nd great grandfather and grandmother: Selestine & Isabelle (Fischer) Horney.  It is a story of infidelity… or is it?

The story, as I heard it from my Aunt Helen, goes something like this…

My grandfather had an uncle that no one seemed to know where his grave was located. But my grandfather knew, and he showed my Aunt Helen.  It was totally separate from the rest of the family.  He seemed to be the black sheep of the family.

It seems that Selestine came to the United States before his wife; and when she later arrived, brought with her an infant son born in Germany. The child was younger than the time span when Selestine and Isabelle were last together. It turns out that this grand uncle, named Marcel, although the son of Isabelle Fischer was NOT the son of Selestine.

Selestine remained married to Isabelle and gave the boy his last name. He promised, however, that Marcel would receive no other inheritance.

So… there you have it!  But… does it fit the documentation?

So let’s look at when Selestine came to America…

It turns out that he was born in February 1855/1856 in Alsace, France and he came to New Orleans on the ship John Merrick with his father, Nicolas, in January 1860.  From there his family moved to Goliad, TX where they lived for 30 years. Sometime in the early 1900s the family moved to Emory, TX where he died in June 1929.

Now for a quick summary of Isabella’s journey to America…

Isabella was born in 1867 in Alsace, France and was still living in France in 1872. Now I haven’t yet found a passenger list with Isabella nor her family when they immigrated to America. However, depending on which U.S. Federal Census you believe, she immigrated between 1887 and 1890.  The 1887 date is too early as you’ll see when we talk about her son’s birth in Europe. The earliest census  of 1910 (to me would be more accurate since it documents the information closer in time to the actual event) has her immigrating in 1889. The next year she married Selestine. She moved with her husband to Emory, TX and died in March 1948.

Both are buries in Dunbar Cemetery in Emory, Rains, Texas, USA.

The Child in Question… Marcel

The bulk of the documentation found (Federal Census, WWII Draft Registration, Death Certificate) has Marcel being born in Jan 1888 in Germany. However, his WWI Draft Registration has him born in Jan 1889 in France. During the 1910 Federal Census, Marcel indicated he immigrated to the U.S. in 1890…  (you have to love the inconsistencies of peoples’ memories).  Regardless, I expect he, as an infant, came over with his mother.

Marcel and his wife’s tombstone just a few feet away from his parents.

An analysis of the dates…

Let’s look at the timeline:

  • 1856              Selestine was born
  • 1860              Selestine comes to America (about age 4).
  • 1867              Isabelle was born
  • 1888-1889    Marcel was born
  • 1889-1890    Isabelle and Marcel come to America (about age 21 and 1 respectively)
  • 1890              Selestine & Isabelle marry (about age 34 and 21 respectively)

I see no opportunity for infidelity in this situation since they were not yet married when Marcel was born.  A history of the early Fischer family by Norma Lee Lauderdale simply states that Selestine and Isabelle had six children (Marcel is one of the six) and then goes on to say “Marcel born in Germany (before she married Selestine).”

So it is obvious that Marcel is NOT the biological son of Selestine since he and Isabelle hadn’t even met yet.  What isn’t clear is the circumstances of Marcel’s birth.  Was it casual sex or, heaven forbid, rape? Was she previously married? We don’t know and likely never will.

Back to the initial story

Did Isabelle cheat on Selestine?  No.

Did Marcel get Selestine’s last name?  Yes.

Did he get nothing else?  I don’t know as I haven’t yet looked into the probate records.

Was he ostracized or kept from the rest of the family?  I don’t think so since his grave is right there with all the other Horneys.

Moral of the Story

I love the stories I hear from my relatives concerning ancestors…  there’s usually some truth in everything they say.  Sometimes it even matches up with the documentation.

But you can’t just rely on people’s memories when doing genealogical research!




Fischers and Horneys Come to America

A lot of times the sources used while researching the family history are confusing and/or have a lot of errors. Or it could be that I’m just ignorant of what was going on at the time and the source information is accurate, but it just doesn’t make sense without some crucial bit of knowledge. Sometimes you have to delve into the history of the times just to figure out what is going on with your ancestors.

One good example of this is the birthplaces of my Fischer and Horney ancestors (on my dad’s dad’s side of the family).  One great great great grandfather, Eustache Fischer, came to America around 1889 while my other 3rd great grandfather, Nicolas Horney, came in 1860. Both of their families ended up in Goliad County, Texas. The families MAY have known each other before they came to America because Nicolas was married to a Fischer in 1849; but this is conjecture at this point.

The interesting thing to note about many of these men’s children is that the place where they report their birth country changes over the various census dates. And this is confusing if you’re trying to keep accurate information.

Every 10 years the US government holds a census where it keeps track of the country’s population with a few questions asked of every person in the country at the time.  Two questions consistently asked is when and where you are born.

Selestine Horney (Eustache’s son) eventually married Isabelle Fischer (Nicolas’ daughter) about 1890 in Goliad County, Texas.  But let’s figure out where they were born (the information here was taken from the various censuses):

Census Selestine Isabelle
1870 France Moved to USA in late 1880s.
1880 France
1900 Germany Germany
1910 Germany France
1920 France France
1930 Died in 1929. France
1940 France

The records for the 1890 were destroyed in a fire; so there is no information for that census.

Now you’d think people would know where they were born; so why is this so confusing?  It also gets a little weird when you look at other aspects of the questions asked and answered in some of the censuses.

The 1920 census asks where each person was born and what their mother (original) language was spoken at home. The response for Isabelle and Selestine (his name is misspelled in the census): Born in France, Speak German!! Now what the heck are we supposed to make out of that?

Eventually I came across a form for Isabelle called the “Alsace-Lorraine, France Citizenship Declarations (Optants), 1872”.  I had to do some reading on to figure out what this was about; but, before we get into that, we need a little bit of history.

This Alsace-Lorraine region had been under frequent contention between Germany and France.  As an article at states, France wanted the Alsace-Lorraine area because it was geographically a part of France. Germany, on the other hand, said it should be part of that country since most of the inhabitants spoke German!   Ahhh – so that’s where the French birth location with German as the mother tongue came from for Isabelle and Selestine.

It turns out that, following the Franco-Prussian War (Jul 1870 – May 1871), the Alsace-Lorraine region of land was transferred from France to Germany.  And it was part of Germany until the end of the First World War when it was ceded back to France in 1918. So, from 1870 and before and 1920 and later this was France while during the 1880-1910 census this area was German.

This whole thing must have been confusing to the census takers who likely weren’t well versed in the history of the area; and, to make matters worse, they were getting answers from German speakers that said they were from France.

Now, back to the Citizenship Declarations (Optants) form.  If people were in the area after “ownership” of the Alsace-Lorraine region was transferred from France to Germany, they had to change their citizenship from French to German. They could declare that they would maintain their French citizenship which would then be published in bulletins. If they chose to remain French, they had to immigrate to France (many of them immigrated to American instead).

So, two siblings could have been born in the same house – yet be from two different countries. In 1870 they would have been born in France; in 1872 they would have been born in Germany.

After all of that you might be thinking – wow – good thing that doesn’t happen in the good ole US of A.  Wrong!  It does.  In the early days, state borders and county borders changed!  This is not as drastic; but if you’re doing research and know that your ancestor was born in one county – but you go look him up at the county courthouse – you might not find him.