Saturday, January 24, 2009

Digging Into the Past

Nearly ten years ago I jumped on the genealogy enthusiasts' bandwagon.  Most of my life I knew little to nothing about my ancestors: father, grandparents, and further on back.  It has been fascinating getting acquainted with some of them through the past few years.  Unfortunately, I've found little time to work at it on a sustained basis, but every now and then I get a spurt of energy, or a new lead, and start digging again.  I've learned that you need to have almost infinite patience; that most of what you find needs to be accepted tentatively; that many ancestors shared the same names, thus creating confusion; and that the census records are far from being completely accurate.  Nevertheless, modern technology has developed countless new tools to assist those interested in piecing together family stories.

Today is the anniversary of the death of my great-great grandfather, on my mother's side: Valentine F. Fries (1824-1895). He was born in Bavaria, place unknown, of a Bavarian father and a French mother.  I know nothing of his early life.  Valentine was married to Anna Maria [Mary Ann] Reble (1823-1915), daughter of Jacob Friederick Reble and Anna Maria Schaefer (his second wife), on November 11, 1844, before Father H. D. Junker.  Anna Maria was born in Buoch, in the then duchy or kingdom of W├╝rtemberg, located in South West Germany, between Baden and Bavaria.  Her father brought the family to America, to Montgomery County, Dayton, OH, around 1830.

Valentine and Mary Ann appear to have had four daughters and three sons, one of whom, John Quitman Fries, was my great-grandfather.  Valentine is listed as an insurance agent and a saloonist prior to his enrollment on October 6 [year not noted in the record] as a First Lieutenant in Company K, 2nd Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.  I've read conflicting stories about the 2nd Regiment: some saying it was one of the most undisciplined units, others that it had one of the most brilliant records of any Regiment in the service.  It had been organized in 1861, presumably the year in which Valentine was inducted, at age 37! The Regiment moved from the Indian Territory, Arkansas, and Missouri to Kentucky in the summer of 1862. What stories he must have heard! The records I accessed are vague as to exactly how he served, or whether he actually saw any battle, etc.  The records note that he served at Camp Mitchell, KY.  Military life took its toll on him rather quickly, for on January 8, 1862 he applied for discharge because "by reason of hardships of soldier life [he] contracted asthma, bronchitis and heart disease", which a later document says "resulted in his death".  The records show that he wasn't treated in a hospital but "only by [the] Regimental Surgeon -- Dr. C. Renolds
[?]."  It took another year and four months before he was honorably discharged on April 30, 1863.  He lived another 31 years.  

The 1870 census lists his occupation as an insurance agent, although Odell's Dayton Directory and Business Advertiser for years 1862-1865 lists his business as "saloon", on the southeast corner of 5th & Ludlow Streets, as does the 1880 census. The latter also lists two of his sons, including my great-grandfather, John Q., then 20 years old, as a "Bartender".  True to their good German heritage, my forbears embraced "the drink" and obviously made their living from sharing it with others.  As a child, I can remember my grandfather, Harry Fries, trekking over to Popovitz's, a local neighborhood pub, almost every Saturday night to fill a gallon glass jug with brew.  The whole family would sit around the kitchen table, and us young'uns were treated to a small sip of the frothy amber from small glasses, provided by my Grandmother Clara, which had formerly contained pimento cheese.  My grandfather's custom was to put a pinch of salt in his beer, so, of course, that became one of my rituals.

Valentine Fries died January 24, 1895 of "Old Age", attested to by Dr. P. W. Adams.  His funeral was handled by P. Meyers, undertaker; he was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Dayton.  In 2001 I visited the cemetery and located both Valentine's and Mary Ann's graves.  Weeds had overgrown the markers, and the lettering on Valentine's is nearly worn away.  You can barely make out the inscription: "Lieut. Valentine Fries  Co. K  2nd Ohio Cav." [See above] 

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