This is the fourth article in a six part series about the case of Joseph Peter Miller (1814-1895).
The first article introduced the challenge, and
the next four articles present research about
different aspects of the case, working generally
from the most compelling evidence through to
that which is more conflicted. The sixth article
critiques our work program. Links follow.
a. OooO, Joe. Could this be a match made in (wiki) heaven?
b. Research Part 1 - Joseph Peter Miller takes a bride
c. Research Part 2 - Sticky Dates and Aha! Moments
d. Research Part 3 - "How do you solve a problem like Maria?"
e. Research Part 4 - Stories of Christmas Past
f. Wacky, wiki wonders
Note: The four research articles are also intended to provide examples to technologists who are developing evidence models that support the research process.
"How do you solve a problem like Maria?"
"Record data is subject to error, omission, bias ... and old German script."
-- Cross-eyed Bear, who has enough problems with modern script
Almost 200 years ago, in 1816, Peter Miller moved his family to Paris Township, Stark County, Ohio. The township was then still part of Osnaburg Township, but Rudolph Bair had already set aside "two acres of land within [the limits of Paris (town)]" for the German Reformed and Lutheran Congregations' church and cemetery. A "log building," early erected on the site, served as both a church and schoolhouse. Today, the early church site is home to Israel's Lutheran Church. The map below shows where Peter Miller's 1816 farm was located (highlighted in blue) in relation to the church site.
More than 10 years ago, Jack Stover took on the task of learning about the extant church records, which date to about 1830 (the earliest church records are lost). The baptismal records Jack located were written in old German script. Throughout the 1830s, different ministers performed services at the church. The record of the services they provided are commingled in the ledgers, more or less in date order. This means that an array of script/handwriting appears on any given ledger page. At least to our knowledge, the ledgers have never been interpreted or transcribed as a body of work.
To make sense out of the ledgers and gain insight into the church history, Jack Stover consulted with Dr. Daniel Jay Grimminger, Obl.O.S.B., Ph.D., author of Images of America: Paris and former Israel Lutheran church historian.
In the course of his work, Jack hoped to locate records that would help prove his ancestor, Joseph Peter Miller (1814-1895), was otherwise the son Joseph Miller born 1814 to Peter Miller (ca1779-1845) and his second wife, Mary Stewart (ca1786-1855). Then "of Paris Township," Jack's ancestor had married in 1835 at Stark County to Rebecca Thoma (1816-1895)  According to family tradition, Joseph and Rebecca had been childhood sweethearts. "She was the only girl [Joseph] ever went with and he was her first and only sweetheart."
Rather than a supporting record, Jack found a conflicting Paris church ledger that showed Peter and Maria Miller had witnessed the 1837 baptism of a daughter Maria born to a couple, Joseph and Regina Miller. The graphic below is of the page on which Jack found the problem entry.
- Working with Dr. Grimminger and various other records, Jack was unable to improve upon his initial interpretation of the recorded wife's name, "Regina."
- None of us have been able to locate ledger entries that make any other reference to a Joseph Miller and wife "Regina."
- No entries have been found in the ledgers for any children known born to Joseph Peter and Rebecca (Thoma) Miller.
- Finally, all of us agree that "Peter and Maria Miller" most likely refers to Peter Miller (ca1779-1845) and his second wife, Mary Stewart (ca1786-1855), otherwise known to have been members of the church and buried at Paris Cemetery.
Like pouring salt on an open wound, this single 1837 record posed what seemed an insurmountable challenge. After a great amount of researching different "what if" scenarios, we decided to take another look at the old German Script in 2012.
Thus here is where the challenge begins.
This is Palæography: The study of ancient writing; for some, a form of genealogical torture.
The story of how we approached a solution follows. We're hoping you'll play along and let us know how you would interpret the entry/name of Joseph Miller's wife in the ledger entry.
Lacking full translations/transcriptions, we worked with references about old German script that are readily available. A few of these sources follow:
- "Wir lernen die Sütterlin - Schrift" and also its index of helpful links and references, "Contents."
- Examples of 17th to 19th century lower case script and upper case script.
- For yet another good reference, see the article "Sütterlin" in Wikipedia.
Step 1: Taking a bite off both ends
Ol' Myrt often reminds us to eat an elephant one bite at a time, and that is how we set out to tackle this problem.
We started by trying to decipher and compare the name Regina to the letters in the challenge script. Although none of the work was easy, we could decipher what seemed "Re-" at the beginning and an "-a" at the end. It was the letters in the middle that were far less obvious.
As with the name Regina, the name Rebecca also begins with "Re-" and ends with "-a." There could be countless, similar names.
Step 2: Divide and Conquer by Isolating Ascenders and Descenders in the record
The old German script alphabet has some letters that stand out, or rather they stand up or hang down. In the typography world, the part of a letter that rises above the midpoint is called an ascender; the part that hangs below the baseline is called a descender. In old German script, as many as half of the lower-case letters (also called "minor letters" or "minuscules") have these ascender and/or descender characteristics.
Our challenge name (below) has a lower-case ascender toward the end of the name, but the name "Regina" has no such ascender. The challenge also has a descender toward the middle, which may be one of the reasons "Regina" developed as a possible solution.
The ascender toward the end of the name seemed to be the letter "k." See especially the usage examples of lower-case 17th to 19th century German script HERE.
The descender in the middle of the challenge name remains a mystery.
Step 3: A Tittle should Tell
We've all heard the saying, "dot your Is ... " In the world of typography and script, some letters are formed and include distinguishable marks such as the common "dot." In old German script that "dot" is called a tittle. See "Tittle," Wikipedia.
The letters "c" and "i" are distinguishable in old German script by the tittle that is part of the letter "i."
One would expect to find such a tittle in the name, "Regina." In our challenge case, however, no such tittle appears. Alas, rather than "i" that letter could be a "c."
Step 4: Finding Re_ecka--no more, no less
We were not able to solve the mystery of the descender in the middle of the name. The balance of our work left the spelling as Re_ecka.
We separately found Joseph Peter Miller's wife's name was written "Rebecka" in their Stark County, Ohio, marriage record.
Rebecka (also Rebekah, Rebekka, etc.) is a variant of the name Rebecca. The spelling Rebecka was not as uncommon in the 19th century (US) as it might seem today. In the 1850 US census, there were 920 entries indexed with the spelling "Rebecka"; just over 600 entries were so indexed in the 1940 US census. [Ancestry.com] See also the entry, "Rebecca," Wiktionary.
From the various work then, we find the mother's name in the baptismal entry is not "Regina," but rather "Re_ecka," from which we devise little Maria's parent names to be "Joseph Miller [and wife] Re[b]ecka."
But what does it mean?
The family histories written about Joseph and Rebecca (Thoma) Miller make no mention of a daughter, Maria. The histories do, however, remark about children (sons) who died young.
There is also a reasonable gap in the births of the children known born to Joseph and Rebecca (Thoma) Miller, but nothing separately conclusive.
Although we have yet to prove an 1840 US census for Joseph Peter Miller and family, research continues about a particular entry at Knox County, Ohio.  That entry provides for only one child in the home--a son, who we presume to be William, b. 1839.
Assuming this little Maria is indeed the daughter of Joseph Peter and Rebecca, then she likely died before 1840.
Based on our work with the 1837 Paris church baptismal ledger and old German script, we concluded that little Maria was perhaps the daughter of Joseph and Maria (Thoma) Miller.
So if you decided to play along, what did you discover?
1. William Henry Perrin, ed., History of Stark County with an outline sketch of Ohio (Chicago: Basking & Battey, 1881).
2. “Married,” news item concerning Joseph Miller-Rebecca Thoma wedding; digital image, supplied by Jack Stover (Ohio), e-mail to GeneJ, 2012, cites The Ohio Repository, Thursday, November 19, 1935. page 3, column 5.
3. Quote from John I. Miller (1870-1963), "Miller Family History," , 2 pp; digital images, supplied by Jack Stover, e-mail to GJ ca13 Jan 2003.
4. 1840 U.S. census, Knox County, Ohio, page 354 (stamped on right-sided extension), Jefferson twp., sheet 4 (penned at upper left), line 22, J. P. Miller household (1-0-0-0-1^0-0-0-0-1); digital image(s), Ancestry.com (accessed 17 April 2012), citing National Archives microfilm publication M704, roll 406 and Family History Library film 0020169.