By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
When Linda Schaefer found the obituary for her great-great-grandfather, she said it was like finding the Holy Grail.
Later, as she continued the search for her family’s genealogy, she discovered a cousin she never knew existed.
And as it turns out, that cousin can trace his family tree back to a man that actually went in search of the Holy Grail.
For people who research family history, these are common stories. They look through records, read old newspapers, study family wills and visit online websites. They are constantly looking for those elusive bits of information that will add yet another piece to their family puzzle.
Over the past 15 years, Linda has discovered she’s a direct descendant of a Revolutionary War veteran. She also knows her family includes farmers, business owners, skilled tradesmen and it appears there was even a rum runner in the group.
“My parents come from two totally different backgrounds,” Linda explained. “My father’s family is from Germany. They were farmers. My mother was full-blooded Italian. They were barbers, tailors, shoemakers and store owners.”
As many do, Linda started her search on ancestry.com.
“That was the basis for everything. You can trace family trees on that site back to the 1500s,” Linda noted. “But I only used that as a guide. I want proof for everything.”
So she has scoured county records, church records, obituaries, wills, death records and information she’s found online to help her assemble the genealogy for four families – Miller and Kuhns on her father’s side; and Marzullo and Amoruso on her mother’s side.
But there have been challenges.
For example, prior to 1916, death records weren’t required in Illinois, eliminating a valuable source of information from earlier years.
The more popular the last name, the more difficult the research can be. Linda discovered the name of Miller (or Muller in Europe) is the most common last name in Switzerland and Germany.
And on the Italian side, many of her family members lived near Naples and Mt. Vesuvius. As a result, a lot of family records were lost in earthquakes.
But none of that has kept Linda from compiling family data on all four families that goes back from 7 to 12 generations and includes information from the 1400s.
She has also had her DNA tested, which provided a surprise.
“I always thought I was half German and half Italian,” Linda said. “But I found out I am just as much English as I am German. That did surprise me.”
The Miller family initially resided in Central Germany in the Cologne and Solingen areas. The Kuhns family was from Rheinland in Bayern, Germany, but can be traced back to Alsace, France in the 1500s.
Johann Kuhns brought his family to the United States in approximately 1760, while the Henrich Muller family arrived in New York in 1859.
Canio Amoruso and his family arrived in New York on January 7, 1893, and Donato Antonio Sebastiano Marzullo arrived May 3, 1912. All of them came through Ellis Island.
Johann Kuhns initially settled in Pennsylvania. Reuben Kuhns, Linda’s great-great-grandfather, moved to Effingham County in the mid-1860s. He was a businessman that also farmed and lived in Douglas Township.
As soon as he arrived in the United States, Henrich Muller headed west, looking for farm ground. He initially settled in Frankfort, which is in Will County, south of Chicago. But in the early 1860s, he purchased ground in Effingham County -- Moccasin Township, Summit Township, City of Effingham and the Dieterich area – and moved to Shumway.
“I initially thought he was a small-time farmer that barely got by,” Linda noted. “But in doing some reading, I discovered he had a solid gold watch. Plus, he paid the executor of his will $9,000. I don’t know what the equivalent of that would be today, but that was a great deal of money. And he gave away a lot of his ground to family.”
Henrich died in 1908 and is buried in St. Anthony Cemetery.
It was Henrich’s will that Linda referred to as the Holy Grail.
“It provided a lot of info that I hadn’t been able to find before,” she said.
She also discovered that Henrich (or Henry as he was called by then) was involved with the building of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Shumway. That construction began in 1870 and was completed in 1879. The Miller home was one of three mentioned that hosted Mass services during that time.
In addition, the wedding of Frederick Miller (Henry’s son) and Ann Hattrup on April 5, 1880, was the first one held in the new church.
In some families, multiple people are involved in genealogy and share information with each other. That was not the case with the Miller family.
“I kept searching and searching, but I couldn’t find anyone on the Miller side that was into this,” Linda admitted.
But that started to change when she saw the name Caroline Miller listed on findagrave.com. And she also noticed that a Leonard Miller had left an online flower, plus a note that read – “Great-grandmother I wish I could have met you.”
“I wasn’t positive I had the right grandmother,” Linda said. “So I sent Leonard an email and he responded. Eventually, we discovered we were from the same family.”
“My dad had seven brothers and sisters, but none of them had any children. So I had zero cousins,” Leonard noted.
“Now I’m his favorite cousin,” Linda quickly added.
“It was great,” Leonard admitted. “I had been trying to find cousins for a long time.”
And because of the size of the Miller family, Leonard now has lots and lots of cousins.
Leonard, who lives in Desloge, Missouri, has also been tracing his family roots for many generations and is back to the year 970.
His search revealed he is the 22nd great-grandson of Sir Hugh DePayne, a Grand Master and First Knight of the Templar. He was part of the first Crusade back that went in search of the Holy Grail.
“Leonard and I are now working together. It’s a joint effort going forward,” Linda said. “Our focus now is finding out more information about the Miller family when they were in Germany.”
Linda is also a member of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She earned that when her research was confirmed that she was a direct descendant of Andrew Schnabel, who served during the Revolutionary War.
“That was one of my finest moments,” Linda admitted. “It proved that what I was doing was accurate. It was a confirmation that I am doing things the right way.”
Linda and her husband, Barry, live in Effingham. Barry is a former state’s attorney and is currently an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois and Linda works in a medical office.
She wants to continue until she completes the genealogy for her mother’s side of the family.
“Then I think I’m done,” she said. “Italian records are hard to find. There were so many records destroyed by the earthquakes. DNA or church records are going to have to help.
“This a slow, tedious process,” Linda added. “You search and search and then you find stories that are simply amazing.”
She said she was shocked to discover how many relatives she has in this area. Miller has a connection to numerous families – Homann, Johanns, Laue, Weber, Jacobs and Utz – and those are just the ones she knows about right now.
“At times, I get a good lead and I just can’t put it down. It consumes me,” Linda said. “Then there are other times I hit nothing but dead ends and I have to put it down for a while.”
Linda’s collection of family history is incredible. It reflects her dedication and determination. But she didn’t expect this.
“I don’t have a lot of patience,” she admitted. “I’m surprised I could do this.”