Monday, May 2, 2011

Mystery Monday: How did he get here?

My number one brickwall ancestor, hands down, is my great-great-grandfather, George W. Schwalls.  He immigrated to America sometime in the 1850's from somewhere in Germany.  Thus, the mystery.  I do not know where in Germany he was born and cannot find out who his parents were.  Of course, there's a story.  I just don't know the truth of the story.

It came down through my family that George and two other relatives (either a brother and a cousin or two cousins) fled to America after getting into some kind of trouble in their home country.  It was hinted that they killed someone.  The story goes that the three of them sneaked into France and stowed away onto a ship bound for America.  Once they arrived, they split up... George came to Georgia.  He settled in Johnson County, married twice, had many children, and died there.

Now I know what you're thinking... stowaways?  Yea, right.  That really didn't happen that often.  It's like having a Cherokee princess in your family... it's probably just a legend.  I would tend to agree... except I cannot find any record of a George Schwall or Schwalls coming in on a ship in the 1850's.  Or the 1840's.  Or in 1860 or 1861.  I know he was here by then because he served in the Civil War.  Now Schwall IS a German name, so that leads me to believe it was his true surname.  He added the "S" later.  I found one document where he signed his name "Jorge."  So the variation of "George" may be his real first name. 

Several years ago (like 10 years ago), there was a flurry of activity on the RootsWeb message board about George Schwalls and his companions that he came to America with.  Without revealing names of the posters, here is what was shared:

October 31, 2000:  "...George William Schwalls and George Michael Schwall came from Germany via France possibly together.  They are/were double first cousins - brothers married sisters.  Later some of G M's siblings came to America setting in CAL.  You and I are linked by them and all of the Schwall/Schwalls in America today.  I don't know if any of G W's siblings came to America, if they did they may have kept the original spelling Schwall. "

Now I have one issue with this theory.  George W Schwall's first wife was Lincelia Claxton, who was born in either Georgia or South Carolina.  There was a George Michael Schwall who lived in Sandersville who was married to a Rebecca Rogers and later a Mary Gladdin, but neither of those ladies appear to be a sister of Lincelia Claxton or of George W. Schwall's second wife, Mary Williams.

January 27, 2001:  "I have a little information on George Michael Schwall of Leinsweiler, Germany, and Sandersville, GA.  He and two cousins supposedly came to America.  His travel book says March 17, 1851, age 24 and single.  Family tradition says they worked up north on the railroad.  Two came south with the railroad.  The cousin added an S. to the end of his name to distinguish his family from Mike's.  Mike married twice and lived and died in Sandersville, GA. "

Now this was the first I heard that George Michael Schwall was from Leinsweiler, Germany.  Or that he had a travel book.  There is a family tree on that shows that he was born in Leinsweiler, Sudliche Weinstrasse, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany.  Unfortunately, the only source citations they have for this information are several censuses that only list "Germany" as his place of birth and a Civil War index that doesn't list a place of birth at all.  So I do not know where that information was obtained.  On the 1900 census, he indicates that he came to this country in 1852.  If that is true and George W. came with him, then G.W. was 14 years old when he came to America.

In one and only one instance that I have found thus far, George W. indicated on his Civil War pension application that he was born in Bavaria, which was part of Germany.

On George W. Schwalls' 1900 census, it indicates he was born in Georgia and there is no year listed for immigration.  In my research, it does appear that he took some pains to leave his past behind.  

An employee at the Georgia Archives once attempted to help me locate a naturalization record for George W.  She was unsuccessful.

April 2, 2001:  "...I know about george michael and george william, but who was the third person.  According to my records they entered new york and first worked on lake erie canal.  I don't know what name they used to enter the usa but they came via havre france. "

Believe me, I have repeatedly checked ships that came into New York or Philadelphia or Virginia from Havre, France or anywhere and have come up empty.

Also, the Erie Canal was constructed from 1817-1825.  (See Wikipedia and The Erie Canal.)  So much for that theory.

April 2, 2001:  "I have conflicting reports on the third person.  My husband's family told me that it was a cousin.  I read on the net that the third person was the son of the Frenchman who helped them escape.  Originally it was supposed to be two brothers and a cousin, but I know it wasn't his brother.  "

I have plugged George Schwalls and just Schwalls into Google many times and never found anything that mentioned the son of a Frenchman.

April 3, 2001:  "according to a bio written by his son george washington schwall - it was mike and william without mention of a third relative - but it is possible.  At one of the family reunions my mother was told about a #rd relative, but no one had anything written down. "

 I have never seen this biography.  I would love to get my hands on it.

That was all the posts.  There have never been any breakthroughs or definitive answers that I know about.

I wonder if I shouldn't just start searching in Leinsweiler, Germany and maybe I'll get lucky.  I feel confident that George Michael and George W. (I'm not convinced his middle name was William.) were somehow related.  They settled one county apart and they had the same not so common surname.  In addition, the family tree on has two pictures of George Michael Schwall posted and the resemblance to George W. is unmistakable.  Their records have gotten confused, especially records from the Civil War because they served in the same unit together.

George Michael Schwall

George W. Schwalls, front row, third from left
 The same family tree I have mentioned also has George Michael's parents, grandparents, and back a few more generations listed.  However, I am unable to find any mention of George W. in that tree.

So there it is.  The mystery all laid out.  It's a big one.  I don't believe I will ever find out the circumstances of George W. coming to America.  (Did he SWIM here???)  I would just like to learn where in Germany he was from and who his parents were.  I would be over the moon if I found that information.  Any suggestions?  See anything I missed?


  1. Liz,

    I looked on Ancestry and found a Georg Schwall arriving in New York in 1852 from Baden via La Havre on the ship Albert Gallatin. He is 20 years old at the time, making him born roughly 1832.

    There is another big group of Schwalls on the same page, which appear to be a family unit (dad, mom, 6 kids). See for yourself (I hope this link works):

    Maybe this will help :)

  2. Have you posted queries on the Rhineland-Palatinate message boards? I did that for my brickwall German name (Roelker) and I had a RAOGK from a resident there who broke down my wall! German land locations can be very difficult to trace because of all the changes in the country's history. But this link ( shows a map of Germany following the "Frankfurt Recess" in 1820. You'll note that Baveria, shown as KGR. Bayern on the map in lime green, has two sections. The large section in the center of the map is similar to where it sits today. But on this map there is also a second smaller section of the country on the left side called Kgr. Bayern (Pfalz). That smaller section looks like it would have encompassed Leinsweiler.
    It seems like many people of have referenced Leinsweiler and it's not like that is a large city someone just guessed at. However poorly documented now I bet there is a grain of truth to it. I would order the microfilms from a FHC, they appear to have both civil and church records for Leinsweiler, and see what you find!

  3. Heather, thank you so much! I am headed to NGS tomorrow, but when I get back, you can be sure I will follow up on your suggestions.

  4. Here is some more info.

    check out this web site and type in Schwall

    Thank you for your information, Richard V. Schwall