Frank Brovet, Genealogical Nemesis

The watchmaker, the seamstress, and a mystery.

Last I left off, I was researching Richard Schober at the Newberry Library. He was not my only find that day. Nor the biggest find.

Back then, the Newberry was a rare place offering free access to the Chicago Tribune’s digital archives. I was full of confidence after my first stab at detective work, so I decided to keep going. I knew had relatives in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. Maybe I could find a marriage announcement or something. Without too much thought, I typed my surname into the search box.

I hope you’re hearing the alarm blaring in your head. I did not hear it in mine.

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My First Stone

He was an artist. He was the best one.

I started nosing around graveyards because I was raised that way. My mother especially never saw a cemetery she didn’t want in on—the more crumbling and overgrown, the better. Bumming around cemeteries was simply a fact of my childhood.

The way I do it now, taking pictures and digging up names, is down to two things. 1) Now I have the Internet. 2) Richard Schober.

Schober is interred at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. His stone is a missable little grey hump. But if you see it, you’ll stop, as I did that day with my dad in the 1990s.

Photo shows a gray headsstone in the snow. It is decorated with an artist's tools, a man's name at the top, dates, and text in German.

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A Few Words on Ethics and Method

Many years ago, I was lucky enough to take a class from the queen of Chicago cemeteries, Helen Sclair. She was not just a singularly fascinating person, but also a principled one. Her concern for cemeteries, and their residents, has always stuck with me. In that vein, I wanted to set down a bit of the methodology and ethics that I use in my research.

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By Way of Introduction

“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: It gives back life to those who no longer exist.” — de Maupassant

I had to name myself. There’s no official club for Folks Who Get All Up in Dead People’s Business, but in the barest sense, that’s what I do. For fun.

It works like this: A couple times a year, I will walk a cemetery, looking for interesting stones. If you died young, I want to know why. If your stone makes me stop and look, I will start asking questions. I take pictures and note names.

If there’s a portrait of a lady in a giant hat? She is definitely coming with me.

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Snoop 101: Belle Ullmer

Belle Ullmer Headstone at Rosehill

Before I get too deep into telling stories, I wanted to show how I work. Belle Ullmer here has (been) volunteered to run us through the process.

I think I noticed this one because I liked her name. Belle is just so pretty.

I thought she would be a good Snooping 101 test case because she has a distinctive name; she lived in years that are well documented in vital records; and as she is a woman, finding her might be a little trickier.

The lives of women can be hard to trace. Maiden names vanish from the record. Housewives rarely made the news. But they were here.

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