Monday, November 14, 2011

Frankie - My Pitsenbarger Ancestor


My great grandmother’s mother had one of the most difficult names to research – Pitsenbarger.  One would think with such an unusual name that it would be an easy name to research – not so.  “Why?” you may ask – how do you spell it and how many different ways can you spell it?  I think that I have seen them all!

My great great grandmother’s name was Rebecca Jane Pitsenbarger, but she was known by her family as “Frankie.”  She was born on 28 Jan 1870 near Shawverville, WV by the Kanawha River.  I have heard some locals tell me where Shawverville was, but it is pretty hard to find on a map.  It must be near Nicholas Co., WV – because that is where she is recorded on the census that year.  She was the daughter of William “Billy” Pitsenbarger and Mary “Polly” Amick.  She was the youngest of 8 children.

I have several families in the West Virginia area that I connect to either directly or through my ancestors siblings.  People with names like Shawver, Nutter, Amick, Pitsenbarger, & Legg are direct ancestors.   There are numerous families that have intermarried into these families like O’Dell, Stowers, Bailes, Ramsey, Boley, & Burdette and many many others.  They can be very difficult to track because not only do you have those associated names – they have intermarried so often that you will find some strange relationships if you examine it too closely. (See my Blog – He is his own Grandpa)

The biggest problem with the name Pitsenbarger is the many ways it has been butchered by those spelling it.  The original spelling was probably Pitzenberger and the likelihood is that our ancestor, Abraham Pitzenberger emigrated from Switzerland.  I have seen it spelled Pitsenbarger, Pitsonbarger, Pitsinbarger, Pittsenbarger, Pittsenberger and several other ways that I can’t remember right now.  I think that I have even seen it mixed up with Puffenbarger which is another family entirely.  So when you look the name up in indexes you have to be willing to search several different spellings.  The Soundex system was developed to help index names from the census records – probably because the census takers didn’t spell most of these names correctly.  If you need to check the Soundex code for a name – check out http://resources.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/soundexconverter

I was fortunate that I had a piece of paper that had my great grandmother’s family written out.  I knew from the start that her mother was Frankie Pitzenbarger and the rest of the line back to Abraham Pitzenberger – the immigrant ancestor.  One of the most curious things was that Frankie’s mother’s name was Mary “Polly” Amick and her father’s mother’s name was Elizabeth Amick.  I thought that they must be connected somehow.  They lived in the same area and even though there were a lot of Amicks there must be a connection.  It took me about six months but I finally figured out that William Pitsenbarger and Mary “Polly” Amick were 1st cousins.  Mary Amick’s father,  Jacob Amick and William Pitsenbarger’s mother Elizabeth were siblings.  They were both the children of Henry Amick, Jr. and Elizabeth Barbara Niemand.    Now this might be common in West Virginia in the mid 1800’s – but it still makes me a bit uncomfortable.  I have taken great delight in teasing some of my young cousins about the relationship…because I ‘m not sure they knew how common that situation was.

You might be wondering what happened to Frankie.  She “married” George Christian Shawver about 1890 and had six children.  All but the youngest went on to live long lives well into their 80’s and 90’s.  Frankie, herself, died of Tuberculosis on 10 May 1904.  Her husband went on to remarry and six more children were born.   We are fortunate to have a wonderful picture of Frankie that I estimate was probably taken in the 1880’s sometime.  It is a full figured picture that shows the way a young woman of her time dressed.  
Rebecca Jane "Frankie" Pitsenbarger.