Diebold on a boat?!

I’ve been looking for information on my 2nd great-grandfather Diebold Sohnlen (d. 1870). What I hope to find, as a goal, is the actual commune, or village, in France from which he and his family called home.

I have a naturalization certificate for a “Theobald Schmidlin” dated Nov 1, 1853. Although it says “New York, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1794-1929 for Theobald Schmidlin”, the text refers to Hamilton County Ohio, which is where Cincinnati is located. Ancestry has it marked as “Hamilton, New York” although it the doc clearly says Hamilton County, Ohio!

Anyway, 1853 is about the time my ancestor Diebold Soehnlen came to Ohio, based on his death note. And there is no record of any Theobald Schmidlin in Ohio at that time.

He settled in Dayton, and probably would have had to pass through Cincinnati on his way from New Orleans.

At the bottom of the doc, it says “signed Theobald Schmidlin” but it’s in the same hand as the rest of the document. Could be somebody signed for him and mis-read his written name. I see that a lot. The entire document may be a (flawed) copy from the get-go.

It says he departed from “Havre” Nov 1, 1853, arriving at New Orleans on Dec 29, 1853 and he was aged about 22 years at the time, making his birth year around 1833, which matches some of our estimates.

So I want to look at list of passengers on ships that went from Le Havre, France to New Orleans on 1853. First, I want to find a Schmidlin so I can eliminate that possibility.

Here are the ships arriving at New Orleans in 1853. Keep in mind, a journey from New Orleans to Ohio would take some time, so the exact dates may not line up.



Chasing down Diebold in Alsace

Now we know that my great-great grandfather Diebold Soehnlen declared many times that he was from Alsace. It’s normally possible to drill down and find out exactly which village he came from. Unfortunately, I have yet to find anything, including immigration materials or passenger lists, that shed any light on where he came from and when he arrived.

So as with any investigation, we need to start by arranging the evidence. There are two areas of Alsace: Bas-Rhin, or low Rhine, which is in the north, and Haut-Rhin, or high Rhine, which is in the south. Most Soehnlens/Söhnlens appear to come from Haut-Rhin, so I am going to stick with that for now.

In what year was he born? This will help narrow down the search for his village. Various estimates are available, based on different forms and mostly subtracting his stated age in each resource. In these cases, of course, there’s a margin of error of one year. The naturalization record may not be accurate, since there his name is spelled “Schmidlin”, even where it is signed, but that doesn’t appear to have been signed in his hand; in fact, it’s in the same hand as the rest of the manuscript.

  • 1837 (1860 census: “age 23”)
  • 1834 (?Naturalization, 1856: “age 22”)
  • 1832 (1870 census: “age 38”)
  • 1822 (Death record, 1870: “age 48”)

When did he come to Ohio? Again, these are guesstimates, but these doesn’t seem to be as far off.

  • 1851 (Death record, 1870: 19 years)
  • 1853 (?Naturalization, 1856)

As far as narrowing down his place of birth, it’s also problematic. There is no mention of his home village, or commune, and in Haut-Rhin (which is a guess), there are as many as 366 communes.

If I could find a marriage record, or a passenger list, these would indicate his hometown. It’s likely he was illiterate; this would explain why the spelling of his name shifts so often.

To make this more complicated, there were TWO other Thiebaut (one of many variations) Sohnlens: one moved to New York with his brother Sebastien; the other moved to Galveston, Texas with his father. The ages of these individuals are too young on one hand and too old on the other hand, to cause anything more than more confusion.

Marching orders. These are where my clues may be hiding:

  • Ships from Alsace, Le Havre mostly, leaving 1851-1853
  • Marriage record from Ohio (1853-1855)