Relativity Research

The underlying theme of our website is research on relativity. They say that "everything is relative," and we (Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter and Jeffrey Scott "Jeff" Vitter) are beginning to believe that all of us are indeed relatives, especially if we look far enough back! On this page are several interesting vignettes about relatives in our time-space continuum — pulsating outward in a series of gravitational waves spanning many generations and relationships! We hope you enjoy these stories. There are many unanswered questions to resolve and more relatives to discover!

We go to great lengths to document facts and disambiguate conflicting information. But with so many people in the family tree (currently numbering 47,023), there are still many typos and inconsistencies to fix. Please get in touch with us if you have information to share or questions to pose. We welcome your input!

The Aha! Moment That Led to This Website

When I (Jeff Vitter) was growing up in New Orleans, my parents A. L. Vitter Jr. and Audrey (née St. Raymond) Vitter would always tell us about family trips to France as young children to meet relatives, but they didn't know many particulars beyond their grandparents, especially on my dad's paternal side. When my sister Donna moved to France in 1981, they visited and took the opportunity to research family records at churches and city halls in the extreme southwest of France around Uzan, Anères, Salies-du-Salat, and Toulouse, where my mom's side of the family and my dad's maternal side of the family lived until the 1800s. My dad, recently retired at the time from Chevron, started computerizing what they found on the trip.

I remember fondly when it was that I really caught the genealogy bug big time: During the Christmas holidays in December 2000 during a visit to the New Orleans Public Library, I was researching microfiche obituaries in a local 19th century French-language newspaper L'Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orléans (The New Orleans Bee), and I came across the obituary of Ship Log Ship's log of Lyons, Le Havre to New Orleans, 1843 (click to zoom). Virginie (née Ovale) Vitter, originally from Clerval, France, in the département du Doubs near Switzerland. (See photos above.) What's more, the obituary mentioned the name "Cathalogne," which I recognized as connected to our family.

So I went to the web, and after a quick browser search using the keywords "Vitter," "Clerval," and "France," up popped three pages of the ship's log of the ship Lyons that sailed from Le Havre, France to New Orleans in 1843 with an entire Vitter family on board! (See right.) Pierre and Virginie (née Ovale) Vitter were on board with their seven kids! There were other families from the Doubs on the ship as well. They disembarked in New Orleans, and the ship continued onward to Indianola, Texas (near Galveston).

It was an exciting moment of discovery! It was also well-timed, because the website that hosted the photo of the ship's log was online for only a couple of years; it disappeared shortly after I found it. Fortunately I made a copy to preserve it!

Earlier that summer, as I was looking through records at the same library, I had made another startling discovery: I found that my dad's grandfather Alfred Nicolas Vitter (1855–1898) was was one of at least 14 siblings! It was especially surprising because my dad had always thought that his paternal grandfather was an only child! (The sibling count has since grown from 14 to 17.) Alfred's father Auguste Vitter (1828–1896) was one of the children of Pierre and Virginie listed on board the ship Lyons in 1843. That made Pierre and Virginie my 3rd great grandparents (i.e., my great great great grandparents).

The connection of those two complementary finds from 20 years ago — the log of the ship Lyons and Auguste's family of 17 kids — explained how, when, and where the Vitters came to the USA from Europe. They have since led to the discovery of many, many 3rd and 4th cousins, now spread across the USA. And the germ for this website was formed!

P. S.   A fun follow-up to Jeff's Aha! moment is a trace of his next steps on the hunt for more information.


How the Vitters Got to Clerval

Although they've never met in person, Jeffrey Scott Vitter and Jean-Pierre Vitter, who are 4th cousins 1x removed, feel a special kinship through their shared passion for genealogy. In 2002, Jean-Pierre put together a comprehensive and entertaining account of the Vitter generations, entitled A tous les Vitter du monde (To All the Vitters of the World).

Jean-Pierre Vitter Jean-Pierre Vitter.

The story starts with their ancestor Hérard Vitter, who moved from "l'Autriche antérieure" to the town of Clerval in the Doubs region of France in the spring of 1799. Hérard's father in the old country was Mathieu Vitter, and Hérard's son Pierre is the one described in the history about Jeff's Aha! moment who emigrated from France to New Orleans in 1843. Jean-Pierre chronicled many of Hérard's descendants as well as some family legends.

One legend concerned two brothers who came to Clerval from Austria en route to America. One brother fell in love and stayed behind, and the other brother continued onward, reportedly to the Galápagos. Another legend recounts that a Vitter ancestor was an illegitimate son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles Quint (Charles V)! The big mystery that remained was exactly where Hérard Vitter came from originally.

Bietingen, Germany Bietingen, Germany (click to zoom on Google Maps).

Jean-Pierre solved the mystery 17 years later in a follow-up account, Le sang qui coule dans nos veines (The Blood That Runs in Our Veins), which revealed that Hérard Vitter was actually born as "Erhardus Wider," and in Spring 1799 he moved to Clerval, France from Bietingen (near Gottmadingen), Germany, which is on the Swiss border, three miles north of the Rhine River and five miles northeast of the northern Swiss village of Schaffhouse. He changed his name from the German "Wider" to the similar-sounding French spelling "Witter" and eventually "Vitter."

Bietingen was formerly part of "l'Autriche antérieure" ("exterior Austria"), thus relating to the family legend about Austria. Hérard got married six months after arriving in Clerval, so presumably Hérard is the brother who fell in love and stayed behind; we haven't yet resolved the part of the legend about his brother and where he went. Knowing the actual family names and birthplaces is leading to lots of new information about Vitter/Wider relatives throughout Europe and America. There is also a family connection 1,300 years ago with King of Francs Pépin le Bref and his son, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne! But we still haven't found the connection to Charles Quint ;-)

BietingenToClerval 150-mile train route from Bietingen, Germany to Clerval, France (click to zoom on Google Maps).

One big open question is whether there is any relation between the Vitter line from Clerval (to which Jean-Pierre and Jeff belong) and the Vitter line from the Ardennes region (to which, for example, Yves Vitter and Valérie (née Vitter) Mouradian belong). Jean-Pierre believes that the name change from Wider to Vitter makes it improbable that the two lines of Vitters are related since they would each have had to make the same name change independently.

A family story suggests that the Ardennes line originally lived in Alsace and relocated to the Ardennes when Germany appropriated Alsace during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Perhaps the story of "the other brother," when resolved, may shed light on the connections to other parts of the family.


"Take 'Er Down!": The Story of Commander Gilmore

One of the more notable stories of individual heroism in World War II belongs to Commander Howard Walter Gilmore, husband of Hilda (née St. Raymond) Gilmore, Jeff Vitter's 1st cousin 1x removed. During a surface battle at sea while commander on the submarine USS Growler, Commander Gilmore was hit by machine-gun fire. Unable to get below in time, but determined to save his crew, he yelled his now-famous final order, "Take 'er down!" — a command since ubiquitous in Navy lore and used routinely by submarine commanders. By his ultimate sacrifice, he received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration.

Photo 1: U. S. Navy Commander and WWII hero Howard W. Gilmore. Photo 2: Presentation of Commander Gilmore's Medal of Honor to his widow Hilda St. Raymond, flanked by their children.

Commander Gilmore was born in 1902 in Selma, Alabama and also lived in Meridian, Mississippi, where he is buried, and New Orleans. He joined the United States Navy, and then during a competitive examination was admitted to the United States Naval Academy, where he graduated 34th out of 436 in the Class of 1926. He was assigned to the USS Mississippi and then served in a number of submarine and support roles.

He endured several hardships during his lifetime. While executive officer of the USS Shark, he almost died while on a shore excursion in Panama when some thugs attacked him and cut his throat. It is said that he had a first wife who died young from a disease, although we cannot find a record of that marriage. At the time he died at sea, his wife Hilda was in a coma from a fall down the stairs.

Commander Gilmore assumed command of the USS Growler the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was well-liked by his men and effective as strategist and leader. During his first three patrols, the Growler damaged and/or sank numerous Japanese destroyers and merchant ships, and for his prowess Commander Gilmore was awarded the Navy Cross and (in lieu of a second Navy Cross) a gold star.

The climactic scene (16:00 mark) of the movie The Growler Story, made by the Department of Defense in 1958 (click to play, and again to enlarge).

During his fateful fourth patrol on board the Growler, Commander Gilmore and crew cautiously approached a Japanese convoy for a surface attack. Suddently, the convoy escort Hayasaki began to close in and prepared to ram the Growler. Commander Gilmore skillfully maneuvered the Growler away and was instead able to ram the attacking ship. As the Hayasaki began to sink, it sprayed the Growler with machine gun fire. Commander Gilmore ordered everyone to "Clear the deck!", but he got hit and fell wounded.

Unable to get to the hatch, he then yelled his famous command, "Take 'er down!", sacrificing himself for the good of his crew. After a moment's hesitation, the executive officer complied and the Growler submerged. To make sure there were no more depth charges, the Growler remained submerged for about an hour and then resurfaced, but there was no sign of either Commander Gilmore or the Hayasaki. Inspired by the memory of their heroic commander, the crew of the Growler was able to get the sub safely back to port.

Commander Gilmore received numerous decorations during his naval career:

  • Medal of Honor,
  • Navy Cross with gold star,
  • Purple Heart,
  • Combat Action Ribbon,
  • Navy Unit Commendation,
  • American Defense Service Medal with service star,
  • American Campaign Medal,
  • Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four bronze campaign stars,
  • World War II Victory Medal,
  • Navy Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon, and
  • Navy Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon.

In September 1943, the submarine tender USS Howard W. Gilmore was christened in his memory. His story inspired a half dozen books and movies, including


A. L. Jr. & Audrey Vitter: Role Models Extraordinaires

Jeff Vitter's parents Albert Leopold (A. L.) Vitter Jr. (1915–2003) and Audrey (née St. Raymond) Vitter (1920–2005) led lives of extraordinary service and caring for others. Their impact lives on through their six children, 15 grandchildren, and 13 great great grandchildren as well as the many others whose lives they touched.

Mimi and Père wedding photo A. L. Jr. & Audrey Vitter.

Audrey (pronounced "oh-DRAY" in the French manner, and later called Mimi once her grandkids were born) and A. L. (later called Père) were born and raised in the French culture of early 20th century New Orleans. In fact, Mimi couldn't even speak English when she started grade school. English soon became the main language used at home, yet Mimi could still understand French when visiting Donna or Jeff & Sharon in France four, five, six, and seven decades later. Père was never fluent in French, but had some favorite French expressions. Most memorable was his French version of "Let's go!" (namely, "Allons-y"), which over the years had somehow morphed into "Allez-vous-en!", which means "Go away!" It was never really a problem unless French speakers were around, and they tended to leave soon afterward!

By nature an extrovert with her ever-bright eyes and engaging manner, Mimi connected easily with everyone she interacted with. She was always full of expression when speaking or reading. Her dinner-table recreations of conversations are treasured, especially with her colorful voice impersonations, even if they all tended to sound alike. Her friend Honey Lacour, with her exagerated facial expressions, was the perfect accompaniment to Mimi's stories.

Slide show of events in the life of Audrey (aka Mimi) Vitter, originally shown at her funeral reception in June 2006 (click to play, and again to enlarge).

Mimi continued her parents' tradition of weekly dinners for all the grown children and their families. The Thursday night family dinners she established were legendary. The food and company were superb. The neighbors could always tell when it was Thursday by the logjam of cars surrounding 4100 Vincennes Place. If you want a truly excellent cookbook — full of recipes and reminiscences inspired by these dinners — check out Thursday Night Cookin': Mimi's Recipes for a Happy Home, which Wendy (née Baldwin) Vitter put together as a birthday and Christmas present to Mimi in 1998. It's Jeff's favorite (and that's saying something!)

Slide show of events in the life of A. L. (aka Père) Vitter Jr., originally shown at his funeral reception in October 2003 (click to play, and again to enlarge).

Mimi and Père were both strong students and always stressed the importance of education to their children. Mimi graduated as valedictorian at Ursuline College in mathematics in 1940 and then went on to earn a Master's in Social Work at Tulane University. Père began a Vitter legacy at the University of Notre Dame in 1931, just a few months after famed coach Knute Rockne died in a plane crash. Père graduated in 1935 in electrical engineering, then earned a Master's in physics and taught on the ND engineering faculty for one year.

Flag of ND graduation years 2001 Bookstore Basketball MVP Al Vitter IV initiates son Leo (Al V) to a Notre Dame pregame, 2015. The flag displays the years of Vitter graduates at Notre Dame (two in 2010).

To date, 11 Vitters have graduated from Notre Dame and another from adjacent St. Mary's College. As a student, Père lived in Alumni Hall, as did son Jeff in the mid-1970, Jeff's son J. Scott Vitter Jr. in the 2000s, and Mark's sons Cameron Artigues Vitter and Peyton Wilke Vitter in the 2010s. In fact, Jeff and Scott had the identical room and suite over the Alumni Hall Chapel during their junior years, 33 years apart. The Chapel, coincidentally, sports a plaque at its entrance recognizing an endowment that Père and Mimi set up for its sustenance.

Mimi's family and her mom's siblings Aunt Rose ("Tawo") (1898–1991) and Uncle John (1896–1993) moved to adjacent homes at 3539 and 3515 Napoleon Avenue in New Orleans in 1938, cattycorner to Père's family's home at 3600 Napoleon. Père left Notre Dame that same year to move back to Louisiana, where he served as senior petroleum engineer for the Louisiana Department of Conservation, until he was called during the war effort to work in Group 52 at the M.I.T. Radiation Lab and teach electronics at Harvard. Mimi and Père got married in June 1943 and lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the M.I.T. campus during the remainder of WWII. Their oldest child Al III was born at Boston General Hospital. Mimi dreaded winter, but somehow managed to walk across the Charles River bridge for daily shopping.

Photo 1: Père, Mimi, and baby Al III outside their apartment at Bexley Hall, MIT, 1945 (click photo for Google Maps). Photo 2: 19 years later … and nothing's changed! Bexley Hall remained a very popular residence hall at M.I.T., but had to be torn down, despite protests, in 2015 for structural reasons.

Père went on to a long and distinguished career as chief engineer at Standard Oil of California (Chevron), for which he received a patent and several accolades. Père was quite the athlete in his day, starring at quarterback and forward at Holy Cross High School (then called Holy Cross College), where he graduated at 15 years old. In his middle years he took up golf and would tee off every Saturday morning at 6:45am with brother-in-law John "Buddie" St. Raymond, often accompanied by sons Mark and/or Jeff, if they could get up that early. Père had a patented slice that he could never get rid of (see form in photo!). In the early 1970s he threw in the towel and gave up golf for tennis when he heard that a slice in tennis was a good thing.

Mark and Mimi on Mardi Gras Day
Photo 1: Mimi gets a surprise visit from Count Mark-ula, Mardi Gras Day 1980. Photo 2: Père slicing his drive at Gulf Hills Dude Ranch, 1967 (click photo for Google Maps).

Mimi was a natural organizer, writer, and speaker and became the family historian. Over the years she began keeping track of some genealogical information about her family and got Père interested as well. She put together wonderfully detailed albums of our family. We have but a small fraction of its photos and documents on this website. She used her social and writing talents for many causes around the city, and even helped with son David's state legislature and U. S. House of Representatives campaigns and his first U. S. Senate campaign. She was also an exemplary gardener, responsible for the amazing rose bushes and greenery that graced 4100 Vincennes Place.

Père excelled in design and carpentry as a hobby, creating much of the furniture and gadgetry in the house, such as the desk in the green bedroom and the intercom system. He started the 75-year-old tradition of annual Vitter Christmas photo cards, and for many years he developed the photos himself via his semi-automated system in the downstairs dark room he built. In the 1960s he designed and installed an underground sprinker system for Mimi's flower beds, later supplemented by Jeff in 1978. He was always kidded for one project he never got around to finishing: the infamous garage doors, which for about 40 years until Hurricane Katrina remained boxed in the "rough part of the basement" (the name for the unfinished storage area on the first floor) .

Mimi and Père leveraged their considerable talents and devoted themselves tirelessly to Catholic projects and causes in New Orleans throughout their lives: St. Rita of Cascia Parish Sodality president, 25-year chair of the annual plant sale, co-chair to write the parish history, Senior Adult Group, Ladies Altar Society, computer analyst for the Volunteer Information Agency, St. Vincent de Paul Society, and the list goes on and on. They were benefactors of their alma maters and many other religious organizations. They were each awarded the Order of St. Louis IX medallion, the highest award conferred onto lay people by the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Père passed away in fall 2003, after which Mimi remained in the house at 4100 Vincennes Place and lived independently in declining health. Daughter Martha Louise "Tootie" (née Vitter) Jackoniski moved her to their home in Atlanta just before Hurricane Katrina hit on August 28, 2005. Her New Orleans home sustained four feet of flood water as a result of the levee breaks. Mimi's health continued downhill while in Atlanta, and she died six weeks later. Her body was brought back to New Orleans for reburial next to Père on June 3, 2006 and a celebration of her remarkable life.


Our Loyal Guardians Rex & Queenie

For over 100 years, the silent forms of Rex & Queenie have guarded Vitter homes in New Orleans. They are identical cast-iron dogs — each an imposing 5 feet 6 inches long, 3 feet 1 inch high, and weighing 850 pounds! No one is going to mess with them (or so we thought!).

Photo 1: On Rex at 1528 Baronne Street, circa 1919. Front row: cousins Junior Todd, Gretchen Vitter, and A. L. Vitter Jr.. Back row: their dads Wilmer Todd Jr., Harry Vitter, and Albert L. Vitter Sr. (click photo for Google Maps). Photo 2: 10-year old A. L. Vitter Jr. riding on Queenie at 3800 Napoleon Avenue, circa 1925 (click photo for Google Maps).

How they got there and where they came from are only partially answered. (More later.) They first showed up at 1528 Baronne Street, on the eastern corner of Terpsichore Street, where newlyweds Albert Leopold Vitter Sr. and Berthe (neé Artigues) Vitter lived with Berthe's parents Ferréol Jean Marie Artigues and Eugénie (née Dureau) Artigues. The Artigues moved there from a house one block away in 1902, and the Rex & Queenie showed up sometime before Albert Leopold (A. L.) Vitter Jr. was born in December 1915. Berthe's parents passed away in the mid-1910s, and Albert Sr., Berthe, and A. L. continued living at the Baronne Street house until 1924. The house is no longer standing.

When Albert Sr., Berthe, and A. L. moved to 3800 Napoleon Avenue in 1924, the dogs natuirally came along as loyal guardians, and then again two years later to the newly constructed Vitter house at 3600 Napoleon, cattycorner to where A. L.'s future wife Audrey St. Raymond and her family would move in 1938. A. L. Jr. journeyed to Notre Dame in 1931 and no doubt missed his old friends Rex & Queenie. We wonder if he chose Alumni Hall as his ND home because Alumni's nickname was "the Dawgs."

Photo 1: The Vitters' new home at 3600 Napoleon Avenue, circa 1928 (click photo for Google Maps). Photo 2: Neighbor Audrey St. Raymond tames Rex (and A. L.!), August 1942.

Rex & Queenie's longest tenure was at A. L. Jr. and Audrey's new home at 4100 Vincennes Place, where the dogs relocated after Albert Sr. & Berthe passed away seven months apart in 1960–1961. There they made their inaugural debut in a Vitter Christmas card in 1963. They quickly became neighborhood landmarks and were featured in the New Orleans newspaper's Sunday supplement in Spring 1976.

Photo 1: A. L. & Audrey Vitter with Rex & Queenie at 4100 Vincennes Place, as part of the newspaper's 1976 story (click photo for Google Maps). Photo 2: Susan Staub comforting an exhausted Rex on a lawn in Metairie after he was kidnapped! (click photo for the rest of the story).

Members of a certain fraternity at nearby Tulane University, well-known for their antics (most not suitable for print), also took note of Rex & Queenie, and in the wee hours one Friday night in Spring 1987 some inebriated frat brothers chained up Rex and towed him away! A. L., Audrey, and Queenie were distraught by the kidnapping and offered a reward for his return via the Sunday newspaper. A woman nine miles northwest in Metairie phoned that day to say that she found a "large iron dog" lying on her front lawn!

The next day the newspaper published another story, this time on Rex's disappearance and fortunate rediscovery. Amazingly Rex did not sustain any physical or psychological injuries, and he was soon back home next to Queenie. But this time, to play it safe, A. L. secured Rex's & Queenie's paws by welding them onto long metal cylinders sunk into underground columns of concrete!

Queenie with Katrina watermark Queenie standing tall through it all, after Hurricane Katrina with watermarks, 2005 (click photo for Katrina info).

Now that they were well grounded, Rex & Queenie didn't budge an inch during Hurricane Katrina's horrific winds and flood waters in August–September 2005. Just about everyone else in the city had taken flight beforehand for safety. But not Rex & Queenie. They remained vigilantly at their posts. In the post-Katrina photo above, you can see the various waterlines left on Queenie.

Père & Mimi passed away in 2003 and 2005, and in 2007 Rex & Queenie moved a mile and a half to their current home, where they are well groomed and standing guard over the home of Mark & Mary Vitter.

It's still a mystery how the Rex & Queenie tradition started and what inspired Ferréol and Eugénie Artigues to acquire the young pups. But Jeff Vitter & Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter (hosts of this website) may have learned where they were made: One day 15 years ago, while Jeff was the dean of the College of Science at Purdue University, he and Sharon came across an identical dog in front of the Historic Five Points Fire Museum in Lafayette, Indiana. Painted black, this triplet of Rex & Queenie was originally forged in the 1840s in Elmira, New York.

Rex & Queenie at Mark and Mary's
Photo 1: Rex & Queenie in the evening twilight in front of Mark & Mary's, 2020. Photo 2: Rex & Queenie's northern triplet at the old fire station in Lafayette, Indiana (click photo for Google Maps).

The Lafayette, Indiana dog is said to be one of only three made by the Elmira foundry and was transported to Lafayette by riverboat and stage coach, before the days of railroad in Indiana. Another was shipped somewhere in Europe, and the third went to Hollywood, reportedly making a cameo appearance in the movie Gone with the Wind! Thanks go to museum president Mike Linville for the providing the documentation.

Unlike popular belief in New Orleans that Rex & Queenie were St. Bernards, it turns out that their breed is actually Newfoundland. And contrary to earlier reports, each dog weighs between 850–1,000 pounds, not 500 pounds as the New Orleans newspaper printed in 1976 (but then, who doesn't put on weight as they get older?).

It is often the case in mathematics that once you know a conjecture is true, it seems to become easier to actually construct a proof of it. Or if you already have a proof, it becomes feasible to construct a better proof! A similar thing happens in genealogy: When this website was being launched, given that we already knew of Rex & Queenie's Indiana triplet, Jeff went searching on the web to try to find information about more siblings, and lo and behold, Rex & Queenie have several other siblings spread across the eastern half of the country!

Margaret Booth Chern Newfoundland dog
Photo 1: Guarding a young girl's grave in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia (click photo for Google Maps). Photo 2: Newfoundland dog similar to the one in Hollywood Cemetery that once belonged to Margaret Booth Chern and stood on the property of her Little Bear Kennels in Connecticut.

Rex & Queenie's siblings are all reported to be Newfoundlands and are characteristically painted mostly black or dark to match the breed, as were Rex & Queenie themselves in their very early years. One of the siblings, with a slightly more upturned head and with right limbs forward (see first photo above), graces the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, overlooking the grave of girl who died of scarlet fever at a very young age. Legend has it that the dog used to be in front of a Richmond store, and the girl would come and hug it every day. Some say her father bought it for her, and after her death transferred it to the cemetery to guard her grave (and also to ensure that the Confederate army didn't melt the dog down for bullets!). Another legend has it that the store owners moved the dog to the little girl's grave because she liked the dog so much.

The dogs have also made it into the literature. Noted dog breeder and Newfoundland expert Margaret Booth Chern, in her book The New Complete Newfoundland, includes a photo of a Newfoundland dog she owned (see second photo above) that matches the Hollywood Cemetery dog. Her dog once graced the grounds of the well-known kennels she founded in Milford, Connecticut. Her kennels bred over 100 champion Newfoundlands, including a continuous line of nine generations of "best in show" or group winners. For many years, similar dog models named Sailor & Canton guarded the Bartlett Hayward Plant of Koppers Company in Baltimore.

Williamstown, Massachusetts dog
Photo 1: Rex & Queenie lookalikes in front of the Quincy, Illinois Museum (click photo for Google Maps). Photo 2: Another Newfoundland dog located in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Models identical to Rex & Queenie (first photo above) sit in front of the Quincy, Illinois Museum, about a mile from the banks of the Mississippi River. Starting in 1862, they graced the home of Gen. James Washington Singleton, who called his renovated mansion "Boscobel." The dogs moved over the years and were donated to the Quincy Museum when the last owner Myra McGee passed away 9 years ago. In her book mentioned earlier, dog breeder Margaret Booth Chern included another apparent Rex-Queenie clone in Williamstown, Massachusetts (second photo above) that she described as a "long-bodied Newfoundland."

Photo 1: Catalog from 1858 of Robert Wood's Ornamental Iron Works in Philadelphia (click photo for Google Maps). Photo 2: Rex & Queenie Newfoundland clone attributed to Wood & Perot (click photo for article by Eva Schwartz about foundry and dog, halfway down the page; Eva was very helpful in reviewing our webpage).

One interesting theory of how Rex & Queenie got to New Orleans was suggested by the history of the successful Robert Wood Foundry (later Wood & Perot and Robert Wood & Co.) of Philadelphia: Perhaps it wasn't made in the Northeast after all, but rather in New Orleans itself! The company was so successful in the 1850s that it opened a branch called Wood, Miltenberger & Co. at 57 Camp Street in New Orleans (prime real estate today!), which operated until the Civil War. Perhaps Rex & Queenie were fabricated there, or maybe shipped there from the Philadelphia headquarters. Robert Wood put out extensive catalogs, and in the catalog from 1858 (pictured above) you can see on the left side a small depiction of a dog labeled "Cast Iron Newfoundland Dog." An identical example of Rex & Queenie, described as a Newfoundland and attributed to Wood & Perot, is pictured above outside the home of antiques dealer Barbara Israel in Katonah, New York; it has since been bought by a New York collector.

Another Rex-Queenie clone (first photo below) was recently auctioned off by Sotheby's. It was again listed as a Newfoundland, and the measurements given match our Rex & Queenie closely. Sotheby's listed either J. W. Fiske of New York or Wood & Perot of Philadelphia as the fabricators.

Sotheby catalog
Photo 1: Recent Sotheby's auction of a Rex & Queenie clone. Photo 2: Rex & Queenie's distant cousin Charity guards Federated Charities headquarters in Frederick, Maryland (click photo for info).

And if that's not enough, Rex & Queenie apparently have other relatives showing some level of resemblance, likely second or third cousins! One of them, named Charity (second photo above), graces the entrance to Federated Charities in Frederick, Maryland. She seems to have have a rough life: On separate occasions, she has had her head stolen, her tail broken off, and her body tattooed!

While we still don't know exactly how Rex & Queenie got to the Artigues home in New Orleans roughly 110 years ago, or where they were since they were fabricated likely 50 years prior, it's clear that Rex & Queenie share a rich history and many memories with the Vitter-Artigues family. With so many siblings, they need to start putting together a family tree of their own! We hope this web page gives them a good start.

As to the yet unanswered questions …   If only dogs could talk!


Albert Artigues Jr. & All That Jazz

Albert Artigues Jr. (1907–1980) and his cornet were mainstays in the New Orleans jazz scene for the middle part of the 20th century. He played with all the local jazz greats. During the day he worked at the family business and at night he played jazz. He was born at 2733 Dumaine Street and lived there his entire life. His dad had built the house the year before Albert Jr. was born.

Growing up, Albert was the only person in his family who played music. He just picked it up on his own. He attended Holy Cross (called a College in those days), as did his double 3rd cousin A. L. Vitter Jr. (The Vitters and Artigues had a double connection, as noted in Artigues notes and open questions.) Albert did have some music classes for a few sessions at Holy Cross, but quit them because he wanted to improvise and play jazz. He ended up forming his own band and played with most of the jazz musicians of the day. His son Albert Artigues III (1938–2005) told Jeff Vitter in 2000 that he remembered several famous New Orleans jazz musicians coming by their house for jam sessions with Albert Jr. It's how Albert III learned to play Dixieland piano.

Albert Artigues Click to hear a 1961 audio interview of Albert Artigues Jr. in the Tulane jazz archives)

It was typical in those days for jazz musicians to work a "real job" during the day for financial support. Albert's family ran Fisherman's Supply House at 813 Decatur Street (across from Café du Monde), which catered not only to New Orleanians but also to many out-of-towners who came in for supplies and equipment.

It was the same way for other musicians as well: In a 1961 interview (see photo caption), Albert mentions that the bandleader Joe Clesi, whom he often played with, was a butcher by profession. Coincidentally, the A. L. & Audrey Vitter family would routinely buy their dinner meat in Broadmoor from "Clesi the butcher," likely Joe's son. Jeff Vitter also remembers talking to Preservation Hall stalwarts Percy and Willie Humphrey on several occasions; he would run into them in San Francisco or Stanford when they were on their annual California tour and he would chat with them at Preservation Hall on St. Peter Street. During those conversations, he learned that Willie gave music lessons and Percy ran an insurance business. So it was for many local musicians.

Fisherman's Supply
Albert Artigues at work
Photo 1: Fisherman's Supply in the French Quarter. Photo 2: Albert playing while working at Fisherman's Supply.

The musicians often played a variety of bars and nightclubs at night, sometimes at pretty rough places. One of the roughest places was in the Irish Channel, the uptown region between the Garden District and the Mississippi River. Being close to the docks, it was routinely frequented by sailors and longshoremen, and in Albert's words, "a lot of sailors would come in looking for a fight." The owners would protect the musicians when things got dangerous by lowering a metal cage to separate them from the brawling patrons!


Uriah Hayden: Colonial Shipbuilder

The rising middle class of artisans and entrepreneurs in the late 1700s were the unsung heros of the American Revolution and the fledgling country that emerged. Their efforts fueled a booming American economy, and in so doing they became a major social and economic force. In effect, they symbolized the can-do, common-man spirit that became synonymous with the USA.

Uriah and Ann Hayden of Essex and Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

Uriah Hayden (1732–1808) and Ann (née Starkey) Hayden (1736–1813) of Essex and Old Saybrook, Connecticut, who are the 5th great grandparents of both our 3rd cousin Jan Marie Hayden and Al Vitter III's brother-in-law Bruce Hayden, were movers and shakers of their day.

Uriah came from a family of shipbuilders and was the preeminent builder in his day. He is best known for building the Oliver Cromwell, which played a major factor in the American Revolutionary War. The Oliver Cromwell was the largest of two ships commissioned by the State of Connecticut at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. It was later appropriated by the Continental Army.

In its three years of service, it sank or captured nine British ships. One notable victory was the capture of two British ships, Admiral Keppel and Cyrus, headed to the West Indies to pass along instructions from the British government. On board was Henry Shirley, Britain's former ambassador to Russia; he was promptly brought back to Boston as prisoner. The ship Admiral Keppel was sold for £22,321, providing needed funding for the war effort. Ambassador Shirley and the other British officials were eventually allowed to travel to Jamaica under a flag of truce.

Uriah Hayden House Uriah and Ann Hayden Homeplace.

Uriah literally built the Oliver Cromwell and several other ships in his own backyard. In 1767 he bought a small house at the foot of Main Street in Old Saybrook, Connecticut with a commanding view of the Connecticut River. There he promptly expanded it into a new, larger home for his wife Ann and their growing family. And he built a new shipyard immediately outside on the banks of the river, which is where the Oliver Cromwell and many other ships were built.

Over the years Uriah and Ann became leading civic figures in forging a vibrant Connecticut and country. Besides an active shipbuilding trade, the Hayden House also hosted a tavern on its ground floor called the "U & A," named after Uriah and Ann; Ann ran the establishment. The Hayden House since 1918 has been the home of The Dauntless Club, which has restored the home to its former glory.

The Old Saybrook region continued to thrive, and many artifacts of the Haydens and shipbuilding can be found throughout the region. The Hayden family itself has spread far and wide in the following centuries. While the Haydens of today are no longer involved in shipbuilding, Bruce Hayden runs a lumber and fine woods company in New Orleans, and his family involvement with the Louisiana lumber industry goes back four generations.


What Might Have Altered the Start of World War II

Jean Louis Barthou with King Alexander I (Jean) Louis Barthou with King Alexander I, assassinated together on October 9, 1934 (click for more information).

On 9 October 1934, French Foreign Minister (Jean) Louis Barthou (1862–1934) was assasinated in Marseille France, along with visiting King Alexander I of Yugoslavia. The assassin Velicko Kerin was a Bulgarian revolutionary nationalist, who shot point blank at King Alexander I from the running board of the king's carriage while escorted by Foreign Minister Louis Barthou. (Ironically, ballistics evidence disclosed 40 years later revealed that the fatal shot that killed Barthou was actually from return fire by French police in response to Kerin's initial shots!)

Louis Barthou served as the 59th Prime Minister of France in 1913 and in a variety of other leadership roles. He was an adept moderate right‐wing member of the Chamber of Deputies since 1889 and held a large number of ministerial appointments before and after World War I. Hostile to Germany and suspicious of former Prime Minister Aristide Briand's policies, Barthou had the opportunity to realize some of his demands for a tougher stance towards Germany as president of the Reparations Committee in 1922–1926. As a result of this vigilant stance, he led French hostility towards the aggressive Nazi regime in Germany in 1933 and 1934. He prepared an anti‐Fascist alliance with the Soviet Union, which was concluded by Laval in 1935 after his death.

Barthou's assassination deprived France of its last major politician ready to stand up to Adolph Hitler, and it eased the way for politicians to follow British policies of appeasement toward Germany. If he hadn't been murdered, things may have been different in the way that World War II broke out.

Dramatic footage of the 1934 assassination of King Alexander I and (Jean) Louis Barthou (click to play, and again to enlarge).

The reason we include this story here is that other things would have been different too, in particular for Louis J. Dutrey (1916–1998) in New Orleans. Here's an account written recently by his daughter Danielle (née Dutrey) Newlin:

Jean Louis Barthou was born on 25 Aug 1862 in Oloron-Ste-Marie, France. He died on 09 Oct 1934 in Marseille, France (assassinated with King Alexander I of Yugoslavia). He was the 59th Prime Minister of France. He was a cousin to my grandmother, Catherine LaLanne Candegave of Bedous, France.

“Louis” was in the process of arranging for my father, Louis J. Dutrey, to attend the Sorbonne in France. Daddy was 18 when he [Barthou] died and, therefore, did not get to attend.

Louis Dutrey apparently recovered from this setback and went on to become a successful lawyer in New Orleans.

Although Louis's children knew they were related to Barthou, they did not know the actual connection. Jeff Vitter, who knew the Dutrey family growing up, was able to find how Louis Dutrey's mother Catherine (née Lalanne Candegave) Dutrey (1892–1970) and her sister Marie (née Lalanne Candegave) Artigues (1881–1944) (who was married to Jeff Vitter's 1st cousin 2x removed Louis Jean Artigues (1884–1925)) were related to Louis Barthou, which is depicted below:

Catherine & Marie Lalanne Candegave
Marie Anne Bergèz (mother)
Urbain Bergèz (father)
Alexandre Bergès (father)
Jean Pierre Bergès & Engrâce Garbaste (parents)
Catherine Bergès (daughter)
Isidore Barthou (son)
Jean Louis Barthou (son)
   et voilà!

All these family members were born in southwest France, very close to where Jeff Vitter's maternal ancestors and his dad's maternal ancestors came from. In fact, the Vitters and the Dutreys lived on the same block, across the street, or nearby for a couple generations in New Orleans.

And there's a second Artigues-Dutrey connection in the family tree: As already noted above, Louis Jean Artigues was married to Louis Dutrey's maternal aunt Marie Lalanne Candegave. In addition, Louis Artigues' brother Jean Jacques "John" Artigues (1871–1944) was married to Louis Dutrey's paternal aunt Euphrasie Marie Dutrey (1875–1923). So Louis Dutrey had an Artigues/Vitter uncle on both sides of his family, and moreover the two uncles were brothers!


Remembering Those Back in Uzan

THIS STORY WILL BE WRITTEN SOON. STAY TUNED!

WW II Heros of the French Resistance

THIS STORY WILL BE WRITTEN SOON. STAY TUNED!

The Weaver Way: Zurich → Pennsylvania → Ohio

Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter's line of Weaver ancestors originally hailed from Zurich, Switzerland, although we only know for sure of her 4th great grandfather Jacob Joachim Weaver Sr. Jacob was born in 1748 in Kyburg, Zurich, Switzerland and emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1767 on the ship Sally out of Rotterdam.

We tentatively list Jacob's parents as Johann Heinrich Weaver and Anna Gertrude Sasse, but that assignment is highly speculative because Johann is said to have died in Pennsylvania in 1755, even though his son Jacob didn't emigrate until 12 years later in 1767. Several genealogists even have Johann as born in Virginia, in which case he is extremely unlikely to be Johann's father.

Jacob Weaver Headstone Jacob Weaver Headstone, immigrant from Zurich, buried in Quemahoning, Somerset, Pennsylvania, USA.

When Jacob landed in America in 1767, he went to Weaverland (!) in Lancaster County in eastern Pennsylvania, where he met and married his wife Magdalena Oberholtzer. Jacob, Magdalenda, and their young family ultimately settled 160 miles west in what is now Somerset County, site of the September 11, 2001 crash of United Airlines flight 93. Although Mennonites were generally against violence and armed conflict, Jacob served on behalf of his new land in the Revolutionary War in the Columbia County Militia and the 1st Batallion headed by Colonel James Johnston. Jacob and Magdalena had a total of 11 children. After Magdalena died in 1791, Jacob married Elizabeth and ultimately passed away in 1820.

Weaverland, where Jacob first went in his new country, was the home settlement of the extensive Weber/Weaver clan of Mennonites headed by Rev. Jageli Heinrich Weber (Jakob Henry Weaver), who emigrated there from Switzerland in the 1710–1717 time period. Weber (which is German for "Weaver") was the original name of the Weaver family. A big open question is whether Sharon's line of Weavers represented by Jacob is related to the Weber/Weaver family of Rev. Jageli Heinrich Weber. There are several roundabout connections of the two families through marriage after their arrivals in America, but we do not know of any blood relation. Our guess is that they are related through common ancestors back in the old country, but we don't yet know if and how.

One thing both lines of Weavers had in common was that they were Mennonites, and Mennonite families had lots and lots of children, so Sharon has many, many relatives! For example, one of Rev. Jageli Heinrich Weber's many sons, Christian Kendig Weber/Weaver (1731–1820), had at the time of his death a total of 309 living descendants: 17 children, 99 grandchildren, 188 great grandchildren, and five great great grandchildren!

Some of our Jacob Weaver Sr.'s family didn't stay long in Pennsylvania. Three of his sons Jacob Jr., Peter (Sharon's 3rd great grandfather), and Samuel moved to Holmes County, Ohio and established farms circa 1814–1815. Their younger brother Michael went further west in Ohio, settling in Prebler. Some in subsequent generations moved on to Indiana, near Elkhart and Kokomo. For example, Peter's son David, who married Barbara Kauffman, sister of Sharon's 2rd great grandmother Christina (née Kauffman) Yoder, settled in Nappanee in Elkhart County, Indiana.


Martin Samuel Weaver: Kansas Homesteader

Second cousins Gladys (née Barkis) Gallagher Walters and Georgia (née Weaver) Koelsch, with some recent additions by Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter, compiled a history of the extended Weaver family in America, focusing upon the Weavers in Kansas. Sharon's paternal great grandfather Martin Samuel Weaver (1841–1927), son of Peter's son Samuel P. Weaver, was the first to settle in Kansas, forging a path from Holmes County, Ohio to Wagstaff in Miami County, Kansas in 1871. Many of his siblings soon followed Martin to Kansas, while the remainder stayed in Ohio and Indiana.

Martin was the oldest offspring in a very large family: After Martin's mother Catherine (née Kauffman) Weaver had died at the age of 39 in 1860 after the birth of her eighth child, Martin's father Samuel remarried to a much younger woman Mary Nickey, who was Catherine's 1st cousin 1x removed. In fact, Mary was younger than her own stepson Martin! Samuel and Mary proceeded to have 10 more children, bringing the grand total of Samuel's brood to 18! We're guessing that Martin probably went to Kansas just to be somewhere less crowded! He may have been ahead of his time with social distancing ;-)

On January 13, 1871, Martin homesteaded on SE½ 13-16-23, which is at address 26150 Block Road in Marysville Township in Miami County, Kansas. Martin went back to Ohio to get married and then returned to Kansas with his young bride Sarah (née Maxwell) Weaver. Below are Martin and Sarah and their seven children circa 1899. (Another child Ida May Weaver had died earlier as an infant.)

Martin Samuel Weaver Family Martin Samuel and Sarah (née Maxwell) Weaver and family. Front row: Martin W., Ora Franklin W., Scott Cleveland W., Sarah W. Back row: Abney Maxwell W., Minnie Matilda W., Atla Wellington W., Ada Grace W., and Calvin Daniel W.

The photo below shows a much older Martin with some of his family circa 1918 in front of the house that he built in the 1870s. Martin's son Ora Franklin Weaver, who died at 48 years old in 1929, is behind the steering wheel, with his dad Martin just behind him and his mother Sarah in the background in black with the apron. Other family members are not identified, including the girl looking out the second floor window. They likely include Ora's sister Minnie (née Weaver) Barkis and her husband Frank Tresslar Barkis and their children. Some time after Martin passed away in 1927, the Barkis family owned and lived at the Weaver Homestead for a couple of decades, and then later they rented it out.

Weaver Homestead Weaver Homestead house built in 1870s, circa 1919, Marysville Township, Miami County, Kansas (click on photo to zoom on Google Maps).

Weaver Homestead
Weaver Homestead barn built 1892, Marysville Township, Miami County, Kansas (click to zoom on Google Maps).

Ora's son (and Sharon's dad) Robert (Bob) Oran Weaver (1928–1989) ultimately purchased the Weaver Homestead for his wife Virginia (née Kohlenberg) Weaver Knop (1932–2016) and their family in 1963, just before their youngest son Jerry Alan Weaver was born. Sharon was not quite eight years old at the time. "ROW Acres" as it is now called is farmed by Jerry, who lives 0.6 miles north on Block Road, and his twin sons Kurt and Cory Weaver. Jerry took over the farm after Bob died in December 1989. Virginia remarried an old family friend Welby Knop in March 1991. The photos below show some of Bob and Virginia's kids and grandkids in 1992 in front of Martin Weaver's original house, renovated in the 1970s, and at the 100th anniversary of the old barn constructed by Martin. (The barn was badly damaged by the 6 March 2017 tornado and was razed in December 2019.)

Weaver Homestead House, 1992 At the Weaver Homestead house, 1992. Front row: Jessie, Kayla, & Ian Weaver; and Jillian (holding Audrey) & Scott Vitter. Back row: Stacey (holding Emily) & Jerry Weaver; Steven & Kathy Steele; Roxanne & John Weaver; and Sharon & Jeff Vitter (click to zoom on Google Maps).

Weaver Homestead Barn, 1992 100th anniversary of the old Weaver Homestead barn, 1992. Not much had changed in 100 years except the horsepower! (click on photo to zoom on Google Maps).

A lot of comings and goings have occurred in the 253 years since immigrant Jacob Joachim Weaver Sr. crossed the ocean in 1767! His descendants have spread far and wide from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Kansas — now covering most of the states in the USA as well as several foreign countries.


Mennonite Beginnings

In 1940, long before the world of GEDCOM and web search, Charles Fahs Kauffman put together an amazingly detailed compilation entitled A Genealogy and History of the Kauffman-Coffman Families, annotated on the web by Jeff Vitter. The preface focuses upon Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter's 10th great grandparents Jacob Nicklaus Kauffman and Anna (née Bürcki) Kauffman of 16th century Switzerland and their Anabaptist/Mennonite/Amish descendants. Sharon's Swiss Kauffman ancestry can be traced back even further four generations to her 14th great grandparents Jacob and Augusta Kauffman in the mid 1400s.

Charles Fahs Kauffman Genealogist Charles Fahs Kauffman.

The term "Ana­baptist" refers to the practice of baptism (or re-baptism) as an adult — when the person with full cognizance declares faith in Christ. It often involves dunking the person being baptised in a pond or large basin. Though no longer Mennonites, several in the current generations of Sharon's family were baptized in that manner at the local Elm Grove Baptist Church in Chiles, Kansas, located next to the same railroad tracks that go through the Weaver Farm three miles to the southwest.

Anabaptists, which are comprised primarily of Mennonites, Amish, German Baptists, and Hutterites, were persecuted incessantly starting in the 16th century because of their literal interpretation of scripture. For example, most Anabaptists regarded the Sermon on the Mount as requiring a ban on taking oaths, military action, and participating in civil government. (Perhaps government beaureaucracy was as bad then as it is now!) As we will see later in the story of the Hostetler Massacre, many Mennonites were nonviolent and did not use firearms against others, even in self-defense, and therefore refused to serve in the military. Government authorities reacted harshly against this rejection of their authority.

Sharon's 6th great grandfather Isaac Kauffman (1685–1798) emigrated with his family from Switzerland via Rotterdam to Pennsylvania on the ship Virtuous Grace in 1737, ultimately settling in Berks County in eastern Pennsylvania. He was the son of a famous Mennonite religious leader and teacher by the same name, Täufer (Baptiser) Isaac Kauffman (1653–1741), who sponsored countless baptisms of friends and family.

Given his high profile, Täufer Isaac Kauffman was the target of much displeasure from government and Church authorities. In his book, Charles Kauffman devotes several pages to the trials (literally!) and tribulations of Täufer Isaac. He was constantly on the run or under arrest. The authorities tried to enlist friends and even his wife to catch him. At one time, the Swiss authorities convicted him of heresy and sentenced him to be sent to the East Indies so that he would no longer bother them with his teachings. Their plans to put him on a boat in Rotterdam backfired when the Dutch, who were much more tolerant and accommodating, scuttled the idea and allowed Täufer Isaac to continue preaching on the run.

His son Isaac was no doubt happy to take the opportunity to emigrate to America and get away from all the persecution!


George Nicolay: The German-Born Secretary Who Made Abraham Lincoln Great

Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter's 4th great uncle (John) George Nicolay (1832–1901) had an amazingly accomplished career — including roles as Secretary of State in Illinois, personal secretary to President Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Consul to France, Marshal of the U.S. Supreme Court, and biographer. He was born Johann Georg Nikolai in Essingen, Germany, and he emigrated with his family to the U.S.A. in 1837.

George Nicolay (John) George Nicolay, born Johann Georg Nicolai, at his desk.

The family name itself goes back to the days of the "Ancien Régime" and has roots in southern France of the early 14th century. It is said that the Nicolay brothers changed their name from Nikolai to Nicolay when they arrived in the U.S.A. because it was too often mistaken as Russian. George's brother John Jacob Nicolay II, Sharon's 3rd great grandfather, moved from Pike County, Illinois to Kansas and established the considerable Nicolay line in Kansas.

We couldn't have written a better passage on George Nicolay than the essay we include below by Allen Carden and Thomas J. Ebert. Carden and Ebert are the authors of the book John George Nicolay — The Man in Lincoln's Shadow. Without any further ado, we hereby reproduce their essay, entitled "The German-Born Secretary Who Made Abraham Lincoln Great," subtitled "John George Nicolay Devoted Himself to Burnishing the Memory of the 16th President — and Kept Him From Carrying Papers in His Hat". We added the photos and captions to complement the authors' essay:

Less than a month after dark horse candidate Abraham Lincoln won the new Republican Party’s presidential nomination at its convention in Chicago, on May 18, 1860, he made a decision that would impact his campaign, his presidency, and his image for generations to come: He asked a 28-year-old German immigrant named John George Nicolay to be his campaign secretary.

Nicolay, who eventually became Lincoln’s private secretary, may not be well-known today, but he was one of the most significant people working behind the scenes in the Lincoln administration and his efforts on behalf of the 16th president changed the course of American history. Possessed of organizational skills that Lincoln lacked, Nicolay managed White House operations and protected Lincoln’s time, allowing the president to become perhaps the nation’s most active and involved wartime commander-in-chief. Nicolay was devoted to Lincoln and his friendship eased the president’s burdens during the terrible ordeal of civil war. Following Lincoln’s assassination, Nicolay and his friend John Hay worked for years on a massive biography of Lincoln that shaped the president’s image as the good and wise Father Abraham who saved the Union, ended slavery, and gave America renewed freedom. Nicolay helped Lincoln achieve greatness in both life and legend.

Essingen, Germany George Nicolay's birthplace, Essingen, Germany (click for Google maps).

Born Johann Georg Nicolai in 1832 in the village of Essingen in what is now Germany, Nicolay was five when his family arrived in the United States, anglicized its last name, and settled in a German immigrant community in Cincinnati, Ohio. When Nicolay’s mother died soon thereafter the family left for a series of western locations, eventually settling in Pike County, Illinois, where they operated a grist mill. While physically frail, the academically inclined George, as he was called, learned English quickly. By the age of 14 he had lost his father and been dismissed from the family mill by his eldest brother. But he soon landed a job at the Pike County Free Press in Pittsfield, the county seat of Pike County, Illinois.

Lincoln at the time was a circuit-riding attorney who often argued cases in the Pike County courthouse, across the street from the newspaper’s offices. Nicolay followed Lincoln’s court appearances and budding political career with growing interest and enthusiasm. Like Lincoln, Nicolay was drawn to the new Republican Party, which opposed slavery’s expansion. And like Lincoln, he was vehemently opposed to Senator. Stephen A. Douglas’s 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which negated the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and permitted slavery anew in territory that had been closed to it.

At the Free Press, Nicolay worked his way up from printer’s apprentice to reporter to sole proprietor. The paper supported Republican candidates in Illinois, including Ozias M. Hatch, who after his election as Secretary of State in 1856 invited Nicolay to become his chief clerk. After selling the newspaper, Nicolay moved to Springfield to join Hatch’s staff in 1857. While executing his duties at the state library and election archives, located directly across the street from Lincoln’s law office, Nicolay finally got to meet Lincoln in person. Although Lincoln was 23 years older than Nicolay they became fast friends, often conversing and playing chess in the State Library.

In 1858, Lincoln ran for Douglas’s senate seat, engaging in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates that cemented his reputation as a moderate and reasoned anti-slavery voice within the Republican Party. He lost the race, but Republican leaders decided that transcripts of the debates should be published and distributed nationally to promote the party’s cause. Lincoln called on Nicolay to hand deliver the copies to a publishing company in Ohio, writing in his letter of introduction, “Mr. Nicolay is a good Republican … a good man and worthy of any confidence that may be bestowed upon him.” Given these sentiments, it didn’t take long for Lincoln and Nicolay to forge a partnership in politics.

Lincoln’s star was on the rise. Many Republicans thought he’d make a great vice presidential candidate in the 1860 election, but he and Nicolay envisioned something more. In February, 1860, Nicolay began pushing Lincoln’s prospects for a presidential run, writing an editorial endorsing Lincoln for president in the Pike County Free Press. Nicolay was present at the Chicago convention when Lincoln won the nomination. Soon thereafter, Lincoln offered him the position of campaign secretary.

George Nicolay Painting showing President Abraham Lincoln sitting between John George Nicolay (left) and John Hay (right). Hay wrote in his diary, “We had a great many pictures taken … Nico & I immortalized ourselves by having ourselves done in a group with the Prest.”

Lincoln liked Nicolay and admired his abilities, but there was also a political calculation in choosing a widely respected German immigrant to play a key role in his administration. German American voters had been alienated by the Democratic Party’s defense of slavery, as well as by the American (or “Know Nothing”) Party and its anti-immigrant positions. When the “Know Nothings” merged into the coalition forming the new Republican Party, German American voters were unsure where they belonged. By appointing Nicolay his private secretary, Lincoln assured German Americans that he was not a nativist.

As the private secretary to the president, Nicolay became the de facto first White House chief of staff. He brought his friend Hay on board as an assistant. Nicolay served as a gatekeeper of access to Lincoln, coordinating daily White House routines that included managing the president’s schedule, handling correspondence, and even ordering filing cabinets for proper storage of the administration’s paperwork (no longer was Lincoln allowed to carry around important documents in his hat). Nicolay served as the principal liaison between the White House and Congress. He sat in on Cabinet meetings and presidential interviews and took careful notes. He drafted important documents and letters. He assisted First Lady Mary Lincoln with state dinners and other matters of protocol, experiencing tense relations with her when she overspent and fudged the accounts. Nicolay and Hay were Lincoln’s sounding boards as the president conducted business in D.C. and went on missions to various parts of the country beyond as the president’s trusted eyes and ears. Nicolay conducted multiple treaty negotiations with Native American tribes. His organization of the president’s schedule freed Lincoln to spend critical hours each day in the War Department’s telegraph office monitoring developments in the field. Without Nicolay’s focus, Lincoln could have been lost in a sea of detail.

Nicolay continued working for Lincoln through the president’s 1864 election to a second term, but decided he wanted to depart the White House shortly thereafter. Living in Washington had meant enduring long periods of separation from the love of his life, Therena Bates, who remained in Pittsfield, and Nicolay was growing weary of confrontations with Mrs. Lincoln. He accepted Lincoln’s offer of an appointment as American consul at Paris, but was still in his White House job — returning from a mission to Cuba — when he learned that the president had been assassinated. Devastated, he remained in his secretary post until he and Hay had organized Lincoln’s presidential papers and made the presidential office ready for Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson.

Nicolay and Bates got married and headed off for a new life in Paris in June of 1865. Their daughter, Helen, was born there the following year. Nicolay served as consul at Paris until he was replaced by an appointee of President Grant in 1869. He returned to the U.S. and became a naturalized American citizen on October 12, 1870. (Apparently no one, including President Lincoln, had known that Nicolay wasn’t a citizen.) In 1872 he was selected to be Marshal of the U.S. Supreme Court. This enabled Nicolay and his family to live in Washington, D.C., and allowed him to begin the legacy-cementing literary work he really wanted to do: prepare a history and biography of Abraham Lincoln and his era.

Nicolay volumes This 10-volume masterpiece by John Hay and George Nicolay cemented Abraham Lincoln's reputation as one of the greatest of U. S. presidents. Part of their motivation was to focus on the man himself — based upon extensive documentation, rather than the informal treatment of prior biographers that they found misleading and lacking in depth. They also wanted to counter the growing "Lost Cause" narrative in the South and clarify what was at stake in the Civil War.

Nicolay and Hay worked with Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son, who gave them access to Lincoln’s presidential papers. Doing painstaking research, Nicolay and Hay shunned hearsay and undocumented tales about Lincoln and relied on credible documentation for every aspect of their 10-volume, 4,800-page work, Abraham Lincoln — A History, which was published by the Century Company in 1890. The work was more than a mere biography of Lincoln. It assembled a detailed military history of the Civil War and reported on the machinations of the cabinet, Congress, and the military. It portrayed Lincoln as a witty and wise man who loved to tell stories. It detailed how Lincoln bore the suffering of war on his shoulders while his faith in God grew deeper, and the ways he saw beyond the immediate ups and downs of war, keeping the ultimate goal of preserving the Union ever in his mind. It was the first scholarly validation of the president’s greatness and became the foundational work for all the scholarly writing on Lincoln to follow.

This massive effort was not viewed as flawless, but it was widely praised when it was published, and it shaped a heroic image of Lincoln that persists to this day. In Nicolay and Hay’s telling, Abraham Lincoln could do no wrong. His motives were always pure, his fairness, kindness, and wisdom were without parallel, and only he possessed the qualities of mind and character needed by the nation in its moment of gravest crisis. The book was a work of filial love, scholarly yet biased, by two men who, in their early manhood, had viewed Lincoln as an all-wise father figure who could do no wrong, the man who had saved the nation and ended slavery.

The self-effacing Nicolay — the father of Lincoln scholars — is practically invisible in the volumes. He always chose to work behind the scenes for his hero, mentor, and friend.


The Hochtetler Incident: Life on the Frontier

Hochstetler Northkill Homestead Jacob Hochstetler homestead in the Northkill settlement of Berne Township, Berks, Pennsylvania.

One of the most well-known anecdotes in Amish and Mennonite history is the story of Jacob Hochstetler and the tragedy his family underwent at the Northkill Settlement in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Though shortlived, Northkill was the first major Amish settlement in America, and it played an important role in furthering Amish immigration.

The elements of the Hochstetler story remain timely, as the story intermingles several social factors still in play today: the practice of non-violence, religious persecution, forced relocation of Native Americans, and war.

Jacob was the great uncle of Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter's 4th great aunt Elizabeth (née Keim) Weaver. The Hochstetler name can be traced back to 1290 A.D. in Germany and Austria, where there were people of that name who were prosperous merchants and businessmen. The root of the name means "high place." In Switzerland, the family name is associated with the Bern canton. There are farms and hamlets there called "Hostet" and "Hostett," and in the 15th century when family names were widely adopted, those coming from those regions were called Hochstetler or Hostetler. Originally Catholic, many Hochstetlers joined the Anabaptist movement in the 1600s, and as described in the history on Sharon's family's Mennonite roots, they were persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Jacob was born in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mains (known as Markirch in German) in the Alsace region of what is now France. In 1738 he and his wife and young family emigrated from Switzerland via the Netherlands to Pennsylvania on the ship Charming Nancy to escape religious persecution. He established a homestead in the Northkill settlement in Berks County, Pennsylvania on former Native American land. Not surprisingly, the displaced tribes allied with the French against the British, who oversaw the settlements, in the French and Indian War that took place during 1754–1763.

The following account of the tragedy that ensued comes from the Jacob Hochstetler Family Association, a group formed to study the genealogy of Jacob's roughly 1 million descendants:

On the evening of September 19, 1757, the young people of the neighborhood gathered at the home of Jacob Hochstetler to assist in paring and slicing apples for drying. It was the custom of the young people to have a "social" to frolic after the work was done and sometimes it continued well into the night.

Hochstetler Attack Depiction of the tragic "Hochstetler Attack" during the wee hours of September 19–20, 1757.

After the folks departed and the family had retired, their dog made an unusual noise which woke up the son Joseph, who opened the door and received a shot in the leg. He realized in a moment that they were being attacked by Indians and managed to lock the door before the Indians could enter. In an instant the family were on their feet. The Indians, seven to 10 in number with three French scouts, were seen standing near the outdoor bake oven in consultation. There was no moon that night and since there was no light in the house, those inside could not be seen.

There were several guns and plenty of ammunition at hand. The two sons, Joseph and Christian, picked up their guns to defend the family. Two or three could be shot and the guns reloaded before the Indians could enter; but their father, firmly believing in the doctrine of nonresistance and remaining faithful in his hour of sorest trial, could not give his consent for defense.

In vain his family begged him but he continued to tell them it was not right to take the life of another even to save one's own life. What a night of horror this God fearing family must have spent the last hours …. At daybreak the birds began singing their songs of peace but for the Jacob Hochstetler family there was no peace.

Afterwards Joseph claimed the family could have been saved had his father given consent, as he and his brother were both good marksmen (their father was also) and the Indians never stood fire unless under cover.

At daybreak the house was set afire and the family fled to the cellar throwing cider on the burning spots. Finally, the Indians left one by one and the family felt that they could no longer remain in the smoke filled cellar. They quietly proceeded to climb out through a small window, but one warrior, Tom Lions, who had stayed behind eating some peaches saw the mother, who was a fleshy woman, having difficulty getting out and he sounded the alarm. The others quickly returned to find that he had stabbed her in the back with a butcher knife. Besides killing and scalping the mother, they killed her daughter and her son Jacob Jr. and captured Joseph, Christian, and Jacob Sr.

Rumor has it that the Native Americans bore a special animosity to Jacob's wife because she reportedly refused them food during an earlier encounter, which may have contributed to the way she was killed.

The eldest son John lived nearby and saw the attack from afar. His two younger brothers Joseph and Christian, along with their father Jacob, were captured by the Native Americans. The captives were taken on a 17-day, 300-mile trek diagonally across the state to the Native American settlement in Northwest Pennsylvania. Upon arrival, quick thinking by Jacob enabled them to avoid the dangerous fate of "running the gauntlet": Jacob gained the good favor of the Native American chief by offering him some of the food they had brought with them.

The family was assimilated into the Native American community, and the boys were essentially brought up as Native American. Jacob was allowed wide latitude during captivity, including carrying a gun to hunt, and one day about eight months after capture, he decided to escape and journeyed several days back to his family settlement.

Jacob Hochstetler capture and escape routes The dotted lines show the route Jacob Hochstetler and his sons Joseph and Christian were taken on by their Native Americans captors in September 1757. The solid lines show Jacob's escape route eight months later.

Altogether roughly 200 settlers were killed in Native American raids in Berks County. Hostilities finally ended by treaty on 8 May 1765, and Jacob's sons were released. When Christian arrived back at Northkill, he wasn't recognized and was thought to be Native American. He was given food but felt uncomfortable to sit inside the house and instead ate outside. He finally told the family in broken German that he was in fact the son Christian, and celebration ensued.

Christian and Joseph went on to be stalwart members of the Amish community, but still spent much time during the remainder of their lives with their Native American brethren.


Aaron Burr: Not Throwin' Away My Shot

Aaron Burr Jr. U. S. Vice President Aaron Burr Jr.

There is a roundabout connection in Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter's family through the Hastings line to American founding father Aaron Burr Jr., who is perhaps most well known as the person who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804, now immortalized on Broadway. Aaron Burr came from a high-profile family in New Jersey: His father Aaron Burr Sr. was a noted clergyman and Princeton University's second president. His mother Esther Edwards Burr was the daughter of famous theologian Jonathan Edwards and his wife Sarah.

Aaron Burr Jr. was a well-known lawyer who served as U. S. Senator from New York and the state's Attorney General. After an unsuccessful bid for president of the United States in 1800 against Thomas Jefferson, he served as vice president during Jefferson's first term in 1801–1805. The two were always at odds, and Jefferson marginalized Burr in his VP role. As the end of his term neared, Burr decided to run for governor of New York, but lost to little-known Morgan Lewis. Hamilton was an outspoken critic of Burr during the election, saying that Burr could not be trusted with the reins of government.

Hamilton-Burr Duel Depiction of the Hamilton-Burr duel, 11 July 1804

Burr took offense and challenged Hamilton to the fateful duel, which occurred on 11 July 1804. Although dueling was illegal, Burr was never tried for Hamilton's death. The reason he wasn't tried in New Jersey was that technically Hamilton died in New York, where he was transported after the duel. In any case, Burr's reputation was forever tarnished.

Burr went West to seek his fortune and engaged in some speculative land intrigue in the Louisiana Territory and in a plot in Texas against Spanish rule in Mexico, for which Jefferson put him on trial for treason. Though he was acquitted, further damage to his reputation was done, and he spent the next several years in exile in Europe. He returned to the USA in 1814 and resumed his law practice, but with marginal success.

Aaron Burr's family life was equally turbulent: In total, he had children with five different women and married another in his very late years. During British rule, he had an affair with a British officer's wife Theodosia Bartow Prevost, whom he later married as his first wife after her husband died in Jamaica. She passed away just about 12 years into their marriage when their beloved daughter Theodosia was still a child. Theodosia grew up to marry Joseph Alston, who became governor of South Carolina, and they had three children.

During a trip up north to see her father Aaron, Theodosia's ship The Patriot disappeared near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Deathbed testimony years later by one of the pirates involved suggests that the ship was attacked by pirates and everyone on the ship was forced to "walk the plank," Theodosia being the last to do so. The terror in her eyes haunted the pirate for the rest of his days.

Photo 1: Portrait of Burr's daughter Theodosia Burr Alston, by Gilbert Stuart. Photo 2: Was "walking the plank" the fate of Theodosia Burr Alston?

The Ups and Downs of Mini-Me

There are some popular family names among the many Amish and Mennonite families who emigrated from Switzerland and Germany to the U.S.A. in the 1700s and 1800s. They include names like Blough, Bontrager, Gerber, Hershberger, Hochstetler/Hostetler, Kauffman, Keim, Mast, Miller, Mishler, Schrock/Schrag, Stutzman, Troyer, Weaver/Weber, and Yoder/Joder, among others. Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter is descended directly from the Blough, Gerber, Kauffman, Miller, and Weaver lines, and in addition she has all the other surnames in her family tree. You can read in other histories about her Weaver lineage and Kauffman lineage.

Verne Troyer Verne Jay Troyer, a.k.a. Mini-Me (click for more info).

If your surname is included in that long list of family names, it's quite possible, given how large Amish and Mennonite families typically are, that if you look hard enough, you'll find a personal family connection (sometimes several!) to Sharon.

Such is the case for the late actor, comedian, and stuntman Verne Jay Troyer (1969–2018), best known for his depiction of Mini-Me in the second and third Austin Powers films. Verne was related to Sharon in an amazing number of simultaneous ways, including being Sharon's

  • 5th cousin 1x removed,
  • 7th cousin 1x removed,
  • 4th great nephew of the wife of her 3rd great uncle,
  • double 3rd cousin 6x removed of the husband of her 4th great aunt,
  • 5th great nephew of the wife of her 6th great uncle,
  • 5th great nephew of the wife of her 1st cousin 6x removed,
  • 1st cousin 5x removed of the husband of her 3rd cousin 4x removed,
  • 1st cousin 5x removed of the husband of her 4th cousin 3x removed,

as well as many many other lines!

Verne Troyer was brought up Amish in Sturgis, Michigan in a family of three kids, but his parents Reuben and Susan Troyer left the Amish faith when Verne was a child. He still had a considerable Amish influence from his grandparents and uncles and aunts, whom he visited often. In later interviews, he recalled riding horse-drawn carriages and taking part in other Amish customs.

He credited his parents with teaching him to be "optimistic and independent." Some quotes: "They made me feel that I could do anything I set my mind to, which has really helped me." … "They didn’t make allowances for me because of my height. I had to do everything my brother and sister had to do, including raising our animal menagerie that included cows and chickens."

The scene from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me when Dr. Evil meets his miniature clone Mini-Me, played by Verne Troyer (click to play and again to enlarge).

Verne was born with a rare genetic disorder called cartilage-hair hypoplasia, which limited his growth to only 2 feet, 8 inches tall. His career began as a stunt double in movies in the mid-1990s, ultimately leading to his Mini-Me role a few years later. He played characters in a variety of other movie and TV roles. He unfortunately had a difficult personal life, with long bouts with alcoholism, which ultimately led to his tragic death 2 years ago by alcohol poisoning.


Alcée Fortier and the Creole Culture of New Orleans

One of the biggest educational influences on New Orleans and its French heritage was Alcée Fortier (1856–1914), the 1st cousin 4x removed of Wendy (née Baldwin) Vitter. There are so many entities named after him in New Orleans that the name "Fortier" is a very familiar name, though many probably don't know a lot about the man behind the name.

Alcee Fortier Noted French scholar Prof. Alcée Fortier of Tulane University (click photo for more information). Doesn't he look a little like Wags on the cast of the TV show "Billions"?

Alcée was born of French Creole ancestry on his grandparents' sugar cane plantation and grew up in New Orleans. He would become a major force in documenting, analyzing, and preserving Creole culture. The word "Créole" in Louisiana refers to the descendants of the New Orleans inhabitants who came from France and Spain — before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 when New Orleans became "American." That shift in ownership from French to American was a big culture shock on both sides of the aisle. The related term "Creole of Color" ("Gens de coleur libres") was used to describe those of mixed race, often descendants of enslaved people who were themselves free. In the days of French and Spanish rule prior to the Louisiana Purchase, many Creoles of Color enjoyed privileges in society, which changed under American rule.

Alcée Fortier became a renowned professor of French and Romance Languages at Tulane University. He elevated the study of French in Louisiana and in the USA overall. He attained the position of president of the Modern Language Association, which to this day continues to be the leading professional association in the USA for scholarship in language and literature, comprising over 25K members, mostly in academe.

Through his extensive scholarly research and writings, Fortier helped preserve and document Louisiana Creole and Cajun dialects, including the stories and traditions from Africa. Cajuns (or more formally, Acadians) were a separate group from Creoles who originally settled in the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick areas of Canada, but were evicted by the British after the Treaty of Paris in 1763. After going back to France, many voyaged again and settled in southern Louisiana in the area west of New Orleans known as Acadiana.

Fortier married Marie Lanauze in 1881. Her father Adolphe was a prosperous French immigrant who ran a hardware store in the French Quarter. He was the first commercial tenant of the famous Pontalba Buildings that flank Jackson Square; they are the oldest continuously operated apartment buildings in the USA. Commercial tenants occupy the bottom floor, and the upper floors are reserved for living quarters — a mixed-use model still popular today in urban environments.

The French Quarter was the site of the original settlement in New Orleans at its founding in 1718 by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. Creoles in the 1800s generally lived in the French Quarter, Fauborg Marigny (just below the French Quarter) or another of the regions below Canal Street, which divided the Creole sector from the American sector. The terms "below" and "lower" refer to downriver; "downtown" is the region on the lower (or downriver) side of Canal Street. Americans lived in the areas "above" (or upriver from) Canal Street, known as "uptown." Those terms are still used today in New Orleans by the older generations. (But they're apparently not in vogue with the younger generation: When one of our nieces recently asked for directions and was told by her father that the destination was "below Napoleon Avenue on the river side," she asked in exasperation, "Who am I, Amerigo Vespucci?")

There was quite a cultural struggle in the early 1800s when Louisiana's first governor William C. C. Claiborne tried to institute English as the official language, even though the majority of New Orleanians spoke French. Because of widespread discontent, the governor ultimately repealed the rule and reinstituted French as an official language of the state, and French culture remained dominant in New Orleans in the 1800s.

Uriah Hayden
Ann Starkey Hayden
U. S. President William Howard Taft visited New Orleans in late October 1909 with an entourage of 24 governors and 117 Congressmen. A major hurricane had struck the Louisiana coast the month before and caused major flooding in New Orleans. On October 31, Prof. Alcée Fortier of Tulane University led Pres. Taft on a "historic tour of New Orleans" by automobile. They are seated together in these photos by John Norris Teunisson.

For his expertise in Louisiana history and culture, Fortier was made an inaugural member of the Louisiana State Museum Board of Curators. Several current places in New Orleans bear his name:

  • Alcée Fortier High School (1931–2005). Closed after Hurricane Katrina, the building is now renovated and operates as the Alcée Fortier campus of Lusher Charter School, housing its middle and high school. Lusher is one of the top-performing public schools in the city.
  • Alcée Fortier Hall at Tulane University.
  • Alcée Fortier Street in New Orleans East.
  • Alcée Fortier Park in Faubourg St. John at Esplanade Avenue and Mystery Street.

When Martha Louise "Tootie" (née Vitter) Jackoniski started as a high school mathematics teacher, her initial assignment was at Fortier High School, which was just down Freret Street from the campus of Loyola University where she graduated. She left teaching the following year when she married Jim and moved out of state.


Research Notes

Sometimes it's fun to see how what we understand grows (we hope!) with time. Below are some links to pages that describe how we figured out what we know about some of our family links, interspersed with some still-open questions. If you have new info to share, please send it to us!

  • The history entitled "Artigues Notes and Open Questions" is exactly that: The Artigues family, which is connected to Jeff Vitter on both his mother's side and father's side, came from the extreme southwest of France.
  • The history entitled "Announcing the Big Find!" is a fun follow-up to the story at the top of this page on Jeff's Aha! moment. Big discoveries are only useful if they lead to further knowledge and understanding, and that page shows some correspondence about initial next steps after Jeff's find.
  • That's not all by any means! There are many open questions contained in the other written histories on this website and in the notes in the family tree itself. We always welcome new info and insights!