Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Twists and Turns of Finding Baptismal Records for 1878

St. Matthias, Cascade, Iowa

When we are researching our ancestors back in the 1800s we will not find a birth record. At that point one of the ways to verify their birth is to find a baptismal record. I have been on the search for such a record for my maternal great grandmother Susan Bentz Hamman. The family came from Luxembourg to the Dubuque area in the eastern part of Iowa before moving to Remsen, Iowa in the western part of the state.

So, what do I know and where do I start looking for the baptismal record?

When I learned about Susan’s life (see post The Life of Susan Bentz Hamman) and look at census records I know that she was born about 1877 or 1878 in the Dubuque area of Eastern Iowa.

According to US Federal census records I know:

  • On 22 June 1870 the family (father John Sr, mother Mary and children John Jr., Clara, Catherine, Nicholas, Nicholas, yes, 2 sons named Nicholas with different ages, and Jacob) living in Cascade Township, Dubuque, Iowa.
  • Susan was supposedly born on 18-20 August 1878 (see post Sunday Obituary for Susan Bentz Hamman) in Worthington, Iowa.
                        Happy 142nd Birthday Great-Grandmother Suza

  • On 14 June 1880 I find the family (father John, mother Mary, son Jacob 10 years old and daughter Suza 3 years old) living in Dodge Township, Worthington.
  • I knew the family was Roman Catholic from Luxembourg and spoke German. What churches were in the area in 1878? St. Paul’s is the Roman Catholic church in Worthington, Iowa. In 1994 I called the church and received a written reply stating “I cannot find any information in our baptismal register in any part of the year 1878 for Susan Bentz (or Benz). If she was truly born on August 28, 1878 perhaps she was not baptized at St. Paul’s.” UGH!

Cascade and Worthington are only about 5-6 miles apart today but back in 1878 that was a long distance to travel by horse and cart.

  • I left a message again at St. Paul’s. Nothing yet.
  • I searched Roman Catholic church records at the Basilica of St. Francis in Dyersville (about 10 miles from Worthington). They have many ledgers for churches is the area, some of which no longer exist. No luck.
  • I was able to get the name of an Archivist at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dubuque. I was told they may have records from way back for churches in the area.  Thank-you to 
  • Dan told me there was a German Church (St. Mary’s that was established in 1857) and an Irish Church (St. Martin’s). These two churches merged in 1991 and are now referred to as St. Matthias. He thought it that might be worth checking with St. Matthias. He gave me a contact and I called. Thank-you Dan!  Shellie was skeptical that they still had any records from that far back but I was welcome to come and look with her. She said people get their hopes up that they have the records and she hates disappointing them when they can’t find anything.

Shellie searched and searched the records for St. Mary’s. Susan’s parents were John and Mary Bentz. We tried a variety of spellings and years before and after 1878 and …nothing. Disappointing! She said they were trying to set up a data base for the records and thought she should double check that as well. Nothing for Susan but she did find a record for:

John Bentz (no middle name or initial listed), baptized at St. Mary’s on 22 August 1869. Birth 29 July 1869. 

Parents- John and Margaretha (Robin) Bentz. Priest- Michael Lynch. Sponsors- John Tnies and Maria Sadey.

WAIT…Susan’s mother’s name was at times listed as Margaretha and her maiden name was RobinWAIT! When I reviewed my records I knew Susan had a brother named Jacob that was born in 1869. This must be the baptismal record for her brother Jacob. Perhaps he was baptized ‘John’ Jacob and only the John was listed in the records but the dates and parents’ names match. YES!

Well, it wasn’t Susan’s baptismal record but still this is valuable information! This confirms that they attended church in Cascade where they were reported to be in the 1870 census. Now I know they were there earlier in 1869 before moving to Dodge Township, Worthington in 1880. This also confirms the spelling of Mary’s maiden name which I have seen spelled a variety of ways.

Continue to search when you can’t find something at first. Don’t give up! A VERY special thank-you to Shellie for her patience and perseverance in wanting to help!! I would never have thought to look at an ‘Irish’ church for the records. Perhaps it was closer to where they lived?

  • I know that the family showed up in Remsen about 1880. Perhaps in 1878 the family was already heading west when Susan was born? Now I will need to search other churches in the area to see where she might have been born. While it wasn’t Susan’s record it is still valuable information. I wondered if the Hamman and Bentz families knew each other before Remsen. After seeing the distance between Dyersville and Worthington I believe it was highly unlikely they knew each other before Remsen. I flew in and out of Luxembourg in the early 1990s just after finding out that one of my ancestors had come from Luxembourg. I remember how green it was and all the rolling hills. As I looked at the landscape in the area I saw rolling hills and lots of green here in Iowa as well. Did this land remind them of home?

Perhaps a descendant of Jacob Bentz has been looking for his baptismal record and hasn’t been able to find it because his name is listed as ‘John’ on the record and he was baptized in an ‘Irish’ Roman Catholic Church instead of the German one?


  1. Excellent information. We keep so much stored in our memory from our research and it pays off as we recognize names, dates and places.

    1. It certainly does! I’m also grateful that I can verify my ancestors were in that area. Now to learn where Susan was baptized.

    2. Thanks Diane. Yes, it certainly does.