Week 7: #52 Ancestors – Favorite Discovery

By Eilene Lyon

Back in 2011, I started writing family histories that begin with pairs of my 3rd great-grandparents, forward to present day. All fine, except I didn’t then know all my 3rd greats. One gap was the parents of Charlie Gusso. No one in the Gusso family knew anything about them.

I was certain my grandmother, growing up in small-town South Dakota, knew many of her second, and even third, cousins. But those in my father’s generation were only vaguely aware of some family connections to people like the Stemwedels. Even the last remainders of Grandma’s generation couldn’t place these people in a tree.

GussoCharles 002
My 2nd great-grandparents, Olive Springer and Charlie Gusso.

Beginning with Charles Gusso: I knew he had been born in Milwaukee in 1862 (except his known birthdate turned out to be incorrect). I also knew his parents had been born in Germany and that his father had died at the time of his birth due to a gruesome accident.1

I found only one tree on Ancestry that had names for his parents, Charles and Dorethea, but with no evidence given. Since they were German immigrants, I figured Charles’s name was more likely to be Carl. Also, Gusso is not a German name; I assumed it to be a phonetic variation on the original spelling. With this hint, and the possibility it was entirely incorrect, I began my search in the 1860 census for Milwaukee.

Gusso 002
A store in the German section of Milwaukee in the mid-19th century. (Milwaukee County Historical Society)

Going through the entire Milwaukee record page by page was out of the question. I decided to look for a Dorothea and Carl with a last name that sounded like Gusso. What happened was one of those research miracles that I could not have made up.

One likely record popped up in Ancestry: Dorethea Giese. Unfortunately, she was married to someone named Joachim. Not promising. I decided to go ahead and look at the digital image for the page. As I scanned it, I noticed a family three households above the Gieses. They were Carl Gazow, Dorothea, and four children!2

1860Gasow - WI-Milwaukee-Ward 6 img 58 - A 4-6-20
An index record for Dorethea Giese (red arrow) led me, quite improbably, to the Gazow family further up on the same census sheet.

If this was Charlie Gusso’s family, then I knew I would not find Carl in 1870. I needed to locate Dorothea and her children. When she was widowed, she had at least five young ones, so it seemed inevitable that she would have remarried. Instead of her, I focused on the eldest child: Carolina Gasow.

I found “Carolina Gaso,” along with her five siblings (two born since 1860), a half-brother, and Dorothea’s new husband, William John, in Rockland, Brown County, Wisconsin.3 I was fortunate the census taker had listed the children with their proper surname (even if spelled incorrectly).

When I found the John family in Codington County, South Dakota, in 1880 (minus the four oldest children), I was certain these had to be the right people (the two Gasow children were listed as John).4 I’d finally managed to “reunite” Charlie Gusso with his parents and siblings, even half-siblings!

All of Carl and Dorothea’s children shortened/Americanized their names. Carolina became Lena. Wilhelmina was Minnie. Johanna shortened to Anna, Heinrich became Henry, Emma – well she kept that, but changed her last name to Gusso, and Carl (Jr.) became Charlie. All but Lena and Anna converted the last name to Gusso. Only Charlie passed it on to descendants.

Minnie Gusso with her first child, Mabel Jackson. I’ve not yet been able to determine Mabel’s father. (Courtesy of J. Brooks)
GussoH1 and BerthaHoffman
Henry J. Gusso and his wife, Bertha Hoffman, wedding photo. They never had children, but reared Bertha’s niece and nephew after the death of Bertha’s sister. (Courtesy of Carole Hoffman)

Looking through Wisconsin marriage records I located Dorothea’s second marriage and eventually Lena’s and Anna’s marriages. These daughters used the spelling “Gassow” for their surname.5 Interestingly, William John was also a German immigrant, younger than Dorothea, and his given name was actually Wilhelm Heyse.6 I don’t know when he changed it.

St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, where they married, had a separate marriage record from the civil one giving me one of the four maiden names I eventually collected for Dorothea.7 I deemed this one the most likely: Groth.

One of the best things about doing these 52 Ancestors blogs is that I have to review my research. Sometimes, new hints have popped up since I last looked at these people in my Ancestry tree. There was one for daughter Johanna (Anna). It was her German baptism record. She was born just a month before the family boarded a ship in Hamburg to sail for America.

Charlie Gusso’s birth record stated his father was from someplace in Mecklenburg, but the place name did not come up in searches. There is a different place name on the ship manifest for their immigration. That also didn’t come up.

Finally, this baptismal record gave me a real place to pin down the Gaszow* family (as spelled in this record) on the map: Friedrichshagen, AG Grevesmühlen, Mecklenburg-Schwerin. It also gives both Carl’s and Dorothea’s full names. And yes, Dorothea’s maiden name is Groth.8

Map showing distribution of the Gazow name in Germany. My ancestors came from the area in yellow at the top.

I spent years piecing together all of Charlie Gusso’s siblings’ families, contacting “new” cousins along the way and collecting photographs. One of my Gusso cousins later found a letter written by my grandmother. It confirmed all the research I had done on the siblings, but said nothing of Charlie’s parents. That remains my discovery.


*As for the family surname, Gaszow, there happens to be a city in Poland spelled that way. It makes me wonder if it has something to do with the family origin. It’s an incredibly uncommon surname, with one site estimating that 17 people in the world have this name, 15 of them in Germany, 2 in the U.K.9

Feature image: Minnie Gusso Bodtker with her children. Mabel Jackson is standing at the back. The rest are all Bodtkers (Mabel also took the Bodtker name). Little Ada is the youngest, next to her mother. (Courtesy of J. Brooks)

  1. “The First 100 Years” in Codington County, South Dakota 1879 – 1979. 1979. Codington County History Book Committee. Watertown Public Opinion Print. “Charlie Gusso Family” p. 185. 
  2. Carl Gazow. Year: 1860; Census Place: Milwaukee Ward 6, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Page: 578; Family History Library Film: 805423 – via 
  3. William John. Year: 1870; Census Place: Rockland, Brown, Wisconsin; Roll: M593_1703; Page: 392B; Family History Library Film: 553202 – via 
  4. William John. Year: 1880; Census Place: Codington, Dakota Territory; Roll: 112; Page: 430D; Enumeration District: 050 – via 
  5. Caroline Gassow. Wisconsin, Marriage Index, 1820-1907 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2000. AND Johanne Gassow. Same database. 
  6. Dorothea Gasow. Wisconsin, Marriage Index, 1820-1907 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2000. 
  7. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 1864 Marriage book pages 260-261. 
  8. Johanna Sophia Elisabeth Groth [Gaszow]. Germany, Select Births and Baptisms, 1558-1898 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. Note: The Ancestry record references a Family Search database, but it turns out to be incorrect. It does give the film reel number, which is how I found the correct one. Unfortunately, it has not yet been digitized. I’m hoping it may eventually yield other records for the family. 

28 thoughts on “Reunited

Add yours

    1. I’m glad I was able to “patch” this family back together. It will help distant cousins find each other and their relationship to one another. Plus, we now have a site to research in the “old country.”

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I like how your years of research have come together. I knew that many times immigrants changed their names to something more English language sounding. I wonder how that’d mess with your sense of self: freeing or confusing?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You are right. The surname Gaszow almost certainly described someone from the town of Gaszow. In Europe, many surnames describe the town of the family’s origin. Examples in our are of Italy of such surnames include Ravina, Tretter, Kloz, Fondreist and many others.

    Liked by 1 person

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