|Caroline Nunge and Frank Walleck with their children|
This line is a family called Walleck. Growing up I always believed they were Ellis Island immigrants. One of my ancestors who married a Walleck was an Ellis Island immigrant and that was fun to find. No, these Wallecks came from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and they arrived probably in the 1860s. As an adult I traced as much of them online as I could through census records, city directories and what not. Early census records showed them coming from "Bohemia."
My mother always talked about this family speaking German. I grew up believing that they were of German heritage. I heard the word Czech thrown around but I thought that was mostly in reference to my uncle was definitely Czech.
Well, this past weekend I got to spend some time with the Walleck side of my family. My uncle happens to be a family historian and has put much more effort into tracing these Wallecks than I have. In addition, he grew up in Pittsburgh with these family members and was exposed to the family history.
My uncle took out a paper napkin and started drawing the old time neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. He explained all the family groups, which neighborhood they were from and what their ethnic background was. There were three surnames that he discussed - Wallecks, Roemers and Nunges. Surprisingly, my uncle explained to me that the Wallecks were Czech. They lived up on the hill with the other Czechs (don't ask me which neighborhood that was at the moment). The Roemers were German. And the Nunges (my Ellis Island immigrants) came from Alsace-Lorraine.
The ethnic groups and the neighborhoods they lived in were critical for understanding their history and where they came from. Listening to my uncle, I realized, was also pretty critical for me to understand where they came from.
If I hadn't taken the time to listen to my uncle at that moment, I may have been left with erroneous ideas about my Pittsburgh ancestors.
I think the time has come for me to stop ignoring my difficult, ethnic ancestors and start getting some of this down on paper. If I collect as much as possible now from my uncle, perhaps I will slowly be able to work through verifying the information and learning the particular local history behind Pittsburgh and Allegheny City. Maybe I'll even become brave enough to try to track them back across the sea to Europe.
Thank goodness I made this realization before it was too late. While oral history is not the whole story of any family history, the information passed down from your family members can be critical to understanding your ancestry. The stories could mean the difference between having the right information to get started versus no information at all.
If you have any older family members that you can talk to about your family history, get started now. Don't wait for when it's too late.