Friday, August 17, 2007

A Genealogue Challenge

Someone posted at WFMU's Beware of the Blog the audio from a cassette tape found at a Goodwill store in Toledo, Ohio. It's a recording of a college student's 1978 interview with a 100-year-old woman. The second half of the interview gives a little more genealogical info, but see if you can figure out her identity with only these early clues:

  • Though not explicitly stated, it's apparent that she never married.
  • Her family came from New York and settled in Newton, Kansas, where she still lived in 1978.
  • Her father emigrated from Germany as a young man.
Based on these clues, I was able to figure out who she was using one free online resource and HeritageQuest Online census records. I didn't hear her last name mentioned on the tape, but her first name and the first names of her mother and siblings are given on the flip side, and they confirmed my hunch.

The first person to post the correct answer as a comment wins my undying admiration.

Randy C

Florence R. Bessmer, Father: John George Bessmer,

Only had a few mins this morning to research but, I had limited choices at Heritage Quest, so I'm pretty confident.


I think it's Florence Bessmer, who had a brother in the 1930 census, Charles W. According to the SSDI, she was born 20 Feb 1878 and died in June 1982!

Thanks for the fun challenge!


Is it FLORENCE BESSMER? Do I win underlying admiration?


Florence Bessmer


Florence Bessmer?


Five correct answers! Fortunately, I have plenty of undying admiration lying around the house.

Florence went blind in one eye, then the other, was flooded out of her home in 1965, and had to care for her ill siblings, but found time to make some serious cash in the stock market. Enough cash to establish The Florence Bessmer Foundation in 1979, which funded an addition to the Newton Public Library and still provides for library services for kids. They celebrate her birthday each year in the Bessmer Meeting Room.

Thanks for playing!

Craig Manson

I find Florence Bessmer, daughter of John G. and Rosina Bessmer; sister of Charles W. Bessmer. Much fun--thanks, Chris!

[Now I see the others reached the same conclusion!]


I guess that, for the sake of any newbies reading this, we should explain how it was done.

I first searched in the SSDI for women who were born in 1877 or 1878, whose last residence was Newton, Kansas, who died in 1978 or later. I then searched the 1920 census for women in their 40s living in Harvey County, Kansas, who were born in New York. Florence Bessmer was the first name that popped up, and the only name that also appeared in the SSDI.

The Bessmer family's census entries in 1900 and 1910 confirmed the identification.


Rosena Floreta Bessmer, born Feb 1878; 1880 (Beesemer) Fremont, Sullivan, New York, Flora in the census. Teacher changed her name to Florence. Father: George/John; Mother: Rosena; Siblings: Mary Elizabeth, John, Louise, Charles, Nora. Father immigrated 1853 from Germany. 1900: (Bessmer) Emma, Harvey, Kansas; 1910/1920/1930: (Bessmer) Newton, Harvey, Kansas. She was blind.


While this blog challenge is several years old I just stumbled on it. Florence is my 1st cousin 3x removed.

Thank you for the information concerning the tape and all the good sleuthing.

Florence's mother Rosina Kautz was b Sep 1850 in Sullivan County, NY and was the grand daughter of George and Maria Ethel Kautz who died in Marion County, Ohio.

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