Friday, January 30, 2009

The Backer Family

In my previous post on the Frank Family, I noted how there are few living Frank descendants in America. But this does not mean we do not have many relatives. The Frank family has always been closely tied to the Backer family of Fulton, Callaway County, Missouri. Jacob Frank married into the larger Backer family, which came over from Burbach, Prussia in 1854.

Katherine came to Fulton with her father, two uncles - John Henry and Phillip Henry, their wives and their many children. At least 15 Backers immigrated together. The family was Lutheran, but after they immigrated, most of the family attended the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Fulton.

Location of Burbach in North Rhein-Westphalia, Germany

Burbach Coat of Arms
Katherine's father was born Johann Engelberth Becker (the name Backer is actually an Anglicization of the name Becker) in Burbach, Prussia, which is today in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhein Westphalia). At the time of their immigration, Burbach was part of the Prussian empire. Before that it was part of the Duchy of Nassau. I have been able to trace the Becker family back to Arnoldus Becker, born about 1690 in Burbach.

After moving their families to Fulton, the three Backer brothers started farms. Katherine lived on a farm with her father Engle, and her stepmother, Julianne (Katherine's mother died in childbirth in Germany), three brothers, a sister, and six step brothers and sisters. Though they started as farmers in Fulton, most of the family did not remain farmers. "Becker" means baker in German, which was in fact exactly what the Becker/Backer family did. Some of the Backer children went into business as bakers in the town of Fulton, a business which the Frank family eventually joined. The family has flourished in running businesses of all kinds, including blacksmiths, teamsters(truckers in the horse and buggy days), grocers, and tailors.

Today there are a number of Backers still in the Fulton area. In fact, at least one very prominent business bears the family name, the Backer Potato Chip Co. The Backer family also founded one of Fulton's chief tourist attractions, the Backer Auto World Museum, an impressive collection of antique automobiles displayed in a period setting.
Backer Potato Chips

Unfortunately I do not have extensive documentation for the Backer family in Germany. Most of my information is courtesy Mildred Miller, a Backer genealogist in Mexico MO but did not include the original records.  A lot of the transcribed records can now found at, a website with databases of church and civil records of baptisms, births and deaths in many European countries. Eventually I plan to order the microfilm of the original records and will post copies of the records once I get them. Until then, here are some other links regarding the Backers and Burbach that you might find interesting:

Ancestry Tree for Katharine Elizabeth Backer (PDF)

Descendants of Arnoldus Becker (PDF)

Burbach, North Rhein-Westphalia on Wikipedia

Burbach Homepage (Google Translation)

Obituary of Bill Backer, president of Backer Potato Chip Co. and founder of the Backer Auto World Museum, Fulton, Mo.

Backer Potato Chip Co.

Backer Auto World Museum

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Familiar Face

As I mentioned in my previous post on the Frank family, the family is very small. There are few living descendants with the last name Frank outside my immediate family. Here is one of the closest relatives I've found so far. The following obituary came to me courtesy of Phyllis Dixon of Fulton, Mo., who keeps a collection of Callaway County obituaries. This man, John Walker Frank, was a generation older than my grandfather. Yet looking at his picture, I would say they could be brothers.
John Walker Frank was a very well known member of the community in Fulton, serving as a deacon at his church, President of his lumber company, and on the board of directors of several associations. It is even possible that my grandfather knew him. My grandfather, Forrest Jr., served in elected office as the city collector in Fulton for a time, though I am not sure when. If he held this position before the war, then it is likely he knew John Walker Frank, as he was a city councilman at that time.
You can right click on the obituary to zoom in if you would like to read the text better. The second obituary is for his wife.

Frank Obituaries

Monday, January 26, 2009


On the left-hand side of this page you'll see links to my trees on This is where I do the bulk of my genealogy research. can be annoying because it will constantly bug you to sign up when you go to view links. So I thought I would create a generic account for the family to use.

You can access any of the trees using the following account:

Login: Rootsandall
Pass: frankfamily

My family trees on
Frank/Dickson/Beasley/Harrison Family Tree

Sullivan/Hickey/Gruenewald Family Tree

Ebelhar Family Tree

The site can be a bit hard to navigate, so here are a few tips:

When you first click the link, you are taken to the Overview, which shows recently added photos and stores as well as other statistics. The best way to start is to pick a person and go to their specific page. In the upper right hand side of the page is a search box. Type a name in there (i.e., "Forrest Frank") and it will instantly give you search results. You can also just search by last name or part of a name. Select a person and it will take you to their personal details page. This lists all the events in their life as well as their relations.

There are two ways to navigate to other people from here. On the left are the person's parents and children. Clicking on one of them will take you to their page. There is also a small + below the parents that you can click to go directly to siblings.

You can also navigate by clicking on the 'Family Tree' tab just above the person's name. This will give you a visual of the tree going back 5 generations when possible, a useful way to see your own ancestors. Click on different people in the tree will move you up or down the tree. To get back to the personal details screen for a person, click on that person and then click the 'People' tab.

Finally, you will often see a little leaf icon notifying you that hints are available for the person you are viewing. You can only access these hints (as well as the results of searches) if you have a paid account. However, you can see the hints I've already attached to people. On the left hand side of the person's details page will be links to census forms and other data. You can click on these to read the details or see a scan of the original document when available.

I hope that is not too confusing. I can help anyone having problems using the website, just email me or leave me a comment and I will be happy to help.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Frank Family

I started my current genealogy research in the hope of finding clues as to the origin of my surname, a side of the family largely neglected in prior genealogy research. I started my research by talking to my grandfather, Forrest F. Frank Junior. Forrest was largely raised by his mother and stepfather, and did not keep in contact with much of the Frank family. He did however know his grandparents' names, and that was enough for me to start my research.

Grave of Jacob and Katherine Frank in Hillcrest Cemetary, Fulton, Mo.

The Frank family story starts with Jacob Frank, an immigrant from Hammelburg, Bavaria. Hammelburg is a small town in northern Bavaria on the Saale river, well known in Germany for its wineries and the nearby Rhön nature preserve. In America, Hammelburg is best known as the location of several POW camps during WWII. It is also the setting for the fictional POW camp in the sitcom Hogan's Heroes.

I do not have information about Jacob's parents or his life in Hammelburg. I know that in 1852 he emigrated to the United States, settling in Fulton, Callaway County, Missouri, where a small German community was formed the First Presbyterian Church in the early 1850's. Two years later, the Backers, a large Prussian family of merchants and bakers (Backer means Baker) moved to the area and began attending the same church. It was then that he met Katherine Backer, his future wife. The two were married on July 29, 1857 in Fulton. I will post more about the Backer family in later posts.

Jacob and Katherine started a family during tumultuous times. In the late 1850's tensions between the northern and southern states were rising. These tensions were felt especially in Callaway county. Missouri was a split state, with northern abolitionists settling parts of the state and slave owners from the south settling others. While Missouri was a slave state, it actually had few slave owners. Almost all the slave owners were concentrated in an area called "Little Dixie" along the Missouri River in central Missouri where a large number of families from Virginia and North Carolina had settled between 1820 and 1850. Callaway county lies at the heart of this area.

When war broke out in 1861 and the Missouri government voted to remain in the Union, Callaway county famously tried to secede from the state and proclaim itself the Kingdom of Callaway county. In response to the strong anti-Union sentiment in the area, the state set up several volunteer militia regiments to guard against attacks by Confederate sympathizers. On April 19, 1862, Jacob Frank enlisted with the 9th Calvary Regiment State Militia Volunteers. The Regiment remained for the most part in the central Missouri area, and saw action in a number of small skirmishes against guerrilla Confederate troops and sympathizers seeking to sabotage railroads and roads.

Jacob was one of the rare few soldiers in the Civil War who made it through the war without injury or illness. He was discharged on April 21, 1865 and returned home. However, a few months later he was again summoned to service. Although the war was over, gangs of Confederate sympathizers known as "Bushwackers" still plagued central Missouri. One of the gangs operating in the area eventually became known as the James-Younger gang (Jesse James' gang). Jacob re-enrolled under command of Lt. William H. Thomas in the Callaway County Volunteer Militia on July 5, 1865 and served off and on as needed to protect the countryside from Bushwackers.

After the war Jacob remained in Fulton. He worked for the next few decades in a local coal mine. Eventually as his health began to fail him, he took a less demanding job. On the 1900 census his job title was listed as "Market Gardener." He and Katherine lived on Market St., so it is possible that he worked as a caretaker at a nearby municipal park or garden.

Jacob and Katherine had nine children, 5 girls and 4 boys, all of whom lived to adulthood and married. For the most part their children married the children of other German immigrants, and stayed in Fulton. Their son Charles Henry "Charley" Frank is my g-g-grandfather.

Beulah, Charley, Forrest, Emma, Melvin and Effie Frank.

Charley Frank was born in 1865 in Fulton. He married Emma Weimeyer of Franklin county on 24 Sep 1890. Charley worked for the Backer family's grocery and bakery. He and Emma had four children, Effie, Melvin, Forrest, and Beulah. Effie married Poole Harrison from Mexico, Mo., and moved to the Chicago area, where the couple owned a chain of gas stations. The couple became quite rich but never had children. Melvin followed his father into the family business, eventually becoming co-owner of the Frank & Backer bakery. Melvin married Louise Humbrook, and they had one daughter, Marcella, who married Harry Johnson, and currently lives just north of Kingdom City. Beulah married a distant cousin, Frank Backer, who worked as a car salesman. They had two sons, Homer and Howard Backer. Howard lives in Los Angeles and Homer lives in Florida.

My great-grandfather, Forrest Sr. was born on October 27, 1896. He married Lela Harrison around 1918. They had one child, my grandfather, Forrest Jr. For the next few years, Forrest Sr. worked as a laundry truck driver in Fulton. He and Lela divorced around 1930, and Forrest Sr. moved to northern Indiana, where he managed a gas station owned by his brother-in-law Poole Harrison. Around 1945 he moved back to Fulton where he worked as a salesman at a department store. He died in 1953 at his son's house in St. Ann, Missouri. His death certificate lists the cause of death as stomach cancer.

The Frank family is a small family, with few living descendants today. Unlike the farmer families common on other branches of my family, who often had 10+ children, the Franks were city dwellers and often had two working spouses and little time for children. My research indicates that the only living descendants with the Frank last name are my grandfather and his family, of which only myself and my cousin James might still carry on the family name.

Below are documents related to the Frank family, including the military service record of Jacob Frank, census data sheets, and death certificates for my direct ancestors. I have also created a descendants chart that traces all the generations descended from Jacob Frank. It contains much more detailed information on the family.

Descendants of Jacob Frank
-- A 'register report' style list of all the Frank relatives I have found so far.

Jacob & Katherine:
Charley & Emma:
Forrest Sr.:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Digging for Roots

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today.

-- Inaugural Address of President Barack Obama, January 20, 2009.

Hello and Welcome!

The above quote pretty much sums up why I am interested in genealogy. The stories of our ancestors make us who we are today. Their life stories, both famous and obscure, rich and poor, remind us of the significance each life has on the rest of the world.

I have created this blog in order to keep my family updated on the findings of my genealogy research. Most of the posts will be updates on research into particular family lines. I will post updates and interesting stories I find on the families I am researching. Along the way I will also post on other subjects related to genealogy. I am especially interested in efforts to digitize ancient records and make them accessible to the public. I will post on these efforts as well as tips on the resources available on the internet that I have found most helpful in my searches.

Here are the main family names I will am researching:

My father's family:
  • Frank
  • Dickson
  • Beasley
  • Backer
  • Shelton
My father's family is from Callaway County, Missouri.

My mother's family:
  • Sullivan
  • Hickey
  • Gruenewald
My mother's family is from the St. Louis, Missouri area.

My wife's father's family:
  • Roberts
  • Westerfield

My wife's mother's family:
  • Ebelhar
  • Riney
My wife's family is from Daviess County, Kentucky.

You can keep up to date on my findings for all of these families by subscribing to this blog's rss feed. Thanks for visiting, and I wish you the best of luck in your own searches.