Sep 14 2013

Missing Branches

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Once upon a time – I think it was 2006 – I was procrastinating taking a break from work and decided to Google my name, just to see which of my freelance articles would pop up. The usual suspects were revealed: articles from ASU Research Magazine, alumni publications, local Phoenix magazines. But one hit caught my attention: a Melissa Crytzer from Kittanning, PA – not from my native Greenville, PA – and the added bonus… an included email address regarding her upcoming class reunion.

OK- back in 2006, social media and blogs would not have been the first thing to pop up under my name. Honestly. It would have been my freelance work!

From my then-Phoenix office, and without thinking, I shot off a quick email: “I’m a Melissa Crytzer, too. We might be related.” I laughed at the absurdity of my correspondence and thought nothing of it, until I heard back from the woman who shared my name – though by now she was Melissa Schaeffer.

Fast-forward to 2010, my trek back to Pennsylvania for a Girls’ Week getaway – and a trip to visit “Cousin Melissa.”

Could this area of Troy Hill, near Kittanning, be the birthplace of my ancestors? Click to enlarge.

My immediate family had long heard rumors that the Crytzers originated in Kittanning, northeast of Pittsburgh, even though my great grandparents and grandparents hailed from nearby Ohio. Melissa wrote back, telling me that her Uncle Ron had mapped out the family tree back to the 1800s, but was missing one branch … from Ohio.

Yes, my father’s family was the missing branch Uncle Ron had been searching for (Uncle Ron’s grandfather and my great grandfather were brothers, if you can believe this crazy story of Internet fate). You can imagine how excited I was to share the news with my Dad that we were going to meet Melissa and Uncle Ron, who invited us to tour the Kittanning area.

This is one of the many homes on Troy Hill originally constructed by the Crytzer Clan. This home was built, owned and occupied by my great, great, great grandfather, Harrison Crytzer. Click to enlarge.

We learned so much fascinating family history from Uncle Ron. I was intrigued about the metamorphosis of the spelling of our last name (rarely consistent due to Census recording, phonetic spelling during the time period, and a general lack of interest in correct surname spelling). Our family tree includes Krytzer, Critsor, Critzor, and finally … Crytzer)

We visited the cemetery near Troy Hill and found Nancy Critsor 1800-1878, wife of David Critsor, who would be my great-great-great-great grandfather (I think!).

We also learned that John Critsor, son of Nancy and David, above, fought in the Civil War, but returned home, while a relative of the SAME name (John Kritzer) was a Civil War POW and died in captivity of a saber wound to the head.

Aside from meeting flesh-and-blood family members for the first time, I learned that ours is a family of war veterans – Revolutionary War, Civil War, Korean War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam – and a family of settlers, landowners, laborers, farmers, coal diggers, carpenters, factory workers, business operators and police chiefs. I now also have the family crest and learned that, at one point, a settlement was named Crytzerville near Kittanning in the 1800s.

I’m proud of my family heritage (and have fallen in love with my long-lost relatives. Thanks, Uncle Ron, for doing all the legwork on the family tree. Thanks, Melissa, for responding to my crazy email and entertaining my first visit).

I will continue to dig, because rumor has it that my great grandmother, who married Great Grandpa David Crytzer (maiden name Clever) – also from the Kittanning area – is of Native American descent. Thanks to my most recent trip back to Kittanning, I know right where to go: the Armstrong County Historical Museum and Genealogical Society, where I photographed uncanny – ghostly? – images that may or may not speak to other historical events, these dating back to the 1700s. (If you haven’t checked out that post, I’d love you to weigh in).

The moral(s) of the story: sometimes it’s just nice to know where you come from. And sometimes, a bit of Internet procrastination can lead you back home.

For Writers: What does family mean to you? Is it more than a shared surname? Do you have a reliable family tree? Have you ever tried to find out where you came from? What did you learn? What resources did you use?

For Readers: Do you gravitate toward books with historical settings or significance? How far back in time does a book need to be for you to consider it “historical”? Can you think of any novels you read where genealogy or family trees were important?


22 Responses to “Missing Branches”

  • avatar Donna Says:

    What an awesome story! I bet all of you were thrilled to find each other. My immediate family (husband, kids, parents, siblings) makes me feel complete. There is nothing more important to me. I’d put up a mean fight to protect them. I do feel a connection with extended family even though I might not know them very well. Hubby and I both have tried tracing our roots back as far as we can. He had more luck than I. We used ancestry.com which proved to be a very helpful source.

    I have hesitated to respond to your last post because I – for the life of me – am having a difficult time seeing what you and most others see. I see St. Nick. I know, I know. Crazy. But the staff y’all see is his striped candy cane. The white area that runs vertically down the front is the fur on his red robe. The white at top center is his beard. You know the frustration when there is an optical illusion and you can’t find the “picture” you are supposed to see? That’s how it is for me trying to find Tewea. I will keep looking, though, because I don’t feel Santa would be peering in that window just yet. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    You are the fierce Mama Grizzly, protector of her young, Donna (and I’d love to have you on my side).

    I’ve always been interested in Ancestry.com, but when I found Uncle Ron (who did it the HARD way – no Internet, using court records, history books, newspapers, deeds, etc), I realized I didn’t have to.

    And don’t fret about the image of Tewea. You will be interested to know that the very FIRST thing I saw in the non-zoomed photo was what I also thought looked like a St. Nick character (or a large elf) – ha ha. SO…. not crazy at all. I didn’t see Tewea until I zoomed in, and WOO did it hit me! We all bring different perspectives to the table, don’t we? But St. Nick WILL be peeking in windows soon.

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    I’m pretty jealous of your long family tree and all the information you discovered (I can only trace back one two generations!). I love digging around on Ancestry.com but haven’t ever been able to find much…many recent immigrants in my family. So you’re so lucky! And you’ve found such interesting things, too. Can’t wait to hear more! And I love the different spellings of your name!

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    Melissa Reply:

    For the longest time, I thought our family was like yours – recently immigrated, because I had NO clue. What’s more, I never knew if our ancestry was German, as I suspected, or something else (confirmed by Uncle Ron: German, as evidenced by the German coat of arms and large German population in Kittanning). Yes, it’s been terribly exciting. I’d LOVE to take the research all the way back to Germany to find existing kin still there, but wouldn’t know WHERE or HOW to begin.

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  • avatar Jackie Cangro Says:

    It’s so exciting that you got to connect the two sides of your family. I find the stories behind the names and dates really interesting. Of course as writers, that’s what we do!

    Amazing that you can trace your ancestors in this country to pre-Revolutionary War! Do you know when they first arrived in the US from Germany?

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    Melissa Reply:

    I don’t know when they first arrived in the U.S., and I’d LOVE to find the answer to that question!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    How interesting! So neat that you found people you are related to that you didn’t know existed. You’re outgoing and adventuresome, Melissa, nice traits in a human being.
    My maiden name is Vermette. Not many around, but I did see a few in the phone books back East and always wished I could get up the nerve to call and find out if any were related. Once I was standing in line at the pharmacy in N.H. and when it was my turn to step up and sign in for my script, I saw the woman right before me had signed her last name as Vermette. I ran out after her, but she’d already gone, and the pharmacy wouldn’t give me her address or phone number or anything else. I wish I had known so I could have spoken with her in line!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Wow. Your maiden name IS unique; I’ve never heard it. Dutch? I’m so sad for you that you weren’t able to make that connection — and how uncanny that you were next in line to another Vermette. What were the chances? I hate those missed opportunities.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Holy Toledo – that’s A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

    (and enough material for a book right there)…

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, the more I learn, the more the wheels turn!

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    This is so fascinating, Melissa. I’m so thrilled for you that you were able to find that missing branch! It must be amazing to be able to fill in the blanks of the past like that.

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    Melissa Reply:

    And of course, as I fill in those blanks, story ideas are cropping up. This is a win-win-win!

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Wow! What a story and what a journey! I have always loved the idea of connecting with the longer branches of my family tree. I know what states they are in but that’s about it. You’re an inspiration, my dear, for me to dig deeper. (I am crazy about that house picture, btw–the overgrown setting and the way you’ve composed it tells such a story in itself!)

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    Melissa Reply:

    Funny you should mention relatives in other states. After finding Uncle Ron, my dad and I discovered relatives from in Texas as well (and I had fun corresponding with them, too).

    And the house picture: it’s one of my all-time favorites! Did you notice the saplings growing in the gutters? I’ve been looking for the best way to incorporate that house into my fiction. And dang it, I’ll find one! I’m getting warmer! 😉

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    What a fantastic story, Melissa; I love how you sent an email to a complete stranger. It reminds me of something I would have done. And look how it turned out! Book material!!!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, I could see you doing the same thing! And – oh YES … book material is golden, isn’t it?

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    How very cool. I’ve never been one to dig for a more extended family tree, but after reading your story I can definitely see the appeal. I love that you found them by accident, and that they were so receptive of you. Great story!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I don’t know if it is an age thing, but the older I get, the more interested I become in ALL kinds of history. There is so much to be learned from the past!

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  • avatar Jessica Vealitzek Says:

    I am in love with genealogy. I had a subscription to ancestry.com last year and I’m going to renew it…it’s time consuming but also addictive. I found out one side of my family came from Virginia and own slaves; another side went to Canada at some point, and one of the boys traveled back to New York the moment he turned 18 to enlist for the North in the Civil War and served under Grant. This stuff is FUN.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I can imagine just how addictive Ancestry.com is. WOW – what you discovered is absolutely fabulous. You’re making me curious to get online and see if I can add to Uncle Ron’s research.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    I love this kind of family research and turning up new info. And yay for internet procrastination that actually ends up in something productive!! 🙂

    What a cool story!

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  • avatar alan david crytzer Says:

    Hello Mellissa,My name is Alan Crytzer.I am from Warren Ohio.My Dad`s name was David Crytzer JR.,and his Dad`s name David Frederick Crytzer,he was my grandfather on my Dad`s side of the family which was the Crytzer.I have most of the info on us Crytzer`s family on my Dad`s side.He was born in Niles Ohio and I remembering going to visit my Dad`s father David Frederick Crytzer back in the 60`s.I am 59 years old myself.It is always interesting and fun to learn of my family`s past ancestors.Thank You for letting me know there are more of us out there as a lot of us on the Crytzer side have passed away most at an early age.Take care.Alan Crytzer

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