I've just started doing genealogical work again after a gap of 25 years (and I'm having a ball :-). One subject I'm especially focusing on is my wife's gg-gfather, Leopold Joseph Balza (c1831-1913), who emigrated from Belgium to Wisconsin in 1857, married Mary Catherine Delsipee, and had two daughters, Emerence and Clementine (my wife's g-gmother). I've been especially interested in determining for sure who Leopold's parents were.
One reason for my special interest in Leopold Balza is the fact that he was my first "big find", when I came across his very rich Civil War pension file in about 1976. I'm embarassed that I didn't milk this pension file for all its information until just now, almost 30 years later. It wasn't until Mary Ann Defnet sent me some marriage records recently that I made the mental connection. I'll try to do better in the future. :-)
I've seen a number of people puzzled about who Leopold's parents were, and several folks who have confused him with another Leopold Joseph Balza who never emigrated from Belgium and who married Virginia Bero. That Leopold's father was Jean Joseph Balza. My wife's family has known that Leopold's father was named John/Jean, and that August Balza was another son of John, but not much more, as far as I can tell. Now that I've been studying his pension file again, it seems pretty clear who his parents were.
Leopold's pension file is interesting because there appears to have been considerable question about whether or not he sustained a debilitating foot injury while participating in Sherman's march to the sea (Co. G, 18th Wisconsin). That caused the pension investigators to collect a number of depositions, and they're rather interesting. They actually took 15 years to approve the pension application, just a year before he died.
Leopold's own sister (the key to my little discovery) gave a deposition in which she seemed not to believe him, though she apparently didn't even know he was missing a toe. That sister was Marie Therese Balza, who married John Baptiste Counard, also a deponent in the pension case. In her deposition, she clearly identifies herself as Leopold Balza's
From the Door Co. marriage records, it's clear that Marie Therese Balza's parents were Jean Baptiste Balza (1809-b1867) and his wife Mary Catherine. This almost certainly makes them Leopold Balza's parents, as well, though I plan to devote some attention to the question of whether either of these likely parents might have had multiple marriages. In a
modern setting, I would expect Marie Therese Counard to have said she was Leopold's half-sister in this case, but there might be cultural differences involved here.
There are several additional factors that lend a bit of credence to this interpretation:
1. Thanks to the Declaration of Intention work of Mary Ann Defnet, we know that Jean Baptiste Balza and Leopold Balza both arrived at the Port of Green Bay in June of 1857 (as did some of the Delsipees). I haven't found them in any ship passenger lists yet, but I believe there are still some to be transcribed. My guess is that they travelled together. I haven't found Leopold Balza in the 1860 census, though I've looked entirely through Door, Kewaunee, and Brown Counties. He was old enough to be away from his parents, so it's no surprise not to find him with his parents (Brussel, Door Co., dwelling #450).
2. In the 1870 census, Leopold Balza (Gardner, Door Co., dwelling 38) was the "next door" neighbor of John Baptiste Counard and Marie Theresa Balza (dwelling 37).
3. When Leopold Balza purchased a farm in 1870 (NW/4 NE/4 30-27N-24E), he took land in the same township as Jean Baptiste Balza's 1860 farm (8-27N-24E), though it was still about three miles away. (As an aside, in 1883 Jean Baptiste Counard took land less than a mile from Leopold's
original farm (SW/4 SE/4 32-27N-27E), though Leopold had apparently moved by then.)
If anyone can see any flaws in my reasoning here, or can shed any additional light on these matters, I would very much like to hear from you (here on the Door Co. message board, if that seems appropriate to you, or directly).
Based on the above considerations, I'm now studying the family of Jean Baptiste Counard and Marie Therese Balza. I started at Ron Flemal's PenBelGen website, which is extremely useful, especially because of its source citations. It often raises as many questions as it answers, however, and this is one of those cases.
It seems clear that Jean Baptiste Counard had at least the seven children listed there (Julian c. 1860, Clarence c. 1862, Josephine c. 1864, Marie 1868, Mathilda c. 1872, Merance c 1875, Emma c. 1880), as verified by the census records of 1870, 1880, and 1890. However, the first three of these were presumably by another wife, as he didn't marry Marie Therese Balza until 29 Sep 1867. He was also 12 years older than she was (she was 22 at marriage). So far, I haven't yet found anything to indicate who the first wife was, though the birth dates of the first three children would suggest they likely married after he immigrated in 1857. Does anyone know the identity of Jean Baptiste Counard's first wife?
I'll also be studying Aurelie (Orlie) Balza (m. Julian Corbisier, 13 Apr 1868), another daughter of Jean Baptiste Balza and, I believe, another sister of Leopold.
Any help, pointers to information, or criticism of my reasoning or conclusions is welcome. :-)