Elizabeth Vinkheimer: When the Surname is Wrong

Edited 9/7/2020.

I and most of my Phalen family have had the name of Elizabeth Vinkheimer ingrained on our minds since we ran across an article posted in Hardesty’s West Virginia Counties: Monroe, Putnam, Tyler. This was published as part of a set of volumes by Jim Comstock of Richwood, WV about 1973. In it appears some history of Andrew Phalen of Putnam County.

It is my understanding that a distant relative wrote this and submitted it for publication when Comstock was gathering information for the West Virginia Encyclopedia. I appreciate it but at the same time, I’m rather mixed emotionally about the article. The main reason for that is because the name of Andrew Phalen’s wife is given as Elizabeth Vinkheimer. Like many amateur family genealogists, I got hung up on the name.

Let this be a lesson to you.

Although my focus is and has been my surnamed ancestors, the Vinkheimer name has for 30 years been a research nightmare. Not only are there none to few other Vinkheimers in the US in the records, there is no such place in all of Germany. I checked, thinking perhaps the person recording such things on paper upon an immigrant entering the country wrote a place name rather than a surname.

The marriage record for Andrew and Elizabeth spelled her surname something akin to “feuker.” Let’s face it, the Priest was a Frenchman trying to understand a thick German accent. I went through at least a dozen iterations of Feuker, including Fischer and Wonkmier.

This past summer, a cousin corresponded with me, asking if I would like a copy of some documents she had on the family history. Sure, yes, absolutely. Among these documents was the copy of the death record for Susanna Phalen Showen, the youngest daughter of Andrew Phalen and Elizabeth “Vinkheimer.” Bless my soul, Susanna’s husband, the informant, had provided his mother-in-law’s surname:


Death Record - Susanna Phalen Showen

It was over to familysearch.org and there it was, transcribed by the indexer as Elisabeth “Funkmeyer.”  If you view the document though you’ll find the name is spelled Finkmeijer, and no, this is not a transcribed document, its the real McCoy. And here are the details from that document. I would have posted it here but I couldn’t make it large enough for you to view.

Ship: Leontine
Elisabeth Finkmeijer (possibly Finkmeiyer)
Age: 24 years old
Occupation: Servant (servant of whom is not provided)
From: Lahne [sic]
To: New Orleans
Snipped - Bark Leontine
Note in the image above she is traveling with 3 males surnamed Lukhafer; the occupations are designated as either butcher or farmer. See the braces on the right of the fifth column? It shows that all of their possessions were packed together in 3 boxes and 1 bag. I searched the entire ship’s list and these folks are the only ones listed as being from Lahne – currently located in the country of Poland.
Fenkemeyer E - 1837 Bark Leontine

So, it’s important to pay attention to what other family researchers have told or written over the years, the legends, the names, and the places but it’s extremely important – I need to take my own advice – that you not adhere religiously to those stories: do your own research. While I may borrow clues from others, my data is not carved in stone and is subject to change, unless of course, I find documentation to back it up. And documentation is the be-all, end-all when it comes to genealogy, even the lack thereof can be used as proof.

Like Elisabeth Finkmeijer. That’s carved in stone because of the documented proof.

*By the way, the death record gives the place of burial as “Plymouth.” What you need to understand is that this is before Bancroft became the name of the town and Showen’s Hill Cemetery was, at that time, considered to be in Plymouth.

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