Month: September 2013

Grampy Otto

I have a few overriding memories of my grampy.

The first is that of his sneezes – they came from nowhere and rocked the room, scaring the bejesus out of me as a child.

The second is of my gran calling him “Frizzel” – a term of endearment created from his surname.

As mentioned in a previous post, I grew up knowing that he was German and had been a POW – which is how he’d met my grandmother. I also knew that his family were from what was the German Democratic Republic from 1949 to 1990 so communication was … limited.

I never asked him about his childhood in Germany, where he was from or what he did in WWII. One of the many regrets that haunt the background of genealogy. “I should’ve asked … Why didn’t I … If only …”

I do have a few bits and pieces, from here and there, that I’m going to share.

As previously mentioned, I had ordered a copy of Otto and Eva’s marriage certificate, and this showed his father was Laudislaus Frysol, a Parish Nightwatchman.

Erich Otto Frysol

Erich Otto Frysol

One of my uncles has Otto’s Reichspass, and from there I was able to add to what I know.

Erich Otto Frysol was born on 01 March 1921 in Paproc, Poland. Had he been born three years earlier, he would’ve been a subject of the Prussian Province of Posen. It wasn’t until the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 that the area came back under Polish control, and the final borders of Poland weren’t ratified until 1921. Germany once again invaded Poland in September 1939, and he became a subject of the Third Reich.

Two younger sisters were born – presumably also in Paproc: Luise Elfride Gisela Frysol in 1925 and Martha Luise Frysol in 1933.

I wrote to a niece of Otto, a daughter of his sister Martha (known as Luise – Luise was known as Gisela), who confirmed that their parents were Ladislas Frysol and Anna Gleissner. Ladislas was one of four children, and Anna had 11 siblings. She was also able to give me the names and details of her own branch of the family. The elder sister married an older man but never had children of her own.

Descendant Chart for Ladislas Frysol

Descendant Chart for Ladislas Frysol

Knowing that Otto had been a POW in England during WWII, in 2008 I wrote to the International Committee of the Red Cross, asking for their assistance. Unfortunately they didn’t have anything in their files, but suggested I contact the Deutsche Dienstelle (WASt) in Berlin.

They maintain the records of members of the former German armed forces who were killed in action. Formerly called the Wehrmachtsauskunftstelle (WASt) this agency also provides information about the fate of foreign and German soldiers as well as prisoners of war in Germany.

I received a letter back, stating that they had information regarding his military career in the Navy.

Service Period: 15 February 1943 – 08 May 1945 (date of German surrender)

For the first 3 months, he was a recruit, at first in Buxtehude, Lower Saxony, and then at the garrison in Husum, Nord-Friesland. This was for the 2 and then 18. Schiffsstammabteiling (essentially personnel training and depot units, recruits received their basic military and nautical training).

06 May 1943 – 15 August 1943 – Training for the Stützpunktabteilung (“Base Department”) in Cuxhaven, at the mouth of the Elbe River.

16 August 1943 – 26 November 1943 – Harbour Protection Flotilla Gironde. The object of the flotilla was to monitor and secure the coastal zone , such as mine clearance , outpost and escort duties. From mid- 1943, the existing port protection flotillas were resolved to saving personnel.

27 November 1943 – 28 February 1944 – Transferred to “Headquarters Company” in Paris, Personalbereitstellung ‘Porterage Service’.

29 February 1944 – 08 May 1945 – Hafenkommandant St Malo bzw Festung Kanalinseln – which I think (well, Google thinks) translates as “Port Commander St Malo or Fortress Channel Islands”.

Looking at the awards he received, there are two.

The first has no date marked, but was received for: “War Badge for mine detection, U-boat-hunting and security associations”. The second was received on 23 August 1944 and was the Wound Badge (Black).

German Wound Badge in Black

German Wound Badge in Black

These were awarded when a member of the German Armed Forces was either frostbitten in the line of duty or wounded by enemy action. The badge had three classes: black (3rd class, representing Iron), for those wounded once or twice by hostile action (including air raids), or frostbitten in the line of duty; silver (2nd class) for being wounded three or four times, or suffering loss of a hand, foot or eye from hostile action (also partial loss of hearing), facial disfigurement or brain damage via hostile action; and in gold (1st class, which could be awarded posthumously) for five or more times wounded, total blindness, “loss of manhood”, or severe brain damage via hostile action.

Family lore has it that Otto was wounded whilst in St Malo. Given the dates, it would appear that he was not wounded in the battle for the liberation of St Malo, which was completed on 18 August 1944, but may have been located on Ile Cézembre – a fortified island off of St Malo that was part of the Atlantic Wall. It was heavily bombarded by land artillery, naval artillery, and air strikes, including some of the first uses of napalm bombs. The island eventually capitulated on 2 September 1944.

The letter ends by saying:

Your grandfather became on 08 May, 1945 in British captivity, from which he was released on 31 December, 1948.

Was he captured in St Malo? The date of his Wound Badge seem to indicate he was around that area at the time of the Normandy invasion, and the number of German POWs in the UK increased dramatically at this time, or was he not taken until the end of the war, as the letter seems to infer? Difficult to say for sure either way.

I do know that he was one of the over 400,000 German POWs held in Britain by 1946, and one of the 170,000 POWs undertaking agricultural work. It was through this work, working on farms in Wiltshire, that he first met my grandmother, Eva.

Following the end of the war:

“… many prisoners were soon on their way back home but a programme of re-education was devised to supposedly prepare the prisoners for a new life in a different Germany. The full horrors of the Holocaust were put on show and one prisoner who was at the time a hard-line Nazi remembers that many of his comrades did not believe that the Holocaust had taken place,  thinking it was British propaganda designed to shame the German people even more. This process of re-education determined whether a prisoner would be sent home early or not and interviews took place to determine the prisoners attitude. Many who at first showed contempt for the British realised that the war was now over and the only way to secure their release was to change their attitude. Many did and the first repatriations took place in 1946. Some were less flexible however and at these interviews (which took place every six months) would show their loyalty to the Nazi regime by marching in to the interrogation room and giving a Nazi salute to the British officer present which would mean a further six months in captivity.”

The last prisoner repatriations took place in 1949 but approximately 25,000 prisoners decided to stay in Britain where they became known as “DPs” or displaced persons. Others married local girls and stayed in Britain.

Otto and Young Veronica, Easton Royal

Otto and Young Veronica, Easton Royal

Whatever his reasons, Otto also remained in Britain and married Eva in 1953.

Do I wish he and I could have spoken about what had happened to him? Yes.

Do I understand why we didn’t? Definitely.

I’d still like to know more about the Frysol family. The only extant ones with that spelling I can find in records online are all my family. One of the items on my genealogy To Do list is to employ a Polish researcher to find any baptism records for Otto and his sisters to gain a fuller understanding of his family unit, and then work backwards from there.

Until then … this one’s for you, Grampy.

Otto and Veronica, Wedding 1967

Otto and Veronica, Wedding 1967

Grandfather Stanfield … er, Payne … er, Tisdale …

So now I’ll turn my attention to the search for my father’s father, which in a lot of ways was easier than looking into my other grandfather’s family.

My mother had for a long time kept a letter that had belonged to my father’s mother, Norah, and had been written by a lady called Geneva. The letter talked about “Bob” wanting to keep in contact with his son. From this letter I learned a couple of important things – that my father’s father was Robert Stanfield, that he’d married after the war to a lady called Geneva, and also a geographic area of the USA in which to concentrate any searches – Battle Creek, Michigan.


Grandfather Adams …

This is really a continuation of my last post, Grandfathers & Other Animals. I wanted to share my explorations into the lives of my two American grandfathers – Ellis Howard Adams and Robert Leslie Payne – and this is the entry for my mother’s father, Ellis.

Whilst my great-grandmother was alive, with her dandelion-fuzz hair and easy smile, she once sat my mother down with a photo album. After she died, the album made it to our house, and was kept in the dresser with the rest of the family papers, birth certificates, locks of hair and the rest. On a few occasions my mum would get this album out and we’d sit down with a mug of tea and she’d tell me about the people captured within.

There on page 9, unremarked and unremarkable, was a picture of a man in a cow field. Dressed in a military uniform of some description, handsome in his own way, quiffed hair blowing in an invisible breeze, tie tucked into his shirt between two buttons. My mother recounted the story of how on one occasion her grandmother had tapped the photo with a finger and said “That’s your dad.”

Ellis Howard Adams

Ellis Howard Adams

Other than his name, a picture (which remains the only photo I have of him to this day), and that he served in the American Army during WWII, nothing of detail was known about him.

Two of the main proponents of genealogical research are to work backwards and work with what you know to be true. The first thing that we knew to be true was that Ellis and my grandmother Eva had been married, so I set about searching for their marriage certificate. Whilst a copy of that certificate – and any subsequent divorce papers – may have originally been amongst my grandmother’s papers, upon her death they were … removed from her house. Using the General Register Office website, I ordered a copy of their certificate.

Once it arrived I had a few more details.

They had married on 23 November 1944 in The Register Office, Devizes in front of two witnesses – Eva’s parents. Ellis’ details stated that he was 20 (putting his birth at around 1924) and the divorced husband of Pauline Adams formerly Harper, spinster. It also stated he was a Private First Class in the American Army, gave his Army number and also his employer outside of Army life – Checkers Building Company – and that although currently residing at the barracks at Roundway (near Devizes), he was a resident of Sarcoxie, Missouri. He also stated that his father was named Joseph and that he was a farmer, but deceased.

Now that I knew a few important facts, I thought that I would try to locate his Army service record. After some online research, I printed, filled out and posted off a form for the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. The response that came back in a couple of months was … not exactly what I was hoping for. Unfortunately, in July 1973 a fire in the NPRC destroyed a portion of the records held there. Ellis’ full military record was one of those destroyed. However, they were able to send me a copy of his Report of Separation. This shed a few more interesting facts about him.

  • Private First Class, Infrantry, Rifleman 745
  • Date of separation: 12 May 1945, Brigham City, Utah
  • Date of induction: 9 March 1943. Date of entry into active service: 16 March 1943, Fort Leevenworth, Kansas
  • Service outside of the USA: 14 May 1944 – 26 March 1945, European Theater of Operations
  • Foreign Service 10 months, 12 days
  • Continental Service 1 year, 3 months, 12 days
  • Longevity for pay purposes: 2 years, 1 month, 24 days
  • Honourable discharge due to “anxiety hysteria”
  • Fought in the “Normandy and German Campaign”
  • Wounded in Battle 27 July 1944
  • Awarded Purple Heart, two Bronze Campaign Stars, European-African Middle Eastern Theatre Ribbon

So what does this limited information tell us? We know Ellis was wounded in action in July 1944, undoubtedly the reason why he was awarded the Purple Heart. The Bronze Stars were  awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone – but I have no idea what he did on each occasion to receive them. The EAME ribbon (there was no medal attached until 1947) was awarded for military service in the geographical theater areas of Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East and covered a variety of military campaigns. Comparing information from different sources and that on the separation report I can assume that he was involved in the D-Day landings and possibly also the Battle of the Bulge, the Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine or the Western Allied invasion of Germany. However, without knowing his exact regiment its impossible to say for certain – and so far that seems to be unlikely.

“Anxiety hysteria” as far as I can tell is a historical term for a psychological condition which combines an anxiety disorder with a conversion disorder – that is:

… psychologists once believed that physical symptoms manifested as a result of an anxiety disorder. Such disorders were once collectively termed “hysteria.” While it is certainly true that some anxiety disorders can be linked with conversion disorder, these two conditions can also appear independently. Patients diagnosed with anxiety hysteria were typically treated as neurotics, and the mode of treatment selected was not always entirely beneficial, sometimes because the patient suffered from a genuine neurological problem which remained unidentified.

Nowadays one would assume that it would be something along the lines of PTSD – hardly surprising.

The report also gives some other personal information:

  • Place of birth Neosho, Missouri
  • Date of birth 10 April 1924
  • Brown hair, brown eyes, 6’0″, 180lbs
  • Occupation: laborer
  • 8 years of grammar school
  • Address at time of entry into service: 513 Williams Street, Carthage, Missouri
  • Permanent address for mailing purposes: 1555 East Main Street, Stockton, California
  • Married, with one dependent

Lets look at that last one. Assuming he was telling the truth on his English marriage certificate, the “married, 1 dependent” could well be my grandmother and mother as he was shipped back to America after having been married for 4  months, and 3 months before my mother was born.

A search of the Stockton City Directory for 1945, 1947 & 1949 comes up blank on Ellis. By 1950 he is resident once again in Carthage, Missouri, but has disappeared by 1953. No other obvious marriages can be found, and so far I don’t have a concrete location for his death. The United States Social Security Death Index has an entry for Ellis H Adams, date of birth 10 April 1924 who died 14 August 1971 … but last place of residence is blank. A recent hint seems to suggest somewhere in Virginia, and steps have been taken to investigate that one … I’ll keep you updated!

But that search – which included his Social Security Number – allowed me to request his SSN application (well, via a request in an online forum and a very kind lady).

The details of that confirmed his date and place of birth, including the same address in Carthage. It also listed his parents names: Dollie Clara Falkner and Jacob Calvin Adams (not Joseph as listed in his marriage certificate).

Using that information I was able to locate Ellis in the 1940 and 1930 US Federal Census returns, living with his family in Missouri.

I was also able to uncover a marriage license between a Howard Adams and a Pauline Harper in Webb City, Missouri (roughly 10 miles from Carthage).

Marriage License - Adams/Harper

Marriage License – Adams/Harper

So far that’s it for Ellis Howard Adams. Once a death certificate can be found then perhaps new avenues will surface. I have made contact with relatives of Ellis – descendants of siblings – but they all say that the family was fairly fragmented and not close. Nobody knew what had happened to Ellis after the war. Answers remain to be found out there. And more questions too, no doubt …

Grandfathers & Other Animals

Everybody has their own route into things. Different inputs leading to similar outputs – or at least travelling down similar roads.

In the case of my journey into genealogy – family history – the inspiration was my grandfathers. All four of them. Yep. You read that right.

Growing up, every Friday we would visit my mother’s parents – Eva and Otto Frysol – and have tea with them after school. I suppose at some point I might’ve asked why Grampy spoke with a funny accent. I suppose at some point my mother (or possibly one of my brothers) told me that he was German and had married my grandmother after the war. I think this blew my mind somewhat as I knew that, well, the Germans were the enemy during WWII. At some other point I was told, or found out, that my mother’s maiden name was not the same as Otto’s. This was due to the fact that her father was not Grampy, but an American soldier, named Ellis Howard Adams, who Eva had met and fallen in love with and then married. Parental forces had stopped my young grandmother and her daughter from crossing the ocean to be with him (or so I have been told – although the picture of Eva below was taken to be her passport photo).

I can’t say that my mother’s parentage was ever an issue – it certainly wasn’t for Otto. He was her father. End of story. He was my Grampy. End of story. But what of Ellis? My mother remembers playing with his two Purple Heart medals as a child, and also of receiving birthday cards upon occasion, and there were letters to Eva. Apparently two of my grandmother’s sisters attempted to trace him in America through The Red Cross – unfortunately the response was that he had remarried and didn’t want any contact. Which seemed to be enough for my mother. She had her ‘dad’. She didn’t need anybody else. But curious? Perhaps.


My father’s parents were a different story. His mother, Norah, was older than Eva, and I only ever remember her as an old woman – shrunken and papery. Which is a shame. I only saw her a few times a year … maybe my birthday and Christmas when we’d deliver her Just Brazils and Simple soap. Consequently she didn’t play a large part in my childhood mind. She had been widowed the year I was born. I can’t recall meeting Grampy Eddie, but he met me nonetheless. The story has it that he was severely ill in hospital whilst my mother was pregnant, but wanted desperately to see his youngest grandson. He held on until I arrived and was presented to him. To honour him, I was given his name – Edward – as my middle name.

But, as is obvious, there is another twist in this story. Eddie wasn’t my father’s biological father. That lay with a man named Robert Leslie Payne (although – to complicate matters further – he’d been adopted by his maternal aunt and her husband so was known by the name Robert Leslie Stanfield for the vast majority of his life). He had also been a soldier in WWII, and also American. Unlike Eva and Ellis, Bob and Norah weren’t married. And unlike Ellis, Bob wanted to know my father – even going so far as offering to adopt him, something Norah was against.

Again, my father was raised by his stepfather and considered him ‘dad’, and that was as far as it went. There were a few phonecalls as a teenager and even when he was engaged to my mother, but no true contact. Almost 15 years ago, in a restaurant, I asked my parents’ permission to try and trace their fathers and any related family. They agreed, with certain caveats.

And that was how I developed my obsession interest in genealogy. What I found and where it took me? That’s for another post. But these four men – Ellis, Otto, Eddie & Bob – all contributed to my life, either through nature or nurture, and their presence is felt in everything I do.