Partnering as Family Historian

Fascinated by the contrast of the old world to new (which is really more of a blend), the immigrants sought to make America as familiar as possible by choosing areas that reminded them of the landscape they left behind. German families loved settling the midwest, a land of rolling hills, rivers, and season.  Six (working on seven) generations ago, my family migrated from Prussia to the midwest, so this is rich soil for genealogical excavation. To back up all the historical illustration that I love to do and publish, I combine here my credentials, authenticity, and a visual description of my background.

As a child, I sat at my Grandmother’s knee and begged her to tell me stories of her childhood in Chicago, her parents and grandparents, and anything about what life was like in the past. So I collected these stories through the years, and twenty years ago, began serious research into all the U.S. information I could find. My grandmother’s family particularly captivated me because she was the matriarch who set the family culture (defacto, as I my grandfather died before I was born).

Her family holds stories of education, achievement, and survived the Chicago fire. Tenacious, industrious, and creative, each member was more of a character than the next. Were I a fiction writer, I need look no further for material! Plus, they exemplify the American experience. Now, I am learning about the other branches, as more research is shared. And, gaining experience with European research. I have much in common with many Americans, as having Prussian ancestry is like having Type O Blood!

Throughout the journey of discovery, I have a partner, which is one of life’s greatest pleasures: my sister Jill Sebastian. We each have our special, and complimentary, areas of study, able to cover more ground together, and share the thrills of new information. We are also fortunate that we each live in the cities that ancestors chose: Milwaukee and Chicago. We’ve made ourselves comfortable at the Historical Societies, record departments of libraries, and the archives at city halls. We’ve peered at handwritten records, microfiche, family bibles, and old photographs. We have bugged other relatives for information and been pests to our immediate family to get excited. All that, before getting our fingers on the internet. Now, we go to conferences, investigate tutorials, learn database in’s and out’s, read blogs, and participate in social media.

Although we may be experienced amateur genealogists, we are professionals with visual presentation. Jill is a sculptor/educator and I am an illustrator/writer.*  We both are building a family legacy to share, and we have a very large extended family.

Liane Sebastian pedigree mapCurrently we can trace many branches of German ancestors back to the late 1600’s, some to the 1500’s, and a few to the late 1300’s. Family members first immigrated to the U.S. in 1764 when an uncle, with wife and lots of children, went to New Jersey to supervise a forge that later made weapons used in the Revolutionary War. In Chicago, the first family immigrant was another uncle, again with wife and lots of children, who built a log cabin in Ridgeville (that became part of Chicago) in 1844.

Of direct line, Jacob Sebastian (from Baden) and Johann Schmitt (from the Rhineland) both chose Milwaukee in 1853 and 1854, respectively, as young men. (Unlike most of family who immigrated, they did not have wives and children yet. Both met their spouses in Milwaukee, who immigrated with their parents around the same time, also from Germany.) The Hessian branches chose Chicago, beginning in the late 1840’s and coming in each wave until 1870. Then, we have Pomeranian ancestry that immigrated in the 1870’s-1880’s, which awaits more research.

This means my siblings and I are of “Prussian” ancestry, as all the villages of origin come from what was part of those 19th century borders. Pomerania is more challenging for finding records. But, there is much to keep us busy with those from the Rhineland, Baden, Hesse, and Alsace. And, our new generations open doors today into other countries, which will be fun to explore in more depth.

I share some of my resulting illustrations in this blog. Into making family gifts (whether they like it or not), my pieces are part of a family legacy. The new generations might roll their eyes at me, and think “there she goes again,” but they will thank me in the future.

Also, I am extremely grateful to those in the U.S. and Germany who are building the public data bases. I do not claim professionalism as a researcher, though I have experience in the journey. Rather, I augment the work of the experts. My query begins where they leave off—to make informational graphics, from the data, that can visually tell stories.

*(Please see more of my background at and my portfolio at )

Check out my Facebook Album:“Illustrated Glossary of Genealogical Terms” and if you like, please LIKE my page.

To discuss how I can help your messages become visual, please email me at:


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