Elaine Timmerman and Sonia Wallenstein were best friends from the time they were babies through graduation from Norwalk High School in 1965. Now their shared hobby of genealogy has reaped a great reward they're related.
They originally met because their mothers were close friends. They each went their separate ways after graduation with Timmerman marrying Dennis Lochner and moving to a farm in Union, Ohio. Wallenstein married Barry Haley and moved to Newark, Ohio. But the two friends remained in touch and tried to coordinate their visits back to Norwalk so they could get together.
In 1993, Lochner started working on tracing her family history and became a genealogy buff. Haley started spending some of her time assisting her friend with her genealogy quests and started working on her own family history after she retired in 2004.
"I loved those Nancy Drew books when I was a kid and I wanted to be a detective," Haley said. "Now we're genealogy sleuths."
They've traveled back roads near Peru, Monroeville, Norwalk, Bellevue, Milan and Sandusky looking for cemeteries and the homes of their ancestors. They've spent hours in libraries, court houses and research centers. They've traveled to Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind., and to Cincinnati, Bowling Green, Toledo and Columbus. They've logged in hours of online research.
Lochner noticed last March while they were at the Milan Library that her great-great-grandfather, Philip Barman, had married a woman named Mary Fisher.
Haley was researching her own Fisher ancestry and the two friends immediately started considering the possibility that they have a shared family history.
"You get so excited. When I found that book in the Milan Library The History of Huron County I told Sonia to sit down," Lochner said.
"I said 'Let's not get too excited until we verify this'," Haley said.
They pored through online research sites and made another visit to the Milan Library to confirm it in January they share great-great-great-grandparents. Lauarentius Fisher and Helena Lamm were born in Germany in the late 1700s and remained there throughout their lives, but four of their children moved to this area.
The women were very excited to learn not only are they lifelong friends, but fourth cousins.
"We often think of how pleased our mothers would have been to know of the family connection," Lochner said.
Both women are still pursuing their family histories. Lochner is searching for more information in the Barman, Janotta and Hipp family trees. Haley is looking for more on the Fisher, Gfell, Hess, Remele, Herb and Harp clans.
Each of the women has several notebooks filled with their notes and copies of documents they've found to verify family connections. They have attended "genealogy jamborees" in Dayton and spend their "girlfriend get-togethers" looking for more information.
Both asked that anyone with information of history from those families are welcome to contact the women. Lochner's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and Haley's is email@example.com. They asked anyone with information to put "possible relative" on the subject line of an e-mail.
Haley said she's learned some interesting things during her research, such as how the spelling of names was changed when some people immigrated to America. For example, Fischer was changed to Fisher.
"The story goes that when they crossed the seas, they dropped the 'c'," she said. Those little details just get the women more engrossed in their research.
"You can't always trace genealogy easily," Haley said.
The friends might be taking a big trip together is they can come up with some more ties to Germany. Lochner said she sent a letter recently to Josef Janotta in Windsbach, Germany because she suspects he may be a relative whose branch of the family never left the country.
"If he's a relative, I'm going over there," Lochner said. "We're going over there," she added to include her friend and new-found cousin. "If we can pinpoint where these people came from, we're going."