Cleaning Headstones


Archie Ritsch – before cleaning

Inspired by the good work of the volunteer Cemeterians led by Rex Melius, I’ve been cleaning up some stones in Sunnyside Cemetery (where much of the Struck family is interred). I don’t necessarily choose relatives, but moreso stones that have become illegible, paying particular attention to stones of veterans and lost children.

The verse on this particular stone touched me deeply.

Archie Ritsch 1888-1892

Tis a little grave but O have care

For world wide hopes are buried there

How much of hope, how much of joy

Is buried with our darling boy.


Using records to reinforce family stories, part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my most memorable genealogical finds is in regards to newspaper accounts that verified some old family stories that have been passed around the kitchen table for years. A lot of times these stories can sound pretty far-fetched or unlikely, or have been too vague to seem possible.  But when I start digging around in old newspaper accounts and searching for records on these family members who lived long ago, I’m sometimes surprised by what I find.

Wally Struck often told his grandchildren this story about a tragic drowning, and a psychic who helped find the lost soul buried deep in the Lannon quarry. He said that a boy was swimming there and drowned, but even though they sent divers down and dredged the lake, no one could find the body.  Then they sent to Milwaukee for a famous psychic, and he came to the small village of Lannon to help.  Grandpa mentioned that they called the man Doctor even though he wasn’t truly one, although he couldn’t remember the man’s last name.  He went on to tell us that when the “Doctor” came to the quarry, he pointed to one area of the lake and told the people they would find the body there, and that it hadn’t surfaced yet because it had been caught under a ledge.  According to his story, divers found the body exactly where the psychic had told them to look.

By chance one day I was scanning the old Waukesha Freeman newspaper, and found this article in an edition dated November 13, 1924:

“Mrs. Wilhelmina Busse, aged 69 years, who disappeared from the home of her daughter, Mrs. Herman Joecks, Lannon, on Nov. 5, was found dead on Sunday, in a quarry pond east of Lannon.  Mrs. Busse, who suffered from attacks of extreme nervousness, used to take long walks when the attacks came and it is believed that she took the wrong road when it became dark and by mistake walked the road leading to the quarry and accidentally was drowned.  The pond was dragged for three days before the body was recovered.  Dr. Roberts, Milwaukee, a spiritualist, was consulted.  He told the family the mother would be found in the quarry pond.  Sunday morning Dr. Roberts came to Lannon and told the searchers just where to locate her body.  It wasn’t long before the body was brought to the surface.  Coroner Lee was called and the remains were removed to this village.  Funeral services were held on Tuesday from the Herman Joecks residence in Lannon and thereafter in St. John’s Lutheran church.  Interment took place in Sunnyside cemetery.  The deceased is survived by one son, C.A. Busse, Sussex, two daughters, Mrs. Joecks, Lannon, and Mrs. Ryan, of Arizona.”

There are so many facts in this article that match Grandpa’s story, that it can’t possibly be coincidence.  The only real difference is the age and sex of the person who drowned, although this can be explained when you remember that Grandpa was only 9 years old when it happened and would understandably have forgotten some details.  But it is quite intriguing just how much information he DID remember.

What I also find very interesting is that it turns out that the drowned person, Wilhelmina Busse, was in fact related to the Struck family by marriage – Grandpa Struck’s aunt Ida had married into the Joecks family.  So this sad tale is interesting to our family on several levels.

Using records to reinforce family stories, part 1

One of my most memorable genealogical finds is in regards to newspaper accounts that verified some old family stories that have been passed around the kitchen table for years. My grandparents Wally & Esther Struck each had a story they loved to tell. Each story was later reinforced by a newspaper account I happened to stumble across during my family tree research. Finding the newsclippings was such a neat “a-ha!” moment, because they established a point of time and some relevant facts that only served to reinforce the tellings.

Esther’s story was about a cousin who was beheaded by a train. According to the story, which was passed down from her mother (Ida Krueger-Heling), the cousin was walking along the railroad tracks and, guessing he was either drunk or had fallen on the tracks, was hit by the train and killed instantly.   The part of the story that always fascinated us children was that she said because his head was crushed by the train, and the tradition in those days was to hold an open casket viewing in the front parlor, they replaced his missing head with a large ball of cotton.

Esther’s grandmother was a Moede, and it was while researching her family line that I came across this story from February 7, 1907:

“Paul Moede Killed: Head Severed From His Body By Railway Train”
    “Paul Moede’s body was found on the Central Railway track near the crossing of the Milwaukee Railway east of this city on Sunday, the head being entirely severed and lying some distance from the trunk.  He was an employe of the Central Ry. Co., and when last seen alive was at work on the track near the crossing.  The body was discovered by the crew of a freight train and Coroner Chas. E. Hill was at once notified.  He caused a jury to be summoned and an adjournment was taken to this Thursday when evidence will be taken and a verdict returned.  
The deceased was 29 years of age.”

Paul’s father, Carl F.W. Moede, was brother to Hulda Moede-Heling, Esther’s grandmother – thus, Paul was a first cousin to Esther’s mother Ida, who originally told her this story.  I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to prove that the family used a ball of cotton in place of his head at the funeral, but the evidence is certainly compelling.

Why does this find matter? It connects the family, both by identifying the subject of the family story as well as connecting future generations to the events that mattered in their ancestors’ lives. This story, as it has been passed down, captures attention because it is gruesome, and tragic, and at the same time holds a bit of dark humor in the image of the cottonball in the casket. Who doesn’t wonder how they would react if they attended a funeral such as this?

What is particularly tragic about this story is that Paul’s brother Herman had committed suicide less than 5 years before this.  Could it be that their mother, in her grief over losing two sons at such a young age, made the unusual decision to hold an open-casket funeral despite Paul’s missing head?

That, incidentally, corroborates another Heling family story, told by Grandma’s brother Rudy – he said he had been riding beside his father in a wagon after taking their crops to market, and while passing a cemetery he noticed a headstone set apart from the others and bearing the familiar family surname.  Rudy’s father explained that because Herman had taken his own life, he was not allowed to be buried in the same cemetery as his family.  He added that the family did not speak of him any longer.

Herman Moede’s lonely marker remains to this day in a small cemetery on the outskirts of Sussex, while the remainder of the Moede family are buried in Pilgrim’s Rest Cemetery in Pewaukee. His headstone contains his name and dates of birth and death, as well as the statement “Simply to thy cross I cling”.


Trick photography

Just a short, fun one today:

Krueger, William - trick photography

My great-great uncle William Krueger had this photo taken of himself pre- and post- shave shaking his own hand. From what I’ve read, trick photography like this was a popular idea since cameras were first invented. William was born in 1881, so I would estimate that this was taken right around the turn of the last century.

William seems like he would have been a fun guy to know.

Remembering our veterans

Much of what I remember from past Memorial Days is my father talking about the loss of his childhood friend, Paul “Butch” Vanderboom in Vietnam. Paul’s family moved away from the neighborhood when they were still quite young, but he never forgot his friend. To the end of his days, he treasured a rubbing he received from a Vietnam vet of Paul’s name on the memorial wall in Washington DC. I posted a photo of them together on the virtual Vietnam Veterans memorial wall last year. I’d like to think my dad would be pleased to know it’s there.

But for this Memorial Day, I want to talk about a veteran who made a difference in my own life.

03 Herb and Kay Pfaff_Topeka KS April 1945My grandparents Herb & Kay Pfaff in 1945

Sadly, I don’t remember my grandpa Pfaff ever talking about his wartime experiences. I was told that he had served in World War II, and have two vague memories about it: one, that our extended family once went to the EAA airfield in Oshkosh to see some vintage B-52 bombers, and my grandfather said he flew in planes like them; and two, that sometime during my childhood, my family gifted my grandfather with a very cool leather bomber jacket that they said was similar to the one he wore during the war. I remember my grandfather was really affected by that gift.

One lesson I’ve learned again and again about family tree research is that you have to be creative in searching for information. I lamented to my husband today about how little I knew about my grandfather’s service to his country, and how frustrating the lack of information I had found online. Both and the NARA database had nothing listed for Herbert Pfaff. A fire in the National Military Personnel Records Center in 1973 means the records of many servicemen are not readily available online.

One option is to fill out a request form for his official military personnel file, but I don’t know enough at this point for researchers to locate his file among the millions of records stored there. As I told my husband, the little I know is that he must have been in the Air Force because I have photos of him in uniform. My husband asked if I was even sure of that much, at which point I showed him the photos, and the little wing medals on his lapels.

01 Herb3

This is where my husband pointed out that I do have some clues in those photos. He suggested I do some research on what all those pins on his uniform mean. Some googling brought up a very informative website: American Military Patches, Other Insignia and Decorations of World War Two by Dr. Howard G. Lanham.

One disclaimer: I know very little about this topic, and there is a strong possibility that some or all of the information I’ve gleaned is inaccurate. Until I can gain better information, I’m taking all this with a grain of salt (and you should too)!

The first thing I learned was that the Air Force was not its own division until after World War II. I’m going under the assumption that my grandpa served with the USAAF (United States Army Air Forces).  The easiest to identify from the website guide was the pin on his hat. It appears that there were different cap insignias for officers and enlisted men. Looking at reference photos, it appears that my grandfather was an officer! This was a surprise to me.

It’s always good to be cautious with assumptions, however. There is one other item that reinforces the idea that he was of officer rank – this photo to the right.02 Herb2_Olan Mills Studio_Tuscaloosa Ala_C-42514 I always assumed this was taken early in his enlistment, because he was not wearing the full dress uniform of later pictures. However, I found mention of the fact that officers were issued different shirts than enlisted men, particularly in that the cloth “tab” on the shoulder that buttons to the collar is unique to an officer’s shirt.

One other insignia pin provided more clues: the one on his left breast (top photo) appears to be a bombardier pin. Lack of detail in these old photos makes it hard to be certain, of course. Other patches and pins seem to denote that he was part of the general Armed Air Forces unit, and not a specific “sub-group”.

There are a few items I wasn’t able to properly I.D. – the rectangular bar pin in the photo to the right and a patch on his right sleeve in a later photo that was probably taken in Milwaukee circa 1945 (below left).

There’s one thing I do know: Herbert Pfaff married Katherine Baker in 1941, and started a family a few years later. I presume he was still actively in the service for at least a few years after their first child was born, based on other photographs I have with him in uniform holding her.

These photos have a few other small clues on the back of them. While they are unfortunately undated, the photo above right is noted as having been taken in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. There is also a code written in: C-42514. Unfortunately I have no idea if that is a reference to his service, or simply some sort of filing system for the Olan Mills photo studio that processed that image.

One photo taken of Herb & Kay with their first daughter was placed as Ardmore, Oklahoma. And yet another image of the couple is marked “Topeka, KS – April 1945”.

To the best of my knowledge, after the war ended my grandfather returned to his family’s bakery business, which he was involved in until 1965 when his father passed away. He then worked for Crestwood Bakery until his retirement. Herbert Pfaff passed away on December 28, 1994 at the age of 73.

It is admittedly frustrating to  know so little about such a significant time in my grandfather’s life… and indeed, a time that would likely have affected his entire family. I wonder about how hard it was for a young couple to start their lives during wartime, and how they both felt to be raising a family while living apart. Until I determine my grandfather’s dates and branch of service, I don’t know if I’ll have much more info about his experiences in the USAAF. But the little clues I’ve garnered today already make me feel closer to him, and honored to be a part of his family tree.

Morgan Gail HerbGrandpa Pfaff taking me on my first pony ride.

Notable events on this date

Since I mentioned Gust Johns in my last post, it seems fitting to note that May 19th will mark the 137th birthday of his sister Martha Johns-Bahlert. But there are a few other notable events from this week in May: the immigration of my great-grandfather Pfaff and my great-great grandfather Krueger.

According to family lore, Wilhelm Krüger (later William Krueger) came to America on May 18, 1872 after a two week crossing, and arrived in Wisconsin just six days later. Records also indicate his brother Carl (Charles) arrived at either the same time or within a year of William. Unfortunately the name Krueger is just too common in this region for me to be sure of the correct ship records at this point.

Family legend also says that William came from an area of Germany called Gluetsa. I haven’t found anything similar to this name in my searches, nor have I located the region for his wife Wilhelmina Stern (family lore says the Sterns originated in Gleritey, another non-existent place name).

However, I did locate this information at the Waukesha Historical Society in the “Pioneer Book”:

William Henry Krueger
Born 24 October 1849 in Germany
Mother: Anna
Married: Wilhelmina born 1852
Died: March 20 1937
Buried: German Evangelical Church (now the St. John United Church of Christ Cemetery in Merton, WI)

The Krueger-Stern families are definitely on my “to do” list for further research!

Turning to our other notable immigrant now… my great-grandfather, Peter Pfaff. His voyage occurred 40 years after William Krueger’s, and I often wonder how different their experiences were travelling to the new world.

Peter Pfaff emigrated from his home in Szakadat, Hungary on the ship Campanello, boarding in Rotterdam on May 2nd, 1912. He arrived at Ellis Island on May 17, 1912. He was just 17 years old.

The ship manifest describes him as having a fair complexion, brown hair and blue eyes, and standing at a height of 5 feet 2 inches. He was employed as a stonemason, and listed his final destination as New York, NY. His nearest relative listed is his father Georg Pfaff, who remained in Hungary.

The steamship Campanello (previously known as the Campania) was built in 1902 in Newcastle, England. Renamed the Flavia in 1916, it was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off Northern Ireland on August 24, 1918.

Pfaff ship Flavia-CampanelloPS

Records shared with me by a distant Hungarian cousin indicate that the Pfaff family originated in the village of Tevel, in central Hungary on the west bank of the river Danube. Sometime between 1882 and 1887, Gyorgy (George) Pfaff moved his young family to the town of Szakadat, then in Hungary and now a part of Romania, where he worked as a shoemaker.

In 1910, George’s daughter Katalin (Katharina) traveled to America. Katalin Pfaff left her family’s home in Szakadat, Hungary on the ship Carpathia, boarding at the port of Fiume. She arrived at Ellis Island on May 11, 1910. She was just 19 years old, traveling alone to a strange new country.

The ship manifest describes her as standing 5 feet 6 inches tall, with a fair complexion, fair hair, and brown eyes. She listed her final destination as meeting her brother-in-law in New York (I’m not sure yet who this was).

She was followed by her brother Peter two years later. Relatives have continued to emigrate in the years since.

Julius Pfaff, who immigrated to America in 1950 after being sponsored by his uncle Peter (in order to work in the family bakery in Milwaukee), stated that his family was relocated to Germany after World War II. Julius and his family continue the tradition of operating a Pfaff family bakery in Illinois.


Happy Birthday to…

April 28th marks Gust Johns’s 130th birthday according to my records. Gust was born in Door County, WI, the first generation to be born in America of German-born immigrant parents. Early records indicate that their name was originally spelled Jahnz, and that this name was “Anglicized” somewhere around the turn of the last century.

Gust’s first marriage didn’t occur until he was 31 years old, but this marked a very sad time for him. His wife, Emma Smith, was just 16 years old when they married in the summer of 1915. Their son Emery was born January 2nd, 1916. Sadly, Emma died just days after childbirth:

Johns Emma death notice The Sturgeon Bay Advocate 06 Jan 1916From The Sturgeon Bay Advocate – January 06, 1916

Faced with raising a newborn, it appears Gust enlisted the help of his sister Ida for a few months. After this, his sister Minnie (and her husband William Sitte) took Emery into their home. From all accounts, it appears that Emery was raised as one of their own. But sadly, Emery died young from appendicitis. He was the same age as his mother when he died.

Johns Emery death notice Door County Advocate 22 Sept 1933

From The Door County Advocate – September 22, 1933

Gust remarried a few years later, and raised several children. I bring up these sad events because there are two things I’ve learned in researching Gust’s life, and the tragic events he endured:

First, that Gust’s first marriage, and the son that resulted from that marriage, were previously unknown to my family until researching the Johns family in the archives of the Door County Library, and in particular, their online collection of Door County Newspaper Archives from 1862-1941. I learned of this resource via the Peninsula Genealogical Society, and it is hands-down one of the most accessible archives I’ve discovered. Their search function is greatly effective, saving me many hours of fruitless searches through irrelevant search results… (ask me sometime how depressing it can be to search newspaper archives for the surname Struck!!).

The second reason I note these events is because it is a great demonstration of how the community drew around this grieving father – not just the family members that helped raise his young son, but also the friends that helped celebrate his milestones:

Johns Gust birthday celebration North Bay section of Door County Advocate 07 May 1920From The Door County Advocate – May 07, 1920

Happy 130th Birthday, Gust!