Happy birthday to…

Today is also the 171st birthday of a Civil War hero, John Calvin Pisel. It seems important to spotlight a family member who was born on the same day as our first president, and gave his life defending his country’s principles. Just to put it in context: the granddaughter of John’s sister Susannah married a Collins, so this would be Mike’s great-great-great uncle (if I’m doing the math correctly!).

John was born on February 22nd, 1841 in Pennsylvania, the son of Peter Pisel and Elizabeth Wahley. It’s likely he was named for the famous Protestant Reformationist. It appears the Pisels had been in PA for a long time; there is a Peter Pisel living in Monaghan, PA on the very first US census taken in 1790, and others’ family research suggests they are linked to a man who founded a religious community back in the 1730’s near Lancaster, PA.

John’s father moved his family westward sometime before John’s 11th birthday, settling on a farm in Linn County, Iowa. Within a decade the country found itself embroiled in a civil war, and in 1863 a young, newly married John signed up.

From the Iowa Civil War Draft Registration Records, dated June & July 1863, courtesy of Ancestry.com

From what records I have found, he was not actually mustered until almost one year later – March 1864 – when he joined the 13th regiment of the Iowa Infantry, Company A. In just five short months, he saw action in at least an astounding 23 days of battle, mostly in and near Atlanta. His company was there for Sherman’s “March To The Sea” and the burning of Atlanta, famously documented in Gone With The Wind. Sadly, on August 20, 1864, John was injured in his left side and died the next day of his wounds. He was just 23 years old.

He is buried in the Marietta National Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia. I don’t know anything about the young bride he left behind, except that the draft record above states he is married, and a Sarah J. Pisel applied for widow benefits.


Happy birthday to…

George Hahn would be 93 years old today. George was my great uncle via marriage – he married Frances Struck in 1962, and settled in the Burlington area. His older brother Harvey had married Frances’ sister Esther seven years earlier.

George was the youngest son of John and Henrietta Hahn (both the children of German immigrants), and in 1930 his family was living in Milwaukee, where his father worked as a gardener for a private family.

Here’s a favorite photo of George, enjoying a soak in the hot tub with his in-laws on a trip to California.

From l-r: Margie Struck, Frances Struck (George’s wife), Esther & Wally Struck, and George Hahn.

Transcription errors

I have to apologize – I’ve been writing some mighty long posts lately. I suspect that covering all this ground will probably make people shy away from genealogy, instead of showing them everything that I find fascinating about it. I promise this post will be much shorter!

As I mentioned previously, errors in historical records are pretty common. Census-takers, for example, would spend long days traipsing up and down stairs, visiting home after home to record information, and it’s possible they sometimes wrote their own notes illegibly. The information they received could be provided by anyone who answered the door, there was no need to verify the information they were given, and there were of course occasional language barriers just to make things worse.

Here’s a particular transcription error that amuses me, from the 1930 census:

Can you spot it? Edris and Lillie’s daughter is Catherine, our very own Grandma Kay! I’m not sure how this one happened… ?

There’s one other factual anomaly that has me puzzled. Family stories say that Lillie and Edris married when she was 15, but you’ll note here that they say she was 20 (the final column shown is “Age at First Marriage”). And going further, by these records it looks as if they got married four years after their daughter was born. Until I obtain a marriage certificate for them and/or a birth certificate for Kay, I won’t really be sure what’s true on this record!

Immigration and the first years

Since I’ve been on the subject of the Struck family and their emigration to America, I thought I’d take a closer look at the Birkholz family history. If you’ll forgive me going off topic for a moment, it was a bit unusual for the Struck family to emigrate so late in the 19th century. In just one decade (1880-89) over 1.5 million Germans had come to America. But in 1891 US Congress had enacted much stricter immigration laws, and that number had dropped to less than 1/3 of the previous decade. Many Americans believed that immigrants were a threat to national security (both financially and in terms of public health) and there was not only overt hostility but actual attacks on immigrants. In addition, just as they prepared to leave Germany, America was still in the midst of the Panic of 1893, the worst economic depression to occur in the US before 1929.

That same Immigration Act of 1891 created stricter laws on health and financial security. Immigrants had to prove that they were of good health and had good job prospects to enter the US. It is estimated that an immigrant would need to save at least $1200 toward the purchase of land and farming equipment to get started in America, an enormous amount of money in those days! So it must have taken an immense amount of courage and desire for a family to uproot everything and move to this new country.

There is one benefit to the timing of their emigration: US records from 1880 on are more thorough and complete than earlier records. By this time the census takers began recording the names, ages and occupations of all the members of the household, which provides us with a veritable treasure of insights into the lives of this family.

As we learned earlier from the ship manifest, the Birkholz family came to America with three young children: Carl (4), Helene (3), and Emma (2). Luckily, a federal census was taken just five years later (in 1900) so we can see how this family is faring. It appears they are renting a home in the village of Menomonee Falls, and father Friedrich Birkholz is working as a laborer in the local quarry. He’s not alone: all along the street we see that his neighbors are also recent immigrants from Germany, and  employed at the same work. In fact, our great-grandfather Frank Struck is living with the Birkholz family and working at the quarry as well.

One interesting tidbit: while all the adults are listed as being able to read and write, only Friedrich and Frank are able to speak English, unlike Wilhelmina and her mother Carolina. Here is a partial transcript of their census entry:

Fredrick Birkholz – head – age 35
Minnie Birkholz – wife – age 35
Hellen Birkholz – daughter – age 9
Emma Birkholz – daughter – age 8
Charles Birkholz – son – age 3
Ernist Birkholz – son – age 1
Frank Struck – boarder – age 26
Charles Wagner – boarder – age 25
Caroline Struck – boarder – age 69

As you can see, two more children have been born: Charles and Ernest. There is one person missing from this list: their eldest son, Carl. He would have been about 10 years old at this time, and while it may be possible that he is living with another family member (which I have not found via census searches), sadly the most likely explanation is that he passed away sometime shortly after their arrival in America. It seems a bit corroborative of this theory that they named their first son born on US soil Carl (Charles) as well. But one odd note: the census taker asked how many children this couple had, and how many are living, and the written response is 4 (all living). However, as you’ll see in a future post there are plenty of reasons why this might have been a recording error.

We then move forward five more years, to 1905, when a Wisconsin state census is taken. Friedrich is still working as a laborer and renting his home in Menominee Township. Frank Struck has moved on (he married in 1901 and started his own family). The Birkholz family has added to their numbers significantly: with Franz, Otto, and Ruth born in these five short years. There is again a child missing – Helen – but she is “rediscovered” in a later census. Where she is at the age of 15 is only speculative at this point, as extensive searching of the surrounding area has not identified her yet. It could be that she was living with relatives, working as a servant, or she may have been somehow missed by the census-taker. (Update: see bottom of post for a possible discovery on Helen’s whereabouts.)

The next federal census is in 1910, and much has changed again in the five year span. Their son Otto is missing from this census, so it appears that sadly they have lost another young child. We do find a 19-year-old Helen again living with the family, and a clue to where she has been: her occupation is listed as domestic for a private family. There is a marked improvement for the family as a whole, however: Friedrich has purchased his own farm in nearby Lisbon Township!

  The family endures yet more tragedy in January 1914, according to this news article posted in the Waukesha Freeman.

Apoplexy is an old fashioned term for a stroke, although I do wonder if this was actually a choking incident? There is one little clue in this news account that corroborates the question of Otto Birkholz’s fate: it says that Emma is survived by three brothers, which would be Charles, Ernest and Frank.

Emma is buried in the family plot in Sunnyslope Cemetery, Menomonee Falls alongside her parents and brother Frank. The final resting place of the remainder of the family has yet to be determined.

We’ll now jump forward six years to the 1920 census. Four of the Birkholz children are still living with their parents on the farm. Charles, now 23, is working as a machinist at a gasoline company. 21-year-old Ernest is a laborer with the railroad. And 19-year-old Frank is helping his father on the dairy farm. Their youngest, Ruth, is only 15 and in school. Their oldest living child, Helen, is now 30 years old and most likely married. Incidentally, a relative – Carl Struck – has a dairy farm himself just down the street.

One year after the census, their grandmother Carolina Struck passed away at the age of 90 (see her death notice in a previous post). Her daughter Wilhelmina Struck-Birkholz died a few years later, in 1926. Her husband Friedrich followed in 1929.

  1930 is the final year that the census is available at this time, and it appears the farm has been sold with their father’s passing and the children scattered, since I cannot find any evidence of the Birkholz family living in the Menomonee Falls area. I found a listing for Charles in Milwaukee; he has purchased a home in the city, where his new bride Irene and his younger sister Ruth are living with him. He is working as a machinist at an electrical control firm, and his sister is a drill press operator for the same company.

  Charles Birkholz’s home in Milwaukee.

His brother Ernest has rented an apartment just four miles away and is working as a truck driver for a hardware store; his wife of four years is an assembler at an auto parts factory.

Ernest’s rented home in Milwaukee.

I was unable to find Frank on this census, although a news article I discovered in the Waukesha Freeman, dated July 1951, marks the final information recorded for this family.

As far as I am aware, the Struck and Birkholz families did not much keep in touch over the years after Wilhelmina’s passing. It seems that the Birkholz family endured plenty of hardships as immigrants to this country, but they were able to achieve their dream of buying a family farm, and their children were afforded a good education that allowed them to make their own way in the world successfully… which is no small matter to a family who came to this country during a difficult time and worked hard to achieve their goals.

Update: While researching related family members, I found the following entry in the 1905 census, which quite possibly could be Helen:

As you see, the age and surname match, and she is living in the Menominee area, although the lack of a first name makes it difficult to be certain.

An addendum

Since I talked in my last post about the Struck and Ziemann families, I thought I’d go a little further into some interesting tidbits related to this research.

As I mentioned, my grandfather Walter Struck recalls a trip to Omemee, ND back in 1940. It was actually a sort of honeymoon for him and his new wife, Esther Heling, since they had been married in late 1938. Accompanying them on their trip were their parents Frank & Mary Struck, and Bill & Ida Heling. This is something that not many would consider appealing these days! But it does appear these families were very close, and travelled together frequently.

A photo of Walter Struck and his young bride Esther in North Dakota on their honeymoon.

Incidentally, what Walter remembered most about the Ziemanns was that they lived a very poor and spare existence in North Dakota. He said they ran a wheat farm and had no indoor plumbing, and he remembers August Ziemann telling his father Frank Struck that they hadn’t had a good crop in more than 10 years. (Remember that this is the tail-end of the Depression and Dustbowl days).

From looking at earlier census records, it appears that August and his wife Anna lived in Minnesota for a time before they relocated to North Dakota, and they had two children: Elenora and Walter. According to the census, Walter Ziemann would have been about 27 years old in 1940. His father August would have been 68, and his wife Anna 58. Elenora would have been 31.

I have a few odd photographs in my archives that have been tentatively labeled as being from that trip. The only clue was that Walter Struck thought the photo of the man nursing a lamb was one of his Ziemann cousins. Then, as I was going through some other mystery photos I thought I recognized some familiar faces. What do you think?

This is the photo Walter S. tentatively identified as Ziemann – maybe his cousin Walter Z.?

Note the similarity of the man holding the lamb in this photo. If this is Walter Z., could this be his parents August and Anna? And is that his sister Elenora in back by the cars?

This photo (likely taken by Walter S.) shows a number of the Struck and Heling relatives, along with what I suspect are the Ziemanns. What would help would be identifying the building in the background! From left to right, this is who I suspect each person is: August Z., Walter Z., Frank Struck, Ida Heling (front), William Heling (back), Mary Struck, maybe Elenora Ziemann?, and Esther Heling-Struck.

Another photo that was evidently taken the same day, judging by the patterns on the women’s dresses. It does appear to be the same people as above with one exception: the woman in white standing next to August Ziemann.

 from l-r: Walter Z., Mary and Frank Struck, August Z., unknown, Esther Heling-Struck, Elenora Z., Ida and Bill Heling.

Historical newspaper finds

One of my absolute favorite resources on Ancestry.com is their historical newspapers collection. It’s vastly incomplete, but there are plenty of gems to be found in what articles are archived there. In particular, there are many years of the Waukesha Freeman available, and this is where I found this bit I want to write about today.

However, if you want to search for our Struck relatives, be prepared to spend a LOT of time scrolling through reports of the various tragic events that have befallen Waukesha-area residents. Many people have been struck by cars, trains, lightning, other people… not to mention all the reports of baseball players being struck out!

  So I was really excited to find this particular article in the Waukesha Freeman, dated April 28, 1921.

The family had long believed that my great-grandfather Frank Struck had travelled from Germany to America on his own as a young man. However, when I found the ship manifest on the Ellis Island website, I discovered that he had arrived with two of his sisters: Wilhelmina and Ida. His sister Wilhelmina had married back in Germany, to August Birkholz, and came to America with three small children in tow. The original ship manifest (the Wittekind) from 1895 shows us quite a bit of info.

It can be hard to read a poor Xerox copy of old fashioned handwriting, so I’ll transcribe it as best I can:

Friedrich Birkholz – age 30 – male – married – laborer
Wilhelmine Birkholz – age 30 – female – married – house (as in keeps house)
Carl Birkholz – age 4 – male
Helene Birkholz – age 3 – female
Emma Birkholz – age 2 – female
Albertine Ziemann – 54 – female
Caroline Ziemann – 54 – female – married
Ida Struck – 26 – female – single – (occupation illegible – maybe school?)
Franz Struck – 20 – male – single – (occupation may read shoemak[er], his profession in America)

Incidentally, all are listed as travelling to Waukesha whereas most of their nearby shipmates were headed for LaCrosse. And Wilhelmina’s husband being listed as Friedrich isn’t terribly unusual; Germans had a long tradition of giving their children multiple middle names, and of using the different names variously as their “official” and/or proper name as opposed to their common name used among family.

It was knowing some details such as Frank, Ida and Wilhelmina’s ages that made me sure this ship was theirs. I also knew about Wilhelmina’s marriage to August Birkholz (although I hadn’t realized it took place prior to their emigration). But I had no clue who Caroline and Albertine Ziemann were until finding this Waukesha newspaper death notice.

You’ll notice that the Carolina who passed away in 1921 would be the correct age for the Caroline travelling on that ship – both would have been born in 1831. Why she was listed as married but without a husband on the ship (perhaps widowed?) and why she has the last name Ziemann is a mystery – unless it was an error of the ship employee who wrote their names on the manifest?

And who was Albertine Ziemann, the one mystery person remaining in this group? I’m not quite sure, but I do have a strong clue that she was also a relative: Frank’s son Walter Struck remembered a trip to Omemee, North Dakota in 1940 with his father where they visited Frank’s cousin August Ziemann. So my best guess is that perhaps Albertine was related to these cousins, and quite likely to Frank’s mother Caroline.

Am I related to a famous person?

A while back, a family member asked me to research whether or not her family was related to a famous actor, Chris Noth. Chris Noth is best known for his roles on Law & Order, and Sex in the City.

There were some intriguing clues: Chris Noth was born in Madison, Wisconsin, and Becky’s grandfather (Alfred Noth) was a first generation Wisconsin native from the Sheboygan area – his father Ferdinand emigrated from Germany as a child.

What made this a relatively easy assignment is that Chris Noth’s mother, Jeanne Parr, was a well known CBS news correspondent for many years, so his youth and origins were pretty well documented, including her marriage to Chris’s father Charles Noth. Sadly, Charles died at the young age of 44, when his son was just 12 years old.

  In reading some biographies on Chris and his mother, I found my first red flag: because of Jeanne’s career as a journalist, the family travelled a LOT during Chris’s youth. He grew up in places like England, Yugoslavia and Spain. This suggests that possibly they did not have strong familial ties to Wisconsin, but rather that it was her career that brought her to the state.

  At left: the cover of Life magazine from 1948 shows Jeanne with her son (Chris’s brother) Charles Noth Jr. The article is titled “The Good Life in Madison Wisconsin”.

After spending some time finding Becky’s relatives on various censuses to solidify birthdates and places, I turned to finding more info on Charles Noth. I wanted to know if I could find a common link somewhere beyond his son’s Wisconsin birth. Using his dates of birth and death (1922-1966), I found his gravesite listed at Arlington National Cemetery. I also found him on the Connecticut death record, stating that he and his wife Jean were residing in Stamford, but his place of death was New York. This again, doesn’t offer many clues. These records seem to point more at his chosen career path (and his wife’s) than any familial ties. But I did find one thing to lead me forward: his social security death index record states that his SSN was issued in Illinois.

This little clue gets the ball rolling: I found a birth record for Charles Noth in Cook County, Illinois. His father is George Noth, who unfortunately also died young – just two weeks before his son’s second birthday. I find that George was born in Iowa, the son of German immigrants.

The final conclusion: no, I didn’t find anything to relate Chris Noth with Becky’s ancestors. The Noths of Sheboygan seem to have followed a very traditional path in coming to America, settling in one farming community and raising multiple generations to follow in their footsteps. The Noths of Iowa and Illinois are not engaged in farming, but instead seem to be in the brewing industry.

However, this doesn’t rule out a common ancestor somewhere back in Germany. Most records show that the Sheboygan Noths came from the Saxony/Saxe Weimar province around 1854. The Iowa Noths came from Germany around 1856, with no specific location noted. Someone with a better grasp of the German language and better access to German genealogy records would need to pursue this further. All we have established is that Chris Noth’s great-grandfather Henry and Becky’s great-grandfather Ferdinand came to America around the same time, but settled in different locations, and were employed in different trades.