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”.

moede

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.

 

Discovering Mary’s Beginnings

STRUCK Frank and Mary wedding pic

Frank & Mary on their wedding day.

I’d now like to turn my attention to Frank Struck’s wife, Maria Anna Bloedel (also written as Blödel). Frank and Mary were married in Lannon, Wisconsin in April 1901, six years after Frank’s arrival in America. The local newspaper reported their marriage on April 18, 1901:

BLOEDEL Mary marries Frank Struck news 18Apr1901_edit

Mary traveled to America with her mother Elizabeth and three siblings (William, Carl and Barbara) when she was just five years old. Research shows that other members of the Bloedel family had already established roots in the Wisconsin community in earlier years, and it is believed that Elizabeth chose to join them after becoming widowed in Germany (some family notes list Mary’s father’s name as Maechel or Michael Bloedel).

I haven’t been successful at untangling all of the Bloedel family line at this point, but it does appear that many Bloedel family members had emigrated to the Lannon/Menomonee Falls area. There is one clue in researching this line that might help corroborate Mary’s birthplace: several Bloedel “cousins” had opened a blacksmith shop in Lannon. As you’ll see further in the post, I found someone else of the same surname emigrating to Wisconsin with the listed occupation of blacksmith.

THE FAMILY LEGEND

Our family recorded Mary’s birthplace as Dodgelsheim, Germany. As with the Struck family, I haven’t found evidence of such a place. But looking for similar place names in a German gazeteer led me to find a town called Dolgesheim in Germany. It seems very similar in name, but are we correct in assuming this is the right place?

THE CLUES

I start by again turning to the ship transcript. Unfortunately, this manifest for Mary and her family only lists that they were German born (we are rarely lucky enough to get a hometown recorded on these, as it was in the Struck family example).

Bloedel Mary ship manifest 13 Sept 1888 Noordland_edit

Click on this image to view it at full size.

However, while searching to find Mary’s ship records, I came across a different manifest that lends us a small clue. Carl Bloedel arrived in America two years before Mary’s ship sailed. He lists his occupation as blacksmith, his intended destination as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and his “starting point” as Dolgesheim.

Bloedel, Carl ship manifest 12 Aug 1886 The Rhynland to NY_edit

Click on the image to view it larger.

Is this 100% verification of Mary’s birthplace? Unfortunately, no. As I said earlier, I’ve had difficulty tracking all of the Bloedel relatives sufficiently to be sure this Carl Bloedel is even a relative. But it remains our best guess at this point.

You’ll note that there is something scribbled in the far right-hand column on Mary’s ship manifest that is hard to decipher, but it appears to be “settler”; in studying the full page, I find that the word “citizen” and “settler” is written beside some names in that section.

FURTHER RESEARCH

One interesting thing to note in the ship manifests above is that Mary’s family is travelling with two other Bloedels who are of unknown relation. It’s also interesting that the C. Bloedel in her group is the same age as Carl Bloedel in the second manifest.

A bit about the ship that carried Mary to America: the Noordland was built for the Red Star Line’s Antwerp-New York route and launched in 1884. It held accomodations for 619 passengers, 500 of these in third-class (steerage), which is where Mary’s family was housed.

Bloedel ship Noordland2

The Noordland

In 1886 the Noordland was disabled after colliding with the Cunard liner Servia in the North River because of thick snow and heavy mist. It resumed service in July 1888, two months before Mary’s trip. It was scrapped in 1908.

One other thing to note is the information I’ve found in German Genealogical Database, which lists a significant number of Bloedel persons living in Schornsheim, Germany. This might prove to be an important resource to pursue further as I research the Bloedel family line.

RESOURCES

I have bad news for my cousin: Dolgesheim is a good 8+ hour drive from Mietno, where our Struck ancestors originated.

Map - from Mietno to Dolgesheim

Dolgesheim is in the Rhineland-Palatinate state of Germany, also known as the Rheinland-Pfalz or Rheinhessen region. This is wine country, and Dolgesheim looks to be a charming village with a rich history according to their city website (in German). Schornsheim is only about 8 miles NW of there, and worthy of some genealogical investigation as well.

As you can see from these posts, the story of Frank & Mary’s ancestral origins is one that holds much yet to be discovered.

Frank and Mary Struck - 1951 - 50th wedding anniversary

Frank & Mary Struck on their 50th wedding aniversary in 1951

Herkunft der Familie Struck

A relative recently asked me what research I had on the origins of our Struck ancestors, because he is planning a trip to Germany in the near future. I thought I would share this information on my blog instead of a private email, so that it is available to anyone else interested in this.

Here’s the good news for my cousin: I think I have a pretty good idea of the location of our German origins, and even where the old church records are kept.

The bad news? That region is now a part of Poland, since World War II. Let’s hope our relative decides to expand his trip! One day I hope to commission an experienced genealogical researcher to search those archives.

THE FAMILY LEGEND

To begin, let’s take a look at where this information comes from. Family stories say that my great-grandfather Frank Struck emigrated from Plummer, Germany. My research has not identified the existence of such a place; my best guess is that this may have been derived from Pommern, the German word for the region of Pomerania. The only other clue given was that Frank studied to be a cobbler in Berlin as a youth; this might lead one to think that the family lived fairly near that city, but it is certainly inconclusive.

THE CLUES

My first step was to look for historical documents that might shed some more light. My best sources are the ship manifests from Frank’s journey to America in 1895 on the S.S. Wittekind. These documents are readily available, courtesy of Ellis Island and Ancestry.

Struck, Frank ship records The Wittekind arrived 10 April 1895 departed from Bremen_edit1

A little side note on the S.S. Wittekind: when our Struck ancestors sailed to Baltimore (and then Ellis Island) in 1895, the ship was just one year old. It was built for the Norddeutscher Lloyd German sailing company,to use on their Bremerhaven-New York line. It took a fortnight to travel the route, and it was the first twin-screw steamer built for them. In 1917 it was seized by the US Army and renamed the Iroquois, and later the USS Freedom. It was scrapped in 1924.

Struck, Frank ship records The Wittekind

Here’s a close-up of the ship manifest created when they first arrived at the Port of Baltimore (before they sailed on to Ellis Island):

Struck, Frank ship records The Wittekind_edit3

The first person in this group is Friedrich Birkholz, a 30 year old laborer. His wife Wilhelmina is Frank Struck’s sister. Below their three children is Albertine and Caroline Ziemann. You’ve seen in a previous post that the Ziemanns are known cousins to the Struck family. My best guess is that Caroline Ziemann is actually Frank Struck’s mother (there is much evidence to corroborate this). Below these two women is Ida Struck, another sister to Frank. And finally, we have Frank Struck himself, age 20.

What’s most helpful here is the column titled “Last Residence”. All of the family state that their previous hometown was Minten, except for Frank: he says it is Naugard. Simply to muddy it up a bit more, Frank’s brother Carl Struck emigrated to America two years before this group. On his ship manifest, he listed his hometown as Glietzig, Germany.

Struck, Carl ship record 02 May 1893 ship The Stuttgart_edit

DECIPHERING AND TRANSLATING

Where do we go from here? A whole bunch of Googling to learn more about these towns! Some trial and error led me to discover the current names of these communities as they are now listed in Poland:

Naugard (town) = Nowogard
Naugard (district/county) = Gmina Nowogard
Minten = Mietno
Gleitzig = Glicko

What I’ve also found is that the small, rural communities of Minten/Mietno and Gleitzig/Glicko are very near the larger town of Naugard, and all are within the county of Naugard. Here is a current map that might help illustrate this:

Map of former Struck homeland Nowogard_close-up

If you look at the scale reference, these tiny towns are only about a mile or two apart, and quite close to Naugard/Nowogard. It appears that Naugard county has long been a rural one: in 1925, the community of Minten had 197 residents living in 37 households, while Glietzig boasted 189 residents in 33 households!

The proximity of these locations seems to help explain the varying answers given on the ship manifests. One word of caution: it is admittedly not completely verified that this is our ancestral home, particularly as we are taking these facts from one primary source. However, it is a very likely connection, and one that I look forward to expanding my research on.

One other interesting fact: all of the residents in Minten and Gleitzig were of the Protestant faith. This will be important when I discuss resources below.

RESOURCES

There are a few resources that have been immensely helpful to me in researching my Pomeranian roots: The Full Wiki contains a list of Pomeranian place names, and their Polish name today. Secondly, the Pommerndatenbank contains some amazing genealogical resources concerning both Pomeranian communities and the families that lived there. Finally, the Information System for Pomerania lists a bounty of historical information about these communities that can help provide some insight into the lives of our ancestors.

Traditionally, our European ancestors recorded their most important life events in the church register: births, confirmations, marriages, deaths… all would be written into the book. So it is quite exciting to learn that the church registers were in fact saved, and archived in the Kirchenbücher im Landeskirchlichen Archiv in Greifswald, Germany. It should be a bit easier to research since all of these families attended church in one denomination. I’m eager to see what information might be available to us in researching our Struck family roots!

Frank & Mary Struck Family_1955

Frank & Mary Struck Family in 1955

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.

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.