Tombstone Tuesday: Mathias and Elizabeth (Hoffman) Noehl

At the tail end of the nineteenth century, two German immigrants made the decision to forge their lives together in America. Mathias Noehl was born to Michel and Magdelena (Hoffman) Noehl on 22 April 1868 in the village of Holsthum, Germany,1 and Elizabeth Hoffman was born to Mathias and Anna (Marbach) Hoffman on 16 September 1869 in the neighboring village of Prümzurlay.2 They never met as children, and both made their own ways to America, Mathias in 1886 and Elizabeth in 1890.3

Mathias_Noehl_Grave

Grave of Mathias Noehl (1868-1950) and Elizabeth Noehl (1869-1957), St. Aloysius Cemetery, Calmar, Winneshiek County, Iowa; digital image date unknown, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Elizabeth soon found a place for herself in North Washington, Chickasaw, Iowa, where she kept house for a local priest, Father Probst. According to her husband’s memoirs, it was during this time that Mathias, who had recently made his way from unfruitful ventures in Minnesota in search for new opportunities in Iowa, happened to pass by Elizabeth’s home. He wrote:

“I was in a neglected condition: My suit of clothes appeared to have seen better days. A hailstorm seemed to have come over my hat. My blond hair lay around my temples unkempt like dried up flowers of the cemetery. When she heard that I had come from her neighborhood village, Holsthum, she said to herself, ‘That is a disgrace to the whole valley of Prüm. He must be hidden from the streets of North Washington, even if I have to marry him.'”4

Marry they did on 22 September 1896, by the same Father Probst who had been Elizabeth’s employer.5 Mathias later wrote of the “joyless” early years of their marriage, during which time the couple struggled to make a living in Alberta and Minnesota before finally returning, poverty stricken, to Iowa. He wrote, “Although children are not always a blessing for parents, they help to lead many a marriage through the inevitable storms between two persons, whose different characters must be adjusted to each other.”6 Whether his statements were sincere or tongue-in-cheek is unknown, but the couple would, indeed, go on to celebrate the births of nine children: Leo, Helen, Kathryn, Elinor, John, Aloysius, Francis “Frank,” Frances, and Joseph Noehl.

Although Mathias once dreamed of relocating with his family to Oregon, in the end they farmed for many years near New Hampton, Chickasaw, Iowa. In 1946, a year after their retirement from farm life, Mathias and Elizabeth celebrated fifty years of marriage surrounded by their children and grandchildren.7 Mathias died in Calmar, Winnishiek, Iowa, on 31 January 1950; Elizabeth died seven years later on 9 February 1957. Both are buried at St. Aloysius Cemetery in Calmar.8

Continue reading

A Turn of the Century Danish Confirmation

Like most young Danes, Kathrine Christensen was just about fourteen years old when she was confirmed as a member of the Lutheran church.1 This ceremony, which took place on 22 April 1900, would also have signified the conclusion of her formal schooling, making it, in a sense, a graduation ceremony as well.2 Kathrine, the youngest daughter of Laust Christensen and Ane Nielsen of the rural community of Taabel, was confirmed at the imposing Vestervig Abbey, said to be the largest village church in all of Scandinavia.

KathrineChristensen02

Kathrine Christensen, 1900, Hurup, Thisted, Denmark; digital image 2013, privately held by Nicole Kilanowski, 2014.

For Kathrine, this occasion may have warranted posing for a formal portrait in her elegant confirmation dress, as this photograph is believed to have been taken in honor of her confirmation. The photographer, A.B. Hansen, was based in Hurup, a railroad town about seven kilometers east of Vestervig. Perhaps Kathrine ventured there for her portrait, or else an enterprising photographer may have seen reason to take advantage of the confirmation crowd by setting up a temporary studio in Vestervig.

This cabinet card portrait features Kathrine standing before a painted backdrop and behind a high back chair, upon which she rests her arms in a way that hides her fingertips but displays a wide ring on her left hand. Perhaps this was a confirmation gift, as despite what its placement suggests today, it is certainly not a wedding ring. Kathrine’s brown hair is pulled into a braid or bun, with a few soft curls loosely framing her face. Her dress is of a popular pigeon-breasted style and appears to be white. It has sweet eyelet lace trim at the high neck and long sleeves, which are slightly puffed on the upper arms. Kathrine’s expression is serious, even cautious; although her attire is sophisticated, she still looks very much like the thirteen-year-old she is.

Kathrine Christensen Confirmation 1900

Vestervig Parish (Vestervig, Denmark), Konfirmerede Piger, Kathrine Christensen (1900). Record courtesy of Janet Walsted.

In addition to acknowledging the completion of schooling, at one time, confirmation records in Denmark also typically included a notation of whether the individual had received a smallpox vaccination. This practice, started around 1814, must have been the most feasible method of ensuring that all were vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of disease.3 Today, certainly, medical records are maintained apart from the church, and of course, Danish youth attend school beyond eighth grade. While confirmation ceremonies remain significant in Danish culture, as a whole these affairs are commonly celebrated in a traditional sense and are more secular than in the past – if not entirely secular, as “nonfirmations” have also become part of the norm. Danes honor their coming-of-age with family, friends, a formal dinner, and lavish gifts.4

At the time of Kathrine’s confirmation, several of her siblings had already immigrated to America. This photograph was found among the possessions of one of their descendants, which suggests that it was originally sent to those who might have liked to have seen how their youngest sister was growing up. In fact, another photograph in this collection shows Kathrine as she neared her twentieth birthday, shortly before she, too, said farewell to Denmark.5

Continue reading

Getting Organized with the Historical Research Planner

When Tara Cajacob of The Historium asked me if I would like to try out her new Historical Research Planner, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I often find that the most difficult aspect of genealogical research is not the research itself – no matter how many brick walls I may encounter – but rather taking those first decisive steps to organize a massive amount of research material into a cohesive end result.

The Historical Research Planner is sold currently as three separate packs designed to meet a researcher’s needs. Together, they break down the daunting task of organization of both the actual research and the end result into bite-size pieces that can be easily applied and tailored to fit a specific research goal. Check out Tara’s video below to see just how the planner packs can serve as a guide through the research process:

The Calendar Pack is your friend whether you’re gearing up to tackle a big research project or are simply ready to define your research goals for the year ahead. The former 4-Her in me loves the structured opportunity for goal-setting that the Calendar Pack has to offer, as well as the helpful tips for reaching milestones through short-term goals and manageable tasks. As a bonus, the goal-setting worksheets and weekly and monthly calendars have charming yet subtle backgrounds and borders, and are organized as PDFs with handy fillable form fields.

The Genealogy Pack is designed especially for the family historian and includes all of the familiar genealogical forms, such as pedigree charts and family group sheets, as well as a surname index and source index. What is most clever is that these resources, in addition to featuring, again, beautiful backgrounds and borders and fillable form fields, are color-coded based on the branch of the family tree. While I’m on a first-name basis with many of my ancestors (hey there, George and Sarah!), I have to recognize that not everyone who peruses my written family history will be on that same familiar level. Thus, color-coding the branches as blue, green, pink, or yellow (for one’s paternal grandfather, paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, and maternal grandmother, respectively) will make it much easier to immediately grasp the bigger picture when looking at an individual in the family tree.

The Filing Pack lets you keep on color-coding your research materials with four colors of tabs, labels, and title pages, all compatible with specified Avery office products. How much fun is that? Organizing printed research materials for presentation in a binder is a laborious and time-intensive task, but thanks to this colorful and practical format with thoughtfully developed materials, it has never been this appealing to take the plunge and complete that research project!

My favorite thing about the Historical Research Planner packs – aside from the high level of organization they offer? They are just so pretty! Tara has a great eye for fresh patterns and sophisticated color palettes, and I only hope she will come out with an expansion pack to offer even more designs for her color-coded charts and labels. Tara believes that there’s no reason that genealogy should be black and white, and I couldn’t agree more. The Historical Research Planner packs, available for purchase and immediate download at The Historium, are a great way to get organized, add some color to your research, and give your ancestors’ stories the attention they deserve.

Disclosure: I received this product free of charge as compensation for my time spent reviewing it. All opinions expressed are my own.

A Mystery in the Margins

All I can think is that Odile must have been desperate. She hadn’t seen her eldest son, Edward, in five years, and it had been at least two since she’d laid eyes on his younger brother, Fred. The last she’d heard, the two men, both in their thirties, had left the state, and she had no way of contacting them.

OdileMilletteAdam

Odile (Millette) Adam, Sioux City, Iowa, circa 1900; digital image 2004, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

When the census enumerator arrived at the door of her home in Sioux City, Woodbury, Iowa, Odile (Millette) Adam saw in him a reason to hope. Here was someone who surely knew a thing or two about tracking people down. If nothing else, perhaps he could ask around? Had anyone seen her sons, Edward and Fred? The census enumerator strayed from the lines gathering information about Odile’s age, address, and origin, and jotted some hasty notes in the margins:

“Mrs. Adam wants information of her sons Edward and Fred. […] copper mines Ed. Fred left for Seattle. Fred 1903. Edward 1900.”1

Odile Adam 1905

“Iowa, State Census, 1905,” Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, O.T. Adam [Mrs. T. Adam]; digital images, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 08 October 2014).

Although some words are indistinct (can anyone make out what it says?), the message is clear: The Adam boys had made their way west, and, whether dead or alive, they had disappeared without a trace. There may not have been much of anything that the census enumerator could have done, save for keeping his eyes and ears open in case the men turned up around town, but at the very least, he appears to have been sympathetic to Odile’s concerns.

Fred, also known as Alfred G. Adam, would eventually return to Sioux City, though perhaps not for a few more years; records suggest he returned to the area around 1909.2 Of Edward Adam, however, there seems to be no paper trail. In the summer of 1900, the Sioux City Journal reported that the then twenty-nine-year-old Edward, who had left home at the age of fourteen, had returned to his family, but his behavior towards them was “abusive, inconsiderate, and contemptuous.”3 His ailing father submitted a petition requesting a restraining order against him in order to protect himself as well as his minor children, and Edward, at least under his given name, is seemingly absent from record thereafter.4

Odile’s apparent distress according to the 1905 Iowa State Census is made more interesting by the fact that her husband of nearly forty years, Timothy Adam, was not recorded as a member of her household.5 Was he away searching for their sons, or was he simply visiting relatives across the state line in South Dakota or in his native Massachusetts? Was he aware that Odile was seeking word of their sons, or had he washed his hands of them? We may never know, just as Odile may never have learned the fate of her two eldest surviving sons before her death late the following year.6

The 1905 Iowa State Census images are available for free on FamilySearch. Even if there aren’t any notes written in the margins, you can learn a great deal about an ancestor from the details that were formally requested, including military status, level of education, and number of years as a resident of the state. If you would like to know who lived in the same household as your ancestor before turning to the individual cards, see the index available in the Iowa State Census Collection on Ancestry.com.

Continue reading

Photographing an Edwardian Toddler

These charming studio portraits are the nearest thing to baby pictures that exist for Fern Lavonne Thoma, whose birth was celebrated one hundred and seven years ago today. Born to George Hiram and Anna Leota (Fenton) Thoma on 30 September 1907 in Sioux City, Woodbury, Iowa, she was named Fern Neilson in her birth record;1 for reasons yet unknown, her father used an alias for a period of time. By the time these photographs were taken, however, Fern was about two years old, and may well have had no recollection of ever being named anything but Fern Thoma.

Fern Thoma 01

Fern Thoma, Iowa or Nebraska, circa 1909; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

In the first photograph, Fern poses with a rustic iron piece that looks like a rather uncomfortable type of corner chair. Her head barely reaches the top of the frame as she stands beside it, and she clutches something small in her hand, perhaps a treat to entice her to stand still. The second child and first daughter born to her parents, Fern is dressed beautifully in an immaculate white dress complete with ruffles and eyelet trim. Whites and creams in soft fabrics were popular choices for small girls at the tail end of the Edwardian era.2 Fern’s dress falls above the knees, revealing  black stockings and shiny black shoes. The golden curls about her face evidently took some care, and she peers at the camera with an impish grin and bright blue eyes.

Fern Thoma 02

Fern Thoma, Iowa or Nebraska, circa 1909; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Fern’s expression is more demure in the second photograph, in which she is perched atop the iron chair and gazes away from the camera. She has evidently tried her best to keep her small hands still in her lap, as a gold bracelet, clamped around one chubby forearm, is more visible in this photograph. So, too, is the lovely floral eyelet trim of her dress. This photograph has a softer focus, likely unintentional but rather caused by Fern’s motion.

A photographer by the name of Phelps penciled his name below these photographs on their original cream-colored mats. An inscription by Fern’s mother on the back of one suggests that the family was living in Basset, Rock, Nebraska, at this time, although it’s also possible that the photographs were taken in Sioux City before the family moved west.

These are darling portraits of an Edwardian toddler, and provide evidence that even an average Midwestern family would have known how to fashionably style a little girl for a photograph. However, one can easily imagine the off-screen coaxing by both photographer and mother that certainly must have taken place in order to convince this active toddler to be still!

Continue reading

To Acadie: A Family History Inspired Vacation

I’m all about incorporating family history with family vacations (my husband, surely, is grateful). This month marks ten years since I embarked on one such vacation. After becoming fascinated with our ancestors who settled in what is now Nova Scotia, my dad and I spent several memorable days exploring what was once Acadie on a quest to learn more about their experiences prior to the Acadian Deportation of 1755-1763.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Nova Scotia was a French colony called Acadia, or, in French, Acadie. The residents were peasants who farmed land reclaimed from the sea and developed peaceful relationships with the natives. After the colony was transferred to British control, the Acadians proclaimed their neutrality. However, during the French and Indian War, the British colonial officers became suspicious that the Acadians might be providing aid to the French. With the support of New England legislators and militia, approximately 11,500 Acadians were forcibly deported from Nova Scotia and the surrounding maritime provinces. As the Acadian men, women and children were ordered aboard ships, their lands were confiscated and their homes were burned to discourage their return.

IMG_2167After reaching Nova Scotia, my dad and I made our way from Halifax to the Grand-Pré National Historic Site. Here, a church stands to commemorate the site where Colonel John Winslow rounded up the local men and boys to declare the terms of the deportation. A statue of Evangeline, Longfellow’s fictional Acadian heroine who became separated from her lover, stands here as well. We were fortunate to visit Nova Scotia in 2004, the 400th anniversary of French settlement in North America, as we were able to see a musical performance of Evangeline in Pointe-de-l’Église.

IMG_2193We also paid a visit to the Port-Royal National Historic Site, located at the site of the original 1605 habitation that was France’s first successful settlement on North American soil. Port Royal held a wealth of information about this hardy settlement, and it was interesting to explore. We were particularly amused to find an artist’s rendition of one of our more illustrious ancestors, Louis Hebert, within the habitation; he served as an apothecary there before venturing on to New France.

IMG_2249We spent another afternoon strolling through the beautiful Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, where we were able to explore a reconstruction of a typical 1671 Acadian home. The comfortable cottage featured a thatched roof and beds that each had their own cozy cupboard doors. It was fun to see how the Acadians lived as well as what they ate, as we did when we stopped by the charming farmhouse restaurant Chez Christophe for some excellent seafood and rappie pie, an Acadian specialty.

IMG_2236The Fort Anne National Historic Site overlooks the Annapolis Basin, which is from where at least one of our ancestors, Joseph Michel, was deported. Fort Anne saw conflict in the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812, and it was another well-kept and informative site. We were a bit thrown off when we thought we recognized the historical interpreter as having also been at Port Royal, but as it turned out, the two men were twin brothers, and apparently used to double takes!

IMG_2272Last but not least, we made a point of walking on some of the land where our ancestors had farmed centuries before. Nova Scotia, as it turns out, is well prepared for this type of tourism, with maps at the ready – both paper and of the trail side marker variety – indicating where the properties affiliated with different Acadian surnames were once located. Nova Scotia remains quite rural, and it was wonderful to be able to picture our ancestors’ lives so clearly with much of the land still undeveloped.

After seeing a few more sites in Nova Scotia, my dad and I returned home laden with pictures, maps, brochures, books, recipes, and Acadian and Cajun music, as well as an Acadian flag and the occasional unintentional burst of an Acadian accent. Of course, it was also all too easy to see why our ancestors would not have wanted to leave their homeland, and why some Acadians underwent great hardship in order to return.

Although our direct ancestors, who were deported to Massachusetts, ultimately settled in Quebec, it is certainly telling that they named their new home l’Acadie.

Donning a Daycap for a Tintype Portrait

Scanned Image 33

Unidentified woman wearing a daycap, possibly Mount Pleasant, Henry, Iowa, ca. 1860-1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

This woman, born perhaps in the first decade of the nineteenth century, likely lived to witness the Civil War. As inexpensive tintype photographs gained popularity, so did ornate albums where families could collect photographs of loved ones and famous folk alike.1 This tintype, measuring 1.5 x 2 inches, is closest in size to what was considered a sixteenth plate. The embossed paper sleeve in which it was placed brings the size to that of a carte de visite, allowing the tintype to be slipped easily into a slot in an album.2 Paper sleeves such as these were common in the 1860s; while this example doesn’t have a patriotic design that would directly suggest a date during the Civil War, it nevertheless seems probable that it is of that same era.

The woman’s dress has full sleeves, a high collar with possible tatted detail, and a row of fabric-covered buttons down the bodice. Her hair has a center part and is covered by a frilly, old-fashioned daycap with long ribbons that, left untied, frame her face.3 Although her mouth is turned downward, her expression seems kind as she gazes directly at the camera with large, light-colored eyes, her head tilted gently to the side.

I can’t imagine that the woman is younger than fifty years of age; depending on how strenuous her experiences in life may have been, she could also be significantly older but in comparatively good health. She has pleasant features, and, though slim, she doesn’t appear terribly frail. However, her age is apparent as her face and neck are lined and her eyes are deeply set. Daycaps, such as the one she wears, were popular with conservative, older women during this decade.4

This unidentified photograph comes from an album linked to the family of Civil War veteran Jesse M. Smith of Mount Pleasant, Henry, Iowa.5 If I were to attempt to identify the woman in a related family tree, I would look for a woman born circa 1800-1810, perhaps a grandmother or aunt who may have been close to the family. Although paper sleeves made it easier to label tintypes with the names of loved ones – as did photograph albums – perhaps this woman’s identity was so well known to the family that they saw no reason to record her name.

Continue reading