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
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 or Canada, 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, Winneshiek, Iowa, on 31 January 1950; Elizabeth died seven years later on 9 February 1957. Both are buried at St. Aloysius Cemetery in Calmar.8
1 “Father of Local Man Succumbed,” The Green (Iowa) Recorder, 8 February 1950, p. 1, col. 2.
2 “Deutschland, Geburten und Taufen 1558-1898,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 7 December 2014), Elisabeth Hoffmann.
3 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 September 2013), manifest, S.S. Noordland, Antwerp, Belgium, to New York, arriving 28 May 1886, Mathias Nocke [Noehl], line 450; citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, roll 495, and “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 December 2014), manifest, S.S. Friesland, Antwerp, Belgium to New York, arriving 21 May 1890, Elis Hoffman; citing National Archives microfilm M237, roll 548.
4 Noehl, Mathias. “Memoirs.” MS. New Hampton, Iowa, ca. 1938-1950. Privately held by Melanie Frick. Note: Excerpts from an unpaginated German to English translation.
5 “Iowa, Marriages, 1809-1992,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 7 December 2014), Mathias Noehl and Elizabeth Hoffman, 1896.
6 Mathias Noehl, “Memoirs.”
7 “Elizabeth Noehl Dies; Funeral to be Tuesday,” The Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette, 11 Feb 1957, p. 4, col. 4.
8 Iowa Gravestone Photo Project (http://www.iowagravestones.org : accessed 7 December 2014), photograph, Mathias Noehl (1868-1950) and Elizabeth Noehl (1869-1957), St. Aloysius Cemetery, Winneshiek County, Iowa.