From Germany to Chicago’s Old Town

Clara (Bach) Marbach was born in Luxembourg near the border of the district of Bitburg-Prüm, Rhineland-Pfalz, Germany, the daughter of Johannes and Anna Maria (Thiel) Bach.1 She married Mathias Marbach in June of 1835,2 and the couple had six known children in the decade that followed: Anna,3 Catharina,4 Elisabetha (I),5 Elisabetha (II),6 Adamus,7 and Elisabetha (III).8 The family is believed to have resided in the village of Prümzurlay, known for its castle ruins upon sandstone bluffs that overlook its scenic valley.

Photograph of Prümzurlay, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, as viewed from Prümerburg, 2009; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Following the death of her husband, Clara left Germany for America in the company of two of her daughters, Elisabetha (I) and Elisabetha (III), along with their husbands and children.9 A third daughter, Anna, would emigrate twenty years later.10 Clara traveled aboard the Holland and arrived in New York in June of 1871, thirty-four years after she had married.11 She and her daughters made their way to Chicago where they settled near St. Michael’s Catholic Church, located in what is today the heart of Chicago’s Old Town.

Sadly, within days of their arrival, Clara’s six-month-old grandson succumbed to pneumonia.12 It was a difficult year; the Great Chicago Fire tore through the city in October of 1871, a horrifying disaster that would almost certainly have left Clara and her daughters homeless alongside an estimated 90,000 of the city’s inhabitants,13 and another grandson passed away at twenty-one months the following June amidst a scourge of cholera upon their neighborhood.14 The years to come were difficult as well, as Clara saw numerous grandchildren born and die, including one who succumbed to smallpox in an outbreak that devastated their community.15

The family’s neighborhood was known in the nineteenth century as the “Cabbage Patch” due to the large number of German immigrants who had farmed there in Chicago’s earliest years.16 When Chicago burned, St. Michael’s Catholic Church, the cornerstone of this German American community, was one of only a handful of buildings in the city to survive, although it was badly damaged and had to be reconstructed.17 Perhaps Clara was among the parishioners who attempted to bury some of the church’s valuables in the church yard as the fire approached, and she and her daughters, son-in-laws, and grandchildren may have huddled in an open field or at Lincoln Park on the shores of Lake Michigan as the fire roared through the area.18

At the time of the 1880 U.S. census, nine years after her arrival, Clara lived at the home of her daughter Elisabetha (III), who, at thirty-five, had been twice widowed and once abandoned, a state that earned her the designation of “grass widow” by the census enumerator.19 Elisabetha supported herself and her stepchildren by sewing, while Clara, by then in her mid-seventies, kept house.20 Their neighborhood had been entirely rebuilt following the Great Chicago Fire, thanks to a flood of donations, including building materials, from relief societies.21

Cook County, Illinois, death certificate no. 66546, Clara Marbach; Cook County Clerk, Chicago.

Clara died five years later on 12 July 1885; she was reported to have reached the age of eighty-two and eleven months and her cause of death was attributed to heart failure after having been bedridden for the previous three months.22 Clara (Bach) Marbach was buried at St. Boniface Catholic Cemetery in Chicago’s North Side neighborhood.23 Today, her grave, which rests in the company of those of several of her children and grandchildren, is unmarked.24

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.


SOURCES
1 Cook County, Illinois, death certificate no. 66546, Clara Marbach; Cook County Clerk, Chicago, and “Deutschland Heiraten, 1558-1929,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 June 2017), Matthias Marbach and Clara Bach, 27 Jun 1835, Meckel.
2 “Deutschland Heiraten, 1558-1929,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 June 2017), Matthias Marbach and Clara Bach, 06 Jun 1835, Irrel, and “Deutschland Heiraten, 1558-1929,” database, FamilySearch, Matthia Marbach and Clara Bach, 1835, Meckel. Duplicate records appear in indexes; once original records are reviewed a more precise date and location of the couple’s marriage may be obtained.
3 “Deutschland Geburten und Taufen, 1558-1898,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 June 2017), Anna Marbach, 04 November 1835, Irrel.
4 “Deutschland Geburten und Taufen, 1558-1898,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 June 2017), Catharina Marbach, 01 February 1837, Irrel.
5 “Deutschland Geburten und Taufen, 1558-1898,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 June 2017), Elisabetha Marbach, 17 January 1839, Irrel.
6 “Deutschland Geburten und Taufen, 1558-1898,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 June 2017), Elisabeta Morbach [Elisabetha Marbach], 26 December 1841, Irrel.
7 “Deutschland Geburten und Taufen, 1558-1898,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 June 2017), Adamus Marbach, 10 April 1843, Irrel.
8 “Deutschland Geburten und Taufen, 1558-1898,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 June 2017), Elisabetha Marbach, 18 June 1845, Irrel.
9 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 June 2017), manifest, Holland, Liverpool, England to New York, arriving 21 June 1871, Clara Bach; citing National Archives microfilm M237, roll 344.
10 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 June 2017), manifest, Friesland, Antwerp, Belgium to New York, arriving 11 March 1891, Anna Hoffman; citing National Archives microfilm M237, roll 562.
11 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com, manifest, Holland, Liverpool, England to New York, arriving 21 June 1871, Clara Bach.
12 “Illinois, Chicago, Catholic Church Records,” digital images, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 June 2017), St. Michael Parish (Cleveland Ave), Deaths 1866-1915, entry for Michael Nehl, 01 July 1871, p. 86. This is assumed but not confirmed to be the son of Anton and Elisabetha (Marbach)
Nehl.
13 Shirley Baugher, Hidden History of Old Town (Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2011), 55.
14 “Illinois, Chicago, Catholic Church Records,” digital images, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 June 2017), St. Michael Parish (Cleveland Ave), Deaths 1866-1915, entry for Anton Welter, 26 June 1872, p. 96.
15 “Illinois, Chicago, Catholic Church Records,” digital images, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 June 2017), St. Michael Parish (Cleveland Ave), Deaths 1866-1915, entry for John Welter, 22 February 1882.
16 Baugher, Hidden History of Old Town, 25.
17 “St Michael’s Church,” The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory (https://www.greatchicagofire.org/landmarks/st-michaels-church/ : accessed 23 June 2017).
18 Baugher, Hidden History of Old Town, 54-58.
19 1880 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago, Enumeration District (ED) 168, p. 25 (handwritten), dwelling 111, family 254, Elizabet Ziebel and Clara Bach; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 June 2017), citing National Archives microfilm T9, roll 197.
20 1880 U.S. census, Cook Co., Ill., pop. sch., Chicago, ED 168, p. 25, dwell. 111, fam. 254, Elizabet Ziebel and Clara Bach.
21 Baugher, Hidden History of Old Town, 59.
22 Cook Co., Ill., death certificate no. 66546, Clara Marbach.
23 Calvary Cemeteries (Archdiocese of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois) to Melanie Frick, e-mail, 17 October 2016, providing administrative records for Lot N 11, Block 2, Section C, Saint Boniface Catholic Cemetery.
24 Find A Grave, Inc., digital image, Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 23 June 2017), photograph, Clara Marbach (1885), Memorial No. 179372420, St. Boniface Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois; photograph by Susanne D. The photograph of the plot reveals that there is no headstone for Clara Marbach.

 

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6 thoughts on “From Germany to Chicago’s Old Town

    1. Melanie Frick Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Luanne! I was so happy to find the great collection of Catholic church records from Chicago available digitally on FamilySearch.

      Reply
  1. Melanie Frick Post author

    Oh, good question… I haven’t noticed any in the Chicago records that I’ve explored so far, but I would think it would be possible. If not in a specific section, then maybe keep an eye out for notations in the margins alongside an ancestor’s baptismal, confirmation, or marriage records? Good luck with your search!

    Reply

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