Author Archives: Melanie Frick

About Melanie Frick

Melanie Frick, MLS, holds a Certificate in Genealogical Research and is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists. An Iowa native with Midwestern roots, Melanie now lives in the Pacific Northwest.

A Mother and Her Sons

Kathrine (Christensen) Walsted had lived in America for nearly thirteen years when she was photographed with her two young sons in 1919.1 She had immigrated from Denmark at the age of twenty; now in her early thirties, she resided with her husband and children in a small rental house in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.2

Kathrine (Christensen) Walsted with sons Roy Louis Walsted and James Herman Walsted, circa 1919, Sioux City, Iowa; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.

It is a bit puzzling why her husband of nine years, Jens Jacob Walsted, known as James, was not photographed with her. Although James registered for the draft in September of 1918, it is not believed that he ever served in World War I.3 However, as he was a bricklayer by trade, it is possible that he traveled at times to work on building projects. Perhaps his wife wanted to surprise him with a portrait to keep with him when away. This may also be why Kathrine alone was photographed with her eldest son when he was an infant, several years prior.

Of course, James may simply not have enjoyed having his photograph taken! Although he lived to the age of seventy-five, only three informal photographs of him have been uncovered.4 One gives a glimpse of him as a young man, while the other snapshots were taken in his later years.

In any case, in this photograph, Kathrine appears elegant yet warm, with a faint smile at her lips and a hint of a dimple at her cheek. Her thick hair is pinned up in a bun, the trend of the bob having not yet swept America, and soft curls escape at her temples. She wears what might have been a white cotton voile waist.5

Her eldest son, Roy, seven or eight years old here, wears a dark suit and tie.6 His hair is neatly trimmed and combed to the side, and his expression is wide-eyed and solemn. Young James, named for his father, looks to be about a year and a half old, his fair hair in a bowl cut.7 His loose-fitting garment appears to feature some embroidery; as Kathrine was known to have been a member of a local needlecraft club, perhaps this was her own handiwork.8

Notably, Roy had barely recovered from a life-threatening brush with polio when his brother was born in November 1917. In September of that year, the Sioux City Journal had reported, “Roy Walstead [sic], 6-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. James Walstead [sic], 406 South Helen avenue, Morningside, is expected to recover completely from an attack of infantile paralysis, according to the attending physician. The boy is able to walk alone now and in six months he is expected to have recovered entirely. If recovery is complete it will constitute one of the few cases on record, according to the physician.”9

Roy did indeed recover, although he always walked with a limp, and it has been said that his younger brother was his staunch defender against bullies. However, Kathrine was surely grateful to have both of her sons by her side and in good health when, one hundred years ago, she dressed them in their finest clothes and ventured with them to the portrait studio.

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Hedwig

It has been said that Hedwig had “fiery red hair.”1

However, by the time color photographs became mainstream, her hair was white.

And, in fact, no color photographs are known to exist of Hedwig at all.

Hedwig (Cichos) Lutz Rindfleisch was born in 1855 in what is now Nowa Wieś Książęca, Poland, but what at the time was the village of Neudorf in Silesia.2 She immigrated to the United States at the age of eighteen,3 settling in southern Minnesota, and at nineteen, she married fellow immigrant Joseph Lutz.4 They had five children together, although the eldest did not survive childhood.5 After Joseph’s death, Hedwig remarried to Albert Rindfleisch and gave birth to five more children.6 She raised her nine surviving children in Minnesota Lake, Faribault County, Minnesota, and spent many years as a single mother, supporting her children as a seamstress and tending her small farmstead where she processed and preserved much of their own food.7

There are no widely known family stories about Hedwig having a stereotypical temper to match her red hair, although she was said to have been stern. A tale that perhaps comes the closest suggests that when her first husband, a butcher, would give generous gifts of meat to new immigrants in their community, she would chide him and say that the newcomers would not even have a pot to cook with.8

Back: Anna (Lutz) Catlin, Melanie (Lutz) Adam, Elsie (Rindfleisch) Beyer, Edward Rindfleisch, and Front: Keith Beyer, Hedwig (Cichos) Lutz Rindfleisch, and Albert Rindfleisch, Danville, Blue Earth County, Minnesota, circa 1937-39; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.

Two of the three known photographs of Hedwig were taken on the same summer day at her daughter’s farm in Danville, Blue Earth County, Minnesota. The year is uncertain, but based on the presumed ages of the children in the photograph, was likely circa 1937-39. Although this gathering may not have included all of her surviving children and grandchildren, four of her children and three of her grandchildren are pictured.

Back: Anna (Lutz) Catlin, Permelia Adam, Melanie (Lutz) Adam, Adelheid (Brandt) Rindfleisch, Elsie (Rindfleisch) Beyer, Mary (Grover) Rindfleisch, Alfred Beyer, Helen (?) Catlin, Vance Catlin, Edward Rindfleisch, Henry Adam, and Front: Keith Beyer, Hedwig (Cichos) Lutz Rindfleisch, and Albert Rindfleisch, Danville, Blue Earth County, Minnesota, circa 1937-39; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.

Surrounded by family, Hedwig, who had celebrated her eightieth birthday in 1936, looks relaxed and content, with a wisp of hair blowing in the breeze and her mouth pressed into a smile. She wears a printed dress in a light color, suitable for a summer day, and squints in the sun.

Hedwig (Cichos) Lutz Rindfleisch, Minnesota, circa 1940; digital image 2019, from a photocopy courtesy of Armond Sonnek, 2002. Provenance of the original unknown.

The only other known photograph of Hedwig shows her seated at the kitchen table in the home she shared with her eldest son and his family during her later years. Wearing a loose patterned house dress, her hair pulled back, she clasps the fingers of one hand in the other as she appears to gaze peacefully towards a window.

It was at this table that she was said to have sat to churn butter and clean vegetables, an industrious soul still determined to contribute to the household as much as possible.9

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Pomeranian Roots

For decades, the precise origins of German-speaking immigrants Joachim and Sophia (Cammin) Wiese of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois were forgotten.1

There were clues: a scrawled place name on the Hamburg Passagierlisten, an intriguing DNA connection.2

Finally, a dedicated on-site researcher uncovered several records that definitively placed Joachim and Sophia within the arms of their families in the neighboring villages of Wendisch Baggendorf and Barkow, located in present-day Vorpommern-Rügen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.3

Joachim, christened Joachim Christian Friedrich Wiese, was born on 20 October 1840 in Wendisch Baggendorf, the son of laborer Johann Adam Wiese and Beate Elisabeth Hanna Schult.4

Sophia, christened Catharina Sophia Joachime Cammin, was born on 07 November 1842 in Barkow, the daughter of laborer Johann Christian Cammin and Christina Dorothea Ahrends.5

Joachim and Sophia married on 03 April 1864 in Grimmen, a village of perhaps a couple thousand inhabitants located a short distance from the state-owned estate at Barkow where Joachim was employed as a laborer.6 They were married by Carl Bindemann at St-Marien-Kirche, an early Gothic construction that dates to the thirteenth century.7

“St.-Marien-Kirche in Grimmen,” 2007, Grimmen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany; Wikimedia Commons, copyright Erell.

The couple’s first child, christened Carl Christian Friedrich Wiese, was born later that year on 17 September 1864.8 He did not survive childhood.9 Their second child, christened Friedrich Carl Christian Wiese, was born on 22 August 1866.10

When they prepared to board the Electric at Hamburg in November of 1868, however, Joachim and Sophia stated that their two-year-old son, nicknamed Fritz, was only nine months of age.11 It seems plausible that a free or reduced rate of passage might have been granted infants under one, and if the Wiese family did not happen to encounter a sympathetic ticketing agent, it can easily be imagined that Sophia might have bundled Fritz in a shawl close to her chest to conceal his true age until the family was safely aboard the ship.

Joachim and Sophia (Cammin) Wiese, ca. 1889, Chicago, Cook, Illinois; digital image ca. 2000.

Whatever the case, the Wiese family arrived in New York the day after Christmas 1868, after enduring a nearly eight week crossing during which time Sophia marked her twenty-sixth birthday.12 Among their fellow steerage passengers were several relatives, including Sophia’s widowed mother; Joachim’s widowed father came aboard a different ship.13 They soon made their way to Chicago, where they joined a wave of immigrants like themselves who contributed to the city’s unprecedented expansion.

It was there, during the years of regrowth that followed the Chicago Fire of 1871, that Joachim would work his way up to become a tailor, while Sophia would raise six children.14 And it was in Chicago that the Wiese family would face new struggles and new opportunities as they adapted to an urban environment vastly different from their rural homeland near the Baltic Sea.

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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A Birthday Celebration

Several days after Nancy (Stilley) Hall of Gypsum, Saline County, Kansas celebrated her seventieth birthday on 19 June 1889, a large crowd of family members and friends gathered to honor her.1 A warm account of the affair was printed in the Gypsum Advocate:

A Birthday Social

Last Saturday evening about the time the Sun was taking its good night leave, and later on, a good many persons were seen wending their way toward the west part of the city. The residence of E. D. Hall seemed to be the objective point. After about seventy persons had gathered there, consisting of the aged, the middleaged [sic], youths and children Mrs. Nancy Hall was congratulated on having reached the alloted [sic] years of three score and ten. She is still blessed with reasonably good health and clearness of mind. Mrs. Hall came to this Valley 20 years ago when there were but few settlers in it. She was a widow with 8 children, but two of them boys, aged 9 and 15 years, viz E. D. and John Hall. She located on a quarter section 4 miles south of this city with but one or two settlers in sight. The five daughters that came with her to Kansas, now all married and in good and comfortable circumstances, to wit; Mrs. Wm. Stahl, Mrs. McCance, Mrs. Hoffman, Mrs. Gaultney, and Mrs. Geo. Miller were present and most all of their children. Mrs. H. has 8 children, 33 grandchildren and 4 Great grand children. The other portion of the assembly was composed of members of the baptist church of which Mrs. H. has long been a member, and neighbors and acquaintances. Elder Stitt made an address very appropriate to the time and occasion. Several suitabl [sic] gifts were made Mrs. Hall and presented by Mr. Amos, who alluded to the fact that they came mostly from dutiful and grateful children who knew and appreciated her best. Mrs. Hall very feelingly expressed her thanks and gratitude for the evidence and indications of respect that had been shown her. A bountiful supper was served by the daughters and grand daughters. The baptist chior [sic] furnished good music and singing. The occasion was a pleasant one and will long be remembered, as celebrating the 70th birthday of Mrs. Nancy Hall.2

Pioneer Mother Memorial (Kansas City, Kansas) by Chris Murphy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Nancy had indeed ventured from Illinois to Kansas in 1869 as a fifty-year-old widow, and in 1872, she filed for a one hundred and sixty acre homestead nestled against that of the expansive cattle ranch of author and historical figure Frank Wilkeson.3 With the help of her children, she settled into life as a Kansas pioneer at her home near Hobbs Creek, where she farmed crops including wheat, corn, and oats and looked out from her homestead upon a view of the rolling plains.4 She was likely a charter member of the First Baptist Church of Gypsum, the choir of which provided musical entertainment at her birthday celebration.5

Nancy died nine years later due to an accidental fall from a buggy.6 The Gypsum Advocate reported at that time that “Grandma Hall” was “a general favorite with young and old.”7

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading

The Young Musicians

At first, Leonard and Helen might have seemed like an unlikely pairing.

Leonard John Christian Wiese was a city boy through and through, born and raised in Chicago. Helena Margaret Nelson, on the other hand, was a farm girl from rural southeastern South Dakota. Chicago’s population in 1920 numbered over two and half million, while the largest town within the vicinity of Helen’s family’s farm had a population of only five thousand.

Leonard Wiese and Helen Nelson, South Dakota, circa 1922-23; digital image 2014, privately held by B.S., 2019.

Their heritages also differed. Leonard’s parents had immigrated to America from Germany as children, while Helen’s parents had immigrated to America from Denmark.1 However, despite different familial origins and native languages, Leonard and Helen had a surprising amount in common.

Both were born in the year 1900, and both were younger children in large families—Leonard the last of five, and Helen the sixth of nine.2

Leonard Wiese and Helen Nelson, South Dakota, circa 1922-23; digital image 2014, privately held by B.S., 2019.

Both lost their fathers as teenagers. Leonard’s father, Fred, died when Leonard was thirteen years old, and perhaps because of the need to help support his mother, Leonard entered the workforce after completing the eighth grade.3 Helen’s father, also named Fred, died when she was seventeen; shortly thereafter, she began teaching country school.4

Both saw older brothers serve in the First World War.5

Both lost older sisters to tragic circumstances in the year 1918.6

Both were raised as members of the Lutheran church.7

Perhaps their most significant commonality, however, was their shared love of music. Leonard was a talented violinist, while Helen played the piano, and their talents made them popular entertainers within their respective social circles.8

Leonard Wiese and Helen Nelson, South Dakota, circa 1922-23; digital image 2014, privately held by B.S., 2019.

As the story goes, as a young man, Leonard worked at the docks in Chicago while his older brother Oliver worked for the railroad. Oliver obtained tickets west so that he and Leonard could seek seasonal farm work, and the industrious brothers wound up in Yankton County, South Dakota.9 Leonard, of course, had brought along his violin, and it has been surmised that one way or another, word spread that a young man with musical talent was in the area. Wouldn’t he get along swell with a certain young pianist? Before long, the Wiese brothers had made the acquaintance of the Nelson sisters, among them Helen and her older sister Louise.10 

Oliver and Louise married in Yankton on 01 June 1922, and after a courtship documented in a few surviving snapshots, which offer a glimpse of light-hearted moments shared together, Leonard and Helen married in Chicago on 05 January 1924.11

Happily, music remained a shared passion throughout their twenty-three years of marriage, and it was their delight to engage their two daughters in their very own Wiese Family Band.12

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading

A Pioneer Cemetery

On a flat patch of land off a dirt road in southeastern South Dakota, not far from the predominantly Czech community of Tabor, a small Danish pioneer cemetery can be found.

Elm Grove Cemetery, Yankton County, South Dakota photograph, 2019; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.

Elm Grove Cemetery is said to date to the summer of 1875. The first child of Danish immigrants Christian and Mathilde Elise (Bramsen) Olsen, Marie Evengiline, was born that June, but lived only two weeks.1 Devastated at her loss, her father fashioned a small wooden casket and stained it pink with the juice of wild raspberries, while her mother lined it with fabric cut from her best dress.2

Baby Marie Evengiline was buried on a corner of the Olsen homestead and a small cedar tree was dug from a ravine and planted at her grave. As the story goes, it was soon trampled by the cattle who roamed freely as they grazed. Mathilde implored Christian to fence their daughter’s grave, and he obliged, thus designating an acre on a corner of their property as a cemetery.3 It was incorporated as Maple Grove Cemetery in 1907—not as Cedar Grove, as one might have thought—and today is known as Elm Grove Cemetery.4

No stone marks the grave of Marie Evengiline, nor the graves of up to a shocking seven of her infant siblings.5 The graves of her maternal grandparents, Erik and Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen, who died within a decade thereafter, are also unmarked. However, numerous headstones exist at the graves of pioneer kin who were buried there in the years to come, among them her parents Christian and Mathilde.

Christian Olsen (1845-1909) was said to have immigrated from Denmark to Dakota Territory in 1866 at the age of twenty-one, while Mathilde Elise Bramsen (1842-1935) immigrated alongside her parents in 1872 at the age of thirty.6 They married circa 1874 and together farmed the one hundred and sixty acres in Yankton County that Christian had acquired under the Morrill Act—a farm conveniently located within walking distance of the homestead of Mathilde’s sister and brother-in-law, and boasting a house made of homemade clay and straw bricks that Christian had built himself.7 The names of six of their supposed ten children are known: Marie Evengiline, Edward, Mary, Anna, Henry, and Cecilia.8 Only two of their children, Edward and Anna, survived to adulthood, and they, too, are buried at Elm Grove Cemetery.

Today, the Elm Grove Cemetery is shady and well-tended, with a chain link fence duly keeping any rogue livestock at bay. Although it is bordered on two sides by homes, on the others it faces windswept plains almost as far as the eye can see—a view perhaps not entirely unlike that of nearly one hundred and fifty years ago.

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading

George and Leota

No wedding portrait of George Hiram Thoma and Anna Leota Fenton is known to exist. When they married on 23 March 1902, George was twenty-one years old while Leota had just celebrated her twenty-second birthday.1

And in fact, while photographs of their children abound, the earliest photograph yet uncovered of George and Leota together was taken twenty-six years later.

Leota (Fenton) Thoma and George Thoma, Sioux City, Iowa, 1928; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

Another, a sharper yet more serious snapshot, was taken perhaps a decade or more after that.

Leota (Fenton) Thoma and George Thoma, 3500 Block of Nebraska Street, Sioux City, Iowa; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

George and Leota had spent their first few years of marriage together not as Mr. and Mrs. Thoma, but as Mr. and Mrs. Neilson, before abruptly discarding this mysterious alias.

They had moved no less than half a dozen times within their first quarter-century together, first as newlyweds from Ashton, Iowa to Center, Nebraska, then to Sioux City, Iowa, then to Bassett, Nebraska, then to Decatur, Nebraska, then to Scribner, Nebraska, and finally back to Sioux City.

They had taken risks and faced failure as aspiring homesteaders and entrepreneurs.

But they had succeeded in raising four children together: Fenton, Fern, Norma, and Betty.

After years of effort to find a place to call home, they settled into a comfortable life together in Sioux City surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

They are remembered as “super grandparents” and as good, kind, fun-loving people who celebrated more than sixty years of marriage together.2

(Just not all of them were spent as Mr. and Mrs. Thoma.)

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading