Tag Archives: 1870s

Tombstone Tuesday: Wilhelm Heinrich Thoma (1827-1876)

Wilhelm Heinrich Thoma was born on 16 December 1827 in the village of Weißenstadt, located in what is now Upper Franconia, Bavaria, Germany, the son of Paulus and Elisabeth (Schmidt) Thoma. At the age of twenty-four, Wilhelm, along with his parents and six siblings, immigrated to America. Traveling aboard the Uhland, the family left Bremen bound for New Orleans, where they arrived in June 1852.

New Orleans was not to be their final destination; the family traveled up the Mississippi River until reaching northeastern Iowa, where they soon settled in the village of Garnavillo in Clayton County. A biography within The History of Clayton County, Iowa notes, “Upon coming to the United States, William Thoma proved himself an ambitious young man whose courage and determination were shown in definite action.”

On 28 May 1857, when Wilhelm, also known as William, was twenty-nine years old, he married eighteen-year-old Anna Margaretha Poesch, a fellow immigrant who also hailed from Weißenstadt. The couple had eleven known children: Frederick (1857-1925), Anna Katharina (1859-1919), John Lorenz (1861-1886), Anna Rosina (1862-1934), Margaretha B. (1864-1902), John Wilhelm (1866-1890), John Paulus (1868-1911), Anna Paulina (1869-1950), Maria Magdelena (1872-1954), John Christopher (1874-1934), and John Charles Thoma (1875-1932).

Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (www.findagrave.com : accessed 25 July 2020), photograph, Wilhelm H. Thoma (1827-1876), Memorial No. 146616631, Garnavillo Community Cemetery, Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa; photograph by Ken Johnson, 2016.

Wilhelm first entered the mercantile business while in his twenties, shortly after arriving in Iowa. In 1859, he established his own general store in Garnavillo, offering groceries and dry goods, which he operated until the time of his death. It was said at that time that “in his personal and business relations with the people he was the ‘soul of honor,’ a good, honest, straight forward man.”

Wilhelm was active in his community throughout his adulthood; his obituary noted, “In public matters Mr. Thoma has taken a lively interest, and exhibited a degree of earnest zeal in the advancement of his fellow countrymen, enjoying their confidence and support. He has held minor offices of trust, discharging the duties thereof satisfactory to the people.” One incident of note is that during the grasshopper plague of 1874, following an appeal from Kossuth County, Iowa, Wilhelm’s name was included among a list of individuals “designated to receive contributions for the grasshopper sufferers.” Furthermore, William was a member of the county Board of Supervisors at the time of his death, an office he was said to have held in “a most excellent and upright” manner.

Wilhelm Heinrich Thoma died in Garnavillo on 27 July 1876; he was forty-eight years old. Lengthy obituaries in multiple local newspapers did not share the cause of his death, but lauded his talents, one noting that he had “been counted among Clayton County’s best and most public spirited citizens,” and that “his own village loses a citizen whom it was equally a pleasure and honor to name as a friend.” Another commented upon his wealth and prominence, and called him “a man universally honored and beloved where known.” Wilhelm was buried at the Garnavillo City Cemetery in Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa.

Copyright © 2020 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Feeding the Black Hills Gold Rush

“In the early 1880 days of the Gold Rush in the Black Hills Fred [Nielsen] and his brother-in-law Christian Callesen bought eggs in the Yankton area, packed them in cases, placed the egg cases in a wagon box surrounded by oats, hauled them to the Hills and sold them at a good price to the hungry miners.” This bit of family lore was recorded by Nielsen descendent Harold Jorgensen and printed in Yankton County History roughly one hundred years after the fact.

The Black Hills Gold Rush began in 1874, the same year that a then ten-year-old Fred Nielsen set sail from Denmark to America with his parents and five siblings, his two oldest brothers having ventured to the Midwest the year prior. The family settled on one hundred and sixty acres of farmland in what is now Yankton County, South Dakota.

Fred turned sixteen in 1880, the same year that Christian “Chris” Callesen, at the age of twenty-five, married Fred’s nineteen-year-old sister Karen Kirstine “Stena” Nielsen. The Black Hills Gold Rush, its epicenter in Deadwood, had peaked in the late 1870s, and the surge of those panning for gold waned considerably by 1880 due in part to a smallpox outbreak and a destructive fire. Apparently, however, there was still enough activity—and “hungry miners,” as the story goes—to make it worthwhile for two young men to drive a wagon nearly 400 miles from Yankton to Deadwood on what may have been more than one occasion.

Charcoal drawing based on photograph of Fred Nielsen (1864-1918), Deadwood, Dakota Territory, ca. 1888-1890, artist unknown, drawing date unknown; digital image 2010, privately held by B.A., 2020.

Indeed, there is evidence that Fred was in Deadwood at least twice, if not more often. He was photographed there on two occasions, the first time circa 1884-86 and the second several years later. Local histories indicate that Christian and his wife homesteaded near St. Onge, a stone’s throw from Deadwood, in 1884. Perhaps Fred spent time in the area with his sister and brother-in-law, as St. Onge hosted a sizable Danish community. In 1889, the Little Dane Church, which still stands today, was built on the southeast corner of Christian’s land.

Were Fred and Christian still making a profit selling eggs and other farm products well into the 1880s, or did Fred find other reasons to make repeated visits to Deadwood? If he was not there on business, Deadwood would at the very least have provided a dramatic change of scenery for a young farmer from a quieter corner of Dakota Territory.

Fred married neighbor Christine Schmidt, a fellow Danish immigrant, in 1890, and it is unknown whether he ever traveled to Deadwood after their marriage. He did travel as far as Colorado with his brother-in-law in 1911, and family lore states that at some point he acquired land near Phillip, South Dakota. Bureau of Land Management records show that a Fred Nielsen purchased one hundred and sixty acres of land in Stanley County, not far from Phillip, in 1910, but further research is necessary to determine whether this was the same Fred Nielsen and, if so, why he might have purchased land there.

Several of Fred’s siblings made return visits to Denmark as adults, but as for Fred, he seems to have been drawn instead to the west.

Copyright © 2020 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Olsens in the Old Country

Niels Olsen and Juliane Sophie Hennike spent the first twenty-two years of their married life in their native Denmark before venturing together to America.

They had married on 30 July 1852 in Haraldsted, Soro, Denmark. A nineteenth-century stereoscope image of what appears to be the church at Haraldsted was handed down through descendants of their second son, along with a stereoscope image that preserves the view of the village itself.

Haraldsted, Soro, Denmark, 1800s; digital image 2019, privately held by Stevan Worley.

The couple resided in Osted, ten miles or so northeast of Haraldsted, in the early years of their marriage; this is where their sons Ole and Johan Henrik were born and baptized in 1853 and 1855. Niels, Juliane, and Ole appeared in the 1855 census here with two servants in their household, prior to the birth of Johan Henrik. Niels was a farmer.

The family relocated to the Orslevvester district five miles southwest of Haraldsted, near the village of Gyrstinge, within a year or two. Here their children Karen Sophia Dorthea, Karen Kirstine, Sesilie Johanne, Frederik, Anders Christian, Jens Christian, and Anders Julius were born and baptized between the years 1857 and 1871.

Haraldsted, Soro, Denmark, 1800s; digital image 2019, privately held by Stevan Worley.

The 1860 and 1870 Danish census records raise questions about the family’s living situation. In 1860, Niels and Juliane, by then the parents of three children, lived only with their youngest child at the time, daughter Karen Sophie Dorthea, age three. Where were their sons Ole and Johan Henrik? Ole, age seven, lived in Osted with his maternal grandmother. Johan Henrik’s location is less clear, but a census index indicates that a “Jens” Nielsen, age four, born in Osted, was a “foster child” in Jyrstup, located roughly between Osted and Orslevvester.

Although it seems odd that the Ole and Johan would not have lived in their parents’ household, it should be noted that Juliane was in the late stages of pregnancy in early 1860. One could speculate that she might have been unwell and therefore her older children were placed with relatives or friends for a temporary period.

There was no census in 1865 to give an idea of the family’s household structure, but in 1870, Niels and Juliane continued to reside in Orslevvester with five of their seven surviving children: Johan Henrik, Karen Kristine, Sesilie Johanne, Frederick, and Jens Christian.

Olsen Family Home, Soro, Denmark, 1800s; digital image 2019, privately held by Stevan Worley.

Their oldest son Ole, sixteen, and oldest daughter Karen Sophie Dorthea, twelve, resided in a household in Haraldsted where they were recorded as foster children. Three servants, ages sixteen, eighteen, and twenty also resided in the household, so it is notable that their statuses differed from those of Ole and Dorthea; however, the sixteen-year-old servant was female, and one possible theory is that males might not have been considered to be grown men and therefore actual servants until an older age. It seems plausible that the brother and sister may have worked in exchange for room and board, if not yet for a wage; whether they had left their family home for work experience or due to space constraints or poverty is unknown.

In any case, a nineteenth-century stereoscope image of what is believed to have been the family home, presumably in Orslevvester, has also been preserved by descendants. It appears to be an example of a u-shaped housebarn, a practical structure that connects the barn and the house and allows for protection from the elements in a cold climate.

In 1873, sons Ole and Johan Henrik immigrated to America, and in 1874, Niels, Juliane, and their six younger children, namely Karen Sophie Dorthea, Karen Kristine, Sesilie Johanne, Frederick, Jens Christian, and Anders Julius, followed. Their youngest child, Helena, would be born in Dakota Territory in 1875.

Family lore indicates that Niels purchased his farm near present-day Yankton, South Dakota for five hundred dollars; perhaps the sale of the family home in Denmark allowed him to make this cash purchase of good farmland at a time when many other immigrants opted to homestead for a nominal filing fee.

Niels and Juliane made a comfortable life for themselves and their children in America—and it can easily be imagined that they may have gathered around a stereoscope from time to time to view these very images and reminisce about their old home in Denmark.

Copyright © 2020 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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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

Tombstone Tuesday: Lorenz Stoehr (1790-1876)

Lorenz Stoehr was born in or near Weißenstadt, Upper Franconia, Bavaria, Germany, a village located a mere twenty miles from what is now the Czech Republic.1 Weißenstadt was named “white city” as a nod to its landmark white church, and is situated on the shore of a lake in the Fichtel Mountains.2 From the inscription on Lorenz’s tombstone, his birthdate can be calculated to 04 September 1790.3

As a young man, Lorenz served approximately six years in the military during the Napoleonic Wars, first under Napoleon and then, as allegiances shifted, with the Germans.4 As the story goes, he was eventually wounded on a march to Paris and was then discharged and granted a pension.5 Lorenz was trained as a master tailor, a trade he pursued during the winter months as the summer months were consumed with his labors as a farmer.6 Amazingly, several mementos of these chapters of his life survive today: buttons from his military uniform, his discharge and pension paperwork which granted him the amount of five Gulden each month for the remainder of his life, and an 1828 purchase agreement for approximately one and a half acres of land in the Weißenstadt area.7

Lorenz was married to Barbara Feicht in 1820 or shortly thereafter, and with her had the following known children: Margaretha B. (1824-1897), Johann Wolfgang (1826-1883), Eva Margaretha (1831-1906), George Adam (1833-1915), and Johann Friedrich (1842-circa 1857).8

In 1853, at the age of sixty-two, Lorenz arrived in New York harbor aboard the Solon.9 Traveling with him were his wife and youngest daughter; his sons had made their way to America the year prior, disembarking in New Orleans before making their way up the Mississippi River to the community of Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa.10

Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (www.findagrave.com : accessed 26 January 2019), photograph, Lorenz Stoehr (1790-1876), Memorial No. 69221239, Elgin City Cemetery, Elgin, Fayette County, Iowa; photograph by Tammy Miller, 2015.

Lorenz was widowed in 1855 and spent the years thereafter at the homes of his children.11 In 1856, he lived with his daughter Eva and her husband Hiram Hammond on their farm in Clayton County; in 1860 and 1870, he could be found at the home of his son George, a jeweler and dry goods merchant, first in Clayton County and then in neighboring Fayette County, Iowa.12

Lorenz Stoehr died at the age of eighty-six on 07 December 1876, likely at the home of his son in Elgin, Fayette County, Iowa.13 He is buried at the Elgin City Cemetery where an upright tombstone marks his grave.14

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Danish Family Portrait

The Schmidt family left Denmark for America in 1870, when Jens Madsen Schmidt was thirty-five years old and his wife, Anna (Bramsen) Schmidt, was thirty-seven.1 With them were their two young daughters, Inger Marie, who was not yet three, and Christine, who was just twenty months old.2 Jens and Anna had married in 1866, not long after Jens was discharged from military service following the Second Schleswig War.3

Jens Madsen Schmidt, Anna [Bramsen] Schmidt, and daughters Inger Marie and Christine, ca. 1869-70; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018. Image courtesy of Alvie Jorgensen as printed in A Few of my Grandchildren’s Ancestors (Massachusetts: Alvie Jorgensen, 1989).

This is the oldest known photograph of the Schmidt family, believed to have been taken shortly before they departed Denmark or soon after their arrival in America. Dated circa 1869-70, it is quite possibly a carte de visite, a small card-mounted photograph popular before the larger cabinet card format became more common in the 1880s.4 The family may have wanted to share copies with their family members at home; while Anna’s parents would later follow them to Dakota Territory, Jens’s parents would not.

In the photograph, Jens and Anna sit side by side in a carpeted studio, their daughters perched on their laps. Jens is heavily bearded, although his upper lip is clean-shaven. His hair is brushed back from his forehead and he wears loose trousers in a lighter color than his jacket, a similarly dark shirt buttoned underneath. Anna’s hair has a center part and is pulled back, although it seems that it may be looped over her ears. Her headwear looks vaguely medieval in appearance, something like a circular roll with a scarf at the back, although its true style is unclear as well. Additionally, few details can be distinguished of her dress, which is obscured by the child on her lap. The silhouette of the full sleeves gives the suggestion of Bishop sleeves, which would have been gathered at the cuff.5 There appears to be some detail at the neckline of the dress—perhaps a white collar with a bow tied above—and the skirt is long and full. Her attire, with the exception of her headwear, appears relatively modern and less like one tends to think of as traditional Danish folk attire.

Fair-haired Inger Marie and Christine appear to wear tot-sized versions of their mother’s overall style of dress. The scalloped hem of a petticoat peeks out from under Inger Marie’s skirt; Christine’s petticoat has a straight hem. Both wear stockings and shoes. It is possible that their dresses are made of matching fabric; less than thirteen months apart in age, the girls could almost appear to be twins.

This photograph appears in a spiral-bound volume entitled A Few of My Grandchildren’s Ancestors, researched and compiled by late Schmidt descendant Alvie Jorgensen nearly thirty years ago, as well as in the Yankton County Historical Society’s 1987 publication History of Yankton County, South Dakota.6 It would be exciting to view a high resolution scan of the image to observe more details and, perhaps, even learn the exact location that it was taken. The next known photograph of the Schmidt family was taken nearly twenty years later at their homestead in what is today Bon Homme County, South Dakota. Although they were by that time young women, Inger Marie and Christine wore matching dresses.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Unexpected Witness: An Application of a Woman Homesteader

I was intrigued when I learned that one of my ancestors had homesteaded as a widowed woman on the Kansas frontier. After reviewing a copy of her homestead application, I was further intrigued to find that, as fascinating as her experience as a homesteader must have been, the application itself contained clues to another story.

When Nancy (Stilley) Hall of Washington County, Illinois ventured to Kansas in 1869 at the age of fifty, she had her mind set on land.1 She had lost three husbands and would not marry again; land would provide the stability needed on the frontier. The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed any head of household over the age of twenty-one to claim one hundred and sixty acres, and women—single, divorced, or widowed—were therefore eligible.2

By the summer of 1872, having become familiar with the area, Nancy chose to settle in Gypsum Township, Saline County, Kansas.3 There, she claimed her quarter section of land and dutifully filed her homestead application at the Salina Land Office.4

After reviewing a Saline county plat map courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society, I turned to Google Maps for a glimpse of Nancy’s former land, located along the winding Gypsum Creek:

Although just five years of residency were required for one to file the deed on a homestead, it was seven years before Nancy submitted her proof of residency.5 As was typical, this was provided in the form of testimony from Nancy as well as two witnesses.

On 27 May 1879, these two witnesses testified that Nancy Hall, by then sixty years of age, had resided upon this land for the past seven years and that she had made the necessary improvements thereon, including: “house stable granary well forest trees &c.”6 In addition, Nancy had cultivated fifty acres and had raised wheat, corn, and oats.7

Interestingly, the witnesses’ statements in their individual testimonies were so nearly identical that it begs the question of whether, despite the notation indicating that witness testimony must be taken separately, they might have testified at the same time. At the very least, they might have collaborated to ensure that their recollections matched.

But why might these witnesses have cared so much about providing flawless testimony?

The first witness, William Stahl, was Nancy’s son-in-law, who had married into the family in 1865.8 While he had claimed land of his own and did not share Nancy’s homestead, he still may have skirted the issue of his relationship to Nancy and his ties to the homestead when he stated that he had known Nancy for just ten years and that he had no interest in her claim.

The second witness, Elithan Davis Hall, was twenty-five years old and recently married.9 Notably, he was Nancy’s own son. However, when faced with the question, “Are you well acquainted with Nancy Hall the claimant in this case, and how long have you known her?” Elithan replied, “I am and have known her ten years.”10 Of course, Elithan had known his own mother for his entire life—not merely for the past decade! He also stated that he had no interest in her claim, when his labors certainly must have helped to bring the homestead to its success.

In fact, it seems quite likely that Nancy might have claimed the homestead with Elithan, her eldest son, in mind. Just eighteen in 1872, Elithan was not yet old enough to claim a homestead of his own—but he would certainly have been old enough to take the lead in clearing, tilling, and cultivating the land while his mother managed the household and gardens. Furthermore, unlike his younger siblings, Elithan would remain on the homestead after his marriage; as early as 1880, he was considered the head of household, with Nancy also residing in his home, and an 1884 plat map clearly named the residence on Nancy’s property as his own.11

While the witness statements provided by William Stahl and Elithan Davis Hall stretched the truth in terms of the particulars of their relationships to Nancy and her homestead, it seems unlikely that any truly nefarious deception was intended. Perhaps the guidelines were misunderstood, or perhaps no witnesses who were not also related to Nancy, whether by marriage or blood, were available to provide the statements. It seems possible that William and Elithan might have escorted Nancy to town and stepped in at the last minute in order to expedite the filing process.

Whatever the case, no obstacles were identified in this final paperwork, and the patent was successfully filed with the General Land Office on 29 April 1882.12

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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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.
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The Danish Pioneers

Erik and Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen were in their sixties when they left their native Denmark to settle with their adult children in Dakota Territory.1 They had married on 1 September 1832 at Skrydstrup Kirke in Skrydstrup, Gram, Haderslev, Denmark, when Erik was twenty-eight and Inger Marie twenty-four.2 It was four decades later when they bade a final farewell to their farm, Hørløkkegaard, and their homeland.3

Erik Bramsen (1803-188–), circa 1870-1880; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen (1808-1885), circa 1870-1880; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

These undated photographs, circa 1870-1880, may have been taken before or after the couple made their ocean voyage; as I have not seen the originals, only photocopies, I am unsure of their format or any other identifying information. Erik wears an unbuttoned double-breasted wool overcoat; while seated, it reaches his knees. Little detail can be discerned about the shirt he wears underneath, which has no visible buttons, but his trousers are of a straight, loose cut. He is clean-shaven, his hair is trimmed and combed to the side, and his eyes appear light in color. Seated in a chair with an arched back, Erik rests his left arm on a small table covered with an embroidered cloth. Tassels from a curtain are visible in the background.

Inger Marie sits before the same background, with the chair situated to the right of the table instead of the left and her right elbow resting on the table. It seems possible that she has suffered a stroke, as her mouth appears uneven and one eye droops. A bonnet with a white frilled trim frames her face and ties below her chin with a large bow. Her dress has fitted sleeves with ruched cuffs, and the bodice is of a darker color than the full skirt. The fabric has a sheen to it, and, while simple, the dress appears well-made and carefully fitted. Several elements of her attire support a date sometime in the 1870s, including the frilled trim on her bonnet and its substantial bow.4

The couple arrived in New York aboard the Cimbria on 14 August 1872, within weeks of their fortieth wedding anniversary.5 They appear in the 1880 U.S. census for Yankton County, Dakota Territory,6 and both passed away in the years thereafter, Erik circa 1880 and Inger Marie in the spring of 1885 when she succumbed to tuberculosis.7 Erik and Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen are said to be buried in unmarked graves at Elm Grove Cemetery (formerly Maple Grove Cemetery) near Tabor, Yankton County, South Dakota, alongside many of their children and grandchildren who, like them, were pioneers.8

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Visit to an Alsatian Village

I can never forget the moment when I knocked at the door of a home in a small French village, a copy of my family tree chart in my hands as I stammered the phrase, “Bonjour. L’histoire de ma famille! to the startled teenage girl who answered. Thankfully, before long, with our fathers by our side—her father just so happened to be the mayor of Sondersdorf, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France—we managed to reach a mutual understanding of the fact that my father and I had ancestral roots in this village and would love to take a peek at the old records.

Sondersdorf_2006_02

Sondersdorf, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France photograph, 2006; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2016.

This was ten years ago, when I first traveled to Europe. Along with a few days spent in Paris and the ancestral village of my mother’s German grandfather, we also paid a visit to the charming Alsace region of northeastern France where my father’s great-great-grandfather had lived and served in the Franco-Prussian War.

Joseph Lutz, the son of Francois Joseph Lutz and Switzerland-native Marguerite Meister, was born 31 May 1844 in Sondersdorf, Haut Rhin, Alsace, France.1 In his mid-twenties when the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 broke out, family lore states that Joseph served and was injured.2 Following the war and its German victory, the residents of the newly annexed region of Alsace were informed that they could remain French citizens by removing to France by the fall of 1872, or they could stay in their homes and default to German citizenship.3 Joseph’s parents, who were over seventy by this time, apparently opted to stay in Sondersdorf; a move to French territory may well have proven to have been a great hardship, no matter if they would have preferred to remain French.4 In any case, it was said that Joseph did not wish to live under German rule.5 Thus, at the age of twenty-eight, he left Sondersdorf for America, where he settled in Faribault County, Minnesota, near other relatives.6

Sondersdorf_Cemetery_2006

Sondersdorf, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France photograph, 2006; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2016.

It was a treat to see Sondersdorf, although it was not quite the rugged and rocky village that my father had long envisioned. Although in a mountainous area with the snow-capped Alps within view, Sondersdorf boasted a tidy village situated among rolling green fields. We enjoyed exploring a beautiful old cemetery, where the Lutz surname was prominent, and paid a visit to the village church. If I recall correctly, it was a local who called down an inquisitive greeting from a shutter-framed window who directed us to the mayor’s home for our genealogical questions. After becoming acquainted with the mayor and his daughter in a mix of broken English, French, and German, we made plans to meet the next day to see the old vital records held in the local school building.

Ferrette_2006

Ferrette, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France photograph, 2006; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2016.

We were treated equally well by the people of Ferrette, a larger village nearby, where we stayed the night. Hearty Alsatian meals and investigating the crumbling castle ruins on its picturesque hillside kept us well entertained until it was time to return to Sondersdorf. There, we met again with the mayor, who allowed us to page through the centuries-old record books, brown ink faded on the pages. Although we didn’t conduct in-depth research, not wanting to take advantage of the mayor’s time, it was incredible to see so many family names recorded in their original form. Upon our departure, the mayor kindly presented me with a book about the history of the churches of the region, in which he inscribed the date and the place—much as Joseph Lutz had inscribed his prayerbook upon his departure from Sondersdorf, long ago.

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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