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The Soldier’s Orphans

When Union soldier John Fenton was laid to rest in the summer of 1862, one of hundreds of thousands of soldiers to succumb to infectious disease during the Civil War, he left four orphaned children: Sarah Alice, eighteen; Harriet, seventeen; John Albert, fourteen; and George W., ten.

The Fenton family had emigrated from England to America circa 1848-49, and had settled first in Ohio. That is where John’s wife, Ann (Bowskill) Fenton, died at some point between 1852-59. John and his children then moved to an area known as Buckeye Prairie near Pana, Christian County, Illinois, and in 1861, at the age of forty-six, John volunteered for Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry. His children were thus left without a parent to look after them—first temporarily, and then permanently.

“Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas March 8th 1862,” Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, Prints & Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/90709337 : accessed 25 July 2022). John Fenton of Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry saw action at the Battle of Pea Ridge.

What became of the children? There is some indication that they may have resided with the family of James and Eliza Tylar during John’s absence at war; one daughter was a domestic in their household as of 1860, and at the time of John’s death in 1862, a hospital steward wrote a letter expressing John’s desire that his children give his best wishes “to Mr. Tylar and others that I have forgotten their names.” It seems perhaps more likely, however, that the children may have been hired out to different households when John enlisted, and it is unknown how their living situations may have changed when word was received of his death.

Sarah Alice Fenton, who was known as Sallie, married in 1863 to Frederick Augustus Stockbridge, a widowed farmer fifteen years her senior. Together they had six children: Clara Violet, Nellie Jane, Elva Cecelia, Chester Foote, Emily Grace, and Frederick Fenton Stockbridge. Sarah’s eldest daughter, Clara, became the wife of Baptist minister Reverend Henry Stills Black, and with him traveled west. While in northern Idaho’s Silver Valley, Clara became acquainted with a photographer who was in need of an assistant, and she recommended her younger sister, Nellie, for the job. Nellie ultimately spent the next six decades as a photographer in Wallace, Idaho, with her work—now held by the University of Idaho, and also on display at the Barnard-Stockbridge Museum—providing a rich historical record of the area. Sarah did not settle in Idaho herself, nor did she follow her daughter Elva to Oklahoma, her daughter Emily to Oregon, or her son Chester to eastern Washington; she remained in Pana for most of her adult life. Eventually, however, some years after she was widowed, she moved to western Washington state to live with her youngest son, Frederick, and she died in Tacoma in 1927 at the age of eighty-three.

Harriet Fenton, or Hattie, as she was called, never married. She lived out her life in Pana, where she spent some time supporting herself as a domestic servant and as a dressmaker before moving in with her sister’s family. By 1887, she was known to be suffering from breast cancer, and in 1893, at the age of forty-eight, she passed away as a result of what the local newspaper called “petrifying cancer.” Newspapers far and wide printed this fact, stating briefly and without further detail, “A large portion of her body was completely petrified.”

John Albert Fenton followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Union army in 1864 at the age of sixteen—although he claimed to be eighteen. He served in Company H of the 61st Illinois Infantry, survived the war, and in 1874, married Ella Elvira Cogan in Parke County, Indiana. They had four children, two of whom survived to adulthood: Harry Cogan and Anna A. Fenton. Harry, notably, graduated from Wabash College and became a reporter, working for the Indianapolis News as well as the Associated Press in Washington, D.C. He then served as secretary to Indiana Governor Warren T. McCray and became further involved in Indiana politics, eventually serving on the state’s alcoholic beverages commission. Anna married in and lived out her life in Indiana. As for John himself, he worked for many years as a teamster and then as a foreman at a Crawfordsville, Indiana brick factory before his death in 1919 at the age of seventy-one.

George W. Fenton, the youngest of the four, left Illinois in 1871 at the age of nineteen, having likely spent most of his teenage years as a farm laborer. In the company of two other ambitious young men, he made his way to Saline County, Kansas, where he settled in 1872. The following year, he married sixteen-year-old Sarah Ellen Hall, and they had three daughters: Minnie Belle, Alpha, and Anna Leota Fenton. All three went on to marry and have children of their own, ultimately settling in Minnesota, Colorado, and Iowa, respectively. George, however, faced an untimely end when he was accidentally shot and killed by his brother-in-law in 1880 at the age of twenty-eight.

Did the eleven far-flung grandchildren of John Fenton ever meet? It seems doubtful. The cousins were likely aware of each other, at least at one point; when John’s surviving children pursued a military pension in 1887, documentation was required regarding the names and ages of his children and, as George was deceased, the names and ages of George’s children as well. Within the pension file is a letter that Sarah’s teenage daughter Elva penned in response to a request for information, which noted, “Uncle George was born in Monroe Falls Ohio and died at in Saline Co. Kansas Oct. 10 1880. We have no record of his children’s age and the letter which had them in is lost. As near as we can remember Minnie will be 12 next June Alpha 10 next March and Leota 8 next Feb.” In the years to come, however, as the families of John’s children and grandchildren became even more geographically dispersed, further contact may well have ceased.

Copyright © 2022 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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One of Dakota’s Pioneer Mothers

There can be no question that Christina Marie (Schmidt) Nelson was a strong and capable woman.

Born in Skrydstrup, Gram, Haderslev, Denmark on 11 October 1868, to Jens Madsen Schmidt and Anne Bramsen, Christina immigrated to America with her parents and older sister when she was just twenty months of age. A dugout on a homestead in Dakota Territory was her first home in America; it was from this homestead in Bon Homme County that she spent long hours tending her family’s cattle, experienced devastating prairie fires and blizzards, witnessed interactions with displaced Native Americans, and even once encountered General George Armstrong Custer when he stopped for a drink of water. She was fortunate enough to attend a one-room log schoolhouse through eighth grade, and, in 1889, when she was twenty-one, she married her neighbor and fellow Danish immigrant Frederick Nelson.

Over the course of the next twenty years, Christina gave birth to nine healthy children: Anna Sophie (1891), Julia Marie (1892), Ole James (1894), Andrea Mathilda (1896), Louise Christine (1899), Helena Margaret (1900), Mary Magdalene (1904), Frederick Andrew (1908), and Myron Alvin (1910). Education was of apparent importance to Christina and Fred, as he was known; although their oldest son attended school only through eighth grade, destined to become a farmer like his parents before him, their younger sons and daughters all attended school at least until the age of sixteen. They even saw to it that their four youngest daughters had the opportunity to attend a “normal school” in nearby Springfield, South Dakota, where they received the necessary training to become schoolteachers.

The Fred and Christina Nelson Family, Yankton County, South Dakota, 1912; digital image 2011, privately held by Lori Dickman. Back row, from left: Julia, Anna, Ole, and Andrea Nelson. Front row, from left: Mary, Louise, Christina with Myron, Fred with Fred Jr., and Helena Nelson.

A formal portrait of the Nelson family was taken in July of 1912, likely in Yankton, which was not far from the family’s home in Lakeport; the girls sport bare forearms for the season, their fabric colors light and featuring gingham, stripes, and lace. Christina, while dressed in a dark gown, wears a white collar and whimsical crocheted flowers at her throat. As to the occasion for the photograph, it was not a milestone anniversary year—Christina and Fred would have celebrated their twentieth anniversary the previous spring. However, Christina perhaps realized that, at forty-three, her childbearing years were behind her and now was the time to have a portrait taken of the entire family all together. Furthermore, as her eldest daughter had married in March of 1912, having her first child leave the nest might also have sparked sentimentality and a wish to document the fact that, at least for a short while, all nine Nelson children had been under one roof.

Christina and Fred would go on to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary in 1916, but two years later, a matter of weeks after her fiftieth birthday, Christina would be dealt several harsh blows in short succession. First, Spanish Influenza hit the household, and then, in a turn of events that shocked both the family and their wider community, she lost Fred to suicide, and, one month later, daughter Andrea to undetermined medical circumstances.

Christina persevered. She faced another trial when her father died the following spring, but it was a blessing that her eldest son was home from his service in the Great War and able to help manage the family farm while she continued to raise her two youngest sons. She continued to live on the farm with support from her sons well into her old age; even in 1950, when she was eighty-two, the census reported that she was still “keeping house” for her three bachelor sons. It was at this farmhouse that her children and grandchildren frequently gathered to celebrate birthdays and holidays.

Christina died on 23 January 1961 at the age of ninety-two and is buried alongside her husband and three of their nine children at the Elm Grove Cemetery in Yankton County, South Dakota. A brief biography included in a local history book several years prior had noted, “Mrs. Nelson is well-known by her many friends and relatives as a person who always has a warm welcome hand extended to all those who call at her home. Even today, at the age of eighty-five, she is active with her household duties and retains an active interest in what is going on about her. She is cordial and sympathetic with the many young people who come her way. She is truly one of Dakota’s pioneer mothers who still looks ahead and enjoys her home and family.”

Copyright © 2022 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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What the Well Dressed Secretary Wore

It was 1925 when Fern Thoma graduated from Central High School and entered the workforce in her hometown of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa. Her first known job was as a clerk at S.S. Kresge, a five-and-dime store. Fern did not remain a clerk for long, however; when a likely more lucrative position as a switchboard operator presented itself, she took it. As she recalled years later, however, she immediately found the fast-paced work environment to be much too stressful, and was relieved when her mother told her that she didn’t have to keep the job!

A position as a bookkeeper at the Sioux City Cooperative Dairy Marketing Association, which collaborated with local farmers to market and distribute dairy products, was much more to her liking. Fern had received a certificate of proficiency in typewriting during her final year of high school; perhaps this helped to qualify her for a bookkeeper’s duties. She held this position from 1926 until the summer of 1929, when she married at the age of twenty-one and moved with her husband to Nebraska.

Fern Thoma, Sioux City, Iowa, 1927; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2022. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

A photograph of Fern, dated 19 May 1927, is labeled in her handwriting, “Yours truly in front of Coop Dairy where I worked until I got married and we moved to Norfolk Nebr. What the well dressed secretary wore.” Fern can be seen wearing a loose-fitting, drop-waisted dress with a pleated, tiered skirt. The fabric is patterned with a rose print, and a collared open vest in a solid color is worn over her dress. Short, waved hair frames her face, and she wears heeled shoes. She stands before the brick exterior wall of a building, the bright midday sun casting her shadow behind her.

The “Coop Dairy,” as Fern called it, was located on Howard Street, near the Floyd River. Fern lived with her parents, and although they moved houses several times in the late 1920s, they remained within a half mile or so of Fern’s workplace. The well dressed secretary would have needed comfortable shoes for the ten-minute walk to and from the dairy!

Copyright © 2022 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Michael and Magdalena

Little is known about Michael Noehl and Magdalena Hoffman, a couple who spent their married life in the village of Holsthum, Eifelkreis Bitburg-Prüm, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Holsthum was described by one of their sons as “situated in a lovely valley of rich agricultural land, crowned with fruit trees, and further off, with magnificent forests, between nurseries and rose plantations.” Even now it remains a quaint, pastoral village.

Michael Noehl, one of at least eight children of Johannes Noehl and Elisabeth Gierens, was born in Niederstedem, Eifelkreis Bitburg-Prüm, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany on 22 June 1828. Nothing is known of his childhood, but as a young man, he entered the military. According to the memoirs of his son, Michael served as a Prussian soldier in Koblenz between the years 1847-1851; during the Baden Revolution in 1848, he stood sentry at the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress.

After his service, Michael married Magdalena Hoffman, who was born on 21 Jul 1833 in Holsthum, one of at least four children of Mathias Hoffman and Magdalena Ehr. Michael and Magdalena were married on 12 February 1857; Michael was twenty-eight and Magdalena twenty-three at the time of their marriage, which was recorded at Schankweiler. The Schankweiler Klaus is an eighteenth-century chapel and hermitage tucked into the forest approximately two miles from the village of Holsthum, and still stands today.

Schankweiler, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany photograph, 2009; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Together, the couple had seven sons: Mathias (1858), Michael (1860), Nikolaus (1864), Nikolaus (1866), Mathias (1868), Johann (1870), and Jakob (1873). Notably, despite name repetition among their sons, it is believed that all survived to adulthood. (This is not the first case of name repetition among children of this region that I have observed.)

Mathias Noehl (1868-1950), second from right, with brothers, perhaps Nikolaus, Johan, and Jakob Noehl, Holsthum, Germany, 1938; digital image 2009, privately held by Roland Noehl, Holsthum, Germany, 2009.

A great-grandson of Michael and Magdalena remembered being told that Michael was a forester, and Magdalena certainly had her hands full raising seven sons, but few details are known of their adult lives. One of their sons recalled completing school at the age of fourteen and going to work herding sheep to help his parents pay off a debt on their property; later this same son was apprenticed to a rose grower, so it may be assumed that their other sons were similarly established with apprenticeships.

Michael saw several of his siblings immigrate to America in the nineteenth century; his sister Susanna and his brothers Matthias and Johann all settled in Minnesota. Likewise, Magdalena saw a paternal aunt and a paternal uncle immigrate to Minnesota and Iowa. Later, Michael and Magdalena bade farewell to two of their own children who left their homeland to try their luck on American soil: Michael in 1881 and Mathias (1868) in 1886. From these two sons then came fifteen American grandchildren whom Michael and Magdalena never had the opportunity to meet.

Michael and Magdalena lived out their lives in Holsthum, surviving at least to their sixties, as it is known that their son Mathias came from America to visit in 1894 and found them in good health at that time. To the best of my knowledge, however, their graves, according to German custom, have long since been recycled and are no longer marked.

Copyright © 2022 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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An Old Settler of Illinois

When Mary (Hall) Rhine, the wife of William Rhine, both of Washington County, Illinois, died on 20 May 1898 at the age of eighty-nine, she was the mother of fourteen, grandmother of thirty-one, great-grandmother of thirty-nine, and great-great-grandmother of four children. 

Mary is presumed to be the daughter of Isaac Hall (1776-1852) and sister of Jonathan, Isaac, and Elithan Hall, all of whom ultimately settled in Washington County, Illinois. Her identity—both as a Hall and as a member of this particular Hall family—remains unconfirmed, but there are compelling connections.

Mary was said to have been born in Montgomery County, Tennessee, in 1809, and married William Rhine circa 1825 in what is now Saline County, Illinois, where they spent the first years of their married life. Her presumed eldest brother, Jonathan, owned a neighboring parcel of land, and another neighbor, James Hampton, husband of Mary Elizabeth Hall, was believed to be kin. In 1832, William Rhine served with James Hampton’s Company in the Black Hawk War, enlisting in Gallatin County—as did Jonathan Hall, Mary’s presumed brother.

In the 1840s, William and Mary acquired land in what was known as Three Mile Prairie in Washington County. The first parcel purchased was located catercorner from land owned by Isaac Hall (whether this was Mary’s presumed father or brother is unknown) and the additional parcels that they purchased in the years to come were all located within the vicinity of land owned by Mary’s presumed brothers Jonathan, Isaac, and Elithan Hall. Worth note is that in 1868, following Elithan’s death, William Rhine received approximately ten dollars owed to him from his estate. Indeed, the Hall brothers, like Mary, all lived out the rest of their lives in Washington County, and she was not the only one to live to an advanced age; Isaac, too, lived well into his eighties and was said to have enjoyed long walks even in his later years. 

Rhine_Mary_Hall

Mary (Hall) Rhine, Washington County, Illinois, circa 1860; courtesy of the Nashville (Illinois) Public Library.

Even if it turns out that Mary was not a member of this Hall family, her obituary relates experiences that may have been common among southern Illinois settlers of the 1810s:

“Mrs. Rhine was one of our county’s and state’s oldest settlers, having come to the state with her parents, who settled in Salene [sic] county before Illinois was admitted to statehood. The relating of her experiences during the early days in this state would make interesting pages of history. She had seen the great state of Illinois in its natural and undeveloped state. She had witnessed the scalping of her playmates and neighbors by the unruly Indians when the settlers were compelled to live in forts as a protection against the Red Men.”

Mary and her family, of course, were among those whose westward movements displaced and antagonized local Indigenous communities. If she was indeed a daughter of Isaac Hall, it is estimated that she and her family remained in Tennessee at least until 1813, when Mary’s presumed brother Elithan was said to have been born there, and arrived in Illinois at some point before it achieved statehood in 1818. 

A number of Mary’s descendants appear as autosomal DNA matches to descendants of her presumed brothers Jonathan, Isaac, and Elithan Hall, lending further credibility to their connection. However, additional research is necessary to confirm their relationship and formally add to the Hall family story.

Copyright © 2021 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Old-Fashioned Fun in 1921

On 09 November 1921, a taffy pulling party was held in a small Nebraska town. The Decatur Herald reported, “A number of young folks were present and [a] real jovial evening was spent” at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Thoma. Hosting this event, I suspect, was their eldest daughter, fourteen-year-old Fern Thoma, who was in ninth grade at the local school. Taffy pulls became popular in the nineteenth century and involved boiling up a sugary mixture that was then pulled, folded, and pulled again by teams of individuals with well-buttered hands, the end result being a quantity of candy to share and eat. As a social event, taffy pulls were particularly popular among mixed groups of young women and young men.

Fern, the daughter of a local merchant, was by all accounts a social girl; the newspaper shared several accounts of her activities as a young teenager before her family left Decatur in March 1922. During her eighth grade year, in February 1921, the Decatur Herald had noted, “Fern Thoma, Ina Lambert, Maxine Choyce, Elizabeth Akins, Gladys Gilson and Eleanor Darling gave a party at the home of Fern Thoma on Friday night. There were 28 boys and girls present, and the evening was spent in games.” Perhaps this party included Fern’s entire class; while only seventeen youth are pictured in her ninth grade class photograph, her eighth grade class may have been larger. As an eighth-grader, as shared in the Decatur Herald, Fern also participated in a Junior Audubon Society with the role of reporter.

Fern Thoma (1907-2006), front center, with ninth grade class, Decatur, Nebraska, October 1921; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2021.

Outside of school, Fern, along with several of her aforementioned girlfriends, were piano students of local teacher Mrs. E. A. Sears. In April 1919, when Fern was in sixth grade, the Decatur Herald shared: “The younger pupils of Mrs. E. A. Sears will give a program at the home of Mrs. E. A. Hanson’s on Tuesday evening, April 22nd, at 8 o’clock, for the benefit of the organ fund of the Episcopal Church. Everyone cordially invited to attend, and bring a silver offering. Those taking part in the program, are the Misses Maxine Choyce, Rachael Hanson, Ina Lambert, Helen Farrens, Edith Skalovsky, Agnes Busse, Eleanor Darling, Fern Thoma, and Evelyn French; Masters Albert Bysse and Gerald Eagleton. Come and hear the ‘Bell Symphony’ and see the ‘Fairy Queen.'” Later that year, Fern was one of two girls who performed “beautiful solos” at a Decoration Day event.

As a ninth grader, Fern played the Valse-Arabesque by Theodore Lack at a musical program for the “older students” of Mrs. E. A. Sears, which, again, included a number of her girlfriends. It is not known if Fern continued with her musical instruction after her family left Decatur for another small Nebraska town; in any case, while she was not known to be musical as an adult, playing popular songs on the piano would have been a lively way for her to entertain friends as a teenager—when her hands were not covered in sticky taffy, of course!

Copyright © 2021 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Two Brothers from Sondersdorf

When immigrant Joseph Lutz died in 1887 the age of forty-two, only one line in a Minnesota newspaper made note of his death. His brother Paul, however, survived him by more than fifty years, and when he died in 1939 he was ninety-three years old. A lengthy obituary in a Minnesota newspaper documented his death, but what is more, his birthday several years prior had warranted an informative and colorful tribute to his life both in his native Sondersdorf, a village in eastern France, and in southern Minnesota. As Joseph and Paul, only two years apart in age, both served in the Franco-Prussian War and then immigrated to America, many of Paul’s recollections relate what must have been shared experiences.

The brothers were born to François Joseph Lutz (1801-1881) and Marguerite Meister (1801-1876), Joseph on 31 May 1844 and Paul on 07 August 1846, both in what is now Sondersdorf, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. Their father was a farmer, and this was his second marriage; their mother was a native of the nearby border village of Roggenburg, Switzerland. Joseph and Paul were raised to work hard, although they also had the opportunity to attend school, as related in the Blue Earth County Enterprise in 1935:

“Alsace Lorraine at that time belonged to France, as it does now, although for many years between it was Germany’s. And so young Paul was born a French citizen. His father was a farmer and when Paul was still very young he was put to work. How young? Well, he says, laughing, that he thinks he began to work before he was born. He worked in the field, in the town, anywhere where there was work to be had.

“French was taught in the schools, but his family, like many others in Alsace, spoke German at home. So he grew up with a knowledge of both tongues. However, today and for many years since, it is German that he speaks fluently. There are, he says, no Frenchmen around to give him practice in that language.”

In 1866, Joseph and Paul, by then twenty-two and twenty years of age, appeared in a census in a household in Sondersdorf with their parents and younger sister, Philomene. Just a few years later, the brothers served in the Franco-Prussian War, which broke out in the summer of 1870:

“Like every other French citizen, [Paul] entered military training when old enough. His memories of that period are clear and vivid, for while he was still in the army, the Franco-Prussian war broke out. That was in 1870 and one of the causes of the bitter enmity between France and Prussia was that same Alsace Lorraine where he was born, a strip of territory at the eastern edge of France coveted by both nations and snatched first by one, then the other. When Prussia whipped France in that war of 1870, she took Alsace Lorraine as one of the indemnities and from then on France never rested until the World War brought it back again to the French.

“There wasn’t so much to the war so far as he was concerned, says Mr. Lutz, except horse meat to eat and being taken prisoner at the battle of Metz. Asked how that happened, he drolly repied [sic] that the Germans took the whole army prisoner so of course he went along. Speaking of horse meat, Mr. Lutz remarked that it wouldn’t have been so bad had they been given some beer, or at least enough water to wash it down with. But there was none of the first and little enough of the second. To make it worse he says it was tough meat with no pepper or salt. You stuck two sticks up on each side of a fire and hung the meat on a third stick laid across. After it had toasted a bit, you ate it – if possible.

“Because Germany considered Alsace her own, and to gain the good will of its people, she released the French prisoners from Alsace earlier than others. That was in 1871. Between horse meat, fighting and being a prisoner, Mr. Lutz says he’d had enough […] and straightaway came to America.”

Although comparatively little is known about Joseph Lutz’s experiences, his grandson once related that after serving in the Franco-Prussian War and coming out on the losing side, Joseph immigrated to America because he wouldn’t live under Prussian rule. It seems the brothers were allied in their feelings after having fought and been imprisoned by the Prussians—and having been forced to survive on horse meat during the Siege of Metz, which has been documented. A passenger list has been located that may indicate that the brothers immigrated together, arriving in New York aboard the Nevada in May 1871, mere months after the war’s end.

Lutz_Joseph

Joseph Lutz (1844-1887), circa 1875-1885; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2021.

Although the Blue Earth County Enterprise recorded in 1935 that Paul and his wife Josephine Lutz married in Sondersdorf and immigrated together, settling first near Burlington, Des Moines County, Iowa before making the move to Minnesota, records indicate that the couple actually married in Des Moines County, Iowa, in 1872. “Asked if they came by train to Burlington, Mr. Lutz chuckled and said, ‘Well, you needn’t think I walked.'” Perhaps the plan all along had been that Paul and Josephine would reunite and marry once in America and free of the strife of their homeland. Joseph, it seems, had not made any such promises to any young women from their home village; he instead married a Silesian immigrant, Hedwig Cichos, in Faribault County, Minnesota, in 1875. 

The brothers’ paths diverged to a degree in Minnesota; Paul farmed, as their father had before him, whereas Joseph lived in town, making a living first as a butcher and then as a saloon keeper. Of farm life, the Blue Earth County Enterprise shared that Paul owned one hundred and twenty acres “two miles west of Bass Lake,” and noted, “Memories of early days in southern Minnesota come to [Paul] as he talks. He tells of hauling grain to Delavan and Easton in the winter, using oxen-drawn sleds. Many a time, he says, blizzards would spring up and there was nothing for it but to give the oxen their heads and trust them to find the way home. They never failed.” Of Joseph, the newspaper shared, “Joe Lutz, early Mapleton butcher, was [Paul’s] brother. His shop was on Second Street just back of where the Wiedman drug store stands today. The frame building that housed it is the same one that stands there still, says Mr. Lutz.”

Joseph was indeed known to have been a butcher in Mapleton in the early 1880s; in the 1870s, however, he had operated a one-story frame butcher shop in Minnesota Lake, behind which were rooms where his family lived. After his stint as a butcher in Mapleton, he returned to Minnesota Lake but this time kept a saloon. Family lore notes that Joseph was a generous-hearted man who was known to give away cuts of meat to new immigrants in his community—to the occasional dismay of his wife, who chided him that these newcomers would not even have a pot with which to cook the meat!

Joseph would succumb to tuberculosis not quite sixteen years after his arrival in America; it seems especially tragic that he was stricken with this disease as he might otherwise have enjoyed as many years as his brother. At the time of Paul’s eighty-ninth birthday, the Blue Earth County Enterprise wrote, “Paul Lutz feels much younger than his years. His mind is far keener toward what is going on in this world than that of many a younger man. Age has as yet brought little failing to his senses. His speech is filled with humor that indicates his cheery optimism and enjoyment of life. His hearing is good. He walks up town every day. He administrates for himself the affairs of the farm he owns near Bass Lake. Paul Lutz has enjoyed and is still enjoying a full life with a clear memory that is truly remarkable.”

Copyright © 2021 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Chicoine Family Reunion, Revisited

Note: The following provides an update to the post “The Chicoine Family Reunion,” which was published in March 2021. 

When I first shared a photograph of a Chicoine family reunion held at Riverside Park in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, which took place nearly one hundred years ago, alongside a key prepared by the late Maurice Chicoine, a number of individuals were unidentified and the date of the photograph, as stated on the key, was presumed to be the summer of 1926. Now, after collaboration with numerous descendants of those pictured, additional blanks have been filled in—and the photograph is now believed to have been taken a year prior, on precisely 02 August 1925.

Why the change of date? In addition to the discovery of an original copy of the photograph that belonged to Maurice Chicoine and is now in the possession of Karen Chicoine, which is marked 1925, the presence or absence of several babies provide the primary clues. For example, Thomas and Rachel (Chicoine) Dougherty are pictured holding their children Annette and Richard; Annette, who was born in February 1925, clearly looks to be under a year old. Oswald Montagne, also pictured with an infant, had a daughter Marie who was born in September 1924. In addition, Emma (Chicoine) Beauchemin, pictured without an infant in arms, was expecting; her son would be born in December 1925.

Although initially, the details recorded in a 1925 newspaper clipping about the reunion led me to believe that it was taken the following year, given the other evidence it seems that this was not actually the case. The Sioux City Journal wrote on 04 August 1925 that at the reunion, “The oldest member of the family present was Mrs. Philip Bernard, Sioux City, 70 years old, and the youngest was Rose Chicoine, 6-month-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fedora Chicoine, of Jefferson.” Mrs. Philip Bernard, Delphine (Chicoine) Bernard, is present in the photograph, but Mrs. Fedora Chicoine and her infant daughter (who was actually named Dorothy; her mother was Rose) were not; it is, of course, entirely plausible that they had left the gathering early or were occupied off-camera at the time that the photograph was taken. Furthermore, the newspaper reporter named the wrong infant altogether—Annette Dougherty was two months younger! For that matter, Delphine (Chicoine) Bernard was not the actual oldest member of the family in attendance; that honor may have gone to her sister Elise (Chicoine) Benjamin.

Finally, the location of the photographer’s studio, stamped on the photograph, initially gave me pause. The photographer, Henry Griebel, was listed at the stamped address in the 1926 Sioux City Directory, but his home and studio were elsewhere in the 1925 Sioux City Directory. However, upon consideration, there was ample time for the photographer to have changed locations between January and August 1925. 

Chicoine descendant and fellow genealogist Michael Malloy graciously created the below key (click to view the full-size image) of what is now believed to be a photograph of the 1925 Chicoine Family Reunion, with superimposed text over the individuals in the image to aid in identification:

chicoine-family-reunion-picture

Chicoine Family Reunion, Riverside Park, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, 1925; digital image with superimposed text 2021, courtesy of Michael Malloy, digital image 2021, courtesy of Jeanette Borich; privately held by Ken Chicoine and Karen Chicoine, 2021.

An updated list of identities is below:

Photo 1 Top Row: Agnes Chicoine, Emma Chicoine, Pauline Lambert, Elsie Montagne, Carrie Chicoine, Odile Chicoine, Luella (Limoges) Chicoine, Delia Brault, Albina Chicoine, Louise (Ryan) Chicoine, Edna (Quintal) Chicoine, Louisa (Chartier) Chicoine, Margaret (Norton) Wyant, Selena (Rubida) Quintal
Photo 1 Middle Row: Alphonse Chicoine, Alex Chicoine, Denis Chicoine, Edgar Chicoine, Edmond Chicoine, Odias Chicoine, Elmer Chicoine, Leo Chicoine, Conrad Chicoine, Emil Chicoine
Photo 1 Front Row: …?, Ferdinand Chicoine, Donald Chicoine, Orville Chicoine, Ella Jane Bertrand, Wallace Chicoine, Teresa Chicoine, Doris Chicoine, Bernice Chicoine, Veronica Chicoine, Madonna Chicoine, Marc Chicoine
Photo 2 Top Row: Ora Quintal, Ella Quintal, Loretta Quintal, Rose Montagu, Martin Chicoine, Cora (Chicoine) Brouillette, Martin Chicoine, Martin Quintal, Adrian Chicoine, Leander Bertrand, Mary E. (Bourassa) Fontaine, Ruth Chicoine, Aloysius Bourassa, Esther Bourassa, Laura (Montagne) Chicoine, Orise (Bernard) Montagne, Rachel (Chicoine) Dougherty with Richard Dougherty, Dalma (Cyr) Beaubien
Photo 2 Middle Row: Eugene Chicoine, Philip Bernard, Joe Montagne, Bert Crevier with Dean Crevier, Fedora Chicoine, Leonard Chicoine, Jean Baptiste Fontaine, William Chicoine?, Thomas D. Dougherty with Annette Dougherty, Arthur Chicoine, Louis Beaubien, Clarence Montagne
Photo 2 Front Row: Hubert Chicoine, Claire Montagne, Sylvia Madonna Chicoine, Gabriel Sirois, Oswald Montagne with Marie Jean Montagne, Lucille Crevier, Maurice Chicoine
Photo 3 Top Row: Evelyn (Cyr) Deranleau, Priest from Salix, Wiska (Cyr) Gregoire, Viola (Beaubien) Montagne, Melanie (Lutz) Adam, …?, Peter Adam, Elizabeth (Courtmanche) Adam, Sophia (Chicoine) Menard, Aglae (Sirois) Bosse, Joseph F. Chicoine, Marie (Pepin) Chicoine, Obeline (Chicoine) Lambert, Corrine (Montagne) Chicoine, Mayme Chicoine, Gertie (Crevier) Chicoine, Leona (Chicoine) Crevier, Yvonne (Morin) Chicoine, Beatrice Chicoine, Rose (Langle) Chicoine, Arsenia (Allard) Chicoine
Photo 3 Middle Row: Joe Gregoire, Sylvester Montagne, Laurence Chicoine with Irene Chicoine, Henry Adam, Ernest Menard, Maxine Chicoine, Charlotte Crevier, …?
Photo 4 Top Row: Simone Sirois, Bertha (Chicoine) Sirois, Genevieve Sirois, Happy Jauron with Elizabeth Jauron, Eva Marie (Chicoine) Jauron, Delphine (Chicoine) Bernard, Irene Trudeau, Marie (Perrault) Chicoine, Amanda Chicoine, Regina (Benjamin) Chicoine, Elise (Chicoine) Benjamin, Marcella Chicoine, Christina (Chicoine) Bourassa, Marie Philomine (Brouillette) Bourassa
Photo 4 Middle Row: Fabien Lambert, Raymond Chaussee, Joe Chicoine, Hermidas Chicoine, Jerome Gadbois with …?, Alfred Chicoine, Isaac Benjamin, Alex Bourassa, John Bourassa, Gerald Chicoine, Joseph Lambert, Francis Lambert
Photo 4 Front Row: …?, …?, …?, Pauline Chicoine, Janette Chicoine, Loretta Chicoine, …?, Gerald A. Chicoine, Roger Bourassa

Can you identify any of the remaining unnamed individuals in the photograph?

 

Copyright © 2021 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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An Iowa Ancestor Without a Church

Churches can be excellent sources of ancestral records, but determining an ancestor’s religious affiliation is not always straightforward—and, in some cases, an ancestor may not have been affiliated with a church all.

In the 1895 Iowa census, it was recorded that Hiram Hammond, an eighty-two year old retired farmer residing in Allamakee County, had no “religious belief.” This initially surprised me—wouldn’t it have been terribly unusual, even shameful, to openly declare a lack of religious belief at this time, particularly in a small Midwestern town? A quick scan of the neighbors recorded on the same page of the census, however, suggests that this may not have been the case. Out of thirty-one individuals recorded on a single page of this particular census, four others were noted to have no religious belief while one other was left blank. Those who did claim religious belief were either Lutheran, Methodist Episcopalian, or Congregational.

Hiram’s wife Eva Margaretha (née Stoehr) was recorded in the same census as being affiliated with the Lutheran church. As she was a German immigrant, this was not unexpected; decades earlier, she and Hiram had been married by a Lutheran minister. However, three of the couple’s four surviving adult children also appeared in the 1895 Iowa census, in separate households, and their affiliations differed from one another: their eldest son John was, like his father, recorded with no religious belief, while their daughter Mathilda was Lutheran and their daughter Louisa was Congregational. All three of their children’s spouses were Lutheran.

Marriage of Hiram Hammend [Hammond] and Margaretha Stoehr, 02 December 1854, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa; digitized photocopy courtesy of Ken Johnson, 2018.

Twenty years later—nineteen years after Hiram’s death, and nine years after Eva Margaretha’s—the same three adult children appeared in the 1915 Iowa census. This time, the space for John’s church affiliation was left blank, Mathilda was recorded as having no church affiliation, and Louisa was now Lutheran. It seems that Hiram’s apparent lack of interest in religion may have been shared by at least two of his children, if not three; son George lived out of state and was again not included in the Iowa census, so his affiliation is unknown.

Much of Hiram’s early life remains a mystery, and it is unknown whether he may have been affiliated with a church during the first thirty-odd years of his life before he wound up in Iowa Territory in 1845. After his death in 1896, the local newspaper printed an obituary that made no mention of any church affiliation, past or present, nor even a passing reference to Christianity in general. It did note positively Hiram’s success as a farmer and called him “a kindly neighbor and friend,” which leads me to believe that he was well-regarded in his community in any case. Hiram spent more than fifty years in northeastern Iowa, and his life as a farmer and father seems to have been a quiet one. It is believed that he was illiterate—his will was signed with a mark—and his name did not appear in local politics nor in a contemporary collection of local biographies.

Hiram’s funeral service, held at home, was led by Reverend Bargelt of the Methodist Episcopalian Church of Postville; this was the small town in which Hiram had retired several years prior. Perhaps Hiram did attend services at this church prior to his death—or what was perhaps more likely was that the reverend was a family friend simply performing a favor and following local custom. In contrast, his wife’s funeral services in 1906 were led by Reverend Puhl of the St. Paul Lutheran Church of Postville; Eva Margaretha’s affiliation with the Lutheran church had apparently remained constant throughout her adult life. If Hiram had not, perhaps, remained loyal to a hypothetical church of his boyhood, which lacked a presence in northeastern Iowa, then it seems plausible that he truly was a nineteenth-century “religious none.”

Copyright © 2021 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Canada Experiment

Mathias Noehl attempted to settle in Canada on at least two occasions after emigrating from Germany to the Midwest as a young man in 1886. After a stint living among relatives in Minnesota, he married fellow immigrant Elisabeth Hoffmann in North Washington, Chickasaw County, Iowa, in 1896. The couple had a son in 1897 and a daughter in 1898, and in 1899, as Mathias later wrote in his memoir, “The desire for migratory life befell us again.” He continued:

“We loaded all that we possessed into a railway car, and traveled to the plains of Alberta, Canada, to meet another stroke of ill fortune, which we had not expected. The climate and the foodstuffs of that country did not agree with us, so we took sick and the doctor advised us to return to the U.S. We went back to the forests of Minnesota, where between 1886 and 1894 I had built my air castles, with which I comforted my wife. My wife felt disappointed when we arrived there, and all I possessed consisted in nothing else but air castles. Besides, we had the terrible cold weather in winter 1899. We stayed there until spring; when the birds flew northward, we remembered the fleshpots of Iowa, and this drove us back to where in 1896 I had found my Waterloo. There, the death of two old people had pity on us, which made a dwelling available for our children and us […]. In 1900 we returned in bitter disappointment to North Washington, with all our savings lost, and one more child. That child is all we gained with our adventures in Canada.”

It is unknown where exactly in “the plains of Alberta” the Noehl family lived in 1899, but it is possible that they were in Pincher Creek, a settlement that attracted German-American Catholics around this time.

Despite finding failure in Alberta, Mathias remained convinced that Canada was in his future. In the spring of 1903, now thirty-four years old and the father of four children, he applied for a homestead in Saskatchewan. The homestead was located eighty-five miles east of Saskatoon near the village of Muenster, in an area known as St. Peter’s Colony. This colony, founded in 1902, was the brainchild of the Benedictine order, the German American Land Company, and the Catholic Settlement Society of St. Paul, Minnesota; land was set aside specifically for German Catholics, who responded to advertisements for the colony and flocked north from the Midwestern states. Here there was to be ample farmland, a colony of like-minded people who shared their language and faith, and a new monastery at the helm, to boot.

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The Noehl family was the target audience for this venture, but ultimately did not remain long enough to prove the homestead. A grandson recalled being told that the family found the water in Saskatchewan to be too alkaline, and apparently many settlers were displeased with the brush-covered land. As the Noehl family’s fourth child was born in Iowa in the spring of 1904, it seems that their time spent in Saskatchewan amounted to less than one year.

Mathias, ever filled with wanderlust, attempted once more to relocate from the Midwest, although he no longer had his sights set on Canada. As the story goes, he visited Oregon several years later and, finding a welcoming German community (perhaps Mt. Angel) and stunning forests that reminded him of his homeland, began to make plans for his family to move once again. However, as his wife was at that point expecting their seventh or eighth child, she put her foot down—and in Iowa they remained for good.

Copyright © 2021 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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