Tag Archives: genealogy

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Hezekiah Stilley in the First Census of the United States

Just three of my sixty-four fourth great-grandparents were born in America.

Of those three, only two have ancestral lines that have so far been traced—hesitantly—as far back as 1790.

And only one of those two lines has been found to have been documented in the 1790 United States Federal Census, the first census of the United States.

That line begins with homesteader Nancy Stilley, who is believed to have been the daughter of Jordan Stilley, who in turn is believed to have been the son of Hezekiah Stilley.

Hezekiah Stilley, whose name was also spelled Ezekiah, was born circa 1760, and is believed to have married Sarah Davis circa 1784 in Hyde County, North Carolina. In January 1786, he appeared in a North Carolina census as head of a household in Hyde County that included one white male between the ages of twenty-one and sixty, and two white females of any age. That same year, his name appeared on a land grant that was entered for fifty acres of land in what was then Hyde County, located on the west side of the Pungo River. (The portion of Hyde County located west of the Pungo River has since been annexed to Beaufort County.) The land grant was issued in November 1789.

The 1790 United States Federal Census, which was recorded during George Washington’s presidency, was the first of its kind. According to the United States Census Bureau:

“Under the general direction of Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State, marshals took the census in the original 13 States, plus the districts of Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont, and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee). Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson expressed skepticism over the final count, expecting a number that exceeded the 3.9 million inhabitants counted in the census.”

One can hardly help imagining the roadblocks and grueling conditions that the intrepid census enumerators must have encountered in their attempts to make record of each and every American. There were almost certainly individuals who simply did not want to be found, and others who may have been suspicious as to the motives of the government in recording their names and the numbers of their households. There were undoubtedly difficulties in reaching the inhabitants of far-flung communities, particularly on the frontier, but elsewhere as well. The Pungo River, for example, upon with Hezekiah Stilley dwelled, had its source in the Great Dismal Swamp, and according to a 1775 map was in fact on the fringes of what was then called the “Great Alligator Dismal Swamp”—surely not an easy place to traverse. It seems that a dramatic undercount in the nation’s first census was all but guaranteed.

In Hyde County, North Carolina, however, the 1790 United States Federal Census did include the household of one “Ezekiel Stilley.” If it can be assumed that the formal handwritten census schedule was based off of notes taken by the census enumerator as he visited each household, it can easily be surmised that the name Ezekiah could have been erroneously transcribed as Ezekiel. Both Hezekiah’s land grant and the fact that the names of many neighbors are consistent with the North Carolina census recorded in 1786 suggest that Ezekiah and Ezekiel were one and the same person.

In this household lived one adult male over the age of sixteen, three males under the age of sixteen, and two females of any age. This suggests a family unit consisting of Hezekiah, Sarah, three sons, and a daughter, although it is possible that other individuals, related or not, could have made up their household. No other free persons or enslaved people were present.

Hezekiah Stilley was recorded in a federal census for the last time in 1800. At that time, by then perhaps about forty years of age, he was still a resident of Hyde County, and his household now numbered eight individuals. Shortly thereafter, he and his family would leave North Carolina for good.

In 1807, Hezekiah submitted a squatter’s petition for three hundred and twenty acres of land in what is present-day Cave-in-Rock Township, Hardin County, Illinois, located near the Ohio River on the border with Kentucky. Notably, his name was absent from an 1812 petition that bore the names of several members of his extended family who had settled in Illinois as well. It has been assumed that he died in Illinois Territory prior to this date, far from the Carolina coastal region where he had spent most of his married life.

Copyright © 2020 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

A German American Family in Chicago

Several years after German immigrants Fred and Emma (Stube) Wiese of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois posed for a photograph together in their garden, they were photographed outdoors once again, this time with their children.

Fred and Emma (Stube) Wiese with children, from left, Leonard, Rose, George, and Oliver, circa 1904, Chicago, Illinois; digital image circa 2000, provenance of the original unknown.

Their youngest son, Leonard, seated at left, provides the biggest clue in dating this photograph, as his age is the easiest to pinpoint: assuming that he was, perhaps, three years old here, it can be dated circa 1904.1 George, standing between his parents, would have turned seventeen that year, Rose would have turned twelve, and Oliver, seated at right, would have turned eight.2 Sadly, Fred and Emma’s oldest daughter, Lillie, had died of meningitis as an eight year old in 1897.3

The Wiese family is pictured outside what may have been their own Victorian-style home at 2502 North Neva Avenue in Chicago’s Montcalm neighborhood.4 Only one of the six looks directly at the camera. Perhaps a second photographer was off to the side, where the other five members of the family directed their attention. This image is a scan of an original of an undetermined medium; it is rather heavily damaged with wrinkles, scuffs, and blotches.

Fred, who was a cigar maker by trade, sports a full mustache and wears a dark suit and tie.5 He is in his late thirties here.6 Emma, also in her late thirties, wears a white collared shirtwaist with a brooch at her throat, paired with a walking skirt in a darker color.7 A belt with a decorative clasp can be seen at her waist. A skilled seamstress, Emma was especially known for crocheting elegant garters, a talent she used to help support her family in her later years.8 It can well be imagined that she had a hand in making sure that she, her husband, and their children were well-dressed.

George wears a suit and tie much like his father’s; his fair-haired younger brothers sport rather voluminous white shirts and dark pants. Rose’s hair is pulled back into a braid and set off with a large bow; her simple shirtwaist and skirt, which falls mid-calf, are accessorized with a belt tied at her waist, a corsage, and a string of beads at her neck. These beads resemble pearls, although her mother was also known to make fragrant, darker-colored beads out of crushed rose petals which she would then alternate with pearl beads to create a necklace.9

This is the only known photograph of Fred and Emma (Stube) Wiese with their children. Despite the beating that the original print appears to have taken, it remains a special memento of a day in the life of this German American family in Chicago.

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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