Tag Archives: historic newspapers

The 1926 Chicoine Family Reunion

A century ago, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the French Canadian blacksmith Leon Chicoine and his wife Marie Vary were in the habit of gathering annually for an extended family reunion at Riverside Park in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.

In the summer of 1925, the Sioux City Journal printed the following:

200 ATTEND FAMILY PICNIC AT RIVERSIDE

More than 200 members of the Chicoine family, residing in Sioux City and surrounding territory, held their annual picnic at Riverside park Sunday. Several hundred of the family, which is one of the pioneer families of this part of the country, are located in northwestern Iowa, southeastern South Dakota and northeastern Nebraska.

The majority of those who attended the picnic were from Sioux City, Jefferson, S.D., Elk Point, S.D., and Salix, Ia. 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. A basket dinner and a program of games and sports occupied the afternoon and evening.

The following year, a large group photograph—or rather several photographs pieced together—was taken at the family gathering, and featured just shy of one hundred and fifty individuals. The photograph is labeled Griebel Photo along with a street address; according to the 1926 Sioux City Directory, a Henry Griebel was indeed at that address, but his home and studio were elsewhere in 1925. Thus, the 1926 date provided for this photograph seems plausible—and the decade itself is undeniable when taking into account that the women almost uniformly have their hair bobbed! Riverside Park, the location of the reunion, was a popular summer gathering place along the Sioux River, offering swimming, boating, and other recreational activities. 1926 marked the final year that Riverside Park would host the popular Interstate Fair, and an amusement park would open there the following year.

Chicoine Family Reunion, Riverside Park, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, 1926; digital image 2021, courtesy of Jeanette Borich; privately held by Ken Chicoine, 2021.

There is, fortunately, a key for this photograph, with many thanks to the late Maurice Chicoine. However, it is incomplete and not without error. If you recognize any kin in the photograph, please feel free to comment so that the key can be confirmed and/or updated accordingly. The names from the original key are transcribed 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, Mrs. Alphonse Chicoine, Mrs. Bob Wyant, Mrs. 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: Orville Chicoine, Ferdinand Chicoine, Donald Chicoine, …?, Ilian Bertrand, Wallace Chicoine, Theresa Chicoine, Doris Chicoine, Bernice Chicoine, Veronica Chicoine, Madonna Chicoine, Marc Chicoine, Hubert Chicoine

Photo 2 Top Row: Ora Quintal, Ella Quintal, Rose Montague, Martin Chicoine, Cora Chicoine, Marty …?, Martin Quintal, Adrian Chicoine, Leander Bertrand, Mrs. J. B. Fountain, Ruth Chicoine?, Aloysius Bourassa, Esther Bourassa, Laura Montagne Chicoine, Orise Montagne, Rachel Chicoine Dougherty holding Richard, Dalma Beaubien Montagne

Photo 2 Middle Row: Eugene Chicoine, Philip Bernard, Joe Montagne, Bert Crevier and baby, Fedora Chicoine, Leonard Chicoine, J. B. Fountain, William Chicoine?, T. D. Dougherty and child, Art Chicoine, Louis Beaubien, Clarence Montagne

Photo 2 Front Row: Claire Montagne, Madonna Chicoine, Gabriel Sirois, Oswald Montagne and child, Lucille Crevier, Maurice Chicoine

Photo 3 Top Row: Priest from Salix, Wiska Derauleau, Viola Montagne, Rosella Montagne, …?, Mr. Adams, Mrs. Adams, Sophia Menard, Mrs. Eugene Bosse, Joe Chicoine, Mrs. Joe Chicoine, Obeline Chicoine Lambert, Corrine Chicoine, Mayme Chicoine, Gertie Crevier Chicoine, Leona Chicoine Crevier, Yvone Morin Chicoine, Beatrice Chicoine, Rose Langle Chicoine, Arsenia Allard Chicoine

Photo 3 Middle Row: Joe Gregoire, Sylvester Montagne, Laurence and child, …?, Ernest Menard, Maxine Chicoine, Charlotte Crevier, …?

Photo 4 Top Row: Simone Sirois, Bertha Sirois, Genevieve Sirois, Happy Jauron with child, Mrs. Jauron, Delphine Chicoine, Irene Trudeau, Marie Perrault Chicoine, Amanda Chicoine, Regina Benjamin Chicoine, Elise Chicoine Benjamin, Marcella Chicoine, Christina Chicoine Bourassa, Mrs. Alex Bourassa

Photo 4 Middle Row: Fabien Lambert, Raymond Chaussee, Joe Chicoine, Hermidas Chicoine, Gerome Gadbois and child, Alfred Chicoine, Isaac Benjamin, Alex Bourassa, John Bourassa, Gerard Chicoine

Photo 4 Front Row: …?, …?, Pauline Chicoine, Janette Chicoine, Loretta Chicoine, …?, Bourassa child, Roger Bourassa

Not named in the key are my great-great-grandparents, Henry Joseph Adam and his wife Melanie Veronica Lutz, immediately recognizable to me although I never met either one. Two individuals standing near them, recorded as “Mr. and Mrs. Adams,” are, I believe, Henry’s uncle and aunt, Peter Adam and his wife Elizabeth Courtmanche. Both Peter and Henry’s father Timothy Adam, who died several years before this photograph was taken, were sons of Timothée Adam and Marguerite Chicoine, Marguerite being a daughter of the aforementioned Leon Chicoine and Marie Vary.

I was introduced to this photograph upon meeting for the first time a distant cousin and fellow genealogist, Jeanette Borich, in 2019. We were stunned to find that my great-great-grandmother Melanie (Lutz) Adam was standing immediately to the right of her stylishly-dressed grandmother Viola (Beaubien) Montagne in this photograph, and like to think that they would be pleased that their descendants are in touch nearly a century later.

Copyright © 2021 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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A Canine in the Courtroom

As much as I love research in historic newspaper collections, it’s not often that I find an ancestor’s name attached to a truly colorful piece. There are the expected mentions at milestones and sometimes occasional notations of one’s comings and goings in small town social columns—but rarely has an ancestor sparked his or her own headline or been featured not just in the local news, but in the newspaper of the state’s capital.

In 1927, my nineteen-year-old great grandfather managed just that. Gerald Joseph Adam, the son of Henry Joseph Adam and Melanie Veronica Lutz, was born in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, in 1908. Nineteen years later, he became involved in a spirited disagreement regarding the ownership of a particular dog. When this dispute went to court, it caught the attention of a journalist who saw the humor in the situation, and thus half a page—including photographs and sketches—was allotted to the story in the Des Moines Register.

Gerald was a recent graduate of Sioux City’s Central High School and was employed as a doorman at the downtown Princess Theater. He was also the proud owner of a German Shepherd named Fraulein. However, when another Sioux City resident attempted to claim Fraulein as his own, Gerald wound up in court—with his mother and their family cat in tow—to settle his case. He ultimately emerged victorious, but the full story, which featured several unconventional attempts to demonstrate ownership of his dog, is transcribed below:

Spanked the Baby to Settle Court DisputeSpanked the Baby to Settle Court Dispute Sun, Nov 6, 1927 – Page 67 · The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) · Newspapers.com

Spanked the Baby to Settle Court Dispute

“Boo-Hoo” Cried Baby Phyllis But Sioux City Justice Found Evidence Inconclusive.

BY WILLIS F. FORBES.

Sioux City, Ia., Nov. 4. – Old King Solomon of biblical fame undoubtedly was a wise old bird, but it is doubtful if ever in all his varied and colorful career he was called on to settle a more perplexing judicial problem than that which recently confronted Charles Lockie, a Sioux City justice of the peace.

Like that famous trial over which the biblical Solomon presided, the case which confronted this modern magistrate was one of disputed ownership. It had to do with a dog – and a beautiful dog it was – a fine, bright eyed, intelligent German police dog of undoubted aristocratic ancestry.

The contending claimants were Gerald Adam and C. C. Terrill, both well known and highly respected citizens with unimpeachable reputations for veracity.

Each claimed the dog and appeared in court, ably seconded by legal talent, ready and eager to produce conclusive evidence of their right to ownership.

Adam testified that he had purchased the dog from Miss Alice Spalding, well known Sioux City society woman, and that the dog later had disappeared. Miss Spalding took the stand and corroborated Adam’s story, positively identifying the animal as one she had sold to Adam.

Terrill, seconded by other witnesses, contended that the dog belonged to him. He said that the animal had been given to him when a pup and that he had raised it. F. Heitzman, who, Terrill said, had given him the dog, was present and substantiated this story. He also identified the dog.

Right at the beginning a dispute arose among the litigants as to the dog’s name. Adam said that its proper name was Fraulein, that being the name which appeared on its pedigree papers. Terrill said that the correct name was Lady, as that was what she had been christened when he first obtained her.

Unfortunately, the dog seemed to understand both German and English, as she responded to one name as readily as to the other.

For purposes of discussion in court the justice ruled that the dog would be known merely as Exhibit No. 2, and a tag bearing that inscription was attached to her collar.

Both sides of the case were prepared with ingenious plans to prove to the justice that the dog was theirs.

Mrs. Adam, the plaintiff’s mother, informed the court that she could prove it was her son’s dog by means of its fondness for cats. She said that Fraulein had always played with cats and she had brought with her the family cat to prove her contention.

The Terrill faction, however, strenuously objected to this test as being no test as all. They had brought with them another dog which they claimed was a full brother of Lady and they said that it wouldn’t chase the cat, either.

So, as the justice and the spectators breathlessly looked on, the cat was released in front of Lady’s alleged brother.

Apparently the brother dog was little interested in the fate of his sister for he had to be awakened from a sound sleep. He opened his eyes just in time to see Miss Kitty retire beneath the office safe.

The dog slowly got to his feet, ambled over to the safe and poked his nose under the strong box in the general vicinity of the cat.

Whether or not he and the pussy came to some sort of a whispered understanding during this process could not be ascertained, but when the cat finally was retrieved and held in front of the dog’s nose he merely sniffed and retired to his corner where he proceeded to go to sleep once more.

The male dog was much better behaved in the courtroom than was the female, who had to be taken out of the room so that the hearing could be conducted quietly. But, of course, he was only a disinterested spectator and she was Exhibit No. 2.

This test having failed, the Terrills presented a test which they said would prove conclusively they were the rightful owners.

They said that whenever anyone spanked a baby in Lady’s presence she would strenuously object. So they had brought 6-year-old Phyllis Theison, Terrill’s granddaughter, to court to prove the argument.

The second test was conducted rather informally in an adjoining room where Exhibit No. 2 had been taken in disgrace. It was carried out without the consent of the justice.

While the spanking process was going on the dog began to whine and jabber. If whining and jabbering could be construed as a protest against the spanking, then the dog protested. But it had been protesting so much during the whole trial that even this could hardly be taken as conclusive proof of identity.

Mrs. Adam further contended that Exhibit No. 2 was her son’s dog because it had a habit of sleeping on a davenport with its head on a pillow and because it would stand on its hind legs and drink out of the kitchen sink.

But unfortunately there was no inviting davenport nor kitchen sink included in the courtroom furniture, so these tests could not be carried out.

Somebody suggested that, inasmuch as Exhibit No. 2 and the male dog claimed to be her brother, resembled each other, a blood test might serve to settle the argument.

This was deemed inadvisable, however, and finally in desperation Justice Lockie asked if either side could produce identification marks to uphold their claim.

The Adam faction hailed this suggestion with delight. They pointed out that the registration papers which Miss Spalding had given them when she had sold Fraulein identified the animal by three little birthmarks on its neck.

The Terrill faction countered this argument by saying the marks were scars left by vaccination and they offered to produce the veterinarian who had done the vaccinating to prove it. So court was adjourned for the day so the Terrills could bring their witness to testify.

The next day Exhibit No. 2 came very near being held in contempt of court for she was late in arriving. The justice and witnesses gathered in court promptly at the designated hour, but Fraulein, or Lady, whichever you prefer to call her, failed to appear.

As it was necessary for the veterinarian to examine the disputed marks before he could testify, there was nothing to do but wait. It probably was the first time in the history of Woodbury county that a court waited for a dog.

But finally Exhibit No. 2 made her appearance and the veterinarian, after examining the spots, decided that they were birthmarks. He said he had vaccinated Terrill’s dog on her left hip.

So far as Terrill was concerned it was a “dawg-gone” case, for the learned justice decided that the dog was the rightful possession of the Adam family, the baby spanking and cat playing tests notwithstanding.

Copyright © 2021 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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A Birthday Celebration

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

A Birthday Social

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

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

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

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

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

Disturbing the Peace: A Skirmish at a Secret Society

Two days after the birth of his second child, Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa got himself into a scuffle. On 26 August 1913, the Sioux City Journal reported:

After the Goat, Maybe

H. J. Adams [sic], 218 Market street, was taken into custody at 10 o’clock last night by Patrolman William Dempsey, who declared that Adams tride [sic] to break up a lodge meeting in a hall near Fifth and Douglas streets. Adams said that trouble started when he forgot the password. When the police arrived at the scene a battle was being waged between Adams and the other lodge members. He was charged with disturbing the peace.1

Henry, a carpenter by trade who was at that time thirty-two years old, was slight of build and no more than five feet five inches tall.2 Any further details of his encounter with the lodge members are unknown, including the identity of the lodge itself. The 1912 Sioux City Directory lists a number of “secret societies,” also known as fraternal organizations, located at or near Fifth and Douglas streets. The night of Henry’s encounter was a Monday, and assuming the locations and meeting times did not change between 1911, when the directory was printed, and August 1913, the only lodge meeting held on Monday nights at Fifth and Douglas streets was the Improved Order of Red Men.3 Why Henry was desperate to gain entrance to the meeting is anyone’s guess; perhaps he had a prior conflict with the organization, or perhaps he simply stumbled upon the meeting when out for a night of carousing away from the squalls of a newborn baby.

From left: Melanie (Lutz) Adam, son Gerald Joseph Adam, Henry Joseph Adam, and son Leon Francis Adam, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, circa 1915; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.

In any case, however, Henry was let off easy. A newspaper headline the next day announced “LENIENCY FOR HUSBAND,” and the subheading stated: “Wife Recently Became Mother, and Man Gets Freedom.” It was reported that Henry had been released the previous day out of “sympathy toward the wife.”4

Henry’s wife of almost eight years, Melanie Veronica (Lutz) Adam, must have been sincerely embarrassed by this turn of events, particularly as she was an upstanding member of a fraternal organization herself. Both Henry and Melanie were also active members of Sioux City’s Saint Jean Baptiste Catholic Church, not to mention the parents of two young children.5 However, if no news—meaning no more headlines—truly meant good news, it seems that Henry may have been able to avoid further trouble with the law for many years to come. As for whether he ever found a place within one of Sioux City’s secret societies, he did, in fact, with the Knights of Columbus.6

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Thoma Store: Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place

George Hiram Thoma was not the first in his family to open a general store. Decades before, his grandfather, a Bavarian immigrant, had operated a country store in northeastern Iowa, and perhaps it was stories of his success that inspired George to pursue this livelihood. In any case, George first entered the trade when he was about thirty years old, at which time he lived with his wife and children in Decatur, Burt County, Nebraska.1 This small community with a population under seven hundred was located near the border of the Omaha Reservation. It was likely here that George picked up the Omaha-Ponca language as well as Plains Indian Sign Language, with which he communicated with members of the local tribe.2

(Yet another interesting aside to the story of this ancestor with an alias!)

In 1922, after more than a decade in Decatur, George moved with his family some forty miles southwest to the town of Scribner, Dodge County, Nebraska.3 Scribner boasted a population of just over one thousand—several hundred more than in Decatur, perhaps making it a more promising location for a general store despite, or because, of its remote location. The local newspaper, The Rustler, announced the family’s impending arrival in February of 1922:

“George H. Thoma of Decatur, this state, was in Scribner this week and has leased the building which has been occupied by the People’s Co-Operative Store. He will open up about March 1 with a complete line of general merchandise. Mr. Thoma comes well recommended as an up-to-date merchant with a record of twelve years of successful business at Decatur and twenty in the mercantile business. He has a very pleasing personality and we learn he has always been a booster for his home town. He has an interesting family that will be a welcome addition to our church and school circles; a young daughter in high school and one son who assists his father in their business, who is a band man and a football player, who will find congenial associates here. Mr. and Mrs. Thoma and family will find a hearty welcome awaiting them in our little city.”4

“Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place” token, Scribner, Nebraska, 1922-24; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

It did indeed appear that the people of Scribner welcomed the Thoma family into their fold without hesitation. Regular updates were printed in the local newspaper regarding the opening of the store and the enrollment of daughters Fern, Norma, and later Betty in school. George wasted little time in becoming an active member the community, taking on leadership positions in a new Business Men’s Club as well as the Boy Scouts and the American Red Cross,5 while his wife, Leota, made friends among the Royal Neighbors and the Ladies Aid Society at the local Congregational church.6 Their son, Fenton, was named in the newspaper numerous times as he took part in social and athletic activities; he eventually spent a period of time away from his family in Scribner as he traveled for a summer with the Redpath-Horner Chautauqua and then attended Dakota Wesleyan University, where he served as president of the freshman class.7 Fern, too, received frequent mentions in the newspaper as she engaged in high school activities and gathered with friends, and mentions were even made of young Norma and Betty as they took part in events with their elementary school classmates.8

It seems, however, that the Thoma store did not take off as well as the family’s social life, and although the family embraced life in Scribner, it must also have been a stressful time for them. Less than a year after opening shop, a full-page advertisement appeared in the local newspaper, declaring that “Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place” was being “FORCED BY CREDITORS” to “raise $10,000 cash at once or close up business.”9 The Northwestern Selling System was to be in charge of this cash-raising sale of the store’s stock of $25,000 of “clean seasonable merchandise, only a few months old, consisting of dry goods, notions, women’s and children’s shoes, hosiery, underwear, fancy goods, men’s and boys’ sheep-lined clothing, hats, caps, furnishings, groceries, and queensware.”10 All purchases were to be made in cash or, interestingly, produce.11

“Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place” token, Scribner, Nebraska, 1922-24; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Apparently, this sale merely bought time. Another cash-raising sale was held that August,12 and in February of 1924, just two years after The Rustler had announced the opening of Thoma’s Store, a two-page spread appeared, announcing, “We’ve Decided to Quit Business in Scribner,” adding, in all-caps, “THOMA’S $20,000 STOCK JUST GOTTA GO!”13 A personal note from the proprietor himself was central to the advertisement:

“Here Are The Cold-Blooded Facts: You’ve heard and read about merchandise sales and bargains until your faith in them has been shattered, but your idea and our idea of a sale and a bargain are the same: It has been the custom of some stores in announcing a sale to give it some fancy decoy name and attempt to justify it by some plausible excuse. We are BLUNT about it – the reason for this sale is that we are sick and tired of business, physically and mentally and we’re just a going to get out and do it quick, and if low prices were ever an inducement this stock will be sold in a jiffy. Please understand, WE ARE CLOSING OUT! THIS MEANS IT ALL GOES! Signed GEO. H. THOMA”14

In May of 1924, The Rustler reported:

“George H. Thoma last Saturday moved his family and household effects to Sioux City, where they will make their future home. Their daughter, Miss Fern, remained here to finish her school year. Mr. and Mrs. Thoma have made many warm friends during their residence here, who regret to see them leave this city, and wish them all the good luck in the world at their new location. Mr. Thoma is now on the road selling electrical appliances. Friday afternoon the ladies’ aid of the Congregational church held a farewell reception in honor of Mrs. Thoma in the church basement. The manner in which the ladies dressed and made-up for the affair caused much merriment and an enjoyable afternoon is reported.”15

Sioux City proved to be a more promising destination for the Thoma family, and despite the close friendships they left behind in Scribner, they thrived in this city of nearly eighty thousand. George put his experience as a merchant to good use and found success as a wholesale fruit salesman for the Haley-Neeley Company and, for many years, the Palmer Fruit Company. He remained in Sioux City for the rest of his life, never again returning to the general merchandise business.16

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Goodly Bit of Romance

The newspaper headline must have brought a few chuckles: “OLD FOLKS HAVE ROMANCE.” The story continued, “Romance is not all reserved for young people, as the marriage of Isaac N. Holman, aged 70, of Decatur, Neb., to Mrs. Sarah E. Fenton, aged 51, of Springdale, in Sioux City, will testify. […] This is the third marriage for each of the contracting parties. Both are well along the avenue of life and to them the marriage represents good judgment as well as a goodly bit of romance. They have known each other a long time and the mutual admiration they have entertained has grown gradually until the marriage yesterday placed its happy seal upon their growing affection.” Following their marriage on 24 August 1908 at the home of the Reverend W. H. Montgomery of the Haddock Methodist Episcopal Church in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, the couple was to visit Omaha. They would settle in Decatur, Burt County, Nebraska, where Holman, “said to be quite well to do,” made his home.1

That evening, their story appeared in another Sioux City newspaper: “LOOKING FOR LAND HE FINDS HELPMATE.” This version of the story was written with a level of flowery detail that, while entertaining, I don’t quite trust:

“I.N. Holman, a wealthy retired farmer of Decatur, Neb., came to Sioux City several months ago on a land deal. At the office of a real estate dealer he met a charming black-eyed widow, Mrs. Sarah E. Fenton, who had chanced in there on business. When they were introduced, he immediately lost all interest in Sioux City property or any property for that matter, and devoted all his time to the widow. Holman is 70 years old, and he pressed his suit with such ardor that before he returned to Decatur he had made a contract for something which he wouldn’t trade for all the farms in Iowa, namely the attractive widow. Today he returned to close the deal, which he says is the best he ever made. A license was issued this afternoon, the bride giving her age as 51. They will be married this evening and after a two weeks’ wedding trip will make their home at Decatur. “Maybe people think we’re foolish,” said the bride, blushing like a school girl, “but we don’t, we’re too happy.”2

This is far from the whole story. First, there are, in fact, two stories presented by these competing news articles. Did the couple meet at the land office, or had they been acquainted for years? This we may never know for sure; it seems unlikely, but not impossible, that the couple had crossed paths before meeting in Sioux City. Second, the “attractive widow” most likely did not have the black eyes of Bess the landlord’s daughter, charming as the description may be.3 And was she even a widow? Well, yes and no. Her first husband, George W. Fenton, died tragically in 1880 when accidentally shot by her brother-in-law.4 Her second husband, however, was still alive and well at the time of her third marriage; Sarah had divorced John Hoffman in 1902 citing his drunkenness and death threats.5 However, it would have been far from unusual for a woman to claim widowhood over divorce.

SarahEHall

Sarah Ellen (Hall) Fenton Hoffman Holman Eklof, Iowa or Nebraska, ca. 1908; digital image 2001, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015.

Finally, would Isaac and Sarah live happily ever after? Unfortunately not. Isaac was granted a divorce from Sarah in 1914;6 a probate petition filed by his son the previous year, while suggesting that Isaac “indulged in intoxicating liquors to excess” and was “changeable, forgetful, and stubborn,” also stated that “the amount of money demanded from him by his current wife annoyed him considerable.”7 Oh dear. Isaac did not remarry before his death in 1922,8 but Sarah would marry – and divorce – once more.9 She resumed the use of the Holman name and at the time of her death in 1930, she was referenced as the widow of Isaac Newton Holman. Her short-lived marriage to this “wealthy landowner” was, perhaps, her one claim to local fame and financial stability.10

Lesson learned? Never assume. I had assumed that because this was the couple’s third marriage, and because they married in a community with a population greater than thirty thousand, that no mention would be made of their marriage in the local newspaper. In fact, I didn’t bother to check until their names turned up in the Findmypast database featuring a newspaper from across the state, and then learned that more than one version of the story existed. As it turns out, you never know what details of your ancestor’s experience might have made a compelling story deemed worthy of reprint!

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Proud Owners of a New Piano

You never know what might have made the news a century ago. In Iowa, for example, news might have been made when someone acquired a piano. Although mail-order catalogues like Sears, Roebuck & Company made owning a piano more affordable than ever thanks to convenient financing options,1 such a substantial purchase was still of great interest to those in rural communities and small towns across America.

These were the years before Victrolas became widespread.2 Pianos were a ready source of music and entertainment, and people of all ages might have enjoyed gathering at the home of a friend or family member with a piano for an evening of playing and singing.

pianoloc

“A Pleasant Evening at Home,” Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, Prints & Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/90709337 : accessed 5 August 2015).

In the northwestern corner of Iowa, The Sibley Gazette reported on 24 May 1900:

John Hoffman and family are the proud owners of a new piano.3

And in the northeastern corner of the state, The Guttenberg Press reported on 25 June 1909:

Miss Roselyn Thoma is the happy and proud possessor of a new piano.4

John Hoffman was the second husband of Sarah Ellen Hall; married since 1883, they would undergo a tumultuous divorce in 1902. At the turn of the century, however, they were still married with a twenty-year-old daughter and a sixteen-year-old son at home.5 Their acquisition of a piano adds a bit of brightness to what was painted in their divorce proceedings as a rather dim time. Although Sarah led a difficult life, her granddaughter remembered that she had loved fine things; this piano was likely a prized possession.6 As she was said to be a religious woman, perhaps she enjoyed hymns played on the piano either by herself or her children.

Roselyn Thoma was the daughter of Fred and Matilda (Hammond) Thoma and was seventeen years of age in 1909.7 She was the last of four surviving children still at home, her younger sister having been lost to a diphtheria outbreak three years prior.8 Perhaps it was with a newfound appreciation to seize the moment that her parents supported such an extravagance for their daughter, or perhaps the same inheritance that had recently spurred them to purchase a farm made the purchase of a piano possible as well.9 Roselyn would marry two years later, and one can imagine that her piano might have accompanied her to her new home.10

Whether the Hoffman and Thoma families enjoyed idyllic moments crowded around their pianos à la Little Women or not, it is clear that the addition of a piano to a household in their humble Midwestern communities was worthy of note – and pride. However, even in these rural areas, it would be only a matter of time before new forms of entertainment overtook the novelty of owning a piano.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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A Fatal Scratch: The Death of a Pioneer Woman

Anna_Margaretha_Poesch_Thoma_Obituary“After almost a week of extreme suffering, caused from blood poisoning, Mrs. Margaretha Thoma, one of Garnavillo’s oldest residents, passed away at 4:00 o’clock last Saturday afternoon. About two weeks ago the lady accidentally scratched the back of one of her hands with a pin. The scratch at the time was a mere trifle and was given no further thought by her until a few days after when the hand began to swell and cause more or less pain. A physician was called and found it necessary to lance the hand, but desired results did not follow and twice later the lance was employed, and still no relief came to her sufferings, but instead the wound continued to grow worse and the swelling commenced extending into the arm. Everything possible was done to allay the pain and comfort her in her unendurable suffering, but nothing could be administered that would combat with the situation and the result was death came as a relief after nearly a week of incessant torture.”1

Anna Margaretha (Poesch) Thoma was born in Weißenstadt, Wunsiedel, Bavaria, the daughter of Wolfgang and Barbara Poesch.2 She came to Iowa with her family at a young age, and was later deemed “one of the venerable and loved pioneer women of Clayton County.”3 Margaretha married William Henry Thoma, a local merchant, in 1857, when she was still in her teens.4 They had eleven children before his death in 1876; Margaretha never remarried, and in fact continued to operate his mercantile in the years following his death.5 Perhaps it was this role in her community that brought her the recognition to be remembered so fondly in the years following her death from blood poisoning on 9 November 1907.6

Margaretha’s unfortunate plight might remind some of Caroline Ingalls’ encounter with a rusty nail in a particularly drama-filled episode of Little House on the Prairie. Indeed, albeit tragically, little could have been done to relieve Margaretha’s suffering at this time and place. Her age, estimated at near seventy, might also have contributed to her susceptibility to infection, whether she in fact suffered from sepsis or tetanus. Although not soon enough for Margaretha, it would be just a matter of time before the use of penicillin – and the tetanus vaccine – would become widespread. 

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Country Store: Family Groceries, the Best of Brandy, and Excellent Beer

The Bavarian William Henry Thoma of Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa, was a businessman by the age of thirty.1 In 1859, the Clayton County Journal reported:

“William Thoma, Grocer, Main Street, Garnavillo, Iowa, keeps constantly on hand all kinds of family groceries, such as Coffee, Sugar, Tea, Milasses, ice, &c. The best of Brandy and excellent Beer is also always to be found at this establishment.”2

William must have found success as a grocer and purveyor of alcoholic beverages, as his business was apparently in operation for at least two decades. He was named a merchant in the 1860 census,3 and in the 1870 census it was noted that he was the keeper of a “country store.”4 This must have allowed him to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and eleven children; in 1870, he owned real estate valued at $12,000 and personal estate valued at $3,000.5

William_Thoma_1870

1870 U.S. census, Clayton County, Iowa, population schedule, Garnavillo, p. 13 (penned), dwelling 87, family 86, Wm Toma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 April 2014), citing National Archives microfilm M593, roll 383.

After William’s death in the summer of 1876,6 his widow, Anna Margaretha (Poesch) Thoma, with a handful of young children still at home, took over as merchant. She maintained the business for a number of years, while her eldest son assisted as a clerk in the store.7

I like to wonder whether William’s store was anything like that featured at Iowa’s Living History Farms, which boasts the fictional 1875 Town of Walnut Hill. Images of the picturesque Greteman Brothers General Store can be seen here. It’s well worth a visit if you find yourself in central Iowa and have ever wondered what life was like for your Midwestern ancestors in the years following the Civil War. The impact of the Industrial Revolution on rural communities is visible, although, according to the Living History Farms, “The railroad will always be a few years away for Walnut Hill.”8

Of course, I also have to wonder whether William and Anna Margaretha (Poesch) Thoma were anything like Nels and Harriet Oleson of Little House on the Prairie. Let’s just hope that their children weren’t as spoiled as the infamous Nellie and Willie!

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A Dastardly Act: Making the News in 1893

Mrs. Hiram Hammond barely had a chance to settle in to her retirement in the town of Postville, Allamakee County, Iowa, before an unfortunate event warranted her a mention in the local newspaper.1

PostvilleReview29May1893Hammond.jpg

“Local Review,” The Postville (Iowa) Weekly Review, 29 May 1893, p. 1, col. 4; digital images, Newspaper Archive (http://www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 18 February 2014).

As reported in The Postville Weekly Review on 29 May 1893, “Some miserable sneak thief stole some potted house plants from the residence of Mrs. Hiram Hammond, on Tuesday night. The most contemptible part of it was that those not carried off were mashed and destroyed. They were left out of doors without thought of danger. A man that would do such a dastardly act is not a safe member of society in any respect.”2

Well then! I can only imagine that poor Mrs. Hiram Hammond – born Eva Margaret Stoehr – must have been most distressed at this unexpected turn of events. She had likely only recently moved to town, while her husband prepared to put their farm up for sale.3 Hiram had turned eighty that year, while his wife was over sixty.4 After years of labor on their farm, they must have looked forward to a quiet life in town.

Postville was certainly not a large community, yet apparently large enough that a man (or, perhaps much more likely, a teenage boy) could get away with a destructive prank. However, if this was the worst that Postville had to report, it seems that things really may not have been all that bad! One can only hope that in the years to come, Mrs. Hiram Hammond was able to enjoy her potted house plants without further incident.

What is one of your favorite stories about an ancestor that you’ve found in a historic newspaper database? There are several excellent databases out there; so far, I’ve had positive experiences with Chronicling America (free) and NewspaperArchive (subscription). Be aware that different databases may offer access to different areas and periods of coverage. Also be sure to find out whether your local library provides free access to any useful newspaper databases, which can often be accessed from home.

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