Photograph of Trenkle's Sausage Company sign used by permission. Original photograph (Image #151), taken by Cara Pusateri of Dubuque, Iowa, a few years ago as the building on which the sign was painted was being demolished. It was located on Central Avenue across from the former Trenkle's Sausage Company.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

There's One In Every Family: The Black Sheep

Above all else, what does a family researcher hope to unearth while sorting through the scraps and remnants of an ancestor’s life?  Well, for me it’s a fascinating story that brings that person, family, or times alive in vivid detail.  I always hold out hope that I’ll find a snippet that reveals their personality or trials or achievements.  Then I’ll keep searching until I can enlarge the snippet into a full-blown tale to share with my children and grandchildren.  Sometimes the newspaper article or document is shocking or unbelievable.  However, in the case of the Holz Family Black Sheep, the events were merely sad and unfortunate.

Charles Alexander Terre was the first and only son in a family of five.  His father, Carl H. (or Charles), was born in Bettingen, Rheinland, Prussia in 1842 and shortly after immigrating to Dubuque, Iowa in 1871, he met and married Susanna S. Holz, my great, great aunt, in 1872 when she was twenty years old.  One year later, a daughter, Mary Barbara, was born but must not have survived because shortly after their second daughter, Mathilda Rose, was born in 1875, the family of only three migrated west to San Francisco.  There, in December, 1878, Charles Alexander was born.  The four appear in the 1880 census.  Carl, the father, is working as a dry goods clerk, which tells me ambition may not have been the family’s reason for leaving Dubuque where Susanna’s large family prospered and were available for support.  In later years, Carl was employed as a cook and saloon keeper in several different California locations.  His son is never listed in the same household as his father, except in 1880 when he was two years old.

By 1882, Carl and his wife must have separated, as Susanna gave birth to a third daughter, Kathryn, in Dubuque and this time, her infant’s baptismal sponsors did not include members from Carl’s family.  In the 1900 census, Charles Terre, age 58 and a servant, states he is divorced.

I continued to search for the family and discovered Charles Alexander listed in the 1910 census as a barber in Folsom prison, a strange place to find employment…but wait! He’s listed as a prisoner!  All sorts of questions crossed my mind…chief among them: what crime did he commit?  It must have been huge.

Folsom Prison was opened in 1880 to house California’s “incorrigibles, repeat offenders, and those serving long sentences”.   It’s long been known for its harsh conditions and was thought of as the “end of the line”.  Inmates spent most of their time in dark, stone cells behind solid boiler plate doors with only a six-inch eye slot.  There was no heating or plumbing in the cells and only an oil lamp for light. The prisoners wore black and white striped pants and whatever jackets or shirts they  owned when they were sentenced.  Up until 1912, the year that corporal punishment was abolished, infractions of the prison rules meant straightjackets or being tied up by their thumbs and hands. 


Surely, the black sheep in my Holz family had been a hardened criminal.  Only a very horrible crime deserved a trip to Folsom.

Then, during a research trip to Salt Lake City, I found an index on the shelf--Folsom Prison: List of Convicts.  It revealed the names and numbers of the prisoners from the year the prison opened in 1880 until 1942.  On page two, Charles was listed twice!  Definitely one of the incorrigibles.

Now that I knew Charles’ assigned numbers, I attempted to find out how to obtain his prison or sentencing records.  I hit a dead end until I read that California inmate records were held in the state archives and might even include photographs of the men.  I sent for and soon received a packet with some of the answers to my many questions, along with mug shots taken on his two sentencing dates in 1910 and 1915.  His questioning and testimony revealed the sad tale of a harmless, luckless petty thief.

The first time he was arrested, the bar keeper and two policemen surprised him in the act of reaching into the pocket of a man sleeping it off in the back room of the Columbia CafĂ© in Sacramento.  Charles had been drinking heavily or, he claimed, he never would have done such a terrible thing.  He was made to put the money back and was later sentenced to two years in prison for grand larceny.  The judge, J.W. Hughes, did not believe his feeble attempt to explain the circumstances nor did he accept Charles’ picture of his life as a gainfully employed waiter in some of the best restaurants in San Francisco and Sacramento (even though Charles was able to name each owner and establishment, as well as the length of time he was a waiter at each.  He said he worked twice for a famous French restaurant during a recent fair.)  Nor did the judge believe Charles’ description of his happy life as a married man with a wife and three sons (whom, he claimed, were visiting the wife’s family in Tacoma for six months).  I tried without success to locate any record of a wife and children.   He didn’t correct the judge when he mentioned Charles’ two sons—not three.  Charles’ fib must have been detected—certainly suspected.  The amount he attempted to steal?  A mere $5.75.   Prisoner Number 7680 was sentenced on 29 September 1910 and finally released on 29 May 1912.

Three years later, on 16 October 1915, Charles—now Prisoner Number 9767--was arrested a second time and sentenced to twelve long years for burglary in the 1st degree.  In 1917, he requested a commutation for having received an “excessive sentence”.   He claimed that although the bar keeper saw him run out the back door of the saloon, nothing was taken and no damage was done.  The appeal was written on stationary from the California Highway Commission and the day labor camp at Camptonville, Yuba County.  Beginning in 1916, the state opened three convict camps and used prison labor for road construction.  After 1923, if the inmates worked hard they could pay off the initial expense of their supplies and transportation after three or four months and from then on, their net earnings of 50 to 75 cents a day would be set aside for them to receive upon release.  In addition, for every two days a prisoner worked, he could erase one day from his sentence.  Charles probably did not receive the benefit of this compensation since he was released on 16 June 1923.  He may have been discharged after serving only eight years for good behavior or perhaps he was ill.  He died four years later at the age of 49 in the home shared by his two widowed sisters, Tillie Rose and Kate.  He showed up on their doorstep four days before he died.

Why did Charles’ life turn out as it did?  From the few records I’ve found, it’s evident that he lived an itinerant life…moving frequently and working sporadically as a waiter and a barber.  He is found in California’s voter records as a Republican but each entry lists a different address.  He took the time to register to vote and his letter asking for early release is well written in careful penmanship.  No doubt, he was educated in San Francisco schools. Certainly alcoholism was a factor, as it often is with those in the restaurant business.  This may have been a cause, as well, for his parents’ early divorce and his father’s frequent moves and job changes.  Also, he was born to a family that did not choose to surround themselves with close family support.  Charles’ mother and father both are listed alone in several census enumerations.   Only his two sisters remained in place in Oakland for over forty years. 

In August, 1902, when Susanna’s father, Peter Holz, drew up his last will and testament, he left a share of his property to her.  When his obituary was published in 1904, she was still in California and when his will was settled in late 1904, Susanna Smith (nee Holz) of Colton, California was listed as one of his legatees.  I assumed she had remarried but have not discovered records to prove this.  By 1910, she is back in Dubuque, living alone and working as a private duty nurse for a local family.   She is listed in Dubuque’s city directories of 1923 and 1927 as Susan Smith.  However, in her brother, John Holz’s, obituary, Susan Terry of California is among the list of his survivors.   I mention this to show that Charles’ mother was alive in 1927 when he died.  Did they write to each other?  Did she even know of his imprisonment or death?   Did he keep in touch with his father?  His sisters?  Probably not since, it seems, he’d much rather sit alone in a saloon after work, losing himself in drink.

These family snippets were expanded into a sad tale of solitary and luckless lives.  It did not have the satisfying ending I had hoped for when I began my search for Charles Alexander Terre.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembering All the Brave and Valiant Veterans in Our Family

When I began this memorial to those in our family who served our country, I had only a few names on my list. the more I probed, the more veterans I found and the more research I had to do to fill in the blanks. I'm sure you will notice that there are still stories to add. Because of the growing list, the tributes were not completed in time for last Memorial Day. Instead, I will acknowledge their many contributions to our freedom and peace today, Veterans Day, November 11, 2009.

For now, I've chosen to focus just on my family tree...the Fischer, Holz, and Andresen men...including fathers, sons, brothers-in-law, uncles, and cousins. Soon, I'll write and post stories about my husband's and children's lines. If you have additional names for this list, including information or photos of our family's men in uniform, I would love to hear from you.

It's now several months since I posted this long list of the veterans in our family. In the meantime, I've continued to discover more names and a little of their stories. I've added these to commemorate tomorrow's Memorial Day, 2010.

War of the Rebellion

Louis Fischer, My Great, Great Grandfather

Louis was born in Bavaria in 1837. At age 24, just seven years after he emigrated, he joined the Jackson Guards, company H, first Regiment, Iowa Volunteer Infantry on 23 April 1861. He fought in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri and was discharged on 20 August 1861. He died in Dubuque, Iowa in 1875.

The Spanish American War

Henry Charles, My Great Uncle
& William Peter Andresen, My Grandfather

Henry was born in 1871 in East Elkport, Clayton County, Iowa and William, his brother, in 1876. They enlisted in the 49th Iowa Volunteer Infantry in 1898. William served as a private and barber in Company A. Before the 49th became part of the occupation forces in Cuba, Will was hospitalized in Jacksonville, Florida for seven weeks with typhoid fever. Because of this and other physical problems from his service, he was not able to re-enlist for the Philippine Insurrection as he planned. Henry was promoted to corporal and later served with the 7th US Signal Corps. They sailed for Cuba on the USS Minnewaska from Savannah, Georgia on 19 December 1898 and as the ship entered Havana Harbor, they and the rest of the 49th witnessed what was left of the Maine. They were discharged in 1899. Henry died in 1930 in Seattle, Washington and William in 1955 in Dubuque, Iowa.

World War I

Alphonse Edwin Holz, My Great Uncle

Born in 1892, Alphonse was the only son in a family of four sons to serve in the military. He enlisted at age 25 in 1918 and was assigned to the Port of Bordeaux, France as part of the refrigerating plant, Company 501 with the American Expeditionary Forces. He also served in Bendorf, Germany. He was awarded a Victory Bronze Button and discharged in 1919. He died in Dubuque in 1965.

World War I Postscript

Edna Anna Michels Holz, My Grandmother

Born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1888, Edna would have been about 29 years old in this photograph if this is a WW I uniform. Why is she in uniform? Was she in a theater production or was she a member of a support group for the enlisted men?

Peacetime: Pre-World War II

Charles Joseph Holmberg, My Uncle

Charlie was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1905. He joined the Navy at age 14 in 1920 under an assumed name and assumed age. He was discharged on 8 December 1922 as a Seaman First Class on the U.S.S. Oklahoma, a ship that was sunk at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. He later was able to change his Naval records to his correct name. He died in 1975 in California.

World War II

Wilfred John Andresen, My Uncle

Andy was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1904. He enlisted in 1941 and was first stationed in Iowa City for one year. He was then transferred to Jacksonville, Florida Naval Air Station. He was discharged in 1945 once peace was declared. He died in Dubuque in 1962.

Louis Michael Holz, My Uncle

Louie was born in Dubuque,Iowa in 1916. He enlisted 29 December 1942 in the Army at Camp Dodge Herrold in Iowa after one year of college and was assigned as a Warrant Officer. He served in Hawaii. He is still living in Dubuque, Iowa.

Paul Joseph Dodds, My Cousin-In-Law

Paul was born in 1923. He enlisted in the Marines at age 20 on 23 May 1944 and served in the Pacific from 1 June 1945 and in China from 13 October 1945 until 25 July 1946. He was a heavy truck driver and, despite the lack of training, convinced his superious that he could drive a bulldozer. He was discharged on 27 August 1946 and died in Dubuque in 1999.

Joseph James Dolan, My Uncle

Joe was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1911. He enlisted at age 30 in 1941 and was assigned to the 405th Signal Company Aviation in California from 19 February 1941 to 12 November 1941. He then transferred to the Army Reserve Corps and returned to Dubuque. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was unable to join his old unit. He joined the 35th Signal Company, 35th Infantry Division from 27 January 1942 until 12 October 1945, when he was discharged. He achieved the rank of Technical Third Class (Staff Sergeant). His MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was Teletype and Telegraph Operator. He told his son that he was an expert in transmitting and receiving high level code. Because of his duties and expertise, he was assigned to the Command Headquarters instead of the front lines. The 35th Division was assigned to General Patton's 3rd Army for much of the war. He died in Dubuque in 2007.

Charles Nicholas Andresen, My Uncle

Charles was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1919. He enlisted in the Navy and served in the South Pacific. He died in Dubuque in 1965.

Marcelo Hilario, My Sister's Father-in-Law

Marcelo was born in 1905 in the Philippines and emigrated in 1929 through Hawaii.  He settled in Sacramento and joined the Army in 1941.  He served in the 1st Calvary and Infantry in Japan during WW II and in Korea during the Korean Conflict. He was awarded two Combat Infantry Badges (CIBs) and was a Combat Engineer. He was later assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington State, and Fort Ord, in California. He retired in 1961 as a SgtFC.  Marcelo died in Tacoma, Washington in 1979.

A World War II Postscript

Edgar John Holz, My Father

Ed was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1913. He made it as far as basic training at Fort Des Moines but was turned down by the Army, most likely because he had "scarring" on his lungs. He died in Dubuque in 1989.

Korean Conflict

James P., Paul V., and Richard L. Andresen, My Cousins

Jim, Paul, and Dick, brothers in a family of six sons and two daughters, were all born in Dubuque, Iowa...Jim in 1930, Paul in 1932, and Dick in 1933. Jim enlisted in the Air Force, Paul in the Marines, and Dick in the Army during the Korean Conflict.

George David Smith, My Cousin

George was born in Lead, South Dakota in 1936 and grew up in Dubuque, Iowa. He enlisted in the Army in 1956 and served during both the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Era. His Army career spanned 28 years, including two tours of duty in Vietnam, earning George the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was a professor of military science at the University of South Alabama from 1981 to 1984. He died in Alabama in 2004.

Vietnam Era

Nicholas Joseph Sutton, My Cousin

Nick was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1944. He enlisted in the Army and served in California and Vietnam.

James McCoy, My Cousin-In-Law

Jim was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1941. He enlisted in the Air Force and served from November, 1963 until April, 1968. After a year of Officer Training School and missile training, he was assigned to Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa. There, for 40 months, he was a Launch Officer at one the four Mace nuclear missle sites. Jim lives in Dubuque, Iowa.
If you wish to learn more about the hard missile sites on Okinawa, click here and go to Kadena Air Base. The Launch Control Center was Jim's "home" away from home.

James Dolan, My Cousin

Jim was born in Dubuque in 1942. He was drafted and served in the Army from December 1966 until December 1968. His MOS (Military Occupational Specialty was Accounting Specialist and he achieved the rank of Specialist 5. Basic Training was at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He went to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana for Finance and Accounting school even though he had a BA in Accounting. He was staioned at the Arm Forces Institute of Pathology in DC, assigned to the Budget Office. From January, 1968 until discharge, Jim was an Accounting Specialist for the 1st Logistical Command in Long Bihn, Vietnam. He lives in Florida.

Michael Dolan, My Cousin

Mike was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1946. He was drafted and served in the Army from 18 September 1969 until 14 August 1971. His MOS was pay Disbursement Specialist. Mike achieved the rank of Specialist 5. Basic Training was at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He went to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis for Finance and Accounting school, even though, he, too, had a BA in Accounting. He then was stationed at Fort Sheridan north of Chicago. He was assigned to the 45th Finance Section, US Forces Support District Rheinland Pfalz, Kaiserslautern, Germany from 2 September 1979 until 14 August 1971. He lives in Iowa.
Daniel Dolan, My Cousin
Dan was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1948. He was drafted and served in the Army from 10 October 1970 until 16 March 1972. His MOS was Personnel Management Specialist. Dan achieved the rank of Specialist 5. Basic Training was at Fort Lewis, Washington. He went to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis for Personnel school. From May 1971 until 16 March 1972, Dan was assigned to the 95th MP Battalion in Long Bihn, Vietnam.

Sadao James Hilario, My Brother-In-Law

Sadao was born in Niigata, Japan in 1947 and emigrated to California in 1955. He enlisted in the Army at age 19 on 11 August 1966. After completing Huey (finished in top 10%) and Chinook Crew Chief / Flight Engineer training at Fort Eustis, Virginia, he was assigned to the First Flight Platoon as a Flight Engineer with the 132nd Assault Support Helicopter Company in Fort Benning, Georgia. He decided not to accept an offer for Artillery Officer Candidate School. Then, as part of the advance party, his unit flew all 16 aircraft from Fort Benning to Sharp Army Depot and then to Alameda and Oakland. He left on the USS Core for the Philippines and for Vietnam. After thirty days spent getting the aircraft ready to fly north just in time for the Tet Offensive, Sadao was assigned to the base camp at Chu Lai, where he flew as Flight Engineer in Chinooks, transporting howitzers, ammunition, fuel, food, supplies, South Vietnamese infantry soldiers, US troops, and civilians. Sadao returned home on 29 April 1969 as a Staff Sergeant (E-6). He eventually was hired by the Army Corps of Engineers. He's volunteered during the last several years for projects for the Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sadao lives in Washington.

Panama Invasion

Donald Andresen, My Second Cousin
Don was born in Dubuque in 1966. He was among 2,000 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division on duty in Panama. On 20 December 1989, he and the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry jumped onto Tocumen-Torrijos airfield east of Panama City. By the time he landed, the airfield was secure. His unit was then involved in securing the barracks, freeing Americans and other foreigners staying at the Marriot Hotel, and patroling the area.

Gulf War

Robert George Hoch, My Second Cousin
Robert was born in Colorado in 1970. He enlisted in the Marines and served in the Gulf War. He lives in Colorado.

Nicholas Hoch, My Second Cousin

Nick was born in 1971 in Colorado. He served in the Army. Nick died in Colorado in 2009.

Iraq War

Justin Sadao Hilario, My Nephew

Justin was born in Seattle, Washington in 1983. He joined the Marines at age 18 and served from 26 November 2001 until 26 November 2006. He was promoted to Sergeant in October of 2006. Following training as a Telephone-Computer Intermediate Repairman, he was staioned in Okinawa, Japan for one year, working in a computer repair shop with the 7th Communication Battalion. At the end of that tour he volunteered for the Marine Security Guard program and after rigorous traing at Quantico, was given his first post in Bangkok, Thailand, where he worked as internal security for the U.S. Embassy. During his stay in Thailand, he was assigned briefly to Manila, Philippines. He returned to Thailand for about 14 months. His second embassy post was in Beijing, China. While in Beijing, he volunteered to serve in Baghdad, Iraq for seven months. He was discharged from Beijing at the rank of Sergeant.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dubuque & Trenkle's Meat Market

To Dubuquers, sausage and cold cuts meant Trenkle's. Never mind that there were four sausage manufacturers listed in the 1901 Dubuque City Directory -- to Dubuquers, there was only one place to shop for luncheon meats, sausages, and weiners. Stopping by every Saturday was as much a weekly activity as hanging the wash outdoors every Monday (and yes, even on
the coldest winter days).

I have vivid memories of my mother or my Grandma Holz waiting to be served. There were always several customers in line, no doubt patiently holding numbers. I remember the tall glass display cases piled high inside with sausages and cold meat loaves, the clean black and white tiles, the men, including Henry himself, in white aprons quickly wrapping purchases in white heavy butcher paper or handing out samples to anyone who asked and always to the children, including me. The smells were fresh and pleasant. Henry died in 1948 so I must have been four-five-six-or seven years old at the time.

Heinrich Trenkle was born on 29 September 1866 to the shoemaker, Karl Trenkle and his wife, Therese (Volk) Trenkle. After serving as a private in the German Army, he sailed for America on the Normania and arrived at age 25 on 6 November 1891. He made his way directly to Dubuque where he found work in George Wiedmer's meat market on 19th and Jackson. I wonder if he would have had time to apprentice with a sausage maker in the old country. Nevertheless, from 1892 until 1894, Henry, as he now called himself, continued to absorb all he could about the meat and sausage business in a variety of positions in Iowa and Wisconsin. On 16 April 1894, he opened his own meat market on 14th Street in Dubuque and eventually had twenty employees, some of whom did bring the needed skills from Germany and many of whom continued to work for him for more than thirty years.

In 1895, Henry married Miss Katherine Gassman and the following year, the first of five children were born. His two sons, William and Henry, would eventually take over the business.

In 1897, he bought property at 1227 Central Avenue and began to manufacture his own sausages and luncheon meats. That same year, Henry became a naturalized citizen. The business grew and thrived as the city and the region discovered the uncompromising quality of his meats. Soon, he was supplying grocers as far away as Sioux City, Iowa and into Wisconsin and Illinois. The daughter of a grocer in Guttenberg, Iowa remembers the welcomed deliveries of Trenkle's sausages to her father's store.

Between April, 1923 and October, 1924, Trenkles completely remodeled and added the latest in equipment, a huge revolving smoker and only one of four in the United States like it at the time. During a typically busy Saturday, Henry and his employees would serve 1,400 to 1,800 customers, many who had first stopped at the outdoor market up the street.

Of the 45 varieties of smoked and unsmoked sausages and cold luncheon meats, my mother's favorites were veal loaf, head cheese, braunschweiger, ring bologna, and wieners. All except the unattractive head cheese became mine, too. When Trenkles finally closed after 76 years, my mother sought out the veal loaf at Pike Place Market's Bavarian Meat Market or the German Continental Store on Roosevelt whenever she visited Seattle.

1. 1901 Dubuque City Directory. Page
2. Passport Application, 1902. Footnote, Inc. Accessed 15 January 2009.
3. Passport Application, 1922. Footnote, Inc. Accessed 15 January 2009.
4. "Trenkle's Sausage Plant One of Most Modern in Country." Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. 5 October 1924, pg. 29-31.
5. Flyer: Invitation to Formal Opening. 8 October 1924. Vertical File: Dubuque Carnegie Stout Public Library; Dubuque, Iowa.
6. "Trenkle Co. Sale is Told." Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. 13 November 1970, pg. 5.
7. "City Demolishes Trenkle Building." Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. 23 March 1981, pg. 3.
8. Dubuque: The Encyclopedia. First National Bank. 1991.
9. "Henry Trenkle, Sr., President H. Trenkle Sausage Company." 2 March 1940. Citizens Historical Association, Indianapolis. Vertical File: Carnegie Stout Public Library; Dubuque, Iowa.
10. Tigges, John T. and James L. Shaffer. Dubuque: The 19th Century. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, S.C. ; 2000. Photograph of the Henry Trenkle Company building, pg. 54.

Trenkle's Sausage Company Sign

I discovered the above image of Trenkle's Sausage Company sign on notecards for sale by Cara Pusateri at Dubuque's historic Saturday market last June. As I took my time, looking for historic cards of the Dubuque I remember, one of Henry Trenkle's descendants arrived and proceeded to pick out all the copies of the cards. When I explained how much the shopping trips during the 1940s and 50s to Trenkle's with either my Grandma Holz or my mother meant to me, she let me keep two to bring home.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Please Stop At My Booth

This is my grandmother, Edna Anna Michels, dressed as a Dutch girl for a booth at the fair held at her high school, the Academy of the Visitation, in Dubuque, Iowa. The photograph was taken in either 1903 or 1904, the two years she attended the "Viz". She would have been fifteen or sixteen. I treasure this photograph because it shows her as a little "saucy" and dramatic. Also, when I knew her from the 1940s to her death in 1970, she had white hair and was not this trim.

Not only did my two grandmothers attend the Visitation, a private Catholic girls' high school founded in 1871, but my great aunts, my mother, her five sisters, my cousins, my four sisters, and I were also graduates of the Viz.

She was the best grandma a girl could have...always welcoming and loving, generous, a talented milliner, seamstress, crocheter, and quilter, and an excellent cook. But best of all, she loved her grandchildren unconditionally.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Serendipity ~ a fortunate discovery made by accident and sagacity while searching for something else. Originally coined by Horace Walpole in 1754.

In the late 1970s, during one of my trips back to Iowa, my mother and I decided to drive to East Elkport, the birthplace of her father and to learn more about his German emigrant family. In over sixty years, she had never visited her father's birthplace even though he was born a mere 50 miles north of our hometown. But in those intervening years, she developed a love of history and now had a bad case of family history fever. We were both excited to take this journey together.

We climbed the small hill to the cemetery above the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Elkport, a nearby town. We had no map or guide so we carefully searched the rows of moss-covered monuments until at last we came upon the gravestone of my mother's grandparents and their young daughter, Sophia Dora (or Baby Dora) whom we had not known about. The monument showed she died in 1871 at age two, along with entries for 1887 and 1892 for Dora's parents. We carefully copied the fading inscriptions and took several photos.

A view of Elkport with Immanuel Lutheran Church in the middle.
Above on the hill and to the right of the steeple is the cemetery. Date unknown.

At the bottom of the hill, we stopped by the Lutheran pastor's home to ask if any church records existed. He graciously let us search the fragile pages until we found entries for the family, including the baptism in 1876 of William Peter Andresen, my grandfather.

William Peter Andresen with his mother, Margaretha Dorothea Thomsen Andresen. Since she is wearing widow’s black, it appears she is in mourning for her husband, Karl Heinrich Andresen (known in East Elkport as C.H. Andresen), who died at age 52 in 1887. She died in 1892 at age 57. Based on these dates, this photo was probably taken about 1888-1889, when William would have been about twelve or thirteen. This is the only known photo of Margaretha Andresen.

Original was owned by William’s oldest daughter, Margaret who, no doubt, was named after her grandmother. Now in possession of her sons.

Although the sun was setting, we headed for the library to see if there were any town or county histories. We quickly found The History of Clayton County, Iowa (1882) on the shelf but the index listed a C. H. Anderson, not the correct spelling. As I pointed this error out to my mother, a woman searching at the sole microfilm reader looked up and asked which name we were looking for. When we said, "Andresen", we were rewarded with a big smile. "I'm related to you!" She explained that our ancestors followed her ancestors from Schleswig-Holstein and that several descendants remained in the county. We never dreamt that we would discover a distant cousin that day, specifically a distant cousin who was descended from the older sister of my mother's grandmother and who could fill in many of the empty branches on our family tree.

What's more, since she was a school teacher, she was only able to research her family during summer vacations. What if we had arrived during the school year?

My grandfather was orphaned at age 15 in 1892 and soon after, moved to Dubuque, Iowa, to learn the barber's trade from his older brother-in-law. Since he was the youngest of a family of six children, three born in Schleswig-Holstein and three born in Iowa, I imagine he did not carry early stories with him of his family or ancestors. But an older aunt and her children might.

This seredipitous discovery of a distant cousin and the information we both shared, eventually took us back to original documents from the 1600s in Germany and to the uncovering of many stories since about my grandfather's origins.

That day, when we returned home, my mother and I, usually very serious-minded, definitely did The Genealogists' Happy Dance.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A German Christmas Tradition on Wood Street

In my very German-American Catholic community of Dubuque, Iowa, most everyone, including my family celebrated St. Nicholas’ feast day every December 6th.

It began with a phone call the day before, which always seemed to catch us by surprise. One of us five sisters would rush to answer the phone not knowing the caller. “Holz’s residence, Barbara speaking.” It was a task we usually loved and fought over.

During this call, however, a deep, husky voice asked us if we’d been good. We tried to pass the phone to an unsuspecting sister. Did we do what we were told? It was St. Nick himself calling to see if we had been obedient and deserving of a visit that night. He questioned each of us in turn. It didn’t dawn on us to lie because we knew he’d been watching everything we did and said. If we had been especially disrespectful or sassy, we risked getting only a lump of black coal or sticks, as my middle sister once did. She waited one whole week before getting her stocking full of fruit, nuts, and candy.

That night, we hung my dad’s grey wool hunting socks with the red toe because they were the largest in a house full of girls’ much smaller feet. Our home, like most in Dubuque, didn’t have a fireplace mantel, so we hung the socks on the dining room buffet and for once, without being told, we took a bath, put on our p.j.s, said our prayers, and jumped under the comforter so St. Nicholas would have no excuse to skip our house. In the morning, the phone call already endured and forgotten, we would grab our bulging sock and dump everything onto the floor…always a box of animal crackers, loose nuts still in their shells, a few pieces of hard candy, and a prized tangerine and Red Delicious apple, extremely scarce items in the local A&P bins during the winter months in the 40s and 50s. It didn’t matter that the gifts were always the same; their predictability aided our anticipation. We were never disappointed.

But who was the St. Nicholas impersonator, really? Even when we were older and wiser, we had to ask our mother before discovering that our great Aunt Leona played the role of St. Nicholas. In the late 50s and 60s, she may have grown weary of this task as she grew older (she died in 1968 at age 87), because my youngest sister says that our Uncle Nick was the one who called.

I left home for nursing school at age 18 and my subsequent dorm rooms and apartments were in communities with large Scandinavian, Polish, or Italian families, none of whom honored St. Nicholas as much as my hometown did, if at all. It was easy to forgo hanging a stocking. My children and grandchildren hang stockings that have been beautifully needle pointed by my mother, whom I’m sure created them for the Feast of St. Nicholas, but instead we hang them the same day we put up our tree.

This tradition could have been carried to my family from German-speaking Europe by either my Luxembourgian (Nicolas), German (Nikolaus), or Austrian (Niklaus) great, great grandparents, all who came from countries that celebrated the feast of St. Nicholas, but I read on the St. Nicholas Center web site ( that the customs we grew up with were from Germany, including Ruprecht, his feared soot-covered helper.