The Ida Brockhaus Time Machine

I have a lot of family history pictures that originally belonged to my great aunt Grace (Waege) Larson.  Just the other day I realized that out of all these pictures, the pictures I have of my Great Grandmother Ida (Brockhaus) Waege are the only pictures I own that do a really nice job of spanning an ancestor’s entire lifetime.

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Brockhaus Family Pictures

[singlepic id=7 w=320 h=240 float=left]These are two of my favorites from my collection of family pictures.  The first picture was taken on the porch of the Brockhaus family farm nearl Campbellsport, Wisconsin in about 1913. Seated from left to right in the back row are my Great Great Grandparents William and Pauline Brockhaus, their son-in-law Oscar Schwinge and their daughter Hilda. In front are my great aunt Grace Waege, my Great Grandmother Ida, my grandmother Alice (Waege) Rathkamp and Emil Brockhaus.  I’m pretty sure my Great Grandfather, Bill Waege took this picture.  I’m not sure exactly why this is a favorite of mine, but I could spend hours looking at it.

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The next picture includes Pauline and her son Emil Brockhaus.  I still haven’t identified the little girl or the woman, but I assume they are Emil’s daughter and wife.  The body language in this picture needs no translation.  I have very little information on Emil, but I do know he died in 1946 and is buried next to his parents in the Hustisford Cemetery.  In the 1920 census, Emil shows up twice.  First as a farm hand in Oak Grove, Wisconsin and next living with his parents in Hustisford, Wisconsin.  Both entries list him being divorced.  Go figure.

The Swede in the Weeds…Such a Hassell

If I am the trunk of my genealogical tree, Olive Hassell is the closest branch with the most mystery surrounding it.  Olive is my paternal great grandmother, married to William J. Rathkamp.  I know almost nothing specific about her other than her date of death.  I know she was born in Sweden (my only non-German ancestor) in or about 1886.  I know that when her family came to the United States, they lived in Michigan.  I’m fairly certain, based on the 1900 US Census and the 1905 Wisconsin census, that her father was Charles Hassell and that they lived in Iron[singlepic id=6 w=320 h=240 float=left] Mountain.  After all, how many “Olive Hassells” could there be in Michigan?  There is nothing else I know of tying Olive to Charles.  Charles’ first wife (Olive’s mother?) died in about 1890.

I’m pretty sure she married William Rathkamp sometime between 1906, the year his first wife Sophie Hartmann died, and 1909, the year my grandfather was born.  That’s about it.

The lack of information seems to bring on a lot of questions.  Who were her parents?  When specifically did they arrive in America?  I haven’t found any arrival information.  Were she and William married in Wisconsin or Michigan?  I searched the marriage index for Milwaukee County at the Golda Meier Library at UWM and found nothing.  How and where did they meet?  Did she move to Milwaukee alone or possibly with a sibling?  What were the circumstances surrounding her early death at age 40?

One last note…

Many genealogists talk about the missing 1890 census. The lack of an 1890 census hasn’t really been that big of a deal for me, except in the case of Olive. With that census, I probably could confirm or deny her relationship to Charles and I would probably also know the identity of her mother. Bummer.

If anybody has any ideas or information, I’d appreciate hearing from you.


It’s amazing what you find when [singlepic id=1 w=320 h=240 float=right] really look closely at a census sheet. The genealogy software I use is Family Tree Maker which is owned and developed by   One of the nice things about this software is the “shaking leaf” it shows on a family member when it thinks it has information you’d be interested in.  My grandfather, George Niesl had one of these shaking leafs tonight and even though I was pretty confident there was nothing new that I’d find, I clicked on the link anyway.   FTM then took me to its search window where there was a link to view the 1920 census.  Again, I was pretty sure I already had this record, but I clicked on it again.

It took 2 seconds to notice that my great grand aunt, Johanna (Rathkamp) Wetenkamp and her daughter Dorothy lived next door to my grandfather and his family on 20th and Vliet in Milwaukee.  How many times had I looked at this record before?

Note also my grandfather is listed as “daughter”.  Guess George wasn’t a masculine enough name.

The interactive map below shows what 20th and Vliet looks like today.

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Pirates, Badgers, and The Dachs Family Singers

Last week I received an email from Annemarie Schrimpf.  It turns out Annemarie and I are third cousins 1x removed.  Her GG Grandfather, Johann Dachs, is my GGG Grandfather.  Annemarie still lives in the area of Bavaria that was the ancestral home of my 2nd Great Grandfather, Alois Dachs.  Alois came to Milwaukee in about 1880, where he became a saloon keeper.

Annemarie told me she got a kick out of my  DNA Test story, and relayed the following story  (keep in mind “Dachs” is German for “Badger”):

You must know the hole story about Dominik Dachs

(You can see, that all times we were looking for the emigrated members of our family).

In the seventies, there was given “Dominik Dachs und seine Katzenpiraten” in the Austrian TV. (By the way, it was a comedy for childreen.)

My mother read that, but she read “Kaspiranten” (like “Musikanten”) and so she thought, that would be an music-group. She spoke by herself: It is possible, that Dominik is a descendant of the members of our family who went to Austria und because all Dachses are talented in music, it may be, he has an own band.

In this time we had an old antenna and to see Austrian TV was impossible.  Mama went to her neighbors and asked her friend: “Mari, may I look Austrian TV by You? There is possibly a relative of us is on TV and I want look, if he has some similarity to us”.

Mari sad: “Yes, off course”, and she went to cowshed (stable) to to milk her cows.

So my mother and the neighbors son – Hermann (30) – were sitting in the living room an looking TV.

Later my mother told me the ending: “What do you think, what happened? What do you think what we saw? A badger! A really badger!!! And I said to Hermann: No! This one has no similarity to anyone of our family!!!”

Categorized as Dachs

The First Walz

My maternal grandmother, Emma (Walz) Niesl was born in Freeman, SD in 1913 to Fred Walz and Sophie Bischke.  The Walzes and Bischkes were German, but we had always been told as kids that they had lived in Russia or Ukraine.  This seemed to make our family history just a little exotic, almost as if they were gypsies.

The Walzes and Bischkes were the very last of my ancestors to immigrate to the United States, in roughly 1905.  There are a ton of stories that have been passed down from my grandmother over the years, some of them very funny, some sad.  But also fascinating is the bigger picture of the “Germans from Russia“.  Because my mom’s brother George always provided the genealogy on that side of the family, I never spent much time learning about these people.  But theirs is a truly fascinating story which starts in Germany.

My 4th Great Grandfather, Johannes Walz was born in Neidlingen, Germany (Wuerttemburg) in 1788.  We think of the very high standard of living Germans enjoy today without realizing things were not so cozy back then.  Taxes were extremely high, religious persecution was in vogue, young men were drafted to fight wars, and unless you were the first born male, the family business or farm was not in your future.  Prospects for a bright future were…not so bright.[singlepic id=3 w=320 h=240 float=right]

So when Catherine II, Czarina of Russia, and herself a German, issued a proclamation begging Germans to move to and cultivate the unsettled lands she had just won from Turkey, many jumped at the opportunity.  Her request was made even sweeter by offering them the ability to govern themselves, no taxes, free land, religious freedom, and the right to leave Russia at any time.  In 1809, Johannes Walz and his family were among the first to settle in a colony called Neudorf, what now is Karmanova in Moldova, about 85 miles north of Odesa.

According to the information I’ve read, the first several years called for a lot of resilience and adjustments.  The citizens of Neudorf, while enjoying their new freedoms, also suffered from disease, a 4 year locust plague, a hail storm that devastated crops, a livestock disease that killed 1400 head of cattle, on and on.  Still they forged ahead.  They were making homes for themselves.

In 1871, Czar Alexander II revoked the privileges originally offered by his grandmother Catherine and his father, Czar Alexander.  This meant the citizens of Neudorf as well as the 3,000 other German colonies were now reduced to peasant status.  They were drafted into the Russian army in 1874.  It’s this backdrop that eventually brought my ancestors to the rough plains of South Dakota in about 1905.

Fritz & Dora Have Courtside Seats

A few weeks ago I visited the Milwaukee Public Library and found they had a variety of “fire insurance” maps going back to the 1880’s.  These maps were produced by the Sanborn Company in order to provide insurance underwriters detailed information relative to the construction and fire risks of buildings in designated areas.[singlepic id=2 w=320 h=240 float=right]

The maps are too large to makes copies, but I did snap some pictures with my iPhone.  The picture below shows an overlay of my great great grandparent’s block in 1894 on top of the current view taken from Google Earth.  The large building is the Bradley Center, home of the Milwaukee Bucks.  I wonder if Milwaukeeans have a feel for how much their city has changed over time.  I’m not a Luddite, but I’ve seen pictures of Milwaukee’s second ward from the late 1800’s and I don’t know that we’ve improved the city by tearing those buildings down only to replace them with parking structures.

Within a two block radius, the only remaining buildings from their era are Turner Hall and some buildings on Old World 3rd Street.

I wonder what Fritz & Dora would think about seeing the Bucks and Metallica.

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From Rathkamps to Waeges

Time to shift gears a little.  I’ve spent most of the last 6 months researching and compiling Rathkamp family information, just because there’s been a flood of it, thanks to Friedhelm Wessels.  The truth of the matter is that researching other parts of my family has been a little easier.

I think most families have some sort of family lore that’s passed from one generation to the next.  There are a ton of stories that have been told from my mom’s side of the family, the Niesls and the Walzes.  There’s very little that has been passed on from the Rathkamp family.  The exception on my dad’s side comes from my maternal grandmother Alice “Pat” Waege and her sister (my great aunt) Grace.  Waege is pronounced “waggy”.

Friedrich Waege Farm in Lomira, WI

Pat and Grace were born and raised in Hustisford, Wisconsin, a small farming community about 45 minutes northwest of Milwaukee.  Their mom and dad were Wm. & Ida Waege.  Ida’s maiden name was Brockhaus.  Bill & Ida were both among the first generations of their respective families to be born in the United States.  Their parents were from Pomerania, the eastern part of Germany that is now part of Poland.  The Waeges emigrated in 1856 and the Brockhauses in 1865.

The Waege family originally settled in Lomira which is probably 20 miles northeast of Hustisford.  I have no idea what brought Bill’s dad (also Wm.) from Lomira to Hustisford, but I think this happened sometime around 1880.

Bill Waege's Confirmation
Bill Waege’s Confirmation, circa 1894

The challenging part of digging up Waege information has been due to the inconsistency in how the name was spelled.  I’ve seen it spelled Wagge, Wege, Wage as well as the much preferred Waege.  Well at least preferred in our family.  Inconsistency in spelling is pretty common in genealogy.  But it’s almost laughable among Waeges.  In fact, it seems Bill settled on his spelling, while his brother Carl seems to have generally used the Wege spelling.

Wm. Sr. appears to have been quite an enterprising individual.  Born in Germany in 1845, he immigrated to the US when he was 12.  Throughout his life, he was a farmer and a cheese maker.  He and his Leitzke in-laws purchased the first steam powered thrasher in Dodge county, and offered thrashing services throughout the area.

What remains of Bill Waege’s farm near Hustisford

I get a definite sense of drive and ambition from Bill Jr., born in 1882.  In 1899, the Dodge County Directory shows him owning 184 acres.  He was 16.  in the early 20th century, the family moved into town where Bill built his garage and started his Buick dealership.  The home he owned in Hustisford was a very large home.  So large in fact, that it was ultimately turned into a hospital.

Family lore has it that Bill went into business with another guy from the Hustisford area and that they were very successful initially.  As the story goes, this “swindler” somehow bilked Bill of his fortune and that the family went from riches to rags.

So, how much of that short story is true?  It’s impossible to tell.  The “swindler” it turns out, is Kurt Rex, the son of the pharmacist in Hustisford.  I have a book of poetry that was given by Kurt to my grandmother as a gift, possibly a birthday present.  From that, I wonder if Kurt and Bill were more than just business partners.  More than likely, they were good friends.  Both families after all had deep roots in Hustisford.

At some point, between 1920 and 1930, Bill & Ida moved from Hustisford to Milwaukee.  I don’t think they were exactly broke, because they bought a house on North 27th street.  The 1930 US Census shows the value of that house to be $9000, a pretty big sum in those days.  Bill’s father, Wm. Sr. lived with his son and his family.

I try to imagine what Wm. Sr.’s mindset was at that time.  Think of all the changes in scenery throughout his life.  From Germany to Lomira to Hustisford to Milwaukee.  Wm. Sr. died during a visit to his sister’s in Lomira in 1932.

Ida, Grace, and Bill Waege, circa 1940

Eventually, Bill Jr. and Ida ended up on Horicon, WI, where I was born.  I’m not sure what the circumstances were.  By that time my grandmother had married my grandfather, Bill Rathkamp, and were raising their family in Milwaukee.  Horicon put Bill & Ida closer to Hustisford, and I’m sure that was part of the reason for their move.  Who knows…maybe they wanted to get closer to their families, but didn’t want to get too close to the “swindler”.

Ida died in 1946.  I think it was at about this time that Grace moved back from Milwaukee to Horicon to be closer to her dad.  Grace had been married to Eddie Larson, but they were divorced after a short time.  Supposedly Eddie was a gambler.  Grace apparently found Eddie stealing money out of her purse and left him immediately.

After Grace moved back to Horicon, she started dating George Anfinson.  My mom always said Grace told George she wouldn’t marry him until after her dad died.  Her dad died in 1959, George died two weeks later.  Very sad.

Grace stayed in Horicon for the rest of her life.  I’ve always associated Grace with Horicon.  She was very active in the community.  She was the Treasurer for the Chamber of Commerce.  She worked for many years for the Wisconsin Power & Light Company.  She and her Anfinson “family” had a cabin between Merrill and Tomahawk on Hwy 107.

Meanwhile, my grandmother, Pat, spent the rest of her life in Milwaukee.  For most of my childhood, she lived on 41st between Lloyd and Brown, just a few blocks west of where my Niesl grandparents lived.  There were a lot of times I would visit my mom’s parents and then could just walk over to visit Granny Pat.  I vividly remember her always making chocolate milk for me.  My grandmother died in 1985.

Ironically, I was much closer to my aunt Grace than I was my own grandmother.  After a very busy and fulfilling life, Grace died in 2003 at the age of 91.  She is buried in the Hustisford Cemetary along with her Waege and Brockhaus family.


When the Levee Breaks

My friend Herr Wessels from Bassum, Germany has been a great source of information over the last couple months.  He’s also taken the time to teach me a lot about the region, naming practices, and has given me a glimpse into the society my ancestors lived.[singlepic id=4 w=320 h=240 float=left]

Originally, his thought was that my GG Grandfather, Friedrich Rathkamp was born in Neubruchhausen, but after some more digging, he really hit a home run.  It turns out Friedrich’s birth name was Hinrich Friedrich Rathkamp, who was born in the very small town of Oeftinghausen, about 25 miles south of Bremen.  Herr Wessels has sent me pages of the local history book which show my ancestors have lived in this town since before 1600.

It’s pretty amazing to have this flood of information all at once, especially since I was stuck at their emigration for years.  All of a sudden I know exactly where they came from, and I also have a slew of other ancestors to process.

I took German for a couple years in high school.  It’s pretty obvious I should have paid more attention, because I have to read through his emails and documents a few times before I get a good feel for what they say.  There are a lot of documents he’s forwarded, and I’m always afraid I’ll miss an important detail.

Showing that the human element of genealogy always trumps names and dates, Herr Wessels actually met Walter Rathkamp in Oeftinghausen.  From what I can tell, Walter is my third cousin.  The picture below is taken from Walter’s front yard, and shows the Rathkamp farm and blacksmith shop.

Tapping into a New Source

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been spending some time at the Golda Meir Library on the campus of The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.  For whatever reason, the library was chosen to archive all or most of Milwaukee’s vital records.  Some of these records can be found on, but are very incomplete.   From what I’ve seen, the records at UWM seem to be very comprehensive.  The collection also includes Probate records which I have never seen before.

One of the things I like is that these records are held in a corner of the library’s basement.  It’s pretty rare to even see another person and it really allows me to focus on what I’m doing.

Some of my finds include finding the middle names of my great aunt and uncle, finding and copying the death record for my Great Great Grandfather (Friedrich Rathkamp), finding the birth records for the siblings of my Great Grandfather Willliam J. Rathkamp, and finding the probate records (estate settlements) for Friedrich and Dorothea Rathkamp.

I still haven’t found the marriage record for William J. Rathkamp and his wife Olive Hassell.  Olive was born in Michigan, so I suppose it’s possible they were married there.  This is a key record for me, because I still don’t know for sure who her parents were.  William was also married earlier to Sophie Hartmann.  I know she died in 1906, but I couldn’t find her death record.

The probate records were kind of a special find to me.  Over the years, I’ve collected so much information on Fritz and Dora, but have never found anything “personal” from either of them.  There’s been nothing passed on from them to me, I have no pictures, etc.  In these records though, I got to see each of their signatures.

I’m looking forward to spending more time down there.