Categories
Genealogy Hassell Uncategorized

The Swedes Come Out of the Weeds

In October, 2009 I wrote THIS POST about my Great Grandmother, Olive (Hassel) Rathkamp, my dad’s grandmother.  Olive died in 1926, 16 years before my dad was born.  Until last week she and her Swedish ancestors continued to be a complete mystery.  I’ve accumulated some anecdotal evidence, but nothing concrete.  I’ve long suspected her father was Charles Hassel, knew she lived in Michigan, suspected she was born in Sweden, and suspected her mother died when she was young.  That’s it.  Not exactly something a genealogist would hang his hat on.

hassel-anna-death-record-combinedI have literally had three different people listed as possibly being her mother.  This death record seemed to indicate her mother was Anna (Erickson) Hassel who apparently died in childbirth on December 17, 1892 a date which coincides with the birth of Olive’s sister Ella.

Anna would have been 8 years younger than Charles and would have only been 16 when she had Olive.  Not out of the realm of possibilities.

I knew I’d have much better luck finding Olive’s mom if I could find a birth record from Sweden.  This was no easy task.  The only thing I had to go on was Charles’ obit from 1937.1hassell-charles-small-obit  This obit states that he was from Nora, Westmanlan (Vastmanland), Sweden.  If this was true it would have helped.  But Charles lied.  Actually he probably didn’t lie.  It’s amazing how facts are distorted through the lens of time.  Soon tiring of finding the needle in the haystack, I decided to try my old trick of working sideways.

Iron Mountain, Michigan was an iron mining town and went through a boom during the late 1800’s.  Similar to what’s happening now in North Dakota and the tar sands in Canada, workers were recruited to Iron Mountain from other areas of the world.  Even today, looking through the Iron Mountain phone book, you’ll notice two distinct ethnic groups:  Swedes and Italians.  It’s not a coincidence that skilled miners could be found in both Sweden and Italy.  These young men, searching for opportunity, ended up working together in the iron mines of Iron Mountain.

Knowing this, I started searching emigration information for some of the other Swedes that had settled in Iron Mountain.  One town that seemed to show up on more than one occasion was the town of Grythyttan, Örebro, Sweden.  Plugging this town into Google Maps, I soon discovered Grythyttan was only some 20 miles away from….Nora, Örebro, Sweden.  Grythyttan is a small town.  A small town, along with an uncommon Swedish surname would surely make my life easier.  And it did.

Ancesty.com has done a nice job of integrating the Swedish Genline database.  I quickly was able to find this gem:  hassel-carl-august-swedish-birth-record  From there, I was off to the races.  I now knew my Swedish ancestors were from Grythyttan and soon I was able to find Olive’s birth record too.  It seems her first name wasn’t Olive.  No surprise.  Olive was her middle name and her first name was Ingeborg.  Now that sounds Swedish.

So who is Olive’s mom?  Charles married Josephine Bergquist on January 7, 1892, three weeks after Anna’s death.  But it turns out Anna wasn’t Olive’s mom either.  For years, I’ve had a copy of a ship’s manifest showing a Sofie and Olive Hassel coming into the U.S. in March of 1888.  But because I stuck on the possibility that Olive’s mom was Anna, I dismissed this record.

It turns out that on May 17, 1884 (two years before Olive was born), Charles married Sophia Sax in Grythyttan.

The ship’s manifest was correct.  Sophia was Olive’s mother.  Since then, I’ve found another record.  This record shows Sofia and Olive made the trip with Charles’ brother Andrew.  It shows they were from Grythyttan.  And it shows there destination was…Iron Mountain, Michigan.hassel-sofia-olivia-gothenburgswedenpassengerlists-1888-highlighted

So here’s my best guess…Charles and Sophia marry in 1884, Olive was born in 1886.  Charles emigrates without his wife and young daughter, to Iron Mountain, then his brother Andrew, Sophia, and Olive are sent for.  Sometime between their arrival and 1890/91, Sophia dies and Charles, finding himself unable to work in the mine and care for Olive, marries Anna.  Anna dies in 1892, Charles again finds himself in a bind and marries Josephine.

My great aunt, Grace Larson often took me up to her cabin between Merrill and Tomahawk, Wisconsin.  In 1974 during one of our trips “up north”, Grace and I drove up to Iron Mountain.  I was 10.  In Iron Mountain, we toured the Chapin Mine.  While writing this post, I recalled this tour and vaguely remembered these pictures being tucked away in a photo album Grace put together for me.  Grace’s sister was Alice “Pat” Rathkamp, my grandmother.  Pat was married to Bill Rathkamp, my grandfather.  Bill’s mother was Olive, my Great Grandmother.  Olive’s father was Charles, my Great Great Grandfather.  Charles and his brother worked in this mine.  I think Grace may have taken me to Iron Mountain for a reason.

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Categories
Genealogy Hassell Rathkamp

Esther Just Before Easter

Last week, my cousin Paul asked via FaceBook if I’ve dug up any “Dead Rathkamps” lately.  The answer was a simple “no”.  I’ve been so busy with other stuff that I haven’t really been working on any genealogy projects lately.  One of my favorite nightly rituals is to log on to Google Reader and peruse a bunch of articles.  Most of the feeds I subscribe to are either Tech feeds, genealogy, or history.  Randy Seaver has an excellent blog whose articles occasionally catch my attention.  In this particular post, Randy mentioned the addition of several Wisconsin probate and death records to FamilySearch.

I followed the link to FamilySearch and plugged in the name Rathkamp.  I’ve been doing this for so many years that it’s pretty rare for me to see a name I’ve never seen before. Tonight was an exception. Right there, front and center was Esther Rathkamp.  I read down a little and noticed her parents were Wm. Rathkamp and Olive Hessel.  These are my great grandparents!

Genealogy can be a real SOB.  You run around (hopefully with some direction) trying to either solve problems or look for clues.  My experience has been that often times, you end up solving one problem, and in the process create 5 more unanswered questions.  Case in point:

Problem solved:  This find acknowledges and confirms the 1910 US Census where Olive states she has given birth to two children, one living.

Problems created:

  • Why is Olive’s name spelled “Hessel” instead of Hassell or Hassel?
  • Why does it show “Mother’s place of birth” as Germany?  She was (I am almost certain) born in Sweden.
  • Are Wm. and Olive married at this point?  I have NOT been able to find a marriage record for them.  Wm.’s first wife, Sophie Hartmann, died 11 Jan., 1906.  That’s a small, but not impossible window.
  • Esther died on 15 July, 1909.  My grandfather, also William, was born 10 days later.  I can’t imagine a mother taking that kind of pain into childbirth.

Categories
Genealogy Photos

The Photo Tree and the Missing Branch

[singlepic id=20 w=800 h=450 float=center]

From left to right, starting from the front row (my grandparents):  Bill Rathkamp, Alice “Pat” (Waege) Rathkamp, George Niesl, Emma (Walz) Niesl

2nd row (my great grandparents):  Wm. Waege, Ida (Brockhaus) Waege, George Niesl, Katherine (Dachs) Niesl, Fred Walz, Sophia (Bischke) Walz

3rd row (my great great grandparents):  Wm. Waege, Wilhelmina (Leitzke) Waege, Wm. F. Brockhaus, Paulina (Wesenberg) Brockhaus, Joseph Niesl, Katherina (Wadensdorf) Niesl, Alois Dachs, Anna (Kuchler) Dachs, Eduard Walz, Amalia (Damman) Walz, Michael Bischke, Katharina (Rempher) Bischke

4th row (my ggg grandparents):  Friedrich Wege, Wilhelmine (Unknown) Wege

Sad and ironic that I don’t have pictures of my Rathkamp ancestors beyond my grandfather.

Categories
Genealogy Hulsemann Rathkamp

Did They Come Alone?

[singlepic id=17 w=320 h=240 float=left]It’s hard to imagine the conditions our ancestors faced in Europe and even harder to imagine what finally happened in their lives to ultimately get them to commit to leaving their homes and families.  I’m sure there had to be the promise of opportunity, but this was a much heavier decision than “Applebees, Red Lobster or Olive Garden”. When they finally did make the commitment, did the whole family come? Individuals? Extended families? How did they decide who stayed? Was it a lack of funds that forced some to stay?

I’ve known for a couple years that my 2nd great grandparents, Fritz & Dora Rathkamp arrived in the US in 1868.  Tonight I finally found the passenger list. They arrived in New York on the ship New York on August 17, 1868. They, along with their daughter Johanna, were three of 637 passengers. The Statue of Liberty wouldn’t be commissioned for another 18 years.

Two years ago, I would have looked at the passenger list and only recognized them.  Today though I recognize some other names as well as some other towns near their village of Oeftinghausen in Germany.  The villages of Wesenstedt and  Schwaforden are also represented.  Other surnames include Wetenkamp, Hulsemann, Meyer, Halbemeyer, Finke and Windhorst.  Wetenkamp is a name I’ve seen repeatedly.  In fact, Christian Wetenkamp eventually married Johanna Rathkamp.  That’s a story for another post (hint: juicy story).

There are a couple things that interest me about this list.  First, the oldest traveler in their group is 35.  Second, it seems everybody on this list ended up farming in Minnesota except for Fritz Rathkamp.  He remained in Milwaukee his entire life.  My theory is that there was a lot of opportunity for a carpenter in the rapidly growing town of Milwaukee.  Was this the plan all along?  I see the attraction from both perspectives.  Fritz was trained as a carpenter in Germany, but his occupation was listed as “Heurling” or hired farm hand.  The last thing he probably wanted to do was work on another farm.  For the others, the thought of going to Minnesota and homesteading 160 acres was  probably also attractive.


View Ancestral Home in a larger map

Categories
Genealogy Milwaukee Rathkamp

Fun With Google Maps, Part 1

When people visit downtown Milwaukee, a lot of them comment on how many old buildings they see.  Actually, what they see is a fraction of what once was.  Milwaukee has managed to replace its history with parking structures, sports venues, and bland concrete buildings.  I still love my home town, but the remaining buildings only give you a slight feel for what it must have been like in the late 1800’s.

I’ve often tried to imagine what it was really like.  There are some photo collections on the websites of the Milwaukee Public Library and the UWM Library.  There are literally thousands of pictures to look at, but for this post I was only interested in pictures from the 2nd ward, specifically within a 2 or 3 block radius from where my 2nd great grandparents Fritz & Dora Rathkamp lived.  The thing that really caught me off guard were the pictures of the Exposition Building which was built in 1881 and destroyed by fire in 1905.  I had no idea this building was part of Milwaukee’s past.

Shown below is an embedded Google Map. If you click on the blue balloons, you will see pictures of buildings that are long gone positioned over the corresponding locations.  The map is interactive, so go ahead and click on some of the balloons, zoom in and out, and move the map around.  If you click the link below the map, you will be taken to the actual Google Maps page where you can drag the “little man” onto a street to enter into Google’s street view.  Have fun!


View Milwaukee’s 2nd Ward, Late 1800’s in a larger map

Categories
Brockhaus Genealogy

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.

[singlepic id=8 w=320 h=240 float=right]

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.

Categories
Genealogy Hassell

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.

Categories
Genealogy Milwaukee Niesl Uncategorized

Neighbors

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 Ancestry.com.   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.


View Larger Map

Categories
Genealogy Walz

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.

Categories
Genealogy Hassell Hulsemann Rathkamp

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 Ancestry.com, 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.