Categories
Uncategorized

Add a Face to the Name

One of the things I love about genealogy is being able to make a big discovery by piecing together tiny discoveries.  As I mentioned in a previous post, William and Olive Rathkamp are the only great grandparents of mine for which I have no pictures.  Not a single picture that I know of has made its way through the generations.  They’re also, by far, the strangest of my ancestors as I wrote here.

1905 St. Paul, MN city directory

I discovered William and his first wife, Sophie (she passed away in 1906) , in the 1905 Minnesota State census, living in St. Paul.  I’m not sure how they ended up in St. Paul, but the census states that they had lived at this address for 3 years.  There is a distant branch of the Rathkamp tree that settled in Minnesota, but I’m not sure of any sort of tie there.  The Wetenkamp, Finke, and Hulsemann families settled in Minnesota too, but that was in Martin, some 160 miles away.  These were relatives and friends from Germany who came to America with the Rathkamp family in 1868.

At any rate, I was able to find Schoch Grocery Employees, 1905-2William in the 1905 St. Paul city directory.  His entry stated that he was a stock keeper for the A. Schoch grocery store.  On a whim I did a Google Image search and was able to find this picture, taken circa 1905.  As soon as I opened the picture I was drawn to the man on the very left in the front row.  There was no doubt that this was my great grandfather.

I also sent a message to family members on Facebook and asked them, “If I were to tell you one of the people in this picture may be a Rathkamp, which would it be?”  Everybody picked the same person.

So while the picture I’ve found may not hold up as evidence in court, I feel 99.9% confident that I now know what my great-grandfather looks like.  Nice to meet you Willie.

 

WR Cropped

Categories
Milwaukee

Of Sound Mind in a Sound Body

[singlepic id=23 w=320 h=240 float=left]This past Sunday being Valentines Day, my wife and I ventured to Milwaukee where we were fortunate to see a great concert:  Dawes opening up for Cory Chisel.  Both of us came away feeling the state of American song writing is in good hands with either of these acts.  But the other thing that gave me goose bumps was the venue-  The Ballroom at Turner Hall on 4th Street, across from the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.  I’ve written briefly about Turner Hall, but Sunday we got to spend some time looking around and that time just whetted my appetite.

When I was 10 or 12, I remember going to Turner Hall with my dad a few times for a fish fry prior to Bucks games.  I also seem to remember a couple friends of mine from school who went there on Saturday mornings for gymnastics.  For all these years, I’ve known of it’s existence but never knew Turner Hall even had a ballroom.  Nor did I know about the origin of the Turners or what influence they had over Milwaukee’s early history.[singlepic id=21 w=320 h=240 float=right]

The Turners (Turn Verein in German) were founded in 1811 by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn as a means of conditioning Germany’s young men both mentally and physically so that they may be better prepared to fight off Napoleon.  The organization was eventually crushed in Germany, with many of its members fleeing and settling here where the organization thrived.    The Turners not only valued physical fitness, but also took on several progressive social causes, including Women’s Suffrage.  According to the Turner website, their “mission statement” included the following:  “Liberty, against all oppression; Tolerance, against all fanaticism; Reason, against all superstition; Justice, against all exploitation!”.  In the early 20th century, the Turners of Milwaukee became proponents of clean and transparent governance.  According to the Milwaukee Turner website, six of Milwaukee’s mayors have been Turners.

Turner Hall was built in 1882.  My Great Grandfather, Wm. J. Rathkamp would have been five years old at the building’s dedication.  The building was designed by H.C. Koch who also designed Milwaukee’s City Hall.  It is currently the only original building on 4th street, between Highland and State.  It is surrounded by parking lots and sits across from the Bradley Center.[singlepic id=22 w=320 h=240 float=left]

Turner Hall was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1996.  Until its recent role as a venue for concerts, the ballroom sat vacant.  If you use your imagination, you can see glimpses of what it once was.  However, its current condition would have to be referred to as a state of decay.  There is netting which spans all four corners of the room, presumably to shield patrons from the falling rotting ceiling.  The condition of the paint makes the interior look like some sort of archaeological find.

Although I can’t say this as absolute fact, I’m fairly certain my Milwaukee ancestors, the Rathkamps, Niesls, and Dachs, attended events at Turner Hall.  Turner Hall was the epicenter of German society at a time when Milwaukee was known as the “German Athens” of America.  My Rathkamp ancestors lived a block away.  Fritz Rathkamp, my Great Great Grandfather was a carpenter.  Did he work on this building?  George Niesl, my great grandfather, was an artist who painted murals in churches all over the midwest.  Is his work present in the murals at Turner Hall?

I wonder what the future holds for Turner Hall.  The website includes a list of current board members and I intend to contact them.  There is a “Preservation Trust” currently working on renovating the facility.  I’d really hate to lose the value this building holds for future generations and if there is anything I can do to help secure it’s future, I intend to.  I need another hobby.

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
Hulsemann Rathkamp Uncategorized

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.

Categories
Rathkamp

Neubruchhausen…not

I just received an email from my friend Ernst-Dieter from Bassum.  He just checked the Sudwalde church records and was unable to find Friedrich Rathkamp, b 1834.  He searched a year before and a year after this date and still came up dry.

Herr Wessels recently sent me some lists of Rathkamps from Diepholz which mentions a Fr Rathkamp in Albringhausen in 1855.  This is a possibility, especially since this is where his wife Dorothee was from.

I’m disappointed, but hopeful of finding something.  I KNOW he’s in the area.

Categories
Genealogy Rathkamp Uncategorized

Rathkamp Wappen

rathkamp-wappen

This is WAY cool!  Today I was sending emails back and forth to my friend Ernst-Dieter in Bassum.  Ernst-Dieter sent this picture of the house built by Johann Heinrich Rathkamp in Neubruchhausen in 1822.

I’m still not sure what my connection is to Johann Heinrich.  It’s possible he’s my GGG Grandfather, but I have to wait until Ernst-Dieter has a chance to view the church records.

Either way, this picture is significant for a couple reasons.  The first is the brick work on the house.  The Rathkamps of Neubruchhausen were known as Master Masons and then later as architects.  I’m no mason, but the craftsmanship does look very impressive.

The second, and more obvious, is the Rathkamp Wappen or family crest.

The shield is divided into three sections.  The upper left shows what appears to be a pick axe and possibly a shovel laid over a pyramid shape.  The lower left, a wagon wheel.  On the right is a tree, possibly behind a brick wall.

It’s going to take a little bit of digging before I can figure out what it all means.  I have some ideas, but it’s too early to tell for sure.  This also brings up the question as to the significance of the crest itself.  How long was it in the family?  Was it passed on from generation to generation?  What is the significance of the helmet?

For every stone turned over, 100 more questions present themselves.

Categories
Genealogy Hulsemann Rathkamp

The “Holy Grail”…at least for now

I would think that every genealogist, especially the hobbyist with emotional ties to the subject, has a “Holy Grail”- that one person or family who eludes and consumes them.  It’s only fitting then that my first post touches this subject.

A little history first…

I first became interested in genealogy at about 12 or 13 years old.  I also remember being fascinated with the “Old Milwaukee” display at the Milwaukee Public Museum, an exhibit still on display.  An uncle of mine, George Niesl, is a genealogy buff who has and continues to inspire me.  My first solo excursion included a bus ride from the Milwaukee suburbs to the Central Library on Wisconsin Avenue.

There, I started reading through the old Milwaukee City Directory, starting with my “Grandpa Bill” Rathkamp, working my way back in time.  For a variety of reasons, the Rathkamps have not passed family history down from one generation to the next.  Reading these names for the first time, establishing a line from my grandfather to his father, then finally to my great-great grandfather, Friedrich, gave me a huge thrill.  Even reading the advertisements in the directories made the experience a little like being in a time machine.

For whatever reason though, I never wrote down any of the information I read, and soon my genealogy went on hold.  My quest resumed a couple years ago.  This time I started documenting my findings.

Here’s where we start getting into my “Holy Grail”.  There were 4 or 5 different Rathkamp families who emigrated to the US. My family arrived in Milwaukee in 1868. Other Rathkamps settled in New York, Cincinnati, Texas and Iowa. Until last week, I could never trace the origin in Germany of my Rathkamp family.  Over time, thanks to thousands of different internet searches, I started to develop an idea of the general area they could have come from.

In all of the documents that I read, Friedrich Rathkamp only listed as his place of origin as “Hanover”.  Initially, I thought he was from the city of Hanover.  Noting though that a lot of the other Rathkamps who came to the United States came from what is now the county of Diepholz, I began to wonder.  There was also another family tree flying around the internet stating that Friedrich’s wife, Dorothea Hulsemann came from Albringhausen, a small village in near Bassum.

Three weeks ago on a hunch, I sent an email to the Lutheran Church in Bassum asking them if there was a chance they may have any records for either Friedrich or Dorothea.  For two weeks I didn’t hear anything and thought…oh well.  Then the day after Christmas, I received and emailstiftskircheinnenum19001 with the following:

“Ich habe Dorothee Hülsemann gefunden.

Dorothee Hülsemann

geboren am 31.5.1838 in Albringhausen,
getauft am 7.6.1838. Taufpatin in der Stiffts-Kirche zu Bassum war die Schwester des Vaters, Beke Dorothee Hülsemann.”

Bingo!!!

Additionally, the sender told me my great great grandfather was from a neighboring community, Neubruchhausen, and gave me contact information for that church as well.

The mystery has been solved, and now I’m on to others.  As it turns out, my contact from the church in Neubruchhausen also has Rathkamps in HIS family tree.  That most likely makes us distant cousins. It’s going to be interesting to see much much information will be gleaned from my new friends (and possibly relatives) from these churches in Germany.