Cousins – Albert: “Under No Circumstances Would I Return To Europe.”


May I introduce myself? My name is Hans Albert August Friedrich Stange.  A lot of names, I totally agree, but from where I come, it is quite common to have a lot of first names. My brother Carl even has five of them, so I am lucky with only four. I go by the name of Albert, not Hans, just in case you’ve wondered.

It is now the end of 1918, the war with Germany is over, Germany being defeated. And here I am, an American citizen of German descent. But the bridge back home has long been burnt and the memory of what once was home is beginning to fade. Or maybe not? Today this country is home to me, I only lived in Germany for my first 19 years. Then I left for America. Didn’t really see a future there for me; neither did my parents, so they left as well the following year. But let me go back with my story to the very beginning.

I was born on 8 September 1834 in a timber-framed house in the middle of nowhere.  The middle of nowhere was called Lindenberger Silge and it wasn’t even a village; there only were a few houses spread in the woods. There was the forester’s house and the estate called Feldmarschallshof with its farm workers and the administrator. We moved one year later, so I actually did not spend my childhood there. But I do remember it very well, because my uncle Carl took over after father. I nearly forgot to mention that my father was the Holländer of the noble family von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff in Gatow, that means that amongst others he was in charge of the diary processing. Then he found a better job with the family von Saldern. You know, my grandfather had worked for them already, so we moved south to the tiny village of Plattenburg. So I grew up next to the old water castle that was first mentioned in 1319,  and every once in a while we were even allowed to come into the castle. We were 6 children, 5 boys (and I was no. 4) and little Marie, the youngest of us all, 5 years  younger than I. I had two brothers who died as children, Friedrich and Otto, I later named my son after the latter. But the rest of us was pretty tough and survived!

My older brothers attended school in Halle, that was pretty far away but the school had an excellent reputation and education played a very important role in my family. When it was my turn to leave home to go to school, father didn’t have that much money any more, he said he wanted to save money to buy a piece of land. But still it was important for him that I get a proper education; so I left for Perleberg and went to the Bürgerschule there. I stayed there for two years, from 1848 to 1850, and learned a lot.  I learned French and Latin, I could even translate Julius Cesar from Latin to German! And I was pretty good in maths and science. What we did not learn though was English, so that was the first thing I had to do when I got here. When I was 16 years old, and shortly after my confirmation, I left school and started my apprenticeship as a miller.

The reason for it was that father had bought a mill together with a large piece of land and he now needed a miller (he didn’t have the slightest clue about milling!). He also thought that it would make sense if I became a miller, as it would be me taking over the farm and the mill after him. You might wonder why it should have been me who should take over the land, although I had two older brothers. Well, the reason was pretty simple. My brothers had left and never intended to return. They said that they could not see a future there with us and that they certainly did not want to live on the country side. So Justus joined the army and Carl became a mechanic (that really was something special in those days!). So, in 1850,  it was only Marie and I living at home.

I loved the idea of living on the country side, or maybe in a small town. I would never have wanted to live in a city, with all that noise and pollution. No, I thought that this was the place I wanted to stay for the rest of my life. But that was not how it was supposed to be. There were crop failures for two years in a row and nobody came to our mill with their grain. Father borrowed money from several people and could not repay it. Things did not look too good for us at all. And all of the sudden I realized that the life I wanted to live was forever gone and that I had to think of something else to do. Cousin Gustav, who lived close by, suggested going to America. Thing was,  that we were not allowed to leave Prussia before having done our military service. Father said that it might be a good idea to leave anyway. And that maybe they would follow as they would soon be forced to file for bankruptcy. So mother packed some ham and bread and off I went to Gustav who lived close to the border to Mecklenburg. We secretly crossed the border close to Berge and that was the last time I ever set my foot on Prussian ground.

We took the boat from Hamburg in April 1854 and came to Castlegarden in May. When I saw New York for the first time, I knew that I did not want to stay there. I got me a job in Durham, Connecticut and Gustav went up the Hudson River. Unfortunately I could only stay in Durham for two months, so I went to New Paltz, NY where Gustav worked on a farm and that is where I stayed the winter. And believe it or not, my parents had decided to come to America as well  and so I picked them, my dear sister Marie and my uncle Fritz up in New York in June 1855 and we headed west to Illinois.

We first went to Babcocks Grove in the township of York in DuPage County. There I worked for the railroad. Mother, father and I lived together, Marie worked as a maid and uncle Fritz worked as a farm helper. In 1856 father fell ill and died in early 1857. We buried him in Cottage Hill, that was a bit cheaper there and the traveling pastor did not charge that much either.

In 1858, Marie introduced me to her friend Dorothea from the Kingdom of Hanover,  and what can I tell you, we were married on 15 April 1859 in St. John’s in Bensenville. When I had left my hometown 5 years earlier, I would never have thought that I would be married to a farm worker’s daughter from Eitzendorf.

We moved to Elmhurst and soon our first two daughters Caroline (named after my mother) and Marie (named after my sister) were born. But I felt that working for the railroad was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to be a farmer. Buying land in Elmhurst was nearly impossible for me, I simply couldn’t afford it. So Dorothea and I decided to move south. Mother lived with uncle Fritz and Marie did not live with us anyway. So we decided to buy a farm in  Zigel, in Shelby County.  But as soon as we got there we realized that it had been a mistake to come. We didn’t really have enough money to buy the machines and the tools we needed to farm. But we figured that at least we should give it a try. But after our son Otto was born in 1864, we decided to follow the tracks and head north again. That’s how we came to Monee in Will County. And believe it or not, I could even made a good profit when selling the land in Zigel. I had come to the conclusion that I neither wanted to work on a farm nor for the railroad. I wanted to work as a merchant. And as there were more and more of these big land machines, I went into trading these machines. It was pretty simple, actually. I sometimes wonder if I wouldn’t have been a good mechanic as my brother Carl as well?  We lived on a piece of land of a German settler and lived a good live. We had another child, but it was stillborn and we buried it next to the house.

We stayed in Monee for 4 years, four good years. Marie married and moved to Chicago. In 1868, I decided to become an American citizen. After fourteen years I felt that I had to take this step. I would never return to Prussia, so why would I stay a German citizen? I felt as if I had come home now and there was not way back. We did speak German at home (Dorothea never learned to speak English) but my English was perfect and I felt American.

In 1869, we moved back to Elmhurst and I worked for Brownell and Stockmann. They were looking for a clerk who spoke both German and English and was good at maths. A perfect job for me! They were coal and lumber dealers and the business was going very well. Then, in 1870, Dietrich Stockmann, decided to sell his share, so I took the chance and bought it. I now owned half of the business! After the big fire of Chicago business exploded, there was such a need for lumber and other building materials. And in 1888, Mr. Brownell sold his half to me and there I was – a store owner in Elmhurst, Illinois! I was so proud of what I had achieved. I could give my family a good life! I had it made! Coming to America had been the right decision! I was an important member of Society, founder of the St. Peter’s Church in Elmhurst. If Carl and Justus could see me now! But they stopped writing and I missed them badly. How much nicer it would have been to share it with them…. It would have been great if they had followed. But I understand that was never an option for them.

I retired in 1893 and now live a life as a wealthy pensioner. I am now 84 years old, that is very old. Dorothea died 9 years ago. My daughters Caroline and Marie died young many years ago, of consumption, both of them. Irene, my only grandchild married and moved away. I already have three great-grandchildren but they live in Louisiana. Only my son Otto lives here and I will have to move in with him and his adopted children soon.

My sister Marie has died as well, so have her husband and three of her four children. I wonder if Carl and Justus still are living. And what about my dear cousins Ernestine, Minna and Auguste? And whatever became of Gustav after I left him in New Paltz?  I always said that under no circumstances I would return to Europe and that surely was the right thing to do and say. I lived a good life. But today, old and lonely as I am, I sometimes wish I still was there. I can still see the family joined together, celebrating birthdays. We had so much fun together, we were such a great team. But those days are long, long gone. The war is over and Germany is not the country I once left. But I am American now and this is my home. This is where I will die and be buried. Far away from the beautiful country I was born and that once was my home.

Next: Cousins – Carl: The Last Letter To America


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Moving Forward By Looking Back

Today we will make a fresh start with lots of New Year’s resolutions. But it is a time to pause, look back and remember as well. So why not do that with your research projects?

Sometimes it feels as if we reached a brick wall with of our research. Through the years we have collected loads of records and other documents, spent hours and hours in front of the computer and at the Family History Center, the libraries and archives. We think we have all information there is and still we don’t seem to have the answers to our questions. What to do now? There is one thing I would like to remind you of – it sometimes is better to take one step back to be able to move two steps forward.

When doing research we always look at the records and documents from our own perspective. We are guided by who we are today, the way we think, our values and ethics and what we know about the world. We often have a picture of the person we are searching for and what we see is what we are able to see and want to see.

But we do change. We gain knowledge through books (and the internet) and through people providing us with valuable advice. Our horizons widen through things happening to us and in the world around us. We grow older and (hopefully!) become wiser. Therefore we sometimes need to pause and then get back to the beginning and go through all the information we have collected one more time. You will find the records hold much more information than you had thought when reading them for the first time. You will discover small details that will open a new door to your research.

Let me give you one example. In 1854 my great-great-grandfather’s brother Albert wrote a letter from New Palz in Upstate New York to his parents in Germany. He told them how things were for him and his cousin Gustav, and about his future plans, that also included his parents and his little sister Marie.

The letter gives so much information, not only on how he is doing but on what happened to his parents in Germany. As a matter of fact, this letter was the ground for my research on this family in Germany, including his brothers, cousins, uncles and aunts. I did read it many times, went through it thoroughly, sentence for sentence, word for ASt1854(2)word. And every time I did find something I hadn’t noticed before. I showed it to my students in my lectures and having read it from their perspective, they came up with different results. And after having answered one more question, I put it to rest and waited to take it up again some other time.

Today, I know so much more about the family, there are so few questions left that need to answered. However, when preparing this post, I found some interesting bit of information on cousin Gustav.

This is the entire letter: Albert’s letter

So today, make a New Year’s resolution to start the new year by looking back first. Enjoy reading everything you have and the feeling of learning something new from your (old) records. Then, having digested everything you have now learned, take a step forward to finding out more about your ancestors.

Happy New Year with many wonderful findings!


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Cousins – Justus: The Prussian Way

August Justus Stange was the first born child of Friedrich Stange and his wife Caroline born on June 21, 1826. His parents were married in October 1825  in the small church of Nebelin in the Prignitz in Brandenburg, which was where Friedrich was the Holländer. But the newly-weds left this area soon, in fact they even left Prussia when crossing the river Elbe and moved to the Kingdom of Hanover. In Wustrow, in the administral district of Lüneburg, Friedrich had signed a new contract with the estate owner Johann Justus Mylius. Business did not go to well and the Stanges left soon after Justus’s birth. But before leaving, Johann Justus Mylius became the godfather of August Justus on June 24, 1826 and the name Justus would be passed on for several generations until this very day.

As Justus grew older, he received an excellentF1r2a3n4c5k6e7s8c9h10e11 education, first by his father, later he attended one at the best schools of that time – the Latin School of the Franckesche Stiftungen in Halle on the Saale.  It had been highly recommend by Pastor Staemmler from Groß-Leppin, the parish the family had moved to around 1836. Some years later his brother Carl and the pastor’s son followed him.

In September 1845, he finished school and, according to the school records, was to become a forester, probably the plan was to receive his education from his Uncle, the forester Leiffheidt in Plattenburg. If he started working for him we do not know. Being 19 years old when leaving school, he probably needed to do his military service first. Did he ever return to his family in the Prignitz?

The next years brought many drastic changes to the family’s life. Father Friedrich would leave Plattenburg in 1850 to buy a mill in Dergenthin but had to file for bankruptcy in 1854. The same year his brother Albert left for America together with their cousin Gustav. Brother Carl had left to become a mechanic, and after finishing his education, moved around in Germany as a journeyman in order to get more experienced in his job. Their two brothers Otto and Friedrich had died and his beloved little sister Marie, 13 years his minor, had been confirmed and had left home in order to work as a maid. And finally, in 1855, his parents, Marie and his uncle Fritz Bochin decided to follow Albert to America, leaving the two grown up sons Justus and Carl behind.

But also Prussia was undergoing changes. Roads are constructed and paved, travel went much easier and quicker, especially for transporting goods. Suddenly the big towns became a market for sales. More and more small manufacturers set up shops, and little provincial towns flourished. There were many jobs in small industries and a bigger need for craftsmen. But also the industry in the large towns was increasing and in need of workers. While in 1830 four-fifth of the German population still lived on the country side, only 50 years later it only is one half. But also the number of people immigrating to overseas was growing, with many young men leaving to seek a better life in America.

In this situation, Justus, Carl and Albert chose to take different paths. Albert, wanting to make the best of his good education and skills, but without any funds or good connections to do so in Germany, chose to leave for America. Carl, as a mechanic being prepared to meet the needs of the new industrial Germany and knowing that his chances were best in Germany, remained and Justus, chose the traditional Prussian way to build a career – the military – and the Prussian Navy, formed in 1849, obviously was a great chance for those with good education and excellent administrative skills.

In letters his brother Albert and his parents exchanged in 1854, it is mentioned that Justus neither showed up or wrote to his parents or Albert. And this did not seem to change during the next years, in 1858 his sister Marie, residing close to Chicago,  sent a letter to her brother Carl complaining that Justus didn’t stay in touch: “If you write to Justus, please say hello from me many thousand times and remind him to write to me what he up to, as it is very painful for us, to hear from him so rarely, I would have thought that our father’s death might have softened his mind and would have brought him to write, which would have been a great relief for us.” And in 1865 Albert told his brother Carl that the last letter he received from Justus was in 1855, ten years ago. “Even less I know from Justus, from whom I received a letter when I still was in New York shortly before our parent’s arrival to America“.

What happened to Justus? Why did  he not write to his family? Was he such a bad son and brother? The answer is pretty easy – he was simply traveling the world as a soldier in the Prussian Navy. In 1850/1851 an expedition had led to Brazil, another trip in 1852/1853 led to West Africa (Liberia), Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, Columbia, Jamaica and Cuba to the USA (to Norfolk). In the 1850’s there were several more expeditions to places all over the world. In 1859, there was another expedition to Japan and China (but probably without Justus being a crew-member).  When Justus retired from the Navy in 1872, after 24 years of service, he had spent 11 years at sea.

In 1859, he seemes to have started to settle down. At the garrison in Mainz in Palatine, he married the daughter of a late actor at the Royal Theater in Berlin, Franz Hoppe. Justus is then residing in Danzig, which is were the couple was to spend the next years. And soon, in 1860, their daughter Catharina Justine Auguste was born. In 1863, his first son, Franz Justus Theodor Edmund, was born and his baptism in the garrison church of Danzig, is the only time we have proof of Justus being in touch with one of his siblings – his brother Carl becomes the child’s godfather. The next son, Reinhold Albert Justus, was already born in Kiel, which is where the family had moved, and in 1872 the last son, Justus, was born.

But he wasn’t only successfully building up a family, he also worked his way up, building up a solid foundation to the newly founded Prussian Navy, which in 1867 would become the Navy of the North German Confederation (Norddeutscher Bund) and in 1871 the Imperial Navy of the German Reich.

In January 1864, with the German-Danish War ahead, he was ordered to Stralsund to work for the “Commando der Flotille” as an administrator.  C1o2m3m4a5d6o7In 1867, he was promoted to be a Unter-Zahlmeister (Second-Purser) in the rank of a Second Lieutenant. The second promotion came in 1869, when he became a Zahlmeister (first-purser) in the rank of a Lieutenant. On July 20, 1870, he was the co-administrator of the ship Renown that had been bought from the Royal Navy the same year and was to be used as a training ship for the artillery.


He even received two medals, in 1862 he was awarded the Fürstlich Schwarzenburgischen Ehrenkreuzes 3. Klasse by the Fürst of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen and in 1867 the Königlicher Kronen Orden 4. Klasse.o1r2d2e3n5

The year 1872 brought enormous changes to the family. Justus was promoted to work as a secretary and accounting clerk at the Admiralty in Berlin and left the Navy.


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He moved to Berlin in March, the family joining him later in September. The family first lived in Berlin-Kreuzberg, a very busy area, loud and dirty. But even if things seemed to be going good for the family they were in grief – their son Justus died shortly after their move to Berlin from scarlet fever, only 2 years and 6 months old.

Soon Justus bought a house in a quiet and nice neighborhood in Steglitz, south of Berlin. The rented out the souterrain of the house and the family lived on the ground and upper floor. As an accounted at the Royal Admiralty and the accountant of the parish of St. Matthäus in Steglitz, Justus was a well respected man.

Time went by. He and his brother Carl had lost touch with their siblings in America, his daughter Catharina married a German merchant in Manchester, UK, and moved there, Reinhold got married and owned a tabacco-shop in the center of Berlin and Franz had become a music teacher and composer, still living with his parents. In 1886, Justus retired, his brother Carl died in 1897. His only grandchild, Charlotte Gräffinghoff, lived far away in England. Did he, when looking back on a brilliant career, that brought him great prestige, a good income and pension, ever think of the family he had lost, his parents, brothers and sister and of the life he left behind? Did he, who grew up in large family, together with his many siblings and cousins, ever feel lonely?

In 1913 he died, 86 years old, his wife followed him in 1925. In the 1930’s their son Franz was visited by his cousin Friedrich, the son of Carl, who had named his son Justus after his uncle Justus. Although both of them lived in Berlin, it seems to have been the only time they met.  In 1932, Reinhold died, Franz sold the house in 1935. He seemed to have left Berlin, it is not known where he moved and where and when he died.


Next: Cousins – Albert: “I would under no circumstances go back to Europe.


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Cousins – Otto: God Bless His Soul!

Otto Stange was born on March 9, 1836 in the holländer’s house next to the old water castle of Plattenburg. His parents were Friedrich Stange and Caroline Bochin Stange and he was their 5th child, in fact he was the fifth son! So, there was a lot going on in the house, not only with 5 boys but also with the grandparents Johann Friedrich and Maria Stange living in the household. When sweet little Otto is two months old, his brother Friedrich, then 4 years of age, suddenly dies of shingles and is laid to rest next to his four Leiffheidt-cousins on the cemetery of Groß-Leppin. So far Friedrich’s family had been lucky, it was the first child to lose, the other ones, August Justus (9), Carl (6), Albert(1,5)  and Otto were healthy and strong. That was much more than other families could say, not only the forester family Leiffheidt with Friedrich’s sister Dorothea had gone through a lot, even the owners of the manorial farm of Plattenburg, the noble family von Saldern had suffered many losses.

The children’s’ lives were always in danger, be it because of  infectious diseases, diarrhea or even a bad cough could led to death. But maybe the very strict hygienic rules in the Stange-household due of their dairy business, were a reason for them not having gone through too many diseases? And of course there was plenty of food in this household, not only milk and cheese but also meat from the pigs they had. Or maybe they simple had been lucky. But there were others dangers to a child living on the country side; there simply could have been accidents, maybe being run over by a horse, the danger of open fire or the risk of drowning.

And so it was; on October 10, 1845 Otto fell from an wagon and died due to this accident. He was laid to rest next to his meanwhile 6 Leiffheidt-cousins and his grandmother Marie Stange, who had died the year before and his grandfather Johann Friedrich Stange, who had died only one month earlier.

But he was not forgotten. His brother Albert, who had immigrated to America, named his son Otto. This is what he wrote to his brother Carl in Germany in 1865:  “When I told you about my marriage and the birth of a daughter in my last letter, please know that since then we have one more daughter and then a dickes fettes Söhnchen (=a little fat baby boy), a little Otto, who looks just like his Uncle Otto, bless his memory. He was born on November 7, 64. At the age of 3 weeks he all of the sudden got seriously ill, so that we were afraid he would not live to see the next morning, but he stayed with us thanks to God’s help and now he is healthy and well.”

His brother Carl named his second son Otto as well. And this Otto became 99 years old!

Coming soon: Cousins – Justus: The Prussian Way

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Cousins – Auguste: I’m Still Standing!

On February 24, 1824 the first granddaughter of Johann Friedrich Stange and his wife Maria is born in the small village of Vahrnow in the Prignitz in Brandenburg. Her parents are Auguste Stange, their oldest daughter, and her husband Heinrich Wandmacher. Both of them had grown up together, Heinrich Wandmacher’s father being the holländer in Plattenburg and Johann Friedrich Stange being the holländer in the neighboring village of Kletzke. Auguste and Heinrich had been married a year earlier in Wilsnack. Auguste had been brought up to be a loyal hollanders’ wife and it was clear that she not only would be a wife and mother, but also be in charge of the dairy business, processing the milk to cheese and yogurt, which Heinrich would then sell on the market. But it does not seem to have been a happy marriage.

One year later the family moves to Schilde, north of Wittenberge, where the next child is born, this time it is a boy.  But this little baby, that will be named Johann Friedrich Heinrich, will die only 14 days later. The next years it is moving around again, in 1829 they live in Dargardt, where their third and last child Juliane Friederike Caroline is born. But in 1833, when Auguste Stange Wandmacher is a godmother of her nephew August Leiffheidt, the church book states: “separated”; in 1838, at her daughter Auguste’s conformation, she is divorced, with her former husband living close by.

According to the articles 668-718 of the Prussian Civil Code from 1794, divorce is possible if one of the following reasons applies:  1) adultery 2) abandonment of the family 3) refusal of performing the conjugal duties 4) inability of performing the conjugal duties 5) rage and insanity 6) seeking after the spouses life 7) felonies 8) bad breeding 9) withholding of alimentation 10) change of religion 11) unsurmountable aversion.  What had happened? Of course we do not know, but when the second daughter Juliane Wandmacher gets married in 1852, the civil record states, that her father is officially declared missing; in 1855 another record states that he is deceased.

Obviously little Auguste and her sister Juliane grow up with to single mom. Mother Auguste does not move back home to her parents as one might think, but seems to be able to make a living by herself. How? We do not know, but she does seem to have enough money to make a living and even lends a large sum to her brother Friedrich (which he will not repay!). In 1843, the younger daughter Juliane is confirmed and becomes a seamstress. In 1852 she marries Johann Friedrich Frahm in Düsseldorf in the Rhineland where he does his military service.

Although already 28 years old in 1852, Auguste still lives with her mother in Bernheide, north of Wittenberge. One year later, on October 25, 1853 she will give birth to an illegitimate daughter, Anna Pauline Caroline Wandmacher, father unknown.


One and a half years later, on January 19, 1855, Auguste leaves her mother’s household taking little Anna with her to get married in Wittenberge, to the worker Wilhelm Peter Mertens. On November the same year their first daughter Marie Auguste Dorothea is born, six years later her next child is born, Minna, who dies only three months later, on New Year’s Eve. The family lives an average life in the prospering industrial town of Wittenberge, watching their two girls Anna and Marie grow up. Everything seems to be the way it should, but Auguste surely isn’t aware of that there is trouble ahead….

On September 24, 1873, Anna is 19 years old, she gives birth to an illegitimate son, Wilhelm Ferdinand Carl Wandmacher. It seems as if she leaves the baby to grow up with her mother in Wittenberge, years later, when Wilhelm gets married in 1898, the church record states regarding Anna “place of residence unknown”, in 1902 she is supposed to live in Berlin. In 1880 Auguste’s husband dies and in 1886 her daughter Marie also gives birth to an illegitimate child, a little girl that dies only three days later with out being baptized and without a name. It is a hard time for Auguste, she has to struggle to get through day by day! Not only does she have to earn money to provide for the family, she also needs to hold the family together. And it surely isn’t easy to live this kind of life, but she does stand fast, despite what happens!

But it seems to have been worth the fight, her grandson Wilhelm seems to do well, he first becomes a shipper and later becomes a fish-merchant. But Auguste will not get to know that, she dies on March 2, 1893, 69 years of age.

Postscript: Wilhelm marries twice, his first child dies at the age of 9 days, the second one only becomes 4 months and 13 days old, the third one is stillborn. He remarries and has one more daughter, Berta Minna Wandmacher, born in 1903. On April 25, 1925, Auguste Wandmacher Mertens’ great-granddaughter marries the locksmith Alfred Neumann in Wittenberge. Her children might still be living.

Picture of Wittenberge: ©Niteshift

Coming soon:

Cousins – Otto: God Bless his Soul!

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Cousins – Minna: The Importance Of Listening To What Your Mother Says!

Minna Stange was born on May 8, 1839 at home, in the Holländer’s house, in the Lindenberger Silge, north of Lindenberg. She was baptized 3 weeks later and received the names Wilhelmine after her godmother Wilhelmine Thiel nee Zoggel, the wife of the farm administrator in Lindenberg, Emma after her godmother Emma Müller, daughter of the farm administrator of the farm in the Lindenberger Silge, and Auguste, probably after her aunt Auguste Wandmacher nee Stange. Her godfather was her Uncle Friedrich Stange. She not only grew up with her older siblings Ernestine and Gustav, but also with her cousins, who lived south of Lindenberg and seemed to visit often. She seemed to have been close with them, especially to Marie, who only was about four months younger than she.  In 1850, both families lived in walking distance to each other, Minna in Kuhwinkel, Marie in  Dergenthin. Both girls were confirmed together in the small church of Nebelin in 1853.

Then their lives took a different turn. While Marie left to work as a maid, Minna obviously did not follow in her or Ernestine’s footsteps. Probably it was her role to help her mother at home and on the farm until she would find a suitable husband, got married and had children. But leaving home to become a maid might not have suited her anyway, as living as a domestic servant on a manorial farm meant hard labor, and far to often oppression and exploitation, even for somebody coming from a “better” family. But unfortunately there wasn’t too much of a career choice for girls in those days.

In 1854 her brother Gustav left for America, one year later her uncle Friedrich followed, joined by his family including her cousin Marie. Only three weeks after their departure her father suddenly became ill and died of Pneumonia, only 60 years old. As Ernestine had left the household already, all of the sudden Minna was alone with her mother in their house in Klein Berge. Was the small village of Klein Berge the right place to find a husband, coming from the right social class and being able to provide the life her parents had wanted for her? A young farm administrator, skilled craftsman, or maybe even the school teacher? All of them were either old or taken. Was she afraid that she would have to spend the rest of her life living on the country side under her mother’s thumb while life was passing her by? Was that all that life had to offer? Wouldn’t it be great to live in Berlin like her sister Ernestine? And so the years went by….

Seven years later, on July 15, 1862, she is finally married in the church of Berge. And it sure was about time, she would give birth to her son Gustav August Ferdinand only three weeks later….. Obviously she hadn’t been a good girl and had waited until she and the father to be were married. And looking at the church book she surely wasn’t the only one. Why did they get married that late? The answer is quite simple – the groom definitely was not mister right and her mother obviously did not give her consent to marry…..! Her main concern probably was that he belonged to the working class whilst Minna belonged to the rural middle class. And not only did he come from a different background, he probably would not have been able to provide for a wife and certainly not a family. In that case, she might have thought it to be easier to live with the shame, when knowing that her daughter and grandchild would have a roof over their heads and enough food on the table!

But Minna’s mind was set on this guy, and she saw to it that the Guardians’ court gave its consent, which she needed, although she already is 23 years of age.  And then she became Mrs. Carl Otto August Wilke, wife of the street-maker Wilke from Berlin! But she would have to learn the hard way that is sometimes is better to listen to what your mother says!

What might have sounded exciting first, was not at all exciting in real life and she will soon find out as soon the three of them moved to Berlin. Mr. Wilke, worked as a regular laborer, and the family lived in some backyard in the slums of Berlin from hand to mouth. Two more babies were born: Emma Marie Pauline in 1864 and Anna Emma Marie in 1866. But soon after her husband died, probably of tuberculosis, as did his father. Minna was alone in this big and dangerous town. She, who came from a family who in times of need were there for each other, was now entirely on her own. She obviously did not move home, to Klein Berge, nor to her sister in Perleberg.

What she needed to do was to get a job, maybe in some factory or, even better, find a husband who would be willing and able to provide for the family. Obviously she did find somebody, unfortunately, it did not end up in marriage, but in giving  birth to a baby girl named Helene Wilhelmine Stange (and not Wilke, as it is an illegitimate child) in 1869. Little Helene died only 3 months later, which is the last we know from Minna, she and her children vanished…. What became of her? And did she teach her daughters that you should always listen to what your mother says?

Coming soon:

Cousins – Auguste: I’m still standing!

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Cousins – Gustav: Sometimes Things Don’t Go Your Way. Or Do They?

Ernestine’s younger brother Gustav August was seven years her minor, born in 1834. Where exactly he was born we do not know, but I would think somewhere in an area which today is called Wendland, on the other side of the river Elbe.  In contrast to Ernestine as a girl, he had many more opportunities on what to do with his life. It was clear that he would not follow in his father’s footsteps, he would not become a Holländer. But what would he do instead? The piece of land his father had bought, probably was not big enough to make a living for him and his family.

Like his father, uncles and male cousins he surely received a good education, be it by his father or the administrator of one the farms where the family lived, or at a school in some bigger town (and surely not the village school). Maybe he attended the Bürgerschule in Perleberg, a school with a good reputation, joined by his cousin Albert? At the age of 15 he was confirmed in the St. Jacobi Church in Perleberg, like his sister Ernestine before. There is a good case to believe that he then learned a trade, as did his cousins. But which one?

Growing up on a farm, Gustav certainly had acquired many skills, he surly knew a lot about farming, making and maintaining tools, animal breading and much more. But as he never appeared to be a godparent in the church records of where his parents lived, we do not have any information on what exactly he did. But what we do know for sure, is that he did not do his military service. He simply deserted and left for America! The border to the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg was close and could be passed easily as there hardly was any cross-border control. When asked about his place of origin by the clerk in the port of Hamburg he stated “Klein Bergen in Mecklenburg”, whilst his place of origin was Klein Berge in Brandenburg, Prussia. Was this some misunderstanding between the clerk and him, or did he deliberately name a different country?


Was the upcoming draft and military service the only reason to leave or didn’t he see a future for him in Germany? Did he want to start something new? One thing is sure: having grown up in a rural middle-class family, it would have been hard to continue living like this, to maintain a living standard, and to find his place in this hierarchical built society. It probably meant to leave the Prignitz anyway, so why not leave for America? Together with his cousin Albert he boarded the ship Donau on 1 April 1854 and left Germany for good.

They arrived in New York on May 17, 1854. The first thing they did was to go to the German Society of New York in order to find a place to work. But things did not go as Gustav had planed. His intention had been to go right to New York City and stay. But when arriving there, he must have realized that that would not be possible. Through the German Society he got in touch with a farmer from New Paltz in the Hudson Valley and decided to move there and work as a farm helper. He and Albert stayed in touch through letters and when Albert lost his job as a farm helper in Connecticut in the early fall of 1854, Gustav suggested that he should join him in New Paltz.

Both boys planed on staying there throughout the winter of 1854/1855. This is the last we know of Gustav, he is gone…… What happened to him? Did he stay in the Hudson valley, got married and became a farmer?  Did he leave and go west, south or north? Did he return to Germany after his father’s sudden death in April 1855, now being the head of the family? Or, following his dream, did he go to New York City? We do not know…. But I certainly do hope that it went his way and he was able to live his dream….

 Coming soon:

Cousins – Minna: The Importance Of Listening To What Your Mother Says!

Cousins – Auguste: I’m still standing!


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