The Meaning of Bier

I’ve mentioned my correspondence with Stephan Bier, a former Ketzelsdorfer who now lives in Berlin.  He publishes on the history of the area and has been someone with whom I’ve been lucky enough to correspond.  Before the family trip to the homeland, one question that I hoped to have answered was, “where does the name Bier come from?”  Many from this side of the pond have suggested, joking only to a degree, that a predilection for the beverage may have something to do with it.  Indeed, even when the family was newly arrived and largely destitute, their small gatherings always included a small keg, in addition to music and card games.  These activities are still cherished by the Valentine Bier progeny to an almost universal degree, as far as I can tell.  In fact, the eventual homestead now boasts what is essentially a small private club in what used to be the pig barn, known as “Bob’s Man Cave.”  The Biers, they love their beers.

So at the risk of upsetting the familial apple cart, I proceed.  Once again, I owe thanks to John McSweeny for translating the following from Stephan’s February message:

You asked me where the name Bier comes from.   I confess that I asked myself the same question for quite awhile.  My parents (ordinary people) also did not know the answer, just as they could not explain how we had come to the Bohemian-Moravian highlands so long ago. [However], these puzzles were already solved by clever people before me.  In the book “Ketzelsdorf: A place of pilgrimage in Schönhengstgau“ by Otmar Embert (a teacher in Ketzelsdorf), Franz-Sales-Press, Eichstätt and Vienna, 1984, there are some explanations. (To be specific) there are some explanations of the names on pages 192-194. This book primarily concerns the old Ketzelsdorf residents and is only available in a small edition.

In anticipation of the question of those more scholarly than myself, this book is out of print and I can find no obvious source of a copy in my online searches.  I’d be happen to be proven otherwise to any potential sleuths.  Fortunately, Stephan transcribed the portions of mutual interest:

Origin and Meaning of Some Ketzelsdorfer Family Names

Old German names: In pre-Christian times, the Germans took a single name which was closely related to (the everyday life) of the old Germanic culture and which originally was taken exclusively from the German vocabulary. These ancient names continue to exist in many current family names. However, in the course of centuries most (of the names) have become transformed such they are difficult to recognize. For example, the current family names come (from):  

Here follows a list of such old-Germanic derived names until we come to . . .

Baar, Behr, Bier = Bear (Considered by the (old) Germans to be the king of the forest).

I mean, what else is there to say?  Our Biers, the ones who left from Ketzelsdorf, historically acquired their surname from the king of the forest.  Hopefully, this highfalutin’ derivation will provide some solace to those who will part with their stein only reluctantly.

Stephan goes on to include some information on the arrival of the Biers to their neighborhood of Ketzelsdorf and neighboring Schönhengstgau towns:

Baar – Bier. The earliest bearer of the name Baar is Gierg Par, who appears in Schöffe in 1532.  The name Bier does not appear in the early days of the city (of Ketzelsdorf) but we do find a Merten Bier in 1600 in Hemersdorf.  The [eventual] strong distribution of the two names Baar and Bier in neighboring Ketzelsdorf, which was already a part of Bohemia, is striking.

Are there Biers roaming about whose name DOES derive from the beverage to some degree?  ancestry.com would seem to suggest so, explaining that the origins of the surname Bier are several, including:

“German and Jewish (Ashkenazic): from Middle High German bier ‘beer’, German Bier, Yiddish bir, a metonymic occupational name for a brewer of beer or a tavern owner, or in some cases perhaps a nickname for a beer drinker. South German: from the short form of a personal name formed with Old High German bero ‘bear’. Northern English and Scottish: variant of Byers.”

A colleauge of John McSweeny’s at the University of Toledo reviewed the evidence, and seems to agree.  According to Dr. Bernhard Sulzer

It seems to me that the name “Bier” as it is used today and has been used earlier has at least two roots, either from bier (beer) as in the drink or from bero (bear) which, according to a site I found, was derived from the Old High German word bero for “bear” and used especially in Southern Germany and quite likely, in the parts that were once the Sudetenland.

 

So, my dears, the bear didn’t turn into the drink.  Rather, Bier seems to have come to us via two historic paths: one originating from the drink and one from the animal.  Maybe you will be slightly disappointed, but I know one person who will not be:  my brother Pete, who sports a tattoo of a bear on his back.  It is of a size that he once told me that the head is “about the size of a melon.”

 

bear by david creighton-pester

From Pinterest, by David Creighton-Pester

Valentine Bier Family: What came next?

On this Valentine’s Day, I’d like to pick up the thread of the story of the Valentine Bier family.  I started weaving this story a year ago, in honor of Valentine Bier’s nameday and birthday, with an introduction to the patriarch of the Bier family in southern Wisconsin.  After several more installments, we left Valentine transplanted to a meager existence in Rock County, and his wife and children newly arrived from Ketzelsdorf to join him.  Then I was distracted by the Bier trip to the homeland and related topics.  For today, I’d like to pick up the thread of the family’s story where I left it.  Valentine and Catherine were reunited at the train depot in Janesville after almost a year apart.  He was meeting his youngest daughter, Amalia, for the first time.  They climbed onto a lumber wagon and began their journey home.

They arrived in the fall of 1882, and that winter the family lived in a two-room shack on the property of the farm on which Valentine was employed as a hired hand.  The farm was owned by Al Husker, and the building in which the family was to be housed was a two-room shack previously used as a woodshed and rummage room.  In the Memoirs of Father Charles, who was 3 at the time,

The walls were not plastered, and a single layer of siding boards, not too well matched, was all that kept out the wind and weather.  The larger room had two small windows and was used as kitchen, dining room, living room, and bedroom.  Into it were crowded a small kitchen stove, a table, a cupboard, two rough wooden benches, and a bed.  The smaller room had no window at all and was used as a bedroom.  There was no plumbing in the shack nor any household convenience whatsoever.  —  Father Charles Bier, Memoirs of an Old Recluse.

When my mother and I drove to the site, we found that a farm house sits on the north side of the road, and an open expanse of prairie to the south.  The winds through the ill-matched siding must have been fierce.  In order to fit into the tiny space, the two older children, John and Frances, were housed with other families where they worked to earn their keep, of course.  They were 11 and 12.  Valentine worked long hours and was seldom home before well into the night.

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The Al Husker Farm straddled Wilcox Road in between Harmony Town Hall and Vickerman.  The pond just to the north is now on the grounds of Camp Rotamer.  1891 Plat, Courtesy of the Charles Tallman Archives, Rock County Historical Society.

The following fall of 1883, Valentine rented a few acres south of Milton where the family lived for 4-5 more years in the small farmhouse.  I don’t know the name or owners of the farm on which he worked, but on those few acres he raised the cash crop of the day:  tobacco.  He did so on half shares, meaning that 50% of whatever he earned from its ultimate sale went right back to the landlord.  As the meager amount that he earned from this enterprise wasn’t enough to support the family, he also hired himself out to other farmers at a rate of 75 cents per day.  The family’s principal income, however, depended on the labor-intensive tobacco crop.  Fortunately, much of the tedious work could be done by Catherine and the children.  In Father Charles’ words

The price paid for the leaf tobacco at the time was about 5 cents per pound. and the average yield per acre was about 1500 pounds.  This amounted to about $75 per acre of which half was paid to the landlord as rental. — Father Charles Bier, Memoirs of an Old Recluse

Around this same time, the two eldest children began to formally work out of the house as hired hands.  John worked for a local farmer for $10 per month with only Sundays off.  All of his earnings, save for what it took to keep him fed and clothed, went back to the family and allowed Valentine to invest in farming equipment and a few cows and to steadily increase his farming enterprise.  Similarly, Frances’ work as a hired girl was equally arduous and brought in $1.50 to $2.00 per week.  Valentine set aside the money she earned and after three years was able to buy his first team of horses with it.  Without John and Frances’ sacrifice of, essentially, their childhoods, Valentine may never have been able to break out of the cycle of subsistence or tenant farming.  Neither of them were able to formally go to school, save for a few months to learn English upon first arriving.

 

Edward, John, Louis, Frank & Charles Bier

Neither John . . .

Jiru-Bier Women Four Generation Portrait

nor Frances had the luxury of a gradually exit from childhood, nor did they ever really learn English.

During the time on this small farm, there were several joyful arrivals.  The first was the birth of the third to last child, Caroline, in September, 1884.  She is described from suffering from some form of epilepsy, and I suspect that this may have contributed to the fact that she never left home.  Far from being an invalid, however, later diaries show her as an integral member of the family, devoted to helping Catherine run the household as children and eventually grandchildren passed through.  The other arrival was that of Catherine’s mother and two brothers, Johanna, Frank, and Florian Jiru in 1885.  They had also become dissatisfied with life in Ketzelsdorf.    Frank was accompanied by his wife, Anna Hanauska (sister of Frances Bier’s eventual husband, Wenzel Hanauska) and baby daughter, another Johanna.  They all joined the Valentine Bier family in the tiny rented farmhouse, and for awhile there were 12 people under the tiny roof.

This only lasted a short while, however, as Valentine transferred his brood to a larger rented farm, the Lime Borden farm on the southeast side of Milton.  Frank Jiru and his family stayed behind in the small rented farm that they vacated, and Florian and Johanna Jiru stayed on with the Valentine & Catherine Bier family–Florian for a couple of years and Johanna for the rest of her life, about 20 more years.  The Lime Borden Farm had a relatively palatial 8-room farmhouse, along with the usual farm buildings and a tobacco shed.  Despite the better setup, however, the three years spent there were far from profitable, as the summers were all quite dry and the prices of farm products including tobacco were quite low.  When my mother and I drove by the place, on M-H Townline Road just west of Vickerman, it looked quite rocky as well.  It doesn’t seem as though the three years spent on the Lime Borden Farm were remembered very fondly.

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The Lime Borden Farm is just to the East of the area now occupied by and ethanol plant outside of MIlton, Wisconsin. 1891 Plat Map of Milton Township, Courtesy of Charles Tallman Archives, Rock County Historical Society.

Father Charles specifically recounts a few of the more harrowing incidents that occurred during this stretch of time that are best quoted directly in his words:

In the spring of 1886 while Father was doing work in the fields, the horses were accidentally frightened an ran wildly into a barbed wire fence.  The better one of the team was cut so badly that it seemed impossible to stop the flow of blood.  My parents were both in great distress and well I remember how they cried aloud to God to help.  As soon as father was able to quiet the animal sufficiently, mother pressed some rags into the worst of the wounds till the bleeding gradually stopped.  Incidentally, this was the valuable mare that was being paid for by my sister Frances with the wages she was earning while working as a hired girl for the family from whom father had bought the mare, and it took almost three years of this service to pay this sum in full.  –Father Charles Bier, Memoirs of an Old Recluse.

Can you imagine, working for three years just to pay off off a mare?  And what if it had died–she still would have had to keep working for the debt alone!  No wonder they invoked prayer!

The second incident involved Valentine attending a turkey raffle and winning a few birds.  Apparently these events differed from today’s meat raffles in that the turkeys were still alive rather than in a freezer.  As he was walking home with them, some jealous fellas jumped him and ended up injuring one and killing the other turkey!  And this is why we can’t have turkey raffles (or anything nice, kids.)

While Valentine toiled away and fought off turkey muggers, the children still at home started school at the Vickerman School, a short walk from the farm.  Yet, this wasn’t all sunshine and roses.  As the only Catholics at the school, they were automatically outcasts.  This was made worse by the fact that they didn’t speak any English and were quite visibly poor.  Eventually the other children let Charles and Frank and their siblings play with them, except they never got to be the blindman in “blindman’s bluff,” as they didn’t own their own handkerchiefs, and the other children didn’t want Bier germs on theirs.   Kids being perhaps unintentionally mean is a problem across the ages, I suppose.

So what happened next?  Did the venture on the not-terribly-profitable Lime Borden Farm do them in?  Stay tuned…

 

Yench / Jankus / Inksz / Inkcz / Inksh / Inktz / Inkez / Inzsz: The mystery of the Yench family continues to unravel

In my previous post on the topic of my maternal grandmother’s Lithuanian family, I indicated that my next focus would be on the story of Lithuanian immigrants in Chicago.  Well, I fully intend to pick up that thread, but before I do, I must present some late-breaking developments on the immediate family’s story instead.  In my original post introducing this story, I laid out a number of questions on which I sought to focus.

Thomas Yench Family

To remind you, the Thomas Yench family my grandmother Nell, the youngest, is not yet born.  The three boys in the back are actually stepchildren to Helen, who nonetheless raised them by all accounts lovingly as her own.

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And here’s a picture of the youngest, Nell (Yench) Cousin. Just because it’s amazing.

 

I’m pleased to report that I’ve largely put to rest one of them, “Question #2:  Why does he [Thomas Jankus / Yench] list his country of birth as Poland rather than Lithuania?” in the earlier referenced previous post.  I now will be able to address the sixth, “Question #6:  What are Thomas and Helen’s previous marital histories?”  You may or may not recall that my grandmother, Nell, grew up the youngest of seven children.  She didn’t find out until her mother’s own death that the eldest three boys were her half brothers.  Nell’s mother, Helen, was actually Thomas’ second wife.  And as far as I knew, no one had recorded the first wife’s name for the family’s posterity.

In an attempt to find answers to this and other questions, I started by writing the Pittsburg, Oklahoma, County Genealogical society.  I provided them with a sketch of what I knew about the family, including the two spellings for Thomas’ surname, “Jankus” and “Yench.”  I received back a reply that there was no trace of either of those names in any of their county indices.  Sigh.  I wished that I could teleport myself down to their archives and search, because I fear that no one approached the mission with the terrier like focus that I would have!  The woman who returned my letter suggested I try the Hartshorne Public Library.

 

hartshorne libary

Hartshorne, Oklahoma Public Library

So I did.  I called the library and asked for the reference desk, a query that was met with mild laughter and an explanation that they only have three staff members, what could she help me with?  I gave a brief explanation and was told to call back in a half hour when the gal who dealt with “that stuff” was back from lunch.  Her name was Amanda.

 

 

IMG_1033

Baptism transcript for Annella (Yench) Cousin from Holy Rosary Church

I felt hopeful, so while waiting for Amanda to return, I thought I’d give Holy Rosary Church one more try.  This is the Catholic church in the town, and the site of my grandmother’s baptism as evidenced by a copy of her baptismal certificate.  I’d tried to call previously and the phone would ring and ring.  I figured that the parish was small and perhaps dying, it having no website or significant presence on the internet save for a mention on the Diocese of Tulsa website.  But, hey, what else to do while waiting for Amanda?

 

 

Father Bruce Brosnahan

Father Bruce Brosnahan, courtesy of the Diocese of Tulsa Website      https://dioceseoftulsa.org/people/rev-bruce-brosnaha

And that, dear readers, is what led me to my breakthrough in the form of one Father Bruce Brosnahan.  His accented speech when answering the phone caused me to worry that perhaps my request may be lost in cultural and literal translation.  When I suggested that I could write him a letter with my request, he rejoined that I’d best “strike while the iron’s hot;  that’s what you say, isn’t it?”  Over the next hour and a half (no exaggeration) I felt that I was in the parish office with Father Brosnahan, as his lilting New Zealander’s accent, for that is where is from (Irish by way of New Zealand, actually) described the contents of several key parish record books in great detail.  In addition to answering some of my questions and finding some nuggets during our “sleuthing” as we came to call it, Father Brosnahan also covered a wide range of topics.  I started keeping rough track of these tangents only halfway through our conversation, but even this truncated list will give you a sense.  Father Brosnahan covered:

  • A brief history of Hartshorne, Oklahoma
  • Matthew and Mark’s proviso about the divorce of concubines
  • The etymology of his own last name as a “great” clan of Ireland
  • A description of fist-bumping as “colliding fists”
  • An autistic young man who enjoys coming to parish events that include food
  • What round brackets and inverted commas are
  • The Rebelling Colonies during the War of 1812
  • The 40 miles of records dating from 1100 that are contained under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome
  • The history of marriage as a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church
  • The development of the teenage brain
  • The existence of a church notary public
  • The etymology of the word “ecclesia”
  • Ann vs. Anne in Great Britain

Between all this, we still managed to find a few things related to my query.  And let me emphasize the dumb luck that led to the discovery.  For Father Brosnahan found neither “Yench” nor “Jankus” in his master index.  Shoot.  We decided that Thomas’ marriage with his first wife HAD to have occurred in the states, given the time lapse between Thomas’ arrival (1901) and the birth of his first son (1908).  Father B. speculated that he likely sent back to the old country for a wife.  So he pulled the “Index of Marriages.”  No Yench in the “Y” section.  No Jankus in the “J” section.  But what’s this?  A single “I” entry taped in just above the J’s?  With the name Thom. Inksh.  Could it be he?

It was.

I then remembered the one immigration document where his last name is spelled Inzsz, and the fact that his signature always appeared as an “X”.  Likely every time his name was written, it was done so by whatever bookkeeper or clerk was on hand.  These were all approximations of a name that lay somewhere between all of the guesses.  It wasn’t until his children went to school that the family seemed to settle on “Yench” as a commonly-used last name.

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Declaration of Intention, filed 26 December, 1901

 

So.  By dumb luck, we found him in the The Index of Marriages, which led to a record of transcribed, typewritten notes of the original marriage certificates.  And therein we found that a marriage occurred at Holy Rosary Church between:

Thom. Inksh & Dorothea Palonis (Inkcz, Thomas & Dorothy Pallones)

Residence of Husband:  Hartshorne, Oklahoma

Residence of Wife:  Hartshorne, Oklahoma

Date:  18 January, 1904

So that’s it.  It’s the name of his first wife and mother of Joseph, Anthony and Peter.  WOW!  Interestingly, Palonis is the last name of the godparents of my grandmother, Thomas’ youngest child with his second wife, Helen.  Father B. speculates that whoever did the typed transcription of the original written records likely added the parenthetical (a.k.a., round bracketed) comments indicated the alternate spelling of Inkcz and Pallones.

Riding high on the wave of our sleuthing success and additional alternate spellings, Father B. then pulled down the “Original” Register of Baptisms.  We found three likely ones listed in the Index:

Ann Yench on p. 92

Anthony Jakiz on p. 73

Amilia Inkez on p. 28

I forced him to go first to Ann’s and confirm that, yes, this was my Grandmother’s older sister, all of the information listed matched with what I already knew.  But this Amilia Inkez must sure be some other family?  We didn’t have a chance to look at Anthony Jakiz, but there’s an older brother Anthony too.  But–there is not Amilia–only Veronica, Ann, and Annella.  So we turned to p. 28, line 42.  After applying a piece of tape to a small tear on the page, Father B. read aloud the following

Name of child:  Ammilia Inkez

Date of Birth:   24 November, 1905

Baptised:  25 November, 1905

Residence:  Hartshorned, Oklahome

Parents:  Thom. Inkez, Dora Palonis

Sponsors:  Ign. Paleck & Antonia Sesko

There was a child before the three boys.  She must surely have died, having never been mentioned again in the family story as far as I know.  And the rapidity with which she was baptized leads me to suspect that she didn’t live long after being born.  Similarly, the names of her sponsors aren’t typically Lithuanian.  Could they have been the nearest people on hand following her birth to consecrate the baptism of a quickly fading baby?

There’s a lot more questions to answer, but I am confident that the combination of extant records at Holy Rosary Church + my sleuthing partner Father Bruce Brosnahan will lead me to further success.

Lesson:  Researching this family necessitates using all versions of the last name, Yench / Jankus / Inksz / Inkcz / Inksh / Inktz / Inkez / Inzsz, until about 1920.

Needless to say, I never got back to Amanda.

Typewriter

The first typewriter that I ever used was the heavy gray one that sat in Grandma and Grandpa Cousin’s dining room.  It sat on Grandpa’s desk, which was squeezed in along a wall.  There was just enough room between the table and the desk that Grandpa’s chair could be rotated between the table to the desk.  You knew it was Grandpa’s chair because it had arms on it, and because it was the one next to Grandma’s.  Grandma’s was easy to tell, because it was closest to the kitchen door.

grandpa typewriter

Grandpa in his chair with the typewriter behind him.

grandma typewriter

Grandma in the dining room with the retinue of office equipment in the background.  In addition to dining and typing, the table was used most often for game playing.

The desk was always heaped with papers, these balanced carefully between the heavy gray beast of a typewriter and the two adding machines–electric and mechanical.  We kids loved to use those machines, but Grandma didn’t like us using the electric 10 key calculator too much because we burned through all of the adding tape paper.  So we’d take turns pounding out nonsense on the sheets of scrap paper that she kept around for our visits.  We never really ever SAW Grandpa using the typewriter, but I know that he did.  We occasionally received typed responses to school-related inquiries, and his sketches were often completed on the backs of the beginnings of typewritten letters that had gone hopelessly wrong.  Also, his records of the 15,000+ record collection were completed on that typewriter.  It had both a red and a black tape, and you really had to pound to get that thing going.

Abby typewriter

My cousin, Abby, taking her turn at the great gray beast.  Hey kid!  Where’s your paper?

CheaperByTheDozenI read the book “Cheaper By the Dozen” as a kid.  Not the dumb Disney version, but the actual biographical story of a family of 12 kids with parents who were interested in economy of movement and consulted for industrial operations to improve their efficiency.  One chapter focused on the father’s teaching the kids to “touch type” and taking them around to show off to prospective clients.  I figured that was OK, so I practiced at Grandpa’s and on mom’s machine whenever I got the chance.  Mom’s machine was portable and kept high up on a shelf in a closet.  She’d bring it out for us occasionally, and it released a wafting puff of “office” smell whenever it was opened.  I loved typing so much that I would simply transcribe stories, for the sheer joy of hearing the clack and seeing the smooth, even result of a perfectly-typed page.  She didn’t like us to type too often, though, because we burned through the correction tape.

When we got our first computer around about 8th grade, it came with a typing tutorial program that I took to like it was going out of style.  In my opinion, the resulting dot-matrix printed results weren’t nearly so aesthetically pleasing as those done in unbroken inked-letters on the powder blue travel typewriter.  My first research paper in 7th grade was done on that typewriter, footnotes and all, an exercise in frustration that was rivaled only by my senior thesis at Lawrence in 1998 in which my image drive was somehow corrupted.  In the spring of 8th grade Joanna McCall showed up with her social studies paper printed out on a smooth, creamy sheet of paper with nary a dot matrix in sight.  Her family had an early ink jet or laser printer.  It looked like her work could have been part of the actual social studies textbook, so smooth and professional.

In high school my mother made me take typing, a class that I resisted due to the effect that it would have on my GPA.  It is by far the class that I use most readily every day.  Sure, it didn’t do anything in particular to launch my academic career, but I can carry on a conversation or stare out the window dreamily while I type, thanks to that class, the only class I ever took in the Business department of Milton High School.

Computer keyboards have come and gone, but I’ve never felt a true commitment–lots of passing flings, but no keyboard monogamy.  I knew what I liked–clacky, a bit of oomph required, but my previous keyboard relationships were but mere infatuations once I met my new true love.

 

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My new love, Azio Corp’s MK Retro 

 

It arrived under the Christmas tree, a gift from my husband who knows me so well.  It is a computer keyboard that looks like a typewriter.  The keys are round and raised slightly up.  They require a bit more effort to engage, and I suppose that this results in a bit more fatigue, but the sheer tactile joy of this thing makes up for it.  The keys clack so satisfyingly that even responding to mundane emails has been rendered a joy.  And the space bar–oh the space bar.  Its tone is slightly more high pitched and more resonant than the other keys.  I will simply never be able to give up two spaces after a period after this.

Every day I try to write at least 500 words, usually of sheer drivel.  My 500 word habit has become an obsession thanks to the love of my typing life that took me back to the dining room on Elm Street, kneeling on a phone book, clacking away on the old grey beast while Grandma cooked in the kitchen.

Thomas Jankus: Tracing the Mysterious Story of the Yench Family

Since I last wrote about my maternal grandmother’s family,  I have a few answers, a few new ideas, and even more questions.  Here’s some updates on the Yench family, who I’m sure had a history prior to showing up in Oklahoma!

To begin with, I’ve started referring to my grandma Nell’s father as Thomas Jankus / Yench, as he refers to himself essentially interchangeably during the first decades of his life here.  His children’s records seem to uniformly use the Americanized “Yench” version of the name, but Thomas vacillates.  In fact, by reviewing a rough timeline of Thomas Jankus / Yench’s life, we can arrive at answers to some of the questions I posed previously.  But only some, sigh.  So with no further ado,

Thomas Jankus:  A Life, Part I

About 1877:  Born in Kaunas, Lithuania

I could not arrive at a settled birth date, because there is not a preponderance of evidence for one specific date.  His funeral card lists 7 March, 1877;  his Declaration of Intention to Immigrate declares 11 November, 1877;  his Petition for Naturalization states 7 March, 1878.  Census records all state about 1877.  As tempting as it would be declare one of these dates the “winner,” I think “about 1877” is the most accurate birth date we can assign Thomas.

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Funeral card of Thomas Jankus / Yench

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Declaration of Intention, filed 26 December, 1901

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Petition for Naturalization, filed 25 March, 1936

 

You’ll also notice that, between filling out one immigration form in 1901 and a second in 1936, Thomas changes his place of birth!  He initially identifies his natal town as Kwiedon, Poland, and later as Kauna, Lithuania.  Was he intentionally being deceitful?  The familial myth around his coming to American was one of literal escape from draft into the Red Army…

On the contrary.  It’s simply that in 1901, the country of Lithuania did not exist.  I hate to be a slave to Wikipedia, but sometimes the hive mind just states things so nicely:

After the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, most of Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire. The beginnings of industrialization and commercial agriculture based on Stolypin’s reforms, as well as the abolition of serfdom in 1861, freed the peasants and turned them into migrant-laborers. The pressures of industrialization, Lithuanian press ban, general discontent, suppression of religious freedom and poverty drove numerous Lithuanians to emigrate from the Russian Empire to the United States continuing until the outbreak of the First World War. The emigration continued despite the Tsarist attempts to control the border and prevent such a drastic loss of population. Since Lithuania as a country did not exist at the time, the people who arrived to the U.S. were recorded as either Polish or Russian; moreover, due to the language ban in Lithuania and prevalence of Polish language at that time, their Lithuanian names were not transcribed in the same way as they would be today.   Only after 1918, when Lithuania established its independence, the immigrants to the U.S. started being recorded as Lithuanians. This first wave of Lithuanian immigrants to the United States ceased when the U.S. Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The Immigration Act of 1924 was aimed at restricting the Eastern and Southern Europeans who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s.  —  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithuanian_Americans

 

And the city now know as Kaunas, Lithuania, had different names depending on the ruler of the day.  The city was generally known in English as Kovno, the traditional Slavicized form of its name; the Polish name is Kowno; the Belarusian name is Koўна, Kowna. An earlier Russian name was Ковно Kovno, although Каунас Kaunas has been used since 1940.

 

kaunas

Kaunas is the second most populous city in Lithuania, second only to the capital, Vilnius.

 

What his life there was like, I have no idea.  I still don’t know his parents’ names, nor that of any potential sibling.  There are neither family diaries nor memoirs.  As I suggested in my introductory post, this is where it gets hard.  It is clear that at the time of Thomas’ growing up, young men were compelled to serve in the Russian Army; perhaps there’s something to that famil myyth.  Regardless of what the ultimate deciding factor was, the above naturalization documents indicate that Thomas Jankus / Yench came to the United States.

1901 (age 24):  Emigrated to the United States

The degree of subterfuge and bribery needed to achieve his departure isn’t clear.  Like so many thousands of others, he departed from Bremen, Germany, and arrived via New York.  By the end of 1901 he was filing his immigration papers as shown above, and listing his occupation as coal miner in Hartshorne, Oklahoma Territory;  Oklahoma was not yet a state.  Many Lithuanians, Poles, and other eastern Europeans immigrating at the time were deemed highly suitable for such unskilled labor as coal mining and work in slaughterhouses.  Many Lithuanians, in fact, settled more predominantly in the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania.  So, how Thomas chose Hartshorne, Oklahoma, I have no idea.  However, the town itself was established as a coal-mining town, and mine operators were actively recruiting immigrants to work the mines.

The city of Hartshorne is now small with a population just under 2,000.  The Catholic Holy Rosary Church, which was established by Russian and other Eastern European immigrants, still exists;  this is the church at which my grandmother was baptized.

Hartshorn

Hartshorne, Oklahoma is located in Pittsburg County.

 

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My grandmother, Nell, visited the town of her birth at some point in her adult life, as shown in this undated photograph

 

Between 1901-1908:  Marries first wife (assumed)

1908, 1910, 1912:  First three children born

These first three children were boys, Joseph, Anthony (who went by Fed), and Peter (who went by Bob). I wish that I could say I had copies of their birth certificates, or even the Yench family’s federal census records from 1910 or 1920, but I just do not.  As far as federal census records go, they MUST exist, however who knows what iteration of the last name I should be searching under?  Their birth dates and places are verified in other, later documents.  However, I have no record of who their mother was or whether she and Thomas married prior to arrival or after.  “Well, just pull their birth certificates!” you say.

This is a grand idea–in theory.  However.  The Oklahoma Department of Health abides by a statute that seals all birth certificates until 125 years after the date of birth!  I was able to see that a birth certificate for at least one of the boys does, in fact, exist–and presumably names his mother.  However, genealogists requesting a birth certificate from less than 125 years ago must provide (among other things:)

  • If the subject is alive: a statement signed by the Subject releasing record to the Applicant and a copy of the Subjects ID

  • If the subject is deceased:

1) a statement signed by a family member, proof of familial relationship to the decedent, and a copy of the family member’s ID [Applicant may also be required to provide proof of death if the death occurred outside Oklahoma] or

2) court order

So close, and yet so very far away.

Between 1912-1914:  First wife dies

Again, due to the largely unsearchable vital records of the state of Oklahoma, I got nothin.  No name, no death date, nothin.  However, there is always hope.  As a next step, I plan to:

  1. Attempt to contact any living descendants of the three boys to see what records they might have.  My mother still keeps in touch with some of them.
  2. Put in a query to the Pittsburg County Genealogical and Historical Society.  Most counties have a group who catalogs records and, to varying degrees, makes them available online.  Most also will take queries for a modest donation, which are generally researched by a volunteer.
  3. Attempt to contact the Holy Rosary Church.  If my grandmother was baptized there, I’m hoping at least one of the three oldest boys was as well (her half brothers).  They may also have funeral records on Thomas’ first wife.  The church doesn’t have its own website, so I suspect it is rather small at this point.  But it still has a telephone number and address.  I hate making cold phone calls, but for the sake of historical accuracy I must get over it!

25 August, 1914:  Marries Helen Shareva 

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Marriage of Helen (Shareva) Yench and Thomas Jankus/Yench

I

Interestingly, they got married in Chicago, but then returned to Oklahoma to reside.  Why was this?  To answer that question, we must delve into the larger story of the relationship between Lithuanians and Chicago.  And that’s a post for another day…

So what do you have to look forward to next?  Hopefully results from my three-step plan outlined above.  And an interesting look at the history of Lithuanian immigrants in Chicago.  Hint:  Upton Sinclair took notice…

 

 

Ketzelsdorf and Schönhengstgau updates

Although I declared my intent to turn my family history attention to my Grandmother’s story, I have to  share a few updates regarding our family homeland in Ketzelsdorf / Koclířov before I do so.

Since receiving a letter from Pepi, our friend in Koclířov, in the fall, a few interesting things have transpired.  And all of them are creating a fascinating, real-time experience in seeing how history is created.  Recall that a year ago, I was still grappling with the fact that Ketzelsdorf (German) had become Koclířov (Czech).  Since then, I’ve seen the evidence of the Slavic version of this story during our time in Prague.  More so, recent correspondence has introduced me to the displaced Germans’ version of the story, and it is a passionate one.

Before Christmas I received a letter from Dr. Franz Kossler, who you may recall is Pepi’s
“professor friend” in Berlin, a fellow Ketzelsdorfer and an historian of the area.  He kindly wrote me in English, and here is his email:

Dear Dr. Angela Bier,

because I was mentioned by Pepi (Koclirov), by Stephan (Berlin) and actually in your article „Voices from the backseat“ (…who is this Dr. Franz Kössler?), it‘s time to introduce myself.

Really, I was born in 1931 in Ketzelsdorf (Koclirov), home no. 60. My father was a carpenter and worked in Zwittau (Svitavy), our mother took care of the children (altogether six, born between 1923 and 1942). She also took care to our small farm with several animals as well as to the agriculture (some hectares).

Until the end of 1944 I visited the school in Ketzelsdorf, but after the wild repulsion (Juni 1945) I was living five years as a farm worker in a small Prussian village. From 1950 to 1953 I visited schools in Potsdam; after that I studied Biology in Berlin five years long.

In 1958 I entered the Institute of Occupational Medicine and was engaged in different fields. During this scientific work I met a lot of famous scientists, among them some from the USA, e.g. Prof. Gergely (Boston), Prof. Hazlewood (Houston).

During my investigations on bioluminescent bacteria I had contact by letters and reprints exchange with the pope of bioluminescence Prof. J. W. Hastings (Boston) and I met him in Chabarowsk (East Siberia) and Boston, in 1979 and in 1996, respectively. In my second dissertation (Habilitation, 1969) many persons of bioluminescent research are cited, among them was Beatrice M. Sweeney (perhaps related to McSweeny?).

I retired 1997, then I started some activities in historical fields, beginning with the history of Botany in Berlin and Potsdam, followed by writing books about my home village Ketzelsdorf, my home area Schönhengstgau and about countries in Eastern Europe where German was spoken earlier..

The term Schönhengst originated presumably from a male horse (in German: hengst) in connection with an ancient burglord with a pretty (in German: schön) horse. Another legend tells that the old traffic road between Ketzelsdorf and Mährisch-Trübau (Mor. Trebova) which has to cross a mountain passage and this crossing was a great strain for horses (in German: schinden, schind den Hengst – Schinhengst-Schönhengst).

Finally, I want to congratulate you to your engagement in family history and the enthusiasm for Ketzelsdorf and the landscape Schönhengst.

Thanks for the informative paper, delivered to Pepi who sent it to Berlin; I prepared a short communication for the Journal Schönhengster Heimat.

With best wishes for cheerful Christmas time and Happy New Year,

Sincerely yours

In addition to being interesting in its own right (bioluminescent bacteria?  Wow!  Here’s a link to a Wikipedia article.  ), I found the description of how the beautiful region along the Bohemian and Moravian borders got its name.  Finally, if the summary of the story of the Biers’ coming to America ends up being published, I’ll be simply delighted.

The Journal Schönhengster Heimat that he mentions is produced by a society of the Sudeten Germans now residing in Germany.  They also maintain a small museum in  Göppingen, Germany, which is in the Stuttgart region.  Any of you who speak German will probably get more out of this website than I have, even with the assistance of Google translate.

Museum

Schönhengster Heimat Museum in Göppingen, Germany

In exploring some of the information contained on this website, I’ve discovered that there’s actually a song to the Schönhengstgau region.  Here’s a google translation of the lyrics, which are quite poetic and evocative:

Between March and Adler spreads
a richly blessed land,
which traverses the wanderer’s path,
captivating as a sweet spell.
Blessing rests in every valley,
Peacefully greenens on mountain and on the meadow.
Greetings many thousands of times,
Trauter German Schönhengstgau!

Our native mother tongue, of
our ancestors of the same kind, is kept
under every roof
like a delicious good.
Manly courage and women’s dignity
Carries the people there proudly.
Stay of the earth garden Zierde,
Trauter German Schönhengstgau!

And the girls, like the boys of
our future, comfort and reverence,
are to dig deep into the heart of
their fathers. Word of Solace :
Shine happiness in golden shades,
Come days dull and gray,
Faithfully bound, yours forever,
Trauten deutscher Schoenhengstgau!

I’ve received further correspondence from Stephan Bier, our presumed relative in Berlin, and I include a few “Google translations” from his letter;

Our small commemorative book “Memories of Ketzelsdorf in Schönhengstgau” will be sent to you by our representative in the local newspaper Wilhelm Bier. He lives in Roitsch in the larger town of Bitterfeld. In Roitsch a larger group of 1,945 stranded Ketzelsdorfern and many of them are still living there or in the neighborhood.

Guess what I came in the mail literally as I was writing this?  The aforementioned copy of the book from another presumed relative, Wilhelm Bier.  It’s wholly in German and I think I’ll have to seek some help from the University on this one!  The small commemorative book, which I was presuming would be a pamphlet, is 278 pages long!!

Ketzelsdorf book

Recently arrived.

I will have to add this to my reading list (after translation) after I finish Orderly and Humane, which tells the story of the expulsion of ethnic Germans after WWII.  For some interesting insight into how contentious the issue of the ownership and telling of this story is, read some of its reviews on Amazon.  The author, R.M. Douglas, is careful in his introductory material to emphasize that he in no way conflates the story of this group’s treatment with that of the treatment of the Jews, Gypies, homeosexuals and other targeted groups during the Holocaust.  Nevertheless, the need to tread excruciatingly lightly is brought into relief in those reviews.

Orderly and Humane

Finally, a comment from Stephan Bier at the end of his letter drove home the point of history being the provenance of the victors (recall that this is a rough Google translation and likely misses some of his nuance):

I was Ketzelsdorf only interested because I was born there. The political conditions were not pro-German. Even the current administration in Prague is not interested in historical truth. I have a garden Czech neighbor and told me that many of his relatives in Prague and its surroundings believe that the Germans came in the former Czechoslovakia only with Hitler 1938. You do not know that the German settlers hundreds of years ago, large parts of the country have made it all under cultivation, the land was donated. That is not taught at school. The expulsion of more than 3 million Germans and the appalling atrocities be concealed today. Bohemia and Moravia were hundreds of years to the German association of states. The language has Slavic origin and people have little cultural differences, but otherwise it is a European country like other countries.

So there you have it.  Learning history as it’s being written is an interesting, contentious subject.

Annella Teresia Yench Cousin: Let’s try a challenge

Over the past several months, I’ve shared a lot of information on the Bier family, and there’s still a lot more to share.  Why?  Because I’m lucky.  My Grandma Bier was a collector, and I received a trove of primary sources, artifacts, and already-done work from her.  When it comes to the Bier family, I feel more like an archivist or docent than a true genealogist;  there just weren’t that many difficult questions to be answered.  Just an ever-increasing mountain of things to be digitized, cataloged, and preserved.

So for the new year, in addition to continuing to tell the Valentine Bier story, I want to take on a new challenge.  The biggest challenge on my genealogical horizon will involve making a dent in my husband’s Kim and Lee heritage given that, (a) I don’t speak Korean, (b) well over the half the population of Korea shares the surnames “Kim” and “Lee” and (c) he himself knows next to nothing about his family story.  I’m going to set that particular challenge aside until my skills are a bit more honed.

Instead, I’m setting myself a different challenge:  my maternal grandmother’s family.  My Grandma was named Annella Teresia (Yench) Cousin.  People called her Nell, Nellie, in addition to mom, aunt, sister, grandma and great-grandma.  She was a lovely, loving woman and deserves a post in her own right.  For now, though, I went to set the challenge of discovering a bit more about her family history.

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A sketch of Nell drawn by her husband, Fred Cousin

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My beautiful grandma Nell on her wedding day

See, in all of my family trees, her story truncates with the names of her parents:  Thomas & Helen Yench.  According to my mom, they defected from Lithuania and never talked about nor communicated with relatives in the old country again, save for once receiving a photograph of someone laid out in a coffin.  So, I thought this would be a fun challenge both for myself and for my readers to live vicariously.  I’m trying to convince you that genealogy is fun, after all.

Where to begin?  In the words of Glinda the Good Witch of the North, “It’s always best to start at the beginning”  So, with no further ado, here’s what I know about my Grandma Nell’s family history:

 

 

She was born May 17, 1925 in Hartshorne, Oklahoma. I know this is true because my mother told me so.  However,  in the world of genealogy, this isn’t good enough.  I need documentation of both those facts.

Item #1:  Verify her birthdate and place, ideally with a copy of her birth certificate.

She was baptised on July 28, 1925, at the Church of the Holy Rosary, also in Hartshorne, Oklahoma.  Her godparents were Enoch and Katherine Polonis.  Her date of birth is verified on her baptism certificate.

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Her father’s name was Thomas Yench.  Yench is a anglicanization of the Lithuanian name “Jankus.”  He was a coal miner when the family lived in Oklahoma.  He arrived in the United states in 1901 and applied for citizenship in 1907.  The Declaration of Intention, below, is rich with interesting details, including that he was 5′ 10″ and had gray eyes.

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Thomas Yench

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Question #2:  Why does he list his country of birth as Poland rather than Lithuania? 

Question #3:  Who were his parents and brothers and sisters, if any?

 

Her mother’s name was Helen Shareva.  At least that’s what my mother told me.  I have no record of what her unmarried name actually was, and further a cousin of my mother’s reports that her last name was actually Dubas!  What’s up with that?  And finally, there was a photograph amongst my grandmother’s things showing a picture of her mother, Helen, with another woman identified on the back as “her sister from St. Louis.”

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Helen Yench, whose story prior to marrying Thomas Yench is a mystery to me

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Helen Yench and “her sister from St. Louis”

 

Question #4:  What was Helen Yench’s actual maiden name?  Who were her family?  When did she emigrate?

Nell was the youngest of seven children.  This is confirmed by census records and numerous, amusing photographs.

Thomas Yench Family

Thomas Yench family before my grandmother, Nell, was born.   Back row:  Joseph, Peter “Bob,” Anthony “Fed.”  Front row:  Philip, Thomas, Ann, Helen, Veronica.

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Back row:  Joseph, Peter “Bob,” Philip.  Front row:  Anthony “Fed,” Ann, Nell, Veronica, Thomas.

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Back row:  Philip, Joseph, Peter “Bob.  Front row:  Nell, Anthony “Fed,” Veronica, Ann.

 

 

 

By 1930 the family was living in Proviso, Illinois, where Thomas was working at Richardson’s Battery Factory.  The federal census of that year shows a lot of other interesting things as well.  Their neighbors were all uniformly Lithuanian and Italian.  Two of the boys were working out of the house at that time as well.  Finally, the census includes a field for “age at first marriage” and a little math indicates that not only was Thomas married previously, but so was Helen.

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1930 Federal Census

 

Question #5:  Why did the family move to Illinois?

Question #6:  What are Thomas and Helen’s previous marital histories?

In 1936, when Nell was 11 years old, her mother, Helen, died of pneumonia;  this is verified in the Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths Index of 1916-1947.  It was at her mother’s funeral that Nell learned some shocking news.  I’d recorded the story in my mother’s words some time ago:

Bob, Joe, and Fed were Thomas’s children by his first wife.  Nell never realized they were her half brothers until her mother, Helen, died. She died of pneumonia when Nell was about 12 years old. At the funeral, she overheard some neighbors talking about how Helen treated those older boys just like they were her own sons. Nell got mad, yelled, and ran from the room.  –Janice (Cousin) Bier

So, this is further confirmation that Thomas was married before he married Helen.

My mother also made a point of recording her mother, Nell’s, recollections of Helen, few as they were:

I remember her ironing. She talked with the other Lithuanian neighbor ladies. I called her mama. She used to have to yell at the boys. The girls would help, but I was so much younger, I didn’t have to help as much. My mom was stocky. I don’t remember her singing. She was a full-time homemaker. She was born in Lithuania. I think they came over becvause the Russians were taking over.  –Nell (Yench) Cousin

After her mother died, my Grandma Nell was essentially raised by her two older sisters, Ronnie & Annie, before moving to Wisconsin and meeting my grandpa, Fred, and the rest is much more recent history.

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The three sisters, Nellie, Annie, and Ronnie, at my Grandparents’ house on Elm Street in Beloit, Wisconsin.

 

So where will I begin?  How will I even begin to answer those questions?  It was hard for me to NOT start the work before posting this;  on some level I wanted to be sure that they were answerable.  But I did it–I held off.  I didn’t even call my mom to clear some points up.  So stay tuned.

If you are reading this and have recollections, questions, comments, or answers about the Yench family history, please comment below!