Bier Trip to the Homeland Part IV: A Brief Separation in Time and Space

The journey to “the homeland” has begun in earnest!  After soaking up the culture of the Bavaria for the past few days,  today we boarded a bus and drove to Prague in the Czech Republic.  The purpose of the Munich part of the trip was to get a taste of what our ancestors’ German cultural homeland is like;  this second part will investigate their lands from which they physically sprung.

IMG_0001

The areas of the Czech Republic on which we will be focusing:  Prague for the sheer pleasure of it all, and the Pardubice Region for the familyhistory.

165 years ago, the Bier and Langer strands of my family tree were living what I imagine to have been an uneventful life in Bohemia.  In fact, their families lived less than 20 km apart from each other in, essentially, the same county (Pardubice) of the now Czech Republic.  For a brief review, here’s a copy of my father, Thomas Bier’s, ancestor tree:

Thomas Bier Ancestor Chart

Ancestors of Thomas Bier.  Those who are Germans from Bohemia are circled.

Did the Bier / Jiru and Langer / Janisch families know each other in the old country?  Who’s to say.  The Langer / Janisch clan emigrated about 30 years prior to the Bier / Jiru family–in 1853.  Further, the Langer family settled in a large enclave of German Bohemians in the Watertown area.  While Watertown is also in southern Wisconsin, it lies over 30 miles away from the greater Janesville area that attracted the Biers.

Wouldn’t be an amazing story, though, if my Grandpa Vincent Bier and Grandma Mary Alice (Langer) Bier’s families were friends 3-4 generations in advance of their wedding?  Some exciting sleuthing into the historical record provides some tantalizing clues that this was, in fact, the case.

2010-05-01 00.24.52

Wedding of  my Grandma Mary Alice (Langer) Bier & Grandpa Vincent Bier.  21 November, 1946.  Did their grandparents–Emil Langer and Valentine Bier–ever meet?

 

Franz Langer was Mary Alice’s Great-Grandfather;  he was the one to make the move to the United States with his wife, Barbara Janisch.  Valentine Bier was Vincent’s Grandfather and was the emigree.   And, according to a brief clipping in the Rock County  Recorder Times, Valentine actually served as a pallbearer for Franz Langer at his death in 1894.  While the name is actually spelled “Valentine Beers,” it seems reasonable to assume that this was, in fact, Valentine Bier.  Both men attended the same church, St. Mary’s in Janesville.  The timing also lines up:

 

IMG_0002

Obituary of Franz Langer from the Rock County Recorer Times 11 October, 1894

 

 

Another source that I frequently reference is the Bier Family Journal.  This ledger-like document chronicles the daily life of the Valentine Bier family from 1899-1903;  most of the Valentine Bier children contributed at some time or another, although Father Charles Bier was the most prolific diarist.

 

20170720_165528

The Bier Family Diary:  a ridiculously rich source of primary information.

The diary generally concludes each day by enumerating the visitors that stopped by.  Take a look at who visited the house in the summer of 1899:

Wed. Aug 16, 1899:  Weather is quite agreeable, but rather warm in the afternoon.  Father, Louis and Fr. begin to haul manure.  Chas sees the great base ball game taking place between Janesville and Milwaukee league teams.  The score is Mil 2.  Janesville 0.  Visitors of the eve at home are Mr. Emil Langer Senior and Junior, Uncle Anton, and cousin Chas. Bier.  Fr. Baar, and Fr. Schneider, Jno. and Bertha.  Jno. begins tobacco harvesting.

 

Emil Langer Junior would be Mary Alice’s father.  Edward, the youngest of the Valentine Bier clan, was Vincent’s father.  At the date of that visit at which they surely met, Emil Langer, Jr., was 14.  Edward Bier 10 years old.  Their children would marry in just over 47 years.

Wow!  Genealogy is FUN!

In a few short days, we will retrace beginning of these families brief separation in time and space…

Bier Trip to the Homeland Part III: Old is a relative term

20170725_154947

I took this to capture the onion-domed village church in the distance.  The Bavarian landscape is familiar to any southern Wisconsinite.

Over the past couple of days the group has experienced some sights that have messed with my notions of time and space.  In terms of space, the drive from Munich’s airport to our hotel let me to wonder why on earth we’d traveled all this way to come back to southern Wisconsin.  The landscape is eerily similar and, save for the street signs, one could easily think that we’d barely moved at all, let alone journeyed over thousands and thousands of miles.  I’m not sure who the first German Bohemian was to settle in southern Wisconsin.  However, I now believe that they did so by simply getting off a westward-bound train when things looked familiar.

20170725_162416

Typical Bavarian Farmhouse, geraniums adorning the window boxes and barn attached to the stuccoed front in the rear.

20170725_073816

The size of our hoard qualifies earns us a full bus. Luckily is has tables in the back . . .

20170724_204719

As numerous rounds of cards are required daily.

The compression of time is a far more nuanced and complex discussion.  I was struck by how some structures made to look old were actually quite new, and vice versa.  Equally striking was the interwoven nature of my family’s “dates” and histories with those events of the past.

 

1754:  Wies Church completed

20170725_160713

Wieskirch exterior, Steingaden, Bavaria, Germany

20170725_161149

The interior is concerned a masterpiece of the Bavarian Rococo style.

This church was built as a pilgrimage site, and located smack in the middle of the countryside.  It is dripping in the pastel gilt that is textbook Bavarian Rococo.  It commemorates the miracle of a wooden statue of Jesus that was reported to be seen weeping on several occasions.  This miracle, one that I would have thought to be thoroughly shrouded in the mists of time reportedly occurred in 1738, less than 100 years before…

1822:  Franz Langer born

1845:  Valentine Bier born

1853:  Franz Langer family emigrates to U.S.

1855:  Hohenschwangau Castle completed

20170725_150033

Hohenschwangau Castle was built in relative modernity on the ruins of 11-12th century fortresses.

 

I knew nothing about the Bavarian monarchy prior to this trip.  While the Wittelsbach family consolidated power as Dukes for many years, Bavaria was only a Kingdom from 1806-1918.  Thus, while this castle was made to look old, it is really quite new.  It was built as a summer hunting residence for King Maximiliian the II and is where his son, King Ludwig II, grew up.

1876:  Telephone invented

1881:  First public electric utility established in the U.K.

1882:  Valentine Bier family emigrates to U.S.

1886:  Neuschwanstein Castle completed

IMG-20170725-WA0000

Perched high on a hill, Neuschwanstein Castle truly seems like the stuff of fairy tales.

20170725_095855

Hohenschwangau with Neuschwanstein in the distant

This castle, commemorated on calendars and puzzles worldwide, is built just a stone’s throw from Hohenschwangau.  Ludwig II built a fantasy castle decorated on the inside with fairy tale scenes from Richard Wagner’s operas.  The interior is amazing but photographs are not allowed;  a peek at interior shots is worthwhile.  Ludwig II gazed out from a window in Hohenschwangau as his dream, the exterior conceived by a set designer rather than an architect, went up across the gorge over years.  He only slept there for 172 nights before his strange tale ended mysteriously.  The castle is only a pastiche of the medieval:  inside was running water and a telephone (that only connected to the post office and Ludwig’s mother).  All of this opulence existed while my ancestors, and countless others, toiled in poverty and obscurity in Wisconsin.

1894:  Franz Langer dies

1918 / 1919:  Vincent Bier & Mary Alice Langer, my grandparents, born

1918:  End of WWI, Bavarian Monarchy dissolved

1922:  Valentine Bier dies

1933-1945:  Dachau Concentration Camp in operation

20170724_155604

A sobering view from one of the reconstructed barracks over the expanse representing the rows of former barracks, surrounded by guard towers and razor wire.

Gate

Gates of the camp with the taunting phrase, “Arbeit macht frei”  or “work makes you free.

We  spent several sobering hours at Dachau.  The horrors committed and endured here rendered the experience solemn and horrifying.  The experience is etched forever in our collective memories.

1945-1946:  Ethnic Germans “transferred” out of Czechoslovakia

1951:  Thomas Bier, my father, born

Overall, an interesting couple of days taking in sights, surviving the rain, and thinking about the compression of time.

 

Here’s a few parting shots that don’t fit in with the theme but need to be seen:

 

Patrick dressed in a natty fashion for our castle tour, feeling that royalty is truly in his blood.  His management of this schnapps glass suggests otherwise.

We had rainy days for our tours of the Bavarian castles, but managed thanks for the preparedness of the numerous former Girl Scouts in our group.

Bier Trip to the Homeland: Munich Themes and Variations

Everyone seemed to survive the night, although a fair contingent did not make it to the delightful breakfast at the Eden Wolff Hotel.  Interesting quote from breakfast:  “I have trouble finding good liverwurst in Chicago” –Amy Bier, age 25.  The hotel is located just across from the city’s main train station, and I enjoyed watching the early Sunday morning traffic slowly increase in the early morning sun, as backpackers and travelers arrived to the city.  My roommate, Joan Shadel, is an excellent travelling companion.  In all, I recommend both her and the hotel.

Our formalized tours starting tomorrow, today our group split up.  A contingent went to the Museum district.  They took in the Documentation Center, a new museum at the site of the now-razed Brown House.  This is where Hitler launched his party from, and the museum details the personalities and situations that led to the rise of National Socialism.

20170723_121617

A light repast of pretzel, emmentaler, weisswurst, bier & cribbage at the Viktualienmarket Biergarten 

All who went learned something and came away with questions and answers.  Another intrepid trio also continued on to a hike around the city and the English Garden that yielded a total daily step count of 34,196 (11 miles).  They were the only ones to truly earn their dinner.  Louise and I became knowledgeable with the old area of Munich with the help of Rick Steves, and probably can now carry an umbrella as official tour guides.

 

 

The group reconvened for a lovely evening at the famous Hofbrauhaus, where we joined by my cousin Emily Laning who arrived from a work trip to Bulgaria.

CB553325-

Prost!

 

Let me organize my observations into a few themes and variations:

 

 

 

MUNICH THEMES AND VARIATIONS

Leiderhosen  are a thing that people wear for real.  True, they are de riguer for the employees of tourist-heavy areas.  However, I spotted a fair number of common citizens attired thusly:  middle aged men shooting the breeze, a homeless man sifting through the trash, a guy next to us at the biergarten looking especially natty in an embroidered denim ensemble.

20170723_100521

Leiderhosen and Dirndls:  on trend and coming to a neighborhood near you.

Catholicism is a big thing in Munich.  A lot of the historical sites have something to do with stomping out the “Protestant Threat.”   We were touring churches this morning, a Sunday, during mass time.  The incense hung chokingly heavy in every church we entered, and I was surprised to see the pews mostly full.  We learned that St. Michael’s Church was built by the Jesuits as their northern outpost in the fight against Protestantism during the 1500’s.

20170723_101634

St. Michael slaying the so-called and much feared “Protestant Threat.”

St. Peter’s Church contains a weirdly fascinating side altar containing the bones of St. Munditia, a 4th century martyr.  These were a gift from Rome for a job well done–defending against the Protestant threat.

20170723_111630

Relics  of St. Munditia at St. Peter’s Church

The heart of the city is the Marienplatz (“Mary Place.”)  It contains a 16th century column surmounted by a gold statue of Mary.  The base has cherubs at each corner defeating symbols of the four greatest threats to the city at that time:  the dragon of war, the lion of hunger, the rooster-headed monster of plague and the serpent of–wait for it–Protestant heresy.

Marienplatz

Marienplatz.  Look at that cherub kicking some Protestant serpent butt!  (Note:  I do not endorse kicking anyone’s butt, Protestant or otherwise.)

You can’t escape the memory of WWII.  From the museum I mentioned above, to the fact that anything old only looks that way after being rebuilt, the shadow looms long.

The name Bier can get you anywhere.  The entire desk staff at the hotel knows us and our name.  In fact, the concierge was palpably confused when I told her that people back home are often reluctant to pronounce our last name correctly when reading it aloud for the first time for fear of offending us.  (We tend to get a lot of “Buyer” type pronounciation.)  The hotel bartender gladly received instruction on how to make a proper Wisconsin brandy old fashioned.  (The German version is basically brandy over ice with a slice of orange and a hint of bitters).

20170723_202823

Hofbrauhaus conviviality built on Bier–literally & figuratively.

Uncle Jim has pulled out his driver’s license so many times to flash his name that I’m thinking of getting a lanyard type situation for him to just wear it around his neck. This was done to greatest effect at the Hofbrauhaus, where Gene managed to score us a table for 10 in an impossibly crowded courtyard and a new friendship culminated in shared beers, gingerbread hearts, and hearty handshakes.

There’s always room for dessert.

20170723_202610

Apple strudel. The polite and of the table and . . .

 

20170723_202607

our end of the table.  How’d that hole get in the table?

 

20170723_202837

 

 

Bier Trip to the Homeland

After years of muttering about how we “really oughta,” we’re doing it.  We’re taking all of the rich first-hand narrative information about our family history and doing a mission of discovery.  I along with an assortment of my Bier relatives are spending our first night in Munich.

20170722_121732

Our guide, Christiane Haack. She was quite popular holding this sign in the arrivals hall.

This trip was about two years in the making, and we set up an itinerary to accomplish several things:

  • Go back to Ketzelsdorf (Koclirov) and see the village that our ancestors left behind.  
  • See a little of the other villages that other relatives came from (more on this later)
  • Stop by the nearest big city, Prague
  • Take in a smattering of German and Bavarian culture in Munich.

The trip ranges from my parents at the older end of the spectrum to my cousin, Nick Laning, who is 17.   Here’s a fun little tree to see how we’re all related and who’s along for the ride.   The tree is set up in relation to my great grandfather, Edward Bier.  He’s the youngest of Valentine’s kids, and the most recent common relative of us all.  Trip participants are circled:

Edward A Bier Hourglass Chart

We spent this first day getting here, wandering around the city in bleary-eyed fascination and taking in a delicious dinner of sauerbraten, bread dumplings and bier at the Augustiner Keller Biergarten, proudly serving Augustiner bier which has been brewed since 1328!

20170722_201829

Louise Bier and dessert and some scrap metal on the wall that we sat next to.

Now I’m in bed writing and the younger and heartier of the group are out pub hopping.   Also Uncle Jim. For my family, discovering our “German roots” is not proving to be that much of a stretch!

20170722_205659

Mom and Dad walking home from Augustiner Keller

20170722_180408

Discovering our German roots in the hotel bar–Bier and Riesling

Quote

Valentine Bier Family: Part II

Valentine Bier-Catherine Jiru Family Portrait

Catherin (Jiru) Bier, c. 1890

Left Behind:  March, 1882

When we last left Catherine, she had said goodbye to her husband, Valentine, to fend for her brood in Ketzelsdorf while he attempted to secure enough funds to sponsor their passage to America.  Recall that the family had already been reduced to destitution after Valentine had nearly died from smallpox.  Charles was only about 2 1/2 years old at the time, but later paid close attention to the stories passed down to him by his older siblings and his parents.  Looking back as an adult, Father Charles Bier writes:

Meanwhile mother was trying to keep herself and her flock of six youngsters from starving.  Now the creditors who had loaned my father the cash to go into the grain business began to worry that they might not get their money back, so they simply came and took whatever property was removable.  There was a cow, two goats, a few geese and chickens and some garden tools and implements.  This would have driven mother to the verge of despair had it not been for the help she received from some friends and relatives.  —Memoirs of an Old Recluse

During all of this, Catherine gave birth to her seventh child, Amalia, at the end of July.  This means that Valentine left his wife when she was five months pregnant!  Can you imagine how scared she must have been?

Valentine’s Journey:  March-April, 1882

Valentine Bier-Catherine Jiru Family Portrait

Valentine Bier, abt. 1890

Valentine’s ticket was paid for by an old friend from Ketzelsdorf, Frank Huschka.  According to passenger lists, Frank Huschka had come to Wisconsin ten years earlier, in 1872, at the age of 22.  He had traveled with his 20-year-old wife, Flora.  Frank & Flora’s occupation was listed as “landleute,” loosely translated to “farmer, peasant, country person.”  Frank was about 8 years younger than Valentine, born in 1850.  After the passenger list, I am unable to pick up the trail of Frank & Flora Huschka save for the recollections of Father Charles Bier.  He notes that after ten years in America, when Frank sent Valentine a ticket for passage, he was still struggling with poverty.  And yet he still found it within himself to help out an old friend.

Valentine traveled on a ship called the Elbe, as did his family after him.  Wikipedia tells us that the ship was practically brand new at the time, having been launched in April 1881.  The Elbe was the first of a series of eleven express steamers known as the “Rivers Class,” as they were all named after German rivers.   The Elbe had accommodation for 179 First Class passengers, 142 in Second Class, and 796 in Steerage. She was a very popular ship with immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe to the United States and was virtually always sold out in steerage.  Not surprisingly, Valentine’s ticket was in steerage!  He landed in Baltimore and took a train to Janesville, Wisconsin.

As the smallpox had badly scarred his face he never shaved again but grew a heavy black beard, now sprinkled with gray.  When he arrived at the R.R. station in Janesville, Wis., Mr. Huschka did not recognize him as he looked more like a “weary willy” than the respectable friend of former days.  He was then hired as a farm hand at $18.00 a month. —Memoirs of an Old Recluse

That $18.00 a month translates into about $400 per month in today’s currency–and he was trying to secure eight people’s passage.  Between April and July, he did it.

The Journey Home:  July-November, 1882

In July, 1882, Catherine received the bittersweet news that, with the help of friends, Valentine had secured the family’s passage to join him.  Father Charles captures some of the trepidation she must have felt:

This gave new hope to mother, although the thought of undertaking such a trip with seven small children was like a nightmare to her.  Yet the hope of finding a better home, and again living with her husband, buoyed her up with new courage and the determination to leave her onetime happy home, her friends and kinfolks, her parish church and school and all that had been dear to her since the days of her childhood . . . Truly sad for her were the last few days she spent in Ketzelsdorf, preparing for the dreaded voyage and the departure that left no hope of ever coming back . . . When the moment came to bid farewell to her mother and sisters and brothers she was overwhelmed with sadness and grief.  Her oft repeated prayer was:  “God’s will be done!” —Memoirs of an Old Recluse

[Note:  Catherine’s mother and brothers, Johanna, Frank & Florian Jiru, were to join them in about three years’ time.  I have no further record of her sisters save their mention in this passage.]  The family took the same route that Valentine did:  departure from Bremen, Germany.  Two to three weeks on board the Elbe in steerage.  Arrival in Baltimore.  Train to Janesville.  With seven kids, the youngest of which was an infant.  The oldest were 12 and 13.  Yikes.

Perhaps that voyage from Moravia to America with seven small children, the youngest of which was only a babe of three months, can be more easily imagined than described.  The older children had to carry as many bundles and packages as they could and when changing trains I also had to be carried as I was less than three years of age.  We spent over two weeks on board the ship Elbe.  This was a sailboat equipped with some additional steam power.  We had to travel in the lowest class called steerage which affords the least and poorest accommodations.  All the children became seasick but mother was spared from this affliction.  When the sea was rough and the ship rocked from side to side we often bumped together and fell over each other.  This made me cross and irritable so that in later years they used to tell me how angry I became when that happened and how I used to shout and tell them not to push me like the cows.  The food we got on board the ship was very poor.  There was no milk and the butter and meats were saturated with salt.  We felt so sick most of the time that we could not have eaten even good food. — Memoirs of an Old Recluse

S.S. Elbe Ship

S.S. Elbe, 1881

Before we leave the Elbe, it’s worth mentioning that the ship had a brief life and an interesting fate.  Thirteen years later, in 1895, she met her demise:

The night of 30 January 1895 was stormy.  In the North Sea, conditions were freezing and there were huge seas. SS Elbe had left Bremerhaven for New York earlier in the day with 354 passengers aboard. Also at sea on this rough night was the steamship Crathie, sailing from Aberdeen in Scotland, heading for Rotterdam. As conditions grew worse, the Elbe discharged warning rockets to alert other ships to her presence. The Crathie either did not see the warning rockets or chose to ignore them. She did not alter her course, with such disastrous consequences, that she struck the liner on her port side with such force that whole compartments of the Elbe were immediately flooded. The collision happened at 5.30 am and most of the passengers were still asleep.The Elbe began to sink immediately and the captain, von Goessel, gave the order to abandon ship. Amid great scenes of panic the crew managed to lower two of the Elbe‘s lifeboats. One of the lifeboats capsized as too many passengers tried in vain to squeeze into the boat. Twenty people scrambled into the second lifeboat, of whom 15 were members of the crew. The others were four male second-class passengers and a young lady’s maid by the name of Anna Boecker, who had been lucky enough to be pulled from the raging sea after the first boat had capsized. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Elbe, Captain von Goessel had ordered all the women and children to assemble there but no other lifeboats were launched because the ropes on the derricks were all frozen up, and so they perished along with the captain. Within 20 minutes of the collision, the Elbe had sunk and the only survivors were the 20 people in the one surviving lifeboat.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Elbe_(1881)

Baltimore Harbor, Locust Point

Locust Point, Baltimore Harbor. Abt. 1860.

Catherine and the children landed in Baltimore Harbor on November 13, 1882.  While we all know of Ellis Island as a significant point of entry, Baltimore Harbor was the second most popular arrival point for immigrants to the United States at the time.  Disembarkation was fairly straightforward when compared to the process at Ellis Island and Elsewhere.  Doctors and officials boarded the ships as they steamed up the Chesapeake Bay.  The B&O railroad had even constructed two huge buildings that served as terminals for both arriving ships and departing rail cars.  (Connery, William.  “Point of Entry:  Baltimore, the Other Ellis Island.”)

After arriving at Baltimore we were all vaccinated while in quarantine.  This did not leave any ill effects as it seems we had all become immune to smallpox during father’s illness. — Memoirs of an Old Recluse

This statement is interesting and may reveal some provincial resistance to vaccination harbored by the Biers and/or lack of availability of the vaccine.  Vaccination to smallpox had been introduced into Europe in the 1790’s.  (Carrell, Jennifer Lee.  The Speckled Monster:  A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox.)

Reunited:  November, 1882

Catherine and seven children traveled several days by rail from Baltimore to Janesville, Wisconsin.

My earliest recollection of any event of which I took notice and of which there is still a faint inkling in my memory, happened on the train as we traveled from Baltimore to Chicago.  It was that of a negro porter announcing the time for lunch.  We did not know what he said [recall that they spoke not a word of English] but it was the color of his face that lingered in my memory. — Memoirs of an Old Recluse

 

Janesville RR depot c. 1900

Janesville railroad depot, c. 1900

Catherine and the children disembarked the train and were met by Valentine, whom they had not seen for over eight months, and his sponsor & friend, Frank Huschka.

 

 

 

 The meeting of mother and dad was pathetic.  They both wept like lovelorn pilgrims, once more happily reunited.  It was the first time that dad had seen the baby and he had a pet name for each one of us.  While this reunion gave him much joy he also bewailed the fact that he had not been able to provide a decent home for the family.  After loading our luggage on the wagon we all piled on for our first American “buggy ride.” — Memoirs of an Old Recluse

The description is so heartbreakingly human;  it animates the somber faces that otherwise exist only as frozen visages in photographs.  Imagine how relieved Catherine and Valentine were.  I wonder what the individual pet names for each child were?

Lumber wagon c. 1880

Lumber wagon c. 1880. This is the type of humble conveyance that transported the reunited Bier family.

 

What a relief, readers.  So now the hard part is over, right?  Wrong . . .

 

Quote

Valentine Bier Family Overview, or “Hey, you, pay attention!”

Before I continue on with the narrative of the Valentine Bier family, I want to give a brief summary of his progeny and descendants.  I always appreciate a “cast of characters” summary at the beginning of a particularly confusing novel, and this is certainly confusing.  Remember:  you can always refer back to the Valentine Bier Descendants summary page if you ever get confused.  As I’m working on my genealogy, I always like to keep a very brief family tree handy.

Jiru-Bier Women Four Generation Portrait

Johanna Jiru, taken abt. 1904

Not to spoil the surprise, but the whole family eventually made it to the United States.  Also coming along with them was Catherine’s mother, Johanna JIRU.  She appears in a number of family photographs and is mentioned in family diaries.  No matter if everyone else is frowning in a picture, she always has a spunky grin on her face.  She appears to have weighed no more than 80 pounds at any given time.  Two of her sons emigrated around the same time as her daughter, Catherine, did.  Their names were Frank and Florian and they both settled in Janesville, Wisconsin, as well.  I hope to learn more about the Jiru family during our upcoming trip back to Bohemia this summer.

OK, now onto the rest of the family.  Valentine’s parents, as previously mentioned, died in his childhood, and I don’t know about Catherine (Jiru) Bier’s father, and her mother, Johanna is accounted for.  They had ten kids, and a lot of familiar Rock County names spring up amongst their descendants.  Here’s a summary, so share with your friends:

 

Valentine Bier-Catherine Jiru Family Portrait

Valentine Bier Family, taken abt. 1890. Back row L-R: Charles, Frank, Louis, Anna, Frances, Amalia. Seated L-R: John, Valentine, Catherine, Johanna Jiru. Kids on laps: Emily, Edward, Carrie

This portrait is a copy of a copy.  It was taken about 1890, and in diaries is noted as being the first formal portrait ever created of the family.  Note how Johanna Jiru’s bird-like face bears a smile!  (Aside:  If anyone has the original of this, I’d love a scanned copy.  And, I’m always happy to share my information as well.)

Each of the kid’s story is interesting in its own right and will be summarized eventually.  For now: shorthand.  My goal is to give you a thumbnail sketch of each individual and highlight some descendants’ names in the hope that these families, too, might be directed to the blog.  Here we go:

CAST OF CHARACTERS:  THE KIDS

 

 

  1. Edward, John, Louis, Frank & Charles Bier

    John A. Bier. Taken abt 1905.

    1. John Bier was born in Ketzelsdorf and died in Janesville.  He left home at 15 to begin working as a hired hand in order to support the family.  He married Bertha SCHMIDLEY.  They had three daughters whose married surnames were ROETHLE, LANNON & MCCUE.

 

 

Jiru-Bier Women Four Generation Portrait

Four generations: Johanna (?) Jiru, Catherine (Jiru) Bier, Frances (Bier) Hanauska, Mary Agnes Bier. Taken abt. 1905 in Janesville, Wisconsin

2.  Frances (Bier) Hanauska was born in Ketzelsdorf and died in Wisconsin.  She married Wenzel HANAUSKA.  Theirs is a good example of families from the same village moving en masse and resuming life in a new location.  Wenzel Hanauska’s family was from Ketzelsdorf as well.  His sister, Anna Hanauska, married Catherina Jiru’s brother, Frank Jiru, and they both died in Janesville.  Frances started working out of the home as a hired girl at the age of 13.  Three years’ wages bought the family’s first team of horses.  Frances always appears serious and somber in photos, and I imagine that a life of hard work has something to do with it.  She and Wenzel had five children.  Two boys carried on the Hanauska name in the area, and I went to high school with one of their descendants–Leigh Hanauska Kelz.  One daughter became a nun, one remained single, and one became a GANSER.

 

 

Edward, John, Louis, Frank & Charles Bier

Louis A. Bier, abt. 1905

3.  Louis Bier was also born in Ketzelsdorf and died in Iowa, after farming most of his life outside of Janesville.  My dad remembers him as always speaking with a thick, thick German accent, wearing a bushy mustache, and smoking a pipe.  He married Frances PARR, who was also born in Austria although I need to determine which town.  There are a lot of Parrs around Janesville, and people are always asking me to figure out “how we’re related to the Parrs.”  Well, this is about the sum of it.  Some of the names of their first generation of descendents in addition to Bier include:  MUELLER, PETERS, and KORTH.

 

 

Anna Bier

Anna (Sister Veronica) Bier

4.  Anna Bier was born in Ketzelsdorf and died in Oakland, California.  She joined the Little Sisters of the Poor and became Sister Veronica.  She took a vow of extreme poverty, begging on the streets to support the mission, and never returned home after joining the convent.

 

 

Edward, John, Louis, Frank & Charles Bier

Frank Bier, abt. 1905

5.  Frank Bier was born in Ketzelsdorf and died in Iowa.  He eventually gave up farming and became a railroad man.  He married Mary KLEIN, who was a great friend to the girls in the family.  Her family lived “in town” in Janesville.  Frank and Mary had 8 children.  Three of the boys became priests, and surnames found in their first generation of descendants include Bier, and RADDENBACH.  Finally, I think that we can all agree that Frank’s cheekbones are ridiculous and that he is a bit of a dreamboat.

 

 

Edward, John, Louis, Frank & Charles Bier

Father Charles Bier, abt. 1905

6.  Charles Bier was born in Ketzelsdorf and died in Janesville.  He became a priest, starting off a run of Catholic religious in the family that ended in my dad’s generation because, for some reason, neither he nor any of his cousins really seemed to enjoy the seminary all that much.  Charles’s diaries, when stacked up, are over a foot thick.  His commentary provides much of the color and detail that make this story so interesting.

 

 

 

Charles, Edward, Emily, Frances, Amalia Bier

Amalia (Bier) Bott

7.  Amalia Bier was born in Ketzelsdorf and died in Wisconsin.  She married James BOTT, who promptly died after the birth of their fifth child.  Amalia is the one who caught smallpox as an infant prior to emigrating.  Before getting married, Amalia also worked out of the home as a hired girl and traveled between the homes of her elder brothers helping to care for their wives after childbirth.  In pictures of her as an old lady she always looks just done with it all, and I imagine that all told, she had a pretty rough life.  In addition to one nun, the other children passed on the Bott and SHERIDAN names through marriage.

 

 

Valentine Bier-Catherine Jiru Family Portrait

Caroline Bier, abt. 1890

8.  Caroline Bier was the first of the children born in Wisconsin.  She lived at home her entire life and suffered from some  form of epilepsy.

 

 

 

Charles, Edward, Emily, Frances, Amalia Bier

Emily (Bier) Gassert

9.  Emily Bier was born in Wisconsin.  She married Joseph GASSERT and raised a family in Milwaukee.  One of her sons was a priest and the rest of the next generation can be found under the names Gassert, MEULER, REITER.  Of all of the Valentine Bier clan, Emily had the most grandchildren:  26!  Despite this she always smiles benignly in her photos.

 

 

Edward, John, Louis, Frank & Charles Bier

Edward A. Bier, abt. 1905

Finally, Edward Bier was the last, and was born and died in Janesville.  He was born when Valentine and Catherine were both 47 and started becoming an uncle to his older siblings’ children shortly thereafter.  In fact his wife, Rosalia ROETHLE was sister to one of John Bier’s daughter’s husbands.  Think about that for awhile!  Ed and Rosalia had 4 boys, one of whom became a priest and the rest of whom scattered Biers including my own family all over the Rock Prairie.  I never met him, but he just always looks so austere in his photos!

 

Sooooo, that’s it.  Remember, names who might be interested in this topic and should be directed accordingly include:

BIER, BOTT, GANSER, GASSERT, HANAUSKA, KLEIN, KORTH, JIRU, LANNON, MCCUEOETHLE, MEULER, MUELLER, PARR, PETERS, RADDENBACH, REITER, SCHMIDLEY, & SHERIDAN

 

Do any of you remember anything about any of these original ten?  Please comment below!

 

 

Quote

Valentine: The beginning

This is the post that really began it all.  On Valentine’s Day of this year I shared a version of this essay on Facebook, with modest success and frustration over my inability to share it exactly as I’d hoped, hence the blog. This will be the first in a regular series of posts sharing what I’ve learned about my family’s history.  I hope to make them interesting and informative.  I hope that you will share them with other people, and ask questions in the comments to guide me.

–Angie

Valentine Bier

Valentine Bier

Introduction to the Valentine Bier Story

There are Biers all over the world, however I am confident in saying that all of the Southern Wisconsin Biers are related, having descended from brothers Anton and Valentine Bier.  Valentine Bier was born on 14 Feb 1842 in Ketzelsdorf, a village in the then Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Because he was born on the feast of St. Valentine, he was named accordingly.   He eventually married and had ten children.   One of these children became a priest named Father Charles Bier, whom many of my readers may remember. He was a prolific diarist.  His writings figure prominently in much of the work I will share.

According to his and other family diaries, the Biers had lived in Ketzelsdorf for several generations.  Valentine and Anton’s parents were named Johann Bier and Victoria Baar.  I learned their names off of a copy of a baptismal certificate from one of their grandchildren.  Both Johann and Victoria were deceased by the time of the recording of that baptism in 1886.  Some family diaries indicate that Johann and Victoria actually died quite some time before that, during Valentine’s childhood, leaving him and his brother, Anton, orphans.

The Biers had lived in Ketzelsdorf for several generations.  Interestingly, the village of Ketzelsdorf no longer exists, and yet it does exist.  To understand this dichotomy, one must appreciate a bit about the history of that part of the world.  This history will also explain to you why, when asked where the Biers are from, it is most accurate to answer:  “Bohemia.”

A very brief history of Germans in Bohemia (relying heavily on Wikipedia):

Bohemia occupies the western-most region of what is now the Czech Republic.  The other two regions that make up the Czech Republic are known as Moravia and Silesia.  During the past 2,000 years, Bohemia has been many things:  a duchy of Greater Moravia, an independent principality, a kingdom, part of the Holy Roman Empire, and a part of the Habsburg Monarchy and the Austrian Empire.  When Valentine Bier was born in the village of Ketzelsdorf in 1842, Bohemia was part of the Austrian Empire. So, in some documents and census records, he lists his birthplace as “Austria” or, at times, “Germany.”

During that time, the German and Czech populations of Bohemia and its neighbor, Moravia, coexisted although one or the other tended to dominate certain regions.  The village of Ketzelsdorf was a German village, as was much of that region.

During WWII, Nazi Germany annexed regions with sizeable German-speaking populations of the three Czech lands of  Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia;  the Reich named the region The Sudetenland.  Thus, when Valentine’s son, Charles, became a priest in the 1930’s, he wrote:

Near the geographic center of Europe is the Sudetenland. It was formerly a part of Austria but in World War II it was annexed to Germany by Hitler. Now it is a part of Czechoslovakia which has become a Russian satellite

–Father Charles Bier, “Why I Became A Priest”

Sometimes ethnic Germans from this Nazi-controlled region were referred to as “Sudeten Germans.”  Later, in 1969, these Czech lands (including Bohemia) were given autonomy within Czechoslovakia as the Czech Socialist Republic. At that time, all of the German names for things were replaced with Czech eponyms.  Thus, Ketzelsdorf ceased to exist;  it is now called Koclírov.  Concurrently, ethnic Germans that remained were forcibly relocated.  In 1990, the region’s name was changed to the Czech Republic, which became a separate state in 1993 with the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

 

bohemia-moravia-silesia-on-the-map-of-czech-republic

Czech Republic:  Courtesy of OnTheWorldMap.com

Valentine married a local girl, Catherine Jiru, on 11 February 1868 at the Catholic church in Ketzelsdorf.  The parish church was called St. Philomena’s, and it still exists as St. Philomena and St. Jacob church.  Koclírov currently has a population of about 700.

st-philomena-jacob-church-ketzelsdorf

St. Philomena & Jacob Catholic Church.  Courtesy: Wikipedia

 

Father Charles writes his parents’ lives in Ketzelsdorf:

Originally it had been known as Langendorf (long village) but after a fire had destroyed most of the village it was called Ketzelsdorf, which means a shortened village.  There is only one street that runs through the entire village and the houses are numbered from 1 up to 200.  It was in house number 78 that . . . had been occupied by the Bier ancestors for several generations.

-Father Charles Bier, Memoirs of An Old Recluse

The family truly scraped by in Ketlzelsdorf:

They and their parents before them had been making their living by renting a few acres of land on which they grew flax, rye and some vegetables.  The flax crop was their main source of income.  From the fiber of flax-straw they manufactured linen cloth.  During the fall and winter months the flax straw had to be cured, processed, scotched, swingled and then the fibers had to be spun into threads.  After that the thread was woven into linen cloth with a hand-loom.  This was a long and tedious process and brought but very scant returns in cash.  Figuring the price they got for a yard of this linen cloth, and computing it with the amount of labor required to produce it, the earning amounted to less than one cent an hour.  It was hard to make ends meet on such an income even while the family was small, but as the family grew larger it became impossible.

Old World Wisconsin raises flax and processes into linen for visitors.  Here’a a video on the process that someone made.  I commend a visit to OWW to you!  Interestingly, the phrases “flaxen-haired”  and “tow-headed” both reference the flax-to-linen making process.

Around the same time, Valentine contracted smallpox.  He somehow survived, and wore a full beard for the rest of his life to cover the devastating scars.  During his illness, however, the family’s lot became dire indeed:

Due to the unfortunate illness of my father we were reduced to extreme poverty and want.  In this desperate situation my father appealed to some friends who had come to America.  At their invitation, but with heavy hearts and gloomy prospects my parents decided to leave the old home and relatives and friends and seek their fortune in far-away America.

 

Of course, the family could not all travel together;  there wasn’t enough money.  Valentine couldn’t even afford his own ticket–he was sponsored by a friend in Wisconsin.  So, Valentine left Catherine to fend for her brood of six children, soon to be seven.  Did I mention that Catherine was pregnant?  So, Valentine sailed alone on the Elbe, from Bremen toward Baltimore, a route frequently taken by Germans emigrating at the time, trusting in the promise of friends awaiting him across the sea.  He’d likely never traveled more than 10 miles from home prior to this.

 

What would happen during his journey?  What would he find on his arrival?  And what of Catherine and the seven children left behind in Ketzelsdorf?