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.

 

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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

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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…

 

 

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!  

 

 

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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 . . .

 

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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!