All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Aunt Ruth’s Jewels

Why the Amethyst Jewelry?
Opal ring
My great-aunt Ruth had some wonderful jewelry. In looking it over, I have been wondering why in her collection of birthstone jewelry, she had amethysts. Her own birthstone was the opal, and she had some opal rings, or her sister did. Her sister was also born in October.
Opal and seed pearl ring

Garnet brooch and ring
Her mother, Laura, was born in January, so her birthstone was the garnet. She had some beautiful garnets, including a brooch and ring that we were always told had been bought off a Russian aristocrat after the 1918 Revolution.

Jade necklace
Aunt Ruth favored green jewelry, especially jade. She had some beautiful jade pieces. One of her jade necklaces was set in old silver, with each lozenge intricately carved. She had a lot of great costume jewelry in a number of shades of green as well.
Shades of green!
Aunt Ruth also had a several topaz pieces in a distinctive golden color. Topaz is the November birthstone. Both the Boedefeld grandparents, Katherina and Ferdinand, were born in November. Perhaps the topaz pieces were theirs. I have no idea what the actual age of the jewelry is, but the watch chain at least seems to be from the nineteenth century and could have belonged to Ferdinand. What era the pendant is from I cannot tell. I have not been able to find anything like it online and jewelers specializing in antiques are not thick on the ground around here. Same goes for the topaz brooch. But the ring is still in its original box, labeled Elkhart, Indiana, which dates it to between 1896 and 1921, when Ferdinand Joseph Boedefeld and his wife Laura Worsley lived there. It is a very large size, just right for a man. Perhaps Ferdinand bought it and wore it in memory of his parents.


Various costume jewelry brooches, some glass, some jewels, some enamel

19th century rosary
Besides the topaz jewelry, Aunt Ruth had an old rosary in her possession. Since she was not a Catholic, but her Boedefeld grandparents were, this probably belonged to them. The story is that it belonged to old Ferdinand Boedefeld. We also have an old German Catholic prayer book with his name written in it, and his birth date in 1809. It was supposed to have been given to his son Ferdinand Joseph, his namesake. I have to be glad that primogeniture was not the belief of that branch of my family, or I would never have these treasures—there were three brothers older than Ferdinand Joseph.


Amethyst jewelry
The amethyst jewelry is a little harder to figure out. Ferdinand Joseph Boedefeld was born in February, so this was his birthstone, and perhaps the watch chain was his as well. But the pendant and earrings are for a lady to wear. I can make a guess that Laura wore them in his honor, but that is only a guess. I read somewhere that in the nineteenth century amethysts became the rage everywhere, and then again in the art deco period of jewelry making, amethysts again were extremely popular. Maybe the birthstone connection is there, but it does not have to be the reason for wearing such a lovely stone. I would wear it a lot if it were mine.

The earrings used to be the screw type, but my mother found them very uncomfortable and changed them to these clips. I think maybe the two amethyst drops originally hung at the top of the large pendant, but that is because of the style of the topaz pendant. I love the look of the setting. When I was in high school I used to raid my mother’s jewelry box after she had gone to work in the morning. I wore the earrings to school more than once, back when they were still the screw type. I wished I could have pierced ears in those days, but my parents would not give permission. As soon as I went off to college I had my ears pierced. The screw type earrings were the closest thing in those days to pierced earrings.

Finally, in my catalog of Aunt Ruth’s jewels are a couple of delicate necklaces. I don’t wear a lot of silver, but the silver and crystal necklace is an exceptional piece. It is one of the most beautiful in its simplicity and elegance, so I do wear it often. The other, a piece crafted for one of the organizations that Aunt Ruth belonged to, I used to wear when I was younger but not much anymore. Still, it is a pretty thing.


Having made a habit out of watching Antiques Roadshow, I have to look over my pieces and think whether any of them is a hidden treasure, but no. These are all valuable for their family connection, and that is all. Every time I look at them or wear any of them, I think of Aunt Ruth, and that is a great reason to keep them for themselves.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Aunt Ruth, Affectionately

I had the privilege of knowing my great-aunt Ruth for 21 years before she died. Not just knowing her, but becoming friends the older I grew. I plan to write about her in stages, the first being my personal recollections with a little cursory research. I have a lot of sources to read through for further entries in her life story. I wrote a post in here years ago about another “unattached” aunt and had always planned to add Aunt Ruth’s story to that series, but I haven’t done it until now because her story is so much more involved than that of Fannie Ginders.

My great-aunt Ruth was one of my favorite people. I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate her until I was older, but at least I grew to appreciate her enough while she was still alive that we became somewhat friends despite the 60+ years between our ages.

Ruth Malona Boedefeld was born in Tacoma, Washington on October 4, 1892, joining her five-year-old sister Beatrice in the family. The two sisters became fast friends.

The little family moved back east to Elkhart, Indiana, when the girls were still small, and there they grew up. They had a wide circle of friends, always headed by Bee, who was the acknowledged leader of all their acquaintance. She was called “Queen Bee,” and Ruth was her first attendant in her court.

They imagined all kinds of games and thought up plays and elaborate costumed scenarios to enact on the long summer days between school years.

Ruth completed her schooling in Elkhart in 1911 or 1912, and then she cast about for something more to do. Her sister was working for the local newspaper, and when she left to spend the summer of 1916 in Yellowstone National Park, Ruth took her place as a substitute reporter. Bee was a gifted writer, but Ruth’s talent filled in very well.

Ruth was always active in the Episcopal Church. She grew up in a musical family, with all the members of the family singing in the church choir. She participated in all the church socials as well, and she taught in the Sunday schools. She played the piano very well, but she didn’t continue with it after she was an adult.

Ruth was an attractive young woman, with naturally curly red hair and sparkling blue eyes, a dimple in her chin and a cute upturned nose. She had a lot of boyfriends, more even than her vivacious sister. But somehow none of them quite worked out permanently.

When the World War came along in 1917, Ruth began training to be a nurse. She joined the Army and went to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. Nurses were assigned as lower-grade officers to keep them from fraternizing with the enlisted men, but of course human nature got around the rules and the young women were often out on dates with the men.

Ruth was out on a group date with a couple of her fellow nurses and an enlisted man for each of them when she had an accident. They had a jeep, and the roads in those days were mostly not paved yet. We don’t know where they were, but it was likely a moonlight picnic out in the country somewhere, because as they were returning to drop the nurses off at the hospital, they hit an almighty bump at too great a speed, and Ruth was bounced right out of the jeep onto the road! It hurt a great deal, but she didn’t think anything was broken. Her fellow nurses got her into the hospital and treated her as well as they could, but they couldn’t report it or get a doctor to look at her, because then they all would have been facing official punishment, as well as involving the enlisted men, which could have led to pretty serious problems for all of them.

So Ruth suffered and got along as best she could. The accident had life-long consequences for her though. She became lame from arthritis in that hip before she was 40, and for the rest of her life she shuffled with increasing difficulty, relying ever more heavily on her grandfather’s famous Civil War cane for support.

But it didn’t stop her from having plenty of adventures. She was a full-fledged nurse, and after the War was over, she went home and worked in the hospital there.

In 1922 her father died, and as her mother, who had been reared in Oregon, longed to return to her beloved Northwest, Ruth and her mother moved to Portland, Oregon. Bee had married and was living in Wyoming at the time; she had a baby son too, and Ruth and her mother were able to see them on the way to their new home. Bee and her little family soon moved to Portland too.

Ruth and a few of her professional colleagues decided to try starting a Visiting Nurses Association to provide home health care for people who couldn’t get out of their houses. It was a huge success and Ruth was active in the Association until her retirement.

Meanwhile, she and her mother did some traveling every time Ruth had a vacation. They took the train, which at the time could be quite a luxurious way to travel. And they had the money, thanks to Ruth’s earnings and careful handling of their finances, to go in style.

Sadly, Ruth’s sister, Bee, died in 1936, and Bee’s widowed husband remarried within a year. Ruth’s mother was furious. She didn’t consider that he had grieved long enough, and she felt that it was his duty to marry Ruth if he was going to remarry at all. Ruth did not share the feeling--while she liked her brother-in-law, she had no inclination at all to have a romance with him, let alone marry him.

But Ruth’s nephew was another story. She doted on the boy, and he loved his Aunt Ruth and his Grammy very much. His father was a traveling salesman, and he wasn’t at home very much. Ruth and her mother offered to take the boy into their home and see to it that he completed his education. When the father announced that he was going to marry again, the boy was very excited. He liked his father’s girlfriend very much and was happy that his dad was going to be happy again. But when he took his exciting news home to his Grammy and Aunt Ruth, there was a terrible scene. He was told never to mention his father’s name again in that house. There was a further terrible fight between his father and his grandmother, and his grandmother won. The boy remained in her and Aunt Ruth’s household for the rest of his high school career, and beyond.

Ruth did not feel the same way her mother did. She liked her brother-in-law’s new wife, and she made friends as far as was possible. She convinced her mother that the boy must be allowed to visit regularly at his father’s house and to participate in his father’s family.

World War II started, and Ruth’s nephew had graduated from high school and after a few odd jobs started working for Boeing Aircraft. He received a draft notice in Seattle and decided to enlist. Because of his technical high school background and high marks on the tests the Army gave him, he was sent for further training to various colleges, one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, then a transfer to New Mexico, and finally he was posted to Point Barrow, Alaska, to work on the communications system for the entire Pacific Theater. Ruth and her mother were extremely proud of their boy. They were also relieved that because of his intelligence and skills, he was not sent into combat.

Ruth’s mother had a stroke just before she turned 80, and she died in January 1945. Ruth sent a telegram to her nephew, but he couldn’t come home yet. Ruth settled her mother’s estate and welcomed her nephew home in the springtime. He was out of the Army and began to use the G.I. Bill to finish his college training in electrical engineering at Oregon State College. So Ruth was alone once more.

She continued nursing and working on community projects.

Her nephew met a young woman in 1947 and married her in the spring of 1948 when the couple both graduated—he with his bachelor’s degree, and she with her high school diploma. They moved immediately to Pennsylvania where he began working in the infant picture-tube industry at the dawn of television.

Ruth and a friend decided to visit the Orient on their next vacation. In the early 1950s they took a cruise to Hawaii and Japan. They were gone several months and brought back wonderful things.

When Ruth’s nephew and his wife had children, Ruth knitted them socks every year. Her argyle socks were always a feature of Christmas morning gifts. She knitted each child a special Christmas stocking, with the child’s name knitted right into the sock at the top, and little Christmas pictures knitted into the sides of the stocking.

Her nephew was transferred to California, and every fall Ruth took the train from Portland south to the Bay Area to visit them for a week or two around her birthday. She loved being around her nephew and his family. The children were certainly a rambunctious, noisy crowd, but she never minded. She had a great sense of humor and laughed a lot.

She had a hard time by then getting around. It hurt her to walk, and she moved with difficulty everywhere she went.

When she would come down to California to visit us, we always spent a day going to see her cousin Clara, who lived north of San Francisco. Clara was actually the widow of her cousin Ralph, who had died in the 1930s. But Clara and Ruth were close friends, and Clara always welcomed us. Well, she welcomed our parents, and my sister and me, who were pretty quiet girls. But our brothers, not so much. Our four older brothers were the noisy, rambunctious ones, and as soon as they were old enough to leave home, our parents left them home. I always loved the drive up to Marin, across the Golden Gate Bridge. When I was little, I thought the tall red towers were giants, standing in the water and holding up the bridge by its cables.

Ruth lived in a beautiful old apartment in downtown Portland. In it she had a lot of old-fashioned furniture, and wonderful old photograph albums to look at. We went to Portland for Christmas in 1967 and spent a lot of the time visiting her at her apartment. I think we went there for Christmas dinner. I spent most of the time behind one of the chairs in the living room, stretched out on the rug, perusing those old photograph albums.

I saw the pictures of her trip to the Orient, and before that, trips to Canada and all around the USA. I saw pictures of when she was young, and of a certain boyfriend who accompanied Ruth and her parents on a picnic out in the woods somewhere in Indiana. Ruth and the boyfriend were holding both their hands and spinning in a circle in one picture, leaning back from each other and laughing. I thought it was the most romantic photograph ever and wanted to know what had happened to the boyfriend. I was most disappointed to hear that she didn’t know what had happened to him and couldn’t remember why they had even parted company. She didn’t even remember his name.

I could hardly believe it. How could she not remember anything about a boyfriend who had been important enough to invite on a family picnic with her parents, and whose photographs had been important enough to save throughout her life? I was sure I would never, ever forget a boyfriend that important, if I ever had one, of course.

I remember that Aunt Ruth had worn one of her green printed silk dresses for that dinner. She always wore pretty silk dresses, and she always had on hose and black heeled court shoes. She generally had on a bead necklace, but nothing expensive.

She let me go through her jewelry and gave me a beautiful, big opal ring that fit on my pinky finger. The opal was big, but the ring was tiny. I had small hands, so that pinky ring really was very small, though the opal itself covered from my knuckle to the joint where my finger started. My sister picked out a carnelian cameo ring. There were some other cameos that she gave us too. There was a gold pendant watch with the letter B engraved in very fancy script on the back that she gave me, and I immediately started wearing it, every day.

She gave me an amber ring that was much too big for any of my fingers. There was also an amber pendant that she gave me, and some other jewelry. Some of the jewelry I have now was first given to my mother, and when I liked it so much, she later gave it to me. I have all of the opal rings that the two sisters had, for both their birthdays were in October. They gave my mother an antique amethyst pendant on a silver chain, with matching amethyst drops attached to screw-type ear cuffs with tiny silver chains. Amethyst was my mother’s birthstone and had been Aunt Ruth’s father’s.

A few years after that Christmas Ruth was struggling on the steps to the basement where the laundry was for her apartment house. She fell and broke her hip.

My father took some days off work to fly to Portland and help her. I was given the grand opportunity to go along and take my first airplane trip. I was saddened to see Aunt Ruth, stuck in a bed and seeming very frail indeed.

My father and I had to go through her things, sort what was needed immediately, and hire a firm to have the rest packed up and shipped to our house in California. We had to see her lawyer, a very formidable and regal-looking old lady, probably one of the first women to become a lawyer in Oregon now that I think about it. She had a set of Dickens books in her office, and I couldn’t resist looking at them, but I didn’t touch anything. I just sat right by the bookcase and read and reread every title. She asked me if I would like to borrow one of the books, and I picked David Copperfield. She said I could borrow it if I promised to read it all, and if I would write to her what I thought. I promised, and that summer fell completely in love with that book.

We took Aunt Ruth on the plane with us to California and moved her into a nursing home near our house. We went every week to see her. Sometimes I thought it was a chore, but I was a teenager, firmly in the selfish, I’m-the-center-of-the-universe stage of life. Or maybe not so much, because I really liked Aunt Ruth’s stories. I had by then discovered my grandmother’s diaries, those of Ruth’s sister, Bee, in which she detailed all their youthful adventures. Aunt Ruth enjoyed discussing those stories with me and reliving all the fun they had had as young girls.

Aunt Ruth was determined to walk again. She went faithfully to her therapy every day, and one day she told us that she had something special to show us. She was helped into her wheelchair, and we were all taken down to the therapy room. She was positioned at the ends of the parallel bars, and she grasped them with her hands and hauled herself to her feet. With both hands on the parallel bars, she slowly and painfully made her way three or four steps forward. We cheered. I thought to myself that here was a kind of determination that I should try to emulate throughout my life. I felt admiration and love for her grow in me.

Aunt Ruth never did become able to to walk enough to move out of the nursing home and into our house. My mother was working and couldn’t take care of her needs, so she had to stay in the care center. She was able to come to our house every so often for special occasions, but as the years went by it was quite an ordeal for her and us.

When my parents moved to Oregon after I had graduated from high school, they intended to move Aunt Ruth with them but delayed until they had been able to build their house. I didn’t move to Oregon with them at that time. I was working and thinking whether I wanted to go to college or not. I didn’t own a car at the time; I rode everywhere on my bicycle and at night got rides with friends. I rode my bike every Sunday after church to see Aunt Ruth that year. We talked and talked. I told her all my adventures (I was having a lot of adventures in those days!) and we reminisced about the past a lot. I loved hearing more stories about my grandmother, who had died so many years before I was born.

I really missed Aunt Ruth after my parents moved her up to Oregon. Now I think I really missed my chance during all those conversations to get her to talk about herself. She never did talk much about her own life. She much preferred telling about others.

I went to Oregon on a vacation and went to see Aunt Ruth. She had become very frail and was no longer walking. It wasn’t as good a nursing home as the one in California. I left, very depressed about her situation.

I went off to college and in the summer back to Oregon to my parents’ home. We visited Aunt Ruth, but she was wandering in her mind and barely knew who we were. My sister and I were working for the summer, so we stayed home while our parents went down to California for the graduation of one of our brothers from University of California at Santa Barbara. While they were gone, Aunt Ruth died. We got a phone call from the nursing home, and we immediately went there to take care of things.

We met with the director, and with the mortician, and we arranged for the crypt at the mausoleum in Portland where Ruth’s mother and sister were entombed. When our parents came home, the four of us held our own little service for Aunt Ruth.

If I were within reach, I would leave her flowers every Sunday.

I will end this part with an Easter greeting card from the the era when Ruth would have sent them to her friends. Easter for her was the holiest day of the year, and since I am posting this on Maundy Thursday, she would have appreciated the card right now.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Aunt Agnes Had a Wild Side

One evening we were sitting around in Grammy’s kitchen, talking. My brother and I had a tape recorder hidden under the table—this was back before you could get in trouble for secretly recording your relatives—and we got the low-down on our great-aunt Agnes from Grammy and Aunt Dodie, who were her younger sisters. They weren’t really talking to us, you understand. They were reminiscing with each other while Grandpa and Dad and several uncles were over at the table talking about something else, and several aunts and our mother were gathered around the stove and sink.

Grammy’s kitchen was always a great place to hear family gossip. But the details of such stories, remembered over eight decades of their very long lives, weren’t always exactly the same from telling to telling, and as happens with practically all groups of siblings, when Aunt May (who was next in age to Agnes and years older than Grammy and Dodie) heard their version, she declared it didn’t happen that way at all and that they remembered things all wrong.

Now I’d better put in here for strict accuracy (if such a thing is possible with family stories handed down) that Aunt May was already dead when this particular tape recording was made. But she had lived for years and years and years near Auntie Vi, my Grammy’s eldest daughter who heard every story multiple times and stored them all away in her nearly-computer-perfect brain. Auntie Vi had a memory to beat everybody’s. And she told me that Grammy and Aunt Dodie had changed some of the details of the part of the conversation that had to do with what their older sister May had done to get in trouble when they were young. So maybe, I worried, they had changed things about Aunt Agnes too and I’d better drop this story from the history I was writing. No, Auntie Vi assured me. No, that part was true.

So here, excerpted from the history I wrote of that family, is the tale of how Aunt Agnes morphed into the very proper, very upright Christian lady that my mom knew from a somewhat wilder youth that my mom was very startled to learn about.

The Munro girls were motherless, to start with, and their father had a lot of trouble keeping a job, to the point that they had trouble keeping a roof over their heads. Their mother had died in 1899, when Dodie was only three years old. Jessie was four and a half, Lillie was six, May was ten (going on eleven), and Agnes was twelve. Their older brother John had gone blind from untreated conjunctivitis and had been taken as a charity case to the Arkansas School for the Blind and lived there for several years.

The U.S. Congress was busy as usual passing all kinds of bills, and one that had an impact on this little family had to do with water projects for the ever-thirsty, ever-growing western states. Father Munro took the children on the train and moved them to a little camp near Boise, Idaho, where he got work on the Boise Reclamation Project, which built a series of three dams on the Boise River in the early 1900s. John was over 18, so he went to work alongside his father. Agnes was left to take care of her sisters.

But Agnes was probably like a lot of teenage girls today, wild about boys and not so wild to be saddled with the daily care of a lot of troublesome little sisters. May cooked up a scheme for them to get some money by coating pennies with mercury and having little Dodie and Jessie take them into the candy store to pass off as dimes. When their father inevitably found out, the girls all got a whipping, no matter what their age was.

Agnes, around 1910
By December 1904 Agnes had had enough of that life and wanted complete freedom to do as she chose. She ran off Christmas eve with her then-boyfriend, Bill. They got married and Agnes found out soon enough that she had merely traded one kind of restrictive life for another. And it wasn’t whom she lived with that provided the restriction; it was lack of money.

She had two babies that died, and in 1907 she had a little girl who lived. That was in Oregon. She and Bill had followed her father and family after they had moved to the southern Oregon coast and later up to Portland. Agnes liked Portland. There was a lot going on there. She began exploring her options, and she divorced Bill. She lost her baby for a time, though we don’t know who took her in while Agnes couldn’t care for her. Agnes worked as a waitress and moved to a logging camp in the mountains where she did the cooking. Plenty of men and opportunities there.

Agnes and children, 1917
A tall, handsome Danish logger named Ame caught her eye, and she married him about 1914. The next year they had a son, and a year and a half later, a daughter. Agnes got her older daughter back, and Ame informally adopted her. Life in a logging camp was hard, but Agnes’s early life had prepared her for camping, and she liked the outdoors a lot.

But one day in 1922 her husband was in a terrible accident when a bridge trestle gave way over the Nehalem River as their logging train was crossing. The cars rolled over and over down the steep sides toward the river, coming to stop just above the water, with several of the men, including Ame pinned underneath. Rescuers got them all out and they were taken to the hospital in Portland, but Ame died the next day.

Whatever her wilder nature had wanted, Agnes faced the realities of her life and married again one year later. Her new husband, Ed, had little education and training, and he did whatever he could find. He worked as a laborer on the railroad at one point, and he drove a truck for the mail service at another. Agnes bore another son and another daughter.

Curiously, in 1930 when the census should have recorded Ed and Agnes with two little children ages 4 and 6, as well as the teenagers who were Agnes and Ame’s children, no children are recorded in their household except the teenage son and a 3-year-old grandson of a woman listed as a servant in their household. It is very odd. Where were all of Agnes’s children? Well, census records are notoriously inaccurate, so we don’t assume anything based on this odd report. But it is curious, given Agnes’s history.

One thing we know about the Munro sisters: they were very tight. They had each other’s backs throughout their lives and stayed loyal to one another. They took care of each other’s children and were there for each other through illnesses and accidents. No doubt they rallied to Agnes’s side through each of the calamities that she had undergone. Whether Agnes had a wild side or just a teenage longing to have some fun instead of having to accept the responsibilities of a grownup long before she should have had to, she settled into the role of caring for others throughout her life.

When her youngest daughter married at the age of 18 and bore a son a year later, Agnes had her stay with her because the young husband was away working. The day after the birth, Agnes heard a crash in the bathroom and rushed in, finding her daughter unconscious on the floor. She called for help and got her to the hospital, but sadly the daughter died of a pulmonary embolism. Agnes helped rear her grandson until the boy’s father married again.

Agnes’s husband Ed died two years after their daughter, and Agnes did not marry again.

I don’t know what happened to Agnes’s eldest daughter, the one from her first husband. She was living with her mother and Ame in 1920 in that logging camp, but after that she disappeared from all records. Except there is a death record for a girl of her name in February 1924, when she would have been 16 or 17 years old. (She had a rather common name, so I might have to buy the certificate to see if it’s hers. I wish all states would allow their death records to be published online after 50 years! Surely that would not cause a lot of identity theft, would it?)

Agnes’s other children grew up and married and had children of their own. I know some of the descendants of these children. I met Aunt Agnes only once, when she and Aunt May came with Grammy and Grandpa to visit us when I was young. She was a very nice person, warm like Grammy, with no hint to a young girl of any wild side.
Agnes, in a hat, in 1959, between her brother John and sister May

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Poor Isabella

I was looking again at the family of the Shoemaker of Pottsville that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. One of the daughters was Isabella Josephine, born 18 March 1856 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. We don’t know much about her early life, only that she was married before the spring when she was 30. That was when her father made his will in June 1886, and he named her “my dear daughter Isabella Hamilton, wife of William Hamilton.” Isabella would have been 30 and about 4 months old.


William Hamilton is a complete cypher. All we know is his name, that he married Isabella Josephine Boedefeld, and that he died before 1900.

In the late spring of 1900, we find Josephine Hamilton, a widow born in February 1856 in Pennsylvania, living with three other single people in a house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Josephine is described as a “housewife,” and she is a “boarder.” Of the other two women, both in their 20s and each a “saleslady,” the elder is the head of the house and the younger is a boarder like Josephine. The man, who is from Spain, is in the insurance business, is a naturalized citizen of 20 years or so and is called a “lodger.” He is also married, for 15 years, it is reported. Despite Josephine being reported to be a widow, under the number of years married column, somebody reported 9 years. The discrepancies in this record can be ascribed to the probable unfamiliarity of the young woman reporting on her household with the detailed facts about all the members of that household.

Perhaps Isabella Josephine’s marriage occurred just before her father made that will, and perhaps William Hamilton died just nine years later, in 1895. With such a common name as his, I haven’t been able to find a single record about him so far.

Josephine disappeared from most of the records after 1900, but she moved to the state of Washington and became a practical nurse, or so her death certificate reported. She died in the Harborview Hospital in Seattle on 21 March 1932. What is on the certificate is from the head nurse of the hospital, and we can probably assume that Josephine had worked there. She shaved ten years off her age, but nobody did the math and correctly reported that her birth was in 1856 even though they said she was 66 years old at death.

The sad thing is that she was being treated for third-stage syphilis since ten months earlier. Presumably the disease had been dormant for a number of years—it can remain dormant between the second and third stages up to 30 years in some cases. It is a very terrible disease, especially before the discovery of penicillin in 1943, which cures it. The treatments were various concoctions of mercury, which often led to mercury poisoning including hair loss, mouth ulcers, teeth falling out, neuropathy, kidney failure, etc. In the late 19th century other things were tried to treat the disease, such as potassium iodide with small doses of mercury, and other metals were tried, including gold, with little to no good effect. In 1909 a so-called “magic bullet” was invented by a couple of chemists who ended up winning the Nobel prize for a compound with arsenic in it called arsphenamine that seemed to be somewhat more effective than anything else up to that time.

Syphilis was sort of “discovered” in the late 15th century by French troops invading Hungary, Italy, and Turkey. It is theorized that maybe it was an older disease that morphed around that time and was brought to Europe by the retreating French army. It was named the French pox in dubious honor of those troops, and it apparently was a much more virulent form of the disease than known today, or even in Isabella Josephine’s time. The three stages known today were present then, but they progressed much, much faster, with death occurring within weeks or sometimes months.

The third stage can produce blindness, insanity, paralysis, heart trouble, and a host of other terrible things, always ending in death. Poor Isabella.

How did she get it? Obviously from sexual intercourse with an infected person. It might have been William Hamilton, or it could have been someone she had an affair with after William died. I do wonder if her husband infected her and if she became a nurse after his death, and if she was ironically hoping to be on the spot for getting a cure.

Such a betrayal that would have been! Many, many women suffered that betrayal of course, but it doesn’t make it any better. And women of that era would not have spoken of the experience with anyone, not even a doctor, unless they trained in a hospital to be more practical than private about such matters.

But it was too late for her. Perhaps she thought she was cured when the disease went into its years-long dormant period, only to find to her horror when she was in her early 70s that she was in for a very terrible end. The death certificate noted that her face was covered with sores. Poor Isabella!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Curious Facts and Tales of Frank and Susanna Selgrath and Family

The fifth of Jacob Selgrath and Gertrude Schmelzer’s children was Francis Jacob, born and christened on 28 December 1826 in the village of Sankt Ingbert, Bavaria.

Franz’s older brother Nicholas had just turned eight; his sister Magdalena was five; his sister Katharina had just turned 4; and his brother Johann was 21 months old. The children’s father, Jacob, was probably a coal miner or working in some connection with the coal mines of that region.

Just after April 1834 when the last brother in the family, Ludwig (known as Lewis when they lived in the United States), was born, the family emigrated to America. They probably left from Le Havre, France, the nearest port city. They ended up settling in East Norwegian Township in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, an area rich in anthracite coal mines, which is where their father found work.

Indeed, it seems that all of the children and their mother too worked for a mining company, as when the family were counted on the 1840 United States Census, six of them were working in the mining industry, and as Katharina was married and Magdalena was not counted with them, that means every one of the family at home was working, including young Frank at the age of 13 and even Lewis who was just six.

Changes and developments in the mining industry gradually ended the employment of the women and children over the next decade.

When Frank was about 23 or 24 years old, he married a girl from France, Susannah Deach, whose original name was probably the more Germanic spelling Dietsch, and whose people came from the same region as his, the area west of the River Rhine that had been Germanic, then governed by France and then by Germanic states and so on, back and forth through the centuries.

Susannah had been born in 1830 and at the time of their marriage was about 19 or 20. The 1850 census taker found Frank living in a hotel and working as a carpenter, not married yet in August of that year. It is likely that he and Susanna were married later that year or early the next. Ten years later Frank was a carpenter in New Castle, Pennsylvania, at the time the 1860 Census was taken. He and Susannah had five children then:
  • Lewis, born 20 October 1851 
  • John J, born 3 August 1853 
  • John Franklin, born September 1855 
  • Jacob, born 4 June 1857 
  • William Francis, born 14 February 1860 
They also had a ten-year-old girl named Mary Deach living with them, likely a young relative of Susannah, who might have needed a girl to help her with those rambunctious little boys after school. Of course Mary went to school. So did Lewis and John that year. (Naturally we think Mary was the angelic one, or what was Tom Sawyer for? Mary could equally have been the troublemaker sent to her Aunt Susannah’s to straighten out. In such a scenario, might she have corrupted her little cousins, or might Aunt Susannah have been a strong enough role model to give the girl a fair chance at happiness?)

In August 1861 Frank went off to war and in early 1862, Susannah bore their last son, Joseph. On 3 July 1862 their five-year-old son Jacob died, whether by accident or illness is not known. It must have been very hard on Susanna to be without Frank when this tragedy happened.

Frank enlisted as “Francis Selgrath” in the 108th Regiment, 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Company E on August 7, 1861 in Philadelphia under Captain Hartman. On August 21 Major Ruff took over the Regiment and in October marched them to Washington, D.C., 137 miles away. On 28 November 1861 Frank was promoted to Corporal and with his company was moved through Annapolis, Maryland to Monroe, Virginia. On 22 October 1862 he was promoted to Sergeant in Portsmouth, Virginia, the Company having been moved there back in May 1862. Frank reenlisted 25 December 1863 in Portsmouth. Once he was wounded pretty badly.

His military records show he was mustered into service in Norfolk, Virginia, on 1 Jan 1864; the record says in its notes that he had reenlisted as a sergeant 31 August 1864 under Captain Gould and was promoted to 1st Sergeant on 13 October 1864. Something happened and he was relieved of 1st Sergeant’s duty on 1 January 1865 and reduced to ranks 13 February 1865—perhaps that was when he was wounded. But then he was promoted back to 1st Sergeant 21 May 1865. The notes also show that he purchased a Colt revolver and a saber for $11. His horse was worth $140, the arms he already owned were $200, and he was paid $94.53 in cash and clothing. He was mustered out with his company on 13 August 1865.

After the war, Frank moved his family to Mahanoy Township in 1865. The 1870 Census enumerator found him and Susanna there with their sons. Frank’s occupation is a little obscure, according to this census taker. There’s something scribbled that looks like “U.S. Navy.” Was he employed by the United States Navy in Schuylkill County? How so? What navigable water is there to speak of? None! This is pretty interesting and deserves more research.

Frank’s real estate was valued then at $1500 and his personal estate at $300. The census says he attended school within the past year, and unless that’s a mistake, maybe the Navy had sent him to school?! More interesting things to research.

His sons Lewis and John had left school, and at the ages of 19 and 17 were working as laborers. Frank Jr. at 15, and 12-year-old William, and 9-year-old Joseph were all in school. Interestingly, Susanna is marked as being unable to read or write. This may explain why the family’s ages seem to jump around, if she couldn’t do the math and was answering the questions.

The next ten years found Frank back to working as a carpenter, although the census taker in 1880 noted that Frank had been unemployed for two months out of that year. His son John, age 26, was a machinist, and Frank Jr. was a cigar maker. They were employed steadily, but the younger boys, William at 19, a fireman, and Joseph, at 18 a laborer, had both been out of work for three months.

Lewis had gotten married when he was about 25, to Barbara Schaeffer, who had been born in New York City to German immigrant parents. The Shaeffers had moved to Pennsylvania, and there in Mahanoy Township Lewis and Barbara were living. Their first two daughters were born in 1878 and 1879, named Susan and Mary. Lewis was working as a colliery engineer for the Primrose company, which meant he was involved with the design, building, and maintenance of the machinery used in the coal mines. This is the trade he followed the rest of his life.

I expect that Susanna was thrilled to have two granddaughters after all those sons. It’s nice to see that they were named after her and young Mary Deach—so perhaps Mary wasn’t a troublemaker. She was probably as angelic as Polly in Tom Sawyer after all. Maybe she made the boys a lot of treats as they were growing up.

If anyone knows what "CH Constellation" means, let me know!
Frank’s physical condition deteriorated in the next ten years. He applied for an invalid’s pension based on his military service which was granted 18 September 1890. Susanna must have died during those years too, for Frank was alone in 1900 when the next census was taken, living with his niece Eliza and her husband and daughters. Eliza’s exact relationship is not yet known, but it is likely that she is related through Susanna. Frank was widowed and supposedly was a laborer in the mines, but no doubt he was really doing carpentry for the mining company.

Ten years later he was boarding with the Irish Toole family, Sylvester and Sadie, also in Mahanoy Township, the date of the census being 11 April 1910. There was another widowed man boarding there too, and the couple had three daughters and a baby son. They at least knew the facts about Francis, unlike the “niece” ten years before, who had his age way off, his profession wrong, his name mangled, and his year of immigration way off. In 1910 the truth emerged: Frank was 86 years old, he had his own income; he had come to the United States in 1834 and was a naturalized citizen. In fact, he owned the home where he was “boarding” and Sylvester Toole was renting it from him! But I’m sure that in the sense that Sadie Toole was providing the meals and doing his housework, perhaps he liked being known as their boarder.

Whatever was the reality, he was taken to the country hospital at the end of May suffering from a stroke, and he died nine days later. The supervisory nurse filled out the paperwork and did not know his birth information, but she guessed he was around 80 years old. She knew he had been born in Germany, that he was a widower, and she knew he had been a carpenter, so it is probable that his people had been to visit in those nine days. After his burial, he was given a Civil War veteran’s grave stone in the cemetery in Ashland.

Frank’s son Lewis had eleven children that we know of, but only seven are identified so far:
  • Susan, born November 1878 
  • Mary, born November 1879 
  • John Adam, born 12 December 1880 
  • William F, born November 1882; married; died June 1969 
  • Catherine E, born August 1884 
  • Gertrude D, born February 1888; married Frank Klitsch; died August 1973 
  • Louis F, born 1907; married Harriet M Mehl in 1940 
Five of their children had died before 1900, Susan and four whose names we don’t know. It is likely that Barbara had several more miscarriages than were recorded. Their last son must have been a surprise, being born when his parents were 55 and almost 53. But Barbara’s mother also had more than 11 children, so she seems to have come from a remarkably fertile family. This makes the possibility more likely than that Louis was maybe an illegitimate grandchild reared as a son with no sign in any of his records that his parents were other than Lewis and Barbara. Lewis and Barbara always lived in the area of Mahanoy, so it is likely that they at least visited his father during those last weeks. Lewis died only two and a half years after his father, on 10 January 1913.

Frank’s son John J Selgrath, a machinist by trade, was married 1 June 1886 to Elizabeth Kopf Reishan of Mahanoy Township. Elizabeth was a widow, but it is not known if she had any children by her first husband. John and Lizzie had three children:
  • William J, born 26 May 1887 
  • Anna F, born 21 September 1888; married Joseph Wehinger; died of pneumonia 19 December 1918 
  • Henry, born 14 November 1889 and died 5 January 1910 of pneumonia 
John J Selgrath died before his father did, on 18 December 1905. His wife, Lizzie, died in 1920.

Frank and Susanna’s son John Franklin, who always went by Frank, who had started early on making cigars, eventually became a machinist and married twice. Nothing is known yet about his first marriage. His second was to a woman named Margaret Eade who went by the nickname Maggie. They were married in 1894 or 1895. Their son John Ed Selgrath was born January 29, 1896 in Neshaminy, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. John became a telegraph messenger and then a pipe borer. The family lived near Philadelphia—perhaps they didn’t have a lot of contact with Frank’s father, and Frank did not long survive him. When John registered for the draft in 1917, his father was dead, and John was the sole support of both his wife and his mother. Margaret Eade Selgrath died in 1933.

Frank and Susanna’s next son after the little boy Jacob who died during the Civil War, was William Francis Selgrath. William had been a fireman in his teens after leaving school, but that was in 1880 and there were no further records available until 1900. That year, William had become a carpenter like his father and was living in the household of his father-in-law, Nicholas Krauter, in Mahanoy City. William was married to Carolina Krauter, who had been born in June 1865 in Germany and whose parents and family came to Pennsylvania when she was about ten years old. William and Carolina Selgrath married about 1885 and had the following children:
  • Nicholas Edward, born 23 April 1892 
  • Agnes Elizabeth, born 14 February 1894 
  • Susanna, born August 1896; married Thomas Killian 
  • Joseph, born 16 June 1899 
  • Barbara, born in 1902 
  • William A, born in 1905 
There may have been another child born in 1908, as there is a strange death certificate in the files of the state of Pennsylvania that says a 43-year-old woman named Carolina Selgrath died on 28 November 1908 of shock from childbirth, and her parents were William F. Selgrath and Carolina Krauter, which is clearly impossible, as the age of this daughter is the age of her mother. Clearly a clerk got things all wrong and this was the death of both the daughter four hours after its birth, and the mother, Carolina.

In 1910 William had a woman named Bessie Entwhistle working for him, taking care of the children. He fell in love with her and they were married in 1916. Bessie’s parents came from England. No record has been found to indicate that William and Bessie had any children together, nor do we know when either of them died. Since they lived in Mahanoy, it is possible that William and his family may have visited his father, Frank, but with the death of his wife in 1908 it is understandable that he could not take his aged father into his household.

The youngest son of Frank Selgrath and Susanna Dietsch, Joseph Selgrath, grew up in Mahanoy and stayed there after he was married. He became a carpenter, working for a colliery company. He married Elizabeth Hess in 1880 when they were both about 18, and their son Frank was born the next year. Their six known children were as follows:
  • Frank, born August 1881; died in 1918 
  • John, born in April 1884 
  • Gertrude, born in October 1887; married Lewis R Nieswender and had two daughters 
  • Harry, born 27 May 1890; married Elizabeth; died 5 November 1950 
  • Hattie, born in April 1893; married Thomas Freil and had several children—but there was one born in 1922 whose father is Thomas Freil and one born in 1923 whose father is John Friel. This is a mystery! Stay tuned, there will be more to come on this! 
  • Blanche, born 1 July 1906; married Samuel Tulin; died in 1994 
Before Blanche was born, they had another child who died, but nothing is known about that child yet. Joseph died 28 November 1930 of a rare form of cancer of the connective tissue in his left arm, called a sarcoma of the humerus. His wife Elizabeth died 28 August 1945 from the effects of a head injury she got in a fall in her home. Curiously, her death record takes a good ten years off her true age, and yet the informant is her own son Harry.

There you have it—the known and unknowns about Frank and Susanna Selgrath’s ever-expanding family. Their story has no ending . . . yet.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Shoemaker of Pottsville

Katherina Selgrath of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, married a shoemaker when she was not quite 18 years old, in about 1839.

Ferdinand Bödefeld had come from the farming and mining regions of Westphalia, and specifically a village located southwest of Arnsberg called Stockum and sometimes known as Stockum-bei-Amecke (Amecke being the town just at the southern tip of the modern reservoir called Sorpesee). At the end of the 18th century the land belonged to the Duchy of Westphalia, under the control of the Archbishops of Köln until the end of the Holy Roman Empire. After the Thirty Years’ War, the French had annexed much of the land west of the Rhine River, and in 1803 the area was secularized and given to Prussia by the Congress of Vienna.


Ferdinand was the son of Maria Theresia Gierse and Frans Bödefeld. Frans was the son of Josef Bödefeld and Anna Clara Sebastian. Theresia was the daughter of Engelbert Gierse and Anna Catharina Scharfenberger, whose parents were Caspar Scharfenberger and Maria Veronica.

Ferdinand and his younger brother Bernard immigrated to the United States, ending up in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, in the 1830s. Ferdinand established his shoemaker shop there, and among his apprentice shoemakers were his young brother-in-law John Selgrath, and his son Jacob. Ferdinand and Katharina had ten children who lived to adulthood: Jacob, John, Joseph, Magdalena Helena, Katherine, Theresa Agnes, Ferdinand Joseph, Isabella Josephine, Mary Ann, and Francis John (known as Frank).

When the U.S. Civil War began, at first it must have seemed a little remote from the Boedefelds. But soon it became their war too. Their sons John and Joseph joined the Union Army and fought for months through the cold and heat and the mud and terrors. John was wounded, and Joseph severely so. They survived, but life was never the same for them. The same thing happened to John Selgrath, who returned unable to continue with shoemaking as a profession. In the summer of 1863 in particular, the battles moved to Pennsylvania itself as General Robert E. Lee tried to consolidate his forces at Gettysburg. On June 30 part of his army was critically delayed at Hanover and prevented from helping at Gettysburg over the next two days. The Battle of Gettysburg is well documented as a major turning point in the war, and although it was fought over 70 miles away from Pottsville, all the citizens of the area were certainly riveted by what happened there. We do not know what Ferdinand Boedefeld did in particular to help the Union in the War, besides sending his sons to fight, but two years after the war ended he was presented with an inscribed gold-headed cane that said,
“To Ferdinand Bodefeld by his Friends, as a mark of esteem for his devotion to his adopted Country, in the hour of her peril. July 1867.”
Shoe making in the early part of the nineteenth century was still an ages-old handcraft, able to be done by a single person. Towards the middle of the century after the invention of the sewing machine by Elias Howe in 1846, somebody else invented a machine for stitching parts of shoes. Thereafter, the mechanization of making shoes progressed through the century until most shoes were being made in factories using machines by 1900. But Ferdinand Boedefeld made shoes and boots by hand until he could no longer work. He handed over his business to his son Jacob, and Jacob became a well-known boot-and-shoe maker in Pottsville, listed in bold letters in all the city directories until 1895, when he died suddenly, only nine years after his father, Ferdinand.

For many years the boot-and-shoe making tools were around our house, but sometime in the last 35 years they disappeared.

Sic transit gloria mundi . . . et calceamenta!