The stock market crash in October, 1929, plunged the United States into the Great Depression and impacted everyone in some way for the next ten-plus years. When I started doing genealogy, my dad recalled a visit his family received from two Nachtwey boys—distant cousins from his dad’s side of the family.
Elizabeth Nachtwey was my grandfather’s paternal grandmother. She was born in Germany and came to the United States with her husband John Haase (later changed to Haws), settling in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. Apparently she had one or more brothers who also settled in Wisconsin. The story my dad told about Chet (the one name my dad remembered) and his brother was that they were traveling around the country, visiting family while they “worked on the family’s genealogy.”
It was a good cover story, and scored the boys a couple nights free lodging and a few meals at every house! According to my dad, his parents “encouraged” the young men to move on after a couple days. My grandparents were barely able to keep sufficient food on the table for the six of them, much less extended houseguests!
My dad was only a kid, but I imagine he remembered their visit because it would probably have been an “FHB” (Family Hold Back) situation. That was the code the kids got when there really wasn’t enough food to accommodate extra (especially if they were unexpected!) people. The family needed to take smaller first helpings, and forego second helpings, in an attempt to have enough food for the visitors.
As far as I know, no paperwork was left at the time, or arrived afterwards, from the Nachtwey boys (pedigree charts, family group sheets, etc.). I have no clue about how “successful” they were with their project. Nor do I know how they traveled from one place to another. Since they weren’t working, a car seems unlikely, so maybe bus, train, or hitchhiking? I really don’t recall if my dad mentioned anything about it, and he’s not around anymore to ask.
So, who was this Chet and his brother, off on an adventure to track down extended family during the depression? Searches for “Chet” came up dry, but I found a “Chester Peter Nachtwey”¹ that seemed likely. I learned² he was born 6 April 1909, and died 28 August 1992. The birthdate put him in his 20s at the right time. The Social Security Applications and Claims Index³ identified his parents as Edward Henry Nachtwey and Mabel J. Allie, corroborated with the 1910-1930 censuses.4
Further research showed me his father, Edward, was a son of John Joseph Nachtwey and Mary Margaret Gillen. John Joseph was the oldest son of Anton Nachtwey and Catherine Platten. Anton was my 2nd great grandmother’s next older sibling. That made Chet and my dad 3rd cousins, with Chet being a 3rd cousin once removed to me.
That all sounds beautifully simple, but reaching that conclusion was a little more complicated than it might appear. Anton and Catherine decided to name their three oldest boys:
- John Joseph (usually went by Joseph, but sometimes John J.)
- John Henry (seemed to go by either John Henry, or just John)
Talk about confusion! So as I researched this family this week, I was checking records for Edward (Chet’s dad) and his siblings, to be sure I had everyone attached to the appropriate family. I think I have it correct, though I did see a tree at Ancestry.com attaching Edward to Henry (rather than John Joseph)—which I really don’t think is correct.
But, back to Chet, my adventurer. He had an older (by 3 years) brother, William, and a younger one (by 5 or 6 years), Floyd. I don’t really know which one he was traveling with, but Floyd seems to be a little young to be galavanting around the country in the early 1930s. So William seems the more likely choice, though I have no proof of that.
Nor do I know where Chet headed after he left Deerfield. Nachtwey is not the most common surname! My searches turned up families in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, that I haven’t fully connected (though Floyd did move to Minnesota!). Of course, there are the girls, too, who would lose the Nachtwey name upon marriage. I corresponded in 1999 with a descendent living in New York. Then there was a large contingent that moved to Washington state (Seattle and Spokane) by 1909. Chet had plenty of people to visit—and that doesn’t even start on his mom’s family, or the female lines of earlier generations!
Imagine my surprise when I ran across a 1935 ship’s passenger list with his name on it! Clearly he was even more of an adventurer than I initially thought. He sailed from Cobh, Ireland, 13 October 1935, apparently alone. Why he went there, I don’t know. His mother’s maiden name was Allie, but all I know about her parents was that both were born in Wisconsin. Perhaps there was some Irish in her ancestry? Or maybe he just wanted to travel there.
Some time between October 1935 and the 1940 census, Chet married and moved to California. Once again, he surprised me. Moving to Spokane, where there were other relatives living, would have seemed more logical, but no, he chose California. Again, I have no idea why, but he owned a dry cleaning shop in 1940, and had squeezed in a year of college some time prior to 1940. In Wisconsin, he’d worked at the lumber mill, and the 1940 census listed his “usual” occupation as “waiter,” so I’m not quite sure how he got involved with dry cleaning.
He raised a fairly large family in Los Angeles (at least six children, with a couple more who died as infants), and died there in 1992. While wandering through the records, I spotted a newspaper clipping from 1960 or 1962 that had been uploaded by someone. It had a photo of his family in front of a camper, along with an aunt and uncle or a sibling (the owner of the camper). It seems the ten of them were heading out together on vacation, and it made the paper. Chet obviously still had a sense of adventure, even after “settling down” with a family! Unfortunately, I didn’t grab the image at the time, and I’ve been unable to relocate the image today so I could nail down the details.
Note to self: SAVE IT WHEN YOU SEE IT!
This week has been a bit of an adventure for me, too, as I researched a family line I really hadn’t looked at. There are still MANY more Nachtweys for me to ferret out—Anton had a LOT of descendants, and I’ve barely touched the tip of that iceberg! He and Elizabeth also had additional siblings I need to follow through on. In addition, I have at least one DNA match from this line, so I really should contact that person.
So, yeah, not quite done, yet . . .
¹”Chet”, En.Wikipedia.Org, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chet.
²Social Security Administration, “Social Security Death Index”, database, Ancestry.com,(https://www.ancestry.com), accessed 15 October 2019, entry for Chester P. NACHTWEY, SS no. 468-10-9496.
³”U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007″, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), accessed 15 October 2019, citing Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007, (index only); dated 4 Jan 1971 and 23 June 1982. Entry for Chester Peter NACHTWEY, SS no. 468-09-9496.
41910 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Forest, Wabeno, e.d. 29; Page 14B; dwelling number 228; family number 235; line 71; Edward NACHTWEY household; accessed 15 October 2019. Chester NACHTWEY, age 1 1/12; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1710; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
1920 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Forest, Wabeno, e.d. 90; Page 7A; dwelling number 114; family number 117; line 47; Ed NICHTWEY household; accessed 8 October 2019. Chester NICHTWEY, age 10; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1987; digital image, Ancestry. (https://www.ancestry.com).
1930 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Forest, Wabeno, e.d. 21-16; Page 5B; dwelling number 95; family number 105; line 83; Edward NACHTWEY household; accessed 15 October 2019. Chester P. NACHTWEY, age 21; NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 2570; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).