Rich Man

“I don’t care how poor a man is; if he has family, he’s rich.” – Dan Wilcox and Thad Mumford, “Identity Crisis,” M*A*S*H

I’ve frequently mentioned that I come from a long line of peasants. Nothing has changed regarding that. No tycoons are hiding in the branches of my family tree!

Further thought brought to mind two situations where the person might have seemed rich—or generous?—at least by comparison.

My maternal great grandmother, Elfrieda Jonas, was born 7 December 1867, to an unwed mother, somewhere in Germany. Nope, I don’t even know her mom’s name! Elfrieda emigrated in 1884. Or maybe 1885? As far as I know, no siblings or family members traveled with her.

She married Carl Moeller in Chicago, 25 September 1887. Supposedly Elfrieda worked for the Krieger family in Glenview, prior to marriage.

Family lore suggests Carl and Elfrieda knew each other in the old country, but that location hasn’t been confirmed for either. They may have traveled on the same ship, though that’s a mystery, too, as I have multiple emigration years for each! Their backstory is a bit of a hot mess.

Regardless, the newlyweds moved to Shermerville, living first above the cheese factory, later buying a house on Church Street (below). It’s clearly a 2-story house in these photos, and my grandparents, Chris and Minnie, lived upstairs until at least the 1920 census. Mom says the house was lowered, later on.

Now, granted, it’s a good sized house, but not particularly ostentatious. Great grandpa Carl worked in the brickyard, 1900-1930, and later worked as a flag man for the railroad—basically raising and lowering the crossing gates. He owned his house in 1930, but they certainly were not a wealthy family!

Yet Elfrieda was known to have sent money to someone in Germany, presumably that unknown (to us) mother. Elfrieda’s mother likely would have been born around 1852, or earlier; I don’t know when she died. Presumably Elfrieda started sending the money soon after she first arrived, and continued through the years they had young children, and more expenses than spare cash.

Surely Elfrieda might have seemed rich to her mother, since she was able to send money back home! I wonder if Elfrieda felt the same way?

The second situation involved my grandaunt, Sophie Meintzer Kranz. When Sophie emigrated in 1881, she was 13. She was old enough to remember Dehlingen, her friends, and the family (aunts, uncles, and cousins) left behind.

When she married Edward Kranz, and embarked on the daunting task of raising their many children (11!), she did not forget her early roots. Their house on Sycamore, in Des Plaines, was a large farmhouse, as they would have needed. Of course, large doesn’t mean fancy or expensive!

I imagine hand-me-downs were as common in that family as they were in my own; a necessity for financial survival. When Sophie ran out of children or grandchildren to pass clothes to, they were shipped back to Dehlingen. How do we know that?

When the Meintzer descendants on both sides of the Atlantic reconnected in the 1980s, after decades of silence (initiated by WWII occupation of Alsace), several trips were made back to our ancestral town.

One of Sophie’s great granddaughters, Pat, made the initial contact, and visited with her mom, Arline, and her aunt, LaVera (sisters), at different times. When the photo albums came out, the sisters each recognized winter dress coats they had worn as young girls!

They probably never knew what happened to the coats once they’d outgrown them, but obviously their grandmother included them in one of her shipments. Yes, plural. When I was confirming that story with Pat, she elaborated further:

Yes that is true!! I was told by the older ladies like Albertine and Lina S***** that it was always a wonderful day when a box came from Aunt Sophie. They said this more than one time. They said the clothes were used but still had wear in them. On one of the visits to Dehlingen we were in Lina S*****’s house having coffee and Kuchen (it may have been when LaVera visited with me) and Lina brought out a black dress from the 1930’s that she said was sent to her by Aunt Sophie. I thought she was handing it to me to give to me, but she just wanted to show it to me. It meant so much to her after all those years, that she still wanted to keep it.

Email from Pat Weisel, 6 November 2019

Clothes boxes clearly happened more than once or twice, and were greatly appreciated! Sophie could have just as easily donated the clothes locally, saving herself the expense of shipping. She took the extra time and effort to put them in the hands of people she knew, and who would make good use of them.

I don’t think Sophie sent the clothes to show off, or make anyone feel bad. She remembered that Dehlingen was a small village, with fewer shopping options. Travel to a larger town would be necessary for any kind of selection. Even Des Plaines of the 1920s and 1930s (far less built-up than now) would have had more shopping choices that were easier to get to.

There’s also the satisfaction of knowing the clothes we’ve loved are being worn by someone we know, rather than a stranger. Most of us have passed around maternity and baby clothes to newly-pregnant friends for similar reasons.

Elfrieda and Sophie weren’t rich in terms of dollars and cents, but they recognized opportunities to help others, when they could. They knew that despite the miles, family was still family and could always use support. These are traits I see continuing 4 and 5 generations after them.

However, if you are (or know of) a rich uncle of which I’m unaware, feel free to let me know!

#52Ancestors


1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northfield Township, e.d. 1176; Page 2A; dwelling number 14; family number 16; line 8; Charles [Carl] MOELLER household; accessed 11 August 2018; NARA microfilm publication T623; roll 294; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

“Illinois, Cook County Marriages 1871-1920”, database, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Family Record Search (https://familysearch.org), accessed 11 August 2018, citing Cook County, Illinois, reference 592131, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1030520. Carl MOELLER(27) and Elfrieda JONAS (19).

So Far Away

“Doesn’t anybody stay in one place, anymore?”—Carole King

Well, apparently not my grandfather, Christoph Jacob Meintzer. At least temporarily. While sorting through the photo postcards for Storms I came across this one. It didn’t fit what I needed for that post, but I found it interesting, and saved it for today. Unfortunately, it raises more questions than it answers:

  • date? No postmark, but after 13 September 1913, since he refers to Minnie as “Wife.” Possibly before 1922, since he’s not asking about the baby/child. Or maybe later but there wasn’t enough space?
  • place? Arkansas. It’s a “staged” booth, but doesn’t really provide other clues
  • why? It seems he was there for work, since he mentions trying to get a cashier’s check to send money home to Minnie.

Arkansas_0001
Christoph Jacob Meintzer (top left) and two unknown men, after 27 September 1913

1913-14 postcard back_Arkansas 0001
“Dear Wife, Have not received an answer for my last letter, only got a postal from you but expect a letter tomorrow, we could not get a money order last night, the place quit selling them so we will have to find a new office so will send you as quick as possible. [upside down part] All the offices close at 6 o’clock now, so we will have to lay of[f] to get a money order if I don’t send you any this week will send you more next week. Love Christ XXXOOXX   Will write a letter as soon as I get yours” The stamp corner places the postcard production between 1910 and 1930, though the photo could have been printed on later than that.
 I showed the images to my 92-year old uncle and 96-year old mom, hoping they might remember hearing something about this. Christoph was easily identified on the left, but not the other two. Mom thought the man on the right “might” be Uncle Emil Mueller, but her brother wasn’t sure. Neither knew anything about their dad working out of state. My uncle did remember hearing as a kid about Siloam Springs, Arkansas, as well as “Shoals” and fishing trips in Arkansas. Maybe Christoph fished on the weekends?

Off to Google! There’s a Bull Shoals Lake near the Missouri state line, though the dam to create it didn’t start until 1947, completed in 1951. So while he may have fished there in the 1950s or 60s, I doubt he was there when he was still fairly newly married. Siloam Springs is father west, and was “around” in the early 1900s, but I have no idea what might have taken him there. I moved on to eBay, hoping to find similar photos with a location.

My search for “Arkansas postcards” netted 11,126 photos! I scrolled through pages of them (115 at 50 per page–stopping at that point), looking for a similar background. Nothing matched, though I saw many “old-timey” photos taken at an amusement park in Hot Springs called “Happy Hollow.” That got me thinking, Christoph didn’t have a car at that time. I assumed he shared the trip with the other men, with one of them driving. Then I remembered our tour of Hot Springs National Park, learning that trains came in regularly with patients for “the baths.” Train travel would have been much more reliable–and probably cheaper–then. Maybe my car assumption was wrong? If that’s the case, then they were certainly somewhere reachable by train.

I ditched eBay and went back to Google, now searching for images with phrases from the photo. Still no image matches, though I found a 1914 Irving Berlin song, “When It’s Night Time Down in Dixie Land.” Could that be the inspiration for one sign? Maybe so.

I didn’t feel any closer to an answer, though, after several days of searching. Where did that leave me?

  • date? I think I’ve narrowed it down to 1914-1917. Why? The song’s copyright date (after their marriage), and his WWI draft registration, when he was employed at the Illinois Brick Company.¹ In 1910,² he was the last child living at the farmhouse with his parents. His occupation was “day laborer, odd jobs,” but his father (age 80) still farmed. I presume Christoph was working with him, doing odd jobs on the side. Minnie and he got married twenty days after his mother died (did they intentionally wait?), and they lived with her parents, while his father eventually moved into his oldest daughter’s house. With no kids, I can see that 3-year window being a time when Christoph could have gone for work out of state.
  • place? Still not narrowed down, though I’m more seriously considering Hot Springs. Little Rock would also have train service from Chicago, but searches for similar types of photo ops there came up dry.
  • why? My guess is he didn’t find steady work immediately after he got married, so took advantage of a temporary opportunity. He was clearly in Arkansas for a while–at least enough time to send a letter (presumably with a cashier’s check), anticipate one in return, and was going to be gone long enough to “send more next week” if he couldn’t arrange sending the money that week. If he was leaving soon, the money would just come with him. That’s a month, minimum, by my reckoning. He worked at the Shermerville brickyard at least 1917-1920. Two years later, my mom was born. It seems unlikely he would have taken work out of state after that.

What next? I can hope a 2nd or 3rd cousin reads this and remembers hearing a story that might help nail down more details. More images could appear online at some point, assuming I find time to wade through them. I could contact the Northbrook Historical Society to see if they recognize either of the two gentlemen. Maybe they are aware of ads circulating the area between 1914 and 1917, offering employment in Arkansas. Or I could send a query to a Rootsweb mailing list in Arkansas, to see if there was a large project in that window that would have pulled in workers from out of state.

Does it matter if I ever figure this out? Maybe not. It’s just a small piece of my grandparents’ history that’s mostly undocumented. But it tells us a bit about their lives, and the choices they had to make. It would be nice to iron out the details to have a better understanding of it–and them.

#52Ancestors


¹”U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918″, The National Archives (https://www.ancestry.com), Christoph Jake MEINTZER, serial no. 1167, order no. 106, Draft Board 1, Cook County, Illinois; citing World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: NARA microfilm publication M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library Roll No. 1,504,100; accessed 3 June 2018. Registered 5 June 1917.

²1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Lake, Vernon Township, e.d. 108; sheet 5A; dwelling number 86; family number 87; line 15; Christ MENTZER household; accessed 3 June 2018. Christ MENTZER age 22 [name MEINTZER incorrectly enumerated]; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 301; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).