Christoph Jacob Meintzer and Wilhelmina (Minnie) Carolina Christina Moeller married on 27 July 1913.² They are my maternal grandparents. You’ve seen their wedding photo, and you’ve read their courtship postcards, and one sent after marriage. My mom once told me a story about her parents’ marriage certificate—the one they got from the church, not the “legal” one.
Shermerville** in the early 1900s—like many other small towns—didn’t really have trash pickup. At least, that’s what my mom remembered from her childhood. It had a town dump (there’s another story about that, for another day), and everyone had a container in the backyard to burn much of the rest of their trash. I’m not sure if that included things like chicken bones, vegetable scraps, etc., but my mom definitely remembered having a backyard burn pile.
Apparently one day, Minnie was outside with a stack of papers to burn. I don’t know exactly when this was, and I don’t know if my mom remembered seeing it, or just remembered hearing the story from her dad. So I can’t put any kind of date it—not even a ballpark date.
At any rate, Minnie was outside, feeding items into the fire. Christ (remember, short “i,” silent “t”) walks over to see what she’s burning. In the stack was their marriage certificate! Yes, seriously. He was not pleased. She wasn’t mad at him. It was not an indication of how their marriage was going—they ended up being married for almost 45 years when she died. It was just there with the old newspapers, letters, shopping lists, and who knows what else.
When he asked her why she was going to burn it, Minnie’s explanation was along the lines of, “Everyone knows we are married—we don’t need to keep this.” Maybe she was doing a spring or fall cleaning, and it just seemed like clutter to her. She wanted it out of whatever drawer it was in.
Arguably, she was correct. Shermerville was a small town, and they had no need to “prove” they were married. That was beside the point. Alas, the marriage certificate has no burn or scorch marks on it. There was no dramatic “saving it from the flames with a stick,” to make the story more exciting. I think Christ told her to keep it anyway. She obviously did, and presumably it never came up as an issue, again.
If you zoom in a bit, you might notice the lines left by the fold marks—even through the foil seal at the bottom. I count at least 6 horizontally. I’m not quite sure how it was stored to end up creased like that. Maybe it had been rolled, but then had stuff on top of it to make looser creases, instead of firm folds? The original was elsewhere, and wasn’t at my disposal when I made these images. It certainly could have suffered a far worse fate, so I’ll settle for a few creases/fold lines!
As I pulled out my photocopy (stored flat!) to take the photo, I noticed the bottom date was 2 July 1915. Say what?? Further inspection of the date above that (the marriage date) showed the last digit of the year clearly had issues! It looked like a “5” that had been doctored/corrected. Obviously Christ & Minnie did not receive this certificate at the time they married! All the other records we have for their marriage used the 27 September 1913 date:
- St. Peter’s church registers¹ [which I viewed in person, but don’t have an image of]
- Cook County marriage index²
- Minnie’s wedding ring (below)
So, what happened in 1915, triggering a delayed creation of this certificate? I have no idea. They must have needed a copy of it for some reason, but it’s a mystery. St. Peter’s Church was the German Evangelical church Minnie attended with her family, but the church was undergoing changes in the 1910s. According to Northbrook, Illinois: The Fabric of Our History,
“The congregation remained independent until 1912, when it joined the Evangelical Synod of North America, a denomination with a German background which attempted to bring together the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. Services were conducted in German until 1920.”Gerry and Janet Souter, Northbrook, Illinois: The Fabric of our History (Northbrook, Illinois: The Northbrook Historical Society and the Northbrook Centennial 2001 Committee, 2000), p. 86.
My mom only remembered attending services at the Presbyterian church, not St. Peter’s. Did Christ and Minnie switch over to the Presbyterian church in July 1915, and need to bring their new pastor proof of their marriage? Did they need the document for some other reason? It must have been copied from the parish register 2 July 1915, and it seems the pastor (or clerk) mistakenly wrote the current year instead of the marriage year for the marriage date—and then tried to correct it. That’s the only explanation that makes sense to me.
Of course, that got me curious about the pastor who signed it: F. Schaer. Was he leading that congregation when they got married (1913), or had he arrived later? I couldn’t locate him at all in 1910—not even with a page-by-page search of the township. His previous church was in Wisconsin, so he may have been there. He and his family were in Shermerville in 19205 (and obviously 1915!). He (Frederick) and his wife, Julia, are buried in Saint Peter Cemetery (Old), according to Find-a-Grave. His memorial is fairly basic, but hers³ included a transcription from a church memorium.
It said Rev. Schaer was pastor at St. Peter’s for twelve years, retiring to Oregon after that. The specific year range wasn’t included, nor was his retirement date. He and his wife both died in Oregon, but had their remains returned to Northbrook (formerly Shermerville) for burial.
Unable to nail down dates using other sources, I turned to Newspapers.com looking for mentions of Rev. Schaer. There were always local church news columns! I found blurbs annoucing their post-retirement visits back to the area. Two sons remained in Northbrook, so that made sense. When I focused on 1913-1915, I found him mentioned at the top of the 3 October 1913 “Shermerville” column, which also mentioned my grandparents’ marriage the previous Saturday (below):4
A week after he married them, Rev. Schaer headed off on a “land excursion to Arizona.” I also found newspaper articles referring to him in early 1912, so I feel confident he was serving that congregation when Christ & Minnie got married. To confirm he officiated, I’ll need to acquire their Cook County Marriage License, with the “return” section filled in, or see if I can view the St. Peter’s register and get a copy this time. The church recently merged with another nearby congregation, so tracking down that register (and getting access to it) may be difficult. But it seems likely Rev. Schaer was the one to marry them and finally provide a church certificate documenting that, two years later.
Why did I bother tracking Rev. Schaer? He played only a small role in my grandparents’ story.
- a good portion of this blog had been created for a previous prompt, but then deferred until later (now!).
- I had more time available than I sometimes do (Thank you, COVID-19!).
- I had reinstated my Ancestry subscription, so had additional resources
I hoped rooting around Rev. Schaer’s time in Shermerville might shed a light on why my grandparents’ church marriage certficate was created late. It didn’t, unfortunately. It might have, though, and if I didn’t look, I’d never know. One side effect of this type of scavenger hunt (calling it a “rabbit hole” or “Bright Shiny Object” isn’t really accurate), is taking the time to recheck facts. Sometimes it turns up information I’d forgotten about, or that didn’t make sense at the time I first came across it.
Oftentimes information doesn’t have meaning because we don’t know enough to understand how it fits in. In this case, I spent time in the Northbrook Centennial book, confirming names, dates, and places. In doing so, I stumbled across a section of an 1875 plat map I’d never noticed. A surname caught my eye: Jonas. Minnie’s mother’s maiden name was Elfrieda Jonas. I don’t have information about other relatives Elfrieda may have had outside of Germany, but it seems too coincidental to find one in this area ten years before Elfrieda shows up. That’s a lead I should probably follow up on, to see if that landowner is related to Elfrieda. Maybe it’s nothing, but I won’t know until I check. And I think I need to actually sit down with that book and read it cover-to-cover. I think it has more information than I realized.
Sometimes while researching we turn up grubs and pill bugs, sometimes we unearth truffles. We never know which it’s going to be!
**Remember, the town was called Shermerville from 18 November 1901 until 1 February 1923, and Northbrook after that. I used the name appropriate to the time period being talked about, so you will see both names, throughout. Please don’t be confused!
¹St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church records (1879-1920), St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Willow Road, Northbrook, Cook, Illinois, p. 38.
²”Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920″, database, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch Record Search (https://familysearch.org), accessed 29 March 2019, citing Chicago, Cook, Illinois, reference 642445, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1,030,556. Christoph MEINTZER (25) and Minnie MOELLER (20).
³Find-A-Grave, database, Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com) accessed 11 April 2020, memorial 25480803, Julia SCHAER, (1858-1944), Saint Peter Cemetery (Old), Northbrook, Cook, Illinois, photo credit L Winslow.
4“Shermerville,” 3 October 1913, Newspapers.com: accessed 11 April 2020, record number: n.g.; citing original p. 1 col. 5 para. 15, entry for Mr. Christ MEINTZER, Miss Minnie MUELLER [MOELLER], The Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).
51920 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northfield, e.d. 137; Page 15A; dwelling number 296; family number 296; line 11; Fred SCHAER household; accessed 11 April 2020. Fred SCHAER, age 68; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 358; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).