Iowa’s Deep German Roots

The following was written by H. Glenn Penny, Professor of History at the University of Iowa, and is reprinted here with Professor Penny’s permission. Professor Penny was one of the organizers of the October, 2016 Oberman Humanities Symposium (University of Iowa) “German Iowa and the Global Midwest.” This article appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen as a Guest Opinion, September 21, 2016.

                                   “Iowa: The Home for Immigrants”
                             by H. Glenn Penny, Professor of History, UI

Immigrants-Statue of Liberty

Coming to America

That was the title of the 1870 volume published by the Iowa Board for Immigration in Des Moines. It was translated into multiple languages and distributed across Northern Europe. The goal was to spur Europeans to abandon their home and move to the state.

And it worked. Germans were the most numerous group to arrive. In fact, German immigrants consistently accounted for the largest number of foreign-born people in Iowa from the 1850s through the 1870s. While today we focus on recent immigrants from Latin America and Southeast Asia, our state remains deeply impacted by an earlier group of newcomers. 

As waves of German immigrants arrived in Iowa over more than a century, they created much of the built environment. German Iowans created land; they built farms, towns and neigborhoods; they founded countless social organizations, such as singing clubs, shooting societies and the gymnastics or “Turner” associations. Some of those Turner halls can still be seen in Iowa towns today. Germans dominated local government in many cities and counties. They built some of the first and finest churches and synagogues, including the stunning St. Boniface Church in New Vienna. They founded untold numbers of banks, businesses, industries and many of the 130 or more breweries established in the state by 1880. They also supported more than 60 German-language newspapers, three of which were in Iowa City. They created bilingual schools, and they lived in multilingual and multicultural neighborhoods. 

From St. Paul, Minn., to St. Louis, the Mississippi was essentially a German river. Every river town on the Iowan side was filled with German speakers from the 1850s through World War I. In fact, the German language was so widespread that many German-Iowans lived here for decades without ever learning English. Within a year of the United States entering the war, however, Iowa Gov. William L. Harding issued the Babel Proclamation, forbidding the use of foreign languages. 

Not unlike the waves of anti-Muslim sentiment that followed the 9/11 attacks or the recent rise of ISIS, World War I provided a convenient excuse to transform some Americans into pariahs. Many Iowans took advantage of this moment to usurp the economic power of German-Iowans, to undercut their influence in local, municipal and state politics, and even to harass and harm them because of their ethnicity. The harassment was so grim that businesses, individuals and even towns, such as Berlin, Iowa (now Lincoln), anglicized their names to hide their identities. 

Meanwhile, from Davenport to Spirit Lake, other Iowans publicly burned German books with glee. Despite the decline in the public use of German language and the transformation of many public spaces in Iowa’s cities during the war, subsequent waves of German immigrants continued to be able to speak German in Iowan homes, towns and on farm – albeit on the down low. Fast forwarding to the 21st century, and it is ironic that tight school budgets are now pushing German language classes out of Iowa’s classrooms, including here in Iowa City. 

As one of the organizers of the symposium[2016 October, Iowa City], I invite you to join us in learning more about Iowa’s German immigrants. Their stories offer us insights into the vulnerability of civil liberties as well as the multicultural and multilingual history of our state. 

2016, H. Glenn Penny, professor of history, University of Iowa
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Readers, I invite you to share your family immigrant story here in the comment section. Why did your immigrant relative(s) come to American, what was their experience…or yours if you are foreign born. 

 

 

Funeral Home Records – A Rich Resource

horse-drawn-hearse-e1500994293513The funeral home record for your ancestor is a resource not to be overlooked. The record not only lists the financial detail of services rendered for the last event of a person’s life, but often bio and family info collected for the clergyman’s eulogy. You may find cause of death listed, an obituary, last address, list of the next of kin, military service, church affiliation, the music to be played and more. 

Funeral homes provide services that conform to the religious or ethnic beliefs and traditions of the departed, family in the time of the deceased. Who performed the service…what music was performed? Was it a closed service? Why? In many communities, funeral homes “specialized” or catered to a particular religious segment or ethnic group. Some provided burial services to the indigent, or for one group of locals, but not others.

Who paid for the funeral? The financial arrangements may hold clues to family members who contributed to the costs. Or did someone, not a family member, pay for all or part of the fees? What was the connection to the deceased or his/her family? Perhaps, an organization paid part or contributed a service or tribute providing a clue to membership in a group important in the life of the deceased.

Military service, honors and achievements, profession, award for best pie at the State Fair, beloved pet could be mentioned in the funeral home’s record….just as a prison record, or something considered a personal failure.

Now to find the funeral home…google it! Don’t know the name of the funeral home? Search the net for the town or county for funeral homes that existed within the timeframe of the death of your ancestor. Consult with the local library or county recorder for information too. Often, funeral home ownership pass down through families with no or little change to the name. Or someone in the community buys the business and the records stay with the owner. In some cases, the records may be archived with an area historical society, library, genealogy society. Some have been digitalized and are available in databases held by such groups or sites online.

Just as an example, the funeral home record of my Great Grandfather, Winfield, who died in Oklahoma City, 1918, holds a tidbit of information of interest. Winfield died of a stroke at age 59 years. His three adult children, a son and two daughters paid two-thirds of the $189.00 funeral expense. The cost and arrangements were standard for the time-casket, embalming, lots of flowers, hearse, limousines and burial. Winfield’s children were of means and ability to pay, but the balance was paid, likely in tribute to one of their members by the Order of the Knights of Pythias.

In my research, I had seen references to Winfield’s association with this organization in the local newspaper of his time. And certainly, I had found in findings about his activities and prolific writings, a man who was liberal, championed the working man and spoke out about against racism.

What was the Knights of Pythias? The following from their website, http://pythias.org tells the story of the organization’s beginning and purpose:

“The Order began, of course, during the Civil War, and its founder believed that it might do much to heal the wounds and allay the hatred of civil conflict. President Abraham Lincoln, being advised of the contents of the ritual and its teaching, said: ‘The purposes of your organization are most wonderful. If we could but bring its spirit to all our citizenry, what a wonderful thing it would be…I would suggest that these great principles by perpetuated and that you go to the Congress of the United States and ask for a charter, and so organize on a great scale throughout this nation, and disseminate this wonderful work that you have so nobly started. I will do all in my power to assist you in this application and with your work.”

The suggestion made by the President was adopted by the United States Congress. An application was made to Congress for a charter, and the Order of Knights of Pythias was the first American Order ever chartered by an Act of the Congress of the United States.

So find those funeral home records. They may tell you more than just the cost of the service! If you are looking for ancestors who died in Iowa, Genealogy Treasures is a terrific resource! GT is a searchable database of Iowa funeral home and cemetery records too. https://gentreasures.com

Keeping History Alive

In 1976, Alex Haley’s book, Roots, was an instant best seller. In 1977, Roots, became a TV miniseries that broke records for viewership. It was the compelling story of Kunta Kinte, a man captured in Ghana, enslaved and brought to the United States. Kunta Kinte never forgot his African family and heritage, proudly and passionately passing on his ancestor’s names and stories.

Roots and Kunta Kinte’s story awakened viewers curiosity and a desire to know about one’s own family and history. Genealogy, once a primarily scholarly pursuit, was now the “hobby” of people everywhere. In the 10-15 years following Roots, I and many thousands of Americans haunted the libraries, courthouses, archives, cemeteries and other repositories of family and historical data. We used the postal system to request records and kept findings on paper and filed our research in binders and filing cabinets.

Many libraries offered genealogy classes, provided family group and pedigree forms and help to the new wave of researchers. State and county genealogical societies emerged and grew. Existing national genealogy groups reached out to the new researchers and urged them to become members. Of course, the commercial market recognized the potential in the genealogy craze and how-to books, subscription magazines and journals sprang up, as did designer pedigree charts.

Back in those days, many family researchers were dedicated to good methodologies, accuracy and took pride in their findings. Many others were happy to find ancestors and fill in pedigree charts to take to their family reunions. Then there were many whose genealogy research fell somewhere between serious researchers and pedigree chartists.

Through the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s technology and the internet were developing fast, becoming accessible to anyone. In 1983 Ancestry launched a genealogy newsletter, then a popular subscription magazine that accelerated the growth of family research enthusiasts. In 1996, Ancestry opened an online, fee based, searchable database, which was an immediate success! Other databases and informational sites quickly populated the internet with genealogy offerings – most fee based, some free.

Today genealogy is a $2 billion industry and holds 2nd place as the most popular “hobby” in the United States. But is genealogy a “hobby” or a serious research endeavor? That depends. Our national genealogical organizations have changed their message over the past few years, from “hobby” status offerings to greater emphasis on the scholarly research process, documentation and proof standards.

There are many reasons for this change of focus, not the least of which was pressure from research professionals, a question of sustainability of the “hobby” status, and market feasibility. Family researchers were showing signs of frustration, realizing they lacked the resource knowledge and research skills to compile a “real family tree.” Many wanted to “get organized” and understand how to research effectively.

As a result, we began to see a shift in programming and the marketing message resulting in emphasis on research skills, documentation, analysis of evidence and writing accurate family stories. The shift in focus also precipitated new revenue in genealogical resources.

National and state conferences now regularly headline speakers known for their expertise in research skills and methods, organization and writing classes too. The Genealogy Proof Standard and DNA are essential course offerings too. Genealogical and Public Libraries also offer ongoing programming in these subjects – classes fill quickly.

There are still varying tiers of those pursuing their family histories, but the more focused family historian is a rapidly growing segment. That segment needs the libraries, the archives and ethnic museums, court houses, cemeteries, vital records, military papers, historical venues, and technology and the internet too. Perhaps even more important is that segment is helping keep history alive.

 

Bonnie Samuel, All Rights Reserved,©2018

AncestryResearchIowa blog

 

Getting to Know Archibald Samuel

Published Boston, 1817

Published Boston, 1817

Archibald Samuel, born about 1749, is my 4th Great Grandfather. And he is my “brick wall.” My research has uncovered many facts about Archibald from the 1780’s to his death in 1832 in Caswell County, North Carolina. Archibald was a prominent part of the establishment of Caswell County in 1777, a property owner, obviously of means, a lawyer, County Commissioner, husband, father – all these life details found in deeds, books and various old documents. Even with much documented proof of his occupation and community activities,  the mystery remains as to where he was born, his parents’ names or how he is related to the other people of the Samuel surname in the county!

The search for ancestors often yields only the outline of their lives…birth, marriage, death, maybe occupation or military records too. When we happen on evidence of the person they were, their interests, beliefs, interactions, maybe sense of humor, it is rewarding indeed.

And so it was with Archibald Samuel when I discovered his purchase of a set of books in 1817. I found reference to this purchase in William S. Powell’s book,  When the Past Refused to Die, History of Caswell County, North Carolina, 1777-1977, as follows:  “In 1819, seven sets of the ‘State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States from the Accession of George Washington to the Presidency‘ were purchased in Caswell County. Only fourteen subscribers throughout the state bought this twelve-volume set. Those who added this useful source book to their libraries were John Daniel, James Daniel, Fred W. Pleasants, Archibald Samuel, James Sanders, Joseph Sanders and Charles Wilson.” (p. 408)

Archibald Samuel had lived through the American Revolution and is said to have served in the Army too. He lived in an geographic area where battles were close by, most of the men of the area were patriots, many served as Officers in the military and were loyal to the cause. Archibald was also involved in the legal processes, business and development of his county. It can be assumed that Archibald Samuel was well read and as a patriot himself, an admirer of George Washington. He was no doubt delighted in purchasing, owning and reading this 12 volume set of books. Did Archibald have a library in his home in Milton, North Carolina?

I wondered if the book set, State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States from the Accession of George Washington to the Presidency, might still exist today, shelved in libraries today. Yes! Found it on “Open Library” and is available for reading in a variety of formats. WorldCat has it catalogued and it is available for inter-library loan.

Archibald bought his set of these volumes in 1819 and likely they were the second edition printed and published in 1817 “under the patronage of Congress, including confidential documents, now first published.” (1817 edition published by T.B. Watt and Sons, Boston). I can picture Archibald Samuel, sitting by his fireside with candles burning, reading his books. I wonder if he made notes in the margins….