Monday, September 16, 2013

Happy Belated 135th Wedding Anniversary!

    That kind of made me catch my breath a little when I calculated the 135 years!When I think of these people in my tree, they don't seem so distant from me. It's when I put it to paper and see the actual numbers that it begins to blow my mind a little bit.

   Let me introduce to you, Fritz and Sophie Wille....

Freidrich Christoph Wille, (better known as Fred...even better known as Fritz) was one of at least 9 children, most of which were born in Germany. Fritz was born in the year of 1854 in Elk Grove Village, Illinois after they emigrated from Beckedorf, Germany around 1852/53.

His lovely bride, Sophia Elisabeth Christiane Boeckenhauer, or, simply, "Sophie", had family that had immgrated from Mecklenburg, or Lukas, Germany. (Lukas I can not find on a map any longer) She was a small stretch younger than him, being born in 1860.

As you can see below, when they married, Sophie was still not of the age
of legal consent, although Fritz was already 24. Her father, John, signed off on the wedding certificate, giving his underage daughter's hand in marriage to Fritz.

                       It was a love, or at least a marriage, that lasted. In 1938 the DuPage County Register reported the large celebration of Fritz and Sophie's 60th wedding anniversary in their paper.

for those of you who had never heard the word "feted" before... You are not alone. And to those of you who don't have superhuman eyesight, the article was written as follows....

       29 Apr 1938 , Des Plaines, Illinois       

"Back in the year 1878 on April 24, wedding bells rang out for Mr. Fred Wille and Miss Sophie Boeckenhauer with the marriage ceremony being performed by Reverend Ranlow, then pastor of St. John's Lutheran church of Elk Grove.

Now let us turn the pages of time sixty years which brings us to April 24, 1938, as we again visit St. John's Lutheran church, some happy event is about to take place and as we make inquiry we are told the occasion is a two-fold surprise celebration, one to commemorate the twenty-fifth annivesary of Pastor Gehrs at his post in that congregation, and the second to help Mr. and Mrs. Fred Wille especially mark their sixtieth wedding anniversary. The affair is so carefully planned that Reverend Gehrs thinks the service is only for the Willes while they in turn think it is all for the pastor.

Thus is was that on Saturday evening last, our bride and groom of sixty years ago found themsleves surrounded by their children as they worshipped in the church where they have been faithful members through the years, and later enjoyed a special chicken dinner served in the school hall.

With the large crowd of friends, the service and dinner, however, were just the start of the evening for the happy couple were next taken to the Elks' Club rooms in Des Plaines, where a large crowd of relatives and friends had gathered to help them celebrate. For those who desired there were cards and dancing to pass away the hours with an anniversary supper served later in the evening. There were many gifts of flowers and cards and an immense wedding cake which held the center of attraction.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Wille are the sole survivors of their respective famlies, he will be 84 in October and she will be 80 in June. He is a pioneer native of Elk Grove township, while Mrs. Wille was born in Germany. All of their nine children are living and were present at the celebration. There are also 37 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. They lived on a farm in Elk Grove township until 1918 when they retired from active farming and moved to Des Plaines where they reside at present.

Mr. Wille, who is very active and alert for this fourscore years, is a director for the Main Mutual Fire Insurance Company which post he has held for forty years. During that time he has also served the company as president.

One son, William F. Wille, resides at Schaumburg, two more children, Henry Wille and Mrs. Henry Freundt live at Elmhurst and the rest live in or near Des Plaines. They are Mrs. Louis Oehlerking, Mrs. Charles Krumwiede, Mrs. Louis Schuldt, Conrad Wille, Mrs. Harry Mensching and Clarence Wille."

I found it to be a fantastic article! Then again, these are my great great grandparents, so I am a bit biased. 
What I found even more fantastic, was the photo from their 60th wedding anniversary. You can see below that they had a hard time containing their immense joy and from the looks of the photo, partied hard in true German fashion.....

  Ahhh, those good old Prussian virtues.... ;)

So Happy belated 135th Wedding Anniversary to my Great Great Grandparents!
It looks like I missed quite a party. :D

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Norway makes an appearance....

 I have Norwegian in me. Have I mentioned that? It might have been easy to miss with all the SWEDISH SWEDISH SWEDISH dispersed through out this blog, but, I am!
   In fact, I found that my SWEDISH great grandfather's own grandfather was Norwegian! (Gasp!) ... But that is for another time....  ; )

      The maternal side of my mother is Smith and Olsen. (Can you guess which is Norwegian?). The Smiths, I've had a ball with, finding treasures and stories and photos.... The Olsens? Well, I have found that there are a lot of Hannahs. And that my great grandmother's father was Ole Olsen. Beyond that, sadly, I've not had much luck.

       Lo and behold has made some connections, yet again. I received an email from a kind woman who told me that one of her (great) grandfathers came over from Norway with his best friend, Ole Olsen. MY Ole. What a surprise to receive in your mailbox! 
       To confirm, she sent me photos from her aunt's album, of my great grandmother, Ole's daughter.

      She had more information and stories on Ole than I did! I was so happy to hear and see whatever she had to share. We began to pass photos around in hopes of identifying some from her albums that had never been labeled. I had high hopes of finally laying eyes on my great great grandfather. We haven't been able to confirm him yet, but I still have hope!

     One day, she sent me a photo of a house. In the email, she said she had been told that this was Ole's house, but it wasn't confirmed. She wanted to know if I had any opinion on it. I sent the photo to my mother, not telling her what it was, but only asking if she recognized this house. She replied,

     "Yes. This was where your grandma lived, It was your great grandmother's house. I was born in this  house." 

      .... Not what I expected!!!

    I wrote back that I had received this from someone who was told this was Ole's house. He is believed to have built it. My mother was surprised. She had no idea that house belonged in the family beyond her grandmother.

   And I wonder, how do things like this get lost? It wasn't that long ago, how did we not know this already? How am I receiving this from the family of my great great grandfather's best friend?

   My answer? Because some families talk, and some families don't. Some families cherish where they came from, and some might prefer to forget. Whether by dysfunction, or general disinterest, some families just DON'T TALK.

   This side... They didn't talk. And how sad this is to me. But how happy I was to receive this information from someone who was searching through their own family, and kindly reached out. 

   We have shared a lot of tidbits and stories through our emails, this kind woman and me. In the future, with her permission, I will have to share some of those stories on this blog, and give my Norwegian roots a little air time. Lord knows they've been stuffed away for far too long.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


One of those beautiful moments happened the other day, when you are chatting with your family and unexpectedly, an old cultural thing comes up concerning our immigrant grandparents. I always get surprised by these little gems that crop up because I've asked so many questions and sat down with so many family members so many times, just drooling at the opportunity to hear some of their childhood memories of the generations before me that I did not have the pleasure of getting to know, or even meet. After so many years you naively think you've covered all the bases and documented every memory from every nook and cranny of every aunt and uncle's, parent, grandparent and cousin's brain.

But we all know that will never happen. 

And so we get moments like this, that I have to write down so I don't forget them.

(Side note: I am writing using the blogger app, and it's allowing me to type up my drafts on the road, from the passenger seat of course. And as I document these family memories, I am driving past O'Hare airport in Chicago, which is part of the land originally settled by my Wille family. I get to drive past the exit that leads to the highway still named Wille Road. Remnants of each of us are left everywhere. You just have to find them....These things, they make me smile.)

  So on to filmjölk... Which apparently in our family was known as simply "fil" You can read more about the scoop on fil Here.

 And in searching for more information about Fil, I found this:   HA!

    So,  It came about in a car ride between talking about trying to duplicate recipes and guessing how long it took for grandma and grandpa to get to America by ship. These conversations tend to run a pretty broad spectrum :)
     We were talking about when the grandparents traveled back to Sweden over the years to visit family. And something during the talks jogged my aunt's memory.
     She said every time her grandparents came back from Sweden they would bring something called "fil" home with them. They obviously couldn't refrigerate it on the way home, so what grandma would do was dry it out on cheesecloth while in Sweden, and pack up the cloth in her luggage and bring it home. Once home, she'd put the cheesecloth with the dried fil into a bowl of milk, and wait for it to turn back into, well, what it once was. 
      The result was this "yogurt" that was very sour or tangy. My aunt remembers her dad and herself always being excited over it. Putting it into a bowl and adding lots and lots of sugar. It was one of those delicious childhood memories she has tried to recreate from recipes, but was never quite right. 
      I should note, that this was not the general consensus for everyone, as my other aunt remembers it as disgusting, and never being able to eat it because it had the texture of snot. Funny how the memories differ person to person :)

  For the record, my aunt has had little luck recreating it the way she had it during her childhood. She was given a hint by someone to try Stonybrook's plain light yogurt. So she bought some, poured her sugar into it, and said with joy that it was the closest thing she's had to the real thing since!

Lost in Translation

    Not as, say, being misunderstood. More like lost in joy. Or something close. Let me explain....

         My husband's father is Mexican, with a rich family history. Not in pesos, but in stories. I was graciously given a pedigree from the family and continued working from there, adding everything I found. But I was missing out. Big time.
         I secretly yearned to meet with his grandmother, who lived far from us, down along the US/Mexico border. But I was scared. Mexican woman can be intimidating in their element. And a big part of that was they spoke a language around me that I didn't understand. So I would talk with my father in law about whatever family history he could remember. But like I said. I was missing out.

     There was a generation of information sitting inside my husband's guela, and she did not speak English. And I was chicken. Anytime she came north to Chicago to visit her kids, the opportunity just never came up. Or, you could say, I skated around it and never even tried to make it happen.
        We went down to Chicago for a Labor Day picnic with my husband's family. My FIL had previously asked me to put something together of everything I had compiled of his family, so, I packed it with us before we left. I had generated very detailed reports, and brought a disc with all the documents I had found in my searching. He was happy. I was happy he was happy. I was so happy, I bit the bullet.
    "Do you think I could bring this with to the picnic, and maybe your mom could go over some of this with me, or share some stories?"
     The request was received well from my FIL, but I waited until it was nearly time to leave to approach his mother about it.  And, well, I didn't really approach her. I asked one of her daughters. steps!

     And she said sure! We went inside and I laid all the reports on the table, opened my laptop and got out my notebook. My husband's Tia sat next to his grandma, and went piece by piece over every document I gave them, but in spanish. Making confirmations and filling in the blanks by translating her responses back to me in English. It was a great experience. I could see on her face when something was missing, or spelled wrong, and would listen very closely to the two of them, trying to understand what was going on. And there were moments when she could not understand me, and i could not understand her, and there would be three people talking two different languages all at the same time, but then suddenly her head would nod, and she'd smile, and I'd smile, feeling like we had accomplished something, even if it was just the correct spelling of someone's name. Before I knew it, I had three pages of notes.

Our family and my husband's Guela, Aug. 2013

     More than anything (and I think this is something that is built into the typical genealogist, one of the very things that wells up from within us and drives us) I relished the time spent at that table with her. I took to heart every memory that was brought up, and every piece of information I was given. I may not have been able to tell what she was saying without the help of her daughter,  but she had that sparkle in her eye that everyone gets when they begin to answer the questions from the unlikely person so interested in their life, in their parent's lives. There was a lightness about her that I enjoyed watching as she conversed back and forth with her daughter over the papers I had laid before them. Those moments to me are the treasure. They are the prize.

    All of us have older generations that are leaving us daily. The wealth of knowledge they carry passes away along with them unless we take the time to tap into that. When we don't we are left guessing. We are left just wishing we could ask them this, or that. And to miss out on the happiness or emotion one exudes while telling their family history is to miss out on one of the great joys of living. Of knowing our roots. This, I feel strongly about.

   I feel blessed to have had the opportunity. Time ran short, and I wasn't able to get into details of the actual lives of her family members, but I hope to maybe next time.

   My advice to you, who may be beginning in genealogy... don't miss out on the opportunity to simply sit and listen with your older generations. They lived the sort of lives that we could not have imagined, and lives that will never be duplicated through history. Learn about them. Learn FROM them. Document it all. And when you are finished, be thankful that you did. Granted, I did this with my own grandparents, but don't neglect your inlaws. The generations that came before your spouse are now also a part of your own history that you will pass on to your children. Take the time to do it while you can. You will not regret it.