Category: Immigration

Matrilineal Monday – St. Gallen to El Paso

Maria Rusch

My great-great-grandmother, Maria Elizabeth Rusch, was born on Christmas 1859 in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Her parents were J. A. and Maria (Scheuerman) Rusch. In her early years Maria worked in one of the lace embroidery factories in St. Gallen.

Then on 3 March 1885, George John Hunkler, who had been born in St. Gallen on 20 September 1862 and emigrated to America in 1883, paid $19.78 (the equivalent of approximately $500, according to one inflation calculator):

for the passage of Miss Maria Rusch in the Steerage of one of the Steamers of the “RED STAR LINE” from ANTWERP to NEW YORK/PHILADELPHIA and for the Railroad Fare from Bassel Schweiz. to ANTWERP and from NEW YORK/PHILADELPHIA to Washington [Illinois]

Maria’s ticket was good for one year, and on 14 December 1886 in Peoria, Illinois, Maria and George were married by Gottlieb Traub, a Lutheran pastor. By 1900 the Hunklers had five children; the family was enumerated in Washington, Illinois in June of that year:

June 4 1900 Washington Twp Tazewell Illinois 
13 13 Hunkler George J Head W M Sept 1862 37 M 13 Switzerland Farmer 
—Mary Wife W F Dec 1859 40 M 13 5 5 Switzerland 
—Berely [Bertha] Daughter W F May 1887 13 S Switzerland 
—Matilda Daughter W F Oct 1888 11 S Switzerland 
—John G Son W M July 1891 8 S Switzerland  
—Lenie Daughter W F Dec 1892 7 S Switzerland 
—Huldy Daughter W F Feb 1896 4 S Switzerland 

“Lenie” was Lena, my great-grandmother. By 1910 only John and Hulda remained at home, and in 1920-1930 George and Maria are living alone in Elmwood, Illinois. George died in 1934, and in 1940 “Marie,” age 80, is enumerated living alone on Lilac Street in Elmwood. She would die 8 years later on 27 September 1948 in Dowell Nursing Home in El Paso, Illinois, of acute cardiac failure. She and George are buried in Glendale Cemetery in Washington, Illinois.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday – The S.S. Angelo

S. S. Angelo

The S.S. Angelo, built in 1874, carried my great-great-grandmother, Agnette, and her son Emil from Norway to America four years later.  Later that year Agnette would marry my great-great-grandfather, Anders Roberg.

Sophie, Anders, Severin, Emil, Agnette, and Sena

Tombstone Tuesday – the Hoffmann Pioneers

Usually I find myself referring to Jacob Hoffmann, my 2G and 3G-grandfather, as our emigrant ancestor. While he was the patriarch of the family, he wasn’t the first of our Hoffmann branch to arrive in America. This distinction actually goes to two of Jacob’s daughters, Anna and Catherine. 

Of Jacob’s 17 children by his two wives, the last four were born in America; 11 emigrated to America; and only two, Lisa and John, remained in France. Lisa was the eldest and already married when her family decided to leave France; John was the third child and eldest son. Anna was the second of Jacob’s children and was born September 24, 1859 in Renaucourt, France. On June 10, 1878 she was married to Ferdinand Schott (a big thanks to Cousin Daniel in France for providing copies of these records).

Four years later Anna and Ferdinand, along with Anna’s sister (my great-great-grandmother) Catherine arrived at Castle Garden in New York on April 13, 1882 on the ship St. Germain. In spite of the confusion of surnames, the family is identifiable:

Mrs. Angela Hoffmann 22 F[emale] France New York
Angelo d[itt]o 1/2 M[ale] do do
Mrs. Catherine do 23 F do do
Emile do 1/2 M do do
Ferdinand Schott 33 Carpenter do do
Louis do 2 yr. do do

More information about Catherine’s history in America can be found in earlier posts here. Anna and Ferdinand (“Fred”) lived in Gridley, Illinois, for some time, then later moved to Kansas before returning to Illinois in 1888. Anna and Ferdinand had nine children in all, including Lewis and the twins Angela and Emil, who all sailed with them on the St. Germain. Children born in America were: Bertha, Anna, Caroline, Catherine, Leah, and Martha. Anna, Sr., died September 9, 1919 and was buried three days later in Cissna Park, Illinois. Fifteen years later Ferdinand died and was buried in Cissna Park as well.

Mrs. Anna Schott passed peacefully to her rest Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 9:30 a.m. at her home in the northwest part of town. She had been in poor health for several years but was confined to her bed for a period of three months.

Anna Hoffmann was born in Remicourt, France, Sept. 24, 1859 and was married to Ferdinand Schott in 1877. They lived at Vitrey, France until 1881 when they sailed for America, coming direct to Illinois.

Later they moved to Kansas. In 1888 they again moved to Illinois, making the trip in a covered wagon. It took them seven weeks to arrive at their destination at Hopedale, Ill. From there they again moved to Armington, Minier, and then to Cissna Park, where they have since made their home.

To this union nine children were born: the twins, Emil and Angela, preceeding her in death. The surviving children are Lewis F. of Shelbyville, Ind., Mrs. Chas. Kercher of Wolcott, Ind., Mrs. Benj. E. Krantz of Peoria, Caroline Kathryn, Leah and Martha who are at home. She is also survived by her husband the following brothers and sisters John Hoffmann of France, Mrs. Phillip Yost, Mrs. S. R. Stoller, Paul Hoffmann and Mrs. Orville Farney of Fairbury, Mrs. Jeff Springer of Danvers, Mrs. Albert Schwing of Francisville [sic], Ind., Mrs. Joe Schwing of LaCrosse, Ind., Joseph Hoffmann of Roanoke, Mrs. George Bauer and Sam Hoffmann of Cissna Park and Andy Hoffmann of Hoopeston.

The funeral services were held at the Christian Apostolic church southeast of town, Friday, Sept. 12, and was largely attended by her many relatives and friends.

Grandfathers, 1883 – 2013

Genealogy finds much of its meaning in the links and connections between one generation and the next. Sometimes these links take the form of a repeated relationship such as that between a grandfather and grandchild. Other connections are found in dates commemorated from one year to the next.

Thirty years ago today, my maternal grandfather, Joseph Benjamin Hoffmann, died in Caldwell, Idaho. I remember certain things about Grandpa Hoffmann – his intentional mispronunciation of “pizza” (and how he would never eat it, or hot dogs, which at 9 years old I found bizarre). I remember him cooking steaks on the grill on the back patio, and how heat rose off the grill in blurry waves.  My brother remembers Grandpa reaching down to massage his head with his hand while saying to him, “Crow lights on a fence post.”

One hundred years to the day before Grandpa died, on May 16, 1883,Grandpa’s own grandfather, Jacob Hoffmann, arrived in Philadelphia on the steamship Zeeland, bringing his family to America from Alsace-Lorraine and paving the way for a new life here. Jacob died in January 1914 when Grandpa was only six. One wonders what memories he had of his grandfather.

Grandpa Hoffmann now has a new namesake, my two-year-old nephew Benjamin. Benjamin and my father have their own special relationship.  “Beepaw” is always in great demand when we visit, carting Benjamin around to look at the dining room light fixture and the “Iron Fireman” clock which used to hang at Hoffman Sheet Metal, the shop in Caldwell Grandpa started with his brother Lee. One day when Benjamin is a little older I’m sure his daddy will tell him about the great-grandfather for whom he was named and maybe demonstrate for him how a crow lights on a fence post.


Surname Saturday – Hunkler

According to, the surname Hunkler is of Swiss German derivation, a shortened form of a Germanic personal name meaning either “giant” or “bear cub.”  In the 2000 census, there were only 241 individuals in the U.S. named Hunkler.

Our Hunkler branch also hails from Switzerland – the earliest known ancestor by this name was John George Hunkler who was born in Switzerland and was apparently a bricklayer.  He and his wife, Margaret Egger, had six children: Huldreich, Ursule, George John, Henry, John George, and Adeline.  The three boys and Adeline (Adella) emigrated to the U.S. at various times in the 1880s or after.  I’ve found the emigration record for John George, who was 15 when he sailed (apparently alone) on the ship Belgenland in 1886:

After arriving in the U.S. Adella married Fritz Meier and eventually settled in Michigan. She died in 1958 in White Pigeon.

The three Hunkler sons settled in Illinois.  The eldest, my great-great-grandfather George John, born September 20, 1862, emigrated around 1883 and by 1886 was in Washington, Illinois.  On December 14 of that year he married Maria Elisabeth Rusch, paying $19.78 for her passage on a Red Star Line steamer from Antwerp to New York or Philadelphia, and railroad fare from Basel to Antwerp and from New York or Philadelphia to Washington, Illinois. George and Maria had five children: Bertha Elizabeth (Bert), Matilda (Tillie), John George, Lena Agnes, and Hulda Catherine. George John died in 1934, Maria in 1948; both are buried in Glendale Cemetery in Washington.

Lena Hunkler at 15

Lena, my great-grandmother, was born December 22, 1892 in Washington and married Albert Carl Swing one hundred years ago this June 18. They had three children: Roy Albert, Velma Marie (my maternal grandmother), and Marilyn Margaret. Lena and Albert eventually moved to Harlingen, Texas, dying in 1969 and 1964, and are buried at Restlawn Cemetery in La Feria.

Henry Hunkler, born 1864, married Elizabeth Hess in 1891 and had four children: Elmer Henry, Irma Elizabeth, Arthur Melven, and Mildred Bernice. Henry died in 1928 in Washington, Illinois (Elizabeth in 1926), and is also buried in Glendale Cemetery.

John George married Bertha Geiger in 1904 and had two children: Agnes Alvina and Walter Eugene.  John and Bertha are also buried in Glendale Cemetery after dying in 1955 and 1946.

Mary Demler and the Floating Hotel

My great-great grandmother, Mary (or Marie) Demler, was born in Baden, Germany, on 17 January 1855.  She was the daughter of Johan and Catherine Marie (Reser) Demler.  Johan and Catherine also had two sons, Wilhelm K. (b. 15 November 1847) and August Frederick (b. ca. 1849).

In 1864 the family moved from Germany to the U.S.  They appear on a New York passenger list dated 3 December 1864 and were processed through the Castle Garden Immigration Center (precursor to Ellis Island). The manifest records the Demler family as follows:  Johan, age 48; Maria, 40; Wilhelm, 18; August,  16; and Marie, 11 (though according to our records Marie was only nine years old). The ship that transported the family was the Jacob A. Stamler.

I was able to obtain a bit more information regarding this ship, which had a long and varied life.  The Gotham History Blotter tells its story.  It was originally launched 11 October 1856 so was a year and a half younger than Mary Demler.  The Stamler followed a fixed route and schedule, originally to Antwerp and later to Le Havre (which is where our Demlers embarked).  After years of transporting immigrants to America the Stamler was used for general shipping of merchandise until the turn of the 20th century. Then in 1899 a millionaire and philanthropist named John Arbuckle purchased the Stamler.  Originally the ship was used to ferry men and women around New York Harbor, then later it was anchored in place and used as a “floating hotel” for the young working classes. Eventually only girls making less than $7 a week were allowed. Mr. Arbuckle died in 1912, and the Stamler was shut down a few years later as a potential fire hazard, having served for nearly 60 years.

As for our Demlers, they moved first to Washington, Illinois, and then in 1868 to Fairbury.  On 24 November 1875 Mary married Samuel Slagel in Fairbury.  Samuel and Mary had four children: Samuel (who died at age 4), Daniel, Emma, and Joseph.  Mary died on 3 February 1928 at 107 East Walnut Street in Fairbury and was buried in Graceland Cemetery.