Tangled roots

So many names, familiar certainly, but who are they to me? The same name, separated by a generation or two? Variants of those names based on language, religion, familiarity, or remarriage?

These are the questions I dealt with recently when I received a packet of family records from an aunt. She sent death certificates, newspaper obituaries, and funeral cards for several relatives, most of whom were born before 1900. I recognized the names and even remember meeting some of them when I was very young, but that was a long, long time ago. So, with a stack of papers, some vague memories, a few e-mail conversations, and some ancenstry.com hints to guide me, I finally sorted out how my grandfather (Peter Arnold, born 1893), his sisters (Maria Arnold, born 1884, and Anna Arnold, born 1891), their stepbrother (Peter Schwartz, born 1892), and my great grandmother (Anna Oberding Schwartz, born 1859) made their way to the United States.

Our family’s immigration story is probably more common than unusual. Mr. Schwartz and his step-daughter Maria Arnold immigrated from Hungary to the United States in 1903. Their passage was paid by Ernst Biel, who wished to marry 19-year-old Maria. Ernst and Maria married shortly after Maria’s arrival and eventually settled near Gladstone, North Dakota, our family’s home place. Widowed in 1927, Maria subsequently married Mike Hensel, a widower, in 1929. They lived in the Gladstone area until 1960 when they retired to nearby Dickinson.

Mr. Schwartz ended up further west, in Helena, Montana, where he worked as a gardener at a county poor farm. After some months, he was able to send money back to Hungary so that Mrs. Schwartz and their children could join him. They arrived in New York on November 30, 1904. Family lore: Mrs. Schwartz and the three children were “discharged” from immigration detention on December 3, 1904, upon receipt of additional funding for meals between arrival and discharge. The discrepancy resulted, apparently, because Mrs. Schwartz bought passage for Anna Arnold even though Mr. Schwartz didn’t want to pay her fare. Once in Helena, 14-year-old Anna worked as a maid in a private home to pay back the additional cost.

Anna Arnold married in 1910 and settled with her husband, George Carl Focht, in the Gladstone area. My grandparents, Peter Arnold and Magdalena Wehner, married in 1915, and eventually owned a farm near Gladstone. They had 11 children, 10 of whom survived to adulthood. Magdalena died in 1930. Peter married Margaret Pfeiffer in 1934; they had one child.

For whatever reason, I did not realize that Maria and Anna were my grandfather’s siblings. Maria did not have children and, according to my uncles’ accounts, she definitely believed that “children should be seen and not heard.” As far as I can tell, a visit to Aunt Mary’s usually meant solitary confinement to a chair where the unfortunate child was left to his own devices to wait for his parents’ return. Anna and George, on the other hand, had 11 children, thus accounting for the many “Focht” references in our family history.

Despite my ignorance about our family history, I am comforted that my grandfather and his siblings lived close to one another. I don’t (yet) know the details of what happened to John and Anna (Oberding) Schwartz after their 1903-1904 immigrations, but Anna’s headstone in a Gladstone cemetery is a good indicator that she followed her children to that area. More to come…

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5 thoughts on “Tangled roots

  1. Pingback: 52 Ancestors: #1 Peter Ernest Arnold | Tidbits & Treasures

  2. Looks like you’ve been hard at work unraveling mysteries! I know you were excited to get the records. Every little bit of the puzzle brings you closer to a complete story!

  3. I’m enjoying this journey too. There’s a little bit of magic every step of the way as I follow along…so much we know, so much we’d like to know…

  4. Wanda, how lucky you are to have received those records from your aunt, and to be able to sort out your ancestors’ path to America. My family research seems to be stymied at every turn by illegitimate births and unknown paternity. And nobody stayed put at all…. I do enjoy reading about your genealogical adventures!

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