The Orphan in My Family Tree, Part 4

This is Part 4 of The Orphan in My Family Tree. It is the true tale of my ongoing search for the parents of my great great grandpa Fritz, who was orphaned in New York City in the late 1870s and sent, at the age of seven, to live with a foster family in Bow Valley, Nebraska.

Fritz’s Adult Life in Nebraska

Reaffirming the details of Fritz’s adult life through census records, marriage records, birth certificates, and other church and county records provides a picture of his family life in adulthood and (I’m hoping) potential clues to his earlier life, before he joined his foster family in Nebraska.

We know from the 1885 Nebraska Census that Fritz had by that time joined his foster family, the Arens, in Bow Valley, Nebraska, where he was recorded in the school censuses of 1882-1886 as continuing to live with the Arens and to be attending school with the Arens children. No records have been found yet for the period between 1886 and 1900 that give us details about how long Fritz stayed with the Arens family, or when he struck out on his own. In 1900, when he was probably about seventeen years old, Fritz is recorded in the federal census records for Bow Valley, Nebraska living and working as a farm laborer for Stephen Stevens, a neighbor of the Arens family who took Fritz in when he was around seven. The census enumerator recorded that Fritz was able to read, write, and speak English. It is unknown how long Fritz lived and worked at the Stephen Stevens farm.

The next official record for Fritz appears four years later, and is the marriage license for “Fritz Brand” and “Threse Wiebelhaus,” most commonly referred to in my family tree as Theresa. Fritz and Theresa were married in 1904 in Bow Valley by Father Anthony Birnbach, who was one of the founding members, and literal builders, of the Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Bow Valley. Approximately a year and a half after what I sincerely hope was their happy union, Fritz and Theresa welcomed a son, Lawrence, who was followed by sisters Susan, who was my “Great Grandma Sue,” and Hilaria. Sometime between their marriage and the 1910 Federal Census, Fritz and Theresa lost a child, a detail I only know because the 1910 census includes the following information for Theresa: children born, 4; number living, 3. At the time of the 1910 census, Henry Wiebelhaus is also listed as living in Fritz and Theresa’s household as a “boarder.” Fritz is recorded in the census as renting the farm on which they lived (farm 57 according to the farm schedule) and working on his “own account” as a General Farmer. Soon after this, Fritz and Theresa moved from Bow Valley to nearby Hartington, and completed their family with son Raymond.

Fritz and Theresa were still in Hartington in 1914, when Fritz filled out his WWI Draft Registration Card with the name “Fred Brand.” On this card, Fritz listed his age as 44, and his birthdate at 15 May 1874. He was described on the card as a tall man, of medium build, with brown eyes and black hair. Fritz listed his wife as Theresa Brand, and his occupation as “working as a laborer for William Beckenhauer,”  who an additional dive into the census reveals was probably a furniture manufacturer in a nearby town.

In 1920, Fritz is recorded in the census again as a general laborer, working for wages, and is still shown to be living with Theresa, Lawrence, Susan, Hilaria, and Raymond in Hartington.

After the 1920 census, the next officially recorded event found so far for Fritz’s family is Theresa’s death in 1925, followed by Fritz’s own death a year later.

This brief outline of Fritz’s adult life reveals a number of basic and intriguing details, and opens the door to many questions about his life, his work, his family relationships, and the towns in which his family lived, worked, and worshipped. While many of those details cannot be known, there is much to be learned about what life at this time in Nebraska was like from local and regional newspapers and history books. I’ve included a few ideas below for searching for similar information regarding family history. In the next post, I look forward to returning my focus to the questions surrounding Fritz’s birth date, his parents, and his early life.

Resources for Official Records

Since my first post about Fritz, I’ve shared links to resources for records like the ones I relied on here to confirm key details regarding the framework of the story of Fritz’s adult life in Nebraska. Those links include, among others, The National Archives Records Administration, The U.S. Census Bureau, and The USGenWeb Project.

Resources for Adding Color and Context

While the details included in official records for Fritz are important for confirming the facts of his life, clues that provide context about what his daily life may have been like can be found in local and regional newspapers, as well as local and regional histories published at the time.

Links to resources for historical newspaper articles can be found in my third post about Fritz.

Books containing local and regional histories can often be found online through county and state sites on The USGenWeb Project and at websites such as The Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is a free access digital library that contains a wonderful grab bag of digitized histories, pamphlets, magazine, books, video, audio, and images.

Your local library is also a rich resource for access to both print and digitized historical information. Your local library staff can assist you with not only finding materials to aid your family history research, they can direct you toward local and regional historical societies that provide not only a wealth of information, but also knowledgable contacts who can help you on the road to solving your family mysteries.


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