Maiden Aunt


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Martha is first one on the left


The topic this week for  52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks  is Maiden Aunt.  I could only find one maiden aunt, and I have already written about her.  So I decided to write about someone who is not a blood relative, but was someone who I thought of as an Aunt and loved.

My grandmother’s brother, Ralph Bowers, was married to Helen Treppa.  Helen had a sister Martha who lived with Ralph and Helen.  When Uncle Ralph and Aunt Helen came to holiday or Sunday dinners, Martha was usually with them.  Martha (Marty was her nickname) paid a lot of attention to me when I was a child, and I loved the attention.  I remember her as a very sweet and quiet lady.  At the time, I just enjoyed Martha’s company and attention, and never thought about her life.  So I really don’t know very much about it.  All I really know is from researching records, and there are not a lot of records on Martha.  No surprises surfaced like a secret marriage or illegitimate children.  She must have led a very normal quiet life, just like I thought. 

Martha was born to John and Helen Treppa on 4 May 1911 in Cook County, Illinois.[1] Martha was the youngest of five children.[2] The family lived at 1441 Lill Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.[3]  When I knew Martha she lived in that same house on Lill Avenue with her sister Helen and brother-in-law Ralph Bowers.  They lived on the second floor and someone else lived downstairs.  In 1940 her brother John and his family lived on the lower level[4] and sometime later they moved and then the apartment was rented out.

Martha worked as a packer for a wholesale meat company.[5]  She always seemed old-fashioned and she was the typical maiden aunt of the time.  Martha died 7 August 1992 at 81 years, 3 months and 3 days old in the state of Washington.[6]

I will always think of Martha with love and remember her kindness and quiet ways.

Copyright © 2018 Gail Grunst

[1] Cook County, Illinois, Birth Certificates Index, 1871-1922 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.  Original data:  “Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878–1922.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2009. Illinois. Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878–1922. Illinois Department of Public Health. Division of Vital Records, Springfield.

[2] Year: 1920; Census Place: Chicago Ward 24, Cook (Chicago), Illinois; Roll: T625_335; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 1359

Source Information: 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.  Original data: Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. (NARA microfilm publication T625, 2076 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C. For details on the contents of the film numbers, visit the following NARA web page: NARA. Note: Enumeration Districts 819-839 are on roll 323 (Chicago City).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Year: 1940; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: m-t0627-01012; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 103-2902.  Source Information: 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.  Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. T627, 4,643 rolls.

[5] Ibid.

[6] U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2014.  Original data: Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration.



The Old Homestead

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Grandma and Grandpa’s House

The old homestead to me is my grandparent’s house.   I lived in three different houses between 1 and 18 years old.  But my grandparents stayed in their house.  We never lived far from them and it was my second home.  Anytime I felt like it, I could walk or ride my bike to Grandma’s.  They didn’t have a big house, and they didn’t change things very often.  It was typical two bedroom one bath bungalow.  It was always there from the time I can remember until I was in my 40’s when it was sold because Grandma and Grandpa were gone.  Sometimes I wish it would have stayed in the family.  But I have wonderful memories of the house and their big yard.  Grandpa and Grandma both liked to garden.  They had flower beds all around the back yard and house.  Plus they had a large vegetable garden and grape barber.  There was an old chicken coop in back that Grandpa kept his garden tools in.  I always worried that something would come running out of it.  Next to the chicken coop was a compost pile.  We didn’t dare throw coffee grounds, potato peels, or egg shells in the garbage, they and other scraps went in the compost pile.  The Great Western railroad tracks that ran behind her house, and they only ran freight trains.  My brother loved trains, and he could hear one coming before anyone else.  He would run out there to watch it go by and wave to the engineer.  He would be standing there and nothing would come.  We thought he was mistaken, but sure enough shortly one would come.  Grandma made friends with all kinds of creatures such as; the squirrels, possums, raccoons, and even snakes, and fed them all.  They had some fruit trees and Grandma would make jelly from the fruit.  She made the best cherry, crabapple, and grape jelly.

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Part of Grandma and Grandpa’s back yard.  You can see the railroad tracks in back. 

 In front there were five or six stairs that led up to a screened front porch.  The porch had a swing, cot, and rocking chair.  Grandpa would sit on swing and Grandma in the rocking chair.  The rest of us either sat next to Grandpa on the swing or on the cot.  Many a hot summer nights were spent on the porch.  No cell phones, no computer, no TV, just conversation.  We never ran out of things to say and never tired of hearing Grandma and Grandpa’s stories.  I do wish I paid more attention back then, it would make searching for ancestors easier.  Although, I’m sure some of the stories were exaggerated.  

To the left on the porch was the door that led to the living room.  There were three windows together that faced the front of the house.  Grandpa’s chair was in the corner next to the windows.  They had a table in front of the windows filled with plants and some plants on the floor.   There was a sofa along one wall and chair on the opposite wall in the corner.  Next to that chair was some shelves and the TV set. 

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Grandma and Grandpa’s living room at Christmas time.

There was an Archway that led to the dining room.  Grandma had a big table and buffet.  In one corner was a secretary desk with rounded glass cabinet.  There was a big heavy swinging door that led to kitchen, and most of the time the door was left open.  Next to the door way to the kitchen was a little desk which the telephone was on.  Along one wall there were two windows looking out to the side yard.  On the opposite wall was her buffet and next to the buffet was a doorway to the hall which led to the bedrooms and bathroom.   

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Grandma and Grandpa in their dining room in front of the secretary with the curved glass.  Grandma is blocking the curved glass. 

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Grandma’s dining room.  Grandma at the head of the table and my mother standing behind her.









The front bedroom had a double bed, dresser, and a cedar chest.  It had two windows to the front which looked out to the front porch.  When I was a kid, I liked to climb through them to the porch.  In the back bedroom were a chest of drawers, a double bed, and Grandma’s treadle sewing machine.  The kitchen had a sink on one wall, a table in front of the window.  The opposite wall had a cabinet and stove.  The pantry door was next to the stove.  Her pantry was filled with everything.  Dishes, pots, pans, food, and a dresser full of recipes that she had cut out of newspapers and magazines.  On the back wall was window and a door to the basement and outside.  When you walked out the door there was a landing and straight ahead was the refrigerator.  A turn to the right was five or six stairs down to the back door.  If you turned around there were five or six more stairs to the basement.  This house had a coal furnace and they had a room near the furnace that held the coal.  Grandpa would make sure the fire was going before he left for work and again when he came home and before he went to bed.  If it was really cold, Grandma had to feed it some coal during the day.  They finally got a gas furnace in the 1970’s, and that was only because they were forced to.  Coal had become hard to get and expensive because by this time no one had coal furnaces anymore.  In the basement grandma had another stove which she used on holidays and really hot days.  Her washer and dryer were down there too.  She didn’t always have a dryer and hung clothes outside or in the basement when it rained or was too cold to hang clothes outside.  She had a small room the size of a large walk in closet that she referred to as the fruit cellar.  In there she had all the things that she canned, plus canned goods she bought at the grocery store.  She had it very organized too, so when she sent me down for a can of beans, they were easy to find.

Of course, I remember holidays and other family gatherings at her house.  I remember walking in on Thanksgiving and smelling the turkey cooking.  She was a great cook so I always enjoyed meals there.  I remember the conversations and the laughter at our family gatherings.  It was a cozy house and grandma and grandpa always made us feel welcome.   I enjoyed this trip back in time to their home and hope you did too.

The old homestead was the topic for  52 ancestors in 52 weeks last week.  I’m a little late in posting it due to the Easter holiday.

Copyright © 2017 Gail Grunst


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John and Herman Desens farm on left side of road as it looks today.

Misfortune seems to have followed John Desens around. About six years before he was killed by his neighbor, Fred Zell, his son, Herman,  was killed when he accidently shot himself.

The latest victim of careless handling of guns is Herman Desens, a man about thirty years of age who lived with his father across from Fred Zell’s place west of town (Greenwood, Clark Co). Friday evening, Oct. 18, 1901 as the two were about to leave the clearing where they had been working, the young man went after his shot gun, which he had left nearby standing against a log. He seized the gun by the muzzle and drew it toward him, and in doing so the hammer cocked, discharging the load of one barrel into his breast. The father hearing the shot, looked up, but noticing his son standing thought nothing of the shot and stooped to his work, when he heard his son give an exclamation and saw him start for the house. The man only went a few yards when he dropped to the ground dead. The funeral occurred at the cemetery on the West Side Sunday afternoon. Deceased, with his father, came to Greenwood about two years ago and have lived together on their small clearing.[1]

Another account is from Marshfield Times October 25, 1901.

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Family story was they were killed by Indians.  It looks like the family stories were wrong.

Copyright © 2018 Gail Grunst

[1] From website:

Lucky Date Book

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The topic this week for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is lucky.  “Do you have an ancestor who was lucky at something? Lucky to be alive? Lucky at cards? Lucky in love? Maybe you have an ancestor with a name that reminds you of luck or fortune. There’s always “luck of the Irish.” Maybe you have a story of how luck played a role in finding an ancestor.”

I have racked my brain trying to come up with a lucky ancestor.  So instead of a lucky ancestor, I decided that I would write about my luck that my grandmother kept good records.  My grandmother kept a date book and sometimes she made comments on the pages.  Her dates are mostly correct, and I love her comments.  This datebook has helped me find her parents, grandparents, and cousins.  Plus my grandfather’s family.

Here are some excerpts from the Date book.

 Inscribed inside:

“To Mother on her birthday Dec. 3rd 1944, With Love, Dot.” 

Jan 1 — Charles Steinhauser 1898 – Fred’s cousin on his mother’s side Aunt Barbara’s son.  Died in 1962.

Jan 2 – Dear Brother Ralph C. Bowers born June 18, 1897 in Chicago, Illinois.  Died on January 5th 1963 after having a stroke on January 2, 1963.  Had heart attack a year or so before.

Jan 4 — Gregory August born on this day – Gail and Bruce’s child weighed in over 8lbs.  One wonderful boy!

Jan 6 – Grandpa Kaiser died on this date in 1933.  He was a kind person and we were sorry to see him go.  69 years old – Rudolph Kaiser

Jan 20 – Grandma Reinhardt – Anna Maria’s Birthdate.  Died June 11, 1910 (nee Schweppler).

Feb 10 – Aunt Elizabeth Louise — Born in South Amana, Iowa 1881.  Aunt Liz passed away Aug 5th 1966 5:20 PM on Friday.  Buried in Ottawa on Aug 9th 1966

Feb 14 – Born Eva Fredericka Reinhardt Feb 4, 1877 Nussellock Germany – Died Dec 23, 1941.

Feb 20 – 1971 Abigail Helen married Bruce A at Calvary U. M. Church at 5pm. In a candlelight service that was beautiful.  May god keep and bless them always.

March 17 –Julius Reinhardt – Cousin – In service 1945

March 28 – Mark Lynn Reinhardt – Cousin – In the Marines, some place in the South Pacific 1945.

April 3 – Our baby Richard was born on this date in 1930. Lived just 11 days.  Premature by two and half months.

April 5 – Birthdate of my father and also Fred’s father.  Robert Bowers. Rudolph Kaiser.

June 11 – Our third baby boy (still born) on this date in 1933.  Very Premature.

July 1 – Birthday of our daughter Dorothy La Von 1924  Born Tuesday 10:35 pm.  Grant Hospital – Chicago, Illinois 6lbs 5 oz.

July 12 – Ronnie’s birthday 1955.  May god guide him in all ways.

July 14 – And they did it.  Dot and George were married here at home at 5:00pm on Saturday by Pastor Beigner of Elmhurst.  Their attendants were Joe and Velma Mitchell a very dear couple.  Guests were Fran and Pat, Ralph and Helen, Liz and Tim, Mr. and Mrs. Manfroid, Mr. and Mrs. Beischer, and Donnie.  Eighteen in all.  And a nice time was had by all.

July 16 – Our anniversary.  Fred and I were married on this day in 1923.  Dr. Fred M. Doyle gave me away.  By Pastor A. Meyer.  Went to Wisconsin Dells for honeymoon.

Oct 9 – Our second great-grandson born at Delnor Hospital this day.  Weighed in at 7 lbs.  Brian Andrew to our dear granddaughter and her good husband.  May god continue to bless all four of them always. First great grandson Gregory A.

Dec 16 – Mother suffered stroke on this day in 1941 and passed away one week later.  Terrible, terrible day.

Dec 17 – Birthday of Grandma Kaiser (Wilhelmina Springer) Fred’s mother.

Dec 23—Mother passed away at the Columbus Hospital at about 1:30 pm on Tuesday 1941.  Can’t begin to say how much I miss her.

As you can see this is a goldmine of information for a genealogist.  She identifies people for example she said Mark Reinhardt – Cousin.  She writes when her mother was born and where.  She also writes when her mother died, in what hospital she died in, the time, and year.  She writes about two premature babies she had that died.  I left a lot out and only wrote a few entries to show how she kept records.  I feel very, very lucky to have inherited this book.  I have used it a lot over the years.  She left other items to me also such as letters, cards, post cards, document, etc.  I wish I had such items from all sides of my family tree.  Thank-you Grandma, and I think you would love some of the information I have gathered on your family over the years. 

Copyright © 2018 Gail Grunst

Strong Women

This weeks topic for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is strong women.  I could not come up with one that I haven’t already written about. So I have decided to do a review of the strong female ancestors.  


The first person to pop into my head when I think of strong women is my Aunt Fran.  Aunt Fran was born in 1900.  She is my grandmother’s sister.  I knew Aunt Fran and adored her.  She was divorced and raised her daughter alone.  She worked sewing in sweat shops.  My grandmother said she was a tomboy.  She liked to go hunting and fishing with the boys.  She seemed to have an abundant of energy and worked until her death in 1971.  I consider her strong for being a single mother when it was frowned upon to be divorced.  I think she was strong because she had to work all the time and still she raised a fine daughter.  Click here to read more Memories of Aunt Fran.

Eva Bowers

Eva Bowers

The next person is Aunt Fran and my grandmother’s mother, Eva Bowers.  I think she was a strong person because she also raised her children without help from their father.  She worked all her life too. Click here to read more Great-Grandmother Eva.

Emma, Mom, Liz 1943

Aunt Emma, my mom, Aunt Liz 1943

Another strong person is Eva sister, Emma.  I picked Emma because she was married twice to two strong men and I think she had to be strong to cope with them, especially the first one.   Click here to read more Aunt Emma’s Two Lives.

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I think that my grandmother, Helen Desens, was a strong woman.  I think she was strong because in 1933 she had a son born with a mental disability.  There was not a lot of help in those days for those with mental disabilities.  She kept him at home and took care of him herself.  During this time the Great Depression was going on and my grandfather lost his business and they lost their home.  Then around 1940 my grandmother started suffering from kidney disease and finally succumbed to it in 1946.  I heard she had a great sense of humor and kept it during the tough times.  I never knew her, but picture her as a strong woman. Click here to read more Dear Grandma

I sure there are many more strong women in the family.  I think the women had to be strong to leave their country of origin to come to America leaving behind their parents, siblings, and friends.  Most had large families and took care of the children and house while their husbands worked.  Some lost children in childbirth or as infants and young children.  They had to be strong to survive it all.  I admire all of them and wish I knew more about them to tell their stories too. 

Copyright © 2018 Gail Grunst

Where there is a will

John Desens Probabe (2)

Unfortunately, not everyone leaves a will. A few of my ancestors had wills, but the majority did not.  Most did not have wills because they had nothing of value.  When a person dies without a will it is called intestate.  If they own real estate or enough valuables and do not leave a will, their estate will go through probate court.  An administrator will be appointed by the court to settle the estate.  If they die leaving a will it is called testate and an executor is named in the will to carry out the provisions in the will.

There were no surprises in the wills I have found so far.   But I had one ancestor, John Desens, that died intestate and his farm and personal property went through probate.  I wanted to find a will to prove that he was my great-great grandfather. I was 95% sure that he was my ancestor through circumstantial evidence, but I had no documents to prove it.  Instead of a will I found a probate file, and sent for it from McIntyre Library at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire.  When the probate file arrived, I was thrilled to fine the proof I needed. In the probate file there is a notarized letter from each heir that they are the son or daughter of John Desens, and they also name their brother and sisters in the letters. My great grandfather, Carl Desens, is the son of John Desens.[1] This probate file has a lot of pages, and I couldn’t read some of them because they were copied from microfilm.  Now the files have been digitized, and I found the entire probate file online at and much easier to read.  I just recently read the whole document.  Sometimes you find interesting tidbits in probate files, and I found a winner in this one.  I have already written about John Desens, but at the time I did not have all the information.  To recap a little, John Desens was killed by his neighbor Fred Zell.  It seems that Fred Zell tried to sue the estate for $5000 in damages done to his hand during the fight.  The administrator of the John Desens estate counter sues Fred Zell for $5900.  Here is a transcript of three interesting pages in the probate file. I highlighted in red the most interesting part.  

State of Wisconsin Clark County County Court

In the matter of the estate of John Desens deceased late of the town of Eaton Clark County

 Now comes C.H. Clute as administrator of the Estate of John Desens deceased by R. F. Kornitz his attorney and files this his objection to the allowance of the claims or any part thereof of Fred Zell filed against said estate in said Court on the 20th day of December A.D. 1900 for assault and battery to the damages five thousand dollars for the reason that the said Fred Zell did not prior to the death of said John Desens and does not now have any claim or lien and against said John Desens or otherwise in any manner whatsoever.  And by the way of a claim or cause of action and counter claim to the pretended claim of Fred Zell against the estate of John Desens deceased filed on the 20th day of December 1907 in the County Court for Clark County aforesaid which is here in before objected to the said C. H. Clute as administrator of said estate and for the use and benefit of said estate by R. F. Kornitz his attorney alleges that C. H. Clute is duly appointed administrator of said estate and is now acting as such administrator of the estate of said John Desens deceased, and that he is prosecuting this claim for and in behalf of said estate and for its benefit and use.  That heretofore to wit on the 26 day of June A.D. 1907 at the town of Eaton in said county upon information and belief the said administrator alleges that the said Fred Zell did at said time and place unlawfully, willfully, wrongfully and feloniously assault, strike, beat, bruise, cut, stab, kick, choke, throw down to the ground with great violence and while so down choke, stab, beat, and bruise the said John Desens and threatened to kill the said John Desens and put him greatly in fear of his life.  That therefore and thereby the said John Desens was made sick, sore, lame, and disabled from attending to his business and to care for himself in any manner whatsoever from said 26th day of June A.D. 1907 to the time of his death thereafter.  That his estate is liable and will be obliged to pay for medical attendance, nursing, medicines, food, and care caused by said unlawful assault to the damage of his said estate in the sum of five thousand nine hundred dollars.  That this counter claim or course of action grew out of the same pretend tort and at the same time and place the pretend Claim of said Fred Zell is made against the estate herein.

Wherefore the said C.H. Clute as administrator and for the use and benefit of said estate demands judgement against the claimant Fred Zell that he take nothing by his claim and that the estate have judgement against said Fred Zell for the sum of five thousand nine hundred dollars damages and the costs and disbursements herein.[2]

R. F. Kornitz

Attorney for C. H. Clute as administrator

for the estate of John Desens deceased

The part I was really interested in is where he describes how John Desens was beaten and stabbed by Fred Zell.  Click here to read the entire story of John Desens Killed by Neighbor.

This was last weeks topic for 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks.  I am a little late in posting due to illness.  

Copyright © 2018 Gail Grunst

[1] Probate Case Files, Ca. 1873-1917, and Beginning with File No. 2699, Ca. 1900-1917, 1918 General Probate Index; Author: Wisconsin. County Court (Clark County); Probate Place: Clark, Wisconsin.

[2] Ibid.

Heirloom Quilts

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This weeks topic for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks  is Heirloom. 

I have several things that have been handed down to me mainly from my mother’s side of the family.  Today I want to focus on two quilts made by my great-grandmother, Eva Reinhardt.  My great-grandmother came to America from Germany  with her parents in December 1879 when she was 21 months old and her brother John was four months old[1]. Eva’s parents, Conrad and Anna Reinhardt, settled in Amana, Iowa.[2]  I always wondered what attracted them to the Amana Colonies.  Did they belong to the Community of True Inspiration in Germany?  I don’t know the answer to this yet.  Usually people tend to settle in places where they have relatives or friends.  Who did Conrad and Anna know in the Amana Colonies?  As it turns out Conrad had an Aunt that lived in Amana.  Maybe there were others as well, however at this point I can only find the aunt.   

Aunt Elisabeth Schuh came to the Ebenezer Society in September 1847 at age 16 and then to Amana in October 1863.[3] She did not come with her own family, but came with the Bortz family with the intention of going to live in Galion, OH.[4]  According to the Bortz family, Elisabeth’s parents did not approve of her relationship with a certain boy and shipped her to America.[5]  She is described as 6’ 2” tall and 225 lbs.[6] or a person of size and strength.[7]  Elisabeth spent her life in Amana and it appears she never married.  Elisabeth Schuh was born on May 26, 1831 in Nussloch, Baden, Germany[8] and died on May 25 1908 one day shy of her 77th birthday.[9]  She is buried in the Amana Cemetery in Amana, Iowa.[10]

Conrad and Anna only stayed in Amana a little over three years and then moved to Ottawa, LaSalle, Illinois.[11]  Eva was five years old at this time and spent the rest of her youth in Ottawa, Illinois.  She became a milliner and seamstress.  Her daughters, Helen and Frances, inherited her seamstress skills.  Frances earned her living sewing first in a sweat shop and later in bridal shop.   My grandmother, Helen, was a housewife and sewed for her family.  She made quilts out of my mother’s old dresses and mine too.  I liked to looking at them and remembering the dresses.  Unfortunately, those were not given to me, and I don’t know what happened to them.

In 1985 my mother and I made a research trip to Amana, Iowa and visited the Amana Heritage Museum.  I saw many items in the museum like my grandmother had in her home, but what really grabbed my attention were the quilts.  They were just like the ones made by my great-grandmother Eva.  Now when I look at these quilts that I inherited, I think of my heritage, Eva, and Amana, Iowa.

If you would like to read more about the Reinhardt Family see the following blog posts.

Conrad Reinhardt

Great Grandmother Eva  

John Conrad Reinhardt

Aunt Liz’ Secret Life

Aunt Emma’s Two Lives

Aunt Agnes a Love Story

Remembering Grandma

Memories of Aunt Fran

Thinking of Uncle Ralph

Copyright © 2018 Gail Grunst

[1] Germans to America (Vol. 34). (1993). Wilmington, DE, DE: Scholarly Resources.

[2] Amana Church Membership Records, in archive collection of the Amana Heritage Museum, Amana, Iowa.

[3] Amana, Iowa,  Amana Heritage Museum, Anderson Cards, the Koch Verzeichnis

[4] Amana, Iowa, Amana Heritage Musuem, The Bortz Family

[5] Amana, Iowa, Amana Heritage Musuem, The Bortz Family

[6] Sabetha, Kansas, Sabetha Herald, Wednesday,  December 8, 1936, page 4.

[7] Amana, Iowa,  Amana Heritage Museum, Anderson Cards, the Koch Verzeichnis

[8] Amana, Iowa, Amana Heritage Musuem, The Bortz Family

[9] From Find-a-grave website:


[11] Amana Church Membership Records, in archive collection of the Amana Heritage Museum, Amana, Iowa