In 2008, Suzanne S. Bettac, professional genealogist, was engaged by Lucy Croft to research the Koenning and Wemken family lines. She contacted a representative of the Oldenburger Society for Family Research in the parish of Rastede (Germany) – Mr. Günter Oltmanns. He provided the name of a CD book of compiled records which firmly established several generations of direct ancestors of Helene Catherine Margaretha Wemken Koenning. The information is presented via pedigree charts on the following links.
Alerd Heuermann Wemken, son of Johann and Helene Bremer Wemken, was born September 10, 1826 in Borbeck, Oldenburg, Germany. Borbeck was a farming village located in what was, until 1945, the state of Oldenburg in northwestern Germany. Today this is the German state of Lower Saxony (in German: Niedersachsen), and the capital is the city of Hanover.
Caroline Wilhelmine Luise Stratmann, daughter of Johann Hinrich and Anna Marie Sophie Charlotte Bruggermann Stratmann, was born February 14, 1829 in the village of Blasheim, in what was then Prussia, but what is now northern Germany.
We do not know how or when the two met, but Alerd and Caroline Wilhelmine were married June 25, 1855 in Wiefelstede, Oldenburg. In the years preceding their emigration to America, they had their first six children – Johann Wilhelm, Helene Catherine Margarethe, Heinrich, Anna Marie Sophie, Anna Wilhelmine and one deceased child (name unknown).
ALERD AND CAROLINE WILHELMINE COME TO AMERICA
Sometime before 1870, Alerd and Caroline Wilhelmine made the decision to come to America. Though I do not know their reasons for leaving their homeland, they were among a vast number of Germans who emigrated in the 19th century. In fact, Americans of German or Alsatian descents comprise the largest self-reported ancestry group, and the largest flow of immigration occurred between 1820 and World War I. They were drawn to America for a myriad of reasons. Productive land and political or religious freedom attracted many people. Others came desiring to make a fresh start in the New World and arrived seeking economic opportunities greater than those in Europe.
Alerd and Caroline Wilhelmine immigrated to America with their five children on the SS New York, leaving from the port of Bremen January 12, 1870 and arriving at the port of New Orleans, Louisiana on February 12, 1870. The SS New York Passenger Manifest has the following information:
A.Wemken, age 43, shoemaker, Oldenburg, destination Galveston, steerage
Marg [arethe] age 38 ” ” ” “
Johann age 14 ” ” ” “
Helene age 8 ” ” ” “
Heinr. age 3 ” ” ” “
Marie age 3 ” ” ” “
Anna age 11 months ” ” ” “
Note: I am confused by the name “Marg” being listed rather than Caroline or Wilhelmine, but do think this was Alerd Wemken and family.
Upon arrival in New Orleans, the Wemken family made their way to Texas. The next record located for them was the 1880 United States Federal Census. The couple and their children were living in Fayette County. Listed were: A.H. Wemken age 48, farmer, born Oldenburg; Wilhelmine age 48, born Prussia; Lene (sic Helene) daughter, age 19, born Oldenburg; Heinrich son, age 15, born Oldenburg; Sophia daughter, age 12, born Oldenburg; Wilhelmine daughter, age 10, born Oldenburg; Johanna daughter, age 9, born Texas; Willy son, age 7, born Texas; and Lilly daughter, age 1, born Texas. In the ten years since their arrival in America, Alerd and Caroline’s family had grown with the birth of their last three children.
Fayette County is located in the Blackland Prairies region of south central Texas. In the decades following the Civil War, this county, like others in this part of the state, had a surge of German and Bohemian immigrants. The development of smaller farms increased dramatically primarily because of the intensive cultivation by the immigrants groups.
ALERD BECOMES AN AMERICAN CITIZEN
On February 25, 1887, A.H. Wemken signed his application for naturalization. Because Alerd Wemken had exceeded the 7 year residency requirement for naturalization, he was not required to file a separate declaration of intent. The male Wemken children were over the age of 21 in 1887, so they had to individually file for their naturalizations. Females could not be naturalized independently of fathers or husbands until 1922 and are not included in any court documents.
There is not an 1890 United States Federal Census available, so I am not certain how long Alerd and Wilhelmine remained in Fayette County. Though their oldest daughter, Helene, was married to Joachim (Joe) Koenning in Lavaca County on November 12, 1881, their other daughters were married in Fayette County – Anna Marie Sophie married Adolph Herm on December 12, 1889; Johanna “Hannah” married Robert Charles Herm on December 12, 1894; Anne Wilhelmine “Minnie” married Albert Discher about 1899; and Lillian “Lillie” married Paul Discher in June 1900. Since most marriages were held in the bride’s home or home town, it is likely that Alerd and Wilhelmine stayed in Fayette County.
Alerd died on December 10, 1897 and was buried in the Shiner Cemetery, Lavaca County, Texas. At some point, he Anglicized his name because his grave marker was inscribed “Albert H. Wemken.”
For a time following Albert’s death, Wilhelmine chose to live with her children. When the 1900 United States Federal Census was taken, she was in the household of her son-in-law, Robert Herm, daughter, Hannah, and granddaughter, Hedwig.
In 1910, the census showed Wilhelmine, age 79, and was living alone at 151 Avenue E in Shiner, Texas. The record states she owns the home. Another item of information on this census must have been a comfort to her – all eight of her children were still living. Her daughters, Helene, Minnie and Lillie, also resided in Shiner with their families. Wilhelmine had a slew of family nearby to enjoy.
Wilhelmine died in Shiner, Texas on December 14, 1912 at the age of 83. She was buried beside her husband, Albert, in the Shiner Cemetery.
This narrative provides only a glimpse into the lives of Alerd and Wilhelmine Wemken, but even so, I admire the determination and courage it took for them to leave Germany and come to America. Like other immigrants, they faced challenges when settling in an unknown culture, providing for their family, and learning a new language and new customs. At the same time, they, along with other industrious German immigrants, made innumerable contributions to their new homeland and were a powerful influence over the development of our American culture.
A.H. Wemken, Application for Naturalization, District Court, Fayette County, La Grange, Texas.
A.H. Wemken, SS New York Passenger Manifest, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.
“German Americans,” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German American St. Johannes zu Wiefelstede, Ortsfamilienbuch Wiefelstede, Deutsche Orsfamilienbucher, Der Zentralstelle Fur Personen – Und Familiengeschichte, Fankturt, Reihe C, Band II, Teil 5, Oldenburgischen Gesellschaft fur Familienkunde e.B. (OGF).
Helene Catherine Margaretha Wemken was one of our first generation German immigrants. She was born on April 27, 1861 in Borbeck, Oldenburg, Germany and was the second or third child of Alerd or Albert Heinrich and Caroline Wilhelmine Luise Stratman Wemken. These people believed in long given names!
The Wemken family emigrated from the port of Bremen, Germany on January 12, 1870 arriving in the port of New Orleans, Louisiana on February 12, 1870. The name of their ship was the SS New York. Their destination was listed as Galveston, Texas. At the time of their arrival the family consisted of Alerd, Caroline, Johann, Helene, Heinrich, Anna Marie “Sophie,” and Anna Wilhelmine. Helene would have been about 7 or 8 years old.
Note: Oldenburg is both a city as well as a German State. Oldenburg residents had the option of using either the port of Bremen or the port of Hamburg. Both were equal distance for this German state. It was the first port of debarkation that recorded the arrival, and therefore the port of New Orleans was checked as well. (Bettac Report)
WEMKEN FAMILY SETTLES IN FAYETTE COUNTY, TEXAS
Alerd Wemken was a farmer and, like many other German immigrants coming to Texas, he sought out good farm land. Fayette County located in the Blackland Prairie region fit the bill. We do not know when they moved to this area, but the Wemken family was living in Fayette County when the 1880 United States Federal Census was enumerated. In the decade since they arrived in Texas, their family had grown. Recorded on the census were A.H. and Wilhelmine Wemken and their children Lene (Helene) Heinrich, Sophie (Anna Marie Sophie) Wilhelmine (Anna Wilhelmine) Johanne (Johanna “Hannah”) Willy (Wilhelm Charles) and Lily (Lilly or Lillie). Their oldest son Johanne Wilhelm or John had married and established his own household.
Sometime in the late 1870’s, Helene was introduced to a young man by the name of Joachim or Joe Koenning. Like her, he came from a German immigrant farm family in Fayette County. They began courting and married on November 12, 1881 in Lavaca County, Texas. Their grandson, Melvin Koenning, said he heard the story that his grandfather drove and horse and wagon to Lavaca County and bought a 750 acre farm at 25 cents an acre. Joe and Helene would call this area of Texas home for many years.
August 22, 1892 was a very special day for Joe and Helene Koenning because that was the day that he received his United States of America citizenship by means of the naturalization process. At that time the duty was assigned to Congress by the Constitution but was carried out by “any court of record,” and for Joe that was the Lavaca County District Court. Helene also received her citizenship at the same time but was not required to go through the naturalization process. Until 1922 women acquired citizenship ‘by right of their husbands’ or fathers’ naturalizations.
When the 1900 United States Federal Census was enumerated, the Koenning family was still located in Lavaca County. The surname was transcribed incorrectly as “Hoenning” as were several of the given names, but this was our ancestor. Listed with Joachem and Helena Hoenning were their children, Aolf (Adolph) Frieda, Heinrich (Henry) Louis, Olga, Minnie and Rudolph. Walter Paul was born in 1900 but after the census was taken. Joachim was farming and his oldest son Adolph was assisting him as a “Farm Laborer.”
The Koenning family had been living in Lavaca County twenty-nine years when the 1910 United States Federal Census was taken. Six of their children continued to reside with them – Adolph, Henry, Louis, Minnie, Rudolph, and Walter. Their two oldest daughters, Frieda and Olga, had both married and established their own households. Joachim continued to farm with his five sons assisting him on the home farm.
During the years between 1914 and 1918 all the world’s great powers were engaged in the World War I, sometimes called “The Great War.” This conflict involved most of the world’s great powers and was centered on Europe. In the United States men between the ages of 18 to 45 were required to register for the draft. Even though Joe did not fall in this category, his sons did and World War I Draft Registration Cards were located for them. None of them were called to serve, but nevertheless, like all people in America, the Koenning family must have been impacted by this terrible world conflict.
When time rolled around for the 1920 United States Federal Census, Joe and Helene’s household had changed considerably. Only their daughter Minnie was living with them. Their name is incorrectly transcribed in the census. Listed are “Joseph Kockning Helana and Minnie Kockning.” It was interesting to note that in answering the question on the census record concerning professions Joe, Helene and Minnie all answered “None.”
By 1930, Joe and Helene were living in San Antonio, Texas and had been located there about four years. On the 1930 United States Federal Census, they are listed with their daughter Minnie and three grandchildren Ellry (Ellery), Maurine, and Victor and resided at 1934 West Magnolia Street. Again the name was incorrectly transcribed as “Koennig.”
We do not know why Joe and Helene decided to leave their Lavaca County farm and move to San Antonio. Their son Adolph lived there along with some grandchildren, so perhaps they wanted to be near family to lend or receive support. The 1930’s were difficult times for many folks in America and families were called on to help each other in whatever way they could.
Joe Koenning died in San Antonio on October 1, 1936. Coincidentally and sadly, this was one day following Helene’s death. Both were buried in the Mission Burial Park South, San Antonio, Texas.
Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA. Provo, UT, USA; Ancestry.comOperations, Inc., 2010.
Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA, The Generations Network, Inc., 2004.
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA, The Generations Network, Inc., 2006.
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo, UT, USA, The Generations Network, Inc., 2002.
Bettac, Suzanne, “Bettac Report,”2008.
Guide to Genealogical Materials in the New Orleans Public Library’s Louisiana