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.com Operations, 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
Division & City Archives, http://www.nutrias.org/guide/genguide/naturalizationrecords.htm
Koenning, Melvin, Personal Family Recollections.
Lavaca County, Marriage License file number 497, Lavaca County Clerk’s Office, Hallettsville, Texas.
Minutes of Naturalization, District Court, Lavaca County, State of Texas. August 22, 1892.
Joe Koenning obituary, San Antonio Express, San Antonio, Texas, October 2, 1936.
Helene Koenning, death certificate number 43961, Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin, Texas.
Texas Handbook Online, “Fayette County,” http://www.tshaonline.org
U.S. Citizenship Information, http://www.uscitizenship.info/ins-usimmigration-insoverview.html
Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2011.
Helene Wemken Pedigree Chart (click link) Helene Wemken Pedigree Chart