Barbara Mehlheimer’s Letter: A Daughter Found, Photos and a Family Reunited – 52 Ancestors #308

Barbara Mehlheimer (1823-1906) married George Drechsel, apparently twice, once in Germany and once after their arrival in the US. They raised 6 children in Aurora Indiana, the eldest born in 1848 in Germany before their arrival, and the youngest born in 1862 a decade after their arrival.

I wrote about Barbara Mehlheimer and George Drechsel in their own stories back in 2016. When I publish these articles, it’s always with the hope that someplace, someday, somehow they will connect with the right person. Yes, the articles are cousin-bait. Over the years, these articles have been wonderfully effective. It always makes me feel good to provide another researcher with well-documented information.

I’d be fibbing if I told you my motives are entirely altruistic. They aren’t. From time to time, one of those cousins or a complete stranger has something absolutely wonderful to share with me.

Ernest Lent III, my newest cousin, found me recently by posting a comment on an earlier article. He descends from Barbara and George’s lost daughter, baptized as Teresa Maria Drechsel, known better as Mary. Born December 28, 1862, she was living and working at the Kirsch House in Aurora, Indiana in the 1880 census.

The Kirsch House, something akin to a hotel or B&B with rooms to rent, a restaurant and bar, located beside the train depot in the photo above, was owned by Mary’s sister Barbara Drechsel and her husband, Jacob Kirsch.

The building at 506 Second Street doesn’t look a lot different today. But Mary wouldn’t stay in Aurora long. She climbed aboard the train in the station and headed east.

In 1881, the Aurora Lutheran church records show that Mary was living in Cincinnati, then nothing. Radio silence. That is, until recently – 139 years later.

I’d like to share this wonderful journey with you, including our amazing discoveries.

Email from Cousin Ernest

I appreciate your detailed research so much. It certainly helped fill in some gaps in my family history that I assumed were irretrievable.

The few details that I can add to the information about my Great grandmother Mary Drexler are that she was married to Gustav Brehm on September 12, 1883 in Chicago and that she died on April 19, 1953 in Chicago.

I am attaching a photo of Mary Drexler taken around the turn of the century, one of her father George Drexler, and a photo of George at the cooperage where he was employed.

George is the person seated in the bottom row on the far left of the photo. I’m sorry, that particular photo is quite faded now and somewhat damaged.

Wait? What? There Are Photos????

Ernest, I hate to tell you, but these are not just a “few details.” I have never seen these photos before. There are no known photos of George Drechsel. That is, until now.

Do you have ANY idea how important this is to me???

Drum roll….Ernest’s photos….

There are, or were, no known photos of George Drechsel. George had obviously put on his good suit, shirt and bow tie, but his shoes look quite worn.

Here’s George, colorized and enhanced, courtesy of MyHeritage.

George died in 1908 and his wife, Barbara, in 1906. Since she’s not in this photo, and there doesn’t seem to be one of her, I wonder if this picture is George sometime between 1906 and 1908 when he would have been between 83 and 85. He doesn’t quite look that old to me. Maybe more like 60, which would have meant this photo was taken in the 1880s, probably about the same time a photo of Mary was taken. But where was his wife, Barbara Mehlheimer Drechsel, then? Maybe her photo has been destroyed, or yet to be discovered.

George Drechsel along with workers at the cooperage, bottom left corner. In the 1850s, there were at least three cooperage companies in Aurora, making barrels for the steamboats plying the Ohio River. The Wymond Cooperage spanned the entire two blocks adjacent Hogan Creek, behind the Kirsch House, beside the train depot. You can see one of their barrels in the photo.

Mary Drechsel probably circa 1881-1883, after moving to Cincinnati and before her marriage. The photo was taken by J.P. Weckman of Cincinnati, Ohio, listed on the back of the photo.

Mary would have taken the train back and forth from Aurora to Cincinnati as did many of the Aurora residents.

Jogging a Memory

Ernest’s photos jogged a memory for me. A couple years ago, another cousin contacted me. She had some photos too, and in those photos were some people I couldn’t identify.

Barbara Mehlheimer Drechsel’s daughter, Margaretha (1851-1889) married Herm Rabe and had 7 children before she died. Margaretha’s granddaughter contacted me and sent along photos, some of which neither of us could identify.

In this picture, taken in July of 1898, we know that the tallest young lady in the center rear is Eleanor Rabe who would have been 13 in 1898. But who were the rest of these people. We know they were all Barbara’s grandchildren, according to the note with the photo.

I immediately identified the female at bottom right as my grandmother, Edith Lore, born in 1888, but the rest remained a mystery.

Eleanor Rabe had older siblings, but she is clearly the oldest or at least the tallest here. Her one younger sibling was John who was born in 1887, but this boy’s name is Curt, not John.

Let’s make a list of the first names in the photo:

Back row, left to right.

  • Nora – a child, definitely NOT Nora Kirsch born in 1866 who married Curtis Benjamin Lore. I think this is actually Curtis L. Lore, born in 1891, daughter of Nora Kirsch, sister to Edith on the bottom row. They lived in Rushville and it wouldn’t make sense for one daughter to be in Aurora without the other daughter.
  • Eleanor Rabe (identified by her daughter)
  • Lilly – This is probably Lilly Giegoldt, born in 1883, daughter of Lou Drechsel who married Johann Georg Giegoldt.

Front row, left to right:

  • Stella – Stella Brehm born in 1884 to Mary Drechsel and Gustav Brehm, identified by Ernest.
  • Edna – Edna Brehm born in 1888, daughter of Mary Drechsel.
  • Curt – Curt Brehm born in 1889 to Mary Drechsel.
  • Edith Lohr (misspelled, it’s Lore) who is actually Barbara Melhleimer’s great-granddaughter

Before Ernest’s email, I had absolutely NO IDEA who Stella, Edna and Curt were.

Conversely, Ernest had never seen this photo before either.

Look what arrived next:

Well, Roberta, this is getting a bit surreal – first a picture of your grandmother Edith and my grandmother Edna in the same picture – and now this!

Obviously taken within minutes of your photo….

As you might imagine, we chattered back and forth for a few days.

I asked if Ernest thought this unidentified photo might be Mary.

Ernest replied with the genealogists lament that most of us are all too familiar with:

Unfortunately, I never spoke to my grandmother Edna about her family, my interest in genealogy came too late, I’m afraid.

My Dad told me very little about his grandmother Mary Drexler Brehm. He said she was a very strict lady who practiced, in his words, “tough love.” He said that as a young woman in Chicago she would ride streetcars to pick up big baskets of laundry which she would wash and fold and then ride back to return them. I don’t think he ever knew her well, she lived in Chicago and he grew up in Columbia, South Carolina.

I’m sending a photo of Mary when she was elderly, holding my Dad. My grandmother Edna is standing behind her as is my aunt Edna Louise Lent. Mary lived to be 89 years old.

The second picture (below) is of Mary perhaps in her 30’s – I’m not good at telling someone’s age.

The third picture is a family group. I think Mary is second from the right, my grandmother Edna standing in the center, my aunt standing next to her. I’m wondering if you recognize any of the other women.

The Branch Blossoms

Of course, I was excited to add Mary’s family information to my tree. I had always wondered what happened to the “lost sister.”

Ernest noticed:

Thank you for adding Mary Drexler’s information to your family tree, it seemed to me that it somehow symbolically reunites the family.

Rest assured that I asked Ernest if he has done a DNA test. He has, and we match. He’s in the process of transferring his DNA file to Family Tree DNA where so many of our family DNA tests reside, including Kirsch lines and other family members, along with my Mom.

The Letter

Then, almost as an afterthought, Ernest added something very important:

I have an old letter, written in what appears to be an archaic German script, that I’ve been unable to get translated. It was among the effects that my Dad left when he died and I’m not sure to whom it was written or who sent it.

Several people who speak German have looked at it and were unable to make out the gist of the letter, just pick out a few words. If I can attach a photo of the letter do you know someone who might be able to help?

It could be just a “having a good time, wish you were here” letter but it could also contain valuable information.

OMG a letter? Seriously?

Ernest, send it right away!!!!

Here is the letter in 4 parts – sorry some are upside down and sideways, I couldn’t reconfigure them.

I’ve been wondering what it may say for years now, I’m very hopeful that you can get them translated.

Perhaps an epiphany lies within!

OMG!!!!

Ernest continued:

I’m quite eager to learn what the letter says! I’ve been trying to get an accurate translation for years, thinking that having been preserved for over a hundred years it may have something important to tell us. And even if it doesn’t, I’m excited about it because it’s such a direct connection to our family and our past.

In Her Own Hand 

As it turns out, the letter is from Barbara Mehlheimer Drechsel (1823-1906) to her daughter, Theresa Marie Drechsel (Drexel, Drexler), known as Mary, who lived in Chicago at the time.

I had to sit for a while and just stare at this handwriting – holding space with Barbara. This is HER very own handwriting. Not only that, but she COULD write, probably having attended Lutheran school in Goppmansbuhl, Germany in the late 1820s or 1830s. Clearly, she raised her children to speak fluent German. My grandmother, three generations later, still understood German.

These letters to her much-missed daughter were scribed by candlelight using a quill pen dipped in a bottle of ink, at night, when Barbara was bone-tired from dangerous physical work like boiling clothes at 65 years of age. Work, of course, that was never ever done because clothes simply got dirty again and had to be boiled all over again a week or so later. She was “retirement age,” but there was no such thing as retirement.

It looks like Barbara prepared to write by drawing faint lines across the pages to keep her sentences straight – except for page 4 where she stopped drawing guidelines about halfway down the page – and sure enough, her sentences began to list to right. We don’t think about things like that today.

Yet, Barbara’s writing is beautiful, old-world script, despite the fact that she was fatigued and writing in the dark when she had trouble seeing. Other than her photo and fragments of DNA shared by her descendants, this letter is likely the only tangible thing that was actually physically, personally hers that remains on this earth some 132 years after she wrote those pages and almost 197 years after her birth. For most of us today, that’s the equivalent of someplace around the year 2160, with our great-great-great-grandchild unearthing a 4-page handwritten letter we sent today and sharing it with another great-great-great-grandchild – the two of them not previously knowing that each other exists.

Indeed, a mother’s hand – still healing after almost two centuries.

Barbara Mehlheimer Drechsel’s Family

Before going further, here’s a list of Barbara Mehlheimer Drechsel’s children and grandchildren. These relationships are important in sorting out the contents of the letter.

  • Barbara “Babbit” Drechsel 1848-1930, married Jacob Kirsch in 1866 and operated the Kirsch House, a hotel and restaurant/tavern beside the train depot.
    • Ellenore “Nora” Kirsch 1866-1949, married Curtis Benjamin Lore in 1888 in Aurora. Their first child, Edith was born in 1888 and their second child, Curtis, a daughter, was born in 1891. Two additional daughters, Mildred and Eloise were born in 1899 and 1903, respectively.
    • Georg Martin Kirsch 1868-1949, married Maude Powers in 1888 in Aurora, died in Shelbyville, Indiana in 1949. Son Edgar was born in 1899 and daughter Cecile born in 1892.
    • Johann Edward Kirsch 1870-1924 married Emma Miller in 1891 in Dearborn County, Indiana and lived in Aurora during the 1890s. He died in 1924 in Edwardsport, Knox County, Indiana. They had Juanita born in 1892, Deveraux “Devero” born in 1899. Two daughters born later died as infants.
    • Caroline “Carrie” Kirsch 1871-1926 married Joseph Smithfield Wymond in 1902 in Aurora. The wealthy Wymond family owned one of the cooperage companies and whoo-boy, is there a story about this man that rivals any soap opera. Sadly, they had no children.
    • Margaret Louise “Lou” Kirsch 1873-1940 married Charles “Todd” Fiske in 1899 in Aurora and after his suicide, married Arthur Wellesley. She had no children.
    • Ida Carolina Kirsch 1876-1966 married William “Billy” Galbreath in 1921 and had no children.
  • Margaret Drechsel 1851-1889, married Herm Rabe in 1873, lived between Aurora, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio, just a few miles away.
    • Mary “Mayme” Rabe 1875-1961 married Albert Weatherby in 1892 in Cincinnati, Ohio. They had three daughters, Lorine 1893-1975, Juanity 1896-1986 and Margaret 1904-1994.
    • Frederick George Rabe 1876-1879
    • Louisa B. “Lou” Rabe 1879-1863 married Irvin Isaac Denison in 1919 and had possibly had one child.
    • Caroline Louise “Leah” Engel Rabe 1880-1951
    • Wilhelm J. Rabe 1883-1886
    • Eleanor Rabe 1885-1961 married Guy Nicholas Young and had 2 daughters, Marian 1908-1978, Eleanor 1910-2006 and two sons, Donald 1915-2000 and Guy 1929-1997.
    • John Rabe 1887-1893
  • Caroline “Lina” or “Lena” Drechsel 1854-1938, married Johannes Gottfried Heinke in Cincinnati about 1895. She may have been married previously with one deceased child, according to the census. Much of her life is a mystery.
  • Johann “John” Edward Drechsel (Drexler, Drexel) born 1856 and died sometime after 1877. It’s believed that he married and had a child in 1882, but there is conflicting information. If so, his wife, Elizabeth Louisa “Lizzie” Uffman remarried in 1888 in Cincinnati. One John Drechsel was married, a tailor and living with her parents in the 1880 census.
    • Alfred Drexel born 1882 in Cincinnati
  • Emma Louise “Lou” Drechsel 1859-1949 married Johann Georg Giegoldt in 1881 in Aurora, Indiana. They lived between Cincinnati and Aurora.
    • Barbara Margaretha Josephine “Nettie” Giegoldt 1882-1908
    • Carolina Louise Lillian “Lilly” Giegoldt 1883-1951, married Theodore Ludwig “Louis” Bosse/Busse and had two children, Raymond born in 1911 and Wilbur born in 1915.
  • Theresa Maria “Mary” Drechsel 1862-1953, lived in Cincinnati from 1881-1883. She married Gustav Brehm in Chicago where she spent the duration of her life.
    • Stella Brehm born 1884
    • Edna Marie Brehm born March 4, 1888, died 1975, married Dr. Ernest Lent in 1913 in Iowa.
    • Curtis Brehm born July 1889
    • Drexel (or Drexler) Brehm born 1900

Christoph Saves the Day

Oh, my faithful German friend Christoph. What would I do without him?!

I hate to always be asking questions and favors – but Christoph is always so very gracious. I told Christoph that he didn’t need to translate the letter word for word. Mostly, I wanted to know who it was from and if the contents shed any light on our ancestors or family history. For all we know, it could have been something totally unrelated.

Fortunately, for us, it wasn’t.

From Christoph

Here is my translation of the letter.

I also add the original German text (with all spelling mistakes) below my translation, just for your records. As you will see, some blanks remain and maybe those will be filled by somebody else in the future. But I think that the main content of the letter is clear anyway. I labeled the blanks in [] brackets and also my comments at some places.

In fact, page four (the one with several “Gutbei” at the end) seems to be a separate letter that was first misplaced and thus sent later (see translation). It is clear however, that it is the same handwriting and from the same person. Since she signs as “your good mother Mrs Drexler, Aurora, Indiana”, I would conclude that the letters were written by Barbara Mehlheimer Drechsler (1823-1906).

Her writing suggests that she had some school education, but still several words are misspelled and interpunctation is missing at times. This is true even more for the English words, she even misspells her daughter Mary`s name “Märi”. There is also “Luiswil” instead of “Louisville”, “flauer” instead of “flour” and then “Gutbei” instead of “Goodbye”. In essence, she seems to spell all English words just the way they sound to her as a native German speaker.

Barbara Drechsler also mentions a “Mrs. Kirsch” at two occasions. I do not think that this refers to her daughter (she would have called her by her first name), but rather to her daughter`s mother-in-law Katharina Barbara Lemmert Kirsch (1807-1889), who seems to have been living very close to her house – maybe across the street?

Next, a “Lina” is mentioned. Lina is a short form of “Carolina” and from the letter it seems it is one of her daughters, too. So this would have to be Caroline Drexler married to Gottlieb Heinke. Similarly, “Luise” would have to be Emma “Louis” Drexler Giegoldt. I am not sure for all the other names, but maybe you have a better clue than me.

When Barbara writes “the father”, I do not think it is her own father, she is speaking of, but rather her husband – father of her daughter Mary. I do not know about this in American English, but it certainly was a habit in German still one generation ago. Quite similarly, my grandmother sent my mother letters, speaking about “father”, when in fact she referred to her husband – her daughter`s father.

As for the date of the letter, it only says March 17th, no year. But I think it is possible to draw out the facts and with their help narrow it down to a certain range.

Barbara`s daughter Mary already had a son, so it would have to be after 1883. But Katharina Barbara Lemmert Kirsch, who died in 1889, was still alive. So if I conclude right that she is the “Mrs Kirsch” mentioned, then the letter would have to be from between 1883 to 1889. What do you think?

So much for my comments. I hope you enjoy your ancestor`s voice from the past! (“Roberta and Ernest, I heard that you are interested in your ancestors` past, so I arranged for an interpreter to make my voice heard to you!”)

Best wishes
Christoph

Christoph, I would hug you if I could!

The Translation 

Letter of Barbara Mehlheimer Drechsler – Transcription and Translation

– page 1 –

Aurora, Indiana, March 17th

Dear children, we greet you all warmly from our hearts. I had intended to write for a long time, but had not found the time so far. Here, many are sick from the [“Krüh” – not clear, what it means. Someone suggested to me it could be a dialect word for scabies. Alternatively, it could be a variant of the word “Grippe” (flu), but these are both just guesses.]. Our father has fallen down and has hurt himself at the hand. It was not too bad, but still he is sick now anyway and cannot work. We had to give up going to church. I do not know, who will take it. [That makes no sense to me, but that is what she wrote.] I always have to take care of somebody over there. The Mrs Kirsch has no maidservant. Furthermore, they all have been sick every few weeks. Babedt [Babette?] has had “remidis” in her right leg. Cähri and Eidi have been sick. Luli and her husband are in Louisville, they both have been sick. Mr Roberts has died, he was 69 years old. Brindi is large and fat and our Luise has caught a cold, when hanging up the laundry out in the snow. I have burnt my left hand, while taking the laundry out of the kettle and it was so …

– page 2 –

… heavy and I lifted it diligently and in the necktie and his shirt was just sliding over my left hand. It frizzled and my entire hand was full of blisters. I immediately have put flour on it and said a prayer. Now my hand is well again. All this happened two weeks ago and last week I have already done the laundry again.

Mary, did you write down, what I have written to you? Put it in your bible, where it will remain safe. And if you have not received it, please let me know, since then I will resend it, it takes away the pain and cures. Now we are all healthy again. Mary, have you received my last letter from Christmas time? I had put inside a thaler painting for your little one and if you did receive it, you are a lucky one! Mister Nibaum had to work so hard, so I always am afraid that you may not have received it.

– page 3 –

I want to let you know, how it went on for the dear Lina. They have been sued, since their milk had been found to be too slurry. How could it have been their fault? They sell it just the way it has been sent to them. They had to pay eighty thaler [dollars ?] fine. That was an awful lot of money for something that had not been their fault. Lina has to work pretty hard. She has to wash big […?], in one of them sweet milk, in the next one buttermilk and in the last one butter. Lina would love me to come and help her, if only I could. Mary, please do not write this in any letter, since I am not supposed to know, because they know that it hurts me. A mother is not free from worries and cannot help nonetheless. My writing is not nice, I can only write at night. I hope and wish that you are all at good health and happy and that you all have work. So please be so good and write me soon, Mary, so that we hear something from you.

– page 4 –

Beloved child, we send you all the greetings from us all. I have to write you another time, since I have not received a reply yet. I do not know, what to think. I hope, you are not all fallen ill! If you do not have the time, then you still have your girls. They may write us a few lines. I always get a hiccup, whenever I think about you. So please be so kind once and write us a little letter about how you are doing.

The father has recovered completely, so thank God we are all healthy again.

The Mrs Kirsch has now a diligent maidservant, so now I do not have to go over to her anymore.

I had put this letter aside and then could not find it anymore. So I wrote another one and sent it to you. Now I have found it again, and so I decided to send it to you as well, so that I do not owe it to you. I hope for your reply soon! I remain your good mother Mrs Drexler. Aurora Indiana

Goodbye, dear children all!
Goodbye, dear children all, be diligent and good and pray as well, so that the good God will help you. Remain healthy all of you!
Goodbye, dear children, goodbye!

Unraveling the Threads

I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the original letter in Barbara’s own voice, but we do need to see if we can extract additional information from her letter.

Aurora, Indiana, March 17th

Dear children, we greet you all warmly from our hearts. I had intended to write for a long time, but had not found the time so far. Here, many are sick from the [“Krüh” – not clear, what it means. Someone suggested to me it could be a dialect word for scabies. Alternatively, it could be a variant of the word “Grippe” (flu), but these are both just guesses.]. Our father has fallen down and has hurt himself at the hand. It was not too bad, but still he is sick now anyway and cannot work. We had to give up going to church. I do not know, who will take it. [That makes no sense to me, but that is what she wrote.] I always have to take care of somebody over there.

The Mrs Kirsch has no maidservant. Furthermore, they all have been sick every few weeks.

Mrs. Kirsch is indeed very likely Barbara Drechsel Kirsch’s mother-in-law. In fact, I have no idea who else it could be since Katharina Barbara Lemmert and her husband, Philipp Jacob Kirsch were the original immigrants.

In August 1887, Katharina Barbara Kirsch, then a widow, executed a deed to their farm in neighboring Ripley County. She turned 80 the next day and her son who lived with her was disabled from the Civil War. Both she and her son, according to the deed, were living in Dearborn County. I know that her son lived with his brother, Jacob Kirsch, at the Kirsch House until his death. I’m sure that Katharina Barbara Lemmert Kirsch did as well. She died on February 1, 1889, so the letter would have had to have been written before 1889, given that it was dated March 17th.

Barbara goes on to provide some newsy information about her other children to their sister living in Chicago.

Babedt [Babette?] has had “remidis” in her right leg.

Probably rheumatitis. Babbit is Barbara Drechsel Kirsch’s nickname, listed as such on one census.

Cähri and Eidi have been sick.

Cahri was likely Caroline Kirsch, the daughter of Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, born in 1871 who lived at the Kirsch House.

Eidi is probably Ida, born in 1876, also Barbara Drechsel Kirsch’s daughter.

Luli and her husband are in Louisville, they both have been sick.

I’m presuming this is Emma Louise Drechsel, known as “Aunt Lou” who was married to Johann Georg Giegoldt in 1881. They had two daughters, born in 1882 and 1883. I wonder why Barbara didn’t mention the girls.

Mr. Roberts has died, he was 69 years old.

Based on the 1880 census, I can’t find a Roberts in that region that would be roughly the correct age. I wonder why this was important to Mary and her mother. Generally, we find the family interacting with German families.

Brindi is large and fat and our Luise has caught a cold, when hanging up the laundry out in the snow.

Caroline Louise Rabe, born in 1880, would have been the age to hang clothes on the line. I have no clue who Brindi refers to. Everyone in this family had nicknames, some of which bore little or no resemblance to their actual given name.

I wonder if Brindi is a pet or perhaps a pregnant daughter. The only daughter pregnant during this time would have been Margaretha Drechsel, whose nickname I don’t know, who had Eleanor Rabe in March of 1885 and John Rabe in September of 1887. Of course, Mary, the recipient of the letter was pregnant with Stella who was born in June of 1884 and Edna Marie born on March 4, 1888, so she would not have been the person being referred to as “Brindi.”

I have burnt my left hand, while taking the laundry out of the kettle and it was so …

– page 2 –

… heavy and I lifted it diligently and in the necktie and his shirt was just sliding over my left hand. It frizzled and my entire hand was full of blisters. I immediately have put flour on it and said a prayer. Now my hand is well again. All this happened two weeks ago and last week I have already done the laundry again.

This sounds just horrible, but provides perspective on the daily dangers of simply doing laundry. Boiling laundry. Probably miserable at best and horrid in the summer. I had to look the definition of frizzle up and it means to “fry or grill with a sizzling noise.” Ugh – my hand hurts this many years later just thinking about that boiling water. Poor Barbara.

I have never heard of flour as a remedy for burns but googling reveals it as a folk remedy with many warnings against this methodology today.

Mary, did you write down, what I have written to you? Put it in your bible, where it will remain safe. And if you have not received it, please let me know, since then I will resend it, it takes away the pain and cures. Now we are all healthy again.

I surely wonder about that remedy. Was it the flour remedy she was referring to, or something else? Apparently, something she sent earlier. I hope the family still has this Bible someplace, probably given to Mary in the church in Aurora when she was confirmed about 1873 or 1874.

Mary, have you received my last letter from Christmas time? I had put inside a thaler painting for your little one and if you did receive it, you are a lucky one! Mister Nibaum had to work so hard, so I always am afraid that you may not have received it.

“Little one” tells us that Mary had at least one child, so that dates this letter after 1884. Mary’s first child, Stella, was born in June of 1884. I was unable to figure out what a thaler painting is or was, but a thaler was the official coin in Germany until 1908. It could be interpreted as roughly similar to a dollar at that time, which of course was worth much more than a dollar today.

– page 3 –

I want to let you know, how it went on for the dear Lina. They have been sued, since their milk had been found to be too slurry. How could it have been their fault? They sell it just the way it has been sent to them. They had to pay eighty thaler [dollars ?] fine. That was an awful lot of money for something that had not been their fault. Lina has to work pretty hard. She has to wash big […?], in one of them sweet milk, in the next one buttermilk and in the last one butter. Lina would love me to come and help her, if only I could. Mary, please do not write this in any letter, since I am not supposed to know, because they know that it hurts me. A mother is not free from worries and cannot help nonetheless.

I am presuming Lina would be Caroline “Lina” Drechsel who married Johannes Gottfried Heinke in Cincinnati, although that wasn’t until 1895. There’s certainly a big piece of Lina’s life missing during the 1880s. In the 1880 census she was living with the Heinke family as a servant and noted as a cousin. In 1881 she is shown in the City Directory as a housekeeper. Maybe the Lina that Barbara references is someone else since it does refer to “they,” inferring that Lina was married. There may be an earlier marriage we don’t know about. All of the pieces don’t add up for her. Maybe this mystery will be solved one day too.

My writing is not nice, I can only write at night. I hope and wish that you are all at good health and happy and that you all have work. So please be so good and write me soon, Mary, so that we hear something from you.

– page 4 –

Beloved child, we send you all the greetings from us all. I have to write you another time, since I have not received a reply yet. I do not know, what to think. I hope, you are not all fallen ill! If you do not have the time, then you still have your girls. They may write us a few lines. I always get a hiccup, whenever I think about you. So please be so kind once and write us a little letter about how you are doing.

I suspect hiccup means that she cried.

The word “girls” in this sentence suggests that Mary had already had her second child who was born on March 4, 1888, unless she had a child in 1886 that we don’t know about that died.

This is perplexing because this page appears to be the older letter that Barbara enclosed, written before March 17th. We know that the original letter was dated March 17th, and that Barbara had not heard from Mary or at least had not received a letter since Christmas. Mary’s second child was born March 4th, 1888.  We also know that Mrs. Kirsch died in February 1889, so this entry is confounding. Mary’s first child, Stella, was born in June of 1884. No letter year scenario fits all three pieces of evidence well.

The father has recovered completely, so thank God we are all healthy again.

The Mrs. Kirsch has now a diligent maidservant, so now I do not have to go over to her anymore.

I would presume this means Barbara Drechsel Kirsch’s mother-in-law again.

I had put this letter aside and then could not find it anymore. So I wrote another one and sent it to you. Now I have found it again, and so I decided to send it to you as well, so that I do not owe it to you. I hope for your reply soon! I remain your good mother Mrs Drexler. Aurora Indiana

Goodbye, dear children all!
Goodbye, dear children all, be diligent and good and pray as well, so that the good God will help you. Remain healthy all of you!
Goodbye, dear children, goodbye!

It’s of note here that Barbara did not mention Margaretha who was married to Herm Rabe, unless that’s the reference to Brindi who is fat. That might place this letter in 1887 when Margaretha was pregnant.

On a sad note, Barbara also didn’t mention her son, John. We know little about him other than that he was living in Cincinnati by 1877 according to the Aurora church records. He, or at least someone by his name, is listed in the city directory there as a tailor, and is married in 1880 to Lizzy Uffman, living with her parents. Their one child, Alfred, was born in April of 1882. John is not shown in the City Directory after 1881, but a note in the Cincinnati Enquirer Newspaper on Sept. 5., 1882 states that a massive fire in Aurora burned an entire block, a factory, hotel and other buildings. The article says that the property of John Drexel was damaged. There is no other known John Drexel, or similar surname, in Aurora, and the last we knew of John, he was living in Cincinnati. It’s possible that they meant his father, George.

Even more confusing is the May 6, 1880, Cincinnati Daily Star report under the “Aurora, Indiana” heading that says, “Mr. Jacob Kirsch and wife attended the funeral of Mr. John Dreckler in Cincinnati yesterday (Wednesday.)”

If this John Dreckler is Barbara Kirsch Drechsel’s brother, which is likely, then the Alfred born in 1882 is not his child. That John Drechsel/Drexel/Drexler may be someone entirely different. We do know that John’s wife remarried in 1888. There may be multiple John Drechsel’s involved – and “ours” remains a mystery.

A Gift from the Past Reunites Our Family

I’m extremely grateful to Ernest for reaching out and sharing. It allowed us both to connect the leaves and branches and flesh out our trees. Ernest summed this up just perfectly:

Thank you for adding Mary Drexler’s information to your family tree, it seemed to me that it somehow symbolically reunites the family.

This is so gratifying! What a direct connection to our family, to hear our great grandmother speaking to her children over the years through her letter.

First of all, please convey my deepest thanks to Christoph for opening up this insight into our family with his wonderful translation. And to you Roberta for making this happen. I’ve been wanting to know the contents of the letter for years now.

It makes no great pronouncements, It’s just a simple newsy family letter and it’s all the more intimate because it tells of incidents that occurred, accidents that befell them, what’s going on with the neighbors.

Barbara telling Mary about the lawsuit involving Lina and the milk (but don’t tell anybody else because I’m not supposed to know) is such a natural thing to do.

Barbara, possibly in her mid-sixties at the time the letter was written, is still doing laundry by boiling the clothing in a kettle, heavy work and dangerous too.

She has sent something to Mary which she’s supposed to write down and put in her bible which “takes away the pain and cures.” A spell or charm perhaps.

There is such a lot of information to be gleaned from the letter – actually two letters, it seems.

There’s a clue within the letter that may make it possible to narrow down the year it was written. The first paragraph makes mention of so many people being sick and even one death.

The “Russian Flu” was an epidemic that swept through Indiana starting in late 1889 and lasted through 1892. There were hundreds of deaths in Indiana attributed to the flu in 1890. The epidemic spiked in January of 1892 with over 400 deaths in that month alone and then began to decline. It’s possible that the sicknesses mentioned were a result of the flu.  Kind of interesting considering our current pandemic.

Ernest is right. Further research shows that there was a significant spike in deaths in January of 1888 as well, even higher than the peak of the flu in January of 1890. If the March 17th date was in 1888, that would accommodate almost all of our date hints:

  • Written before Mrs. Kirsch died on February 1, 1889 – so the letter must be 1888 or earlier because Mrs. Kirsch was deceased by March 1889.
  • After Mrs. Kirsch deeds her land and moves to town in August 1887.
  • Barbara refers to the “little one” in her letter when describing a thaler painting sent the previous Christmas. Mary’s second child was born on March 4, 1888 and the first in 1884.
  • Page 4, apparently an earlier letter, clearly refers to “girls,” so this had to be after the second daughter’s birth on March 4, 1888 unless an unknown child was born in 1886 and subsequently died. It’s also possible that page 4 is actually from a later letter.
  • However, if Barbara has not heard from Mary, by letter, since Christmas, how did she know that Mary had given birth to a daughter on March 4th, 1888 in order to refer to “girls?” A telegraph message sent to the train depot might be a possibility, or page 4 was from a later letter.
  • Indiana deaths experienced a spike in January 1888, and the March 17th letter refers to the illnesses and death, noting that in March, people are better.

It’s so much fun to peep through that remaining keyhole into their daily lives. My best guess here is that the Match 17th letter was written in 1888. Regardless, it was written near that time and provides us with a rare and wonderful glimpse into Barbara’s life, narrated in her own words.

Thanks again to Ernest and Christoph – and everyone who saved those letters!

Addendum: German Letter Transcription

– Seite 1 –

Aurora Indiana März den 17.

Liebe Kinder seid Alle Herzlich von uns
allen [gegrüßt]. Ich wolde schon lange schreiben, und kam
nicht dazu. Hier sind vühle Laide krank an der
Krüh, unser Vater ist gefahlen aber Er
hat sich weng weh gethan an der Hand
das hätt nichts aus gemacht aber doch ist Er
krank und kan nichts mehr schaffen wir musten
die Kirche auf geben wer es nimt das weis
ich noch nicht, ich mus hald imer wen drüben
aus helfen die Misses Kirsch hat keine Macht(=Magd)
Sie wahren auch Alle baar Wochen krank
Die Babedt [Babette?] hat remidis in rechten Bein
gehabd die Cähri und Eidi wen krank die
Luli und Ihr Mann die sind in Loiswill
Sie wahren baide krank. Der Raberts
ist gestorben Er war 69 Jahre ald die Brindi
st gros und fett u. unsere Loise hat sich
weng verköldet mit Ihren wasch aufhängen
in den grosen Schnee. Ich habe mich gebründ
in meine Linke Hand ich habe die Wasch
aus den Kössel gehoben, und das wahr, so…

– Seite 2 –

…schwär, und ich hebd hald dichdig und in den
schlips über und sein Hemt [stok?] schleidet
sich gerahte über meine Linke Hand das
hat gebüzeld es wahr die ganze Hand vol
Blasen, ich hab gleich recht Flauer drauf,
und habse besprochen jezt ist Sie gans gut
das wahr in zwei Wochen alles geschehen ich
habe die lezte Woche schon wieder gewa-
schen, Märi hast Du das auf geschrieben
wo ich Dir geschikt hab, lechs in die Bibel
da bleibd es sicher, und hast Du es nicht so
las mirs wissen, so wil ich Dirs schücken
den das nimt den schmärzen und heild
so sind wir Goott sei dank wieder
Alle Gesund. Märi hast Du den letzten
Brif beken zu Weihnachten ich habe
für den Kleinen ein Dallerbild einge-
legt wen dus bekomen hast, so machst
du ein großen Pungt. Der Mister
Nibaum die hatten, so zu thun gehabd
das wahr arch, da denk ich immer Ihr habd
den Brif nicht bekomen.

– Seite 3 –

Ich wil Euch noch schreiben wie der
Liebe Lina noch gegangen ist, die sind
verklagt worden über die Milch weil
sie zu din wahr, was haben Sie dafür
könt wie Sis schücken, so verkaufens Sie
und mussten 80. Achtzich daler bezahlen
wahr das nicht ein Sinden Geld wo Mann
nichts davür kan, die Lina mus noch recht hart
schaffen Sie hat so grose [Höfen?] zu waschen
in ein ist Sismichl in ander Butter Milch
in andern Butter, die Lina nehmet mich gern
wen Ich komen könt Märi schreib nichts in kein
Brif den ich sol nichts wissen davon weil Sie
wissen, daß mirs wehe thut. Eine Mutter ist n
nicht frei von sorchen, und kann doch
nichts helfen. Mein Schreiben ist nicht schön
icht mus nur Nachts schreiben. Ich hof und
Wünsch das Ihr Alle recht Gesund und zufrieden
seid und und wen Ihr alle Arbeit habd. So
sei so gut und schreib bald Märi daß wir
auch was fon Eüch hören

– Seite 4 –

Hertz gelibde Kind seit Alle herzlich
gegrüsset von u[ns] Allen.
Ich mus noch ein mahl an Eüch schreiben, weil ich
noch keine Antwort bekomen habe. Ich weis nicht was ich
denken sol, Ihr werdet doch nicht Alle krank sein! Wen
du nicht Zeit hast, so hast du doch eine Mädchen die könen
doch so vühl thun und konen uns ein baar Zeilen schreiben
Ich hab immer Hetscher wen Ich an Dich denk, so ist es
vorbei. So seid doch ein mahl so gut und schreibt uns bald ein
Briflein wie es mit Eüch geht. Der Vader ist wieder gans
gesund, so sind wir Gott sei Dank Alle gesund. Die Misses
Kirsch hat eine fleisiche Macht jezt brauch Ich nicht mehr zu
nüber gehen. Ich habe diesen Brif weggelecht und hab
Ihm nimmer finden könen, so hab ich em anderen geschrieben
und an Euch geschückt, jezt hab ich im gefunden, und so
wil Ich im auch wieder zu Euch schücken so habd mir
nichts vir ungut. Ich Hof eine badige Andwort. Ich ver-
bleibe Eüere gute Mutter Misses Drexler. Aurora Indiana

Gutbei Libe Kinder Alle!
Gutbei liebe Kinder Alle seid Fleisich
und gut und dut auch Beeden, das Eüch
der Liebe Goott auch Hülft seid alle gesunnt
Gutbai Liebe Kinder Gutbai.

12 thoughts on “Barbara Mehlheimer’s Letter: A Daughter Found, Photos and a Family Reunited – 52 Ancestors #308

  1. I haven’t read the whole post yet, but wanted to comment on the photos. It is wonderful that you have images of these ancestors now!

    But, I noticed that some show uneven lighting, so I wonder if that may have happened during scanning, or possibly if a camera was used to get a digital image. If Ernest has the originals, perhaps he has a friend or relative who can scan the photos on a flatbed scanner, saved as .tif format, and at least at 300 dots per inch, even 600 if possible. That way you will have the best reproduction. JPEG is good for showing photographic images online, as the images will be smaller. But for archiving an image which you may want a print of someday, TIF is best. JPEG compresses and loses information, which TIF does not.

    As the images are now, if that is the best version available, several can be improved by adjusting the level (to provide a proper range from light to dark), and perhaps sharpening the details. These things can be done using Photoshop or another graphics program. The appearance will be greatly improved; it will be like removing a gray curtain. Even the images of the letter can be improved and made more legible.

    I’m not a particular fan of the colorization at MyHeritage, but different strokes for different folks.

    Now to read the rest of your great story!

    • Ernest’s scanner broke and he was using his phone to take pictures of pictures. I’m still hoping for scans someday. Covid has disrupted this too.

  2. So nice to add the information about Lina in my husband’s Gotsch genealogy. Gottfried Heinke’s mother was a Gotsch. She was a half sister of my husband’s great grandmother.

  3. The mystery word in the third sentence might be “Krüp.” If the widespread sickness was respiratory, it likely would be called “croup,” and “Krüp” is close approximation of that pronunciation.

  4. Oh, Roberta, I’m so excited for you. A new cousin and photos and a letter! What an extraordinary gift.
    I have custody of the photos that belonged to my great grandma and my Nana, her daughter. What I wouldn’t give to have a letter like this. I’ll just keep hoping something will eventually show up.
    I so enjoy reading about your family. I love looking at my photos and imagining what my ancestors were thinking while posing for them. The longer I’m at this genealogy stuff the closer I feel to them and appreciate what they went through to create the life I’ve been privileged live.

  5. I have seen a hand-written remedy in a Bible for something like cough syrup. It may be that the Bible was a safe place to store something or it added to the value of the remedy. I would think a cookbook or recipe file would be just as good. But then, she may have cooked entirely without written recipes. Thank you for such an interesting post and an insight into life in the 1880s.

  6. Hi, Ms. Roberta & Team DNAeXplained!!

    Relative newbie here,
    (pardon the pun😉)
    I hope and pray all is well with everyone.

    Apropos of nothing,
    it’s tedious, time-consuming, boring, and downright frustrating to sit at the computer for hours, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, clicking, clicking, clicking, in search of that ONE elusive ancestor . . .

    but I wouldn’t trade my efforts for all the gold in Fort Knox!!😊

    And so,
    right now I would like to give a humble, heartfelt shout-out of deepest gratitude to all the genetic-genealogy researchers of yore from the BC (before computers) era who traveled long distances; sat (or even stood) for hours, in dim, dusty rooms, poring over innumerable paper pages and microfilm scrolls; lugged home tons of reprints and hand-written notes; burned midnight oil to organize and collate all that seemingly random info into cohesive, applicable formats — and often coming out of pocket in order to bring their diligent efforts to fruition.

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!
    💗❤😍❤💗

    ~LBB
    (from my Speak & Spell😉)

  7. Lena Drexler Heinke was the wife of my grandma’s 1st cousin, Johannes Gottfried Heinke. ‘Gottfried’ was the son of Jacob Heinke and Emilie Louis Gotsch. Jacob and Emilie were my great-great uncle and aunt. I have been researching my Gotsch family history for 23 years and have written 2 books about us. I have notes and facts for both Lena and Gottfried, pretty much the basics like baptism, confirmation, etc. I don’t have photos of either of them, though. I am willing to share whatever information you would like about Lena and Gottfried.

  8. You wondered about “Kruh”, my great grandmother called the sore throat, that many children got “croup”. Here is what the dictionary says, croup 1 |kro͞op|
    noun
    inflammation of the larynx and trachea in children, associated with infection and causing breathing difficulties.

  9. The photo of George, even MH’d, was killing me, so I downloaded a copy & took a shot at trying to improve it.  Then I MH’d it again.  I did that with a few of the other photos as well, but the one of George came out the best, I think.  Tried to send them via your email, but got a message that the email was invalid (or something like that). I sent it to roberta@dnaexplain.com. Anyway, below is a link from which you can view & download anything you want. 

    BTW, I also have roots in Aurora:  Batchelor in Aurora since 1920 (and in Boone County, KY since at least 1820); Goodrich in Wilmington & Aurora since 1847; Peters in Aurora since heaven knows when (long time); Knowles in Dillsboro since 1835.  We were actually living in Aurora when I was born, but I was born in Christ Hospital in Cincy.

    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/klnmgdadxhovcsp/AABb0AXRJKIFS4BZ4qtqQNfba?dl=0

    Happy October!

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