Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Family History of Immigration

I think what is lost to most Americans is their immigration story. If your family lineage is other than Native American, your history is that of immigration.  It defines who you are, and who you could be. 

It is important to know where you came from.  Sure some of it might not be pretty, but it gives you a baseline.  There is the old proverb that rings true.  You must know where you came from to know where you are going.  Maybe this is the reason that so many Americans seem lost and out of touch.   

I was lucky in the fact that my great Aunt Jean Klenbenow researched in great detail her Grandfathers; my Great-Great Grandfathers story.   We are now 6 generations of Americans who more importantly know their story. 

It is an epic tail of Prussian Peasants who can date there ancestry back to the 1700s.  It's a story of no opportunity in the old world and unlimited opportunity in the new.  A story of lost family and wartime horror.  Above all else, it is the typical American Story that sadly is lost to most Americans.  

The History of August & Gottliebe Skowronek (Skofronick)

By Jean Klenbenow

August Skowronek immigrated to the United States in December I889 on the ship, Aller. The Aller took an indirect route from Bremen to New York. It stopped at Southampton, England, to take on more passengers. Taking a ship the indirect route cost less but took more time. August was a steerage passenger. The manifest or passenger list gives his age as 24 and occupation as farmer. He had one piece of luggage. On December 28th, 1889, August Skowronek took his first step onto U. S. soil. He came through Castle Garden, was the Immigration Station in l889. Castle Garden was on the lower tip of Manhattan.

He probably took a train to Wisconsin, although the mode of transportation is unknown. He settled in Merrill. He probably had friends there. The l890 (Federal census burned, so his residence was unknown. There were lots of boarding houses and lots of immigrants who spoke German, so he probably had no trouble finding a place to stay. Except for the 1893 Merrill City Directory which lists a Skowronek, August, lab. (Laborer) bds. (boards) 702 Douglas. Little was known about where he worked and lived.

A lot of this is speculation, but there was nothing to keep August in Prussia. His father had died of smallpox when he was four. His mother had remarried a year later only to die in childbirth four years after that. By the time he was nine, he had lost both parents. He had a sister, Wilhelmina. They lived with their stepfather, who had married a relative, Amelia Skowronek, but as more children tilled the house they became unwanted. August and Wilhelmina were shunted from house to house until they found a permanent home with a relative of their mothers. By this time they were older and able to work.

Most young men were required to register for military service, and August had to register.  He could not immigrate without having served his time. Men could start their military service at 16 or l8 and serve two, four or six years. When he was 18, August started to serve his military time which would be 4 years. While he was gone he worried about his sister, Wilhelmina, or Mina as he called her. He knew there was no future for him in East Prussia and wanted to leave and go to America. But Mina was his only close relative, four years younger, and he had to take care of her. August was very relieved when Mina met a good man and talks of marriage began. lf Mina married he was free to leave. She married and August left for America.

Advertisements were everywhere about land in the United States. lt was cheap. August had probably saved some of his military pay. He was single, an orphan and his sister was married. Why not leave his village and immigrate?

So August left by way of Bremen and came to Wisconsin. He had been living in Sawadden with relatives of Gottliebe Sparks, the person he wanted to marry. She was just a child when he left in 1889, only 12 years old. August knew he wanted to marry her, but first, she had to grow up. Going to Wisconsin would give her a chance to do that.

By late l895, August was ready to return to his village. He wanted to see his sister, Mina, and see Gottliebe, whom he called Liebe or Libby. (Lieb means love in German.) By now she was 18. Gottliebe was the oldest of six children, three boys, and three girls. Gottliebe and August were either first or second cousins, so her parents were not too keen on their marrying and especially taking their daughter to America, but the courtship began. Soon Gottliebe was pregnant. Now they had to marry and did so in May 1896. By June the newlywed couple was in Hamburg ready to sail on the August Victoria. Gottliebe later told her children that she was very sick with her pregnancy and the trip was miserable. But she was with August and loved hint very much and was excited about the trip. The ship landed in New York .lune 13, 1896. They had been at sea for nine days. This time August did not travel Steerage. He could not afford a cabin but could afford something in between. The manifest shows August as 30 and Gottliebe as 20 and their destination as Wisconsin. ln 1892 Ellis Island had opened for the screening of newly arrived immigrants. They were healthy and August had a home for them. The train again took them to Wisconsin.

Before August had sailed for Germany, he had made two land purchases. One was in October 1895 from Oscar Simon and his wife for lots 1 and 2 in block 3 of the Schulz and Leland addition for $100.00. The other was in November 1889 for $240.00, for three lots of the J. M. Smitts fourth addition to the City of Merrill. The sellers were Adam and Emma Turnowski, former residences of his village in East Prussia.

The 1900 Wisconsin Federal Census showed August and Gottliebe living at 437 Riverside Drive (Avenue?). Helen and Robert had been born. In about a month Gottliebe would deliver another child. August was a sawmill laborer. The family could read, write and speak English.  The 1900/01 Merrill City Directory gave August's occupation as a laborer and living on Riverside Ave. and Geneses St.

The 1905 State Census showed an increase in the family. Gertrude and Gust had been born. The surname was spelled Skovernok. August was a day laborer. The directory of 1905/06 had Skowronek, August, as a laborer living at 501 Riverside Ave. ln 1908, Skovinka, August (Libby) wks. mill. h 706 Schulz. (August works at a mill and the family lives at 706 Schulz Street.) August and Libby continued to live at this address until they died. The 1925 city directory showed six Skofroncks. Robert had married Leone and they are listed. Ann, August and Gottliebe, and Gustav are also listed. They live at 706 Schulz Street.

The 1910 Wisconsin Federal Census had all of the children listed except Leone, who had not been born. English was spoken at home. August was a table Sawyer in the sawmill working full time. They owned the Schulz Street home free and clear. The census state they were aliens. In October 1892, August had taken out his first papers toward citizenship. The process was completed on August 29, 1910. Gottliebe became a citizen when her husband did.

In the 1920 Wisconsin Federal Census Leone is the youngest at 9, Helen has married Art Buss and Gertrude has married Harry Gehrke. Gottliebe and August are naturalized citizens. August worked in the lumber mill all year (not seasonal). Robert and Gust were laborers in the lumber camps and worked all year. Just below August and Gottliebe on the census record are the Gehrkes. Harry was 23 and worked in the lumber camp, Gertrude was 19 and Gordon was 3 months. They live with her parents, the Skowronek.

By 1931 all of the children were married. August was 66 and Gottliebe was 54. Again there were children living with them. Gust had married Esther Franke and they shared the house. Gust and Esther would live there on and off for years. Jim was born there; Jean was born while the family lived on Matthews St.; Richard’s birth said the address was West Main Street and Bruce at the Schulz Street address. Between Bruce‘s birth in 1937 and early 1942, the Gust Skofronicks lived at 506 Eighth Street. After Gottliebe died, they bought the Schulz Street house. A contract dated January 6, 1942, showed Gust and Esther Skoironik buying lots Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen (12, 13, 14 and 15), of Block Seven (7) of the Schulz and Leland Addition to Merrill, Wisconsin. The contract did not state the amount of money paid for the home but did say that Gust and Esther must pay to Mrs. Leone Richards of Ely, Minnesota $300.00. A later contract showed the amount had been paid.

Gottliebe died on October 3, 1941. She was 64. Besides her children, she was survived by three brothers and two sisters in Germany. Esther stated that one sister had married a Lutheran minister and he was crippled, It is a wonder that all survived WW 1. The names of her siblings are unknown. Gottliebe had a will, dated Dec. 31, 1926. August died June 22, 1948, at age 84. He left no will. Besides his children, he was survived by one sister living in Germany. (When I was in Poland I looked at the Lutheran Church records in Johannesburg. Everything had been destroyed by the Russians and the death records I looked at started in 1952. The records listed the maiden name of the wife. I found no Wilhelmina Skowronek. It was possible she had moved from the area, as it was now Catholic Poland, or had died between 1948 and 1952. Will we ever know?"

This is a story that is lost to many Americans.  It is a story that needs to be relearned.  We are now 6 generations strong in American and we'll keep getting stronger.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Irish History: Kilmainham Gaol

The Kilmainham Gaol is a must see when visiting Ireland.   It played an important part in Irish Revolutionary History.  This is what fighting for freedom looks like.

During the 1916 Irish uprising, 16 leaders of Sinn Fien were executed here at the Gaol.  This generated overwhelming support for independence among the Irish people. The Irish election of 1918 all 73 representatives refused to sit in parliament at Westminster, London. They formed there own government in Ireland then declared independence.

The names of each patriot killed are printed above there cell.  At the end of the tour, you walk through the courtyard where they were executed.  It is a somber feeling seeing a place where so much sacrifice took place.

From the downtown Dublin take the Red Line Tram to Bus├íras Luas Stop.  From there it is a 12-minute walk to the Gaol.  Before you visit, a tour must be booked in advance online at

Monday, May 6, 2019

A Walk in Nashville and a Missing Train

We have lived 35 miles from Nashville for the last 25 years. We talked about how we don’t really know Nashville at all. So we decided to take the American Volkssport Association, walk around the West End.  The event is actually called Music Row/University/Parthenon Walk. I am glad we did it.  We saw a part of Nashville that we never knew existed.  Although we spent a little time looking for a train engine that was the last checkpoint.  After a google search discover that the train had been moved out of the park this last February.

The walk begins in the Comfort Inn Parking Lot on Demonbreum Street right off of I40.  The walk box is located in the hotel office.  The first part of the walk takes you down music row.  This is where all the record companies have their office buildings, along with banners of the artist that they represent.  The buildings are a mixture of modern and antebellum buildings.   I can't believe we have lived here for 25 years and never seen this street.  It was a treat seeing the Studio B RCA recording studio and office building. You will also pass by the Warner Brothers, Sony, and many other record labels.  

The second part of the walk is through the Vanderbilt and Belmont University campuses.  It's spring and the campuses are in full bloom.  The greenery is stunning.  We finally end up at the Belmont Mansion built by the Acklen family, which has it's very own Nashville's Gone with the Wind story.  Adelicia Acklen strength and perseverance brought her through the Civil War, three marriages, ten children, and the management of one of the largest fortunes in America.

The last part of the walk takes you to Centennial Park and the Parthenon.  Nashville's Parthenon is the only full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon in Athens.  Built as part of the Centennial Exposition in 1897 it is one of the trademark sites of Tennessee and Nashville.  After searching for a train that wasn't there we again walk back through the Vanderbilt campus past its famous clock tower.  Then down another street in Music Row. 

After more than 3 hours of walking we complete the 11-kilometer march. Even though we have lived near here for over 25 years it was good to get to know Nashville a little bit better. There are 2 other events that we will be doing in the future, the State Capital Walk which starts in the same location and the East End walk near five points.  We look forward to getting to know Nashville even better. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Delta is Calling My Name: The BB King Museum and Mississippi Route 7

Made it to Indianola, Mississippi.  It was a long day; it was a 4 state ride thru Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Riding the El Camino Real was fun, but it was a long haul. Have a short 347 miles tomorrow. I will be home in about 7 hours. I’m back in the eastern US, civilization baby.  It was all about getting back to the Delta today.
To me, the Delta is a special place that you can feel it down to the core of your soul. You can’t understand it until you’ve been here.  When I ride thru the Delta, I like to stop at one of the music heritage sites. If you listen to American music, your listening to the blues.  All American music and to include the British rock of the ’60s were influenced directly by these cotton fields in Mississippi. I wish I had time to go to the juke-joint Festival in Clarksdale. It’s on the calendar for next year.

At the BB King museum before the push home. For BB King, it all began at this 100-year-old Cotton Gin that is part of the Museum. This is where he had his first job bought his first guitar.  He once said that is was one of his favorite places on earth.  

After seeing the King, I make my way over to Missippi Route 7.  A fantastic motorcycle road coming up Mississippi Highway 7 from Indianola.  This road was a pleasant surprise, a fast traveling, curvy road in that runs thru the Mississippi Hill Country.  Its no Tail of the Dragon, but it is a fun and pretty highway to ride. This would be a great route to get to the gulf from Tennessee; it slices Mississippi in half from north to south.  Stopped in Holly Springs for Southern Style Catfish lunch before crossing into Tennessee.  

It was good to get home and a great trip.  Riding the Twisted Sisters in Texas, the El Camino Real to Lousiana, and to finish it with a journey through the Delta in Mississippi was pure Motorcycle Heaven.