(Home of John and Mary Meyer in Cascade abt. 1912)
Growing up my family never celebrated old customs or made traditional foods the way many of my friendsdid. We were American, that was good enough. And it was – except I wanted to know more.
My paternal grandfather told me his family had come from the south. He thought they might have owned a plantation and had moved North because of slavery. But he had no idea where or when they had originally came here.
My mother, on the other hand, knew her grandparents had come to the U.S. as children. She thought they’d come from Prussia to avoid it’s warring ways. Why they’d chosen to live in Wisconsin or if they’d ever lived elsewhere in the U.S she couldn’t say.
She’d heard the Meyer’s were somehow connected to the Roosevelt’s of NY and her Dad had two cousins who lived in upper NY by the name of Edith and Pierre. She thought they might be rich as they wintered in Florida. Later she remembered that her grandpa Meyer had come from Alsace Lorraine and his wife from Denmark. And there had a been some kind of remarriage in the family with a his, hers and ours sort of family. She thought it was probably John’s parents and that one of them had returned to live in Europe. Two things she was sure of, her grandfather had been a shoemaker and he and his wife, Mary Thomsen had raised their family in Cascade.
While she didn’t know much about her grandparents my mother did know lot more about her Meyer uncles. She knew the oldest had been born inn 1883 and a still older son had died as an infant.That meant John Meyer would have had to have married no later than 1880-81. My first search was to see if I could find him in the 1880 census.
Today I could pull up the record quickly using my computer but In the 1990’s I had to find both the Wisconsin 1880 census and it’s index in a library. Lucky for me my local branch had both. Scrolling through the microfilm I found a John Meyer,living in Cascade, single, age 35, boarding with a August Hafemeister. Both men were shoemakers and John had been born in France. Since Alsace was part of France, he sounded like my man. Better yet, a few entries down was a Mary Thomsen, age 20, a servant for the hotel keeper. Schleswig, a part of southern Denmark, was listed as her place of birth. Chances were she was soon to marry the shoemaker.
I felt sure I had the right people but I needed more proof. Plus, I still wanted to know when had they come to Cascade and who were their parents? Had they come alone as teens or with families? I decided to write to the Sheboygan county genealogy society and see if someone could find their marriage record.
(The below photo if beside in the yard of John Meyer. He is the gentleman on the far right)
While I waited for an answer I shared the information I’d found with my mother. She in turn unearthed a scrapbook her mother had kept. It was a mish mash of stuff, most having nothing to do with the family, but in the very back she had written down the names of the Thomsen side of the family. Now I had Mary’s parents and siblings names and birthdates. No town name was given but she did say they had come from Schleswig a part of Denmark.
Meanwhile I went back to the 1880 census for Cascade and found Mary’s parents Thomas and Anna Thomsen. He was a wheelwright. Not long afterwards I received the marriage record in the mail. A John Meyer, son of Johannes Meyer and Marguerite Sontag, had married an Anna Mary Thomsen of Cascade. John’s birthplace was listed as Airshiem, Alsace. Also enclosed was a newspaper clipping from their 25th wedding anniversary and an ad for John’s shoe shop.
The 1890 census had been lost in a fire so the next census I could consult was 1900. It would, if I could find them, tell me how long they’d lived in this country. I found John and Mary still in Cascade along with their three sons. John’s arrival was listed as 1848 and Mary, or Anna M. as the census listed her, as coming in 1874. Both had their place of origination shown as Germany but since both Alsace and Schleswig were under German jurisdiction in 1900 it wasn’t unexpected. Neither the 1880 census or the 1900 census had any indication of John’s family living nearby. If he had arrived in 1848 he’d only have been 4 or 5 years old. Where was his family? What had happened to them? And how did the two NY cousins fit in? To learn I was going to have to dig farther back into time. The question was where?