Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Unlikely Namesake

Genealogy is a hobby for me. While searching old newspapers for any reports on Wangard, I discovered not a relative, but a steamship with my surname. The S.S. Wangard was a German cargo ship built in 1906.

The first mention I found stated that, in February, 1908, overcome by work and worry brought on by damaging seas in far northern latitudes, the 64-year-old Chief Office died of heart disease. The ship was en route from Seattle to Japan, and the officer was buried at sea. Sounds like the Wangard was a stressful place to work.

The ship sustained $8,000 in damage from the heavy waves, and was dry docked in Japan for repairs. After a month-long voyage, it arrived in Tacoma with six thousand tons of coal.

            In September of that year, the Wangard was in Australian waters when a 15-year-old German boy adrift in a boat near Melbourne. He claimed he had been shipwrecked on the Wangard sixteen days previously. The crew of twenty-one left the ship in four boats, and it foundered half an hour later. The boy lost his three companions one by one before his boat beached at Mornington.

It seems the boy had been put aboard the Wangard by the German Consul to be taken to Newcastle in New South Wales, a distance of about 700 nautical miles (or 800 miles). Not wanting to go there, he slipped over the stern while anchored in the bay and helped himself to one of the boats. What repercussions he may have faced is unknown.

The last mention I found came under the headline, Steamer and Cargo Will Have to Be Abandoned—Was En Route From Tacoma to Europe.

The Wangard went ashore on Punta Mogotes off the Argentine coast on January 11, 1909. For a big freighter of 2,736 tons, with a heavy cargo of 210,709 bushels of grain, there was little chance of escaping the rocky coast. The cause for going aground was not stated.

The question I am left with is, how did the ship come to be named Wangard?

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Gerardus Vogelzang, My 2nd Great-Grandfather


Topics we study in history books affected our ancestors in ways we may never realize. For most of my ancestors, I know little about them, but they are my history.


Gerardus Vogelzang, My 2nd Great-Grandfather

2 June 1823    Sambeek, Boxmeer, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands

5 Sept 1876    Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA


When I first began studying my family’s genealogy, I thought I had 3/4 German ancestry, 1/8 Belgian, and 1/8 French. Years later, I learned the Belgian and French Canadian were both 1/16, and I have 1/8 Dutch ancestry.

My great-great-grandfather Gerardus Vogelzang (bird song) had Americanized his name to George Vogels, making his history hard to trace. Once I knew he was Dutch, I found him on the CD, “Immigration Records, Dutch in America 1800s.”

He was born in Sambeek in southern Netherlands, close to the German border. In 1850, Sambeek had a population of about 1,300. At age 33 in 1857, George emigrated to America, hoping for economic improvement. He was a farmer, in the “less well to do” social class.

Some time in the next eight years, he married Theodora Maria Van der Heiden, now known as Mary Vogels. They had six children, the youngest being my great-grandmother Kate, born in 1875. According to the 1870 census, George’s three teenage nephews had come from the Netherlands and were living with the family. His brother and sister-in-law had died in 1867 and 1861. George too died in 1876, nineteen months after Kate was born.

Typical for widows with young children and a farm, Mary remarried a year later and had three more children.

One of my favorite genealogical websites for Dutch ancestry is https://www.wiewaswie.nl/en

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Josephine Denis


Topics we study in history books affected our ancestors in ways we may never realize. For most of my ancestors, I know little about them, but they are my history.


Josephine Denis, My 2nd Great-Grandmother

21 Jan 1849   Grez-Doiceau, Belgium

21 April 1924    Green Bay, Wisconsin


For the longest time, Josephine was a mystery. From her marriage certificate, I learned her parents were Frank and Florence. From the 1860 census, I learned that as a 12-year-old, she lived with two men: a 40-year-old from Belgium and a 17-year-old from Holland. The men were laborers. She was a domestic. From that I surmised her family was poor and she had to work as a maid.

Then, a stroke of luck! Through a contact in Belgian research in 2018, this family line broke wide open. “Frank” and “Florence” were actually Jean Francois Denis and Marie Florence Vanschoelandt. (In France, Germany, and other Catholic countries, boys were given the first name Jean or Johan, and girls were named Marie or another saint’s name in the belief the saint would be a heavenly intercessor for them.)

The Denis family lived in Grez-Doiceau, Belgium, until Florence died in 1856. Frank and the children immigrated to Wisconsin and its thriving Belgian community, but then Frank sent his children away. Dispersing the children wasn’t uncommon when a parent died, but then why didn’t Frank stay in Belgium where he had family who may have helped?

I’ve learned what happened to Josephine’s two brothers. The 14-year-old served as a laborer with a young Canadian family in Fort Howard, near Green Bay. The younger brother lived with a Wisconsin woman and her two grown daughters who worked as seamstresses. It seems to me that Josephine would have had a better life living with the women for whom she could have learned a trade.

At the age of nineteen, she married Moses Martell. They had six children, at least four of whom grew to adulthood. One of them, Moses Jr., was my great-grandfather. I remember he always had pink and white mints for my sister and me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Marguerite Lamirault


Borrowing an idea from a friend, I am writing vignettes of some of my ancestors. Topics we study in history books affected our ancestors in ways we may never realize. For most of my ancestors, I know little about them, but they are my history.

Marguerite Lamirault, My 8th Great-Grandmother

c 1645  •  Saint-Germain L'Auxerrois, Paris, Île-de-France, France

17 Oct 1706  •  Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

            King Louis XIV of France desired that his land in the new world, called New France, be populated. Soldiers who stayed behind after fighting the Indians that threatened the settlements needed wives, or they would return to France. The king offered a dowry of fifty pounds if a woman married a solider or common settler, and 100 pounds if she married an officer. In addition, she was given a small hope chest which contained the following:

One head dress                                     One taffeta handkerchief

One pair of shoe ribbons                     100 sewing needles

One comb                                               One spool of white thread

One pair of stockings                           One pair of gloves

One pair of scissors                               Two knives

1,000 pins                                                One bonnet

Four lace braids                                    Ten pounds in silver money

 These marriageable young women were called Filles du Roi, daughters of the king. They are considered the mothers of Canada. At least eight of my ancestors are numbered among them.

One of the women who traveled to New France at the king’s expense was Marguerite Lamirault. Since she had a dowry of 300 pounds at the marriage and since her parents were still living, poverty did not prompt her to undertake the journey to a strange, dangerous land.

More likely, she already knew one of the soldiers. The Lamiraults lived withing five blocks of Honoré Martel in Paris. His father and Marguerite’s father were undoubtedly in contact. Honoré’s father was a horse merchant and Marguerite’s father was a coachman for the queen. Despite a 13-year age difference, Marguerite and Honoré may have been sweethearts, or their fathers arranged their marriage. Taking the king’s offer was an opportunity to increase her dowry and receive free passage to Canada.

The Lamiraults lived on rue des Poulies, the street that runs between Le Louvre, where the royal family lived, and the Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois church where Marguerite was baptized. Moving from Paris to the wilderness of Quebec must have been quite a shock for her.

She and Honoré were married on the morning of 17 November 1668 in Quebec. Marguerite was declared not able to sign the marriage contract, but Honoré could. They settled into a country life, beginning in the town of Sillery. Being from a city family, however, Honoré was not suited to the life of a farmer. After farming for twenty years without much success, he went into the lumber trade. He leased a house in the Upper-Town of Quebec that contained a cellar, two rooms on one floor, one of which was furnished as a foyer, and an attic.

Marguerite gave birth to fourteen children between 1669 and 1691. Four died in infancy. Her sixth child, Paul, was my seventh great-grandfather. She died on 17 Oct 1706.


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Honoré Martell

 Borrowing an idea from a friend, I am writing vignettes of some of my ancestors. Topics we study in history books affected our ancestors in ways we may never realize. For most of my ancestors, I know little about them, but they are my history.


Honoré Martell, My 8th Great-Grandfather

 c 1632   Saint-Eustache, Paris, France

 1712-1714    Quebec City, Quebec, Canada


In 1663, New France, the present Quebec, was home to 2,500 French people. They were under threat from the Iroquois and the English colonies further south on the Atlantic coast. On 30 June 1665, the Carignan Regiment arrived. One of four companies was quartered at Quebec. One of the soldiers was Honoré Martell.

When the company returned to France in October of 1667, Honoré elected to remain. The following year, he signed a commitment to work for a resident of Gaudarville, seeding an arpent of land and clearing felled trees from two other arpents. (Arpents were long narrow parcels of land of about .845 acres, usually along navigable streams.)

On 26 Nov 1668, he married Marguerite Lamirault in the Church of Notre Dame in Quebec. Marguerite was from Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, a parish very near Saint-Eustache.  If they hadn’t known each other in Paris, and she was thirteen years younger, they were familiar with the same neighborhoods.

She had arrived in Quebec that year as a Fille du Roi, daughter of the king. Louis XIV, the Sun King, sponsored the emigration of marriageable girls to Quebec to keep young men from leaving.

Honoré did not make a good farmer. He had to appear before the provost numerous times. Problems included the death of a rented ox, boundary lines, quarrels with neighbors, neglecting to pay debts.

After twenty years, he finally began a new career as a longsawyer in 1688, providing planking and satisfactorily fulfilling contracts.

Marguerite died on 17 Oct 1706 at the age of 62. She’d borne fourteen children, nine of them still living and five not yet married. A year later, Honoré married Marie Marchand, but he had health problems. Four times he was hospitalized. He died between June 1712, when he attended his son Jean’s marriage, and September 1714, when his youngest, Marie-Thérèse married with both parents deceased.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Joseph Wangard

     Borrowing an idea from a friend, I am writing vignettes of some of my ancestors. Topics we study in history books affected our ancestors in ways we may never realize. For most of my ancestors, I know little about them, but they are my history.

 Joseph Wangard, My Great-Great-Grandfather 
 7 May 1846 • Bickenbach, Sankt Goar, Rheinland, Germany 
 25 Aug 1925 • Milwaukee, Wisconsin 

Joseph & Barbara sit in the front. Their son John is behind Joseph.

        The second of seven children, Joseph married his wife, Barbara Liesenfeld, on 16 Feb 1874. Seven months later, he departed from Hamburg on 30 Sep 1874 aboard the Cimbria. He was listed as a shoemaker.
       He and Barbara first settled in Cedar Creek, Washington County, Wisconsin. From the birthplaces of their eight children, they moved around Washington County frequently until finally staying in Milwaukee. Their eldest, John, was my great-grandfather. 
        Three of Joseph’s brothers also emigrated to the U.S. Another brother stayed in Germany. His children, Hans, Josefine, and Benno, inspired my debut novel, Friends & Enemies.  
        According to family lore, Joseph wore a full beard to hide a saber scar he received while fighting in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. 
       At the age of 82, he was struck and killed by an automobile while walking to a neighborhood drug store for ice cream. He had waited for an eastbound vehicle to pass, then walked directly into the path of a westbound car. 

        In an interesting aside, the Cimbria sank in 1883, the biggest civilian maritime tragedy in German waters. The 16-year-old steamship operated by the Hamburg-Amerika Line sailed from Hamburg on 18 Jan 1883 with 302 passengers and 102 crewmembers. In a heavy fog that morning off the North Sea island of Borkum, a smaller steamer crashed into Cimbria’s portside. Seven lifeboats were inflated, but they weren’t filled to capacity. Three disappeared in the fog. Hypothermia and drowning claimed 357 lives. The disaster made headlines around the world. I wonder if Joseph, busy raising a young family, heard the news.

Heidi became a widow when her husband’s U-boat sank in the Atlantic. She wonders how her American school chum Rachel is faring. Her husband Paul must be at war too. One day a strange man approaches her. But no, he’s not a stranger. Paul, now a widower, has been shot down over Germany. With German ancestry, he’s fluent in their language. She takes him home to pose as a German soldier. They’re betrayed and the Gestapo comes calling. They flee across Germany in a desperate journey for Allied lines.