Did They Really Bring a Chair?

Finding the Truth in a Richartz Family Story

There is a much loved story, often repeated in my husband’s family, of a Richartz ancestor bringing a small rocking chair onboard the ship from Germany to rock the baby in. According to the story, the baby died on the trip and was buried at sea. Here is the first part of the story, told by Pauline Wilson Hughes around 1994, interviewed by her daughter, Joyce Hughes Gephart.

Pauline Wilson Hughes, interviewed by Joyce Hughes Gephart, ca. 1994.

The transcript is as follows:

Joyce: She had how many children? Your grandmother had how many children?

Pauline: My mother’s mother, [Anna Katherine Hammerman] in Germany, had seven children, and I don’t know whether Mother [Mary Katherine Richartz] was the oldest of the seven, but she was the oldest living of the seven.  Then she died in childbirth…

Joyce: Your grandmother.

Pauline: Grandmother died in childbirth and Grandpa [Peter Richartz] decided to come to America, and besides Mother there was a younger sister and a younger brother and the baby that he brought with him, but he left Mother in Germany.  They were Catholic, and she was ready to make her First Communion.  So he left her there with some of the family and she was to come over the next year by herself, which she did at the age of thirteen. 

Joyce: Okay, now back up and tell about the trip over with Grandpa.

Pauline:  The trip over, Grandpa brought a little rocking chair so that he could rock the baby.  He brought the baby with him too.  And the baby then died on the way over and was buried at sea.  So there was just Aunt Julia and Uncle Leo that came with him then.  And the reason he came over to America, two of his sisters and a brother had already come to America.  And the brother’s name was Will Richartz, which they spelled R-I-C-H-A-R-T-Z in German, and he owned a brickyard in Memphis, Tennessee at that time.  And Aunt Christina, his other sister, was married to a German man named Faust and they owned a brewery in Terre Haute.  And they were all Catholics.

Pauline continued with more of the story later in the interview.

Pauline Wilson Hughes, interviewed by Joyce Hughes Gephart, ca. 1994.

Pauline:  Grandpa settled in Terre Haute with Aunt Julia and Uncle Leo.  I don’t know their ages, but they were younger than Mother.  And Mother came over a year later, because they had left her there.  He had left her there when he came over with the children and the baby because they were Catholic and she was ready to make her First Communion.  So she came over a year later in care of the …

Joyce:  Someone on the ship?

Pauline: In care of the captain of the ship, and then he saw that she got on the train at Maryland to come to Terre Haute and came by herself, not knowing a word of English.  Thirteen-year-old child.  I don’t know whether she entered school in Terre Haute.  I have never heard her speak of anything like that, about her schooling or anything.  The only thing I know is that she worked in an overall factory in Terre Haute.  And I have no idea when she came to Muncie or why she came to Muncie.  But she had a friend here who was going with a cousin of Pop’s, that’s how she met him.  And when she was in Muncie before she was married, she worked for people as their maid.  And one of them was Mrs. Heeney [?], the Jewish lady that owned a store, a shoe store I think it was, in Muncie. 

So how much of this story is true? Turns out, the documents may describe an even more powerful narrative. Rather than traveling in two groups, the family took three trips to get to the United States. Peter’s sister, Christina, was indeed married and living in Terre Haute, Indiana, with her husband, by 1880. Frederick Faust was a grocer, according to the census and the History of Vigo County by H.C. Bradsby, 1891. Peter’s brother, William Richartz, was also living in Terre Haute in 1880 with his sister, Louisa, and three children. Probably the first sibling to emigrate, William had been in Terre Haute since at least 1860 and worked as a brick mason. Death records indicate that he died there in 1896. There is definitely more to pursue in terms of the order of immigration and earlier records for these siblings. In any event, they were all well settled in Terre Haute and had probably encouraged Peter to come to the United States. He arrived in New York on June 28, 1889, on the S.S. Lahn from Bremen, Germany, carrying two bags.

Passenger list of the S.S. Lahn, June 28, 1889. Peter Richartz is on line 500.

The list that makes the story most powerful is from a year later. Departing Bremen, Germany in May of 1890 were three young children.

Passenger list of the S.S. Dresden, arriving in Baltimore, Maryland, May 29, 1890.
Julie Richartz is on the bottom line of the top list, and Leo and Franz are on the top of the lower list.

All three were in steerage, and Julie, the oldest at reportedly 15, was listed as being in the “B” section with the single women. Was she really 15? Pauline says Mary Katherine was the oldest, which would mean Julie couldn’t be that old. Later census records list her as much younger, but I have yet to find any further records. On Leo’s entry there is a note, “disregard steerage comp.,” and Franz, the baby, is listed in compartment “A” with the families. According to the manifest, the ship was carrying over 1100 passengers in steerage. We have no way of knowing, at this point, whether these three children were traveling with anyone else they knew, or whether they, like their sister mentioned in the family story, found someone on the ship that helped them out. Interestingly, there is no indication anywhere on the list that Franz died aboard the ship. Since this list was used in Baltimore, presumably for checking people in, it’s curious there is no mention of that. Though there is a column to indicate deaths, none were reported.

Franz was reportedly 8 months old. If that age is accurate, he was born about six months after his father left Germany. The mother, Anna Katherine, would have died in the fall of 1889 when he was born, after her husband left for America. I have not found either a birth or a death record at this point. Some records have survived, but most are not online at this time.

Finally, a year later, Pauline’s mother, Mary Katherine, arrived in Baltimore on her own.

Passenger list from the S.S. America, arriving in Baltimore, Maryland on May 13, 1891. Marie Richartz is on line 447.

“Marie Richartz, servant,” is listed as 17 on the passenger list. From birth and death records that indicate she was born in November of 1875, I believe she was more likely 15. Once again, the manifest shows more than 1000 steerage passengers on the ship. As yet, we have no record of a communion or other event that would have kept her in Germany. Many Catholic church records survive for Dusseldorf, but they are mostly deaths and marriages, and not available online. In any case, she did arrive in Maryland and she was headed to Indiana.

As for the rest of the story, I haven’t yet located the family with the shoe store in Muncie, but Marie married Archie Wilson there on October 18, 1899. The photograph above was taken while she was still in Terre Haute, probably around 1897.

So did a rocker come over from Germany? Would it have come with the three children in 1890 for the baby to rock in? It seems unlikely, honestly, but I don’t suppose we’ll ever really know. Regardless, the story of these children and their voyage to America is a powerful narrative.

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