Monday, August 5, 2013

Ladies In My Line: Elizabeth Gertrude Wilmsen Niehaus -- 1847-1895

I’m working my way back through the ladies in my ancestry, developing the story for each woman as far as my records will take me.  I am hopeful that each one of these Ladies In My Line posts brings some kind of new piece of information or a clearer focus for me. The previous stories are at the link for Ladies In My Line.   These ladies aren’t famous, or even necessarily remarkable.  They are critically important to all of us in this family though.  So, let’s talk about the second great grandmother of my daughter and all the children ofEmsdetten, Westphalia, Germany map my numerous Niehaus cousins:                
Elizabeth Gertrude Wilmsen Niehaus was born to Gerhard and Elizabeth (Kamp) Wilmsen on 16 December 1847, just before the great revolutions of 1848 that occurred in many areas in Germany, due to social upheaval and economic problems.  She was born in Hollingen, Steinfurt, Westphalia, Germany, a village on the edge of Emsdetten in northern Germany. Westphalia was a province of the Kingdom of Prussia, a member of the German Confederation at the time that Gertrude was born.  She was baptized six days after her birth in St. Pankratius Catholic Church in Emsdetten.  She was also married in this church in 1873 to Joseph Niehaus.  The map I am posting here shows the general location of Emsdetten in the the northern area of Germany. And the link below takes you to a current map with links to the hometowns of Gertrude and Joseph.
Click here to see a map online of the community where Gertrude grew up and lived until 1885.
Suffice it to say, the history of Germany is an integral part of Gertrude, her impressions and her mindset.  She must have become determined to find the way to provide new opportunities and a different everyday life for her family.  Gertrude and Joseph chose to emigrate from Germany to the United States after twelve years of marriage, bringing eight children to a somewhat uncertain situation.
I don’t have any records of siblings or parents of Gertrude’s emigrating from Westphalia.  I expect that further research will provide more details on her family in Germany.  As far as I know today, she left her parents and other family behind. Family historians tell us that her husband, Joseph, was a merchant in Emsdetten, selling the rugsGertrude Wilmsen Niehaus that he wove. They sold the business to come to the U.S.  Joseph did have one brother who made the trip before him, Bernard.   Perhaps that brother wrote back to Emsdetten encouraging Joseph and Gertrude to join him and relating the possibilities for their future in Indianapolis.  We won’t know exactly the motivations or reasoning for the family’s move. They were among many German families who emigrated to America in the 1880s. Their decision to be a part of that movement brought Gertrude's family to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1885 or 1886.   
Pulling together the family’s history is gradually giving a clearer portrait of Gertrude.  For instance, during my first ten years of family research I had no actual image of her, just my imagination. But thanks to a cousin and fellow researcher, GeorgiaLee Taylor, I'm happy to be sharing this portrait of Gertrude. It was tucked away in Minnie Niehaus Kirn's (Gertrude's youngest child) photos that were passed down in the family.  The expression on her face relays to me a kind and pleasant demeanor, with a confidence about her.  I may be reading more than is attributable to the photo.  But I’m going to say that’s my prerogative.  
I am guessing this image of Gertrude was made around the time of her marriage to Joseph in 1873, when she was 25. There are a couple of reasons for my speculation on this date. The first is that her marriage would have been a reason in itself for the portrait to be made. Her age here isn’t easy to determine, but she looks young to me. I do know that in the 1870s brides wore whatever dress they could afford, not buying one for only this one occasion. The white wedding dress wasn’t necessarily the custom in the 1870s, especially not in the middle class. Through research on 1870s clothing styles, I've learned that ruffles and pleated frills are characteristic trimmings of that era. So there's a good chance this is Gertrude's wedding attire. Lastly, I am assuming that Gertrude and Joseph didn’t have the extra funds to have a portrait made of her after the many children began accumulating.  Therefore, I think that this painting would be from the time before she was married.  I am just happy to see her now.
During the first six years of establishing a new home in Indiana she gave birth to four children, including my grandfather, John Niehaus, who was born on July 4, 1889.  One of her sons, Francis, died at four months in 1892.   Gertrude and Joseph Niehaus’s twelve children were: Gerhardt, born:1874; Anna, born: 1875; Rosa, born 1876; Mary Anna, born: 1878; Josephine, born: 1880, Bernard, born: 1881; Lena, born 1883; Joseph, born 1884; Clara, born 1887; John, born: 1889; Francis, born: 1892;  Wilhelmina, born: 1893.   Judging from the actions of her daughters and sons, some of the grit, determination and loving spirit that Gertrude seems to portray was passed to her offspring. They took care of one another during all of their lives and knew how to play and laugh when they had the time.   
Gertrude’s lifetime in Indianapolis was not nearly as long as it should have been. Unfortunately, with eleven children ranging in age from 21 to 2, Gertrude succumbed to meningitis in 1895, four months before her 48th birthday.   She had only nine years to experience their new life in America.  She was able to spend five of those years living at their family home at 567 South West Street in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Joseph setup his weaving loom in their home on West Street in order to make his living weaving rugs.  They were building the life that Gertrude must have dreamed would be good for her family.  Records indicate that most of the children lived in the Niehaus family home on West Street until they married.
Not one of Gertrude’s many grandchildren ever knew her.  I hope to bring her life to light for the family that follows.

For a Descendant List of Gertrude's parents, CLICK HERE.

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