I first wrote this story about the eldest son of Joseph and Gertrude Niehaus in our Niehaus Family Newsletter in 2009. This is a moderately updated version. And I would be happy to hear from you with other details or suggestions.
But before going any further, I have to say that I’m grateful for the family members who bring me closer to the actual events with their
personal input. This story is a great example of those collaborations. Thank you to Bernie Niehaus and Pat Cracraft for the meat on the bones in this tale. You’ll find those interesting tidbits below.
Imagine the feelings of an eleven-year-old boy leaving not only his hometown but moving to a country across the ocean, never to return to his birthplace. In 1885 this is exactly the experience of young Gerhardt John Niehaus. He must have thought: “Will our family be safe on the long journey across the ocean?” “What will our lives be like there?“ “Will I make any new friends?” There would be so many unknowns! For this young Niehaus family member traveling in the mid-1880s, it wasn’t long before he found the answers.
To enhance my family research, I asked for help from Pat Niehaus Cracraft, Gerald's granddaughter and daughter of Bernie and Ruth Niehaus. Pat and her father gave me several keys to assembling this story. So now we have a glimpse inside the life of this Niehaus family member. Here's that peek at Gerhardt's life, as we know it currently.
Gerhardt John Niehaus was born to Joseph and Gertrude (Wilmsen) Niehaus at their home in Dorfbauerschaft, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany on the 28th of January 1874. Three days later he was baptized in the local Catholic Church in the nearby town of Emsdetten. This map shows the location of the province of Westfalen and the town of Emsdetten within that province.
Gerhardt’s father, Joseph, supported the family with his rug weaving business. For reasons we can never be sure of, but can speculate to be the economic difficulties in their homeland, the Niehaus family left Germany for America in 1885. Gerhardt was 11 years old when Joseph and Gertrude brought their three sons and five daughters to Indianapolis, Indiana. It must have been difficult for this young man to step into a completely new world. However, he most likely found some familiarity and acceptance among the many German people where they settled on Indianapolis' south side. At some point in this assimilation, Gerhardt’s name was converted to the English version, Gerald.
During his maturing years, Gerald learned carpentry skills, and eventually found a job in southern Indiana. We don’t know how this move happened or why. Bernie tells us that his father met his mother, Amanda Marsh, in Peru, Indiana, where he was employed as a carpenter. Since Amanda’s family also lived in Indianapolis, the reason she was in Peru is a mystery, for now. Perhaps these two connected while visiting relatives or mutual friends. Regardless of the events that led them to each other, marriage records confirm that 26-year-old Amanda and 32-year-old Gerald wed in Peru, Miami County, Indiana, in 1906. Gerald and Mandy's family grew to include five children, Geraldine, Joseph, Bernard, Harvey and Gerald, Jr., “Abe,” born between 1907 and 1918.
The couple moved to Indianapolis early in their marriage, since all of their children were born in the city. Sometime after 1910, Gerald built a home on Habig Lane in Indianapolis, not far from their parents' homes on the south side. Their home on Habig Lane was located next door to Gerald's sister, Feenie, and her husband, Al Stull. Pat Cracraft recalls a story she heard about the home: “From what my Dad and Abe said, he was a much better cabinet maker than house builder, as none of the walls were straight.....They didn't have indoor plumbing until .....about 1950.” The events of Niehaus family life on Habig Lane are threaded into many cousins’ remembrances shared over the years.
As the children of Gerald and Amanda grew, a tragic event stunned their entire family. Sadly, at 44 years of age and after only twelve years of marriage, Gerald passed away suddenly. His son, Bernie, provides in his own words the details of what happened one day after his dad returned home from his job in Indianapolis: “Where the street car line ended, there was a saloon, Berringer's. His death occurred during the time of prohibition (May 1918). The doctor that pronounced him dead said that if it hadn't been for prohibition and the fact that Berringer's couldn't sell whiskey, he might have lived. He was feeling badly when he got off the streetcar and walked home (about 3 miles). Had he been able to stop in at Berringer's, he probably would have survived the heart attack. Carrie Nation was responsible for my father's death.”
Gerald's family had many struggles after his death. Especially since Mandy was pregnant with their fifth child when he died. Bernie recalls those times of his childhood: “All of us, including my mother, worked at whatever jobs we could find where we would earn even a very small amount of money.” And Pat shares more about how they all survived: “My grandmother really had it hard financially. They moved from relative to relative for a while, received flour, sugar and other foodstuffs from Catholic charities. The kids worked at the Fletcher Estate and for the truck farms around Bluff Road. Abe told that they were allowed to bring home damaged vegetables. The boys hunted and fished to help put food on the table.”
Pat also tells the story of how her father and his brothers and sister rode a manure wagon from Habig and South Meridian to Sacred Heart School. (Approx. two miles) And that her uncle Bud had a car with a fabric roof and his brother, Abe's, goat ate the roof off the car. These are the memories that are much funnier after a few years have gone by. And, even these trials seem to have brought the family closer.
Another of Pat's memories is, perhaps, the best way to conclude Gerald's story: “On Sundays we would go to my Grandma's. And Aunt Feenie's children and grandchildren would be there for Sunday dinner. After dinner the cousins (my Dad's generation) would play euchre, sometimes volleyball, mostly cards though.”
Surely Gerald would be pleased that his family continues in the caring traditions he learned from Joseph and Gertrude, and their ancestors. The family history for the young immigrant from Emsdetten, Germany, is full of life today.
Maybe some of you know more about Gerald’s story. If you have anything to add or a question for me, please leave comments below. I appreciate you visiting Indiana Ties!
If you’d like to see an Ancestry Report from Gerhardt’s Niehues/Beerman grandparents through his children, including his siblings, CLICK HERE.
You may be interested in these related stories:
Surname Saturday: Our Niehaus History by Charles
We Appreciate Our Family Veterans
Wordless Wednesday – Bernard Henry Niehaus, 1910 - 2005
Copyright 2013 Nancy Niehaus Hurley