Sunday, June 1, 2014

Our Rug Weaver from Westphalia -- Joseph Niehaus (Niehues) -- 52 Ancestors Challenge

       The 52 Ancestors Challenge is the creation of Amy Johnson Crow at  She is bringing together family history writers who share weekly ancestral stories throughout 2014.  I'm enjoying the challenge and learning more as I dig deeper into the details of  our ancestors. There’s a weekly update on Amy's blog linking to the group of stories by surname.
     This story centers on the occupation of  Joseph Niehaus, my paternal great grandfather, the rug weaver from Westphalia.  He was born Heinrich Josef Niehues on 11 February 1848.  His parents, Maria Anna Beerman and Josef Niehues,  made their home in Lage, near the village of Riesenbeck in Westphalia. Westphalia at this time was a province of Prussia (now northern Germany).  Sometime before Josef married ElizabethJoseph Niehaus, 1848 - 1921 Gertrude Wilmsen in 1873 he learned the trade of rug weaving.  Perhaps his father or grandfather taught him the intricacies of weaving.  This is a piece of the story that I hope to have some day.
     Our Niehaus family history, passed down and documented, includes basic background on Joseph Niehaus’s rug weaving.  One of these stories, written by Charles Niehaus after visiting family in Germany, explains briefly how Joseph's trade came with him across the ocean: 
“…Josef became a "hausierer" or door-to-door merchant. He also owned a general store at the time he left Germany. Following his marriage to Gertrudis Willemsen of Emsdetten in 1873 in St. Pankratius Church, he carried on his business in that town and the surrounding countryside. Emsdetten is about 15 miles from Riesenbeck (Joseph’s birthplace) and was a center of the weaving industry. It is from this industry that the Niehaus tradition of rug weaving came. Josef very likely both made and sold rugs in Emsdetten.
The last half of the 19th century saw many Germans leave home for North and South America. The two main reasons for this migration were the vision of a better life in America and the desire to escape compulsory military service. Westphalia, the Province in which Emsdetten is located, was then part of Prussia and military service was a universal requirement. Josef Niehues had already performed his military duty during the Franco-Prussian War, which broke out in 1870, but he did not wish his sons to do the same. He also hoped for the better life in America. In 1885 he sold his store and left for the United States…”
     After settling into their home in Indianapolis, Joseph setup his loom and began turning out his products.  It may have taken himimage a few years to establish enough business to support his family through the weaving because the 1900 census lists his occupation as furniture filler.  However, by the 1910 and 1920 censuses he is enumerated as "rug weaver - on his own account."  I have spoken with descendants who can remember the loom in Joseph's home.  And my grandfather, John Niehaus, learned to weave from his father.  John also wove rugs in his home, enjoying the hobby and producing some extra income.   My cousin, Diana Ellis Pugh, can remember our grandfather weaving in his basement.  So I'm including her relationship chart in this story.  To the right are those four generations leading back to Germany. 
     As far as I know, the rug weaving tradition hasn't been taken up in the following Niehaus generations.  But, maybe there's a great grandson or granddaughter with Joseph's weaving gene waiting to surface.
Thanks for visiting Indiana Ties.
You may want to take a look at these related pages:

Niehues/Niehaus/Beerman Descendants 

What Do I Know About Josef Niehues - 1804 to ????

Anna Niehaus Donahue's News

Copyright © Nancy Niehaus Hurley

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