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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bankruptcy in the Family : Uncle Willie's Dilemma in 1932

The University of Illinois has digitized some Illinois publications from the nineteenth and  twentieth centuries, and they can be found at  There are 45 newspapers currently included in this collection.  I have seen this collection grow over the last few years.  Take advantage of it to research your Illinois, or border state, relatives.  You never know what you might find.....

Here's my find : My grandmother's brother, Salvatore, aka Willie, went bankrupt during the depression in 1932.  It was publicized in the Farm, Field and Fireside Collection : The Chicago Packer.  Willie and his brother, Tony, had a produce business/ produce distribution business in Mount Vernon, Illinois.  Prior to this venture, both learned their skills while working in the Italian dominated produce markets in St. Louis, Missouri.

In the 1930 Census, Uncle Willie and his family are listed, with quite accurate data (as I had documentation from their vital records from the St. Louis, Missouri area).
Year: 1930; Census Place: Mount Vernon, Jefferson, Illinois; Roll: 521; Page: 22A; Enumeration District:0023; Image: 1013.0; FHL microfilm: 2340256
The Chicago Packer, was a weekly agricultural newspaper that catered to produce handlers, poultry farmers and commercial growers. It was published in Chicago, and had other editions for major markets, such as New York, Cincinnati and Los Angeles.  Founded in 1899, this newspaper contained advertisements and articles that announced information of interest to those in the food markets.  In addition, it contained articles about specific businesses and personal matters of those in the food business. Uncle Willie owned and operated the Broadway Fruit and Produce Company in Mount Vernon, Illinois.  The business was getting some unfavorable mentions in this newspaper, beginning in early 1932.

1932 February 22, The Chicago Packer
Evidently, the produce company had come upon hard times, and caused some upset with its creditors.
Attorneys were  to represent those holding interest in the business, with a trustee appointed to represent Uncle Willie's business., which had fallen into bankruptcy.

1932 June 11, The Chicago Packer
So, according to this article, Uncle Willie paid cash for his purchases from St Louis businesses until November of 1931.  Thereafter, he bought on credit, and had not paid off those bills.  Creditors were accustomed to being paid weekly on Thursdays, as is the agreed habit of those in the business.  It was reported that Uncle Willie paid cash only to the Mount Vernon Distributing Company during this time period.  Of course he did.  His brother, my Uncle Tony, owned and operated the Mount Vernon Distributing Company.  Why would he take advantage of his brother?  Family comes first, right?  And not reporting income from the sales of his credit purchases only fueled the flames of anger.  The creditors wanted to be paid.....Now.

1932 June 18, The Chicago Packer
Uncle Willie submitted a very unpopular answer to the charges files by the Fruit and Produce creditors.  The judge, evidently, wanted to give him another chance.  He was allowed to review and rephrase his answer.  But, he had only one week to do it.
1932 July 2, The Chicago Packer
On July 1, 1932, Uncle Willie was to testify in the court.  Evidently, the examination, and cross examination did not reveal very hopeful news.  The association of the Fruit and Produce merchants was organized to protect the interests of all of its members.  And, apparently, their muscle was driving the court to hold Uncle Willie to the flame.

1932 October 2, The Chicago Packer

The court lowers the Boom on Uncle Willie.  Since his bankruptcy filing in early February of 1932, he repeatedly failed to submit a full report of cash and assets to the Hon. Walter J. Grant.  In addition to his fruit and produce creditors, he also owed his landlord.  Oh, Uncle Willie.  This is not going well, is it?
1932 October 2, The Chicago Packer, continued...
and the story goes on....Uncle Willie purchased fruit and produce for his establishment from others not named in the initial petition of the Fruit and Produce association, and to those merchants he owed not a penny.  The association could not have been happy to hear that.  The court pointed out that the weights of the product purchased by him in the late months of 1931 from the association merchants was not shown on the petition papers.  But that was irrelevant, according to the court.

1932 October 2, The Chicago Packer, concluded article.

Uncle Willie hauled one heck of a lot of produce during those few months, according to this article, taking him seven trips from St. Louis to Mount Vernon.  After all the numbers wrangling, he is ordered to pay the associated creditors $883.05.  If he fails to do so, he will be charged with contempt.  The article states that Uncle Willie had a partner, Charles Mercurio, who was his brother-in-law.  I thought that Charles was just a salesman for the company, not a partner.

So that's the story of Uncle Willie's bankruptcy during the depressed times of the 1930s.  It is not the end of the story....since this was held in the Eastern District Court of Illinois in East St. Louis, there would be records of testimony in this case held in the archives.   I'll let you know when I am able to review those records.  There could be much more that was not reported in The Chicago Packer.

Meanwhile, if you think that your ancestors may be mentioned in some of the occupational periodicals in Illinois, check out the University of Illinois database mentioned at the beginning of the story.  You might uncover a story that adds a little spice to your family history tales.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Last Will and Testament of Gottfried Hechtner : Does Eliza Get Snubbed?

Last year I was researching a line in my husband's family tree, The Hechtner Family.  With today's technology, I was able to make a digital copy of the last will of Gottfried Hechtner.  He is the 3rd great grandfather of my husband.

Gottfried was born about the year 1800 in Prussia.  He came to America in the springtime of 1854, with his wife, Mary, and 6 children.  He made his home in Bureau County, Illinois.

Elizabeth Hechtner, fifth child of Gottfried and Mary, married Gottlieb Hessler in Bureau County on May 31, 1860.  Mr. Hessler was a boot and shoe cobbler by trade.  Elizabeth (Eliza on many documents) and Gottlieb became my husband's 2nd great grandparents.  They lived comfortable enough to be listed on several Illinois County Tax Enumeration Lists (1870 and 1880).

Eliza had siblings : Frederick, Mary, Henrietta, Sophia and John.  Their mother, Mary (Kittendorf) Hechtner, passed away in 1862.  Gottfried moved into the home of his son, John Hechtner, in 1861, and lived there until his death.

At the age of 72, Gottfried filed his Last Will and Testament in Bureau County, Illinois. It was dated and filed on May 20. 1872.  He died in June of 1873.

Here is a digital copy of the hand-written will :

State of Illinois, County of Bureau, Illinois State Archives, accessed 2012 5 May.
As I reviewed the document, there appears to be somewhat of a mystery.  Every child, except Eliza Hessler, was to receive one hundred dollars.  Eliza was to receive five dollars.  Why?

Son, John Hechtner, was also to receive whatever worldly goods and belongings were left, due to his kindness in furnishing his father a home in his later years.  

So let's look at what the lives of Eliza and her siblings were like about 1870.  Eliza and her husband, Gottlieb Hessler were living in Sterling, Whiteside County, in Illinois.  As stated before, this couple had an income where they were listed on tax lists, instituted to help pay for the Civil War, which was very costly to the nation.  They had 2 daughters in 1870, Eliza and Emma.

Frederick, oldest of the Hechtner siblings, was living in Muscatine County, Iowa in 1870. He and his wife, Sophia, had 5 children.  He was a farmer and two farm hands were living with the family. According to the US Census data, his land was worth $800 and personal property total estimate was $2000.  He was a Civil War veteran.

Mary, oldest daughter of Godfried, was living in Bureau County, Illinois, with her husband, August Schultz, and their two chilcren, John and Henrietta.  August was a farmer, and his personal property estimate was about $450.  Not doing as well as her brother, Frederick, Mary was still closeby her father's residence.

John, second son of Godfried, was living in Bureau County, Illinois, with his wife, Elizabeth, and their 4 children :  Mary, Emily, John and Eliza.  John was a farmer, and his land was valued at $9,600, with a personal property estimate of $2500.  He seems to be doing quite well for a man of his age. His farm was located 5 miles Northwest of Princeton, IL.

Daughter, Henrietta, was living with her husband, Francis Frank in Bureau County, IL with their three children, according to the 1865 Illinois State Census.  No value of land or personal property was listed on this census.  Francis was a boot and shoe cobbler who worked alongside his brother-in-law, Gottlieb Hessler in Whiteside County, IL in 1860.  His real estate was estimated at $1500 and personal property valued at $500. Gottleib's personal property was worth only $25 in 1860.
Something happens to dissolve the marriage of Henrietta and Francis, as she remarries in 1872 in Rock Island County, Illinois, to Frederick Worth. In 1873, they were living in Iowa for the birth of their son. The Iowa census does make note that Frederick had been out of work for 4 months, due to a physical ailment.  

Sophia, youngest daughter, was married to Frederick Deadrick in 1861 in Bureau County, Illinois.  By 1870, they were living in Iowa. Frederick became a farmer in Poweshiek County, Iowa, with a land value of $2000, and personal property value of $500. They had four children at that time.  

So, with these financial comparisons between the Hechtner siblings, I guess that Eliza and her husband, Gottlieb Hessler were doing a bit better than the others.  Although her brother, John, cared for his father in the latter years of his life, he did have a greater value of property than the rest of the siblings. Eliza and Gottlieb had moved to Otoe, Nebraska before the turn of the century.  Their daughter, Eliza Hessler had married Henry Reif in 1885, son of Georg and Fredricka Reif of Stephenson County, Illinois.  Henry became a baker, and by 1890 they were living in Nebraska.  Eliza and Gottlieb Hessler probably moved that same year with their daughter, son in law and new granddaughter, Hazel Reif.  They lived out the last years of their lives there in Nebraska, Eliza passing away in 1908 and Gottlieb passing away in 1907.  

My guesses as to why Eliza inherited 5 dollars in contrast to the 100 dollars to each of her siblings :

Godfried Hechtner maybe felt that Eliza was well taken care of with Gottlieb's Shoe and Boot business, OR

God forbid....there was a falling out between Eliza/Gottleib and her father for some reason.  Remember that the first husband of Henrietta Hecktner, Francis Frank, was in business with Gottlieb in Sterling, Illinois, in the cobbler trade.  And then there was another marriage for Henrietta, without a reasonable explanation of what happened to Mr. Frank.  Henrietta had those children to take care of.  There could have been something that put a wedge between father and daughter that left hard feelings.  Who knows?  

My next step : browse newspapers, business papers, other records to see what may have occurred in the Frank family that caused a split.  Let's hope there is not a dark side to this story.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The History of the U.S. Lifesaving Service : an African American History Story

The January 2000 Vol IX Number 1 issue of the Carolina Trees and Branches publication  had an article that sent me researching into a subject of which I had no knowledge.....until now.  I kept this copy since I  picked it up on the White Elephant table at a conference sometime....somewhere.  It stayed in my "to look at later" file, until I decided to clean my home office.  You see, there was upwards of 19 inches of snow outside my door, and this prompted me to do a little housecleaning.

Browsing the articles, published by the Family Research Society of Northeastern North Carolina, I came upon an article, The United States Lifesaving Service, (with Emphasis on the Pea Island Lifesaving Station). I had never read about the terrible problem with shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina.  Evidently, in the eighteenth century, there was no organized way of dealing with this type of tragedy.  Many ships grounded and were washed ashore, and those persons, Bankers, as they were called, tried their best to save maritime refugees.

The article mentions a newspaper notice in 1812, which was written about the schooner, Independence, which sailed from New Jersey to St. Domingo, having a cargo of sugar and coffee.  It met with a fierce storm and lost nearly all of its cargo, and only one man of the eight person crew had survived.  At that time, wreck commissioners were allowed to handle maritime disasters.  They gathered their own groups to rescue ships, and whatever cargo they could.  The ship owners were responsible to the wreck rescuers to reimburse them for their trouble.
U.S. Lifesaving Service Emblem,

The North Carolina General Assembly had put this type of rescue service in place, but it depended solely on the integrity of those wreck commissioners to do the right thing.  The U.S. Congress appropriated funds to sponsor a new lifesaving station idea.  In 1852, funding paid for surf boats to be stationed along the coast, at Wilmington, Ocracoke, and Bodie Island. It worked a little better than the wreck commissioner idea, but was not perfect.  Later, in 1871, the government decided that a better idea was needed, as the shipwrecks became more numerous with the increase of shipping imports and exports.  The Revenue Marine Bureau was founded, which provided the construction of seven lifesaving stations along the coast.  These were built in 1873 and 1874.  Great idea.  But the stations were not sufficiently staffed.  And, these were all located on the northern shores of the Carolinas, leaving little patrol for the southern shores.

In 1877, the wreck of the ship, Huron,  which had a loss of 103 lives, and the ship, Metropolis, where 85 persons lost their lives,  prompted the government to revise its plans for ship safety and rescue.  The U. S. Lifesaving Service (USLSS) came unto its own, overseen by the Treasury Department.

Pea Island station, built in 1878, was staffed with an all white crew.  Their first mistake was to completely miss a grounded ship.  Four men were killed.  Two of the high ranking officers had to resign from the station.  The first black station keeper, Richard Etheridge, was assigned and placed at Pea Island in 1880.  Mr. Etheridge hired an all black crew for Pea Island., probably because no white man would have taken orders from a black man at that point in history.   The station was burned to the ground in May of that year.  It was thought that the damage was due to arson, although no one was ever charged.  Captain Etheridge commanded his crew to rebuild the station.  He was hard on his crew, making them drill ever more than what was expected.  He wanted his crew to be the best.
Richard Etheridge and his crew,

The Pea Island group performed their duties very well for many years, assisting in the rescue of ships and schooners through storms and hurricanes.  Captain Etheridge ran a very professional unit at this station for over 20 years.  He passed away at the station in 1900, at the age of 58.  Another black man was assigned in his place, and the station continued to run until it deactivated in 1947.
Pea Island crew, 1942,

Twenty-nine more lifesaving stations were built along the Carolina coast. In 1915, the U.S. Lifesaving Service was merged with the Revenue Cutter Service, and was called the United States Coast Guard.  The Lighthouse Service was incorporated into the USCG in 1939.  And now you know the rest of the story....the Coast Guard today not only performs rescues, but it also oversees customs violations, and national maritime regulations.

Memorial Plaque,

Grave site of Capt. Etheridge and his family at Pea Island,