Friday, November 11, 2011

Leaving Everything Behind

Kuck Immigrants: L-R John, Frederick and Anna
I've pondered this quite a lot simply because it is beyond what I can imagine. I find myself asking the question, what would it take to leave everything you knew behind, parents, culture, siblings and move to the far side of the world with nothing but the clothes on your back? I'm not sure I can fathom an answer.

John Kuck, my 3rd great grandfather, was the second son of Hinrich Kuck, born in 1836 in the swampy lowlands of Adolphsdorf, Germany. On an early summer day in June of 1853 at the ripe old age of sixteen, he would board the ship Arnold Boninger in Bremen and set sail for Baltimore on the far side of an ocean. The Boninger was built and named for a tobacco company in Duisburg only the year before but two years later would be in the midst of the Austro-Prussina War against Denmark. Perhaps it was the looming war which drove John to immigrate or the lack of land in an area brimming with large families or the promise of the American dream. Fortunately for me, he went, he met his wife to be and the rest is history.

Arnold Boninger
At the time of his departure for Baltimore, John Kuck left behind both parents, Hinrich aged 45 and Anna Gerken Kuck aged 40, both in the prime of their lives. Since John's Germanic name was Johann, the same as an older brother, I assume the older brother died in or shortly after child birth and the name was recycled as often was the case making John the oldest sibling. Still in Adolphsdorf were younger brothers Hinrich Jr., Dietrich, Frederick and Wilhelm along with younger sister Anna. John would never get to meet younger brother Georg who wasn't born until a couple years after his departure.

As I wrote in a previous post about John's life, he traveled westward from Baltimore making several stops, raising capital and finding a wife before settling in Charles City, Iowa and opening up a saddle and harness shop in 1864. That was the year that John most likely learned through a letter back home that his father had died at age 56. John had two children by then and by 1868 was up to four with the birth of my 2nd great grandfather George. I'm guessing the American dream must have been realized because he sent for two more of his siblings, Frederich and Anna who arrived around that time. I have yet to find their immigration papers with certainty but from other clues, I'm fairly certain they came in that year. Both went straight to Charles City, Iowa and shacked up with big brother John for a time according to the census of 1870. Both Frederich and Anna would marry in the next year, Frederich to Katherine Brandau older sister of John's future wife and Anna to Frederick Tubbesing, a name I only recently learned. Frederich would move to nearby Rockford to start his life and Anna would move up to Redwing, Minnesota to begin her life. Back home in Germany, older brother to Frederich and Anna, Dietrich and the two remaining brothers Wilhelm and George would bury their mother Anna Gerken Kuck the following year.

Anna Gerken Kuck
By the death of his mother Anna, Dietrich Kuck had been married seven years to wife Meta and had one daughter Anna with another child, Martin on the way. After Martin was one and ready to travel, they too packed up their bags and in 1874, sailed on the ship Oder for New York City. They went straight to Charles City and set up their home. I have no information as to what became of the remaining two siblings Wilhelm and George.

With most of the family now safely together on American soil living the American dream, life was good for a few years until the winter of 1878 and 1879. In that year John would lose five of his seven children and wife Mary Meyer Kuck to a diphtheria epidemic. Mary was only 42 at the time. John would remarry again to Elizabeth Brandau, younger sister to Frederich's wife Katherine Brandau and life would resume.

Dietrich Kuck, the last Kuck member to immigrate would be the first to die at age 51 in 1894. Sister Anna would die five years later in 1899 at the age of 49.  Frederich Kuck would die in 1907 at the age of 61 and with him, Kuck's Harness and Saddle shop would close its doors and open no more. John's eldest surviving son Henry Lincoln Kuck would carry on the tradition halfway across the country by joining forces and opening the Kuck & Bonny Saddle shop so I suppose John was gratified to know that though his saddle shop was closed, his saddle making legacy continued and indeed, Kuck saddles fetch a high price on the internet.

John's second wife Elizabeth would die in 1910 at the age of 53 and once again at the age of 74, John would find himself alone in this world once again. Except now instead of penniless and owning nothing more than the clothes on his back, he was a product of the American dream and a quite prominent man around town. He had two sons from his first marriage who were both successful, married and had kids of their own. My great grandfather Victor Kuck born in 1895 was fifteen years old and living in nearby Rockford must have known his grandfather quite well. John had three more children with his second wife Elizabeth Brandau Kuck and the eldest was married though childless and the other two still lived with him so he did have some company. Daughter Clara would later be quite the independent lady moving out west to Montana and then on to California. She would at one point take a ship all the way through the Panama Canal, stop over in Havana, Cuba and continue on to New York City though she would soon end up back in California. Big moves for 1931. At that point she was 48 years old and still single and I lose track of her until her death in 1966 at the age of 83 still living in California. She married a Herbert Foot sometime after the age of 48 but never had children.

Clara Elizabeth Kuck
John would die on the first day of November in 1916 at the age of 79. My great grandfather Victor, a man whom I remember well and have wrote about before, would have been 21 years old and undoubtedly attended the funeral. Had I only knew of John and been as interested in his life as I am now, I would have loved to ask questions of Victor about his grandfather. I don't have an obituary for John so I don't know what those left behind had to say because the local paper has a gap at that time in the online records that I have access too. I don't know if it was due to a fire or just a lack of a publisher but someday I hope to dig into that area a little bit more and see what I can find. His house at 802 Ferguson Street is now under the back lawn of a retirement home. I am only left with a few pictures, thankfully now more than just the one, and my question of what drove him to leave everything behind for a chance at a new life.


R. Sherman said...

Did he go back to Germany for awhile? The residency permit you have shows the bearer as being 19.


Ed said...

I think that the residency permit must have belonged to Frederick who was 20 years old when he came over in 1868. To my knowledge, John never went back home.

warren said...

That's an awesome post and a great bit of work you have there! Well done and so interesting!

Anonymous said...

You can be driven out.
Remember that Hanover was part of the UK throne during the formative years of the USA. They used the methods of clearance developed in Scotland and Ireland to drive people from lands into cities. Those with some cash ended up in the US. This system was used after the revolts of 1840s the clear problem demographic.

sage said...

Interesting... It would be tough to lose some many children and a wife in one year, but epidemics were like that.