I’d say my grandmother was a mail-order bride. Amalie Windt was born in East Prussia. At age 18, she became a Red Cross nurse in Berlin. She and another nurse bought boat tickets for America, arriving May 9, 1914.
The women went to Chicago to work in a hospital, and stayed at a boarding house with other nurses. One evening, a few of them found an ad titled “Looking for a Wife” in a German newspaper. Several single nurses picked out whom they’d write to. Amalie wrote to Wilhelm Hauck, who’d come to America from Germany in 1905 and was renting a farm in George, Iowa.
Wilhelm replied that he’d come to Chicago to meet Amalie. He made the trip and one week later, March 24, 1915, they were married. She went to Iowa with him and helped on the farm. In the early 1920s, they moved to Elizaville, NY, bought a farm and raised a family. They were married 29 years, until Wilhelm died of a heart attack at age 75. Amalie lived with her daughter Dorothea (my mother) to the age of 94.
One of the fun things I would do with my children when they were young was go to old cemeteries and look for family, clean up weeds and have a picnic. My four children at the time were 12, 10, 8 and 2 when we went to one cemetery with our picnic lunch. The kids and I pulled weeds, and I checked out inscriptions as they played hide-and-seek behind headstones and caught lizards to amuse themselves.
As I was diligently searching for a particular headstone, my oldest informed me there were a bunch of cars coming up the road into the cemetery. Not sure what to do, I told the kids just to stand quietly as they passed and not stare. As I gathered our stuff to leave, I noticed my son had his younger sister and brothers lined up, heads bowed and hands over their hearts. He even made one of his brothers take off his baseball cap in respect. We quietly left to return another day.
Beverley Groen Johns
These stories are almost enough to make you grateful for your drudgery of a job … or long for a more thrilling way to bring home the bacon. Each of the folks who sent these entries in response to our call for odd and intriguing ancestral occupations wins a fabulous Family Tree Magazine T-shirt.
My husband’s third-great-grandfather William Cross was a rat catcher in Yorkshire, England. William was born about 1800 in the tiny town of Brompton by Sawdon. In 1823, he married Mary Robinson in Muston, Yorks. The baptism record for their daughter Susanna states William’s occupation as “Rat Killer.” His son Thomas’ 1842 baptism record gives “Rabbit Catcher.”
When William’s eldest daughter marries in 1850, his occupation is “Rat Catcher.” The 1851 British census reports he’s a rat catcher, as does his daughter Mary Ann’s 1856 marriage record. In the 1871 census, William is still working, at about age 71, as a “Ratcatcher.” Talk about your dirty jobs!
Nancy Noble, Bend, Ore.
My grandmother Sophie Hartman always entertained her grandchildren with stories of her life in show business, and said she was the first woman to ride the motorcycle “in the cage.” When Gran passed, I retrieved her papers and transcribed her journal.
My grandmother rode the Wall of Death in 1918, after joining the Motordrome Riders: Jack Evans and the Flying Frenchman. She left home that summer to pursue her interests in music and comedy reviews, and she appeared in a few silent movies. Gran met my grandfather in 1922 when she became an assistant for his magic act. They married and had three children.
The family traveled in the vaudeville and carnival circuits. My aunt recalls watching her mom ride the Wall of Death until about 1935. Gran also was known to ride the wall along with another rider, each taking his or her
own path on the wall. As if that’s not enough excitement, she studied magic and became Buffalo’s only female magician in 1932.
Laurie Galbo, North Tonawanda, NY
My husband’s aunt Clara lived in Bakersfield, Kern County, Calif. In the 1940s and ’50s, she raised worms in flats under a shed in her backyard. She deposited kitchen food waste on top of the dirt mixture. She’d dig in to find the largest worms and place them in containers of 50. Local fishermen would come to her house to purchase them. Her business was called the Kern Worm Ferm.
Linda Smetzer, Walnut Creek, Calif.
My great-great-grandfather was an enterprising man, a successful merchant and landowner who left his nine sons well off when he died in 1868. Maybe too well off.
The 1870 census shows that three of the sons, ages 22, 25 and 36, were living with their widowed mother. It also lists the same occupation for all three: “At Home Loafing.”
Gene Kuechmann, Vancouver, Wash.