Monday, May 30, 2011

And Then There Was Joseph

Conrad with Murphy and Reilly
Brooklyn, New York  c. 1922
After a week of scrutinizing old church records at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I have a story to tell.

As the seeds of the Revolutionary War in America were being sewn, across the waters in rural Prussia, in the small villages of Hembsen and Beller, Johan Bals and Agnes Kineke were born. Hembsen and Beller are neighboring villages separated by less than a mile of farmland. It was 1764.

Agnes, the youngest of five siblings, was born in the winter, on February 20. She was baptized that same day at Saint Peter’s, the Roman Catholic Church in Erkeln. Erkeln is a town 1.5 miles to the north and east of Beller.  

Johann, the first of 7 brothers and sisters, was born in the spring, on June 24 to be exact. Johann was baptized the day after his birth at Saint Michael’s in Brakel. Brakel is a town laying 2.5 miles to the north and west of Hembsen.

While Agnes and Johann grew up in neighboring villages, their villages were in different parishes. Despite the separation of parishes, Johann and Agnes found one another. When they were 23, at Saint Michael’s and at Saint Peter’s, it was proclaimed that Johan and Agnes would marry.

Johan and Agnes celebrated the arrival of their daughter, Anna Maria Elisabetha Balz, just 48 days after their wedding. It wasn’t until six years later that their next child, a son, was born. Another six years passed, and Johan and Agnes welcomed another son into the world. Sadly, both sons were just toddlers when they died.  Johan and Agnes never had the large family they had envisioned, and after 33 years of marriage, Agnes developed a high fever and died. [Given the spacing of 6 years between each of the children, I wonder if Johan was in the Army.] 
If this were the end of our story, I would not be here today.

Three months after Agnes’ passing, Johan, who was now 59 years old and an ackermann (field hand), married Anna Theodora BIERBÜSSE. Anna was 30 years old, still single, and the daughter of Johan’s friend, Adam, the wheel maker.  A year after their marriage, Anna Theodora gave birth to their daughter, Maria Elisabeth BALS. Just a few days after Maria Elisabeth’s birth, Anna Theodora died, and Johan was a widower again. [I still need to find out what happened to poor little Maria Elisabeth and what happened to Anna Maria Elizabeth, Johan’s first daughter.

And if this were the end of our story, I would not be here today.

Josepha Köhler also lived in the village of Hembsen.  Hembsen was a very small village, so I am sure everybody knew everybody, and Anna Theodora and Josepha knew each other.  Josepha was 29 years old and single. Josepha’ father had died 22 years earlier, at the age of 62, leaving her mother to fend for herself with a 7 year old daughter and 3 year old son. Josepha’s father had been a tagelöhner (day laborer), and Josepha was the product of his second marriage.

Johann Bals was now 61 years old and working as a tagelöhner. It was a full year after Anna Theodora’s untimely death, and even though Josepha was only 29 years old, Johan and Josepha were married and started a family of their own. Johan and Josepha had a daughter, Louise.  Three years later, Josephina arrived. And finally, with the passage of 4 more years, just before Johan’s 69th birthday, on March 7, 1823, Josepha gave Johan a son. They named him Johan Joseph Gregor Bals. [I feel that Johan must have loved Josepha dearly, for two of their three children were named after their mother.]

Johan and Joseph called their son Joseph, and this is the name by which he was known for the rest of his life. Everybody called him Joseph, and the arrival of Joseph heralds the end of this story and the beginning of the next one.

Joseph begat Conrad and eight other children. Conrad moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1887. Conrad begat Peter, Frank, Marie, Augusta, Joseph, George, Lillian, Anna, and Betty. And the rest is history, our family history.

Thank you to the California Genealogical Society, and especially to Jane Lindsey and Nancy Peterson, for hosting the week long research trip to Salt Lake City.

© 2011, Cathy H Paris

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