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Elizabeth D. K. Oelke & family


Posted By: Judy Moyna (email)
Date: 1/18/2011 at 15:34:26

Grandmother and the Oelkes
by Marian Beimfohr

The Oelkes lived in a village called Grot Sumpte in Germany, Province of Hanover. Grandmother (Elizabeth Dorothea Katherine Oelke was born August 24, 1823, the only daughter of William and Elizabeth Oelke and was nicknamed Dortkin) had three older brothers including Johann, William, and Franz. (There were a number of brothers and sisters who died in infancy in Germany.) She was much younger than the boys, and they had left home before she had grown up. Franz was feeble-minded, and Joseph as the oldest son had to take care of him. When Joseph came to American he brought Franz along. Franz died and lies buried at Clayton Center in Clayton County. Her father William Oelke had the village “Wirkscaft”, a combination store for staples (salt, herring, etc.) Also liquor such as whiskey. A large dance floor was part of the establishment, where quite regular dances ere held. When grandmother was old enough she was expected to lead in the first dance.

Grandmother told of an embarrassing incident that happened to her at one of these dances. She had a painful boil somewhere on her legs, but that didn’t excuse her from the duty to lead the first dance. She and her partner moved out on the floor to the sound of the music. After a few steps, Grandmother felt the boil burst and could feel the pus oozing down her leg. She hastily excused herself! But the pain from the boil had left her.

Another duty of the keeper of the Wirkschaft was to board the young men who went from village to village for apprentice training. These young men had to travel for about three years to learn their trade. They would work for the man who was established in whatever trade they had chosen to learn. They could only stay a specified time at each place, and then move on. They received no money, but it seems they were given produce that they could eat, or give to the innkeeper who lodged them. Each village had an inn that was required to keep these apprentices, and they were not allowed to charge for lodging nor meals.

Johann after inheriting the family estate mismanaged the inn business so he became bankrupt in a short time, and had to seek his fortune elsewhere. He came to America with his wife and their eleven children and Franz and settled near Garnavillo. He died shortly after and his wife and remaining members of the John Oelke family moved to Nebraska to join his daughter Mary and her husband who had moved there following their marriage.

William had served in the German army. His profession was carpentering. He fell in love with a working girl and wanted to marry her. He was unable to obtain a license because of a law that prohibited the issuing of a marriage license if any person would put in an objection. Someone must have done this because he couldn’t get the license. But what was a ceremony anyway in their young lives? They could get along without one!

William Jr. was 13 years old and Henry was 7 when the parents got married. William Jr. stayed with his grandmother in the “alten teihl” (rooms reserved for the “old folks”). Little Henry was “farmed out” to a shoemaker and his wife because the grandmother couldn’t afford to keep both children. These people were good to Henry and loved him; he called them “father” and “mother,” and cried for days when his real parents took him away to go to America. It seems his real parents had neglected him entirely so they were strangers to him. And he suffered many beatings before he called his real father “father” and his mother “mother.”

The Oelkes attended the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Grot Sumpte. It had private pews. Grandmother’s mother had the 3rd from the front and her initials were carved on it: D.K.O. (Dorothea Katherine Oelke)

Her husband William and the sons (Grandmother’s father and brothers) sat in the gallery but grandmother and her mother sat in the pew. The men folks were not regular attendants, it seems. Later this was the custom in Grot Sumpte, men in the gallery, still practiced recently as 1978)

When strangers visited the church, they sometimes sat in the private pews. Great-grandmother Oelke never asked them to leave her pew, but would find a seat elsewhere herself.

The pastor was a highly respected man. He never visited his parishioners unless called. This was only on special occasions such as weddings, baptisms, funerals, or when the sick wished communion. It seems that a fixed price was established for these sacraments. The pastor, also the schoolmaster, was paid by the people in money—flour, meat, eggs, etc.

Grandmother’s father was a steward of the church, and so was one of the group who “assessed” families for donations to the pastor’s salary. Each family was “requested” to contribute—so—and—so.

Grandmother as a young woman worked for a tax collector. Her work was easy and her mistress was very good to her.

It was found that the tax collector was dishonest, and when her father found out about it, he said no child of his dared work for a dishonest man like that! It was with regret that she left the place.

It was at the tax collector’s that she met a young man, a tailor by profession. Her mistress thought they would make a good match, as he was an excellent man. She said if she wasn’t already married she’d marry him herself!

Grandmother and the young man attended a number of concerts at Buxtehude, a palace. She had never seen such beautifully landscaped grounds with the beautiful flowers and tress and shrubs. The grounds were large, but when the orchestra played it could be herd throughout the grounds. Grandmother said it was like heaven.

This man became grandmother’s first husband, Fritz Johann Belsdorf. After about two years they decided to go to America with their 9-month-old son arriving in April 1852 at Garnavillo.

In July, the husband died. He was buried in the Garnavillo cemetery. He had practiced carpentering and Grandmother gave all his clothes and tools to her brother William when she went to live with him. She would have gone back to Germany but had no money. This she said many times.

Her brother didn’t care to have her and made her feel in the way, so she took her little boy “Fritz” and found work with neighbors. One of these was Mrs. Hartmann, who was very good to her.

One night her brother came to get Mrs. Hartmann. A baby girl had arrived at the Oelke home (Bertha). ”Shall I come, too?” Grandmother asked. “That much you ought to know without being told!” Then he took Mrs. Hartmann’s arm and led her through the tall grass and hazel brush toward his home lighting the way with a lantern while grandmother with little Fritz stumbled along behind them.

Another humiliating incident occurred while Grandmother lived with her brother William. William and his wife were checking over the yearly accounts and were quite pleased with their profits. And that with what they cost us, said her brother referring to Grandmother and little Fritz. They were in the same room and couldn’t help overhearing. Grandmother was angry, and she jumped up and demanded to know what they had cost him? Had they not slaved for him and had she not given him all her husband’s things?

A neighbor of the William Oelkes, a Mrs. Mählee, whose husband was a prosperous farmer (she later divorced him) living on the present road (Highway 13) to Elkader noticed how badly things were going for Grandmother and felt sorry for her. She decided to become a matchmaker.

She had met Conrad Helwig at the Methodist Church of which he was a charter member and a devoted attendant. He had bought 40 acres of land and erected a small log cabin. He had two cows and a horse. Mrs. Mählee said to grandmother, “I know a man who has a nice property and who will, I swear, be good to little Fritz.” I will invite him over to dinner and you come over too.” And so they met and were later married.

The Killing of a Deer by Johann Oelke and his cousin
(Written by Marian Beimfohr in 1920)

When Grandmother Helwig was a little girl living with her parents and four older brothers in a village called Grot Sumpte near the River Elbe. Another village near by was known as Lüt Sumpte (grot means large, Lüt means small.)

The Elbe was very close to their home, the garden sloped right down to its banks, and they had a small boat always moored there. One time when the river became very swollen, and it overflowed its banks and flooded a large section of the country. Some of the city streets were like canals. One evening when the water was very high, her brother Johann and a cousin, abut the same age, took the boat, and paddled out into the big stream to see the sights. The torrent was carrying tree branches and debris of various kinds. Suddenly they saw a deer in the floodwaters, headed right for their boat. The forest preserves had probably become flooded and the deer was looking for dry ground. The current carried it right near the boat. It seemed exhausted and without really thinking the boys hit it with their paddle! They must have hit it just right for it was killed instantly. Now the boys were alarmed. Was there not a prison sentence for killing a deer? They looked around in fear, but saw no one. They decided to get the deer with its beautiful antlers into the boat and take it home. It was quite a task to get in onto the boat, but they managed and covered it with some old blankets. Then they felt easier, and even began to think of themselves a great hunters!

The deer was sneaked into the house, and put into a room and the door was kept locked. No matter how much she begged, Grandmother (Dorothea nee Oelke Helwig), was kept out of the room. The family knew she wouldn’t keep their secret, but blab it to all her little playmates.

The Oelkes sold some of the venison and after awhile the authorities found out about the affair and the boys were called into court. When the hearing was held, the boys were accused of shooting a deer. Johann got up manfully and said, “Sir, we did not shoot the deer, we struck it dead with our paddle.”

The judge was lenient and said, “Because you have told the truth, I will not sentence you this time, but do not let it happen again.” Perhaps there was some technicality in the law, too, concerning “shoot” and “kill.” The boys went free and later Grandmother learned of the incident.

1856 Iowa Census, Vol. 39, Read Twp., Clayton Co., p. 452
Oelke, W 39M Married Ger Years Resident in Iowa 5
E 40F Married Ger 5
W 15M Ger 5
H 11M Ger 5
A 3M Iowa 3
B 2F Iowa 2

1860 Census, Clayton County, Iowa
Oelke, Wm 41M Farmer R. E. $4000 Per. Property $400 Hanover
Elizabeth 42F Hanover
Wm 20M Laborer (Farm) Hanover
Henry 16M Hanover
Augustus 8M Iowa
Bettie 6F Iowa
Frank 45M Farm laborer

1870 Census, Clayton County, Iowa, Farmersburg Township, PO Farmersburg

Oelke, Wm H. 30WM Farmer Born Hanover R.E. $15,000, Per. Property $2,920
Caroline 22WF Keeping house Mecklenburg
Wm. C. 2WM At home Iowa
Helmuth 9/12 At home Iowa
Miller, John 29 Farm laborer Prussia
Schultz, August 20 Farm laborer Prussia
Long, Fredrickia 18 Domestic servant Prussia
Schmaldfieldt, Marie 56 House keeper Mecklenburg

Oelke, Henry 25 Farmer Hanover R.E. $4,900, Per. Property $1,181
Elsaba 21 Keeping house Prussia
Christopher 1 At home Iowa
Eland, Mary 15 Domestic servant Prussia

Helwig, Conrad 51 Farmer Hesse Cassell R.E. $5,900, Per. Property $1,408
Doras 45 Keeping house Hanover
Wm 15 At home Iowa
Chas 12 At home Iowa
August 8 At home Iowa
Elizabeth 13 At home Iowa

Garnavillo Cash Store Account Book, Garnavillo Historical Society
Customer Henry Oelke, 1870 Sept 30 To Sundries $1.85 Nov 16th by cash to bal. $1.85


~This information has been collected by Judy and Jerry Moyna, Elkader, Iowa, from census records and family members, especially Mariam Beimfohr, Monona, Iowa.

Plans include scanning available photographs, post cards, plat maps, and other appropriate printed material and the continuation of the excerpts from the local newspapers. Copies on a disk of the Family Tree Maker information and the text shown here are available to anyone who wants to add information to that now on file. Also, any additions and corrections, text or pictures, or contributions are more than welcome. Facilities exist to copy and return photographs. Contact Judy Moyna for more information.


Clayton Biographies maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen


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