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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Joseph Magnus Kleger

   When Joseph Kleger appeared in the St. Louis Court of Common Pleas on November 13th, 1846 to declare his intention to become a citizen of the United States, he declared that he was 26 years old (he was really 30), and that he was a native of Switzerland.

   As part of the process to file papers of intention, an immigrant has to "renounce, forever, all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign Power, Prince, State and Sovereignty whatsoever, and particularly to:__________________".  The blank is filled in with the particular political entity to which the immigrant had previously had allegiance.

               The blank in Joseph's case says something that looks like "the Canton of Clarns".

   In Switzerland, cantons are the equivalent of U.S. states.  "In true federal style, the canton is both the basic building block of the country and a balance against the centre having too much power.  And for the Swiss, the canton is emotionally as important as the country, if not more so ... The cantons are so independently minded that it can sometimes seem as if there isn't one Switzerland but 26 mini ones, all going in roughly the same direction but each doing their own thing.  This is such a part of Swiss life that they have a word for it, Kantonligeist.  The polite translation is that each canton has it's own identity, culture and history ..." (Diccon Bewes; "Swiss Watching, Inside Europe's Landlocked Island" pages 21 & 22).

   However, there never has been a Canton "Clarns".  That fact confused the genealogists I have hired and consulted in the past, until this spring one (whom I would pay for a couple of hours a month to work with me at the Family History Library here in Salt Lake City) decided the closest to what was written was "Glarus".  There IS a Canton Glarus.

   This summer, all of the Kleger/Klager/Kläger/Kleager/Klaeger research came together in happy "genealogy serendipity", and it proved the Canton Glarus theory wrong, and proved that Joseph Magnus really did have baptism record, somewhere!

   First, my brother, Louis Kleager, his wife, Carmen Kleager and his son, Brian Kleager went on a 3 day whirlwind research trip to Switzerland!   What's more, they kept detailed notes of where they went and what they found.  It is so wonderful and helpful that they went, and that they documented what they did, and took the time to write it up.  I know from experience that one gets swept up in discovery, and tends not to document what is being done.  Thank you Lou and Carm and Brian!!

   They visited the town of Glarus, which has the Canton Glarus archives and found some Klegers, but not a Joseph Magnus Kleger in the time frame that would match the one we know to be our ancestor.  They also learned, from a janitor at the Glarus church, that every building in the town of Glarus was destroyed in a fire in 1860 - which would have wiped out records of Joseph M.'s birth that was assumed to be between 1814 to 1824.

   Then they visited the town of Benken in the Canton of St. Gallen.  Canton St. Gallen and Canton Glarus are adjacent.  We have known for a year or so there was a Joseph Kleger born in Benken and died in Franklin County, Missouri.  His baptism record is in the Catholic church records of Benken, as are his children, but he and his wife are not the right age to be parents of Joseph M. born between 1814-1824 (dates derived from the various ages he declared in U.S. documents).

   My brother and family visited the Catholic church and cemetery in Benken, but didn't find anything significant.   They noted cemetery hunting in Switzerland was rather pointless, as graves get re-used after a few years!  Therefore, most of the head stones are much more recent.

   Lou, Carmen, and Brian went on to the town of St. Gallen (in the Canton of St. Gallen), where they learned in the "Rat Haus" (City Hall) that there are presently Kleagers living there, but they would not release any information on them.

   Next up, they found the Stadtarchiv (City Archive) in the town of St. Gallen, and found some more Klager's but not really a match.  So, they proceeded to the Staatarchiv (State Archive) of the Canton of St. Gallen.  They were limited in time before closing, but found a fair number of things, including five Klager families from Benken, on which they took notes.

   Lou also found an index mentioning three biographies for Kleger, including one he was able to locate and photocopy - in German - of course.  One of these biographies was about "Die Kleger [von Kaltbrunn]".  Kaltbrunn is a town or parish that is just a  couple of kilometers from the town of Benken in Canton St. Gallen.

   At about the same time, e-mails (about 15 requests) I had sent out to Swiss archives and genealogists were finally answered, and two different women in Switzerland responded that they would be willing to be hired to look for Joseph Magnus Kleger, born between 1814-1824.

   I figured it had been so hard to this point, I might as well encourage both of them to look.  Maybe between the two of them, one would find it.  I sent money, and about 200 pages of photocopied information I have found about 'ol Joseph Magnus to each of them.

   Well, what they found was each other!  I kind of got bawled out via e-mail for sending the two off after the same thing.  So, one quit (and fortunately sent her remaining fee to the other!), and the other researcher kept looking.

   Then, on Friday the 13th (of July, 2012) I got the following e-mail from Suzanne Peter-Kubli titled "Trip to Kaltbrunn":

"Dear Clytee,
   I think, I've got him!
   In the baptism records of Kaltbrunn (Canton St. Gallen) I found this entry:
   Josef Magnus Kläger, born January 23d 1816, confirmed 22. 9. 1819
   Son of Petrus Paulus Kläger and Maria Barbara Fäh
   Godparents: Joseph Anton Magnus Kläger and Elisabeth (?).  So, Josef Magnus was named after his godfather rather than his father, which was pretty common ...
    The family Kläger lived in Freigaden, which belonged to the hamlet Rieden.  Reiden belongs to the parish of Kaltbrunn.  If you look it up in the internet, you'll find several newer houses, but in the early 19th century there were probably just a couple of small farms there.
   I was not able to find out the profession of Josef's father (I have since found that he was a 'day laborer' - no skill or regular job).  But, since Josef was not able to read or write, could mean, that he did not go to school at all but started working at an early age, maybe in one of the numerous textile factories in the lower part of the Canton Glarus.
   In any case, not having any kind of schooling means, that he came from a poor background.  When he emigrated to the U.S., he was 30 years old.  He could have been working for over 15 years.  If my assumption is correct, Josef Kläger worked and lived in Näfels, Niederurnen or Oberurnen for a long time and therefore mentioned Canton Glarus rather than Kaltbrunn as his origin".

   So, did you catch it?

   My great-great grandfather, Joseph Magnus Kläger was born January 23rd, 1816 in Freigaden, Rieden, Kaltbrunn, Canton St. Gallen, Switzerland.
   My great-great-great grandfather's name is Peter Paul Kläger.
   My great-great-great grandmother's name is Maria Barbara Fäh.

   Pretty exciting stuff.  I have more, but that's another post for another day.

   A big thank you to my brother, Lou Kleager, for helping to fund this professional research, and to him and his wife Carmen and son Brian for the research they did in Switzerland.   Love you guys!!


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Joseph Magnus Kleger's Birthplace is Found!!

     But I'm not going to tell you where just yet, I'm going to make you hungry for it. I have been looking for his birthplace and parents for 35 years - off and on of course - but 35 years, so I'm going to make you wait just a little bit longer too!

     First I want to explore some ideas of why Joseph M.'s history was so hard for me to find.

One -
     My grandfather, Frank August Kleager, died in 1929 at age 33, when my father, Clyde Louis Kleager, was only 11.  At the time of Frank's death, he and his wife Sophie were living in Havelock, Lancaster County, Nebraska.  In the same county were two other Kleager families - Frank's brothers Joseph William Kleager and Edward Louis Kleager.  All 3 families had moved to Nebraska from their birthplace in  Franklin County, Missouri in the previous decade.
     In addition to two Kleager families, living in the same county were Sophie's parents; Louis Henry and Minnie Drewel, and her youngest brother Elmer Drewel.  She had family near by.
     But, within two years of my grandfather's death, my grandmother, Sophie (who later called herself "Eleanor") Kleager moved with her five young boys 100 miles farther west of Havelock to a farm near Alda, in Hall County, Nebraska.  She distanced herself farther from family.
     Over the years I have tried to ask my father why he thinks his mother moved away from both her own family, and her dead husband's family.  Clyde wrote in 1997: "A major part of mother's thought was a passion to keep her family together.  Her fear was that someone or group would decide that she couldn't cope with doing this financially or otherwise.  She felt that the first cue of failure would be to ask for assistance from anyone, and relatives seemed to be the most suspect in this regard."
   My dad, Clyde, only remembers meeting his grandmother Lesetta Mincemeyer Kleager a few times when she came to Nebraska.  Sophie and her boys were too poor to do anything as extravagant as going back to Missouri - where she grew up also - and visit family.  His grandfather, Joseph Kleager, died before my father was born, a year before Frank and Sophie married and moved to Nebraska. So, just by moving to Nebraska they were distanced from the Kleager family in Missouri, and after Frank's death, Sophie moved herself farther, from even the Nebraska part of the Kleager family.
   As a result, the stories and history and ancestry of the Kleagers just didn't get passed on.  My father, a great story teller with a brilliant mind that can recall details well, knows very little of his father's life, let alone of his grand parents Kleager's lives.

Two -
   My great great grandfather, Joseph Magnus Kleger/Klager/Kleager/Kleager (yes, it was spelled that many ways in documents relating just to him) could not read or write.
   That had to be a handicap all his life.  He was the son of a "day laborer", and man who had no skill or occupation, who just worked where and when he could get it.  Joseph M. immigrated from Switzerland at the age of 30, alone, as far as I can tell.  He landed in New Orleans in October 1846, and was in St. Louis by November.  Perhaps he had distant relatives near Washington, Missouri where he first lived after arriving.
   He was poor, he was illiterate, and he was alone.
   Any document had to be written by some one else, the name "Joseph Kleger" written, and then around the "Joseph Kleger" was an "X his mark".  He left no records that he himself wrote.  He never read anything.  This was not the middle ages, this was between 1816 - 1885, and there were great thinkers and writers all over the world, and in Missouri - but he was left out of that world.
   I'm not certain he knew when his birthday was.   From what he said on the ship's manifest;  he was born in 1816.  From his U. S. Army enlistment; 1817.  His declaration to become a citizen of the U.S.; 1820.  From the 1850 and 1860 census; 1823.  Maybe he never learned to do math either.  Perhaps he was so impoverished as a child he had no access to education.
   I wonder if he ever even picked up any English, surrounded as he was by German speakers Missouri.
   He did not leave much of a trail.  Certainly no letters, journal entries or written documents.  Part of why he was so hard to find because he left nothing behind.
   When he died, without a will, in 1884, his processions (from probate packet) consisted of: "1 Ward robe, 1 Bed Stead, 1 feather bed and 1 lot of clothing".  He was owed a note for $200, but owed someone else $300.  $46.45 was owed for his medical bills, $20.00 for his coffin, $6.65 for a bill to L. H. Himburg General Merchandise and Agricultural Implements, and another bill for $1500.  He lies in an unmarked grave, and there seems to be no record of what cemetery.
   In his lifetime of 68 years he had 2 wives and 7 children, he owned and sold land, he was always listed as "farmer" in the census records.  He accomplished things.  He just did not pass down any legacy that I can find of his childhood, or even his adult life.

   So, it's been hard to learn much about Joseph Magnus Kleger's origins.  Now that you appreciate that ... there is more coming soon!