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.
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.
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!