Letters from Germany (1881-1919)

Letters From Germany

When you’ve been researching your family ancestry for many years, the big discoveries don’t seem to come quite so fast as you continue the search. But recently I experienced one of the “golden events” that was, to me, monumental.

Shortly after our visit to Germany a few years ago, we learned about some letters written by my great-grandfather Johann Schwans (1848-1936) to Eilert Eilers in Bokel (now called Vreschen-Bokel.) The letters spanned the years 1881-1919 and had only recently been donated to a museum in Cloppenburg.

Jens Delger, a great friend and genealogist who grew up in the parish of Apen (of which Vreschen-Bokel is part), was able to obtain a copy of the letters and papers. Recently, Jens and his wife Jane visited us and brought the papers. What a treasure!

Jens was able to read the handwriting and, with Jane’s assistance, translated the letters for me. Can I say it was thrilling to know the content and see a copy of my great-grandfather’s writing? Truly a “golden event!”

A little background: Johann Schwaans/John Schwans came to the USA in 1881 and lived for about three years in Grundy County, Iowa. He had owned a piece of land in Vreschen Bokel, Germany and leased it an Eilert Eilers. We have not discovered a relationship between the two families. John homesteaded in Aurora County, Dakota Territory, near White Lake. He lived there until the late 1880s and then moved to rural Bridgewater, South Dakota.

The content of the letters revealed some of the day-to-day events of his life:

  • In 1881 John bought three cows and 10 pigs and will rent machinery.  He also plans to buy horses.
  • In 1883 John went to the White Lake area of Dakota territory to look at available land and commented “it looks like Ostfriesland.” Probably he meant the land was very flat.
  • In 1883 John wrote to Eilert Eilers to send money (probably rent money) because he needs it to buy machinery to plow
  • In 1883 John mentions owning some land in Grundy County, Iowa. (I intend to research land records at the courthouse to see if I can identify the land.)
  • in 1884/85 John mentions losing 55 chickens in the winter but no cattle were lost
  • in 1885 he comments he is glad not to have to borrow money from a bank in Dakota Territory. (I think he did not personally like the banker.)
  • John Schwans sold the land in Germany in 1885 to Eilert Eilers.

Included in the packet of papers is a form showing that John Schwans’ step-daughter gave up her inheritance rights to the farm in Germany. She passed these “rights” to John Schwans.

Most of the content of the letters is business related. We surmised that Eilert Eilers bought the land and paid for it over a period of years, similar to buying land on a contract.
John doesn’t say anything about his family except in one letter he states the weights of his children:
Lena weights a 150 pounds, Fred 125 pounds, and John 105 pounds. Did he do this to show his children were strong and healthy?
He also states there are wonderful opportunities in American if a person is willing to “work hard.”

One letter written in 1890 includes more details and we think was written by Johanna (Schwans) Huisman since she states how many children her two sisters, Anna (Schwans) Gossel and Lena (Schwans) Snyder have. She says she has three girls, the oldest six and the youngest six months. By the process of elimination based on census records, we’ve identified the writer as Johanna.

There was a bit more material on the Schwans family in the letters but that is a topic for another post!


Posted in German Ancestry, Germany, Iowa, Schwans Genealogy, South Dakota | 2 Comments

Images of Logan Township, Clark County, South Dakota

The photo on the left is Logan Dam, a WPA project of the 1930s.  The concept was that “water attracts water” so this dam was built to combat drought conditions.   Logan Dam served as a fishing, swimming, and boating area for families in Logan Township, Clark County, South Dakota.  These photos were taken in the early 1980s.

The photo on the right shows some of the early fall colors.  This area included the main pasture across the road from the farm buildings.  The dark line in the distance is the earthen dam graded to trap water for the cattle.

These images are from the farm area where my husband Jim was raised, about five miles southwest of Raymond, South Dakota.




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Eggvena Parish, Älvsborg County, Sweden


Photograph supplied by Betty Hanson Pomeroy, a descendant of John B. Johnson and Johanna Johnsdotter, who were baptized in this church at Eggvena, Sweden.  A bit of history of the church is available.  (In Swedish, but your browser will probably translate it to English.)

Some members of the Johnson family visited this church a few years ago.   What a precious moment that must have been.

Eggvena Church

John B. and Johanna are interred at Our Savior’s Lutheran Cemetery, rural Lily, South Dakota.  Various descendants had the tombstone cleaned.  RIP Johann B and Johanna Johnson.  John B. was a Civil War veteran.

John B cleaned 2

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Update on the town of Lily, South Dakota

In previous posts, I’ve blogged about the very small town of Lily, South Dakota.  My mother-in-law was born and raised there, along with her eleven siblings.  Her parents and grandparents are interred at St. Ansgar Lutheran Church Cemetery in rural Day County.  Some of her Johnson family relatives rest at the nearby Our Savior Lutheran Church Cemetery.

(You can find my blog posts about the town and Lily  Lutheran Church by entering the word Lily in the search box on this page.)

Today I learned the town of Lily will officially cease to exist in March 2017 because there are no permanent residents.   The details can be found at this link from the South Dakota Magazine:           http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/lily-lives#1

If you have a connection to Lily, you will want to read the article and view the amazing photos.

One of my favorite memories of the town was in  the fall of 1997 when my husband Jim and I took his mother, Frances Hanson Lohr to visit there.  It was her final trip to her hometown as Frances passed away the following year.

Farewell, O Little Town of Lily, South Dakota!

Posted in Hanson Family, Memories, South Dakota | 3 Comments

Wasserburg Commemorative Medal

Some items can’t truly be replaced, but Klaus Erdmann recently sent me this image of a commemorative medal of the Wasserburg in Rommerskirchen.  Thank you!

The medal dates from 1993.



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Wasserburg in Anstel, Germany

Anstel Plate

This plate was a gift from my husband Jim’s relatives when we visited them in Rommerskirchen, Germany in 2011.  Unfortunately, it did not make the journey back across the Atlantic in one piece.

With much patience, some good adhesive, and even more patience, Jim was able to do a wonderful job of repairing the plate as evidenced from this photo.

From my online searching, I’ve learned the Wasserburg dates back to the year 1155 … well before any dates in my researched genealogy!  You can read more about it at


Currently it is in use as an equestrian center and is owned by the Jochemich family.  It has been in their family four generations.

Jim’s great-great-grandmother, Barbara Meurer, died in Anstel 15 July 1874.  Now Anstel is  part of the Rommerskirchen municipality.

We don’t know if Barbara Meurer ever saw the Wasserburg, but we are thrilled to have a souvenir from the area, thanks to Maria and Lothar.

And I am especially pleased my husband could salvage this plate so we could enjoy all the memories of that wonderful visit a few years ago.  (Did I mention it required much patience on his part?)


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Memorial Markers

My husband Jim is a fan of mail-order catalogs and, while he seldom places an order, does like to browse the merchandise.   He recently came across memorial markers for pets.  The images showed  resin cat and dog memorials with wings attached (probably to indicate they have gone to pet heaven).

Even though we don’t have pets in our household, I’m not surprised Jim spotted these.  Last year he took over 35,000 gravestone images and uploaded them to BillionGravescom, covering all of the cemeteries in Ames and Story County, Iowa.

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