The Gift

The Gift

by Kerry Scott on 6 July 2010

On this day in 1847, my grandparents gave me a gift.

That’s the day the Johann Jacob Scheiber and his wife Christine Engel Meier/Mayer arrived in New York on the brig Johannes Christoph from Germany.  They left their home in Trechtingshausen with their five-year-old son Frank, four-year-old Frederick, and a baby girl who had been born in February.

Last month when I was packing for our vacation and choosing the DVDs for the kids to watch in the minivan, I thought of them.  What would it be like to spend eight weeks on a ship with two small children and a newborn?  What would you feed them?  How would you keep them occupied?  What if they got sick?  I can’t imagine what that would be like.

As it turned out, not all of them made it.  The baby appeared on the ship’s passenger list, but not in any subsequent records.  Jacob’s obituary from 1881 says she “died on the ocean.”  They would have had to bury her at sea.  I wonder how they felt on that July day when they finally arrived at New York after losing their baby on the journey.  Did they think it was worth it?  Did they wish they’d never come?  How did their young boys cope with losing their baby sister and their country at the same time?

If they came here to build a better life, though, they certainly succeeded.  They bought land in West Bend, Wisconsin in August, and were among the very first settlers there.  Jacob started his tailoring business by traveling throughout Washington County on foot to find customers.  By the time he died in 1881, he left a considerable estate, and three grown sons with prosperous families.  Christine died in 1887, and she had used that estate Jacob built to make loans to other West Bend residents.  Her will is filled with the names of neighbors and relatives who had borrowed money from her.  In fact, her oldest son Frank (my great-great-grandfather) had failed to pay the interest on his loan, and she took it out of his inheritance.  Christine was a tough cookie.

When I celebrate the Fourth of July, I always think of my ancestors, who made such huge sacrifices to give me the chance to be an American.  I don’t know what future they imagined when they landed on that day 163 years ago, but I’m grateful for the gift they’ve given me.

Photo by shimelle

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri July 6, 2010 at 9:33 am

I love this post.

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Lisa Ellam July 6, 2010 at 10:13 am

What a beautiful post. We should all pause to remember the sacrifices our ancestors made for us. Thanks for sharing.

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Susan Tiner July 6, 2010 at 10:25 am

A story of sacrificing to build a future. I was going to ask who thinks of doing that these days, but then of course, there are people right now suffering hardship in order to have the chance to make a better life here.

I love it that Christine, a woman, was a banker.

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Debi July 6, 2010 at 11:12 am

That’s a beautiful post, Kerry. This year as the fireworks lit up the sky I toasted my 5th great grandfather who I just learned fought in the Revolutionary War. How our lives would have been different if these people hadn’t sacrificed for us. And the lives of future generations will be different due to the sacrifices going on today.

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Charles July 6, 2010 at 10:58 pm

I agree – this is a beautiful post. I would like to add something to your comment about:

“I wonder how they felt on that July day when they finally arrived at New York after losing their baby on the journey.”

Keep in mind that it wasn’t unusual for families back then to lose children. My own grandparents (born around 1900) all had a few siblings who did not survive childhood. I’m not saying that your ancesters didn’t grieve, for surely they did. But, maybe they had already lost a child(ren) before and that was part of their reasoning for emmigrating? Having just lost a child at sea perhaps they were glad that their surviving boys would have a better life.

Also, given the timeframe that they arrived, have you found any ancesters who served in the American Civil War?

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Kerry July 7, 2010 at 6:29 am

Charles—they actually had lost children before, but this appears to have been their only girl. They had one other child after they arrived in Wisconsin.

I do have ancestors who served in the Civil War, although not from this line. Frederick was at the University of Wisconsin during most of the war. Frank’s whereabouts are murky during the early 1860s, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t serve.

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Nancy July 8, 2010 at 4:28 pm

This is such a tender post. It reminds me of the reality of the sacrifices our immigrant ancestors made to travel to a new and unknown (to them) land.

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