Meet My Lawyer

Frederick Scheiber MilwaukeeJust about everyone who researches their family history ends up having favorite ancestors.  This guy, Frederick Scheiber, is one of mine.  I like him because he was an attorney and a politician, and people like that leave lots and lots of records behind.  More than that, though, I like him because his friends said he was a lousy lawyer.

Most researchers know to look for obituaries right after an ancestor dies, but if you know where to look, you can find much more than that.  Fred Scheiber was a member of a number of clubs and fraternal organizations, including one called the Old Settler’s Club.  The Milwaukee Country Historical Society has the original memorial books of the club, which include lengthy, meaty memorials written by friends of members who had died.  Fred’s friends essentially thought he was a great guy, but a lousy trial lawyer.  He just wasn’t slick enough.  How can you not love a guy like that?

Check out the detail in the memorial below.  In research terms, this is a real bonanza of insight and information.  If you have ancestors who were members of clubs or fraternal organizations, don’t overlook their records as a source of information on your ancestor.



With alarming frequency death draws of late upon the members of our club.  One by one they drop by the wayside, it remaining for us to chronicle in customary manner the departure of our friends.  The Hon. Fred Scheiber, from February 1912 to February 1913 the presiding officer of this club, born Sept. 2, 1843 in Frechlingshausen [Trechtingshausen], Germany, died June 10, 1913, comparatively young.  His death did not come entirely unanticipated, as during the last few years he was suffering of Bright’s disease.  As a mark of respect to his memory, these biographical lines are now presented by the undersigned, who for many years were his colleagues at the Bar.

Fred Scheiber was of humble but respectable parentage.  He came here, while a small boy; the date of his arrival in Wisconsin is said to be Sept. 2, 1847.  The family settled down at West Bend and A.L. Baer, the companion of his youth, who spoke in fitting words at the funeral, said of Fred’s early days:

“In June 1853 my parents arrived in the little settlement subsequently known as West Bend.  We were strangers in a strange land.  My parents joined the little group of settlers and shared along with them the privations and hardships of pioneer life.  Among the first of the settlers that extended the hand of fellowship to my parents, was the Scheiber family.  Acquaintance soon ripened into enduring friendship; Fred and I became chums; he being my senior, bestowed upon me his fostering care.  We became inseparable companions; we sat together on the same bench in our little country school house; we shared our pleasures and our sorrows, as only chums can, and as we grew up together under the benign influence and teachings of our dear mothers to activity and usefulness, we awoke to find the cold world facing us with its viscissitudes and its thorny pathways.  Fred’s thirsting desire for a higher education found him teaching school to obtain means to enter our State University, where he afterwards graduated with highest honors.”

Mr. Scheiber married soon after his return from Madison and came to Milwaukee.  Although in the beginning their means were very limited, they founded (as Mr. Baer tells us):

“A most happy home, presided over by a dear, loving, faithful wife and mother, who but a few years ago was torn from that happy circle by the ruthless hand of death.  Her demise cast a gloom of sorrow, from the dark cloud whereof our friend never emerged, unless to bask in the sunshine of his devoted daughter, under whose protecting roof his spirit went back to the God who gave it.”

Yes, he was a most conscientious, model husband and father.  The purity and happiness of his domestic life were exceptional.  The four children, whom his wife by a former husband brought into their marriage, never became aware of any discrimination between Fred’s own issue and themselves; they assumed his name on terms of perfect equality; they were all his children and this relation continued with undiminished warmth until separated by death.  Judge Ludwig, presiding Branch No. 4 of the Circuit Court, on the announcement of Mr. Scheiber’s death, said of him:

“He was essentially a family man.  That consideration went above anything else with him.  All of his earnings did go to the upbuilding of his home, his family and children.  He loved them and the loss of several children had a most depressing effect upon him, while the loss of his wife a few years ago was the hardest blow of all.  Since that time, you could notice the effect, which the loss of his companion had upon him.  Nevertheless he was steady at his desk and continued to work hard.”

As early as 1869 he entered the law office of Mann and Cotzhausen.  He was a good scholar and a hard, faithful student.  Every hour that was left after discharging his clerical duties, was spent upon his books.  In 1871 he was admitted to the Bar and with George Sylvester entered the law firm of Mann and Cotzhausen (later on Cotzhausen, Sylvester, Scheiber and Jones).  Judge Ludwig, who spent a number of years in the same law office, says of Mr. Scheiber:

“He was a very good office lawyer and a most reliable adviser.  He was not a man of quick conception, acting intuitively so to speak; but when a question was put to him he would reason out the answer and not give any, until he knew it was correct.  That characteristic in the man hindered him somewhat in his career as a trial lawyer; he could not act intuitively, and had to reason everything out.  I have always taken the faculty of working by intuition to be the principal gift of a trial lawyer.  If the theory, upon which he has worked out his case, does not agree with the theory of the trial judge, he must at once be able to adapt himself to the theory suggested by and in harmony with the rulings of the court.  That is something which Mr. Scheiber lacked.  He was well versed in the law and an able trial lawyer, when the case went along his theory.”

These remarks of the learned judge indicate fairly well the opinion of Mr. Scheiber’s colleagues.  He was not a man of ponderous eloquence and ability in the trial of a case, though well versed in legal principles; but there was at the Bar no one more conscientious and true.  His career may not be marked by sweeping forensic success still he maintained a steady, growing hold upon the confidence of our courts and the public.  There was in his argument a spirit of earnestness and love of truth, which could not but address itself favorably to anyone who listened – utter simplicity – not the slightest trace of affectation.  When appointed Circuit Court Commissioner (an office which he held for many years), he proved to be a good Judge, and his devotion to duty, coupled with pronounced patience, made him a favorite in legal circles.

This it was but natural that his private and professional life should command the respect of all with whom he came into contact.  He was elected to the Assembly in 1883, where he served with distinction; he was a member of the Board of Regents of our state University; he was honored by the presidency of our Old Settlers Club, and for many years held the position as president of “Die Deutsche Gesselschaft.”  His integrity was never questioned; his premature death is a loss not only to his family and friends but to the general public; and the undersigned are thankful for being given this opportunity of testifying to the merits and characteristics of their deceased colleague, thus perpetuating the memory of one who meant well and was never found wanting.


F.W. Cotzhausen

Frank B. Von Valkenburgh

J.C. Ludwig

Source:  Memorials of the Old Settler’s Club, volume 1, page 150.  Milwaukee County Historical Society.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Note:  The original spelling, punctuation, grammar, and occasionally odd word choices have been preserved.

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