The Real Mary

The Siedschlags had come from Brandenburg, Germany, and moved first to Chicago, IL, and then to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Family history tells us Herman worked for a large landowner.  Mr. Dowd is fictitious.  Herman did die of Nervenfieber, I learned from a genealogist in Fort Wayne. Nervenfieber was a more general term for something that was most probably typhoid, as this had plagued many residents of Fort Wayne that year. Reverend Sibler was the minister of the church where he was buried. I was unable to find any trace of young Herman, except for his arrival in America on the Tuisko, and the possible reference to his death in the poem written by Alexander.  I requested information on young Herman from the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, in Fort Wayne, but they were only able to give me the cause of the father Herman’s death, and they gave me a link to the city directories in Fort Wayne, which told me that both Alexander and Auguste Siedschlag were living in the town of Fort Wayne, in the canal area, in 1866.

I had originally thought that Christian Severin and Mary Siedschlag had probably both gone to Chicago, and met there, as I knew that they lived there after the wedding, but with this new information, I did a rewrite and brought Chris to Indiana. I had their marriage license information, so I know they married in October of 1866, and she would have already been several months pregnant then. From that, I assumed that they had to meet sometime at least by 1865.

Colonel Hugh B. Reed was a pharmacist in Fort Wayne, who also was a founder of the Agricultural Works.  From a newspaper article profiling Alexander, we know he worked for him at the pharmacy.  Internet research also showed that Colonel Reed achieved some fame as the leader of the 44th Indiana Infantry, an American Civil War regiment, composed largely of volunteers.  They fought for the Union in several important battles, including the Battle of Shiloh, and the Battle of Fort Donelson. This story takes place 150 + years ago, I wanted to bring in the aftermath of the civil war.

The poem written by Alexander for Marya on her 17th birthday is in our possession now, having passed through several family members.  Patricia Langfeldt, my husband’s cousin generously shared it with us, after learning of our interest in these stories.  I also found another reference that Alexander’s poetry was being read at an event in Fort Wayne.

The family information was gleaned from family history books, and censuses, for the most part. I added things like marriages, children and deaths according to the information I found.

The canals were a major method of transportation in the 1860’s in Indiana, and Fort Wayne was apparently a major hub.  I found some historical information about this on the internet after I realized their addresses were on the Wabash & Erie Canal.

There was information about Chris’s training as a cooper and as a machinist in the family history of the Severins, so I tried to create a job history to fit my tale.

I tried to put in some German words that would be obvious in their meaning, or I just translated the words after the German version.  Since all of the characters were German born, it made sense that they would prefer speaking German.  I saw a real estate document that Mary Severin had signed later in the 19th century when married women had property rights, and there was a notation that it was apparently translated into German for her benefit.  My impression was that she still favored German where her husband favored English at that point. Mary’s granddaughter even mentioned that her parents were taught to speak German in the home.

My husband and I went to the location of the Johan Christian Severin Sr. farm in Jefferson Township, Clayton County, Iowa, and it was quite scenic, with bluffs just a few miles to the west, and the Mississippi River maybe 10 miles to the east.  We wondered why they would leave the area.  The answer to me seemed to be to acquire more land.

The family composition information was gleaned from family history sources, and other members’ trees at  I have a copy of their wedding photo, which even shows the photographer’s name in Fort Wayne on the back.  My description was my attempt at identifying everything in the picture.  It is unusual that the bride is seated and the groom is standing, and she had a big shawl pulled around her midsection.  She was probably aware of the pregnancy by then, it wasn’t uncommon among brides in this era, but it was more fun to let her medical student brother diagnose her.

Alexander Siedschlag Von Mansfelde did attend Rush Medical College, and began practicing medicine while he was still enrolled, according to family history, and some newspaper accounts.  He married Julia Lubhart, an Illinois native, while there.  Frederick Charles Severin, went to Chicago and worked as a clerk and attended night school, but left due to illness according to a biography written about him.

I don’t know if Henry was born in the hospital, but family history tells me that Frank was Alexander’s first patient, so I had her go to the university hospital for both births, even though all of her other children would have been born at home.

I got the impression from reading various articles on Alexander that he might be somewhat pompous, but he was well educated and tried his hand at a number of scientific fields.  At one time, according to the New York Times, he was working on a cure for tuberculosis, using fenugreek bean.  He dismissed the notion that he had cured anyone of T.B., but it certainly gave him acclaim.  Mary’s brother’s career seemed to be in contrast to her husband’s chosen life, and I used that as a plotline.  Ironically, I found that Alex Siedschlag’s signature was on the declaration of intent to homestead the land that Chris and Mary came to own, so I tried to explain how that happened.

I described as much as I could about the process of claiming a homestead, and got some library books, and read information on the Internet to help with that.  The homestead documents are mostly available online, and I was able to view land transfer information from the county assessor’s website, which goes back to the mid-1850s, when the land was surveyed.  I had family history information that the Severins did not sell their land in Iowa until 1873.  For this reason, I had Elisabeth stay behind with the two youngest children. Christel Rausch did purchase some land, but not right away, but his signature shows up on some of the homestead documents as a witness, which led me to believe he was involved part of the time.  I also thought they would want to take advantage of his carpenter experience, if they were building multiple homes.

The other family members who homesteaded were all captured in various documents, and it soon became apparent that everyone in John C. Severin Sr.’s family got in on the Homestead Act.  Most of the preparation information I gleaned from historical articles online.

I am not sure if Gussie changed her name, or if it was an error, but her marriage record has her maiden name as Mansfeld, not Siedschlag.  There are numerous sources showing that Alexander used the name Siedschlag and Von Mansfelde.

I tried plotting the course they may have taken through Iowa, and it looked like they could not have avoided many rivers. I took into account background information that I had gotten from various family members, and could see how they could have helped each other on a team.  Much of that information was from a book on the history of Lancaster County written in 1888.

Other accounts of homesteaders have accounts of Indians showing up at their doors asking for food.  “Awee bits all” is Navajo for a cradleboard.  It was difficult to find translations in any Native American language.  The fares for the ferry I found on a website about a similar ferry in Missouri during the same timeframe.

I tried to find information on how the homesteaders could choose their plots, but it was difficult to find.  I did finally locate a source that gave me a pretty good sense of how it was done, and it was clear from the documents that the process took at least five years.  I did find evidence in property documents that both Chris Severin and his father bought their first 80 acres outright in October of 1869, after the required minimum occupancy of six months, and that gave them rights to the extra 80 acres each at that time.  The advantage of that was that they could use the first 80 acres as collateral for getting loans for operating expenses.

 It was hard to tell from the homestead descriptions, whether the houses were made of sod or wood frame.  It seems like they might have started with soddies, as that would have gone up faster. The wells were described in the homestead papers.  The livestock and crops were listed on the non-population censuses of the time.

 The financial crisis, blizzard, locusts and prairie fires were all taken from other accounts of pioneers, and from newspaper stories of that time. Mary’s depression is fictitious, although not uncommon. The family history tells us that Frankie had necrosis of the tibia, and that Dr. Von Mansfelde was contacted and he came and took care of it.  Alexander did stay in Nebraska after that surgery, living in Buda Precinct at first, then he moved to Lincoln, and finally to Ashland.

  Family history tells us that Mary may have had diabetes, and other descendants also have that, so it would not be surprising.  Insulin had not been discovered as a treatment yet.  There are conflicting sources of information regarding how many children they had, mostly regarding those that did not survive.  The 1900 census reports they had 14 children, and 12 survived.  The Severin family history booklet, written in May of 1980, agrees with that. The 1910 census states they had 15 children and 11 survived.  Henry would have died in between.  Geraldine Severin, in her biography, stated they had 16 children, and that 4 died, but I cannot find evidence to show more than 15.

  The political information was taken from the Portrait and Biographical Album of Lancaster County Nebraska book dated 1888.  Alexander’s home was described in the newspaper in a biographical interview.  The family portrait is real.

John Christian Severin Jr. (Chris) and Marya Marie Siedschlag (Mary) wedding photo in Fort Wayne, IN 1866

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