Tuesday, January 15, 2013

German Genealogy

Don't you just love this photo? It's of my great-grandparents and taken probably in 1907 when they married. He (Peter Riess) was originally from Konigsburg in East Prussia, but somewhere along the line moved to Leipzig in Saxony where he married his first wife Anna Marie Julie (no idea of her last name) and had two children (no names for these two either). In April of 1882, he boarded the Suevia and arrived in the port of New York at Castle Garden on the 28th. I have never found any arrival for his wife and children and yet I know they did arrive. So many of the records before Ellis Island are hit and miss. There are several members of my family who arrived in New York pre-1888, but I have yet to find them on any of the databases available.

He was a furrier and built quite an impressive house alongside the Bronx River with a workshop in back. He employed several men and women there who helped with the process of getting the furs tanned and ready to be made into coats, stoles and hats. He looked to have a very nice life there. In 1899 he was the first person in the Bronx to buy a Winton touring car - the only other person in New York with one was a Rockefeller! He bought several Wintons over the years - here he is in one of them. I believe it was an 1899 Winton Stanhope. I am guessing this is his first wife and two children, it is the only plausible idea.
 He owned several over the years - one had bright red wheel rims and apparently sat in his garage long past his death in 1937.

He and his first wife held several patents regarding boats and marine ideas - the family lore says he invented the bilge pump, but a friend stole the idea and got to the patent office before him. Somewhere around 1903, his wife and two children died. Again, a mystery. I am pretty sure they were on a visit to Leipzig when it happened but haven't yet found the information as I have no names for the children. Thant information seems to have been lost.

My great grandmother (Ernestine Liedke) was a young women who worked for him in the factory. She was from a small town that was German, but in Poland,under Russian rule. That sounded crazy to me growing up, but she was very adamant that they were Germans! Eventually, in my searching, I found what she said was true. Her town was called Witoczyn, although it has a Polish name now and I recently was able to find it on  Google Maps - to me that is incredible! She was 36 years younger than he, but in 1907 they married. They had three children just as the depression was starting. His home on the Bronx River was torn down to make way for the Bronx River Parkway, and he bought an apartment building as well as a two family home over the ensuing years. Sadly, he had invested in Vienna bonds and lost a lot of money and by the time my great aunt married, his apartment building was so empty, they had her wedding reception in  one of the apartments.  He died in 1937, leaving my great grandmother with one child still at home. I don't think my grandmother was ever able to grasp not being well to do after the depression, she talked about it until she died.

One of my goals this year, is to find those records for Konigsburg and Witoczyn and find more information regarding both of their families.

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