The Abels

The Abels and the Schroeders came from Germany. Her mother Bertha was a Schroeder. Her parents were Louise Grams and Louis Schroeder. Louie, as he was called, was born in Racine, Wisconsin on July 7, 1855. It is clear from the records that he and his family arrived in the Town of Seneca, Green Lake County sometime after December of 1885, the birth of my grandmother.

Louie Schroeder farmed in the Town of Seneca after his arrival to this German community in central Wisconsin. He died on December 15, 1945. Part of his gift to his progeny, according to my aunt Frieda, was his beautiful white hair.

My great grandmother Louise Johanna Grams Schroeder was born in Vorwerk Schoenfeld, Germany on August 30, 1854. Her parents, born in what we now call Germany were William Grams and Dorothea Stegmann. It is not clear if Louise emigrated with her parents or alone or where her original destination in the new world was, although it is clear when viewing county records that one hundred years ago there were many Grams in the Berlin area.

Paul Abel, my mother's father, was the oldest of the surviving children born to Leopold and Louisa Brechlin Abel. The Abels came from West Prussia in the north of Germany. Most of the information on the Abel ancestry was provided through the efforts of Joan Abel of Hicksville, New York. Her persistence and dogged research provided the links to my Prussian descendants. We met in 1980 while she was visiting Wisconsin for the purpose of organizing an Abel clan reunion.

Her research showed that Leopold's father Gottlieb was the head shepherd on an estate in that far-away land once called West Prussia. Gottlieb married Louise Treter in the early 1800s and she bore him five sons and a daughter. They were Carl, Ferdinand, Leopold, Herman, Albert and Emily. Soon after their parents died the sons, at different times, immigrated to America. Three of the brothers eventually moved on to Wisconsin where they became farmers. The other two settled in Meriden, Connecticut. My great grandfather, at the age of 28, was the last of the immigrant Abels to "pick up roots" and move to the "new world."

Leopold Abel brought his young wife, Louise Johanna Brechlin Abel, daughter of Gottlieb and Henrietta Brechlin of Brandenburg, Plagow Province, Auswa County, Germany to West Meriden, Connecticut at the beginning of Prussia's domination of Germany. It was June of 1872. Louise was 27 years of age according to the ship's records. Traveling with Louise and her husband was her brother William Brechlin, age 24.

On the thirteenth of that month Leopold wrote a letter to his in-laws telling them of their journey and that they had arrived safely at his brother's home on the ninth, the day after spending a night sleeping on the floor of Castle Garden. The letter has been saved and transcribed by Joan Abel, researcher of the Abel family tree. Those present at the April, 1981 Abel Reunion received a copy.

Excerpts from that letter follow: "... We did not enjoy it on the ship as we could not eat much, the food didn't seem tasty, although we got plenty to eat. ... If we had not had the bread and butter that we took from home we would have almost starved. We ate our bread and butter occasionally and made it last until the last day on ship. ... We were on the boat 20 days, arrived the 18th of June at noon on land, and at 6 o'clock we were at Kesselgarten, and stayed there over night and slept on the floor. The next day we took the train to West Meriden where we are now. Dear Parents the trip on the boat was not as easy as they made us believe in Germany. The waving of the ship made us seasick, and the women didn't seem to be able to stand it at all, they were sick most of the time when we were at sea. ... Dearly Beloved Parents we have been working the past week, on Friday we unloaded coal and earned 2 1/2 dollars each, it sure was hard work. Sat. we loaded sand, then we earned 2 dollars each. That sure is good money. This week we worked in the factory and earned 1 1/2 dollars a day. And William worked outside and made 2 dollars as the work outside is much harder. A little later William will get in factory too, as it is a lot better inside even though you don't earn quite so much. You can work every day and outside they don't work when it rains."

Although they were the last of the Abel clan to arrive, it is unclear why they emigrated when they did. It is known from family research that all of the Abel brothers left Prussia after the death of their parents and arrived in America within a year's time of each other. But why did they leave, and why virtually all together?

Their period of history suggests that the reason may have been largely a religious one, although the economic appeal of the United States with its new industrial growth and its relatively cheap land were certainly attractive. But the Abels were Lutherans, more than likely devout ones; Lutherans who may not have been able to fully accept changes brought about by a royal proclamation in the early 19th century.

The story is told in European history books that King Friedrich Wilhelm III, a Calvinist, could not take Holy communion with his wife, a Lutheran. So a royal proclamation was issued by King Friedrich in 1817 that forced the two major Protestant religions in Northern Germany - Calvinism (Reformed Church) and Lutheranism - to merge, that is, to join together in Holy Communion and church organization.

There was opposition here the books say. The Reformed Church - favoring the rich and powerful - had little use for the creedal views of Lutherans. And the Lutherans were reluctant to change their hallowed order of service. The ministers of both Confessions were unenthusiastic, but, as state officials, they were bound to obey the direct order of their king. In a few years emigration began in earnest.

Those who opposed the merger strongly enough to leave Prussia were almost entirely of the lower class, that is Lutherans. Most emigrants were from rural areas and small towns with occupations usual in such settings. They were conservative in their views, frugal, and accustomed to hardships. In general, these traits describe my Abel ancestors. If this is true, the death of their parents may have mitigated their departure.

But there looms another possibility. All five brothers emigrated within a year's time of each other, while their sister Emily stayed in Prussia. Prussia, at this time, was becoming the military presence of Europe so it's conceivable the brothers, mostly in their twenties, fled to escape military conscription.

Leopold and Louisa, who temporarily settled in with his brother Ferdinand who had arrived in the United State in 1871, soon found a place of their own. They were listed in the city directory of Meriden from 1877 to 1884 as living on South 14th Street.

In 1885 they left Connecticut for Wisconsin and purchased a farm in the town of Seneca, Green Lake county. Leopold died at the age of 65, twenty-four years after arriving. Louise lived another seven years. Her age at death was listed as 71.

Their decision to move to Wisconsin, according to my Aunt Frieda and supported by government records, where two of Leopold's brothers had already located was made because of the sicknesses and ensuing deaths of four of their children. Carl Albert, Heinrich Julius and Elsa Margaretha, the first three children born to Leopold and Louise, died of sickness, perhaps of tuberculosis, each between the ages of eight and ten months. After Augusta Louise, the seventh born, died in July of 1883, living just eleven months, the Abels' took their three surviving children to Wisconsin. Their last child Johanna Ernestine was born after the family arrived in the rural Berlin area. She lived to be 92. The other surviving children were Paul Leopold, Emma Lena, and Seigismund Walter.

My grandfather Paul Leopold, who was 7 or 8 at the time of the move, along with his brother and sisters, helped his parents farm their newly acquired land located four or five miles west of the city of Berlin until the time of his marriage when he bought a farm on county Trunk E, one-half mile to the west and across the road from his father's place. My grandfather was then 26, his wife Bertha was 18. Their farm buildings and residence, though now under different ownership, are still standing and seem in good repair.

Paul and Bertha had five children: Hertha (Luther), Ella (La Point), Herbert, Clarence, and Frieda (Etrick). After farming for nearly forty years, my grandparents built a house on Liberty Street in the city of Berlin where they lived out their lives.
 
 

My great-great grandfather Gottlieb Abel and his son Herman. Picture was probably taken in Prussia. Gottlieb died around the year 1870.
 
 

My great grandparents Leopold (1844-1909) and Louise Brechlin Abel (1845-1916) and their four surviving children. From left: Seigismund (Sig), Lena, Paul -  my grandfather - and Johanna.