by Lori Rabe Esch
(This is an abbreviated version of this family history. You can view the full version HERE.)
The following is a story about my great grandparents, Heinrich Nicolaus Wilhelm “Henry N.W” Seedorf and his wife Maria Koehnke who were born in Germany and immigrated to the U.S. and eventually settled in Bartlow Township in Henry County. They were the grandparents of my mother, Amanda Ludeman Rabe. Fortunately, my mother saved many newspaper articles and worked on genealogy in the 1970’s. Her efforts and papers have been invaluable to me as I have continued her journey.
Heinrich departed Bremerhaven, Germany on the Strassburg [see photo below] and arrived in Baltimore, Maryland on the 24th of May, 1884 which was 2 days after his 27th birthday. His “calling” or occupation was listed as workman. He was in the steerage compartment and had one piece of luggage. Steerage described the part of the ship where most of the passengers traveled. This was an area between decks and the ceiling height was usually 6-8 feet. This area was allotted to those passengers traveling at the cheapest rate. This all sounds fairly straight forward; however, he left behind his fiancée, Maria in Germany. He came to the new world to work and earn enough money to eventually go back to marry her and then to return to Ohio with her. Yet when he departed, Heinrich had no idea how long they would be separated. What a struggle that must have been to leave her behind!
Twenty seven years prior, Heinrich was born in Vellen Beverstedt in the province of Hannover on 22 May 1857. This area in northwestern Germany is where the majority of Henry county ancestors originated. He was baptized in the Lutheran faith and then confirmed on Easter Sunday 1871.
The Seedorf settlement existed near Beverstedt in 1845. Today, no Seedorf descendants from this line are living in Germany. In September 2014, my siblings and I visited their house which is now occupied by non-relatives [see photo below]. German records state that Heinrich was a ‘sechstelhoefner”. “Sechstel” means one-sixth, so a sechstelhoefner would farm a small, one-sixth sized farm. The exact acreage of the farm is not known because farm sizes varied from place to place in Germany.
After arriving in the United States, Heinrich worked for 3 ½ years as a hired hand on a farm located where the Filling Home, just outside of Napoleon, stands today. Most likely Heinrich did not know English nor did he have his bride-to-be Maria by his side, so the first 3 ½ years alone in a strange, new country must have felt immensely longer. Finally in the winter of 1887-1888, he had saved enough money to return to Germany and marry Maria Koehnke on 9 Mar 1888. [see their wedding photo below]
Maria was born 2 Dec 1856 in Barkhausen in the Hannover province and baptized in the Lutheran church 1 Jan 1857. When she was 15 years old she was confirmed. Seven weeks after Heinrich and Maria’s marriage, they made the final and permanent trip from Germany, arriving in Baltimore on the ship Main. For some unknown reason, she is listed separately on the ship passenger list as Maria Koehnke. The couple brought a simple wooden chest containing all of their belongings and measuring only 29 inches long, 15 inches wide and 14 inches deep. Today, this chest is in my possession; one side of the chest still retains a partial label that says “Bremerhaven” which was their departure port. [see photo of chest above]
Now the two newlyweds were finally able to begin their new life together. Initially they lived in Flatrock Township and then moved to Bartlow Township where they rented a farm for 10 years. Finally after a decade, they had the resources to purchase their own farm in 1899 on County Road F between State Route 65 and County Road 3. They worked the fields and raised their family; Anna Maria, Christ, Sophia, William, Mary and Henry. Today, Seedorf descendants still reside on this farm. From a single wooden to chest to their own farm, Henry and Maria were able to build a home and life for their family for generations to come.
For family history researchers in the United States, the U.S. federal census is the principal record type for research because it puts people in a certain place at a certain time. Enumerations were mandated by the Constitution and have taken place in all states and territories since 1790. With the exception of the loss of the 1890 records in a tragic 1921 fire, the collection of original pages is virtually complete.
Therefore, the 1900 census is the first census we have of Henry and Mary [these were their names as given to the census enumerator.] who were both 43 years old at the time. Other family members recorded were Christopher, age 10; Sophia, age 8; William, age 6; Mary M, age 3; and Henry, age 1. Additional information in the census stated Mary was the mother of 6 children with 5 still living. Previously, the eldest child, Anna, died at the age of 8 months and 6 days due to unknown causes. Unfortunately they lost another child when Henry, the youngest child died 11 weeks after this census was taken.
In the loose papers and files of my mother, Amanda Ludeman Rabe, she had written that Henry died when he was 2 years of summer complaint. Merriam Webster defines summer complaint as diarrhea most common in children that is prevalent in hot weather; it is usually caused by ingestion of food contaminated with various microorganisms responsible for gastrointestinal infections. The culprit very likely could have been spoiled milk. In addition, the 1900 census stated that the children, Christopher and Sophia, were in school. Henry gave his occupation as a farmer and said he owned the farm with a mortgage. Although Henry and Mary were well on their way to building a new life and fulfilling the American dream, life did not come without its challenges. Life would have been lonely at times and the heavy burden of grief from losing two children as infants was a weight the family would always bear.
On the 1920 census, both Henry and Mary stated they were naturalized back in 1889. At this time a woman could not file for naturalization. Citizenship was granted under a husband’s petition. There are three steps to the naturalization process: declaration of intent, petition for naturalization, and the final papers granting citizenship. Henry appeared on 30 May 1887 before the probate court in Henry County and declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States. About six months later on 5 Nov 1889, he again appeared before the court and became a citizen. Two individuals appeared with Henry in front of the judge to vouch for him—Fred Brinkmann and August Hinseland. They swore they had been acquainted with Henry for five years and that “during the time of their acquaintance with Henry Seedorf he has behaved as a man of good moral character attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States of America and well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the same”. Henry forever renounced allegiance to William, Emperor of Germany and was admitted to be a citizen of the United States. Five years after he first stepped foot on American soil in Maryland, Henry became an American citizen. [see photo of naturalization papers above]
Following a number of different illnesses, Heinrich [name recorded on his obituary] died at the age of 64 years, 10 months and 10 days on 4 Mar 1922. The translation of his German obituary states “The deceased was a faithful member of the Lutheran church and a committed Christian. Since he knew that he was saved by his Redeemer, he went to his death without fear and had prepared himself through prayer and sacrament. Along with his bereaved widow, mourning at his coffin are his 2 married sons and 2 married daughters, 2 sons-in-law and 2 daughters-in-law as well as 11 grandchildren. Also surviving him are 6 siblings, of who 1 brother and 1 sister are here in America and 4 brothers in Germany. May he rest in Peace.”
After Heinrich died, Amanda Ludeman Rabe, her 10 year old granddaughter, stayed with Maria [name used by my mother, also recorded in the 1930 census and name on her obituary] for a year, and then Maria lived with her grown children. At the time of the 1930 census, Maria, age 73 was living with her son Christ, age 40 , along with his wife Margaret, age 43, and children Walter, age 13, and Emma, age 11. Other answers given on the census give us a snapshot of their life at that time: they lived in a rented house on a farm; Maria indicated she could speak English but could not read or write English and Christ was a farmer and was not a veteran.
Following her husband 11 years later, Maria died on 18 May 1933 at the age of 76. Her German obituary states she suffered a stroke six years earlier. It also states “Several weeks before her death she had a ruptured blood vessel which led to internal bleeding and hemorrhaging and the strength quickly ebbed. She was fully conscious up until about 7 hours before her death. She prepared herself for her death through the Word of God, prayer and the sacraments; just as in the days of her health she attended divine worship in God’s house…May she rest in peace and the perpetual light shine upon her!”
After all of their struggles to build a new life and raise a family in a new country, both Heinrich and Maria were able to die peacefully in their new homeland. In addition, their children were faithful and blessed with children of their own. From their small villages and all the way to Henry County with a single wooden chest, Heinrich and Maria built a life for their children but also paved the way for generations to come.