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Dreaming about German apple cider: Ernest Gotthilf Kemmner

On Tuesday, January 13, 1891, at six in the morning, my 2nd great-uncle Ernest Kemmner was born the eleventh child of Friederike and Matthäus. He was christened Ernst Gotthilf, but later called himself Ernest. In the baptismal register, his father is described as a farmer and councilor. The baptism was carried out on the following Friday, January 16 at 2 p.m. by Pastor Hartmann. (Unterensingen Evangelical Church, 1925)

Ernest Kemmner Unterensingen
Relationship between me and my 2x great-uncle Ernst Kemmner (own illustration).

Since the parents Friederike and Matthäus were cousins, they chose godparents from their mutual family tree:

Johannes Friedrich Balz, farmer in Unterensingen, was Friederike's cousin and husband of Luise Balz, who was selected as a secondary godmother. Luise was a cousin of both parents. Maria Kemmner, single from Oberbohingen is probably the sister of the mother, who only married after Ernest was baptized. Johann Georg Schmid, local council, was selected as another secondary godfather. Johann was the husband of Friederikes and Matthäus cousin Maria. (Unterensingen Evangelical Church, 1925)

Ernest Kemmner godparents Unterensingen
Ernest and the relationship to his godparents (own illustration).

Ernest was the eleventh child of the family, of which only six survived their childhood (Evangelical Church Unterensingen, 1937). As the youngest son with some older siblings, he probably didn't have to work too hard on his parents farm. The family lived in a farmhouse in Unterensingen, where my great aunt still lives today.

Ernest Kemmner Unterensingen
The house Ernest grew up in in the center of Unterensingen (own illustration).

He probably attended elementary school in Unterensingen and was confirmed in 1905 (Evangelical Church Unterensingen, 1937). Since Ernest became a farmer, it can be assumed that he did not do an apprenticeship, but initially took on tasks on his parents' farm. The family owned some fields around the village that were farmed with cows. At that time, the cowshed was on the ground floor of the house to heat the family rooms on the first floor. (Kemmner, 2010)

Gustav Kemmner Ernest Kemmner Unterensingen
The painting by Gustav Kemmner shows farming life in Unterensingen (Hergenröder, Breig, Melchinger & Kaßberger, 2004).

My 2nd cousin 1x removed, Crystal, Ernest's granddaughter, helped me a lot with my research. She asked her mother Elsie, Ernest's daughter, a lot of questions. She remembers that her father told of a broken leg. Ernest had rested it on a chair, but his father Matthäus threw his leg off the chair. This experience must have been very painful. Unfortunately, Ernest did not have nice memories about his dad. (Gustafson, 2019).

Ernest had a penchant for apple cider because he later told his daughter how much he would miss it from Germany (Gustafson. 2019). My grandfather told me about orchards, the apple cider was probably self made from the harvested apples (Kemmner, 2019).

He particularly liked his older sister Emma. His daughter Elsie said that he often spoke of her. Ernest later had a photo of his sister with their two children, Eugen and Elsa. (Gustafson. 2019). Continuing Ernest's paper trail, I found him on a passenger list for America (Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1913). My grandpa knew that his uncle had emigrated there, unfortunately they lost contact after the First World War. The reason for Ernest's emigration is not entirely clear. My grandfather, who was born long after Ernest had left, remembered the following story: Ernest had to leave because he had a liaison with a Birk girl that was not accepted (Kemmner, 2019). Ernest's daughter Elsie, on the other hand, assumed that he emigrated to America to avoid military service (Gustafson, 2019).

On June 14, 1913, Ernest boarded the S. S. Lapland in Antwerp, Belgium at the age of 22 and traveled to New York. He traveled in the second class of the ocean liner and arrived in New York on June 22, just eight days later. On entry he made the following statements about himself: Ernest was a single farmer, he could read and write. He noted his father Matthäus Kemmner as a contact person. His height was 5'3, his skin color light, his hair brown and his eyes blue. (Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1913)

(Titanic WhiteStarLine, 2012)

Although the crossing was much more comfortable at the time than just a few years before, the journey was still uncertain. How did Ernest feel about the trip? Ernest said he was traveling to Brewster, Minnesota to see his uncle Karl Rickert (Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1957). However, this uncle was not his real uncle. Ernest's daughter Elsie recalls that it was an uncle to the wife of one of his brothers (Gustafson, 2019). So I continued my research and was able to find out that this Karl Rickert came from Steinbrück in Germany (National Archives and Records Administration United States, no year b). Steinbrück was the birthplace of Ernest's brother Christian's wife Emma (Evangelical Church Geisselhardt, 1906). Unfortunately, I have not yet found the exact connection.

Nothing else is known about his trip, he never talked about the crossing or his onward journey to Minnesota (Gustafson, 2019). Ernest arrived in Minnesota on June 25, 1913 (United States of America, 1913), so it only took him a few days to get there. At that time there was already a train route through and a train station in Brewster (Stenett, 1908). So he might have come by train. He probably didn't bring more than his clothes (Gustafson, 2019).

Ernest Kemmner Brewster Postkarte USA
The Brewster, Minnesota, USA high street on a postcard from 1908 (Wilson, 1908).

In May 1916, Ernst filled out his Declaration of Intention, declaring to the state that he wanted to become an American citizen. He claims to live and be a farmer in Weimar Township, Jackson County. In the meantime he describes his complexion as dark - presumably he has been tanned by the sun in the field. (United States of America, 1916).

Ernest Kemmner
Ernest Kemmner (privately owned by Gustafson, C.).

On June 5, 1917, Ernest had to register for service in World War I in Okabena (National Archives and Records Administration United States, undated; State of Minnesota, 1918). He registered under the address of Heron Lake, Minnesota (National Archives and Records Administration United States, undated). He worked as a farm worker on a farm in West Heron Lake Township with Joe Silrant (National Archives and Records Administration United States, undated). His serial number was 1079 (National Archives and Records Administration United States, undated), later he named 1075 as his serial number (State of Minnesota, 1918).

On a historical map from 1936 I could find the farm of his employer Joseph Silvrant: it is a small piece of land in the north of West Heron Lake Township (Central Atlas Co., 1936). It is therefore quite possible that Ernest lived in the village of Heron Lake, as he says on his registration.

Towards the end of 1917, President Wilson issued a decree requiring all people born in Germany who have not yet been naturalized to register in a local court (FamilySearch, 2019). Ernst followed this ordinance on March 22, 1918 (State of Minnesota, 1918). He states in the questionnaire that he has been living in the USA for five years now (State of Minnesota, 1918). He can speak English, but not write it very well (State of Minnesota, 1918). He earns his money from farm work (State of Minnesota, 1918). When asked whether his male relatives fought for or against the United States in World War I, he replied: "yes, 4 brothers, all with German army" (State of Minnesota, 1918). These four brothers were Christian Friedrich, Karl Hermann, Gottlieb Friedrich and Karl Eugen. Unfortunately Eugen died in 1915. Ernest continues to state that he does not own any land in Minnesota or any other state, but has assets of $ 120, some of which he saves at the Liberty Bank (State of Minnesota, 1918).

Five years after Ernest declared his intention in 1913, he was now allowed to apply for naturalization. In 1918, however, the first attempt did not work out because his sponsor, who was supposed to vow for him, only half-heartedly spoke about Ernest: When asked whether Ernest would become a good citizen, he answered: "I hope so". (Gustafson, 2019). A year later, in March 1919, he tried again. As witnesses, he brought along William Hartman and August Treking, both farmers. (United States of America, 1913).

However, it took some time before he was naturalized: In May 1921, naturalization was postponed due to a lack of knowledge about the "form of government, etc.". In December 1921, something went wrong with the sponsors. It was only on May 15, 1922 that Ernest finally became an American citizen. His certificate of naturalization was number 1616054. (United States of America, 1922) I have not yet found Ernest in the 1920 census. Since he was without a family in Heron Lake, it could be that he worked during the survey times and therefore is not listed.

When the Catholic Church was built in Heron Lake around 1920, Ernest helped build it. Every church member had to do their part. Ernest, though Protestant, was paid by a member of the Church to do that members duty (Gustafson, 2019).

Heron Lake Sacred Heart Church
Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Heron Lake (LakesnWoods, 1940).

Since Ernest was single and looking for a wife, he asked one of his brothers to find him a bride from Germany. That hadn't worked at first. However, on a second attempt, a bride was sent to America. (Gustafson, 2019). This lady was called Katherine Bolai, she came from Stuttgart and was on the SS Hansa passenger list in 1924. Her journey started on August 21, 1924 (Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1924). She indicated her brother in Urach as her relative in Germany. Her destination was Brewster, Minnesota, and the closest relative she named was her fiancé Ernest Kemmner (Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1924).

Ernest's daughter remembers that this young woman met someone on the crossing and therefore did not end up traveling to Ernest in Minnesota (Gustafson, 2019). In fact, the story could have happened something like this: When I researched Katherine Bolai, I came across a marriage index from Buffalo, New York, when a Katherine Bolai married a Carl Mayer on July 16, 1927 (New York State Department of Health, 1927). When I was looking for a Carl Mayer who left Hamburg at about the same time as Katherine, I found a suitable young man who traveled to America in third class on July 31, 1924 from Hamburg on the "Pittsburgh" ship (Hamburg State Archives, 1924).

Both Carl and Katherine gave Böhringen as their place of birth or place of residence (Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1924; State Archives Hamburg, 1924). How exactly Katherine and Carl got to know one another cannot be reconstructed. However, it seems quite possible that the two have already traveled to the port of Hamburg together. Katherine and Carl Mayer can also be found in the Buffalo Census in 1930 and 1940, they had no children (United States of America, 1930a; United States of America, 1940a). Ernst's daughter reports that her father then looked for household help around 1925 and thus got to know his later wife Gussie (Gustafson, 2019). Gussie Minor was from Illinois and was listed in the 1920 census as a widow with four children (United States of America, 1920).

She had married her husband Ashby Jenkins in 1906 at the age of 16 (Illinois County Marriages, 1906). The two had five children together: Harlan, Beulah, Edith and the twins Ivan and Vivian. Unfortunately, Ivan drowned at about a year old (Gustafon, 2019). Although Gussie was listed as a widow, her daughter Elsie was later told the mother had divorced (Gustafson, 2019). Research into Gussie's ex-husband Ashby showed that he had by no means died, but later remarried. But he was also reported on in 1969: “He was married to Gussie Minor. After her death he married Marry Hall Campbell in 1945 ”(The Pantagraph, 1969).

Getting divorced at the beginning of the 20th century was particularly difficult for women, as women had few rights and divorce was considered reprehensible (Strauss, no year). How exactly and for what reasons Gussie separated from her husband and how the divorce was conducted, we don't know. However, she kept her children and looked for independent work as a domestic help. She probably wanted to start a new life in another place. Relatives of her ex-husband had moved to Worthington, Minnesota, just 30 kilometers from Heron Lake, where Ernest lived, according to Ernest's daughter. Probably someone there had known about Ernest's search and arranged the contact. Gussie was his housekeeper for four years (Gustafson, 2019). On April 6, 1929, the two married (Minnesota Official Marriage System, no year) - almost to the day exactly 23 years after Gussie's first wedding.

Before the birth of their daughter Elsie, the couple probably lived with their children in the so-called Obermiller building, the daughter recalls (Gustafson, 2019). On March 9, 1930, their daughter Elsie was born. Ernest was already 39 years old, his wife even a year older.

Ernest und Gussie Kemmner mit Tochter Elsie 1930
Gussie and Ernest with their daughter Elsie in early 1930 (privately owned by Gustafson, C.).

Only about a month later, on April 5, 1930, the family was interviewed for the census: the couple lived with their daughter Elsie and with Edith and Vivan from Gussie's first marriage in Hershey Township in Nobles County (United States of America, 1930b) . Elsie recalls that the family had just moved to the so-called "Berenwald" farm when she was born (Gustafson, 2019). A lodger named Emil Hildebrandt also appears in the census (United States of America, 1930b). Neighbors included the Obermueller family from Germany, who emigrated between 1920 and 1925: John and Marie Obermueller with the children Heinz and Eric (United States of America, 1930b). Ernest's daughter recalls that her parents were very good friends with Obermueller's. They even named her daughter Elsie Marie after that Marie (Gustafson, 2019).

Elsie recalls that the family moved again around 1936. The "Berenwald" farm was sold to the Pittman family. When Ernest and his family moved out and the Pittmans moved in, a heavy storm broke out, so both families and their animals had to stay in the house together for four days. When the storm finally passed, the family moved to a farm in Hersey Township just a few miles from Brewster, which is why Elsie attended the local school in Brewster. (Gustafson, 2019)

The family then bought a farm in Ewington Township (Gustafson. 2019), where they also lived during the 1940 census (United States of America, 1940b). Gussie's children had moved out by then (United States of America, 1940b). The family now had a Jack Russel whom daughter Elsie loved very much and played a lot with. Elsie, however, remembers that he was gone one day, presumably he was run over, which her parents didn't tell their daughter. (Gustafson, 2019) Since Elsie grew up as the only child with Ernest and Gussie for most of her childhood - her half-siblings were significantly older and moved out quickly - she was held responsible for everything that went wrong. (Gustafson, 2019)

Ernest Kemmner mit Familie Elsie Gussie
A family photo of Ernest with his wife Gussie and daughter Elsie (privately owned by Gustafson, C.).

Unfortunately, we don't know if Ernest lived a happy life in Minnesota. His daughter reports that he had severe communication problems. English was very difficult for him and he had problems reading, writing and speaking the language all his life. Even as an old man, he often read from his German Bible that he got from his daughter Elsie. (Gustafson, 2019) His communication problems could also have caused financial problems because he was easy to exploit. His daughter Elsie also later had the feeling that he had bought many farms during his life and then lost them again. Only his wife Gussie tried to avoid the worst: she was smart and quite good in maths. (Gustafson, 2019)

Ernest Kemmner
Ernest Kemmner (privately owned by Gustafson, C.).

At the age of 51, Ernest had to register for the Second World War. He still mentions Ewington Township as his home on his registration card in 1942, his mailing address is Route 2 Brewster. Ernest describes himself as self-employed and works on his own farm. The postman probably knew the farmers on this route, so no precise address was necessary. At that time the family had no phone. (The National Archives at St. Louis, 1942).

Nothing had been heard from Ernest in his hometown Unterensingen for a long time (Kemmner, 2010). However, a prisoner of war named Dettinger from Unterensingenen reported to have met him during his captivity in America (Kemmner, 2019). Ernest is said to have come to the prison camp and asked if anyone came from Nuertingen, a nearby town. The two had a short conversation and Ernest said that he had become a farmer in the United States. Back home, this information naturally caused a stir. (Kemmner, 2019).

Over the course of his life, Ernest probably lived in Weimer Township, Heron Lake and West Heron Lake Township, in a so-called Obermiller house, on the Berenwald Farm and another farm in Hersey Township, then bought and sold a farm in Ewington Township before he bought a farm in Graham Lakes Township between 1942 and 1948 that had a great barn with stairs into the hayloft. (Gustafson, 2019).

In 1948, the 18-year-old daughter Elsie married her husband Kemith Dale Gustafson. They celebrated their wedding in this barn. (Gustafson, 2019). Later, Ernest suffered severely from lower back arthritis. He went through some treatments to relieve the pain. He spent two winters in Arizona, where it is hot and dry (Flexcin, undated), was treated with mud baths, and sought healing in South Dakota and Missouri. To relieve the pain, he walked around with crutches. (Gustafson, 2019)

Ernest Kemmner Gussie Kemmner
Ernest on crutches with his wife Gussie (privately owned by Gustafson, C.).

In the mid-1950s, Ernest suddenly fell ill. He had to be operated on in the hospital because of an intestinal obstruction. Because his intestine just didn't want to heal after two weeks, he was brought to the hospital in Minneapolis. Ultimately, he developed pneumonia and had trouble breathing. (Gustafson, 2019). In 1962, Ernest's wife Gussie (State of Minnesota, 1962) died. Ernest died just a year later. The two are buried in Trinity Cemetery in Brewster. (Findagrave, 2011).

My grandfather Otto had never met his uncle Ernest because they lost contact between World War I and World War II. He told us about his uncle who had emigrated to America, but nobody knew exactly where Ernest had settled. In 2013 my parents went on a road trip around the Great Lakes area in America. They had just arrived at their hotel near Minneapolis when my dad happened to log in to Ancestry again and found a message from Ernest's granddaughter, who was looking for her German relatives with her mother Elsie. Since my parents were only about three hours away by car, they spontaneously planned a visit to Elsie's Farm in Graham Lakes. They visited Elsie and her son Glenn, who runs the farm. My dad and Elsie's daughter, in particular, have been in contact since then and we are very happy to have found our American relatives!


All sources used are listed in the following document, available for download:

Quellenverzeichnis Ernest Kemmner
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