Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Cistern From Hell

Few things terrified me as a kid like the thought of the cistern out at the farm.  We used to love to go out there with Grandpa and search around the concrete foundation where the house once stood, before it was burnt to a cinder by a fateful bolt of lightning.  We'd look for remnants of Uncle Don's melted marble collection or whatever other treasures might have been thrown from the burning house in an effort to save what they could.  But every step around that concrete foundation was made cautiously, after an over-abundance of careful looking, lest we fall in the dreaded cistern.

Grandma, besides being small in stature, was outnumbered by us so she'd frequently tell us "little white lies" to help enforce the rules - except with the cistern - besides being true to a certain degree, she went out of her way to tell us what would happen if we didn't heed her stern warnings.  "Don't get too close, or you'll fall in!"  "The ground around the cistern is soft and it'll suck you right in!"  "You'll be stuck in a small little dark space with nothing but water!" and the worst - "We might not be able to get you out!"  It's still hard to even think of all the things she told us about the cistern without a little panic setting in.  I didn't even know what a cistern was, but I didn't care.  I wanted no part of it.  It was a hole right down to hell itself, as far as I was concerned.

A few years ago, I was looking at an old photo album with my mother and we ran across this photo - and she said, "There's my grandma holding my sister, there's Dorothy, there's me, there's Teddy the dog, and the cistern..."  My blood ran cold and my heart rate skyrocketed.  I had not thought about the cistern since I was about 10 years old.  I was horrified at how close they were all standing to it!  And how near it was to the house!  And the dirt - the soft dirt around it!  And no one seems to be terrified! 

Once I settled down, I fully understood why Grandma said what she said.  My first thought was, "I wonder what it looks like under that board!?"  Which is probably why someone put a heavy rock on it and started telling tall tales.  Love ya, Grandma, and I miss you every single day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Sunnyside School - Readin', 'Ritin', and Romance

Sunnyside School, about 1920
Little Sunnyside School.1  If it wasn’t for that little rural schoolhouse, I wouldn’t be here.  And if you’re one of my cousins, you wouldn’t be here either.  It was where my grandparents, Bill and Lillian Knutz, met and fell in love - and the rest is history.  Not only did Bill and Lillian (and their siblings) attend here, but their children did as well.  It was right here, in this little schoolhouse, here where Bill and Lillian “laid claim to each other” in the 3rd grade, according to Bill.
The white X at the top of the map shows the location of Sunnyside School; the turquoise X below sits just to the left of the Christensen farm; the yellow X is just above the Will Knutz farm; the pink X is just above the farm where Bill and Lillian Knutz raised their family 20 years later.

When Bill and his brother Howard went to school, they went past the Christensen farm.  One morning, Bill and Howard, in their horse-drawn buggy, ran into Lillian and Raymond Christensen, also in a horse-drawn buggy.  A race ensued, but unfortunately, the wheels of the two buggies became entangled and locked together.  Needless to say, the next day (and every day thereafter), Bill and Howard could be seen riding a single horse to school.  The same thing held true for Lillian and Ray.  But down the road a distance from the Christensen farm, out of sight of everyone else, they would do a switch; Ray and Howard would end up on one horse, and Bill and Lillian on the other.

Interior of Sunnyside School, 1997

On one occasion, when the kids were in third grade, Bill got sick and missed a few days of school.  The teacher asked Lillian to sit next to him and show him the lesson.  Bill said, “I got a feeling all through my body, like I wanted to put my arm around her waist and give her a hug.”  That pretty much sealed the deal.

Lillian is the dark haired girl at the end of the row, and Bill is 3 kids to the left.

Years later, Bill and Lillian purchased a farm just one mile east of where Bill’s family had lived.  Their children also attended Sunnyside school.

The whole student body in the Young Citizens' League Parade -
four of the five students were from the same family. 
From left, Teacher Mrs. Tanger, Betty Knutz, Wilma Knutz,
Billy Knutz, Don Knutz, and other unknown girl.

After the kids were grown, P. C. and Ella Christensen sold the farm to Paul Meyer and moved to California.  By this time, the school had been known more widely as the Meyer School.  When the school was no longer used, it was purchased, presumably by Paul Meyer, and moved to that property, where we saw it in 1997.


©Karen Seeman, 2018.  For personal use only.  Do not republish or post elsewhere without permission.

1This school was also known as Meyer School and was located in Clyde Township, not to be confused with another rural school known as Sunnyside, in neighboring Dearborn Township.

Personal Photos
Google Earth
Interviews with Bill and Lillian Knutz
Interviews with Betty Hammer
A People’s History of Beadle County, SD, 1986
A Place-Name Study of Beadle County, South Dakota (Leta May Janes), 1929

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Bill Knutz Orchestra and the Barn Dances of the 1930s

In the 1930s and 1940s, with dust in the fields, worries galore, rebuilding what was lost, and war, It was a time to put your worries aside.  It was a time to socialize with your neighbors, tip a few, kick up your heels.  There was no shortage of these dances on the prairie, and on any given weekend one could have their pick of where to go and what band to enjoy.  Ladies often were admitted free, while the gentlemen might have to pay 25 to 30 cents to get in.

Among the popular local bands in and around Huron, South Dakota were such groups as the Golden Pheasants; White’s Red Jackets; the Rhythm Ramblers; Doyle and His Old-Timers; the Sod Busters, and the Bill Knutz Orchestra, in whom I have a vested interest.   While these bands did sometimes play in larger venues, such as the Band Box east of Huron, they frequently booked their jobs in the barns of their neighbors.  Henry Meyer, who lived north of Wessington, Ed Langbehn, near Wolsey, Bill Schwartz, west of Huron, and Albert Baum, southeast of Huron, were frequent hosts of these weekend escapes. 

I’m not sure when my grandfather, Bill Knutz (pictured at left), first became interested in being a musician.  As a young man, he farmed himself out (pun intended) as a hired man, and did some traveling around the midwest during harvest time.  He lived frugally, and when the season was over, he treated himself to a saxophone he’d found in a pawn shop in Nebraska, as well as a ring for his favorite girl.  Both the saxophone and the girl ended up being “keepers.”  He was a self-taught sax player, and eventually formed his first band, “Bill Knutz and His Harmonians”, including his future brothers-in-law Ray Christensen playing the fiddle and trumpet; Clarence Christensen playing the clarinet and Bill’s brothers Howard playing the bass fiddle, and Richard on the drums. Bill’s mother, Virta, kept track of their bookings.

The Harmonians were rearranged to form the Bill Knutz Orchestra, when the band leader discovered his girlfriend was also a mean piano player, and a good-looking girl in the band never hurt business…  Unfortunately, it was not so easy where the drummer was concerned, and he had to settle for a fellow without much rhythm, who liked to keep a bottle by his drums for an occasional “swig”.  When the drummer would speed up or lag behind with the tempo, fortunately all Bill had to do was wander back to the drum set and blow the sax into the poor man’s ear until he was back on pace.  Realistically, none of these people were professional musicians, just working folks with a day job, most of them dirt-poor farmers looking to make a few extra bucks for groceries and have a little fun in the process.

Both my mother and my mother-in-law grew up on South Dakota barn dances, and described similar situations throughout the 1930s and 1940s.  Large crowds, comprised of whole families, would attend these outings, and often it was here that youngsters learned to dance.   Sonny Baum taught both his daughter and my mother a three-person dance called the Butterfly Dance; similarly, my mother-in-law, a lifelong dance fanatic, would dance with her father, Casper Kluthe, when he wasn't busy on stage with his accordion.  The smell of hay, the noise, the applause, the rowdy activity, with the younger children curled up and sleeping blissfully in any available corner, all while the band rocked out “Swingtime In The Rockies” and oldies like “Little Brown Jug.”  “I’ll never forget those dances in our barn,” my mother-in-law said.

The Bill Knutz Orchestra, after a nearly 20-year run, eventually dwindled to just the two main members, Bill and his favorite pianist, and an occasional granddaughter (moi) warming the piano bench next to her grandmother, learning the chords to such favorites as “Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley,” while the the more talented of the duo played the melody.   The leader of the band always tooted along on his sax.  I was blessed to be a late part (although a very small and unofficial part) of their orchestra.  I’d love to have seen them in their heyday, and experienced the excitement of one of their dustbowl-era barn dances.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dr. Carl Seemann's certificate to practice medicine in the State of South Dakota

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Marriage Announcement for Dr. Carl Seeman and Martha Apel, 1901

From the Marriage Announcement of Dr. Carl Seeman and Martha Apel
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Apel announce the marriage of their daughter, Martha Elizabeth, to Doctor Carl A. Seeman, Thursday, June twenty-seventh, ninetten hundred and one, Dubuque, Iowa
At Home after July 26th, Freeport, Illinois

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

An Unexpected Value to Newspaper Research

I love to do casual newspaper research with my morning coffee, and most of the time I don't find anything particularly interesting.  This time, however, my casual research turned into a serious, hard-core data hunt.

I was hoping for an obituary for Dr. F. A. Seemann, and uncle in my husband's family who was born in Iowa, and practiced medicine in Dubuque and Sioux City before moving to California to finish out his career.  I didn't find that obituary, but imagine my surprise when I saw newspaper advertisements for Dr. Seemann's practice - in Detroit, Michigan!

The newspapers were dated 1903 and 1904, which was a little curious as I thought I had a fairly accurate and detailed timeline for his life.  But upon checking my database closer, I discovered a two-year hole in that timeline, between his appearance in a directory in Dubuque, Iowa in 1903 and his appearance in the Iowa State Census in Sioux City in 1905.  

These advertisements provide us not only with the knowledge that he was in Detroit, and a specific location for his office, but also a new time and place in which to do more research.  The ads themselves are highly entertaining, and bordering on outrageous.

Look for a few of them in a future post.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Michael Joyce - Is the Fog Beginning to Clear?

Is this the Declaration of Intent of our hard-to-find ancestor Michael Joyce?

This Michael Joyce lives in Clinton, Massachusetts, district of ???, and was born in the County of Galway, Ireland in the month of October, 1830, and is 22 years old.  He arrived at New York in the District of New York on or about the 13th day of April, 1849.  The date of the Declaration is September 13, 1852, and has his signature.

I have been trying to find definite information on our Michael's life for years.  Several years ago, I wrote a post outlining some of the difficulties I've had.  Various sources and documents have birth years ranging from 1829 to 1831, mostly 1830.  Some say his birthday is September 29, others October 2.

I have had the same sort of luck with trying to pin down exactly when and where he entered the country.  His obituary says 1848, but census records say 1846 and 1849.  The first documentation I have of him in the United States is in the 1850 census.

Then, along comes this Declaration of Intent.  Attaining citizenship was a two-part process, the first being Declaration of Intent papers, and Final Papers, or the "Naturalization Petition."  Law requires five years of residency before citizenship would be granted.   I should point out that citizenship was not required, and the process could be started without being completed.  Michael's census records do indicate that he was a naturalized citizen.

The Michael Joyce in this document states that he was born in October 1830, but unfortunately does not specify a particular day in October.  So far, this makes him a good candidate to be our Michael Joyce.

This document states he came to the United States in April of 1849.  This, also, is consistent with one of the censuses of our Michael.

This Declaration of Intent was done in 1852, and the declarant lived in Clinton, Massachusetts.  Our Michael lived in Clinton, Massachusetts in 1852.  The Massachusetts State Census shows only one Michael Joyce in Clinton in 1855, and that was ours.

There isn't anything here that provides absolute iron-clad proof that this our Michael, but the circumstantial evidence is good.  I believe this is probably our Michael Joyce.

With that, some caution.  The Michael Joyce in this Declaration entered the country at New York. There is another Michael Joyce who entered the country at Boston a little more than a month later, on May 26, 1849.  He was 20 years old (b. abt 1829), and was a passenger on the ship "Kate."  His previous residence was Liverpool (England), which would probably rule him out as our Michael.  I have no information on where this Michael ultimately went, if he settled in Massachusetts or if it was simply where he entered the country.

I have a signature of Michael Joyce from his will, dated August of 1914.  I compared it to the signature on the Declaration.  However, the signature on the will is extremely shaky, and the will was signed just 6 weeks before his death; the signatures of the 85 year old Michael Joyce and the 22 year old Michael Joyce don't have any striking similarities.

With this date of entry to the United States, I hoped to find a passenger list.  As I discovered, in 1849 when a passenger ship docked at the U.S., the passengers simply left the ship and began new lives, no "processing" or anything.  So... that ends that.

Now, the focus is to "flesh out" more information on the Michael Joyce family's years in Clinton, and to search for a Naturalization Petition, if one exists.  The family left the area ca. 1855-1857, and his five year residency requirement would have been completed about 1854, so there was ample time to complete the process.  Whether or not he actually did, I don't know.

Hopefully the next breakthrough won't take as long...