Look After Widows and Orphans in Their Distress


In Scripture, we find this passage in James 1:27:

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Sally GustinYou are going to be reading another story about how people in this area followed the precepts put forth in this verse. This post was written by our musuem’s friend and guest blogger, Sally Gustin. It is a story that comes out of her family in Jacob, Illinois. Sally sent this story to me a few days ago, and I found today’s date associated with one of its characters, so I decided to post it today. Johann August Sticht was born on December 20, 1877 and baptized at Salem Lutheran Church in Farrar, but most of this story takes place across the river in Jackson County, Illinois. We thank Sally for this contribution to our blog. The story she tells is one that took place repeatedly in this area over the years. It illustrates that this German Lutheran culture, when they saw children in need of homes, did what was necessary to take care of those orphans.


On a Tuesday, March 28, 1899, three residents of the Fountain Bluff, Illinois area gathered at the home of their friend/neighbor.  There was sickness in the house of Friedrich “Fritz” Gruebmeyer, his wife Caroline (nee Kloepper), and their 4 children.   

Those neighbors were Paul Estel, George H. Haehnlein and Henry Stueven and they were there to witness a Will for Fritz.  As usual for the time, Fritz left all personal property to his wife, the land to his 1 year-old only son when he would come of age, $500 each for his two daughters, Marie and Minna, and $100 to his adopted daughter, Bertha Seidel.



Shortly after, on April 5th, Fritz died and was buried the next day.  But two days after his burial, Caroline Gruebmeyer died too. They both died of pneumonia.  It appears that they had no immediate family in the area.  So the community pulled together to do what had to be done.

There are almost 200 pages of probate court records concerning this situation in the archives of the Jackson County Court House.  Volunteers were needed for many different tasks.  Henry Vogt became the administrator of the estate.  A group had to post bond as joint overseers:  Joseph Schlimpert, John Oetjen and Henry Bogenpohl.  Appraisers of the household goods were Paul Estel and Charles Amschler.  Others took charge of the actual sale of the household goods.


A sample page from the inventory of all the household & farm items to be sold.  For comparison purposes, note the 5 mules towards the bottom of the page.


A sample page of the sale and who bought what for how much.  This page also contains the sales of the 5 mules.

Meticulous records where kept of all the expenses paid for the family.  Here is a sample receipt filed in the records:


Then there were the children.

Bertha Engel Seidel was born 9 Feb, 1884.  The church records state that her birth father had died and her birth mother “did not take good care of her” and she was adopted at some point by the Gruebmeyers.  In the 1900 census, we find Bertha living in the Fountain Bluff home of Fred & Lena Arbeiter.  She would marry in 1903 to John Sticht and they would live a long life together in Farrar, Missouri and have 12 children. She died on 22 Nov, 1962.

Marie Carolina Gruebmeyer was born 15 Sept, 1893.  In the 1900 census, we find Marie living in the home of Henry Guetersloh as a 7 year-old “boarder”.  In the 1910 census, she is found to be living in the Fountain Bluff home of Lorenz Schweizer and his wife, Ida (Boehme) as an adopted daughter.  In the 1920 census, she is still listed as an adopted daughter, but they are now living in Chester.  Marie is working as a “looper” in a knitting mill.  Marie would marry Paul J. Kuehnert and lived in Cape Girardeau County.  She died on 5 April, 1976, on the anniversary of her father’s death.

Minna Christiana Alwina Gruebmeyer was born 11 Oct, 1895.  She went by the name Minnie in her adult life.  I did not find her in either the 1900 or 1910 censuses, although there is evidence that she was also in the home of Henry Guetersloh (see below) shortly after her parent’s deaths.  In the 1920 census, she is listed as a hotel bookkeeper living in a very large lodging facility in St. Louis.  Minnie would go on to marry Malcolm Ulch.  She died on 18 July, 1950, and is buried in St. Louis County.  

Receipt for the “care and clothing” of the girls for one year dated 23 April, 1900. $100 for both girls/year.

Johann “John” Heinrich Friedrich Gruebmeyer was born 1 Nov, 1897.  He was taken into the home of Paul & Mathilda Estel and lived there for the entirety of his childhood, being raised as if he was their son.  Family lore says that the Estels would have liked to have adopted him, but it was felt that by doing so it would interfere with John inheriting the properties left to him in his father’s will when he became “of age”.  John would marry Alma “Laura” Ross of Neunert, IL and they would have one son, Rolf “Ralph” Gruebmeyer, born in 1923.  John worked as a general laborer in the hardware store of Ernst Arbeiter, as a maintenance worker for the state highway department, and lastly owned a business in Neunert called Gruebmeyer’s Tavern, which later was owned and operated by his son Ralph.  The present day location of this business is the Bottoms Up Bar & Grill. John died on 1 Feb, 1953.  


Note:  The date of this receipt is 16 April, 1900, not 1890 as stated on the receipt.  $100 for the year


Standing L-R:  Arthur Estel, Walter Estel, John Gruebmeyer. Seated L-R:  Ella Estel Arbeiter, Paul Estel, Mathilda Schneier Estel. This was the Estel’s 50th Wedding Anniversary.

Genealogy note:  The records of Christ Lutheran Church state that Fritz was from Schina, Germany and Caroline was from Wamsen, Germany.  There are no villages by these names.  The ancestral villages are probably Schinna and Warmsen, which are both located in Lower Saxony close to each other. 

I’d like to thank the following for their contributions to this story:  Bernd Hoffmann, Fern Arbeiter Thies, Rainer Knop, and Lutz Backmann.

5 thoughts on “Look After Widows and Orphans in Their Distress

  1. Would it be possible for Sally Gustin to contact us? Marie mentioned the the article above was my Grandmother Kuehnert. We would love to know more of S. Gustin family connection and how she had the information above. We knew that Marie was orphaned and was born and raised in Ill. across the river from Perry County. We knew that Marie was adopted by the Schweizers. However we have more information about the Kuehnert family and less about the Gruebmeyer family. (Note: we have visited Perry County repeatedly since the Kuehnerts came from there.)
    Marie and Paul had two sons Eldor and Arlen both who are now deceased.

    I am Deborah Kuehnert ( Marie’s only granddaughter), Lila Gilbert Kuehnert (married to Eldor Kuehnert in 1947) is still living with me -age 96. I have three brothers; Daniel, Don, David ( Marie’s grandsons). Don has the historian interest in our family.
    Arlen had no children.


    1. Hi Kuehnert family. You can contact me directly at sbgustin@aol.com. Would love to hear from you. Short answer to the main question, my great grands (Paul & Mathilda Estel) raised John Gruebmeyer as their son. My grandma, Ella Estel Arbeiter, considered him her brother.


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