The Richter Adoption Agency

I have often run across stories crediting the town of Wittenberg, Missouri with being a place where orphans could find a home.  I can think of three surnames off the top of my head that were involved in orphans being given homes.  Those names were Burroughs, Mirly, and Nennert.  After looking at some more evidence that comes out of today’s story, I am even more convinced that a man by the name of Ehregott Richter was one of the prime characters involved in finding homes for orphans in the Wittenberg area.  That is why I titled this post, The Richter Adoption Agency.

The story starts with a birthday girl.  Her name was Hulda, and she was a daughter of Ehregott Richter.  Her mother was Elizabeth (Hartung) Richter.  We have this photo of Hulda’s parents.

Ehregott and Elizabeth Richter
Ehregott and Elizabeth Richter

Hulda was born on December 15, 1875.  Although her baptism record is found in the church books of Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg, it is somewhat likely that Hulda was baptized in Wittenberg.  Below is her baptism record.

Hulda Richter baptism record Trinity Altenburg MO
Hulda Richter baptism record – Trinity, Altenburg, MO

We find Hulda in the 1880 census as a 4 year-old.  Her father, Ehregott, was a farmer.

Ehregott Richter 1880 census Brazeau Township MO
1880 census – Brazeau Township, MO

Hulda’s future husband, John Heins, was born on December 6, 1873.  He was the son of Claus and Martha (Reese) Heins and baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg.  Below is his baptism record.

John Heins baptism record Trinity Altenburg MO
John Heins baptism record – Trinity, Altenburg, MO

I will insert here the fact that Hulda’s mother was married twice.   Both of her husbands were named Claus.  Her first husband was Claus Steffens; her second husband was Claus Heins.  After yesterday’s post that discussed numerous Claus Stueve’s, I find it fascinating how many men were named Claus who lived on The Ridge and originated in the Hanover region in Germany.  Below is a land map that points out the Claus Heins property (which was likely where John Heins would also have his farm).  This map portion is riddled with men who were named Claus.  By the way, the town of Wittenberg is just downriver, not far from this area.

Claus Heins land map 1915
Claus Heins land map – 1915

John Heins can be found in the 1880 census as a 6 year-old.  This entry can be found just 3 pages away from the Richter household shown earlier.

Claus Heins 1880 census Brazeau Township MO
1880 census – Brazeau Township, MO

On October 19, 1899, John Heins married Hulda Richter.  Once again, this marriage is recorded in the Trinity, Altenburg church books, but the wedding may have taken place in the church/school building in the town of Wittenberg.  It wasn’t until 1903 that St. Paul’s Lutheran Church became an official congregation.  Here is the church record for this marriage.

Heins Richter marriage record Trinity Altenburg MO
Heins/Richter marriage record – Trinity, Altenburg, MO

The relatively new Heins family shows up in the 1900 census with no children.  They were likely living on the same property with John’s parents because they are listed next to each other in this census.

John Heins 1900 census Brazeau Township MO
1900 census – Brazeau Township, MO

The year 1905 became a special year for this family.  We find records in the books of the new St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Wittenberg that show a pair of twins being baptized and listed as adopted children of John and Hulda.  They were shown to be born on January 10, 1896.  This means that these two children, Irene and Edwin, were born before John and Hulda were married and were 9 years old when they were baptized.   Here are those baptism records.

Irene and Edwin Heins baptism record St. Paul's Wittenberg MO
Irene and Edwin Heins baptism records – St. Paul’s, Wittenberg, MO

I have to think that Hulda’s father, Ehregott Richter, must have played some role in these twins becoming part of their family.  The above baptisms took place in June of 1905.  Later, in October of that year,  a stillborn child was born to Hulda.  That means those baptisms took place when Hulda was pregnant.  It also means that this couple almost had 3 children baptized in the same year, and they weren’t triplets.

The 1910 census shows this family of four.

John Heins 1910 census Brazeau Township MO
1910 census – Brazeau Township, MO

One more child was born into this family in 1917.  I am not going to display the 1920 census, but it showed the Heins family consisting of only John, Hulda, and their young daughter, Ruth.

In 1929, Hulda died of breast cancer at the age of 53.  We have her death certificate.

Hulda Heins death certificate
Hulda Heins death certificate

We find this interesting entry for John Heins in the 1930 census.  The widower, John, was living with his teenage daughter, Ruth, and they had an 18 year-old maid who was a Richter.

John Heins 1930 census Brazeau Township MO
1930 census – Brazeau Township, MO

John Heins died in 1936 at the age of 63.  Here is his death certificate.

John Heins death certificate
John Heins death certificate

Both John and Hulda are buried in the St. Paul’s Lutheran Cemetery in Wittenberg.

I thought I would never find the birth parents for the adopted twins, but I am almost sure that I have.  I believe these two were actually Irene and Edwin McCourt, the children of Hugh and Mary (Foley) McCourt.  I even have photos of them.

We find the twins in this 1900 census entry from St. Louis.  They were 4 years old, and their father was a bricklayer.

Edwin and Irene McCourt 1900 census St. Louis MO
1900 census – St. Louis, MO

In 1903, Hugh McCourt died.  His wife would not die until 1933, but for some reason, she must have given up at least some of her children.  That would explain their being baptized in Wittenberg in 1905.

Irene Heins would later marry Rudolph Engert at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Altenburg.  It was because I was looking into what happened to her that I stumbled upon the birth parents.  Edwin Heins would later go back to using his birth name and be called Edwin McCourt.  Without that fact, I likely would not have found their birth family.  I will also add that the gravestones for both Irene and Edwin show that their birthday was January 22nd, not January 10th.

I think the churches in this area were still worshiping in German at the time when the McCourt twins were taken into the Heins family.  With a name like McCourt and being already 9 years old, it must have been very difficult for these two to adjust to life in Wittenberg.


2 thoughts on “The Richter Adoption Agency

  1. Irene and Edwin were my paternal grandmother and great uncle. The photos you show, thinking they are the twins, is incorrect. The photos are of their birth parents, Hugh McCourt and Mary Foley McCourt. Hugh died young, with four children in the family. Two were much older, Mary couldn’t cope as a widow with younger children (they lived in St. Louis) and put them up for adoption. Even thought they were Catholic, they were in a Lutheran adoption agency.
    They were adopted around 1904 by John and Hulda Heins. My Grandmother married Rudolph Engert in 1915 and had two children, Clnton (my father) and Georgene. They lived in Altenburg, then in Illinois for a few years, then finally in St. Louis. Edwin eventually moved to St. Louis and returned to using the McCourt name. Please contact me if you wish more information about them.

  2. Amazing story. Especially baptizing 3 children in one year, not triplets either! Impressive research work for sure.

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