I do not have an easy story to tell today. In fact, I would call it brutal. There is a very horrific event that I have to share. In fact, I really debated whether I should tell this story. In the end, I am telling this tale because this story led me to understand a larger picture which involves residents of Perry County in Missouri being connected to Dubuque County in Iowa.
The Boehme name (and around here Boehme rhymes with name) is a fairly familiar one in East Perry County. After all, there were Boehme’s included in the original Gesellschaft passengers. However, we will be looking at a different Boehme family today, one that arrived in America in the 1850’s. As I have written a few other blog posts about this later Boehme family, I have come to call them the Farrar Boehme’s.
This time, we will go back to the time when two Boehme brothers traveled to America. We find them on the ship R Jacob which arrived in 1856. Here is a passenger list that shows these two. The two aren’t listed together, but they are close.
Actually, Friedrich Boehme had been to the United States earlier. Our German Family Tree has a narrative of his life that comes from a Boehme family book. That narrative includes these words.
Frederick Boehme was reared on his father’s farm in Germany, and learned the tanner’s trade. He was the first one of the family to leave the Fatherland and come to America to seek his fortune. He landed in New York in 1853, and spent several months in the United States and Canada, working at his trade, at which he was very successful. He then returned to Germany, and paid his way out of the army, he having not yet served the required time. On being released from the army he and a brother came back to America, the former securing work at his trade in Buffalo NY, and the latter engaging in work on a farm.
The two brothers went in two different directions. Friedrich eventually ended up in Perry County, marrying Caroline Eichhorn in 1862. August Boehme, the other brother, settled in Dubuque County in Iowa. One thing I find interesting is that the two areas these brothers settled have similar geographical characteristics. Look at these maps. On the left is East Perry County, and on the right is East Dubuque County in Iowa. In both cases, the Mississippi River bends toward the west.
That finally leads us to today’s birthday girl, Henrietta Boehme. She was the 3rd child of Friedrich and Caroline (Eichhorn) Boehme. She was born on April 2, 1870, making today here 150th birthday. The first two Boehme children in this family were baptized at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Altenburg. Starting with the 4th child, they were baptized at Salem Lutheran Church in Farrar, but Henrietta’s baptism record is not to be found for some reason. In the year of her birth, Henrietta can already be found in a census as an infant.
We can also find Henrietta as a 10 year-old in the 1880 census.
The last document I found that showed Henrietta living in Perry County was her 1885 confirmation record.
Henrietta’s father died in 1899. Her mother can still be found living in Perry County in the 1900 census, but Henrietta was not included in her household. Sometime in the next decade, we find Caroline moving her remaining children to Dubuque County, Iowa. She is found in the 1910 census living in that county.
I was unable to find Henrietta in the 1900 census. I looked in both Perry and Dubuque Counties. What I do know is that Henrietta got married in Iowa in 1903. She married a man by the name of Henry Sternweis. Let’s take a look at his early life.
Henry Sternweis was born on May 14, 1865, the son of Friedrich and Magdalena (Schwarz) Sternweis. Just a side note: If you look back into the family history of Henry’s mother, you find that her mother was a Dressler, who lived and died in Germany. My pastor at Trinity, Altenburg is Rev. Steven Dressler. I’m wondering if there is any connection.
Henry Sternweis can be found living in Jefferson Township in Dubuque County, Iowa in the 1870 census as a 5 year-old.
I did not find Henry in the 1880 census, but I did locate him in the Iowa state census of 1885. Henry’s father had died in 1882.
We find Henry in the 1900 census at the age of 35. He was still single and living with his mother.
On December 3, 1903, Henry Sternweis married Henrietta Boehme at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Sherrill, Iowa. We have a marriage record for this couple.
At this point, let me point out that Henrietta’s uncle, August Boehme, had also married a Sternweis. We find that information in an obituary for August when he died in 1911.
Let’s also take a look at a plat map that was produced in 1906 for Dubuque County, Iowa. On this map, you not only find the property farmed by Henry Sternweis, but the arrow points to a property owned by a Boehme.
Henry and Henrietta had 3 children. I found a baptism record for their second child, Ina, that took place at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Sherrill, Iowa.
The only census in which we find Henry and Henrietta together was the one taken in 1910. One more child was born after this census at the end of 1912.
Now I have to tell you about a horrific event that took place on August 21, 1913. In the wee hours of the morning, folks living near the Sternweis farm noticed a fire at the Sternweis property. When folks arrived at the scene, they found almost all of the farm buildings and the farmhouse consumed in flames. It did not take long for the conclusion to be made that all of the members of the Sternweis family had perished.
I was able to read an account of this tragedy that was written in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald on the 100th anniversary of this event that had the headline shown below.
If you want to read this article, you will probably have to do what I did. I paid a dollar for a one-day subscription which enabled me to find details concerning this event.
In the days following, investigators looked into the deaths. Three suspects were discussed in the article. There was an unidentified peg-leg man who had been seen wandering in this area by folks in the neighborhood, the father, and the mother. If it was Henry or Henrietta, then it almost certainly was a murder/suicide case. Eventually, the peg-leg man theory was eliminated. Since it was almost certain that it was a murder/suicide, there really wasn’t much incentive to investigate thoroughly because there was no person alive to charge with the crime. I did not find any indication in the article that there was a definite conclusion as to who was the killer. I’ll just give you my opinion. Based on the evidence shared in the newspaper article, I think it is more likely that Henrietta committed the crime.
The remains of the family members were all buried in one grave site in the St. Matthew Lutheran Cemetery in Sherrill, Iowa.
I want to share something I find very spooky. In that biographical narrative of Henrietta’s father mentioned earlier, you will find this passage:
In 1861, Mr Boehme was united in marriage with Caroline Eikeham (Eichhorn), also a native of Saxony, born in 1845. To their union have been born eight children: August, Catharine, Giltie, Adolph, Sophia, Ottilie, Julia and Patti.
The person in the list of children that was Henrietta is the one called Giltie. That makes my skin crawl.
Back in August of 2018, we published a post titled, Hammerand Carpenter, which told the story of Henrietta’s sister, Julia Boehme. In that article, I raised questions about why the Boehme’s ended up in Iowa. Now I know. Henrietta was married in 1903; Julia was married in the same church in 1911. Also, that post mentioned one of my previous pastors, Rev. Leo Wehrspann, who confirmed me and had family ties to this area. I find it interesting that this story now brings in another potential tie to my present pastor.
I gave some thought to displaying a photograph from the newspaper article on this post, giving credit to the newspaper. Then I saw the photograph below which showed up on my Facebook page this morning. It was placed there by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It was so similar to the photo shown in the newspaper, I decided to avoid copyright issues and publish this photo instead. The Synod sends a message with this image that could be applied not only to our pandemic circumstances, but also to the folks that had to deal with such a tragic event back in 1913.