Selma’s Own Boarding House

I am sure most people can point to some aspect of their own childhood that helped prepare them for their future livelihood.  I think one of today’s main characters was such a person whose childhood prepared her for her future as a housekeeper.  Here is why.  Selma Nennert grew up in a hotel/boarding house.  She would later have 12 children living under her house’s roof at the same time.  For her, it must have been like having her own boarding house.

Selma was born with the name Wilhelmine Salome Nennert.  Almost all documents containing her name call her Selma.  She was the daughter of Friedrich and Amalia (Naeser) Nennert.  She was born on January 25, 1862.  Below is her baptism record from Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg.

Selma Nennert baptism record Trinity Altenburg MO
Selma Nennert baptism record – Trinity, Altenburg, MO

When she was 8 years old, Selma showed up in the 1870 census.  This entry shows several Nennert children, but also quite a few individuals who were living in her parents’ hotel.

Selma Nennert 1870 census Wittenberg MO
1870 census – Wittenberg, MO

In this early photo of Wittenberg taken from the viewpoint of the Mississippi River, you see the Nennert Hotel.  It is the big white building on the left of the photo.

Wittenberg riverfront before 1907 X
Wittenberg riverfront

A hotel such as the Nennert Hotel in Wittenberg was very much similar to today’s hotels where the guests are just staying on their travels.  Many hotel rooms were occupied by boarders who had local occupations.  These hotels were more like boarding houses than what we now consider hotels.  In such a situation, it was necessary for the hotel to provide meals for their boarders.  Perhaps services such as laundry and housecleaning were part of the hotel’s business.  Selma grew up in that kind of environment.  I can just imagine Selma helping prepare and serve meals in that hotel where there was a rather large crowd seated at tables in a dining room for a meal.

Selma is once again found living in Wittenberg in the 1880 census.  Her father had died early in 1880, so he is no longer found in this entry.  Although we see no reference to a hotel in this entry, I am certain the house in which they were living was still a hotel/boarding house.  Selma, at age 18, was called a house keeper.

Selma Nennert 1880 census Wittenberg MO
1880 census – Wittenberg, MO

Now, we turn our attention to Selma’s future husband.  His full name was Christian Friedrich Erdman Gemeinhardt, although he was shown on most forms as Fritz or Fred.  He was the son of Friedrich and Christiane (Karl) Gemeinhardt and born in Germany.  Two different future census records give an immigration year.  One says he came to America in 1870; the other says 1879.  We find Fritz in the 1880 census living in the household of August Lueders as a farm worker.  The Lueders family lived in Frohna where August operated the Lueders Store.

Friedrich Gemeinhardt 1880 census Brazeau Township MO
1880 census – Brazeau Township, MO

Fritz became a naturalized citizen in 1883, the same year in which he was married.

Fritz Gemeinhardt and Selma Nennert would recognize today’s date, April 8, as their wedding anniversary.  Their marriage record can be found in the books of Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg, but I think it is more likely that they were married in the church/school building located in Wittenberg.  Here is their marriage record.

Gemeinhardt Nennert marriage record Trinity Altenburg MO
Gemeinhardt/Nennert marriage record – Trinity, Altenburg, MO

I could easily be wrong about this, but here is what I think happened.  Rev. J.F. Koestering was the pastor at Trinity.  I’m thinking that he conducted the regular Sunday morning worship in Altenburg on April 8th.  Then in the afternoon, he traveled to Wittenberg to conduct their Sunday service.  Perhaps after that service, the wedding ceremony for Fritz and Selma took place.

In a previous post about one of the Gemeinhardt children, I showed this list of years in which children were born into their family.  The ones with asterisks did not live long.  You will count 14 years on the list.


The first 13 children have their baptism records in the Trinity church books (except for the 1891 birth which is mysteriously missing).  The 13th child, born in 1901, is in the Trinity books, but it says Rev. Ph.S. Estel performed the baptism.  Rev. Estel, who had roots in Wittenberg, was the pastor across the river at Christ Lutheran Church in Jacob, Illinois.

An official congregation got started in Wittenberg in 1903.  That was St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.  The Gemeinhardt’s last child was one of the first children to be baptized in that congregation.  The birth and baptism of that child are included in my book, Wittenberg ’03: The Coming of a Church.

We first find the Gemeinhardt family in the 1900 census.  We see in the list of dates shown earlier that 12 of their 14 children had been born by 1900, with two of them that did not survive.  We find 10 children in this census record, and Fritz was a cooper, a barrel maker.

Friedrich Gemeinhardt 1900 census Brazeau Township MO
1900 census – Brazeau Township, MO

In 1903, Selma gave birth to her last child, Clarence Gemeinhardt.  The story of that child was told in the post, Selma’s Last.  It must have been around 1903-1904 that a wonderful photograph was taken of the Gemeinhardt family.  The family apparently decided to put the 7 females on the left and the 7 males on the right.  I find this photo especially helpful  personally because my book, Wittenberg ’03, and the upcoming book, Wittenberg ’04, highlight those years.  There are two Gemeinhardt children, along with their parents, who are main characters in my books included in this photo.

Frederick Fritz Gemeinhardt family
Fritz Gemeinhardt family

The children highlighted in my book are Laura, who is standing behind Selma next to the pillar, and Walter, who is standing on the far right.  According to my calculations, all 12 of these children lived under the roof of the house in the background at that time.  This would be the group that I tried to describe in the title of this post, Selma’s Own Boarding House.  Can you picture the dinner table including all these characters, with Fritz sitting on one end of that table and Selma on the other?

We find the Gemeinhardt couple in the next 3 census records.  Then in one more after that, we find just Fritz.  Let’s take a look at those census entries.  First, here is the 1910 census.  Fritz is now an engineer at the flour mill.

Friedrich Gemeinhardt 1910 census Brazeau Township MO
1910 census – Brazeau Township, MO

Next, here is the census taken in 1920.  At age 67, Fritz was working at the swing factory in Wittenberg.

Friedrich Gemeinhardt 1920 census Brazeau Township MO
1920 census – Brazeau Township, MO

The last census in which we find Selma was the one in 1930.

Friedrich Gemeinhardt 1930 census Brazeau Township MO
1930 census – Brazeau Township, MO

Selma Gemeinhardt died in 1931 at the age of 67 (almost 68).  We can view her death certificate.

Selma Gemeinhardt death certificate
Selma Gemeinhardt death certificate

Fritz can still be found in the 1940 census living with his son, Walter.

Friedrich Gemeinhardt 1940 census Brazeau Township MO
1940 census – Brazeau Township, MO

Fritz Gemeinhardt died in 1943 at the age of 90.  Here is his death certificate.

Friedrich Gemeinhardt death certificate
Fritz Gemeinhardt death certificate

Both Fritz and Selma are buried in the St. Paul’s Lutheran Cemetery in Wittenberg.

I like to think of Selma as an apprentice boarding house proprietor when she was growing up in the Nennert Hotel.   That training must have served her well when she ran the Gemeinhardt House.




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