After researching the characters in today’s story, I finally looked at the baptism record of the man who I identified as today’s birthday boy, only to realize that today likely was not his birthday. Our German Family Tree says that Friedrich Wilhelm Oehlert was born on November 7, 1864, the son of Gottlieb and Wilhelmine (Krause) Oehlert. Wilhelm, who was called William during his lifetime, was baptized at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Altenburg. If you look at this image of his baptism record, I think you would agree that it says he was born on November 17th, not November 7th.
I found no other documents that give William’s birth date, so I have to conclude that there is a mistake in our German Family Tree, and that William was born on November 17th. However, after investing all this time in researching him, it was either wait till the 17th to write his story and not write a post today, or write this post today anyway. I chose the latter.William is found in his first census in 1870 at the age of 8, although I think he was closer to 6. His father was a farmer in the Brazeau Township.
Next, we find William in the 1880 census at the age of 15.
Now, we will take a look at the woman who would become William’s first wife. Her name was Clara Theresia Bodenschatz, who was born on January 8, 1872. Clara was the daughter of Heinrich and Wilhelmine (Krause) Bodenschatz. Both William and Clara’s mothers were named Wilhelmine Krause, but I found no relationship between the two. Clara was baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg. We can take a look at her baptism record.
Clara is found in her only census before being married in this 1880 entry. She was 7 years old, and her father was also a farmer in the Brazeau Township.
William Oehlert married Clara Bodenschatz on August 21, 1887 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg. We can take a look at the church record for this wedding.
We can also view this couple’s marriage license. This must have been one of the last marriages performed by Rev. J.F. Koestering because he left Altenburg in 1887.
This is when the saga of William Oehlert gets a little sticky. He and Clara were married in August of 1887, and then their first child was born just 3 months later in November. That child, a daughter named Louise, was this couple’s only child together. Unfortunately, we cannot view the 1890 census to view this family. Then, in the 1890’s, a few other events took place involving William and Clara. First of all, Clara had another child in 1894, but William was not the father. The baptism record for that child is included in the books of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Altenburg. That document states that August Degenhardt was the father. That baptism record is displayed below.
Before 1896, we have evidence that William was living in Murphysboro, Illinois. It was in 1896 that William had another child, but this time, it was not Clara who was the mother. Once again, a baptism record for this child is found in the books of Immanuel, Altenburg. It says Dorothea Schirmer was the mother. It also states that William was from Murphysboro. In the last column of this document, there is a narrative that I cannot read. I know it includes Clara’s name, but I do not know what it says about her.
Let’s take a quick look at the early life of Dorothea Schirmer. She was born on October 27, 1874, the daughter of Christian and Hermine (Petzoldt) Schirmer. Dorothea was baptized at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Altenburg. We can take a look at an image of her baptism record.
Dorothea is found in the 1880 census at the age of 5. She was part of a rather large Schirmer household. Her father was a carpenter.
That brings us back to the 1890’s. Two years after this couple had a child, William Oehlert and Dorothea Schirmer were married. That marriage occurred in Missouri and was conducted by a justice of the peace. We can view that marriage license.
It appears that another child may have been born to this couple in 1897 before the above marriage. A few more children were born after they got married. In the 1900 census, we see the following Oehlert household. They were living in Murphysboro, Illinois. There were 3 children in their family. William was called a car inspector. Based upon future census entries, I think this refers to inspecting railroad cars.
In 1910, we find this Oehlert family still living in Murphysboro with the same 3 children. The daughter named Wilhelmine, is said to be 18 years old, but that cannot be correct. Perhaps it is a sloppy 13. William was called a carpenter for the railroad.
At some time before 1912, the photo below must have been taken o the Gottlieb Oehlert family in Altenburg. William and Dorothea are identified as the two in the back row on the far left. William’s father died in 1912. If this photo was taken for the 50th anniversary, that would have been 1906.
Next, we find the Oehlert’s in the 1920 census. It appears that another son, William, had been born into this family around 1917.
In the 1930 census, we see the following household for William and Dorothea. William was a repairer for the steam railroad.
Another photo was taken of some Oehlert siblings at some point in time that included William. He is the one standing in the back on the left.
William and Dorothy still had 2 sons and a grandson living with them when the 1940 census was taken. At the age of 75, William no longer had an occupation.
Both William and Dorothea were still alive and living in Murphysboro in 1950. They finally had an empty nest.
William Oehlert died in 1952 at the age of 87. We can read his obituary that was printed in a newspaper.
Dorothea Oehlert died in 1969 at the age of 95. William and Dorothea are buried together in the Tower Grove Cemetery in Murphysboro.
The life of William Oehlert certainly had some rocky moments when he was young, but things seemed to calm down later in his life. Both he and Dorothea lived long lives. Most of their time was spent in Murphysboro, but there is evidence that William got back to Perry County to spend time with his relatives.
3 thoughts on “The William Oehlert Saga”
The baptism record of Clara née Bodenschatz’s son with August Degenhardt indicates she had been abandoned by her husband (“die von ihr. Mann verlassene Mrs. Clara Oehlert”) and that the child’s birth was extramarital (“dies Kind ist von Ehebruch geboren”).
The baptism record of William Oehlert’s eldest son with Dorothea Schirmer also includes a note in the column at right: “This child is born to unmarried parents. The father, W. Oehlert, is separated from his wife, Clara née Bodenschatz, but not yet divorced. D. Schirmer lives with W. Oehlert in an unmarried partnership in Murphysboro, IL.” The actual phrase used was “lebt .. in wilder Ehe” (literally “living in a wild marriage”), which has a similar connotation to the English “living in sin”.
Lori Adams and I were intrigued by this saga a few months ago and exchanged several messages back and forth. It’s interesting to see images of the actual church records because they reveal a few more details. Our conversation began by wondering what happened to Clara Oehlert née Bodenschatz and why William and Dorothea waited until 17 Apr 1898 to marry. We identified a St. Louis death certificate, which may reveal the answer to both of those questions.
A “Clara Oehlert”, who was born in “Berry County” but had been living in St. Louis for 2½ years and was working as a “servant girl”, died on 6 Apr 1898 at 1325 Shenandoah St of “Quick Consumption” and was buried in Old St. Marcus Cemetery. Although it states she was 28 and single instead of 26 and separated, she appears to have died at her employer’s residence and we concluded social stigma may have prevented her from sharing much about the circumstances that likely brought her to St. Louis. As no US state has a Berry County, there’s still ambiguity as to whether “Perry” or “Barry” was intended instead, though Perry County is certainly much closer to St. Louis than Barry County.
Assuming it was William Oehlert’s estranged first wife who died on 6 Apr 1898, he would have no longer had any legal encumbrances preventing him from marrying Dorothea Schirmer on 17 Apr 1898. Their first son’s baptism record suggests the son was born 9 Apr 1895 in Murphysboro but his WW-I draft registration states he was born the prior year in Litchfield, IL (and that date is also supported by all his census and social security records). Neither of them appear to have had family members in Litchfield, so what would they have been doing there? Perhaps they waited until family and neighbors had more time to adjust to the situation before bringing him back home for baptism? Their second child, Wilhelmina, was born 11 Sep 1897 but doesn’t appear to have been brought back to Altenburg for baptism.
Oops, last paragraph should have said “9 Apr 1896”.
Thanks for your help, Tim. I did see that St. Louis death record, but was not sure it was the right person. Plus, my post was getting too long, so I decided to just not go there. However, I had the same thought about William getting married after his wife had died.