Monday, January 3, 2011

My Genealogy Christmas Present

by Gray

Prologue: Where did I come from?

That is a question that I have carried inside for practically all my life. It seems that I have always been curious about my parents, siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and the many preceding them. Many, perhaps most, people do not often think about such things. But I do.

Many stories have been found over the years. Occasionally, a story affects me in a very personal way.  

This is one such story.

Part I. Tragedy in the young life of Minnie Klein.

Minnie Klein was baptized in the old Reformed Church in the village of Mimbach, a short distance from Bierbach
John Klein was my great-great grandfather on my mother’s side.  He arrived in 1872, in Dayton, Ohio from the small town of Bierbach, not far from the Saar river along the French-German border.  

John arrived with his sister, Katherine Klein, his wife, born Margaretha Hussong, and their six children. One of the children, Minnie Klein, age thirteen, was my great-grandmother.

John had worked sporadically as a day laborer. The work was hard. On the last day of his life, John had worked for the Haas Brothers threshing grain by hand. It was only one year after arriving in Dayton that he drowned in the Miami Erie canal, leaving behind his sister, wife and six children. These women and children spoke German, they were not yet U.S. citizens. Suddenly they were on their own. 

Part II. Enter Mr. Schwind, Katherine Klein and Joseph Henn – Godfather, new mother and husband.

Celestine Schwind was the owner and proprietor of the Dayton View Brewery, a wealthy and powerful figure in the community. His imposing mansion was a landmark well into the 20th century. This grand home was also the spot where the Dayton Ballet began.

Mr. Schwind hired young Minnie’s Aunt Katherine Klein as his housekeeper.  This decision by Mr. Schwind made it possible for Katherine to take over the care for the two oldest children, including my great grandmother Minnie. 

The Schwind Mansion.

Katherine truly became their new mother; so much so that our family trees trace back to Katherine as a “mother” rather than an aunt. After the children had grown, at the age of 47, she married Martin Autz, and lived on their small dairy farm very close to Emmanuel Catholic Church.  (Today, the C-J high school stadium encompasses that farm land.)

After Martin died, Katherine moved in with Minnie in a house in Old North Dayton.  Minnie's husband, Joseph, built that house.  It's still in the family.

Joseph Henn was my great grandfather. His father was the Mayor of Laudenberg, a village in an area of forests and meadows in Germany called the Odenwald. 

Picnic shelter in the forest near Laudenberg.

Joseph had arrived to Dayton in 1870, two years before the Klein family. He was a stable hand on the Hussong farm. Minnie's uncle owned that farm. 

Mr. Schwind signed the naturalization paper for Joseph Henn in 1874.  The secret, and it's a big one, can now be told:  Joseph applied for citizenship one year too early, falsely stating the year he arrived. If this deception were caught, Joseph's future would have been in jeopardy. Hmm. . . perhaps, as a mayor's son, Joseph had a sense about this: The formidable Celestine Schwind would sign these papers. Who would dare risk a confrontation with Mr. Schwind?

In our family history, Mr. Schwind was a great man. When he hired Aunt Katherine as housekeeper, he rescued my teen-aged great-grandmother from destitution. With his signature, he secured citizenship for my young great-grandfather.

Mr. Celestine Schwind was our family's benevolent godfather.   

Celestine Schwind

Part III. The search for Celestine Schwind’s descendants.

For years, I have hoped to tell this story to a descendant of Celestine Schwind.  In my imagination, I would close with these words: “On behalf of my family to yours:  Thank you for what you have done for us.”

Dayton can feel like a small town. I expected to find Celestine’s descendants sooner or later, but the prize proved stubbornly elusive. I found no Schwind names in the phone book. There is a Schwind building in downtown Dayton, but it does not trace back directly to Celestine, but to a sibling. In my research of old breweries of Dayton, I had at last found a descendant of brewer who married into the Schwind family. He was friendly, but said, “Sorry, I am not a direct descendant of Celestine Schwind; he was a distant uncle by marriage.” Just last month, I met a woman with that surname, but her Schwind family had moved here fairly recently: they’re not the same family.

And yet I still think this is a good story. Will I ever meet a descendant of Celestine Schwind?

In his day, Celestine Schwind was a member of Emmanuel Catholic Church.   These days, my wife, Marie, and I are very involved in that same church.

Historic Emmanuel Catholic Church.
Traditional Christmas Eve at Emmanuel Church -  2010.
On December 25, 2010, my wife’s cousin, visited for Christmas Mass.  Among many things, she is a book publisher, historian, and genealogist.  She has a Dayton history book in preparation, which easily led to a conversation about the rich history of the church and neighborhood. I gestured towards the former farm land where Katherine Klein once lived with her husband Martin. She wanted to know more.

The next day, December 26, 2010  the conversation continued by email.  Again, I told the story of Minnie, Aunt Katherine, and the benevolent Mr. Schwind. She compared it to her own research, and sent me this e-mail message in reply:

“I have news for you. Your wife, Marie, is a descendant of the father-in-law of Celestine Schwind.”

The quest for a direct descendant continues. The real prize remains elusive, but it is certain that day will come.  

Epilogue: How we fit together

·       Celestine Schwind was my wife’s second great grand uncle  or "great-great-uncle."
·        John Klein was my second great grandfather.
·        Katherine Klein was sister to John, but became in an adoptive sense my second great grandmother.
·       Celestine Schwind hired Katherine Klein, and thus saved our family from destitution.  He helped my great grandfather Joseph Henn to become a U.S. citizen.

Now, I close with this message to Mr. Schwind, as I hope to say some day to one of his descendants:
“On behalf of my family to yours:  Thank you for what you have done for us.”

Christmas, 2010

Gray, our son Micah, and Marie.
2012 UPDATE - At last!
On Saturday, June 9, 2012, Dayton's Calvary Cemetery hosted a Dayton Brewing Heritage Tour in conjunction with Dayton History/Carillon Park and the Miami Valley Chapter of the Brewery Collectors Club of America.  Events included food, beer (at the adjacent Carillon Park), a tour of the often luxuriant gravesites of the local Dayton Beer Brewers and a unusual opportunity to meet with people with a special interest in these families.  

This was the day that I finally met Mr. Schwind's descendants:  two of Celestine Schwind's Great Granddaughters (now living in Chillicothe, Ohio), and his Great Great Grandson (who lives in the Dayton area).  Of course, they were touched by the story of Mr..Schwind adopting my Klein family into his home and life.  One of them said, "let's stand together for a family photo!"  

 The Schwind-Klein family connection:  Established 1873.  Re-established 2012.

“On behalf of my family to yours:  Thank you for what you have done for us.”

Summer, 2012


  1. OH. MY. GOSH! Gray, I was bawling my eyes out by the time I finished reading this! There is no way that this story is not going to go viral, and be all over the Internet in a matter of weeks!
    Just UNBELIEVABLE!!! ~b

  2. Gray,
    This is a beautiful and inspiring story. I have to feel personally touched by this, too, as a family member-- and grateful for the kindnesses of so many we do not know who have gone before us and affected our lives in ways we will need an eternity to discover. I just hope we can leave similar legacies for those who will follow after us.

  3. Wow---now THAT is an awesome story. You're off to a great start!

  4. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

  5. You sure kicked off your blog with a captivating story! Thanks for sharing. You've added to my motivation to dig up my history. Good luck and I'll be waiting to hear more.

  6. So glad you finally met them! I was beginning to wonder if he had any living descendants. That's really awesome.