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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

52 Ancestors # 27: Wilhelmina Elisabeth Pluecker Fermazin


My dad always referred to Grandma Minnie as his “mean grandmother”.  I feel that was a misnomer. Misnomer is from the French indicating a lack of fit when it comes to naming according to Webster. So I am going to tell you why. I did not know Great Grandma Minnie. I think I only met her twice.  However, I have researched her and talked to my Dad's cousin Char and gained insight into Minnie's life and times. I gained great admiration and respect for her.
 Minnie did not like my dad and his sister talking at the dinner table or interrupting when she was visiting. Dad said she always told Grandpa that “children should be seen and not heard.” Dad and his sister, Lola, cowered whenever Grandma Minnie spoke.
            One remembrance that Dad told was when I was born: Grandma Minnie sent Dad’s  uncle Leonard to Copley Memorial Hospital that day.
“Robert, are you going to raise her Catholic or Lutheran?”
A long silence ensued. No answer.
Leonard raised his voice. “Are you going to raise her Catholic or Lutheran? Ma wants to know.”
More silence.
With his hands clasped on his lap and head staring down at the floor, Dad mumbled, “I guess, Catholic.”
Leonard yelled, “That’s it then!” and  stomped out of the room.
Mom just sat there holding me and staring at Dad.
Not everyone saw Minnie in the same way. My Dad’s cousin Charalways described Grandma Minnie as warm and gracious. She spoke fondly of Minnie and loved her dearly.  After Minnie’s death, Char rescued Minnie’s set of Lenox fine china, which surely would have been tableware for her sister, Nettie’s cats otherwise.
          Char was raised Lutheran.  Maybe that made a difference. Grandma Minnie taught Bible studies, worked the women’s annual boutique, and sewed quilts and blankets for St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Char’s husband and Grandpa were deacons in the church. Grandpa raised my Dad and Lola as Catholic, only because Grandma was Catholic but he was not anti-Catholic, like Minnie. Grandpa used to transport the nuns to the grocery store and shopping in his old Packard, but he never
Fermazin Ancestry: Robert August Fermazin

Figure 1: Grandpa’s car
converted to Catholicism out of respect for Minnie.
      Wilhelmina Elisabeth Pluecker was the daughter of immigrant Germans who came from the village of Kohlgrund in Fulda area of the Hesse, Germany. 

Figure 2: Kohlgrund, Germany is 40 miles north west of Kassel, Germany.
Hessians.  The Pluecker’s  settled in Aurora, Illinois in 1868, 40 miles west of Chicago. In 1885 Minnie married Charles Fermazin who was an immigrant from Popowo, Posen, Prussia in1876.  He arrived at age 9 and met and married Minnie when he was 20 years old. She was 18. They made their home in Aurora for four years. He was raised on a farm so in 1889, when the opportunity presented itself for the family to farm in Minnesota, they took it. Charles’ half-sister Caroline Steingraber was living in Lakefield, Minnesota so this paved the way for them to settle there.  
       Lakefield had many things to offer. It was a  German Lutheran community with rich farmland at cheap prices. Lakefield had electricity, a dentist office, a hospital, a grain mill, a train station, and in 1897, telephones  and a high school, which would give the older children the opportunity to receive a high school education. The children received their primary education in a one-room schoolhouse.
Fermazin Ancestry: Lakefield Minnesota

Figure 3: Lakefield, Minnesota. One room schoolhouse.
Lakefield, Minnesota 1900-1908 Coutesy of Jackson Historical Society
Figure 4: Lakefield, Minnesota 1900-1905. Coutesy of Jackson Historical Society.

Lakefield, Minnesota 1900-1908 Coutesy of Jackson Historical Society

Figure 5: Lakefield, Minnesota 1900-1905. Courtesy of Jackson Historical Society. 

                   Relatives, German culture, and a Lutheran community  may have been the reason for moving with the chance to farm and raise their children in the open spaces of  Lakefield. German families that moved from Illinois to Minnesota also moved because of economic reasons. Their families were growing and they needed more land. In many cases the land they had in Illinois was more valuable so they could sell off the land there and buy more acres with the same amount of money. Minnie and Charles took the opportunity to lease a 215-acre farm and moved with their three children.  Four more children followed.
            Working the land and being a farmer’s wife was new for Minnie. She wasn’t a big woman. She was about 4’11 inches tall weighing 100 pounds soaking wet.  Like many nineteenth-century women, she dedicated herself to her family. Her experience may be understood only when we give full credit to the respect she herself gave to her role as a wife and mother. And like other frontier women, she believed that hard work, religious faith, and land ownership were prerequisites for family prosperity. 
The family attended church on Sunday in town at Immanuel Lutheran. I pictured Minnie on most days,  waking up before four, making breakfast of eggs sunny side up, fried potatoes, and toast with coffee and fruit.  I imagined that every morning upon awakening she dressed, donned a hairnet to pull her blond hair back, and put on her large flowered apron with a big pocket on each side. She skimmed milk, churned butter, did large washings, and tended her garden.  On some days she baked as many as six loaves of bread, and seven pies. While baking and doing the ironing she made supper, and tended the chickens. Besides washing all the dishes, making the beds, and sweeping floors. she sometimes made 100 pounds of butter, sold eggs and canned. 
All of this was done in addition to caring for her seven children, four boys and three girls ranging in age from two years to fourteen years. Despite days filled with varied activities and surrounded by her children, Minnie missed her mother and sisters. She wrote letters to them, which still exist, where she described her busy life  and mentioned her loneliness.  Winters in southeastern Minnesota were harsh. In 1894, the average temperature was 4.5 degrees, sometimes dropping to 15 degrees below zero with six feet of snow. One of the coldest recorded years was 1907 when the temperature was minus 15 degrees with six feet of snow on Easter Sunday. The fifteen years Minnie and Charles spent in Minnesota were difficult. Besides mild to severe winters, they endured economic to lean years.

They were taxed on their personal property. The value ranged from $ 139.00 to $ 321.00 with taxes from $ 1.17 to $ 2.88 per year. The value of their taxes reflected the amount of their livestock. They owned twelve head of horses,  four geldings, four mares, and four colts and four head of milking cows. Other equipment they owned were a buggy, a lumber wagon, two cultivators and a McCormick saw.
Fermazin Ancestry: Charles Fermazin selling farm Lakefield Minnesota 1906

Figure 6: Bill of Sale Fermazin selling equipment and stock.

      Why do I think my Dad misunderstood Minnie. I don't think he knew how harsh life was for her on the prairie and how difficult it was to raise seven children after her husband died in 1913. How lonely she must have been after the love of her life passed away. Minnie never remarried but she stayed involved with life and her church. Her boys became deacons in the Lutheran Church. That must have been a wonderful feeling for Minnie.   She truly is one to be admired. I admire her so much for all she gave us: family, religion, work ethic, love,  and our heritage.

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Copyright 2014 Nancy Fermazin Peralta