Table of Contents
Our Kieslich Family Genealogy
Franz and Josephine
Conrad and Maude Eva's Generation
Carl and Birdie's Generation
A Summing Up
Birr, Arthur Sr & Marguerite Engle
Chatt, Catherine M. Kieslich Stucker (Aunt Kit)
Chatt, Chatherine M. Kieslich Stucker (Aunt Kit) - 1939
Engel, Frank & Josephine
Engel, George M.
Engel, Henrietta Mae Kieslich
Engel, Josephine Fuhr Kieslich
Goff, Henrietta Julia Kieslich
Hamilton, Margaret Josephine Engel (Aunt Jo) & son Carl
Hamilton, Margaret Josphine Engle (Aunt Jo) - 1957
Kieslich Family - 4 Generations ( Ma (Mary Thomas Upshaw) Humphrey, Maude Eva, Carl & his 4 children)
Kieslich, Carl - Bellville School 1923-24
Kieslich, Carl and Birdie
Kieslich, Carl and Birdie Family
Kieslich, Conrad & Nurse in Pheonix
Kieslich, Conrad Wilhelm
Kieslich, Dr. Franz Frederick
Kieslich, Fred and Carl
Kieslich, Fred and Lilly Family
Kieslich, Frederick Charles
Kieslich, George Franz
Kieslich, George and Lillian Jack
Missouri Reformatory for Boys Administration Building
Franz Kieslich immigrated to America in 1850 and eventually established a medical practice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This story is about my Kieslich family as it proliferated from that point to the present. My father, Carl Alexander Kieslich, is a grandson of Franz Kieslich, and I am Carl’s third child.
My name is Mary Catherine, Kieslich, Kekec, the daughter of Carl and Birdie Alexander Kieslich. I was born on November 16, 1936 in Jasper County Missouri in the little community of Bell Center where my parents rented a farmhouse with a few acres. It is west of Joplin near the Missouri/Kansas state line. I went to school in Joplin and Carl Junction, Missouri where I graduated from high school in 1955. I married John Kekec on August 16, 1956, and we now have four children, twelve grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.
Family has always been very important to me. As a child sitting around the kitchen table or in the living room I heard stories about different family members, but I didn’t think to ask questions or write down the information that I received. As I grew older, got married, and had a family of our own, I wanted to know what life was like for the generations before us. I also wanted to pass along this family information to our children and grandchildren. I wanted them to know and understand their ancestors too– their motivations and how they reacted to the evolving historic events and their own personal circumstances.
To obtain this knowledge, one must search for the answers to such genealogical questions as why their ancestors came to this country, the work they did, their motivations for moving about from place to place, and the families they raised. As one learns these things they generally develop a greater understanding of their ancestors and appreciation for the history of the times. In addition, since a person’s character is influenced by their heredity as well as the environment in which they are raised, they are able to form a better understanding of themselves– more comfortable in their own skin.
Franz Kieslich married Josephine Fuhr in Wisconsin and had three children by her, one being Conrad Wilhelm Kieslich who was the father of my own father, Carl (See Appendix I). Carl also had two other brothers, George and Fred, born of Conrad and his third wife, Maude Eva.
We may not like parts of what our family’s history is, but we have to accept those parts, because it’s the way it was and can’t be changed. (1)My father, Carl, came from a broken home and was in and out of school. He was on his own most of his childhood. Conrad and Maude Eva were divorced on Nov 21, 1912, and Conrad got custody of his three boys. This was when Carl was only three years old. Just prior to this his mother, Maude Eva, ran off with a man called, Miller, so on Aug 11 of that year Conrad placed Carl and his two brothers, George and Fred, in the Joplin Children’s Home because he was unable to work and see to their care. Maude came back and stole the three
of them from the children’s home on October 10, of that year and took them to Saint Louis to live with her.
In time, things became hard and money scarce for Maude Eva’s family in Saint Louis, so they moved back to Bell Center, Missouri and rented a house just north of the Bell Center crossroads near her half sister, Minnie, and her husband, Dan Stapleton. Apparently their older brother, George, stayed with their dad over at Duenweg a lot during this period however, and Carl and Fred often visited them over there where Conrad was working in the mines. Maude Eva eventually moved the family to Kansas City, but Carl and Fred soon became unhappy there and begged their mother to let them go back to Bell Center. Brother George remained with her, but Maude Eva eventually let Carl and Fred hop a train back to Joplin to live with Minnie and Dan.
Carl and his brother, Fred, were very close growing up, but it seemed like they were always getting into trouble. When they were kids, they broke their older brother George’s, chemistry set and they knew there would be trouble with him, so they took provisions and left home. They stayed in a cave on Shoal Creek for a week. Later when they went to the store in Duenweg to get more food the grocer informed their dad.
At some time later, while playing with the sheriff’s son, they stole some dynamite and put it on the streetcar track at Duenweg. It caused an accident and they were sent to the Juvenile Correction Center at Boonville, Missouri. Carl said they were whipped with a “cap of nine tails” there. Although Carl always said that his education was from the “school of hard knocks”, he went to several different schools while living in Bell Center. These included the schools in Belleville (Zincite), the Lowell school in East Hollow, and the Chitwood School. His schooling was so sporadic and interrupted that he generally didn’t know when he had completed a grade or was promoted from one grade to the next. He just told them the grade he thought he should be in and they seemed to go along with it. He and Fred often played “hooky” and spent the day in the Ku Klux Cave on Turkey Creek in Belleville.
As Carl grew older and worked for Sherm Secrist at his filling station, he became acquainted with Birdie Davis, a neighborhood girl. Their relationship grew over time and they gradually became quite fond of each other, but perhaps seeking adventure and an opportunity for a better paying job, Carl moved back to Kansas City and worked in a tamale factory. Fred, who had moved back there earlier, had written Carl about the good paying jobs there. This was at some point in Carl’s early teens, and he lived with his brothers and mother Maude Eva. The money was nice, but the big city did not turn out to be his style. Birdie and the rural Bell Center setting were on his mind, so he didn’t stay up there very long. He decided he would come back to Bell Center and marry Birdie. Fred and his mother, Maude Eva, brought little Eva (George’s daughter) down from Kansas City with them for the wedding.(2)
Carl Alexander Kieslich married Birdie Alice Davis on December 23, 1927. She was born a Williams but was adopted by her Aunt Etta and Uncle John Davis when she was seven years old. Carl and Birdie were married in Joplin, Missouri, but for some reason their marriage was recorded in Barton County, Missouri. Carl worked for Sherm Secrist again, this time driving a truck to Pitcher, Oklahoma delivering machinery to the lead mines down there. He also still worked at Sherm’s gas station at Bell Center. There had been a boom in the lead mines around Joplin, so a year or two after the marriage, Carl worked in the mines, but it didn’t last long.
During prohibition days Carl and Fred did some bootlegging and made whiskey in a vacant house across the road from the house I was born in. They took most of the whiskey to Frontenac, Kansas to sell. Frontenac was famous for its illegal booze. Eventually some of their competitors from Chitwood came over to rob them and Uncle Fred shot one of them in the leg. After that the “still” was moved to a house in town, so one night mom told Betty Jean to watch her little brother, Carl Richard, while she went to milk the cow. That’s when she burned down that vacant house across the road from us so they wouldn’t come back in there to make more whiskey. Carl and Uncle Fred, and their friends, John Bloyed, and Justin Baer, continued to make whiskey at the house in town however. When the “Revenuers” came and arrested them there Fred took the rap because he wasn’t married at the time. Dad got Fred out of jail and paroled to him.
The stock market crashed in 1929 and the country entered into the great depression. The drought also hit the Midwest about that time and many families left their homes and farms to look for work elsewhere. Business was bad and the mines were shutting down then also; there weren’t any jobs to be found. A person couldn’t even make a living on a farm. The dust from Oklahoma and Kansas blew into Missouri and Arkansas, as it did through several other Midwestern states. The dust clouds became so bad that on April 14, 1935, a day that became known as Black Sunday, the term “Dust Bowl” was coined describing the severity of the situation.(3)
Carl and Birdie had one child and another one on the way when he finally got a job as janitor/night watchman for the telephone company in 1932. At this time brother Fred and a friend, John Bloyed were also living with them at 721 Roosevelt Street in Joplin. Carl worked his way up to be a lineman, and then later a telephone installer. Carl and Birdie had four children together: Betty Jean, born October 5, 1928; Carl Richards, born June 27, 1933; Mary Catherine (that’s me), born November 16, 1936; and Charles Allen, born February 11, 1942.
The country was still in the midst of the great depression when I was born. People were less mobile and times were hard for my family. They worked hard just to make ends meet and there wasn’t much time or inclination for visiting family in distant locations or searching the family tree. The only Kieslich connection I had growing up was with my dad’s brother, Fred, who also lived in Joplin. I had never met my Aunt Kit, but I had a connection to her because I was told that I was named after her. She sent us great gifts at Christmas, and also boxes of clothes about once a year. I knew she lived with her sister, Josephine, in Chicago. I thought she was rich and I took pride in her affection for us and in her accomplishments. These sisters of Conrad’s were my great aunts.
Even though Carl had only a fourth grade education, he wanted his children to be better educated. He bought them a set of books entitled “Books of Knowledge”, and encouraged them to read them. He read a lot to learn more himself. He wasn’t very tall, had ice blue eyes, and a red complexion. His hair receded and he lost most of his brown hair at an early age. Carl was very patriotic, as were most people during WWII. He often said he was sorry he was too old to serve in the army. He worked hard to provide for his family and was always willing to help anyone in need. He developed one outstanding problem that he could not control, and that was his drinking. I know it is possible to love someone even when they disappoint you, because Birdie loved Carl even though he often let her down and sometimes knocked her down.
In 1951 Carl and Birdie bought a 40 acre farm on the Central City/Road near Bell Center. Farming was a pastime that Carl enjoyed. He continued to work for the telephone company while raising corn, cows, pigs, and chickens. His favorite saying was, “I’m just a little boy from the country and I don’t care who knows it.” Carl developed heart trouble about the summer of 1955 and died of a heart attack on April 21, 1958. He was buried in a little country cemetery about 8mi distant from Joplin called Union (Ritchie) Cemetery in Cherokee County just over the Kansas state line near Spring River. It was the cemetery where he had buried his mother Maude Eva Kieslich in 1945.
See the appendix entitled L’il Boy from the Country for a brief further portrayal of my father’s, Carl’s, life story based on the known facts and the family stories that have been told to me. This dramatization tracks closely the events of his life and helps interject the surrounding emotions and motivations. See the appendix entitled Meet Birdie, a Country Girl for a similar brief portrayal of my mother’s, Birdie’s, life story and how these two stories mutually reinforce and intertwine.
For a conception of what life was like growing up in these times in our parent’s households, see The Way It Was, a separate random collection of anecdotal short stories about our early childhoods that we wrote previously.
There will necessarily be some repetition of dates and events in this family story due to the overlapping and interplay of the various lives as they are told and viewed from their different perspectives.
1. During a recent telephone conversation Mary’s brother Carl R. told her to be careful what she unraveled with her genealogy; she might not like it.
2. It is thought that brother George was in prison at this time.
Much was written about the strife it brought in such books as John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, and Woody Guthrie’s Bound For Glory.
Our Kieslich Family Genealogy
I was told that when my mother was expecting me (1936), dad wrote to his Aunt Kit (Catherine Chatt) in Chicago asking about his Kieslich family, because he had only the slightest knowledge and recollection of them. At this point in his life he must have felt a void in his knowledge of family history. Gradually he picked up fragments of information here and there regarding his ancestors, but really not much.
Much later, in the mid 1950’s, Carl’s older brother, George, also became interested in genealogy. By this time he had married Lillian Jäck who was very family oriented and interested in her family heritage. In the early 60’s this Uncle George Kieslich had started a vigorous search for his roots by contacting other family members and historical societies.(4) I wasn’t very much interested in genealogy at the time because I was a young wife and mother busy keeping house and raising a family. I thought George was just interested because he and his latest wife, Lillian, were making a trip to Germany in 1965 to visit their Jäck and Kieslich family relatives. Lillian’s father, Rudy, lived with them (or they with him, because he was quite well to do) and he accompanied them, and probably footed much of the expenses of the trip, although Lillian had a secretarial job with the Kaiser Engineering Company. Rudy had come to America from Prussia and probably had family and many contacts that were still over there. They made a return visit in 1967.
Family stories, especially from my mother, have been a very valuable resource. From the personal contact as well as considerable correspondence over the years much has been learned. The following excerpt from a response (dated Jan 31, 1982) from her regarding my genealogy questions serves as an example of this in her own words (abbreviated and paraphrased somewhat).
I got your letter but you are out of luck asking me about George’s wives. He married the one in Kansas City and two daughters were born. One of them he never claimed, saying she got her when he was in prison, so he came home and started drumming up business for her. I think his mother, Maude Eva, and George ran a whorehouse in Kansas City about the time Carl and I were married. When we were married Fred and Eva came down and brought George’s daughter, little Eva with them.
About the second month I was pregnant with your brother, Carl Richard, George came over to our house where we were living on Roosevelt Avenue and said he was on dope. He wanted to stay with us until he could kick his habit, and then he was going back to San Francisco to marry a girl by the name of Connie. She was a beauty operator, owned her own shop, and had taught George to be a hair remover operator. She would not marry George until he straightened up. He stayed with us, and that was when dad had just gone to work as a night janitor at as S.W. Bell. I took care of George for about two weeks just about like a baby and got him lined out. Then he went back to San Francisco, and we moved out to the farm where Carl Richard and you were born.
I didn’t hear from him again until he got arrested with his mom again for smuggling dope from Old Mexico. They were living in Phoenix at the time and the court took little Eva and put her in a foster home. They sent George and Maude Eva to the prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I don’t know how long they were in the pen this time. Later your dad got them paroled to him out here at the farm. After George got out and came it was not long until dad cashed in his A.T. &T. stock and set him and Fred up in bootlegging. They made bootleg whiskey in a vacant house across the road from us.
Then George took a notion to go back to Phoenix and steal little Eva, which he did, and took her back to Kansas City with him. Maude Eva would not stay with us at the farm when George was gone; she went to town and then to Kansas City and then back to Phoenix where she died. I am just skimming over all this; there is a lot more to be told about it.
After all this George went down to Oklahoma and married a young schoolteacher, but I don’t know her name. He never stayed with her long. He would just drop in on us every now and then. I don’t know how he met Aunt Lillian, but the next thing we knew he married her because she had a good job, and her dad had money. He sent them to Acapulco, Mexico for their honeymoon. I never knew whether Lillian knew all this about George or not. If it is in his boxes of history that he has gathered then when you get them we will know then.
Fred had been working in Kansas City, and he got out of work and came to us at the farm the night Carl Richard was born. Fred made whiskey with John Bloyed after George left, and, after John left and started driving a cab for Herman, Fred made it with Justin Baer. They got caught by the law and Fred took the rap because he was not married at that time. To get him out, dad got him paroled to us. Every time any of them got in trouble it cost us a lawyer fee and when they got paroled it cost us again. You can see why we never had any money.
Fred met Lilly Purscelley and she straightened him out from then on. Fred had no children of his own, but Lilly had three children of her own by a prior marriage. Their names were Agnes, Ray, and Bob. Their dad had deserted them quite a while before she had met Fred. Agnes and Ray are out in Springfield, Oregon, but no one knows where Bob is. He was only about ten or twelve years old when Lilly and Fred got married. He always thought a lot of Fred. He just up and left home out there in Cottage Grove, Oregon one day, and he didn’t even come home for Lilly and Fred’s funerals.
At any rate, suffice it to say that, from all of these family sources over the years, a foundation for the Kieslich family history was gathered. Of course in more recent years the access to large amounts of digitized genealogy and historic records on internet has made it possible to fill in the gaps
4. We know that George received considerable family information from his Aunt Kit and Aunt Jo in Chicago in 1962 and from the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1964 along with other assorted responses from correspondence.