Monday, August 25, 2008

Biographies of Henry Bartels and Adele Bartels

Frank Henry Bartels

Born in Milwaukee 6 December 1869, Henry was the first child of immigrants Ferdinand and Maria Bartels.[1] He spoke German as his primary language in the home and among fellow parishioners at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. German became his children’s primary language as well. Henry became a master plumber, and his plumbing business “Bartels and Sons” served many German-Americans although his Polish neighbors also frequently employed his services.[2] When his Polish clientele continued to increase, Henry studied the Polish language to better communicate with his customers. This knowledge, too, he shared with his children.[3]

Henry Bartels chose a German-American woman for his first wife, although his cultural background would have less of an influence on his later remarriage. His first wife, Frances “Fanny” Reiniger, was also from Milwaukee. They were married 9 Aug 1898.[4] Fanny developed thyroid problems, including a visible goiter around her neck. The goiter eventually grew too large and suffocated her. She died 1927.[5] A few years later, Henry remarried the widow Theresa “Tess” ne√® Vollmer, a Polish-American.

Henry was a very tolerant man. Henry’s daughter, Gertrude, remembered her father as “a good husband and family provider.” Granddaughter, Audrey Collette recalled the mischievous side of her grandfather: “Grandpa Henry had a clear mind and was always full of the dickens.”[6] His daily ritual consisted of consuming a pint of chocolate ice cream and a pint of beer, which Collette recalled would usually be in conjunction with watching a baseball game.

Adele Marie Bartels

On 11 February 1906, Henry and Fanny Bartels baptized their oldest daughter at St. Anthony’s Church in Milwaukee and gave her the name “Adele Maria Bartels,” perhaps in honor of Henry’s sister-in-law, Wanda Adele Bartels, who served as godmother. [7] (On other ecclesiastical and civil documents, her middle name changed to “Marie” instead of “Maria.”) Later on in life, Adele began spelling her name as “Adell,” an Americanized version of her German name. She used this new spelling throughout the remainder of her life, including on her marriage certificate in 1927.[8]

Adele worked at the Holproof Hosiery factory in Milwaukee until age 18, when her mother died unexpectedly; then she assumed matriarchal duties in the family, taking care of the children and running her father’s plumbing store.[9] Adele worked at many occupations; at the time of her marriage to John Erickson, she was employed as a bookkeeper.[10] While Adele, her sisters Gertrude and Alberta, and their sister-in-law Dorothy, also worked outside the home, the other wives in the family stayed at home.[11]

Adele married John Peter “Jack” Erickson, a Swedish immigrant she met at a dance at the Southside Armory on Mitchell Street that both regularly attended. They courted for three years before their marriage in 1927. Adele reportedly believed there was only one qualification for a good spouse: that he was a good person. Jack evidently was “a good person” and they spent almost 52 years together before his death in 1979.[12]

Growing up, her family spoke primarily German in the home. They associated with other Germans in their neighborhood, in various societies, and at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, a German parish. (Although mass was in Latin, all of the other services were performed in German.) With her brothers and sisters, Adele attended St. Anthony’s parochial school up to the eighth grade. The nuns instructed the children in German and taught the children the basics, including German history and culture; this German instruction continued during the war.[13] Years later when Adele and Jack raised her sister Alberta’s child, Audrey learned German before English. [14] However, Adele spoke English as a considerate gesture for her husband, and when family came to visit on Sundays, the in-laws who were not conversant in German. She respected her in-laws and wanted them to feel included in the family.[15]

Family relationships were important to Adele. As the oldest daughter, she organized frequent family gatherings and was the focal point of the family. On Sunday afternoons, her siblings and their families, father Henry, and sometimes Henry’s brother George and his wife, Wanda, would come to Adele and Jack’s home for Sunday dinner. Music also brought the Bartels family together. The entire Bartels family would roll up the carpet in the living room and dance the schottische to accordion music, usually provided by Adele’s brother, Norbert.[16] Though she belonged to the Bavarian Club and Steuben Society, Adele was not an active member because it would take time from her family. Her family always came first.[17]


[1] Frank Henry Bartels, birth, Milwaukee County Birth Records, microfilm no. 1011984 (Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah), vol. J, p. 106.
[2] Henry’s youngest daughter, Gertrude, remembered her father fondly. “A sound that reminds me of my childhood is running water. Opening and closing a faucet is a constant reminder of my father who was a plumber” (Gertrude [Bartels] Lewis, letter to author, 8 September 1998).
[3] Collette, telephone interview, 9. April 2001.
[4] Henry Bartels-Frances Reiniger marriage, Milwaukee County Marriage Records, microfilm no. 1014003 (Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah), vol. 120, p. 403.
[5] Frances Bartels death, Milwaukee County Courthouse, vol. 547, p. 238. Certificate in possession of author; Collette, telephone interview, 9. April 2001.
[6] Gertrude Lewis, letter to author; Audrey Collette, telephone interview, 9. April 2001.
[7] St. Anthony’s Catholic Church (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). Church records, 11 Feb 1906, “Adele Maria Bartels,” vol. 3, p. 164.
[8] John Erickson-Adell Bartels, Marriage Certificate, 16. Aug 1927, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, License No. 121262. Certificate in possession of the author.
[9] Collette, telephone interview, 9. April 2001.
[10] Erickson-Bartels marriage certificate (1927).
[11] Audrey Collette, telephone interview, 9. April 2001.
[12] John Erickson’s Death Certificate; Adele and Jack were unable to have children.
[13] Audrey (Bartels) Collette, telephone interview, 9 April 2001. St. Anthony’s parish was unique in the city of Milwaukee. Only the second congregation in the city established specifically for Germans, Father Anthon Decker organized it in 1872 on Milwaukee’s south side to meet the needs of the ever-expanding German population. Father Decker intended that the structure also be used as a parochial school to instruct the parish children in both gospel and the German tongue. In 1896, seven hundred and fifty families attended the parish and eight hundred of their children attended parochial school. See Harry H. Heming, The Catholic Church in Wisconsin (Milwaukee, WI: Catholic Historical Publications), 1896, 323-24; and History of Milwaukee (Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1881), 912, 915).
[14] Audrey Collette, telephone interview, 9. April 2001.
[15] Collette, letter dated July 2001.
[16] Collette, letter dated July 2001, part 2.
[17] Collette, letter dated July 2001; Ibid., part 2.

1 comment:

Family Genealogist said...

Thank you for the biography of Henry Bartels. Henry's second wife, Theresa Vollmer, was actually of German background, rather than Polish as stated in the biography. Theresa's parents, Sebastian Vollmer and Magdalena Geldreich were born near Oberkirch, Baden and emigrated to Milwaukee shortly before Theresa was born. I have researched Theresa because she is related to my husband's family.