WANTED: Home For Orphans

We have a cousin on the John side of the family that has been searching for years for evidence of the death of his great grandfather Jacob Wilhelm (aka Williams). To this date he hasn’t found one. Unfortunately this post will not be able answer that question.

When this cousin and I met years ago he shared with me letters that Frederick William John was sending to Lorig/Lorek, and an unknown William, all in regards to his grandson Alfred’s adoption by the Lorig family. You see, his eldest daughter Clara had died, and she had three boys, ranging in age from 11 to a couple of months old, who were now orphans. He was trying to find them homes. Clara had divorced her first husband, and her second husband had disappeared.

Oconto County Reporter, October 10, 1885 
Wilhelm Died
In this city, Sunday, October 6th, 1885, of a tumor, Mrs. Clara E. Wilhelm, in the thirty-third year of her age. 

The deceased was the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. F. W. John, of Gillett, in this county and was born in the city of Milwaukee, from which city she moved with her parents to this county when she was a mere child and which was her home until her marriage to him who now morns her departure from home circle in the town of Hartland, Shawano County. She had been a great sufferer from the tumor which caused her death for many months, and was brought to this city the Thursday proceeding her demise for the purpose of having the tumor removed, but sank so rapidly no operation could be performed, and death came to her relief. Her remains were taken to the home of her parents at Gillett, Monday, and the funeral services held at that place Tuesday afternoon, being largely attended by the friends of her childhood and matured years. 

She was a most excellent woman, and in her death, her husband loses the help of a devoted wife, her three children the care and training of an affectionate mother, her parents the society of a dutiful daughter, and her brothers and sisters the encouragement and advice of an older sister. All have the sympathy of their neighbors and friends in their great bereavement.

Clara’s parents William and Johanna, took care of the children after Clara died and in the letter below you can see that a little over a year later they are looking for homes for at least Arthur. (Although they might have written letters to other family, or family friends, looking for homes for Chester and Truman also. If they did, we have no record of those letters.) As William and Johanna were in their early fifties at this time, it was possibly quite a stressful task taking care of these young three boys.

Gillett May 9, 1887
Friend Lorig,
If this letter will reach you in good health we will be very grateful. As far as we are concerned everyone is fine. I have taken care of everything here as far as the children are concerned and what remains to be done is for you to go to the County Judge in Milwaukee and submit a petition for the child and everything will take care if itself. Legal guardian F. W. John the child’s name Alfred Wilhelm born on November 4, 1884.
We do not know where the father of the children now resides. Since their mother died the children have not seen him. The mother died October 4 1885. The children are all in my care in the Town of Gillett in Oconto County. I am telling you that so you might be able to answer questions they might put to you.
Greeting from all of us to all who ask how we are and write when everything is taken care of.
Your friend F. W. John

Gillett June 1, 1887
Friend William,
I want to let you know that we are all well here, we also feel better because we have had some rain in the last few days, it was quite dry and nothing would grow, and it did not look to well for us. Now it is better. We had a great forest fire and thousand of acres burned up. I also want to know if P. Lorek received my letter and if he saw the County Judge to give him the application I would like the little poor one get a good place, because at Alfred’s are two kinds of children and you must know how that goes.
In the hope that this letter will reach you in good health I remain your good friend F. W. John and Johnna John.

Greetings to all and please answer soon.

Gillett June 7, 1887
Friend Lorek [ing?]
Received your letter today and saw that you all are happy and well which makes us very glad, we also are thank God well and the food tastes good to us.
Dear friend, the petitions is nothing else but a declaration that you consider the child your own (adopt it?) and that it is recognized by the court as your own and later can demand inheritance rights. I know the child is in good hands at your house, because my wife told me about you and William Donsing I know myself and trust in his children. If you want the child you can get it for some time. All you have to do is decide if you want to get it or if we should bring it. If you want to come we would be delighted. Write as soon as possible and let me know if you are coming or if I should bring the child. Greetings and we remain your friends.
F.W. John
[P.S.] If I come we will write the letter there and if not we will do it here.

Gillett December 19, 1887
Friend Lorig,
I should have written a long time ago but I put it off. When Mrs. Gale came from Milwaukee she told us that you wanted to come for a visit and so I didn’t write, because we really thought that you would come Thanksgiving. But we waited in vain. We are happy to hear that mother father and son are well and we wish you much happiness and health for the future. I believe that you will get a visit from here at Christmas.
Your friend F.W. John

Gillett March 21, 1888
Friend Lorig,
We received your letter from March 9th and see that you are all well. We were happy to hear from you. As far as we are concerned we are all well and have a good appetite. We had a hard winter, three feet of snow still on the ground and the people are still in the bush. Alfred is still there also and Wille who has my team. As far as the instrument for the potato bags I cannot tell you anything, the man who had it moved to Iowa we were happy about the pictures and I hope that the little [one] remains well and gives you joy. I heard last week that his father froze to death last winter in Dakota. Everything is fine here otherwise and greet our friends from us.
I remain your friend F. W. J.

As indicated in the last letter the Wilhelm boys’ father died in a blizzard in the Dakotas after having disappeared on them, I can only imagine the horrible feeling of knowing your father had abandoned you after having lost your mother.

Truman had been put in guardianship to his John grandparents in 1880:

His father had died in 1878 and his mother was married to her second husband at the time, maybe his stepfather didn’t want him around? I think that the eldest William boy, Chester, was adopted by William relatives. Truman Howell and Chester William both moved to Washington state, eventually marrying and having children. Arthur (Wilhelm) Lorig was adopted and raised by the Lorig family, and stayed in Wisconsin, and it is this man whom my John cousin descends from.

A big thank you to my cousin for sharing these letters with our family. Not only are they written in beautiful handwriting, but they show a tragic story in real time as grandparents try to find good homes for their grandchildren, after losing their own child to cancer.

Now I want to see the letters William was writing home to Johanna while he was off fighting in the civil war. I am sure someone in the family has them. They are no doubt sitting in a closet getting musty. Come on folks, share!

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