Thursday, June 12, 2014

From Mother to Son

Today's rescued ancestor led me down some interesting paths as I ran the normal searches through census and vital records databases.  The photo is in a tri-fold cover and was taken by Bryant Studios in Fort Worth, Texas.  On the lowest cover fold is inscribed "To Otto E. Wollner from Mother".

The Wollner family was quite well known in the Fort Worth area, so Otto was not difficult to find.  He was born in 1914, a twin, and died in 1975 in Fort Worth.  The 1930 census shows the family living in Fort Worth and consisting of father Carl, age 40, born in Germany and immigrated in 1909, mother Erica G., age 48, born in Germany and immigrated in 1912, and children Helen E., age 17, Charles E. and Otto E., twins age 15, Johanna M., age 9, and Chrystene, age 5.  All the children were born in Texas.  Carl's occupation is given as manager of the Panther Oil Company.

In 1940 the family is still all together, none of the children married, and Carl, age 50, is now shown as owner of his oil business.

A little digging produced the information that Carl Wollner, in partnership with a Mr. A. M. Pate, was a founding partner in the Panther Oil and Grease Manufacturing Company begun in 1922 in a tin barn on NE 20th Street in Fort Worth.  The company grew into Texas Refinery Corporation, one of Fort Worth's oldest businesses.   Apparently Mr. Wollner was an accomplished speaker as there are many newspaper mentions of his appearances at various churches and organizations to deliver motivational talks.  I was unable to find an obituary for him, but I did find several passing references to his death while on a trip in 1945.

The first newspaper mention I find for Carl and Erica Wollner is in the Galveston Daily News on February 6, 1912, where notice of a marriage license was issued to the couple.  I'm guessing that this was soon after Erica arrived in 1912.  Vital records tell us that daughter Helen was born on February 11, 1913, followed by the twin boys Charles and Otto on September 11, 1914, a stillborn son on June 26, 1918, daughter Johnanna on March 16, 1921, and finally daughter Patricia Christine on May 9, 1924.

From the various birth and death records available, plus a few family trees posted to Ancestry, I learned that mother Erica was born Gertrude Ida Erica zur Nedden in Altoona, Germany, on February 28, 1882, to parents Otto Carl Friedrich zur Nedden and Antoine Alwine Kruger.  She died on November 20, 1973, in Fort Worth.

To this point, all is fairly cut and dried facts.  I kept scanning about, hoping to find out something interesting about this family other than their connection to the oil business.  For fairly prominent citizens, I was not finding helpful obituaries or intriguing news articles (with one exception to be discussed later).  So I looked a few places that I really did not expect to find anything, just on the odd chance.

Fold3 is a subscription database of primarily military and government records.  Since Carl was an immigrant with a family, I didn't expect to find any military records, but I thought I might find a draft registration since he had been naturalized as a United States Citizen.  I really wasn't expecting to find an FBI file.  The contents were rather tame as those things go, but it was interesting nevertheless and something new to my research experience.  It dated to 1917 at a time when the government was keeping an eye on German sympathizers.

The first item in the file is dated December 13, 1917, and states that "at 4 o'clock Wednesday afternoon…one Carl Wollner…had a German flag flying over his home and that his wife had been making some very strong Pro-German remarks, one especially as follows:  'I have only one country, and that is Germany'. "  A Special Agent was dispatched to the Oriental Oil Company where Carl was employed as a credit man and he was brought in for an interview.  In addition to this incident, the office also had a report of a telegram that had been mis-delivered, intended to be delivered to Carl Wollner and which had raised the suspicions of the accidental recipient and subsequently reported to authorities.  In the telegram a Mr. Fisher had sent a message to Carl which read "For my sake please get out OK".   The telegram turned out to be in reference to an advertising pamphlet called O. K. Copy that the sender of the telegram was working on with Mr. Wollner.  The Special Agent closed this matter with the comment that Wollner has satisfied him as to his loyalty.

The last item in the file regards the failure of Mrs. Wollner to register under the Alien Enemy Act.  A letter had been received at the office from Mr. Wollner to explain her failure to register.  "For fear you would miss my wife's name in checking up the lists of German women registered here, I thought it best to notify you, as I did the Detective Department verbally, that Mrs. Wollner has been confined to the house for several weeks which prevented her from registering.  She will not be able to leave the house for several weeks because of the fact that she gave birth to a dead child today and she herself is in a rather precarious condition."  He goes on to say that she will register as soon as her condition will permit and provides the name of Dr. Jewel F. Daughety who is treating his wife.   The Agent in Dallas notes that he has verified the statement and will arrange for her registration when her condition will permit it.

The final item of interest I was able to find through newspaper searches was printed both in the Mexia Weekly Herald and in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.  Carl Wollner had acquired an old Bible, one of the oldest and still legible Bibles in the United States, dating to 1665 and weighing 25 pounds.  It was a Lutheran Bible, printed in ancient German, with elaborate frontispiece and several pages of fine wood block prints.  It also contained an ancient map of the Holy Land.  The leather cover was embossed with a presentation date of 1670 in gold leaf.  The corners of the book were bound in brass work and a fine clasp lock.  The Corpus Christi article noted that it was a shame that the Wollner family, although German, could not read the ancient German, but that it was a prized possession.

One cannot help but wonder where that Bible is today.  All of the immediate family is now gone.  Daughter Johnanna was the last to die in 2012 in Poughkeepsie, New York.  The parents, daughter Helen and both sons are buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Fort Worth.


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