- Name: Marie Sommer
- Born: March 18, 1839 Heiligenstein, Germany
- Died: June 25, 1918 Gridley, Kansas
- Related through: Dan's grandmother Melva Castleton
It was recorded in the old family German Bible that Marie Sommer Isch, known as Mary in America, was born March 18, 1839, in Heiligenstein, Germany. This Bible belonged to Mary Isch Shaffer, a granddaughter who lived in Gridley, Kansas. Later her birth record was found in Barr, Bas Rhine, France.
I corresponded with a genealogist, Madame Perez, She wrote the following." Her birth record reads as follows, birth record of Barr Civil state archive: 1839 the 18th of March was born Marie Sommer daughter of Michel Sommer, 36 years old, wine-grower in Barr and of Anna Erb aged 35 years, without profession. Witnesses: Jacques Gerber, 22 years old, shoemaker, Frederic Jost, 23 years old, weaver in Barr."
However, this doesn't mean they lived there. They were Anabaptists, a religious group thought to be radical and not tolerated by some. They may have found a tolerant vicar who would register their records in his parish.
The village of Heiligenstein is in Alsace close by the small city of Barr, 30 km (20 miles) southwest of Strassburg (today called Strasbourg), which is in France.
Her father was Michel Sommer, a farmer of Anabaptist faith, born Feb 3, 1803 in Mussig, Bas Rhine, France. Her mother was Anna Erb born in Lorquin, Meurth, France. She was the 6th of 7 children we have been able to find in that family."
As a child she probably played in the beautiful rolling hills of Heiligenstein with her brothers and sisters. Franz Rink, editor of a genealogical column in Strasbourg, wrote to me "The area from which your ancestors came is one the loveliest in Alsace, lying at the foot of the "Holy Hill" of the Odilienberg."
This little area in Alsace had long been a prize in wars between Germany and France. In the A.D. 300's and 400's Teutonic bands drove out the Celtic tribes then living in the region. Alsace-Lorraine became part of Charlemagne's empire in the late 700's but it fell to Germany when his grandsons divided his empire.
Alsace and Lorraine (Historic Provinces) remained under German rule until the 1500's, when France gained control of them in slow stages. The people fought all efforts to turn them into Frenchmen. But the French Revolution of 1789 brought a change of heart. The Alsatians became so French in spirit that more than 50,000 of them moved to France when Germany got the territory in 1871.
The Germans resented the loss of Alsace-Lorraine after World War I. They regained control of the area in World War II. The Germans moved thousands of the people out of the region, and replaced them with Germans, Poles, and Russians. The Allies drove the Germans out of Alsace-Lorraine in 1944-1945, and France again took control of the entire region.
When Mary was 14, a terrible epidemic of cholera came to their land. On October 1, 1854, her 21 year old brother, Jean passed away. Then Mary's mother became ill, not a soul would come to help her because it was such a dreaded disease. Whole families were dying. Five days later, October 6, 1854 her mother died also. She wept and kissed her dead mother, hoping she would contract the disease and be able to go with her. As she was dressing her dead mother she looked up, there was a lady standing in the doorway who kindly asked if her mother had gone too. Mary always remembered this kind stranger and told how she came in and helped her finish dressing her mother. A few weeks later on the same day, October 31, 1854 her 19 year old brother, Jacque and 10 year old little sister, Madeleine both died.
Mary was very lonely and went to live with her married sister in Frankfort, France (Not sure) who had a large family (12 children?) She was happy there and felt a part of the family, when her father came and said they were going to America. She didn't want to go, but her father being headstrong and authoritative insisted on her coming. At the age of 15, in 1857, she and her father immigrated to America." (Grandma told Melva much of this, dates came from research of Madam Perez.)
I was told by Grandma, Bertha Isch Getz that her father's brother in America had sent them the money, that his name was Jacob and they lived in Peoria, Illinois. (I have not been able to find them in cesus records.) Her father, Michel remarried, but again according to my Grandma, Bertha Isch Getz, knew nothing of his second wife or Mary's half brothers or sisters. Mary later heard that her father fell off a wagon and broke his neck but she was unable to attend his funeral in 1868, in East Peoria.
Mary met and married Nicholas Isch on January 18, 1862 in Metamora, Woodford, Illinois. They were members of the Apostolic Christian Church, and made their home on a farm in Metamora. Nicholas was a hard working farmer, he had very strict principles, they spoke German in their home.
Mary was very busy keeping a nice home, and raising a large family. She was a good cook, made a lot of cheese and butter, and made beautiful quilts. While in Metamora, she gave birth to Anna, Dena, Emma, Bertha, Leah, Joe, Samuel and Mary (twins) and Ida. In 1879, they moved to another farm in Gridley, Coffey County, Kansas. Here John and Ann were born. Their first girl Anna died in 1881 at the age of 18, just a month before the last little girl was born so they named her Anna also. In later years Mary suffered terribly with arthritis and became very crippled, but kept busy with hand work and quilting. She was in a wheelchair.
Mary was remembered as a kind woman who loved the Lord and served others. On a visit to Utah as they passed a buggy with some Japanese people in it she exclaimed, "Eh Bertha, I tell you the Mormons do look different."
Nicholas passed away at the age of 72 on May 6, 1915. On June 25, 1918 at the age of 79, Mary joined him in death. Their graves are in the Apostolic Christian cemetery in Gridley, Kansas.
Much of the above information was told to me (Melva Castleton Crookston), as we lived with Grandpa and Grandma, Philip and Bertha Isch Getz, in Tremonton, Utah. Some of the history and information was from the World Book Encyclopedia, published by Field Enterprises, 1963, and correspondence with several genealogists in France who did some of the research.