My great-grandmother was Marie Helen Getman; her grandmother was Mary Wilhelmina Mead; her mother was Mary Frances Reinhard; her mother was Maria Wilhelmina Bender; her mother was Maria Magdalena Faaßen; and her grandmother was Maria Catharina Walterich. I guess you could say I descend from a long line of Maria’s, Mary’s and Marie’s.
Researching my German roots always seemed daunting: I could not read German, and while I had experience searching records in the United States, I had yet to branch out into researching my family tree abroad. A few summers ago, I decided to tackle the Getman family tree, starting with my great-grandmother, Marie Helen (Getman) Gates.
Marie Helen Getman
Marie was born on May 10, 1921 in Buffalo, New York to Harold Edgar and Emma Matilda (Wagner) Getman. Marie’s mother, Emma, called her “Ree,” while her father, Harold, nicknamed her “Horseshoes.” According to her memoir, Marie’s earliest memory was of her First Communion at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Buffalo: “I was given the name Marie Helen in honor of my grandmothers. At confirmation at St. Joseph’s Church I was in either 5th or 6th grade and took the additional name of Magdalen in honor of my Aunt Mary. It was her middle name.”
The Wagner and Getman families were deeply religious, and Marie and her siblings grew up attending Catholic Schools in Buffalo: “We went to St. Nicholas’ because Sister Felicia was my mother’s sister and was in the Sisters of St. Francis who taught at St. Nick’s also. We paid very little tuition as my folks didn’t have the money. My mother thought we could have gone to Bennett High but my father would hear none of that. How glad I am he held out.”
Marie enjoyed math, history and German, and she ran track after school. “We wore black wool uniforms with white collars and cuffs. My mother made mine–it looked like a potato sack tied in the middle. I was the same size except thinner for four years so wore that same dress four years. In summer we wore light blue cotton uniforms. We had to pass Mt. St. Joseph’s High School for girls on our way home–that is where girls with much more money than we had went to school. But they didn’t have summer uniforms. How proud we’d become in May when we’d wear our summer dresses.”
Marie later entered a convent and attended St. Joseph’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland; she wrote of her time there, “When I was in the convent, the girls lived for three months at Mt. Hope–an insane asylum in Baltimore. The sisters were always saving some of their food and giving it to me. I stored it in the sewing room and used to sneak down at night and we’d all have a lunch in the room where our trunks were kept. At the end of three months we went up to the seminary at Emmitsburg. When I was in the seminary I was taken to St. Agnes hospital to have my tonsils removed.” Shortly after having her tonsils removed, Marie came down with pneumonia and ultimately left the convent and seminary school. She later married my great-grandfather and started a life with him in New York, working as a school bus driver and raising six children.
Mary Wilhelmina Mead
Marie’s grandmother, Mary Wilhelmina Mead, was born on March 12, 1862 in Alden, New York to Daniel and Mary Frances (Reinhard) Mead. She married Mathias Wagner, the son of Mathias and Marie Anne (Staebell) Wagner from Alsace-Lorraine, in 1886 and settled in the small town of Corfu, New York. Mary and Mathias were farmers; according to Marie, “Mathias bought his farm from his father. He traveled widely out West before settling down to married life with Mary Mead. They built a new home on Sumner Road in Corfu and raised nine children.”
Among Mary’s and Mathias’ children was Emma, Marie’s mother, who worked as a hoisting engineer in a factory in Buffalo. Their daughter Frances entered a convent and received the name Sister Felicia; Marie describes her Aunt Frances as “a woman with Irish traits–she could always see the funny side of life.” Mary and Mathias’ daughter Mame, as well as their daughter Laura, also became Sisters of St. Francis, and their daughter, Anna, became a school teacher and taught for fifty years in and around Alden, New York. Finally, “Beloved Aunt Martha” worked as a nurse at St. Jerome’s Hospital in Batavia, New York. According to Marie, Martha also had “Irish traits–always ready to take a day’s ride with the family.”
Mary Frances Reinhard
Marie’s great-grandmother, Mary Frances Reinhard, was born on March 25, 1833 in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany to Christian and Maria Wilhelmina (Bender) Reinhard. She arrived in New York in 1848 and married Daniel Mead, the son of Robert and Ann (Gresham) Mead. The Mead family originally came from Ireland, but they emigrated to Alsace-Lorraine “to get away from the terrible famine there;” the Mead’s ultimately left Germany, as well, “to avoid the army draft,” and they settled in Alden, New York.
Daniel Mead was drafted into the Union Army in the summer of 1863 and died on July 3, 1864 at the age of 38, leaving Frances with three sons (Charles, Robert and Daniel Mead) and one daughter (Marie’s grandmother, Mary Wilhelmina Mead) to provide for. “My mother [Mary Wilhelmina Mead] always speaks lovingly of her mother, Frances…Some of Frances Mead’s boys became wealthy in Buffalo and Rochester.” Frances was successful, as well; by 1866, she had purchased dozens of acres of land in Alden, and her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would spend summers with her on the family farm.
Maria & Maria & Maria
Marie’s 2x great-grandmother, Maria Wilhelmina Bender, was born on February 11, 1789 in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany; her mother, Maria Magdalena Faaßen was also born in Baden-Wuerttemberg to Christoph and Maria Magdalena Faaßen. I was able to trace the family through parish records–while picking up a little German along the way–back to Michael and Maria Catharina Walterich, Marie’s 6x great-grandparents. From the late 1600s to the 1920s, each generation was tied by the the same name–the Catholic church was at the center of family life, and we all descend from a long line of Maria’s, Mary’s and Marie’s.