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Family together again after 128 years

Published: August 19, 2013   

After attending Mass together at St. John the Baptist Church in Engelberg on Sunday, July 29, the parish hall was the setting for a reunion of the Thielemier family.

Approximately 130 family members were on hand to formally meet and greet six of their cousins from Germany who came to America for the first time to likewise meet their fellow cousins, cousins that neither knew existed until 2009.

In 1881, Bernhard Thielemier, the progenitor of more than 700 descendants in the United States, emigrated to America with his wife, Anna Kleine Thielemier and their 4-year-old son, Henry, on the ship HECLA, The mining family settled in Corning, Ohio, an area where there was an abundance of coal mines at that time. Two more sons, Will and Ben, were born to Bernhard and Anna before Bernhard was fatally injured in a mine accident in November 1884.

Anna was persuaded by a missionary priest, Father Eugene Weibel, to move to northeast Arkansas, an area where he was directing other German immigrants to settle. In the spring of 1885, Anna with her three sons arrived and settled in the Engelberg community to raise her young family. There she met and married Joseph Brunner, who owned land on the Fourche River bottoms. Sometime in 2006, Ken Thielemier, great-grandson of Bernhard and Anna, began a long genealogy quest to satisfy a curiosity. Always wondering if Bernhard had left other family members behind when he came to America, he began a search, which enabled him to locate hundreds of fellow Thielemier cousins in Germany.

Call it determination and perseverance and add a little bit of irony into the search, but it was mostly luck that played the biggest part in the find. The name "Thielemier" as it is spelled now could not be found on any immigration records; nor was that name found on any of the International Genealogy Indexes (I.G.I.) of Germany. His first break came one day when he misspelled the name as "Thielem(e)ier and found many Thielemeier listings in the German phone books. Further research revealed that the immigration records of Castle Garden in New York City showed that Bernhard and Anna's name was spelled the same when they arrived and apparently they dropped the "e" when settling in their new homeland.

Ken found a record in the I.G.I. for a Bernard Thielemeier which matched his birth date of April 26, 1851 and found that Bernard's parents were Bernard and Anna Angela Gostemeier Thielemeier and that he was born and christened in the Delbrueck district of Westphalia, Germany. He also located the names of three other children born to this couple and they were all christened in the Catholic Church at Delbrueck.

In January of 2009, Ken picked a Thielemeier name at random from the Delbruck phone book and wrote a letter seeking information. When no reply was received by June, he sent an e-mail to St. Elisabeth Catholic Church in Sudhagen, Germany, a nearby municipality. The name Bernhard Thielemeier kept popping up on a website that published their weekly church bulletin. Within a few weeks, Ken received an e-mail from a Father Hans Jurgen Rade explaining that all the Catholic churches in the Westphalia province sent their sacramental records to a centralized location due to the large number of requests being received from foreign countries to research their ancestors. Father Rade and Ken shared requested information for several months, but no solid proof could be found that linked the two families.

Ironically, about this same time, a family reunion of the Heinrich Herman Thielemeier family in Germany was being planned by a Lieselotte Thielemeyer (another spelling of the family name). She wanted this to be a "grand" reunion and even enlisted the aide of a local genealogist to trace the Thielemeier family history back several centuries through the use of land registries of the family farmland. The genealogist had already mapped out a family tree and had the name of Bernhard penciled in with only a notation that he had emigrated to America and had married Anna Kleine. As luck was, the paths of Father Rade and the genealogist crossed and it was discovered they were doing the research for two people living thousands of miles and two continents apart.

The rest is history. Ken and his sister, Bernadette, from Engelberg attended the March 20, 2010, family reunion of the Heinrich Herman (brother of Bernhard) Thielemeier family in Westenholz, Germany, where they were introduced to 260 more Thielemeier descendants. It was at this reunion that the German Thielemeiers learned that their family was small as compared to the descendants of their American cousins. Over 128 years had passed with neither family having any knowledge that the other existed, but during this short time of rediscovering the family history, a common ground of both love of family and love of our Catholic faith was also discovered.

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