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This past Sunday, I attended the first of three events in celebration of the 150th year anniversary of the St. Paul Lutheran congregation in Wilberton Township.
I cut my genealogy research teeth on the records of this church, in which four generations of my family played an integral role.
Not only were my mother’s relatives part of the Dodge County, Wis., migration who first held services in the home of Friedrich Malchow, my father’s ancestors were among the first to move from Washington and St. Clair counties when it was learned that an “Old Lutheran” settlement had begun on the prairie lands here.
Five generations of my family rest in the St. Paul cemetery, and it was here that I began my family research. Headstones of my ancestors provided names and dates to enter on charts, and it was here that I learned for the first time of the children who had died in infancy. My great-grandparents Yund were parents of 11 children, of which six lived to adulthood.
Names and dates are great in providing a basic outline of a family, and it was the ability to obtain this information that spurred me on to learn more. What did my ancestors look like? Who were they as people?
This quest took me back to St. Paul to the oldest members of my dad’s family, his brothers, Renatus (Noddy) and Harold Torbeck, who lived on the Torbeck home place one mile south of the village. For those readers who knew my uncles, they will remember Noddy as a quiet man, whereas Harold was more of a knee slapper, who enjoyed talking.
I returned to their home time after time, gleaning a little more information on each visit. One day, Uncle Noddy asked me why I was so interested in dead people. I had to laugh, replying that it wasn’t so much the fact that they were dead that interested me, but rather what they were like while alive.
Over the years, I learned that my great-grandfather, Johann Joachim Torbeck, was a master carpenter. He, with my grandpa, Henry Torbeck, built the “big” St. Paul School, along with many homes, including those of Ervin Kruenegel and Delmar Sachan.
Henry Torbeck lucked out when he fell in love with “the prettiest girl in St. Paul,” my grandmother, Anna Maria Magdalena Yund, whose father, Jacob, was one of the village’s two merchants. Jacob’s gift to his daughter on her marriage in February 1903 was his farm, one mile south of St. Paul.
I soon learned that although my uncles were a good source of family information, there were others who could help me. One of these was Otto Hinrichs, who joined me in the St. Paul Cemetery one day while I was copying inscriptions from the headstones.
He told me of a day when he approached great-grandfather Yund with a request for an empty wood crate that sat on the front stoop of the Yund Mercantile. The merchant told the boy, "For a nickel, you can take it along." This one statement spoke volumes.
One other research aid I learned was that if I wanted to know about my grandmother Torbeck, it was to a daughter-in-law that my questions were posed.
It was through Aunt Bertha Torbeck, Uncle Ben’s wife, that I learned of a brooch that was handed down to the firstborn female in the family. When I learned of it, the brooch had been in the family for five generations.
In the 30-plus years since I began my quest for family history, I have heard many stories, some of which I have shared through this column. Many of them had not been written down, but carried in the memory of family members.
Had I not begun to ask questions about dead people, I would not have learned about the brooch, nor that great-grandfather Torbeck, the master carpenter, climbed the steeple of St. Paul Church two years before his death in October 1913 to repair a hole.
The steeple was struck by lightning July 20, 1914 and the church burned to the ground. Ten months later, ground was broken for the new sanctuary, which still stands.