Use of maiden name confounds historians

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By Linda Hanabarger

One day while quizzing my dad about the family, he made a comment that has stuck with me over the years: “My grandmother was raised in the home of C.F.W. Walther.”  

He went on to say that her mother worked as a housekeeper for the Walther family in St. Louis, and this is why his grandmother, Emelia Rau Torbeck, spent several years of her childhood in their home.  

Dad also said that Emelia’s uncle, Henry Erck, was the first school teacher at Holy Cross School in St. Louis. Henry was working as a clerk at a store in Perryville, Mo., when he was hired by Dr. Walther to teach at the first Lutheran parochial school.

Members of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, or the “old Lutherans” know the name of C.F.W. Walther. In my teenage years, our youth group went by the name of the "Walther League," and I’m not sure if I ever knew why.

Through the Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis, I learned that teacher Erck was born on April 8, 1826, in Solz, Thuringia, Germany, and came to America in 1848. He attended teacher’s college in Hildberghausen, Germany, and was fully qualified for the task entrusted to him by C.F.W. Walther.

Dad’s grandmother, Marie Emelia Rau Torbeck, was born in Saxony on Feb. 4, 1849, the daughter of Karl Rau and Rosena Fredericka Erck. When Emelia was 4 years old, she was brought to America by her parents. 

It is told in the family that Emelia’s father died of yellow fever, either at sea or shortly after arrival at the port of New Orleans. This is part of the mystery that has always surrounded Emelia Rau.

Emelia’s mother added to the mystery by using her maiden name, Erck, interchangeably with the surname of Rau. This family has been one of my block walls, until recently.

A chance conversation with Nancy Whiteside of Sorento about the Saxon migration to Missouri in 1839 set my antennae bobbing. She mentioned that 700 immigrants,  under the lead of Martin Stephan, came to Missouri, founding the towns of Altenberg, Wittenberg and Frohna.

Her family, the Brunes (pronounced Bru-nee), were a part of this early Saxon migration, and her family had lived on the land first settled in 1839 for many generations.   I learned enough from Nancy to realize that although my Erck family was a part of the Saxon migration to Missouri, they were not among the original colonists.

Using the computer as an aid, I discovered that another generation of the Erck family had been added to what was known,  and not only provided the name of Rosena’s parents, but proved for me that teacher Erck was her brother. A second brother, John Valentine, made his home in Venedy in Washington County.

The three were children of Johann Georg Erck and Elisabeth Fischer, and were all born in Saxony. The father, Johann Georg, was born in Waldorf, Solz, Germany, in 1800, dying in his 64th year. His wife, Elisabeth, died in 1830 when her children were small. 

Why did the Erck brothers and sister come to America? Why did Heinrich settle first in Perryville, Mo., among the earlier Saxon emigrants?  

I believe the answer is found in the passenger lists of the four ships to dock at New Orleans in January 1839. The entry directly beneath that of Martin Stephan and his family is that of Johann Fischer and his wife. Fischer is described as a member of the "laity" in the history of the early Saxons in Missouri.

Was there a family connection through the Fischer line? More research will need to be completed to answer this question.