Aunt Frieda’s trunk yields mysterious portrait

Following years of living away from Fayette County, my dads oldest sister, Frieda Torbeck, decided it was time to return to her roots in St. Paul. She had left the area as a teenager, joining a neighborhood friend in a domestic job in northern Illinois.

Many of the young women who went to the cities to work as housemaids and nursemaids, returned home, married and raised families, their grandchildren now living on the old family farms. But not Frieda.

She found a position with a family whose mother had died and became housekeeper, looking after two children.

In later years, Frieda lived in Palisades Park, N. J., across the river from New York City. She cared for an elderly woman whose daughter was a vice-president of a New York City bank, and also took care of the home.

In 1982, as her health began to fail, Aunt Frieda made the move back to her place of birth, a mile south of St. Paul. She had bought the homeplace in 1945, following the death of her father, Henry Torbeck.

At that time, she also built a two-bedroom house with a basement and attic. Her brothers, Renatus ‘Noddy’ and Harold, both farmers, lived on the farm in her house and planted and harvested Friedas land on thirds.

After years of living away, she moved back into our lives on a full-time basis, and I was given the chance to know her. Although the house was hers, my uncles had lived there for a good 40 years and werent happy to have a woman, let alone an older sister, move into their well-ordered lives. She asked me to visit often, and I did.

One day, to my pleasure, Aunt Frieda had a treat for me. She told me that she had been cleaning upstairs in the attic, and found two framed confirmation certificates dating from the Civil War in one of her old storage trunks.

The certificates had belonged to her mothers parents, Jacob and Wilhelmina Yund. Any family researcher who has had a similar experience knows how exciting this can be.

Her health continued to fail, and the thrice-weekly dialysis treatments werent having the desired effect. Aunt Frieda passed away on Feb. 15, 1984, but not before we had become much better acquainted.

Following her death, I asked my uncles and aunt if, before her property was dispersed, I could photocopy the certificates I knew were in one of the old upstairs trunks.

To my surprise, my uncles brought me the trunk that contained some old Rex Stout and Agatha Christie paperback mystery books, the framed certificatesand something else.

Removing the books from the trunk, I found in the bottom a 12-inch by 14-inch folded canvas. As I opened it up, looking back at me was a charcoal drawing of a woman from another century. The deep fold lines indicated that it had lain in the trunk for many years.

The oldest living members of my dads family were his brothers, Noddy and Harold, so it was to them that I went with the canvas. Uncle Noddy remembered seeing the picture when it was in a frame, but did not remember where.

Thanks to Phyllis Schaal Lynch, I had a picture of a woman identified as my great-great-grandmother, Kariline Bredewater Hohlt Schaal. Kariline was living in Washington County as Mrs. John Hohlt when her husband suddenly died and she was left with a 9-month-old daughter, Wilhelmina ‘Minnie,’ my great-grandmother.

The widow Hohlt and Carl Schaal were married in Washington County, and came to Fayette County around the time of the Civil War. Kariline and Carl had a passel of children, and their descendants populate Fayette County today.

As I studied the characteristics in the face of the woman in the picture, I noticed a definite pattern in the face shapes of the Yunds. My great-uncles, Jakie and Albert, and their sister, Minnie, all children of ‘Minnie’ Hohlt and Jacob Yund, all had the same long narrow faces.

Could the drawing be of their French-born grandmother, Elizabeth Baerlin Yund, who died in 1875? She was 58 when she died.

Elizabeth came to America with her husband, Henry, in 1854, landing at the port of New Orleans with their two children, Jacob, age 3, my ancestor, and daughter, Elizabeth, an infant, who later married Ernest Krug. They actually fled their native home of Niederbronn-les-bains, Alsace, because of the Prussians.

Conscription of young men into the military forced Henry to make the decision to immigrate to America. Aunt Frieda told me that Henry brought two nephews of military age with him because he did not want them to be forced to fight against his mothers people in Lorraine by the Prussians.

Henry and Elizabeth settled in Mascoutah for a while, before following their Lutheran preacher, Siegmund Spiess, to the St. Paul area, where a large migration of Lutherans from Dodge County, Wis., and Washington County, including the Schaals, had settled.

I may never know the true identity of the woman in the picture. From her face shape alone, I know shes related to the Yund-Hohlt family, and thats good enough for me because shes still my grandma.

Thanks to Aunt Frieda, along with the mystery books in the trunk that I have read over and over again, I was given another mysterythe mystery of the unknown grandmother.

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