Update (2023-06-03)—Margretha’s origins have been discovered! I’ll put a link to the solution to this mystery at the end of this post.
There are brick walls (ancestors whose own ancestry resists all attempts at discovery) who will probably always be brick walls. These individuals often lived in times and places where record-keeping was sparse or non-existent, or were trying to run away from their past or reinvent themselves, or had descendants who purposefully or accidentally destroyed evidence of the ancestor’s life, or had other circumstances that make it understandable why we may never learn about their ancestry.
And then there are brick walls who have no reason being brick walls. These individuals lived lives that were relatively well documented, they were not trying to hide their past, they had/have descendants who cherish their memories, and they’re only a couple/few generations removed from living descendants. My third-great-grandmother Margretha (“Marg”, “Maggie”) Gores is just such a brick wall. She’s one of my most enduring brick walls and she’s certainly the closest to me in time. For my Prettyman cousins reading this, Margretha was Judge F.E. Gores’ mother.
Who was Margretha Gores?
Maggie Gores (ca. 1833–1910) was my grandfather Bill Prettyman’s great-grandmother. He didn’t know her personally (she died 9 years before he was born in 1919), but presumably he did have a chance to get to know several of her children, including his grandfather Frank Eugene (“F.E.”) Gores (1866–1936), his great uncle Nicholas Paul Gores (1860-1927), and his great aunts Barbara (Gores) Gergen (1862-1925), Sister M. Bernarda (née Rosa Gores) (1873-1939), and Susie (Gores) Yanz (1874–1961). Bill had a large and close-knit Catholic family, and he talked about all of these people with me from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s.
Why are her origins a mystery?
In short, it’s because of contradictory information. She was from Luxembourg, Prussia/Germany, or Belgium; her maiden name was Wolf or Wolff (some descendants say von Wolf or von Wolff); and she immigrated in 1857, 1859, 1870, or 1892. And that’s just going off of the information provided by her or her family during her lifetime. Let’s take a look at some of this information.
I’ll start with the published biography of Margaretha’s son Frank E. Gores (from Castle, Henry A. Minnesota: Its Story and Biography. Vol. I-III. Chicago and New York, USA: Lewis Publishing, 1915). I’ve reproduced this biography in full below:
There is only one line about Margaretha, in reference to her husband:
The maiden name of his wife was Margaretha Wolf, who was born in Belgium and died at Wadena.
This biography gives direct evidence of Margaretha’s maiden name and indirect evidence of her country of origin (she was born in Belgium but perhaps not of Belgian parents, and she didn’t necessarily emigrate from Belgium). However, this is an authored source that gives no cited sources. The informant is not identified, but would appear to be F.E. Gores himself or perhaps his wife or a child given the amount of specific detail about F.E. Gores’ life just prior to the 1915 publication.
Some of the information presented in the biography about F.E. Gores’ parents is incorrect:
|Facts presented in biography||Actual facts|
|Francis Gores born in 1838||born 3 Jun 1826|
|Francis Gores immigrated about 1860||arrived in 1854|
|Francis Gores died in 1903||died 16 Jun 1899|
Given the errors made in this basic information about F.E. Gores’ father, and the absence of identified sources, it would be wise to consider all of the information presented here about F.E. Gores’ mother to be suspect until and unless backed up by more robust sources.
The next source to consider is an obituary of Margaretha’s husband Francis (published in the Dakota County Tribune of June 23, 1899). I’ve found a transcription of that obituary, but have not yet been able to located the original:
Frances Gores of Wadena died 16th June. He was born in Prussia in 1826, came to America in 1865, located in Hastings in 1856, and took up residence at Hampton in 1858, where he engaged in farming. Mr. Gores was town clerk at Hampton for about seven years, and when New Trier was incorporated he was appointed postmaster, and held the position eight years. He was also engaged in the general merchandise business in that town. He was married in New Trier to Miss Margaret Wolf, who with two sons and three daughters, Nicholas P., of New Trier; Frank E. of Wadena; Mrs. N.B. Gergen, of Hastings; Mrs. J.V. Yanz of Staples; and Miss Rosa , the latter attending the Notre Dame convent at Milwaukee, survive him. Mr. Gores removed from New Trier to Wadena in 1886, where he engaged in the merchandise business.
This is also an authored source that cites no sources and does not specify the informant. It contains an error in the date of Francis’ immigration (1865 instead of 1854), but given the other dates given for post-immigration activities, this appears to be a typographical error rather than a factual error. It corroborates Wolf as Margaretha’s maiden name.
According to the index of obituaries offered by the Dakota County Historical Society, an obituary for Margaret Gores was published in the Hastings Gazette on December 10, 1910. I was unable to locate a digitized copy of this newspaper, but according to Chronicling America, the Minnesota Historical Society has a copy on microfilm. After verifying that it isn’t yet available through the Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub, I requested the microfilm of the December 10th edition through interlibrary loan.
I just received the microfilm reel for The Hastings Gazette for the entire year of 1910. The paper was published weekly on Saturdays, and on page 5 of the Saturday, December 10, 1910, edition was the following obituary for Margaret (Wolf) Gores:
While it was satisfying to finally locate her obituary, I was disappointed to find it so thin on details of her life.
The next source to consider is Margretha’s tombstone Inscription. It reads:
Geboren Den 8-ten August 1833
Gestorren Den 6-ten Dezember 1919
Her tombstone is inscribed in German with R.I.P. being an abbreviation for the Latin phrase “Requiescat in pace” (‘may she rest in peace’). As you’ll see from the evidence presented in this blog post, her ancestry has been alternately suggested/stated as Prussian/German, Belgian, Luxembourger, or French. That her tombstone is written in German suggests that she’s either from Prussia/Germany, or is a German-speaking Luxembourger or Belgian (German is an official language of Luxembourg and Belgium). There are some German-speaking border regions in France (most notably Alsace-Lorraine), so this doesn’t rule out an origin in a German-speaking border region of France, but it does seem less likely than the other three possibilities.
The next source of information to consider comes from multiple federal and state census returns. The following census returns should have some information to contribute about Margaretha (Wolf) Gores’ ancestry and immigration:
|1850 US census||none found|
|1850 MN census||none found|
|1853 MN census||none found|
|1855 MN census||no census for Dakota County (only 4 counties)|
|1857 MN census||none found|
|1860 US census||Hampton, Dakota, MN; page 99 (707), lines 24-28|
|1865 MN census||Hampton, Dakota, MN; page , lines 9-13|
|1870 US census||Hampton, Dakota, MN; page 8 (162), lines 32-39|
|1875 MN census||page 554, lines 16-24|
|1880 US census||New Trier, Dakota, MN; page 23 (261), lines 29-35|
|1885 MN census||page 549, lines 38-40; and page 550, lines 1-3|
|1895 MN census|
|1885 MN census||page 549, lines 38-40; and page 550, lines 1-3|
|1900 US census||Staples, Todd, MN; page 222A, lines 29-31|
|1905 MN census||page 125, line 38|
|1910 US census||Hastings, Dakota, MN; sheet 2B, lines 82-88
and (she was double-counted on this census!)
Wadena, Wadena, MN; sheet 5A, lines 1-9
1860 US census: A 24-year-old Margaret Gores is living in the town of Hampton, Minnesota, with her 32-year-old husband Frank Gores, their 3-month-old son Nicholas, and two apparently unrelated men (William Ottoe, 14; and Christian Jefferson, 26), presumably live-in laborers. Margaret’s birthdate can be inferred as circa 1836, and her birthplace is listed as Luxembourg. Her son Nicholas’ birthplace is listed as Minnesota and his birthdate is inferred as April–May 1860 (based on his age of 3/12 in 1860), so they had been in the area for at least a few months. Either she or her husband would have been the informant for this information.
1865 US census: Marg. Gores is living in Hampton, Dakota County, Minnesota, with her husband Francis Gores and their children Niclas Gores, Barbara Gores, and Kath Gores. No other relevant information (besides the names of their neighbors) is given.
1870 US census: A 26-year-old Margretha Gores and her 34-year-old husband Frank Gores are still living in Hampton, Minnesota, with their children Nicholas (10), Barbara (8); Kate (6), Frank (4), and Mary (1), as well as a servant named Kate Roch. Margaret’s birthdate can be inferred as circa 1844, and her birthplace is listed as Luxembourg. Either she or her husband would have been the informant for this information.
1875 MN census: A 41-year-old Marg Gores is living with her 48-year-old husband Francis Gores in New Trier, Minnesota, with their children Nicholas (15), Barbara (13), Catherine (11), Frantz (8); Helena (4), Rose (1), and newborn Susan, as well as 48-year-old Dick Rickert, who was presumably a live-in laborer. Their infant daughter Mary Ann is not listed, and so is assumed to have died sometime between 1870 and 1875. Margaret’s birthdate can be inferred as circa 1834. Her birthplace is listed as Luxembourg and both of her parents are listed as having been born in Luxembourg. Either she or her husband would have been the informant for this information.
1880 US census: 46-year-old Margret Gores is still living in New Trier with her 53-year-old husband Frank Gores, and their children Niclaus (20), Barbrey (18), Frank (14), Rosey (7), and Susen (5). Their young teenaged daughter Catherine has died at some point in the last 5 years, as has their young daughter Magdalena (she may have died at age 4, soon after the 1875 census was taken). Margaret’s birthdate can be inferred as circa 1834. Her birthplace is listed as Luxembourg, her father is listed as born in Luxembourg and her mother is listed as born in Belgium. Interestingly, the family is listed as living on Luxemburge Street. Either Margaret or her husband would have been the informant for this information.
1885 MN census: A 51-year-old Maggie Gores and her 58-year-old husband F. Gores are still living in New Trier with their children Barbara (22), F.E. (18), Rosa (11) and Susie (10). Margaret’s birthdate can be inferred as circa 1834, and her birthplace is listed as Germany. Presumably either she or her husband or one of their two adult children would have been the informant for this information.
1895 MN census: A 59-year-old Margarette Gores and her 65-year-old husband Francis Gores are now living in Wadena, Minnesota, with their two adult daughters (Rose Gores, 21; and Susie Gores, 19) and a 19-year-old laborer named John Ant. Margaret’s birthdate can inferred as circa 1836, and her birthplace is listed as Germany. Presumably either Margaret, her husband, or one of their two adult daughters would have been the informant for this information.
1900 US census: A widowed 66-year-old [Mrs.] Francis Gores is living with her 26-year-old daughter Susie (Gores) Yanz and 31-year-old son-in-law Jacob Yanz in Staples, Todd County, Minnesota. Margaret’s husband Frank had died the year before. Her birthdate is listed as August 1833. Her birthplace is listed as Germany; and both parents are listed as being born in Germany. Her year of immigration to the US is listed as 1870. Either her daughter Susie or her son-in-law Jacob are the most likely informants of this information.
1905 MN census: A 72-year-old Margaretha Gores is listed as living in Wadena, Minnesota, but it’s not clear with whom she was living (or if she was living alone). Her birthdate can be inferred as circa 1833. Her birthplace is listed as Germany and both of her parents are listed as having been born in Germany. She is listed as having been in Minnesota since circa 1857 (based on having been in state for 48 years as of 1905). It is not clear who would have been the informant for this information.
1910 US census: Maggie was apparently traveling to see family at the time of the census and got double-counted on the 1910 census, in each of two towns—Hastings and Wadena.
Hastings: A 76-year-old Margaret is enumerated with and (presumably) living with her daughter Barbara (Gores) Gergen’s family. Her birthdate can be inferred as circa 1834. Her birthplace is listed as Germany and both of her parents are listed as having been born in Germany. Her year of immigration is listed as 1859. Barbara (Gores) Gergen and Nicholas Gergen are the probable informants for this information.
Wadena: The very next day, a 76-year-old Margerat Gores is enumerated with (and presumably visiting) her son Fred E. Gores’ family. Margaret’s birthdate can be inferred as circa 1834. Her birthplace is listed as Germany and both of her parents are listed as having been born in Germany. Her year of immigration is listed as 1892. Fred E. Gores or his wife Veronika (Evertz) Gores are the probable informants for this information.
The next potential source of information is Margaretha and Francis’ marriage record. I say “potential” since I haven’t yet been able to find their marriage record.
From what evidence I’ve seen, Margretha Wolf and Francis Gores were married in New Trier, Hampton township, Dakota County, Minnesota, probably in 1859. At least one researcher has asserted that the marriage date was 14 July 1859, although no supporting sources were cited.
Francis Gores arrived in New York on 26 May 1854 after traveling with two siblings on the ship Wm Leytin, which departed from Antwerp, Belgium. This provides an earliest possible marriage date of June 1854, but when factoring in transportation, homesteading, and courtship, the earliest plausible marriage date is probably 1855. As Francis’ obituary states that he didn’t arrive in Hampton township (location of New Trier) until 1856, so this may be a better earliest plausible marriage date. The Dakota County Historical Society also notes that “New Trier named for Trier, Germany, was settled primarily by immigrants from Germany and Luxembourg in 1856,” supporting 1856 as the earliest possible marriage date if they were indeed married in New Trier. The 1860 US census records the couple as married with a three-month-old son as of 25 Jul 1860.
I could find no entries for the marriage in the Minnesota, Marriages Index, 1849-1950, the index to Minnesota, County Marriages, 1860-1949, or the Minnesota Online Marriage System.
I’ve written to the Dakota County Office of Vital Statistics to see if they can find a copy of a marriage record for Margretha and Francis. I’ve also written to the Catholic church (St. Mary’s) in New Trier to ask whether they have the original church records for 1856 (the year of the parish’s founding).
Update: I heard back from the Dakota County records office, and they also could find no record of Francis Gores’ and Margretha Wolf’s marriage. That said, they were only looking in the same databases I had access to. The archivist said she’d look through the original record books whenever she next visits their archival storage facility.
Update 2: I also heard back from the Church of St. Mary’s in New Trier. The business manager there hinted that they had parish registers going back to the founding of the parish in 1856, but said I’d have to get the permission of the Archdiocese in order to request a search for those records, since I wasn’t the person in the record or their immediate child. I wrote to the Archdiocese and found that the parish misinterpreted the Archdiocese’s policy—as long as the records were more than 100 years old, they are considered public. The bad news is that while the Archdiocese confirmed that baptismal records at St. Mary’s began in 1856, they said that marriage records weren’t kept in New Trier until 1861. Since Francis and Margretha were married and had a child on the 1860 census, it appeared that I would not find a record of their marriage. Ever the optimist, I submitted a paid records lookup for Francis and Margretha’s marriage and (since you get three record lookups for the same price as one) I also had them look for the baptismal records of their eldest child Nicholas Paul Gores and their second son, my 2nd-great-grandfather Frank Eugene Gores.
Update 3: I heard back from the archivist at the Archdiocese, and he found all three records! How? It turns out that Francis and Margretha weren’t married by the New Trier parish priest after all. The young couple were instead married by the parish priest from the town of Faribault, Rice County, Minnesota (30 miles to the southwest of New Trier). A copy of the Faribault parish record of their marriage is shown below:
So it appears that the young couple were living in New Trier before their marriage, and that they were married in New Trier, just not by the New Trier priest. This record confirms July 14, 1859, as their wedding date. This would have given the young couple a more leisurely 3–5 years to meet, court, and marry.
This is the first time I’ve seen his first name spelled Frantz (rather than Francis or Frank). As he was born in Prussia (in what is now Schönecken, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany), I believe that Frantz is his birth name, and that Francis and Frank are anglicized versions of his name that he adopted after immigrating to the United States. The only record I have of his name in Prussia is his baptismal record, with his name written as the Latinized ‘Franciscus’ in the Latin church record.
Importantly, this parish marriage record provides evidence that Margretha’s maiden name was Wolf (and not ‘von Wolf,’ as some family history researchers have asserted).
So that’s everything I can find about Margretha (Wolf) Gores to date, and I’m not much closer to knowing where she was born, when she came to the United States, or who her parents were. If I knew even one of these things, I could go to the passenger lists and try to find the ship that took her to the U.S. Without any of these facts, there’s not a clear way to determine whether a documented passenger with the same name is our Margaretha Wolf—the best we can reasonably hope for is to be able to rule out certain passengers from being our Margaretha Wolf. And even if I find 20 entries for 20 different Margaretha Wolfs, and I could rule out 19 of them as being our Margaretha Wolf, I still couldn’t say with confidence that the remaining Margaretha Wolf is our Margaretha Wolf, because there are almost certainly many more Margaretha Wolfs who came over during the same time period for whom passenger lists haven’t survived or haven’t yet been indexed or digitized.
So that’s where I am after two weeks of work—Margaretha (Wolf) Gores is still a mysterious brick wall. I need to find a reliable record on this side of the Atlantic that gives her specific birthplace, her parents’ names, or the specifics of her arrival (e.g., year and ship name). With one or more of these, I may be able to make the link to her European hometown.
If you have other ideas or information, please let me know.
UPDATE (2023-06-03): See this post for the long-awaited solution to this mystery.