Monday will be the 144th wedding anniversary of my great great grandparents, Augustus and Sarah Jane Hettig. Both have somewhat unique family stories, and are both somewhat challenging to research. So I decided to honor them in this week’s 52 Ancestors blog post.
The story handed down was that Augustus wanted to escape military service in Germany and stowed away on a ship bound to America. He met a family on board that sympathized with him, so they basically “adopted” him while on board, and young Augustus took on their last name of “Hettig.” It was also said that his real last name was “Leppard.” One of my Mom’s aunts had given me a newspaper clipping of his obituary. It said that he was born in Leipsic, Germany on May 27, 1850 and that his parents were Valentine and Sofia (Manderling) Hettig.
So was this all true? I had heard that the “stowaway” story was quite common and to not completely trust it. I began by finding Augustus in the census records, living with Valentine and Sofie in White Haven, PA as Augustus Hettig. He was listed as a son at age 20, along with his younger “brothers,” Alven, age 12; Lewis, age 10; and Otto, age 7. I had also found Valentine’s naturalization papers which led me to the date Valentine arrived in America.
I had found Valentine and Sofie easily enough in ship passenger records. They arrived June 5, 1867 in New York on the S.S. Baltic. The ship left Germany at the port of Bremen. Valentine, Sofie, Alven, Lewis and Otto are all listed, but no Augustus Hettig, who would have been 17 at the time of arrival. However, listed immediately under the Hettig family was “Schnabel, Aug, 17.” Could the story be true and could this “Aug Schnabel” possibly be my great, great grandfather? However, I could not be sure and have not figured out if I could prove or disprove it. Thus, this is where I had hit my brick wall with my great great grandfather.
At this time, in nearby Kidder Township, Carbon County Pennsylvania, my great great grandmother, Sarah Jane Keiper was growing up. And Sarah Jane also had an interesting story handed down about her. It was said that she was actually a “full-blooded Indian that was adopted by German parents as an infant.” According to Sarah’s death record and census records, her parents were Reuben and Elizabeth (Prutzman) Keiper. She was born April 16, 1853. I have never been able to find proof of Sarah’s “adoption” and it’s possible such a document does not exist, since there probably were not adoptions recorded back in the 1850s. She was never listed as being Native American in any other her records, so I am unable to prove the Native American story. So, I hit my brick wall with Sarah Jane as well.
However, you can tell she kind of looked Native American in her photo. With her obvious dark coloring, she must have looked exotic to a young man who had just arrived to this land from Germany. And he must have intrigued her with his German accent and probably wild tales of stowing away on a boat. I imagine it did not take the two long at all to fall in love. Augustus and Sarah were married on April 14, 1870 in White Haven, PA and lived with the Hettig family after their marriage. Their first child, Reuben Oliver, was born a year later on April 16, 1871.
Augustus and Sarah eventually moved to the picturesque village of Noxon, PA in nearby Wyoming County. Augustus found employment as a lumberman, most likely at the Trexler & Turrel Lumber Company. Sarah took care of the home and their 9 children. Business was good in the town of Noxon, and the Lehigh Valley Railroad built and extension through there so that the lumber could be transported to other areas throughout the state. As Hettig brood got older, Augustus’ and Sarah’s sons; Reuben, Stewart, Stephen, Charles, and Wilson; all found employment through the railroad.
In 1927, Augustus and Sarah Jane left Pennsylvania to live in upstate New York, with their youngest daughter, Jessie May Hathaway. Both were now elderly and Sarah Jane was now an invalid with heart trouble. Sarah passed away on November 12, 1931. Augustus followed 2 years later on October 28, 1933. Both are buried in the Schnevus Cemetery in Schnevus, New York.
So, happy anniversary to my great great grandparents. Someday, I hope to break through at least one of your brick walls as an anniversary gift.