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Discovering the Past of My Paternal Grandmother

Updated on August 22, 2017
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul was born and grew up in Wisconsin. He is married to a Thai and living in Thailand. He has Swiss, German, and Austrian ancestry.

My Paternal Grandmother and Grandfather's Family

Picture taken about 1938.  My father is standing in the back left with grandma, grandpa, and my aunts and uncles.
Picture taken about 1938. My father is standing in the back left with grandma, grandpa, and my aunts and uncles. | Source

The Need to Discover Grandma's Past

Although only living three blocks from my grandparents during the period 1947-1954, I never really got to know grandma when growing up. I used to always tag along with dad when he visited grandma and grandpa, but it always seemed grandma was cold to me and didn't treat me as warmly as my maternal grandmother.

I only learned a few things about grandma from dad, and grandma never mentioned her past to me. According to my father, grandma was born in Austria and immigrated to America when she was a teenager. After living for a while in Pennsylvania, she moved to Door County, Wisconsin, where she married grandpa. Dad never talked about grandma's folks (my great-grandfather and great-grandmother.) Grandma and dad also never made mention of any aunts, uncles, brothers, or sisters that grandma had.

This article is an attempt to discover the past of my grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Kroll Kuehn. From my cousin's genealogy research and my findings on, I am beginning to reconstruct grandma's life trying to understand her.

My Grandmother at Age 13 in 1900 in Austria

My grandma at age 13 pictured with her father, Anton Riedelsperger, and unidentified stepmother, stepbrother, and stepsister.
My grandma at age 13 pictured with her father, Anton Riedelsperger, and unidentified stepmother, stepbrother, and stepsister. | Source

My Great-Grandmother Mary Kroll


Early Years in Austria 1887-1903

According to genealogy records, my grandma, Mary Elizabeth Kroll Kuehn, was born on March 25, 1887, in Tirol of the Innsbruck State of Austria. Her father, Anton Riedelsperger, who was in the army when younger was born in 1851 also in Tirol. Grandma's mother (my great-grandmother) was Mary Kroll who was born in 1867 in Salzburg.

There are no records of grandma's mother and father ever getting married, so it is no surprise that grandma used her mother's surname of Kroll while living in Austria.

My cousin opines that grandma spent the first 16 years of her life splitting time with her mother and father. In a photo taken around 1900, grandma appears in a picture in Austria with her father, Anton Riedelsperger, and unidentified stepmother, half brother, and half sister.

In 1900 my great-grandma, Mary Kroll, immigrated to America and initially lived with her brother, Peter Kroll, and his wife in southwestern Pennsylvania. Peter was a coal miner who had immigrated to the United States in the 1890s.

In 1903 grandma immigrated to America and joined her mother who had married Frank Angerer in 1901. Frank was a coal miner who had immigrated from Germany in the late 1880s. He was a widower who had five young children living with him.

Life in America Before Marriage 1903-1913

After grandma immigrated to America and was reunited with her mother who was now the wife of Frank Angerer, she took the surname of Angerer. I assume that Mary Elizabeth Angerer was adopted by Frank Angerer because the 1910 census indicates Mary Elizabeth as Frank and Mary Kroll Angerer's oldest child.

After Frank Angerer's first wife passed away around the year 1898, she left him with five young children. The oldest boy was about seven or eight and the youngest around one. When grandma joined the family in 1903, she was the oldest at the age of 16. Grandma and dad never mentioned grandma's stepbrothers and stepsisters even though the oldest boy Gottlieb lived in Burlington about seven miles from our farm in 1930.

I vaguely recall dad saying that grandma was in a convent in Pennsylvania before marrying grandpa. My cousin and my research to date, however, has not been able to verify this statement by my father. Actually, nothing is known about grandma's activities from 1903 until she appears as a member of the Angerer household in 1910.

According to articles found in A History of Door County published in 1917, Frank Angerer and his family including grandma moved from Pennsylvania to Door County, Wisconsin, in 1911. Frank Angerer had purchased a farm there. From 1911 until 1913, I have no record of grandma's employment.

Married Life 1913-1963

In 1913, grandma married grandpa, Charles August Kuehn, who was also from Door County. Grandpa was born in Milwaukee in 1885, and according to census records only had a third-grade education. Based on a genealogy record, grandpa was working as a laborer in the Milwaukee area in 1912.

No one ever told me how grandpa and grandma met. After they married, grandpa and grandma lived on a farm near Egg Harbor in Door County. Uncle Augie was born in 1914, my father, Charles George, in 1916, and Aunt Marie in 1918.

The 1920 census shows grandpa and grandma still living on a farm near Egg Harbor. An ancestry record, however, indicates that they moved to Greenfield in West Allis, and were living there in 1926. Dad often talked about living on 99th Street in Greenfield as a boy.

During the 1920s, Uncle Dick was born in 1921, Aunt Laura in 1924, Aunt Helen in 1926, and Aunt Florence in 1929.

By 1938, grandma and grandpa had moved to 960 South 63rd Street in West Allis. According to the 1940 census, all of my aunts, Uncle Dick, and my father were still living with grandma and grandpa. Uncle Augie had probably moved out sometime between 1938 and 1940 because he wasn't listed in the census. The census indicated that grandpa was a stockyard worker and grandma a housewife.

My memories of grandma begin around 1949 when I was five. We were living three or four blocks from grandma and grandpa at 1338 South 63rd Street. I remember grandma as a stocky woman about 5'4" in height. Whenever my dad and I visited, grandma was often outside feeding the chickens which she kept in a coop and fenced in backyard. There was also a small cherry tree in the back of the house.

Grandma kept a very clean house and I never recall sitting on a sofa or an armchair. I spent most of the time during warm weather sitting on a loveseat in an enclosed front porch.

Although dad said that grandma made some delicious chicken and dumplings, I can never remember eating at her house. One time grandma took me down into the basement when she was washing clothes and gave me some marbles that Aunts Helen and Florence used to play with.

My last memory of grandma is in June of 1963, five months after the death of grandpa. We went over to her house, and dad gave her $20 for grandpa's old car so that I would have transportation to my summer job. In March of 1964, grandma died of a heart attack at the age of 77.


It was no secret that my mother and grandma did not care much for each other. I cannot remember a time when mom and I went over to visit grandma. After my mom and dad married, it seemed that grandma favored Uncle Dick, all of my aunts, and all of my cousins over my dad and Uncle Augie's family. We were never invited to family reunions, and grandma and grandpa seldom came to visit after we moved out to the farm. I still cannot understand why grandma disliked my mother. Perhaps further research will enable me to understand grandma better.

© 2016 Paul Richard Kuehn


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    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 8 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you very much for your comments. It's a shame I didn't get to know my grandmother better considering that we only lived a few blocks apart up until I was 10 years old.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 8 months ago

      Glad you found some information on your grandmother. Sorry you were not able to visit as often as possible but at least you have some fond memories. I never knew any of my grandparents well as we lived on opposites ends of the country and travel as not an option for my family.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 8 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Blond Logic, I am very pleased you enjoyed reading this article. How I wish I had more pictures of my grandma to share with my readers!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 8 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you very much for your comments, Larry, and I am very happy you liked this hub. I am tempted to get DNA evidence to see if I have any Spanish blood in me.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 8 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I appreciate your comments very much. Yes, I should have talked more with my grandmother when I was older. Perhaps she would have told me some things I am finding out now. I also fault myself for not asking dad more about grandma's past.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 8 months ago from Brazil

      My great aunt did the genealogy along my father's line and another relative went down my mother's line. It makes interesting reading.

      Times were hard back then and sometimes arguments divided families long after anyone remembered what cause the disagreement.

      Tracing ancestors is always fascinating and you have some wonderful images which brings it to life more than just names or memories from childhood.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 8 months ago from Oklahoma

      Always fascinating to learn where we came from.

      I always new I was Some Native American, but I recently got compelling DNA evidence that I'm 10%, which is far more than I ever expected.

      I'm starting to grasp it was purposely hidden from me how much because of family prejudices.

      Anyway, I digress. Great read.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 8 months ago

      It's always interesting to find out about our ancestors but it would be a lot easier if we got talking to them but they often would not have told us when we were young and by the time we were considered old enough to know family secrets, they are either dead or we have moved too far away!