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Senheim, Prussia (now Koblez, Germany): 1852

Peter and Gertrud Engels, son Josef Engels, taken from journals of his granddaughter, June Persons-Weber, and compiled by his great-great granddaughter Deb Weber with reference to a history from that time period,


Anna and Josef 1920Peter and Gertrude Engels were from Senheim, Prussia, which is part of the Hunsrück-Mosel area of Germany, “situated on the river Mosel.” As reported by Arnold Gossler from the website listed above,
“There were no large cities here, only small towns with fewer than 1000 residents, and in the year 1852, the poverty was great. The people had little land, and other opportunities didn't exist, so many could not feed themselves. There was much theft going on, and this put a burden on the community, one that they didn't know how to handle. As a result, the mayors of five communities, Senheim, Grenderich, Liesenich, Mittelstrimmig and Altstrimmig, in the counties of Zell and Mosel, developed a plan to send the poor to North America.

Confirmation Paper“They decided to send those who were willing to America, at the cost of the community, because at this time many people from all parts of the country were going there. Delegates of these communities acquired funds from a local steel mill and arranged an all-inclusive contract with an emigration agent in Koblenz, and in return were able to get rid of large groups of people. These people, or so they said, were a burden to others, and a threat to their personal property.

“In the wake of the euphoria of being able to emigrate at the cost of the community, most voiced approval, and no consideration was shown for the few who were less enthusiastic. Acceptance of travel money from community funds was under the condition that the immigrants would give up their German citizenship and never again set foot on German soil. They got rid of a large number of people and it was hoped that those who remained behind would profit from it. The preparations proceeded in spite of this being against the will of some.

“So it came about that on the 26th of May 1852, about 530 persons, all on one day, were loaded onto two ships and transported on the nearby Mosel River, from Senheim and Beilstein, via Koblenz to Rotterdam, and the journey to North America began. Two mayors from these communities accompanied the group to Liverpool in England and ensured their departure.”

Mr. Gossler also sent Deb Weber a listing of the births and deaths of Peter and Gertrud Engel (nee Wirtz). Sadly, they had six children, but only Josef survived past 15 months.

Anna Engels and Gertrude Persons 1910
Anna Engels and Gertrude Persons 1910



Deb Weber writes: Shortly after arrival Josef and his family were sent to Michigan to be with other people from his country or nearby. Josef was 17 at the time; when he met and married my great-great-grandmother, they moved to Gresham, Oregon. Josef was a carpenter, and helped to build a church which stands today in Gresham.

Church built by Engels
Baptist Church in Gresham, Oregon built by Peter Engels in 1886, destroyed by a fire in 2004

His children did speak German, and spend time with others who did also in the neighborhood. His wife, Anna, lived to be 96, and their daughter Gertrude, my paternal great grandmother lived to be 98! It was said by Grandma that Josef was a stern man who made his wife "walk behind him." I am unsure if they officially became citizens, but I do know their children were all born in America, and I even have a record from the church in Nauganee, Michigan stating when Gertrude was christened.

Anna Engels on 90th birthdayGrandma always wanted to write the "Great American Novel" and so told this story to me when I was very, very young. I would crawl into bed with her first thing in the morning when my parents were visiting, and she would regale me with stories of the family. This had a profound effect on my interest in the family history. After grandma passed away I found her documentation and notes on how the family got here, and who they were.

Grandma [told me] that when Josef came from Michigan out to Oregon, he kept his own coffin with him, "in case the Indians got him". Once he arrived in Oregon, he sent money back to Michigan to bring his family out by train to San Francisco, then by boat from there to Portland, Oregon. My grandmother told me that the boat sank on its way back to California, but I haven't had any luck finding documentation about that, and suspect she might have taken poetic license on that story. The name of the ship was the "Ajax".

Annas Engels BowlGrandma wrote in her notes that her mother used to go to a friend's house in Oregon to "speak German". The language is not used in our family today, however. Grandma and Grandpa were both of German descent, and they both stayed in Oregon, where their ancestors had been since Grandma and Grandpa were born. I still have an aunt who lives there, too. I do have a very fragile ceramic bowl which came from Anna Otto-Engel, believed to have been from the old country. I also have the ledger from Grandpa Engels carpentry business.

The author Deb Weber, her father Stephen Joseph Weber, her grandparents Joseph Weber and June Persons-Weber
The author, Deb Weber (as a baby), her father Stephen Harrison Weber,
with Grandparents Joseph Weber and June Persons-Weber

Gretchen Morgan, stories at immigrantjourneys Dot com, P.O. Box 661467, Sacramento, CA 95866-1467

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