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Wahn and Wilbers Family History
Joseph Wilbers - Immigrant, Carpenter, Banker and Family Man

Joseph Wilbers - Immigrant from Germany  

Ancestors in Emsbüren

Auf dem Hortel

The Wilbers family originates near the town of Emsburen.  Located in the state now called Niedersachsen, this pretty town lies in the midst of gently rolling farmland in northwestern Germany not far from Holland’s eastern border. German farming traditions indicate that many families leased the land they farmed from a landlord who in turn would provide a house and permit the farmer to keep a certain amount of produce from the farm.  Northeast of Emsburen are several small villages that were centers for trade or were at crossroads to places farther on.  Some of those are towns associated with the Wilbers family, namely Leschede, Bernte, and Helschen.  The Ems River flows north, its origins in the Teutoburger Forest and empties into the North Sea.  Between the Ems and the Holland border lays a swampy region that historically produced much of the peat used in the area as a source of heat.  Because of their skill in farming the moors, many young men in the area would travel to the moors in Holland to farm peat after their own farms had been harvested in the fall. 

On the rise of land between the Ems and moors on the west, many of the main villages lay down roots, Emsburen becoming the largest.  The earliest record of Wilbers in this area is of Hermann who married a Thecla in 1667.  They lived northeast of Emsburen along the Ems on a farm near the village of Bernte.  Their oldest son, Lukas married at the age of 31 and was a farm hand at a nearby farm.  When his father died, Lukas became the new farmer on the land his father had farmed.  German tradition dictated that the oldest child, male or female, would inherit the lease on the farm and this changed only if the female was single and did not want the farm or she was already married with a husband who had a farm. 


Lukas had five sons and the oldest Johann took over farming his father’s land.  Hermann, Lukas’s youngest, found another farm to lease in August of 1787 from Joseph von Graes of Emsburen.  For the princely sum of forty guilders, Hermann leased some land, a house and with the lease was permitted to keep thirty bushels or produce from the farm.  Hermann was known as Neumeier auf dem Hörtel zu Leschede.  Leshede (lesh-a-da) is a small village about three kilometers (two miles) northeast of Emsburen.  The best translation of Hörtel that has been found is hillside and Neumeier probably means new renter.

Hermann and his wife Christina Göken had eleven children of which only three were male. Their oldest, Johann Lukas was born in 1767 and he married Margaretha Adelheid Santel in 1790.  Lukas inherited the farm when both his parents died in early 1795.  He had seven children and all were boys but one.  Their oldest son Gerhard Herman became a solider and died in combat probably in the Napoleonic wars in the early 1810s.  Johann Gerhard, the second son, worked on his father’s farm with the intention of inheriting it just as his father and father’s father had before him.  He married Susanna Maria Kamping in 1817 and   Bernhard Lukas was born 20 July 1818.  Unfortunately, his father died before his father and before Bernhard’s second birthday.  Women and men didn’t stay in mourning, remarrying soon after the death of a spouse.  The need for a man or woman to run the farm and raise the children were critical and their practical minds sent them searching for a spouse immediately.


Susanna married Johann Theodor Lohmöller two months after her husband’s death and in German tradition, he took the name of the family farm and was called Wilbers.  He and Susanna had three girls and then sadly she died in 1827 when Bernhard was a week into his ninth year.  Following his dead wife’s example, he married Euphemia Mersch two months later.  Euphemia and Theodor probably parented Bernhard because later he inherited the farm and became Neumeier Wilbers auf dem Hörtel zu Leschede. However, it is possible that the orphaned boy lived with relatives until he came of age to take over the farm. 


Bernhard was 27 when he married Gesina Ross in 1845.  Five days before the birth of his first child on 11 October 1846, Bernhard paid 100 guilders to buy his farm free and clear.  The hired hand had now become Kötter or farm owner.  He and Gesina had two more children but she died in July of 1849.  True to form, Bernhard married Helena Schulting four months later in October of the same year. Helena gave birth to a girl on 22 November 1850 and died a week later.  The child succumbed three days after its mother.


On 20 Feb 1851, Bernhard married for the third and last time.  His bride was Anna Maria Schomaker who came from Dreierwalde, a village ten miles southeast of Emsburen.  She was 27 years old when they married.  Bernhard was 33.  The couple had eight children over the next 17 years and Anna Maria must have also raised the remaining two children from her husband’s first marriage. 


The family lived at auf dem Hörtel until Bernhard died in 1880.  Shortly thereafter three of his five sons immigrated to the United States.  The eldest, Gerhard Hermann stayed and was a Heuerling (hired hand) in Bernte a town just north of Leschede.  The reasons for the three middle sons to leave their homes could have been many but were most likely because of a lack of opportunity in Germany.  Their only choices were to live in their brother’s home or to work as a farm laborer on a neighboring farm. With their father gone, their mother in the care of the oldest brother and no prospect of a future, the three men left and never returned.  There were two other families connected to this Wilbers family that immigrated in the 1850s and it is possible the sons contacted them and perhaps even met with them in the States. 


Descendants of Bernhard’s oldest son Gerhard Hermann, still live in Bernte.  In 2000, I had the pleasure of visiting with his great-grandson Bernhard Paul and his family at their beautiful home on their farm in Bernte.  Bernhard Paul’s uncle Bernhard Hermann was a soldier in World War II who was killed in battle. 


It is unknown when Anna Maria Schomaker Wilbers died.  No record has been found of her death, however, it is likely that she died after her sons left and she may have lived with Gerhard Hermann. 


One note of interest is that most marriages took place when the bride was older than 25 and the groom close to or past age 30.  Why this is I am not sure but it runs counter culture to the early marrying ages of men and women in the early 20th century in the U.S.

Joseph Wilbers - From Immigrant to Family Man

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