William Burger, son of Jacob, was four years old when his father left him, his sister, and mother in Germany to explore new opportunities in America. Letters that took two months to travel from Cincinnati, OH, to Baden, Germany, may have kept the memory of his father alive during his five-year absence. But if William’s memory had faded, no worries, there would be plenty of time for father and son to become reacquainted during the long voyage back to America.
At age 10 William would have been old enough to be both frightened and excited about a trans-Atlantic trip to a place called America, never to return to the country where he was born. Had he been able to foresee what lay ahead during the ocean voyage, his fright would have been justified given that one-third of the passengers on the ship succumbed to disease and were buried at sea; fortuitously, all of his family escaped that dreadful fate.
After arriving at, and then departing, New York, and within the safe embrace of his father Jacob and his mother Theresa, boy William could partake in the excitement that unfolded as the family traversed mountains, sailed up canals, and floated down rivers to Cincinnati where his father had resided for the past 5 years. After a brief stay in Cincinnati during which his sister Caroline was born, William, now a strong 11 -year-old, would have been instrumental in helping prepare the family for the last part of their journey to the “Garden of Indiana” in Dubois County.
As a teenaged boy, now settled with his family in Dubois County, IN, he would have been totally engaged with school, learning English, and working hard on the farm that his father had purchased. Before reaching age 21, he would meet his bride to be, a farm girl named Elizabeth Hopf, living not far from home. The story of their first encounter is Burger oral history: “It seems that William was sent to the farm of John Hopf, Elizabeth’s brother, to borrow John’s team of oxen to drag logs from a field being cleared. It happened that John was not at home so his sister, Elizabeth (Lizzy), went along into the barn to help William yoke the oxen. William and Lizzy yoked the team and proceeded to the barn door, whereupon they realized the door was not wide enough for the yoked oxen to pass. Their folly, and the ensuing need to rework the yoked team, led to a courtship between the two and an eventual marriage that resulted in 12 children.”
William and Elizabeth, both 21 years of age, were married on August 8, 1865. William left the new brick house where he was living with his father, mother, and three sisters and moved his new bride into the old log cabin that was present on the farm when his father bought it in 1857 and where he lived as a boy. He continued farming with his father and eventually bought the farm on July 29, 1876, whereupon he moved his family, his wife and five children, back to the brick house. During the interim, his sisters had married and left home but remained within the Jasper community. The 1880 U. S. Federal Census shows William as head of the household with wife Elizabeth and seven children. His father and mother, Jacob and Theresia, were also listed as living in the house.
William and Elizabeth’s first five children, Joseph, Mary, John, Theresia and Aloysius were born in the log cabin; Philomena, William, Peter, Alice, Anna, August, and Andrew were born in the brick house. Only six, Joseph, Mary, John, Peter, Anna, and August lived to adulthood; the others died as children or were stillborn. August, the 11th born and youngest to live to adulthood, was my grandfather.
William was a very successful farmer who became quite wealthy in the process. He acquired additional land adjoining the original farm and eventually sold about half of the total to his 3rd-born child, John. Two years prior to his death, and not very healthy, he and Elizabeth had moved to Jasper. His son August inherited the remainder of his farm when he died on April 2, 1910.
William’s obituary in the Jasper Weekly Courier included the following: “William Burger aged 66, one of the most prominent and wealthiest citizens of Dubois County, died at his home on Ninth St. early Saturday morning. Mr. Burger had been a sufferer of Bright’s disease and had heart trouble. The deceased leaves a widow and several children.“
His obituary in the Jasper Herald added the following: “William Burger died at his home after a brief illness. He was born in Germany and came to this country with his parents when about 10 years old. He was a successful farmer, an honest and upright man. His remains were laid to rest in St. Joseph’s Cemetery. A large concourse of sorrowing relatives and friends attended the last sad rites.”
Elizabeth lived another 14 years after William passed, much of the time with daughter Mary (Mrs. Henry Vonderheide). She died on October 21, 1921, at the age of 77. Her obituary in the Jasper Herald read in part: “Mrs. Elizabeth Burger, widow of the late William Burger succumbed suddenly of heart failure. She had attended Sunday church services and retired that night apparently in good health. She aroused the family at one o’clock; she was in her death struggle. She died before her sons could reach her bedside. “
I am aware of only two photographic images of William, both taken between 1900 and 1910. One was shown in Blog BF4 in a photo with August and Katie standing in front of the brick house. The other is the portrait above. His portrait hung in my Grandfather August’s house where on several occasions I asked my Grandmother, Katie, about him (little of which I remember). I don’t know who within the extended family inherited the portrait, but they were kind enough to make primitive photocopies of which the one shown here is a scan.
The portrait of Elizabeth above is the only photo of her to my knowledge. During the late 1800s and the turn of the 20th century, photography was still somewhat of a novelty done by professionals and reserved for the wealthy; therefore, no early photos of William or his father’s family exist. It is left to our imagination as to what William and his sisters looked like as children, and what their lives were like as they grew up in the time before, during, and after the Civil War.