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Condon, Kleckner, Gilles, Ethen, Milton, Meyer, Mitchell, and Liston Family History

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Kleckner stories

I don't have much oral or written history of the Kleckners. The earliest ancestors that I can find information for at www.familysearch.org are a Joannis or Jois Kloeckener and his wife Elisabethae Kochs. They had six children in the years from 1741 to 1755 in the village of Holzweiler, which is located a few miles southwest of Bonn in western Prussia.

Michael was the youngest of those children, and was christened April 23, 1755. As I have interpreted the data, he married Ann Maria Wilber or Wolbers (with several alternate spellings of her last name). They had several children, but I only have information on one--Ernest, who was born in 1810 and died in 1865 in Germany. There are some problems with this interpretation however. For one thing, the only record that seems to fit her is that she was born in Holzweiler in 1757, two years after Michael. However, the recorded marriage between Michael Kloeckener and Anna Maria Wolbers is Feb. 6, 1797--when she would have been 40 years old and he 42. Their youngest child, Ernest, would then have been born when she was 53 and Michael was 55--seemingly unlikely.

An alternate interpretation is of a record of a marriage between Michael Kloeckener and Gertrudis Gilles in 1784. The appropriateness of this record is supported by the listing of the groom's parents as Joannes Kloeckener and Elisabetha Kochs. The bride's parents are listed as Jacobi Gilles and Catharinae Krups. A major problem is that the only birth record for a child named Gertrudis Gilles with parents Jacobi Gilles and Annae Catharinae Krups is dated 1749. This would have made her 35 years old when she was married in 1784 and an impossible age of 61 at the birth of Ernest in 1810. Another problem is that there are records for only two children born to this couple--Abell, born in 1786, and Joannes Josephus, born in 1787--no record of a child named Ernest.

A third scenario is that there is another Anna Maria who married Michael Kloeckener. A record exists for an Anna Maria Wolber, born on Dec. 25, 1770 in Holzweiler, to Joannis Petri Wolber and Anna Margrethae Leyhs. This woman would have been 26 years old when Michael married in 1797, and would have been 39 in 1810 when Ernest was born. These dates and ages are more reasonable than those involving the other potential wives of Michael.

Once we get to the next generation there is more certainty, although with one exception. There is a record for Ernestus Jacobus Kloeckner born in 1810 to Michaelis Kloeckner and Anna Maria Wilber. There is also a record for a Mathias Kloeckener, christened Aug. 12, 1853, whose parents were Ernest Kloeckener and Anna Maria Rieck (or Riecke). Anna Maria Rieck was potentially born in Essen, Germany in 1818. A record of the marriage of Ernest and Anna Maria has not been located.

The only uncertainty here is that Matt Kleckner's death certificate lists his father as Ernest, but his mother as 'Maria Mouch or Moud'. Note that on the death certificate his mother's name has been written over by someone at a later date. However, on the marriage certificate for Matt and Mary Ann Gilles, his father is shown as Ernest and his mother as Anna Reik. Someone has also altered this document, by adding an 'e' to her last name.

So, as shown above, there are problems tracing a direct line backwards from Mathias Kleckner to his grandparents and great-grandparents. There were many people with the same or similar names, even in the same limited localities. The records of births and marriages in that area available online are very helpful, but can also lead to crossing over from one family to another inadvertently.


The existing records indicate that Ernest and Anna had eight children, born from around 1840 to 1861. Some of the children lived and died in Germany, but some emigrated to this country. Three or four children ended up in the Johnsburg or Adams, Minnesota area, one child ended up in Meyer, Iowa, and two ended up in New Haven, Iowa, including Mathias (Matt or Math) Kleckner. His younger sister, Anna Maria (b. 1861) was the other family member living in New Haven.

Mathias was born in 1953 or 1854 and died in 1909, at the age of 55. His christening record from Germany (Prussia at that time) indicates that he was born on August 11 and baptized on August 12, 1853, but his death certificate states that he was born August 12, 1854.  He was married Feb. 16, 1886 to Mary Ann Gilles when he was 31 and she was 17.  Interestingly, an obituary for Mary Kleckner in 1947 mentions that their first home was in Fargo, North Dakota.

Mathias is said to have left Germany at the age of 18 or 21 to avoid the draft. War had been declared by France against Prussia in 1871, at which time Mathias would have been 18 years old, so it's conceivable that he arrived in America around 1871 or 1872. What he did between the ages of 18 and 29 is unknown to me, but he probably was a farm hand, saving money to homestead. I have no information on how he came to live in Iowa. Northern Iowa wasn't an area that had a particularly large German immigrant population in the 1870s (Geografox). The map does indicate that the area of Wisconsin that the Gilles family came to Iowa from did have a relatively high German-origin population, so perhaps the Kloeckeners may have first settled there and then followed the Gilles family to Iowa in the 1870s or early 1880s.
 
Matt paid $200 for land in
Spink County, Dakota Territory in December, 1882, when he was 29.  The money was for 160 acres at the rate of $1.25 per acre, located in the NE1/4 of Sec. 9, T. 118 N., R. 61 W.  A U.S. patent certificate was issued for the land to Matt on Feb. 23, 1887. It appears that he sold this land in 1885, prior to his marriage to Mary, so the land patent papers weren't recorded until after the sale.

He also homesteaded 160 acres nearby, in section 28. See these images from the Bureau of Land Management web site for reference to the land grants that Matt obtained: (1) overview; (2) land in the NE1/4 of section 9, T. 118 N., R. 61 W., issued in 1887; (3) land in the SE1/4 of section 28, T. 119 N., R. 60 W., which is a few miles northeast of the previous location, issued in 1890. This land in section 28 was sold in 1891.

Also note that an 'Anna Kleckner' obtained a patent on land nearby in the NW1/4 of section 25, T. 119 N., R. 60 W. in 1888.  This land is about two miles east of Matt's land in section 28. It again appears that the patent was issued after the sale of the land in 1885. This last document is interesting in that the sellers are 'Annie Gilles (formerly Annie Kleckner) and Mease Gilles.' Annie and Mease had been married in New Haven in 1884. She didn't seem to come out ahead financially on this land, because the document notes that there are encumbrances of a $250 mortgage and taxes.

The law in effect at the time of Mathias' immigration was the 'Homestead Act', of May 20, 1862. This act authorized unrestricted settlement on public lands to all settlers, requiring only residence, cultivation, and some improvement to a tract of 160 acres. Any person was eligible who was head of a family or had reached the age of 21, who was a citizen or intended to become one, and who did not own as much as 160 acres. After living on the land and farming it for 6 months, he could buy the homestead at $1.25 an acre. But after 5 continuous years, he could apply for and receive a patent or title to the 160 acres for a filing fee of $15.

It appears that Matt made a good choice in selecting his land in Dakota. An 1882 railroad map shows the Chicago Northwestern line running about 10 miles south of his property, heading to Redfield. Then, an 1886 railroad map shows a spur line extending north from Doland, running a few miles east of the Kleckner property. Finally, an 1892 railroad map shows that this spur line connected with the Chicago and Milwaukee line to the north. The area was thus well-connected to transportation and markets.

I suspect that there was a New Haven connection before he homesteaded land in Dakota, since Annie also lived in New Haven. Whatever the connection, he and Mary were married and then moved to Dakota, where Alfred, Ernest, and Gertrude were born, from 1887 to 1889. Then, they must have sold out and moved back to Iowa, because the rest of the children were born in the New Haven area, starting with Pauline in 1891 and ending with Isabelle in 1902.

Note of August, 2016: I came to possess a number of Kleckner documents, mainly regarding real estate matters. One of these documents is a Redemption Receipt from the Treasurer's Office in Spink County, South Dakota. The receipt is for delinquent taxes for the year 1899, and is dated November 5, 1900. The property is that in the SE1/4 of section 28, T. 119 N., R. 60 W., mentioned above. The back taxes were paid just prior to the sale of the land to a J.O. Ayers of Larimie [sic] Wyoming in 1901. They sold the land for $1,600, which was a pretty good return on their investment.

The book 'Braving the Elements: The Stormy History of American Weather' by David Laskin describes the weather in the northern Great Plains in the late 1800s.  He stated that after the Civil War various people promoted the Western territories as suitable for farming, and that in the 1870s there were a number of unusually wet years, resulting in very good harvests. In the decade of the 1870s the population of the wheat-producing states increased from less than a million to more than 2.5 million. These conditions undoubtedly attracted Matt to Dakota Territory when he homesteaded in 1882.

Another source of information on conditions at this time is the book 'A Son of the Middle Border' by Hamlin Garland. There are some interesting parallels between the Garland and Kleckner/Gilles families.  Both the Garland and Gilles families moved to Mitchell County from Wisconsin, the Garlands in 1869 and the Gilles' in 1884.  Garland described a sort of land rush mentality that swept the country in the late '70s and early 80s that prompted many people to claim land in the James River valley area of Dakota Territory. To quote Garland, "The movement of settlers toward Dakota had now become an exodus, a stampede.  Hardly anything else was talked about as neighbors met one another on the road or at the Burr Oak school-house on Sundays."  Hamlin Garland's father, Richard, moved from northeast of Osage to Ordway (near Aberdeen, SD) in 1881, and as noted above, Matt Kleckner bought land in Dakota in 1882. This followed disastrous years in '79 and '80 when the wheat crops in Mitchell County were almost completely destroyed by cinch bugs (wheat was an important crop in those days in the County).  The Kleckner land in Dakota was only about 30 miles south of Ordway.

To quote Laskin, "And then the rain stopped.  And blizzards howled in from the north.  And clouds of grasshoppers descended and devoured the wheat."  Another book, by O.E. Rolvaag called 'Giants in the Earth', described conditions endured by the first Norwegian settlers in the Dakotas.  He described a hard winter in 1880-81 and another in 1885-86 that killed as many of 85 percent of the cattle in some regions.  The weather in 1888 was particularly bad on the Great Plains--a very hot and dry summer, followed by a cold and snowy winter that killed much livestock. The blizzard of 1888 affected everyone from Dakota Territory to New York City.

Garland described conditions in Dakota in 1889, "Another dry year was upon the land and the settlers were deeply disheartened.  The holiday spirit of eight years before had entirely vanished.  In its place was a sullen rebellion against government and against God.  The stress of misfortune had not only destroyed hope, it had brought out the evil side of many men."  Other passages describe severe blizzards in the winter and the unrelenting heat of summer days.  Mary (Gilles) Kleckner, Matt's wife, later related that the constant wind had bothered her.  The Kleckners returned to Iowa in about 1890, and the Garlands returned to Wisconsin shortly thereafter.

David Lavender, in 'The Great West', documented the climatic cycles in the Great Plains, including the Dakotas: "Nature stepped in with a drought that shriveled ranges already thin from overgrazing.  This was followed, throughout the winter of 1886-87, by unprecedented blizzards.  Cattle drifted with the wind until they were trapped against fences--many of them illegal--or in ravines and died there in heaps.....Continuing drought and sinking prices, 1887-93, all but depopulated many overextended farming communities in the western parts of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.  Some of the displaced families joined the land rushes into Oklahoma; some returned sullenly to the humid lands they had recently left.  In 1891, eighteen thousand covered wagons fled from Nebraska back into Iowa."

Lavender also noted that land promotion by speculators and railroads had drawn the settlers to the west in the first place.  Even though the Great Plains had been characterized as a desert by the early explorers such as Zebulon Pike and Major Long, the saying in the 1880s was "Rain follows the plow".  The railroad companies had been granted large tracts of land by the U.S. government as part of the development of the West, and land sales were a means of more profit for them.  Advertisements were placed in many domestic newspapers as well as abroad.  In addition to land sales, railroads profited from freight fees as settlers moved west and agricultural products were shipped east to markets.

It appears that Matt bought his land, homesteaded in Spink County, and started his new family at just the wrong time.   He and Mary may have moved to Dakota with much foreboding as reports of worsening weather conditions there were received in Mitchell County.  Given the descriptions of conditions in the literature, weather must have been a major factor in their decision to move back to Iowa.  It must have been heartbreaking to see their efforts at starting a new life stymied by factors beyond their control.

In the summer of 2009 I visited one of the areas where Matt and Mary homesteaded in eastern South Dakota (the property in NE1/4 sec. 9, T. 118 N., R. 61 W.).  The site is just west of the small town of Turton, northeast of Redfield and southeast of Aberdeen.

I approached the area from the east, traveling west from Watertown, SD along US Highway 212, paralleling the former route of the railroad.  The area around Watertown is a glaciated upland that has many small lakes.  At about the town of Clark, SD you move off of this high ground and drop down into the valley of the James River.  The wide valley extends quite a ways off in the distance to the west.  The valley floor is very flat in this area.

At Doland, SD I turned north on State highway 37.  Off to the east you can see the hilly high country around Watertown.  At Doland  the terrain is slightly rolling hills, but about 10 miles north, at Turton, it is quite flat again.  At Turton you turn west on Spink County Road 12 and travel exactly 3 miles to the intersection of 161st St. (the east-west road) and 403 Ave. (the north-south road).  The property is on the southwest corner of this intersection.

The landscape there is surprisingly similar to Mitchell County, Iowa, where the Kleckners came from.  The terrain is generally flat, but slightly hilly, with views to distant hills when you get on high ground.  The farms in South Dakota are more spread out, and are likely of a larger size than those in Iowa.  Crops today are corn, beans, wheat, and hay.  There seems to be more fallow ground in this area than in Iowa.  No irrigation is evident, but there is an irrigation ditch running north-south about 1/2 mile east of the property.  There is a big bird seed farm just east of the old Kleckner property.

Today the eastern 2/3's of the old Kleckner property is planted in wheat, and the western 1/3 is in beans.  The southeast corner of the property is marshy, as is the northwest corner.  Properties nearby are also marshy, as noted by big stands of cattails, and this is probably what Mitchell County, Iowa was like before the extensive tiling that has drained all the wetlands.

Here are some photos of the property:
View south from the northeast corner
View southwest from the northeast corner
View west from the northeast corner

View west from the southeast corner
View north-northwest from the southeast corner

View south from the central part of the northern property line

View south from the northwest corner
View southeast from the northwest corner
View east-southeast from the northwest corner

No buildings or foundations were evident on any part of the property, however, I don't know if the Kleckners ever built a home and outbuildings here or not.

The little unincorporated town of Turton (their mascot is a frog) is similar to Orchard, Iowa.  The population in 2000 was 61; the elevation is 1,329 ft.  There is a grid of gravel streets with stop signs at the intersections.  There are a few businesses--a bank and post office, elevator, fire department, and church (First Congregational).  The ball diamond is 'Frog Field'.  All-in-all a nice, tidy little town.  When I was there I wondered if perhaps the Kleckners found lodging in town when they first arrived.  Three miles would have been quite a ways to commute to the farm property.

A web site that describes the church in Turton (http://www.archiplanet.org/wiki/First_Congregational_Church,_Turton,_South_Dakota) mentions a Centennial History, published in 1986.  This would place the time of settlement of Turton just at the time that the Kleckners moved to the area.

Back in Iowa, Matt may have worked for someone else or rented some land, because the Mitchell County Courthouse records show that he bought the land southeast of New Haven from Lillie B. Ayers in 1901. He farmed that land until his death in 1909; three years later Mary moved to New Haven and lived there until her death in 1947 at the age of 79.

Is it a coincidence that Matt and Mary sold their land in section 28 in South Dakota to a J.O. Ayers in 1901 and then bought land from Lillie Ayers in Iowa in the same year? I suspect not, but haven't uncovered the connection at this time. I have found that Lillie Ayers was married to John T. Ayers at the time of this sale, but that they were divorced by 1905. I've searched online, but have not found a sibling of John Ayers with the initials J.O., so there might not be any connection. John Ayers was living with his brother, William, in Wheatland, Wyoming in 1920, so there is a Wyoming connection.

The timespan from 1912 to 1920 must have been quite exciting for the Kleckner family. Consider this--Pauline was married Oct. 1, 1912, followed by Gertrude, married on Oct. 12, 1912, and Alfred, married Nov. 26, 1912. Then Ernest was married in June, 1913, followed by Evelyn--1915, Tillie--1918, Ida--1919, and Isabelle--1920, and Bill--1925. All the marriages (except Evelyn's and Bill's) were at St. Peter's in New Haven.


Thanks to Connie Fox Lievrouw, who provided the following story of Tillie Kleckner Dunlay's life. It gives some insight into what it was like growing up in New Haven in the early 1900's.

This is an article written by Shirley Penney on March 22, 1992 about Tillie. Shirley is from "Tillie Dunlay is a 91 year old, very independent, frail woman of about 100 pounds. She is the grandmother of a nursing classmate of mine.

Her granddaughter (Kathy Dunlay Klemm Mortenson) and I shared an apartment in Waterloo, Iowa after graduating from nursing school. We have remained close over the years, often visiting at her grandmother's house when she came to visit. She has also been a patient of the doctor that I have worked for over the last eight years. Tillie has been a widow since 1973. She has been living at Faith Lutheran Nursing Home in Osage, Iowa for the last seven months. She is hoping to be able to return home when she is strong enough to get around without a wheelchair. Dates are difficult for her to remember, but she was very happy to visit with me about her life history.

Tillie's father was born in Germany. He came to the United States when he was 18 years old. He was a quiet man and never spoke much about his life before he moved to Iowa. His family assumes he landed at Ellis Island and often wonders if he signed his name on the wall after arriving in the USA. Her mother was born in Wisconsin, moving to Mitchell county sometime as a child. Her mother's parent's were from Germany. No one is sure of how her father ended up in Mitchell County. Her parents lived across the road from each other, met, and were married. Her father was quite a bit older than her mother, who was only 16 years old at the time that they were married.

Tillie was born on the last day of the year in 1900, December 31st, at five minutes to midnight at her parent's home. She was the second youngest in a family of nine, having three brothers and five sisters. Only one sister is still living. Ida lives in Chicago. She has not seen her in many years, but still writes. Years ago, Tillie used to visit Ida. Coming from a small rural community, she never cared much for Chicago. There was too much traffic and the houses were too close to each other. Her younger sister lived in New Haven in a home close to Tillie's until she died almost two years ago. (Note:That would be Isabelle)

At five years of age, Tillie had meningitis, then called "brain fever". She isn't sure of how Dr. Lee treated her, but he told her parents that he was not the one who saved her, it was the guy up above. She does remember seeing her younger sister, Isabelle, when she "woke up". Isabelle asked her if she was afraid that she was going to die. Tillie said she hadn't thought much about it.

One of her favorite pictures is of her in her first communion dress. Many years ago, you had to be twelve years old to receive your first communion. At the time it was changed to 7 years old, there were three girls in Tillie's family who would be able to received first communion. Her older sister who was a dressmaker, made the dresses and veils for the three sisters. Her mother insisted that they have their picture taken, and now it is one of Tillie's favorite pictures. [This may be that picture; it came from Isabelle.]

Her parents farmed near Riceville, Iowa. Her father died when he was only 56 years old when Tillie was still a young girl. Her mother had a family to raise and was not able to farm the land. When asked how her mother was able to support the family, Tillie was not sure. Her parents owned two farms. Tillie does remember that they had a good sale, and that her mother was quite well off. The farm work had been done with horses. She remembers all 26 of their horses being sold on the day of the sale. The family moved into a house in New Haven. Tillie remembers playing cards with her brothers and sisters while growing up and helping with chores around the house.

Tillie attended Catholic school in New Haven. At age 17, she decided to quit school. Tillie said she had a crabby nun for a teacher and she didn't like being told what to do. Her mother was not one to push an issue, so when Tillie said she wanted to quite school, it was alright with her mother.

Tillie met her husband, Vincent [Ben] at a dance. They went together for a year before they were married. Tillie was 18 years old and is not sure why her mother let her get married so young. Jokingly, she says maybe her mother wanted her out of the house. Her mother had hoped she would marry a German, but her mother liked Vincent even though he was of Irish descent. One of the things that attracted Tillie to Vincent was that he owned a car. They went to dances every weekend, either in one of the nearby towns, or to a barn dance. Two of her favorite bands were Kelley's Band and Casey's Band. No one in their group of friends drank alcohol. They would not dance with anyone who had been drinking alcohol.

Tillie and Vincent were married at St. Peter's Catholic Church in New Haven on September 26, 1918. This was during the time when everything was expensive, right before WWI. Her mother took her to Gopelrud's, a clothing and dry goods store in Osage, Iowa, which was 12 miles from New Haven. She couldn't believe that her mother let her buy the outfit that she wanted. She picked out a dark blue suit for $49. She purchased a beautiful beaded blouse for $9 and her shoes were also $9. She wishes she would have gotten a corsage, but instead she had a bouquet of carnations. Her next older sister, Ida, was her maid of honor. Tillie's cousin Vincent Gilles stood up as Vincent's best man.

Tillie and Vincent farmed near Riceville with many cows and hogs. They used horses for many years before getting a tractor. Tillie always had a big garden. Until last summer, she has grown most of her own vegetables. She has always enjoyed a large flower garden. She remembers making huge meals for the silo fillers and thrashers. There was always plenty of help for field work, but the women had to work hard to feed the men. She remembers making huge batches of homemade bread, several pies, and peeling gallons of potatoes. The worst part was that the men didn't go home for supper, so she ended up making two big meals in one day.

Tillie and Vincent were blessed with five boys and two girls. At that time, she thought seven children were more than she could handle, but now she realizes a large family can bring much happiness. All of the children were quite healthy, except Rusty, who was diabetic. Both of her daughters still live close and she sees them quite regularly. The sons live farther away, but she still sees them quite often. She has forty grandchildren and about eighty great-grandchildren --she lost count of them -- they multiply fater than she can count!

Vincent died in 1973 from lung cancer. He had been a smoker, but had quit several years before. After selling the farm, Tillie moved to New Haven. Two of her sons were diabetic, like her father. Rusty died four years ago from complications of his diabetes. Rex remained single. He lived with his mother until about a year ago. Tillie took care of him until just a year ago. He is now at the VA Home in Marshaltown, Iowa. While losing her husband and son were difficult, the hardest was having a grandson drown just three years ago. Eric was only 18 years old. He was with a group of boys who decided to swim across a lake near Minneapolis. Eric was not able to make it to the other side.

Tillie has traveled out West several times, but never East. Her oldest son, Jim and his wife Luella took her along on their vacations. She says she never would have been able to travel if they wouldn't have taken her along. She has been to Washington, New Mexico and who knows where in between! She always wished she had kept a diary. It is hard to remember just where she has been! She always wished she could have gone to Boston -- just because.

Tillie has never thought too much of doctors. She was never in a hospital until at the age of 82, she had a hysterectomy at St. Mary's in Rochester, Minnesota. She was not very happy about the surgery, partly because she does not like hospitals and partly because they did not remove her appendix at the same time. Last summer, at the age of 90, she was hospitalized for a ruptured appendix. She almost didn't pull through. It was after this surgery, that her family felt she was not strong enough to live alone. She consented to go to the nursing home until she was able to care for herself. She uses the wheelchair the majority of the time, except for short walks in the hall. But she is quick to add that as soon as she is strong enough to walk on her own, she is going home! Tillie apologized numerous times for not remembering dates of events, but assured me that she has everything written down at home and as soon as she gets back there, I may stop by and update my story of her. Most of her belongings are still at home, she didn't want to have to move them twice. I wouldn't be surprised if Tillie does get to go home. She usually gets what she wants when she sets her mind to it!"

[Tillie died May 12, 1995]


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