The mystery of the Biltz house

The Biltz family group among my ancestors has until recently always been full of question marks in my mind. A lot of these question marks have recently been removed thanks to my recent dealings with a genealogist who lives in the area the Biltzes came from. The reason I’ve started a separate Biltz section on this web site is to share what I’ve been finding out about the Biltzes.

I remember the first time I even heard the name. My wife and I were visiting my great aunt Laura, the widow of my great uncle Ed (i.e. my Wyneken grandfather’s brother). She pulled out a number of family related items and one of them referred to a person whose last name was “Biltz”. I at first thought that must be a misspelling for the German word “Blitz” meaning “thunder”. But after a while I realized that that actually was the name: Biltz.

Through the years I learned more and more about the family. The first highlight was Franz Julius Biltz, the one who emigrated to the US. He didn’t just emigrate, though …

The emigration

Louise Völker, Franz’ half sister, joined the group of emigrants to Missouri that would later wind up forming the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) in St. Louis. She had promised her mother to take care of her younger brother, Franz, who was 13, and she was so convinced of the importance of this emigration that she took him with her.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t his legal guardian.

Not only that, she neglected to tell his legal guardian what was going on!

Franz’ legal guardian was his older brother, Christian Friedrich Wilhelm. Actually, Christian was also a half sibling. Christian and Franz had the same father but different mothers, whereas Franz and Louise had the same mother but different fathers. This is just one example of the complicated family relationships in the Biltz family.

Click on the chart to zoom!

The chart to the left graphically depicts the relationships between the various persons of this story.

(The family which Franz would, as a father, later help found was also marked by several “non-standard” relationships. There were daughters who had the first same name. There were children who were adopted and others who were foster children. It has taken me and other researchers lots of patience to figure out exactly who was who and how they fit in. I think in the end and with a lot of help from these other researchers, including other Biltz descendants and the helpful folks from LCMS archives, we finally got it all untangled.)

Newspaper ad from 28 October 1838 requesting help in finding the missing 12 1/2 year old boy Franz Julius Biltz

So, when Christian suddenly discovered that his younger brother and ward was missing, he took out an ad in the local Chemnitz newspaper calling for help in finding the run-away. In the meantime, Louise and Franz had traveled up to Bremen and joined the rest of the group. This whole trans-Atlantic odyssey by a group of Lutheran dissidents came to be known as the Saxon immigration because a large part of the group came from the German state of Saxony – cf. wikipedia article.

Franz and Louise settled down in Missouri and started new lives in the new world.

The house

Another part of the Biltz saga that up to now has been a big question mark in my mind has to do with reports that Franz at one point later in his life would have inherited a house and a factory if he had remained in Germany. According to the story, in the end he did get some payment for this inheritance.

When I visited my great aunt Laura I received from her another item that I’ve always thought might have something to do with this inheritance story but had never been able to confirm this. It was a photocopy from a book showing a photograph taken in 1889 of a house in Mittelfrohna, the town Franz was from. The implication was that this might be the house that Franz would have inherited.

I sent this photocopy to Frau Jülich, my genealogist contact in the Mittelfrohna area, asking if she could help me find out more about this house. She was very helpful and provided me with some extremely useful information.

Note the same basic shape of the buildings in the two pictures, the water pump in the same location and the fence along the angle of the road.

First of all, she found a book about the area that contained a drawing of a very similar house — with the name C.W. Biltz on the wall!

Secondly, she suggested that I send my question to the state archives in Chemnitz to see if they could locate the property records pertaining to the house in the first picture I had since the text under the photograph includes official details. Two days later the archive replied and sent me scans of the appropriate pages of the record books. And lo and behold, there were names that I knew all too well:

  • On the page entitled “Besitzer” (“owners”) there is an entry in which Christian Friedrich Wilhelm Biltz bought the house from Louise Völker on 25 September 1838. These are Franz Julius’ half brother and half sister
  • And on the opposite page entitled “Schulden” (“debts”) in an entry from 19 January 1847 is the name Franz Julius Biltz. At the time he was a “Cand. theol.”, in other words studying theology at the seminary.

I don’t understand all the details of the entry on the debts page, but it looks to me like there was some sort of agreement (“Konsens”) made in 1844 and in 1847 Franz is finally being paid 300 thalers (the word that “dollars” came from). Christian didn’t die until 1848 so it would seem that these dealings are not related to the property after Christian’s death but to Julius’ inheritance from his father and/or mother. I will continue doing research on the details of this entry and possibly report the results later.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled when I saw these names and realized I had found exactly what I was looking for. But then after I recovered from my initial jubilation I took a closer look at the dates and also noticed something else:

  • Louise Völker sold the house to Christian Biltz on 25 September 1838
  • Louise’ and Franz’ ship left Bremen for the US in mid October 1838
  • Christian placed a search ad in the newspaper for his ward on 28 October 1838

I was taken aback by the timeline. This seems to reflect a highly dramatic background story. Louise’ mother had probably inherited the house when Franz’ father died, and Louise inherited it from her mother when the mother died in 1837. Louise needed money to take with her on her trip to the US so she sold the house to Christian Biltz. Christian probably knew that Louise was going to emigrate, but she didn’t tell him that she was going to take Christian’s ward, Franz, with her. When Christian finds out he places the search ad but it was too late because the ship had already sailed.

That sounds like a good plot for a soap opera, doesn’t it?

Footnote

Christian died on 17 November 1848. In entry 2 of the “Besitzer” page we see that his widow Anne Theresie nee Engelmann paid 106 thalers for her deceased husband’s property. I’m not exactly sure why she had to do this, but now she owns the whole property. The remaining entries on these pages record how the house remained the property of the Biltz family for a while more, but details will have to wait for another blog post.

1 thought on “The mystery of the Biltz house

  1. Warren Schmidt

    My name is Warren Schmidt. I am not a descendant in the Biltz family, but I have also done a bit of research on Franz Julius Biltz. I am president of the Perry County Lutheran Historical Society in Altenburg, Missouri. If you find an opportunity, I think you would really enjoy a trip to our research library. We may not have many ways to get the research back to Germany, but we have plenty of resources that gives glimpses into Franz Julius Biltz’s time here in Perry County. I really enjoyed reading your post. I’m going to have to find time to read more of your articles. You may also enjoy the blog we have on our museum’s website, lutheranmuseum.com.

    Reply

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