Wilhelmina Carolina Mueller, my great-great-grandmother, spent most of her life in a country far from the one she originally called home. She was born on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1859, in Germany.(1) Family tradition holds that she came from Bavaria. The picture below, showing her with two of her grandsons, was taken about 1911-1914 in the German Village neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio.
In 1880, when she was 20 years old, Wilhelmina immigrated to the United States.(2) I have yet to find her on a passenger list or immigration record. I presume she came as part of a family group, but because Mueller is a common surname and I don’t know the names of any other family members, and women who married did not have to apply for naturalization, I have little to go on. I also don’t know if she knew her future husband before she came to America. What I do know is that she settled in the large German community in Cincinnati, Ohio. On January 25, 1883 at St. Peter’s Evangelical Church in that city, she married Johann George Herrel.(3)
John and “Mina” Herrel made their home in Cincinnati, where he worked as a carpenter, for the next 20 years. She became a U.S. citizen by virtue of her husband John’s naturalization, about 1890. Mina bore ten children, according to the 1910 U.S. census.(4) I have only been able to account for seven of them to date: Otto, Harry, Albert, Amelia/“Melie”, Edith, Bertha, and Frank Herrel. I believe two of the others were little girls who died young, but the identity of the tenth child is a mystery. Melie also died of diphtheria at a young age.
The family moved to Columbus between 1900-1910. They lived in a home on Sycamore St. in German Village for over two decades. John established a business, John Herrel & Sons, making wooden refrigeration cabinets. Over the years Mina picked up the language of her adopted country, and in both 1910 and 1920 the census taker indicated she could read and write English. Her place of birth in all records found to date was noted simply as “Germany.”
Wilhelmina Mueller Herrel died October 7, 1933 at the age of 73. Her son Otto, the informant for her death certificate, put “unknown” for both her father’s and mother’s name. Her obituary in The Columbus Dispatch gave no clue as to her parents or where she began her life. It read simply: "HERREL—Wilhelmina C., 73 years, widow of John Herrel, [died] Saturday night. Survived by sons Otto J., Harry F., Albert W., and Frank M.; Daughters Mrs. Edith Weber, Mrs. Bertha Carter, all of Columbus; 11 grandchildren. Funeral services in residence, 431 Sycamore St., Wednesday, 2 p.m. Interment East Lawn by the Edward E. Fisher Co."(5)
I still have many unanswered questions about Mina. Who were her parents? What town in Germany was she born in? What were the names of her other children? And finally, what was she like? Was she a good cook? I wish I had thought to ask my grandpa, Fred Herrel, to tell me about his grandmother when I had the chance. From the photograph, she looks kind and motherly. In fact, she is smiling in most of the photos I’ve seen of her—a rarity in the days when solemn portraits prevailed.
I consider Wilhelmina Mueller Herrel a “fearless female” because of the strength and hard work it must have taken to come to a new land, learn the customs and language, and raise a family. I hope that as time goes by I will find new clues to help answer some of the questions I have and come to know her a little better.
Written for Lisa Alzo’s “Fearless Females” blogging series, as part of Women’s History Month. Lisa does a wonderful job writing about her ancestors and helping others do the same at her blog, The Accidental Genealogist.
(1) “Ohio Deaths 1908-1953,” digital image, FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org: accessed 23 April 2009), certificate no. 55927 (1933), Wilhelmina Herrel; citing original records, Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.
(2) 1920 U.S. census, Columbus Ward 3, Franklin County, Ohio, population schedule, E.D. 57, p. 1B, dwelling 18, family 18, John Herrell; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 25 June 2009), citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1380.
(3) St. Peter’s German Evangelical Church (Cincinnati, Ohio), “Copulationen, Confirmanten, St. Peters Germeinde, Angefangen 1874,” p. 152, Johann Herrel and Mina Mueller marriage (1883); FHL microfilm #1514064, citing original records held by Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.
(4) 1910 U.S. census, Columbus Ward 1, Franklin County, Ohio, population schedule, E.D. 29, p. 3B, dwelling 73, family 74, John Herrel; digital images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 23 June 2009), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1180.
(5) Wilhelmina Herrel obituary, Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio), 9 October 1933, p. 6A, col. 8.