All four of my great-grandmothers are either First Generation American or Immigrants. All four of them married men who come from families with deep roots in the colonies. Anna Ophelia Horneman Slemmer was the first of her family to be born on American soil.
Friedrich Peter Joachim Simon Horneman married Maria Dorothea Elizabeth Spohn on 12 July 1863 in Wittenberge, Germany.1 In the four years following they had three children; two died in infancy. On the 26th of May, 1869 Friedrich, Maria, Friedrich Jr and the widow Elizabeth Spohn (Maria’s mother) set sail for America from Hamburg, Germany on the Germania.2 Two years and three days later, Anna Otillic Hedwig was born in Minonk, Illinois.
She later changed her middle name to Ophelia.
I’m fortunate to have this family mentioned in one of those county brag books, so I can check records I find against what was written there.3 There were two subjects of that biography: Anna’s father Fred S who was a prominent business man in the small town of Minonk, and her brother Fred W who was Mayor of Minonk at the time of publication. Sadly her brother Fred W died of Tuberculosis four years after the biography was published.4
Hard work was a central theme with this family and Anna was no exception. Her father is listed as laborer on the Hamburg Passenger list. Years later he had saved enough money to purchase one of the towns four grain elevators. It’s a classic tale of migrating for opportunity and hard work paying off.
My mother told me that Anna worked as a secretary at that grain elevator. I believe that the photo of her at the beginning of this post is her work outfit based on the style of the time for work wear for women. Her younger brother Charles also worked at the grain elevator. Hard work and a strong education were important to the Horneman family. Everyone at the very least completed High School.
Anna’s sisters, Elizabeth Newcomer and Helmina Jeidel graduated from college and got medical degrees. Helmina was among the very earliest John’s Hopkins medical school classes that graduated women. She went on to complete a year of internship at John’s Hopkins and another year in Paris at the Pasteur Institute, then went on to become a noted specialist in children’s medicine.6 Elizabeth Newcomer was a Radiology specialist with a focus on cancer treatment.7 Even though Anna didn’t get a secondary education, she was no slouch intellectually. She belonged to a women’s study group in Colorado that covered a wide variety of topics from comparative religion, Shakespeare, history to food.8 Anna remained intellectually curious her whole life. The younger brothers who lived long enough to have families had a range of occupations: barkeepers, merchants and owning their own shops.
27 Jan 1892 when she was just 20, Anna married Edmund Charles Slemmer at the same church where she was baptized. Unfortunately, she also contracted tuberculosis. At the time there was a prevalent belief that moving to an arid climate was the best treatment, so she and Edmund moved to Raton, New Mexico.9 They owned their home, and he was a conductor for the Railroad. The cure didn’t work, so one of her lungs was removed. By 1919 they settled on a ranch in Parker, Douglas, Colorado. They got into the dairy business, and were by all accounts very successful at it.
Anna was an avid gardener, and a full partner in the business. She milked the cows every day, hauled the milk, cleaned the barns, repaired the farm equipment…you name it, she did it. All with only one lung. She was one tough bi-lingual German. I’m the first generation of that line to grow up not hearing German spoken in the home.
The fun challenge of writing about ancestors I’ve never met is the amount of research that’s required to cobble together enough information about someone to tell a story. It forces me to review and reevaluate every piece of information I’ve accumulated over the years; put it in context; see the big picture. This process exposes errors and reveals patterns I hadn’t noticed before. It’s taken me several days to write this post.
One pattern I noticed was that of infertility in this family. Yes, Maria and Friedrich had nine children. Seven of them survived to adulthood. Of those seven children only one had more than one child: the oldest Friedrich Jr. had four children. Of the six children born in America: Anna had one child; John died unmarried at age 25; Helmina had no children; Charles, Elizabeth and Robert each only had one child. That strikes me as odd.
Oh well. Anyway, back to Anna. She helped raise my mother for a few years of her early childhood. My mother speaks fondly of her, and with great admiration. I’ve enjoyed getting to know her through this process. After Edmund died in 1936, Anna sold the ranch. It’s a housing development now. She moved to the Olin Hotel in Denver to live out her remaining days. She died at age 74 on 11 Jan 1946 and is buried with her husband. They had been married for 44 years. She is a testament to what we can do if we put our minds to it in this lifetime. I wish I had had the chance to know her.
1 “Deutschland, Preußen, Brandenburg und Posen, Kirchenbuchduplikate 1794-1874,” Database with images, FamilySearch
2 Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934, ancestry.com
3 The Biographical record of Livingston and Woodford counties, Illinois. (1900). Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub.
4 Woodford County, Illinois Clerk & Recorder’s Office, death certificate #23922
5 Photo courtesy of the Minonk Historian Jari Lynn Onckyn
6 Obituary, Denver Post, Denver, Colorado, 10 Aug 1939, pg 8
7 Obituary, Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado, 4 Aug 1952, pg 5
8 Record Journal of Douglas County, various issues, Surname file at Douglas County Historical Society.
9 1910 US Census, New Mexico, Colfax, Raton, Ward 3, ED 39, pg 7A, HH# 160