Story of Maria Barbara Gutbrod, born March 23, 1870 in Kusterdingen

From Betty Dunn

This is Maria Barbara Gutbrodt Learned’s story. It is a true story. I  am her granddaughter. I am telling her story from memories she told her daughter (my aunt), Angeline Friederika, and information gleaned from a microfilm of church records dating back to the year 1556.

The year is now 1994 but we must start over 124 years ago in a small rural hamlet in Germany’s southern state of Wuerttemberg. In the spring of 1870, a baby girl was born March 22 to Johann Martin Gutbrodt and his wife Friederika Friesch in the small village of Kusterdingen located a short distance east of Tuebingen.

Two days later the baby was named and christened Maria Barbara in the church where her father was the sexton. She was the fourth child to be born to the couple since their marriage six years earlier in November of 1864.

The roll of church microfilm reveals only tragedy over the next three weeks in the Gutbrodt home. Four days after Maria Barbara’s birth the Gutbrodts’ 16-month-old son named after his father dies of diphtheria. Another four days later the Gutbrodts’ youngest daughter Agnes, who has just turned three years, dies of diphtheria. On April 8, their oldest daughter Friederika, who is five years, dies of diphtheria. The baby Maria Barbara, less than a month old, lives.

Decades later, Maria Barbara, who herself would lose three infant sons, told of how she, during her childhood, often watched her mother climb the hill from their home to the graveyard to sit alone at the graves of her three children. “One cannot fathom the loss of a child,” my grandmother told my aunt.

Over the next ten years three more living children and another who died shortly after birth would be born to Johann Martin and Friederika. A son was born November 12, 1872 to be named after his father. A daughter, named after her mother, was born April 19, 1874 and another daughter, Marie Agnes, was born October 18, 1880.

Maria Barbara’s childhood memories are of playing with her brother, made to do errands with him, and that the family was poor, very very poor. They often ate bread and milk for supper. There was no oven in which to bake bread in their home. This was apparently the case with many. Maria Barbara and her brother Johann Martin carried the leavened dough into the village square to the bakery. Here, a plug with a family mark on it was inserted into the bottom of the loaf as it was placed in the large oven with that of other families so that it could be later identified. Traveling from one place to the other was not measured in miles but by the time it took to walk somewhere. So we can assume the family had no horse and cart with which to travel.

Another of the sister-brother chores was to go in the evenings to the goose feeding grounds and collect the down feathers from among the goose droppings. Those who were fortunate enough to own geese grazed them on the grassy hillsides herding their flocks home each night. These precious feathers were made into pillows and down mattresses.

The village of Kusterdingen is not far from the southern border of Germany and Switzerland. Later, in her homesickness, she would remember the view she had of the snow capped Alps[1]. Her homesickness also appeared in her dreams. She repeatedly dreamed of approaching the door of her childhood home. When she reached and touched the knob to open the door she always awoke from her dream.

Maria Barbara, as a child of thirteen, probably was too young to have thought or dreamed of going to America. As the church bells tolled out the New Year of 1884 and her approaching fourteenth birthday in March, the world was about to change for this blonde blue-eyed maedchen.

A family friend – a Johann George Goetz – had emigrated to America years earlier and was visiting back in his homeland. His daughter, Magdalena, was married to Maria Barbara’s father’s brother, Johann George Gutbrodt, who had also emigrated to America where he Americanized his name to Goodbrod. Magdalena and her husband George, living at Utica, Nebraska had several small children and were expecting another.

Maria Barbara’s parents were approached by Goetz. “Why not give the young girl an opportunity to go to America with him to help his daughter in the household with her children,” Goetz probably said to them, agreeing to pay her passage.

What a decision it must have been. Was it the opportunity they must have considered, or perhaps the difficulty in providing for all the children? Did Maria Barbara even have a say in whether or not she journeyed to America?

The decision to let Maria Barbara go was made. She was to be confirmed in the church in April, but this was January, probably late January. It is apparent, again from the roll of microfilm of the church records, that there was a rush to get her off on her journey with Goetz. There is a half page record of a special confirmation service held just for her at the Kusterdingen church.

The record states in part that the confirmation was held on February 4, 1884 indicating she is to accompany Goetz to North America leaving on February 8, for Bremen, where they are to depart on February 11 for Utica, Seward County, State of Nebraska (near Lincoln City) to reside with Joh. Georg Gutbrodt.

A search of the Port of New York passenger lists finds Maria Barbara arriving on the vessel “Rhein” on March 3, 1884. A Georg Goetz, identified as a farmer, is listed immediately above her name which he has Americanized to Barbara Goodbrod.

Grandmother often told my aunt about her voyage, particularly the night the ship struck an iceberg while they slept. Six hundred and seventy-five people including crew were aboard according to the ship captain’s passenger list. Maria Barbara was in a steerage passenger room with a group of women. They were all flung from their bunks. Bells clanged. Everyone was ordered on deck and a crew member grabbed the young girl fastening a life jacket on her. Crying, alone, frightened – she was pushed and shoved until, almost miraculously Goetz found her on deck. Fortunately the boat was not seriously damaged.

Goetz and my grandmother probably traveled by train to the town of Milford near Lincoln where Goetz farmed. Unable to speak a word of English, grandmother later remembers what happened. They were apparently to go on to Utica, not far away, the next day, but that evening a man on a horse came riding in across the grassland. He had a telegram for Goetz. His daughter, Magdalena, for whom Maria Barbara had been brought all this way to help with her children, had died during childbirth.

Magdalena’s husband, who, as mentioned earlier was my grandmother’s father’s brother, had dispersed the previously born children among others. He had no need for Maria Barbara. What to do with her?

Maria Barbara’s father also had a sister[2] who had emigrated from Germany and lived at Marysville, Kansas. It was decided that the girl would be sent alone by train to live with her aunt.

Goetz put my grandmother on the train at Milford en route to Beatrice for an overnight stay when she was to board another train on to Marysville. She was outfitted in an oversize hat belonging to the dead Magdalena by which her aunt would recognize the girl. Speaking and understanding no English Maria Barbara was given a letter addressed to an innkeeper in Beatrice. Goetz, as he put the girl on the train at Milford, spoke at length with the conductor probably giving him instructions.

The train puffed out of the station. At each small town stop, Maria Barbara jumped up, her carpet bag in hand, waving the letter she clutched in her other hand. At the same time she tried to keep the oversize hat from sliding off her small head. The conductor would shake his head ‘no’ each time until they reached Beatrice. Here the conductor helped the girl off the train. She stood abandoned until the station master found her alone on the platform. Realizing the girl spoke only German he went across the street from the station to the inn and brought someone back who could speak her language. The proprietor took the girl in hand. She was fed a supper and put to bed, to be awakened early the next morning, given breakfast and taken to the train station for the trip on to Marysville.

Again, the conductor was informed. But at each stop, Maria Barbara, frightened beyond comprehension, again jumped up waving the envelope in her hand to be greeted with a shaking of the conductor’s head until the train pulled into Marysville. The conductor escorted her off the train, where she joined a crowd of travelers coming and going on the platform. As the train left the station continuing its route, Maria Barbara was left by the crowd to stand alone looking strange in the oversize hat, her carpet bag in hand and still clutching the envelope which had been her right of passage. No one in the crowd had recognized the hat. She began to cry thinking she was lost to the world.

Finally, from behind her, a woman sitting in a one horse buggy called out, “Are you Barbara?” (The Maria had been dropped.) One can only imagine little Barbara’s relief. I’m not sure of this woman’s given name, but her married surname was Grauer, whose family, according to the microfilm of church records was a 16th century name in the church register.

I do not know how long Barbara, as she now became called, lived at Marysville with her aunt, but apparently it was not a pleasant stay. As time passed Barbara was sent to Illinois to live with another aunt, although I think this may have been a cousin, named Regina Gutbrodt Ruppert (Rupert). She liked this woman, but was allowed to only stay a short time before returning to Marysville.

Eventually, Barbara went to Utica, Nebraska where Johann George Goodbrod at Utica, remarried and gathered up his children, bringing Barbara into his home to help in the household as originally had been planned. (He married Barbara’s cousin, her mother’s sister’s daughter also named Magdalena, who had been sent to America in hopes of relieving Barbara’s homesickness.)

Five years after my grandmother’s arrival in the United States, she was married to my grandfather, Lucian George Learned, on May 2, 1889 at Utica. My grandfather was of Puritan ancestry on both, his father and mother’s lineage, the families arriving in Massachusetts in the 1630s on several of the Winthrop’s Fleet voyages. His mother’s lineage goes back to the 11th century with the surname of Boynton of the family’s Boynton Castle heritage located in Yorkshire.

Lucian and Barbara’s first two children, Martin and Walter, both died as infants and were buried a few blocks away in the Utica Cemetery. Oscar was born in 1894 and lived until September 1925 when he was killed in an accident at work in the Havlock Railroad Shops at Lincoln. A son, Willie, was born and died of a head injury at about two years. Warren was born in 1900; my mother, Mabel was born in 1902; my aunt, Angeline Friederika was born in 1907, and an uncle, Russell, was born in 1910.

So, it was that Barbara came to know her own mother’s agony at the loss of children. She too had only a short walk to sit at the graves of her dead sons. My grandparents both now rest beside them.

Thanks to that roll of microfilm covering four centuries of Kusterdingen church records, I have been able to trace my grandmother’s ancestry back on her mother’s side to the beginning of the church in that community. The Friesch surname appears in 1561, the record begins in1554. I have been able to establish my grandmother’s mother’s lineage to her (my grandmother) great great-grandfather Johan Jacob Friesch, born at Kusterdingen about 1725, whose son Johan Jacob Frisch was born January 25, 1757 and whose son Johan George Frisch born September 26,1800 was Barbara’s mother’s father.

The Gutbrodt name first appears two centuries later than that of Friesch when a son, Johan Martin Gutbrodt, is born to a George Gutbrodt (probably Johan George), on December 26, 1755. This son was my grandmother’s great great-grandfather and my great great great great-grandfather.

My grandmother, upon leaving Germany, never again saw her parents, or her brother, or either of her sisters. After she married and the children were born, my grandparents wrote and asked if Barbara’s younger sister could come to America and help in their household. Her parents said no, because they felt they would never again see their daughter and did not want to let another child go.

My grandmother’s father often sent flower seeds from his German garden. I wonder if that is where the beautiful hollyhocks in grandmother’s Utica garden came from.

This is Maria Barbara’s story.

Betty Dunn

[1] It’s very likely that she has meant a smaller mountain area called „Schwaebische Alb“, which is about 20 km away from Kusterdingen as the real Alps can’t be seen from there..
[2] After some research we believe that it was Magdalena Gutbrod, married to Jacob Grauer in Marysville, KS

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