In 1889, two young German immigrants met each other in St. Louis, Missouri. She was Catholic and nineteen. He was Lutheran and ten years older than her. They never married. She became pregnant and died in childbirth. He disappeared. Using records from archives and libraries, I found some buried details of their lives and wrote this story.
In 1880, my great great grandparents, August and Christina Beine, traveled from Germany to America with seven of their eight children, and settled in the St. Louis area. They had one more child in America in 1884. Their oldest child, August, is my great grandfather.
Over time, I became intrigued with this immigrant family and decided to do further research on my great grandfather’s siblings to see what happened to them in America. One of them, my great great aunt Elisabeth, known as Lizzie, died in childbirth ten years after she arrived in the U.S. She was unmarried and I couldn’t figure out who the father was. So there was a small mystery to solve. I decided to dig further into old records to see what I could find.
When I first started researching my Beine ancestors in the late 1980s, I went to the Denver branch of the National Archives to look for them in census records. The Beine family arrived in the U.S. three months after the 1880 census was taken. Most of the 1890 census was lost in a fire. So the first census they were included in was 1900. This is what I found in the 1900 census for them in St. Louis, Missouri:
August Beine (head, born Sept 1839, birthplace Germany, age 60, coal miner, immigrated 1880, naturalized)
Christine (wife, May 1840, Germany, age 60, mother of 10 children/7 still living, immigrated 1880)
Auguste M (daughter, July 1874, Germany, 25, immigrated 1880, saleslady, confectionary)
Anton (son, July 1878, Germany, 21, immigrated 1880, laborer, paint factory)
William F (son, Jan 1884, Missouri, 16, laborer, paint factory)
Frederick (son, Aug 1890, Missouri, 9, at school)
Three of August and Christina’s children — August (my great grandfather), Anna, and John — had left home by this time and are listed elsewhere. There were also three children who had died prior to 1900: Helena (born 1880, death unknown), Christina (died in Germany in 1897) and Lizzie (died in St. Louis in 1890).
I recorded this census data in my computer’s genealogy program and moved on. But later, when reviewing the details, I noticed that Christina was fifty-one when the youngest child, Frederick, was born. So I did some research on Fred and found his date of birth — 22 August 1890. Then I noticed that August and Christina’s daughter Lizzie died nine days after Fred was born. It appeared that Fred could have been Lizzie’s son.
I looked her up in the records of the Catholic church the Beines attended at the time, the Shrine of St. Joseph, and found a death record for Lizzie. It gives the cause of death as kindbettfieber, the German word for puerperal fever. Which indicates she died in childbirth. Her entry in the St. Louis Register of Deaths confirmed this.
I changed the family tree in my computer program to show Lizzie as Fred’s mother. And noted that he was raised by his grandparents, August and Christina. But who was Fred’s father?
A few years ago, both FamilySearch (run by the LDS Church) and Ancestry (an online genealogy company) added pre-1910 birth and death registers for Missouri to their online collections. These registers were digitized from Missouri State Archives microfilm. The records at Ancestry are indexed. If you search for anyone named Beine for the year 1890 in Ancestry’s birth index, you get no results. But from the research I did on Fred, I knew his date of birth. So I looked through the digitized microfilm for August 1890. And I found this:
Child’s Name: Fred Wm Altenbernd
Birth Date: 22 Aug 1890
Birth Place: 704 Mound St
Mother: Lizzie B.
A search for Beine didn’t work because only the first letter of Lizzie’s last name was given.
So who was William Altenbernd? Looking for him ended up being one of the most challenging genealogy searches I have ever done. Because after Fred was born, William Altenbernd vanished. But I kept digging. I was determined to find him.
From my initial research about William, I found that he and his brother Ernest were naturalized in St. Louis in 1888. They are both listed in the 1889 and 1890 St. Louis city directories at the same address. They had a company called Altenbernd Brothers, which consisted of a saloon they ran together.
I then found a William Altenbernd in the 1900 census, a farmer living in Stephenson County, Illinois. He owned a farm and had a family. It seemed odd that he would pop over to St. Louis for a couple of years, run a business with his brother, have an extramarital affair, then go back to Illinois.
So I did more digging... Time to look in German records. Fred’s father, William, was born 13 May 1860 in Lippstadt, Germany. His parents were Georg and Dorothea Altenbernd. The Illinois William was born 3 August 1859 in Lippe-Detmold, Germany. His parents were William and Louise Altenbernd. So two guys with the same name from the same general part of Germany, less than a year apart in age, and living, at least briefly, in adjoining states in America. This is what makes genealogy fun.
So where was the other William, the one I was looking for, Fred’s father? I couldn’t find him in any census records from 1900 on. His last appearance in a St. Louis city directory was 1890, the year Fred was born and Lizzie died. Newspaper searches yielded nothing. Did he die unnoticed? Change his name? Go back to Germany?
More digging… Looking for William’s other family members revealed a lot. His brother Ernest was easily found in the 1900 census, still living in St. Louis with his wife and children. He no longer had the saloon and was working for a soap company. I soon learned that William had other siblings in St. Louis. And his parents were there too.
William Altenbernd was born on 13 May 1860 in Lippstadt, Germany. He was baptized in an Evangelical (Lutheran) church 18 days later. His family came to America in June 1883, arriving in Baltimore on the SS Ohio. But elusive William was not on the ship. (I later discovered that William had other siblings who were also not on the ship.) The passenger list shows William’s parents, George and Dorette (Dorothea), and his three younger siblings, including Ernest, who William briefly ran the saloon with.
After more research in German and American records, I compiled a list of William’s siblings. Otto, Ernest, Dora (the only girl), and Rudolph all lived in St. Louis and died between 1915 and 1938. There was also Gerhard who died at the age of eighteen in Germany. I then looked for information about William’s parents.
William’s father Georg died in St. Louis in 1888. An obituary from Anzeiger des Westens, a St. Louis newspaper for German immigrants, stated: “The grieving survivors: Dorothea Altenbernd, née Kunze, wife, Wm. and E. C. (Ernest) Altenbernd and siblings.” (translated from German)
Georg is buried in Old Saint Marcus Cemetery in St. Louis, but his wife is not buried with him. Seven years later, when William was gone, the same newspaper had this notice in their 1 June 1895 issue about William’s mother:
English translation of the above:
Mr. E. C. Altenbernd, one of the traveling agents of Wm. Waltke & Co. received on May 28th the sad news of the death of his mother, who died in South America on May 18th. Mrs. Dorothea Altenbernd traveled on December 1st 1894 from St. Louis to visit her three sons, who live in Porto Alegre, Brazil. According to her last letter, the journey was a pleasant one and the visit a general joy for the family until her sudden death, caused by a heart attack that gave her visit a sudden end. (translated from German)
William Altenbernd didn’t vanish. He was in Brazil. Time to learn some Portuguese.
In the 19th century there was a small wave of German immigration to Brazil, and many of these immigrants settled in the southern part of the country where Porto Alegre is. (Now you know why Brazilian fashion model and ex-wife of Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen, has a German surname.)
I was certain that William was one of the three sons that Dorothea was visiting in Porto Alegre in 1894-1895. She is also buried there, which explains why she’s not buried with her husband in St. Louis. But who were the other two brothers in Brazil?
When emigrants left Germany, they had to register with a local office for permission to leave, although some people ignored this — and they became known as “secret emigrants.” (I have an emigration record for the Beine family.) I found an online emigration list for the Lippe region that turned up another Altenbernd brother, Carl Heinrich Wilhelm. He was born 10 February 1858 in Braunschweig, which is in the German state of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony). I later found another brother born before Carl, who died at the age of six. After Carl’s birth, the family moved to Lippstadt in today’s German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen where the rest of his siblings were born. Carl is not on the 1883 passenger list that brought the Altenbernd family to America. Because Carl came to the U.S. in 1874 when he was 16. He lived with one of his uncles in St. Louis. And then he later went to Brazil.
In 1883, the same year Carl’s parents and some of his siblings went to America, Carlos Henrique Guilherme Altenbernd married Maria Luiza Barbosa De Carvalho in Triunfo, Rio Grande Do Sul, Brazil, which is near Porto Alegre. His parents are listed on the marriage record as Jorge (George) and Dorothea Altenbernd. According to an AI-generated online family tree, Carlos and Maria Luiza had 14 children, but I’m not sure how accurate that is.
The third brother in Brazil when Dorothea visited was likely Otto, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1881, arriving in New York. He settled in St. Louis for a while, but then he disappears from the city directories for a few years. He was probably in Porto Alegre during that time. He eventually returned to St. Louis, where he died in 1915. He never married.
So what happened to William? The marriage record for his brother Carl (Carlos) was relatively easy to find — FamilySearch has an online database for Brazil marriages, but William (Guilherme in Portuguese) is not listed in it. But later I found four records for children of this couple: Guilherme Altenbernd and Augusta Molz. The children, three girls and a boy, were born between 1900 and 1910 in Porto Alegre. The first of these children was named Dorothea.
I also found a notice about Guilherme Altenbernd in a local newspaper that said he died in November 1918 when he was 58. I then found a church death record for William in the Evangelical (Lutheran) parish of Santa Cruz do Sul, which is 90 miles from Porto Alegre. The record is in German (so it’s Wilhelm instead of Guilherme), and it contains a lot of details. These are the kinds of records that genealogists love. William died and was buried on November 14, 1918. Cause of death was heart disease. It gives his place (Lippstadt) and date (off by two years) of birth. It says he married Auguste Molz in 1898. It names his parents and says he came to Brazil in 1890 with his mother... William Altenbernd is probably the first deadbeat dad who left town and took his mother with him.
When I first found nine-year-old Fred in the 1900 census, I had no idea that thirty years later I would be looking for his father in Brazil. And now I know Fred has at least four half siblings who were born in Brazil. And I’m guessing the Beine family back in St. Louis knew nothing about this.
You may have jumped around on three continents, William Altenbernd, but I found you.
I have a family photograph of a Model-T Ford from 1914 taken after Fred’s wedding in Germantown, Illinois, which is across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. My great uncle Ollie Beine is in the driver’s seat. Next to him is his brother, my grandfather August. Fred and his bride Mary Boevingloh are sitting together in the back seat in their wedding attire. The bridesmaid, Mary’s sister Francesca, stands outside of the car in the back. “Uncle Fred and his bride,” is written on the back of the photograph in pencil, possibly by my grandfather. But Fred wasn’t August and Ollie’s uncle. He was their first cousin.
Was Lizzie’s pregnancy kept a secret? Fred’s place of birth on his birth record says, 704 Mound St. His mother’s place of death is also 704 Mound St. Lizzie’s parents were living at 812 Brooklyn St. at the time she died. Google maps says these two addresses are 0.1 miles apart. August and Christina were a three-minute walk away from their daughter. Today Interstate 70 bisects the two locations. Did Lizzie’s parents rent their unmarried daughter an apartment to keep her hidden, to avoid embarrassment? Because they were Catholic? Or did she do this on her own?
Lizzie doesn’t have an obituary, but a burial permit for her was printed in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. All it says is, “Lizzie Beine. 20 years, 704 Mound street--puerperal fever.”
The marriage license for Fred and Mary lists his parents as August and Christina. When Fred filled out the form to apply for a Social Security Card in 1936, he put August and Christina as his parents. His obituary also has them as his parents. Did they not tell him they were actually his grandparents? Or did he know this and simply accepted them as his parents since they raised him?
Fred’s mother Lizzie is my great great aunt. She was born Maria Elisabeth Beine on 16 July 1870 in Essen, Germany, where her father worked in a coal mine. She was baptized eight days later in a small Catholic church called Maria in der Not (Mary in Distress) that was first built a thousand years ago. More than fifty years after Lizzie died, it was heavily damaged during World War II. It was restored and still stands today. I visited the church in 2018. It’s ancient and beautiful.
When she was nine, Lizzie came to America with her parents and siblings, except her older sister Christina, named after their mother, who was left behind. She was betrothed. The oldest child on the ship was my great grandfather August, named after his father. He was thirteen. The youngest was Helena, who was born less than two months before the family left Germany.
The Beine family likely took a train from Essen to a European port, possibly Rotterdam. Then a short trip to southern England, where they likely took another train to Liverpool. The SS Pennsylvania with 335 passengers, including the Beine family, arrived in Philadelphia from Liverpool on 11 July 1880. And then a train to St. Louis. Five days after the ship arrived, Lizzie turned ten.
It must have been exciting and strange and at times difficult for nine-year-old Lizzie to travel this way. A long voyage across the ocean and all those train rides.
There was a midwife present when Fred was born, Margaret Kumph. She reported the birth to the St. Louis Registrar of Vital Statistics, providing the information that I found on digitized microfilm more than a hundred years later. Because of her, I know who Fred’s father is.
I’m hoping that Fred knew who his mother was, that maybe his grandmother Christina told him stories about her, about her childhood in Essen, Germany, about the trip to America maybe. I probably know more about Fred’s father than he or his grandparents did. Fred had children and grandchildren, but I’ve never come across any of his descendants. Maybe one of them will stumble upon this story and find something that adds to their understanding of their background.
Maybe they’ll be as fascinated and saddened by Lizzie’s life and too-soon death as I am. The forgotten mother has a story, buried somewhere in a pile of documents in three different languages. I wanted to untangle the mysteries hidden in those documents and tell Lizzie’s story. I wanted to bring her out of obscurity, a place she doesn’t belong. She was a mother. She lost her life giving birth to a child.
-Joe Beine, September and October, 2023
Children of August and Christina Beine
Married 4 November 1865 in Essen
Born in Essen, Germany:
The above family arrived in Philadelphia in 1880, except the child Christina, who was left behind in Germany.
Born in Missouri:
Children of Georg and Dorothea Altenbernd
Married 29 June 1856 in Grossen-Berkel
Born in Grossen-Berkel, Bessingen, Braunschweig:
Born in Lippstadt, Westfalen:
The last three children arrived in Baltimore with their parents in 1883; Otto arrived in New York in 1881. Carl came to the U.S. in 1874 according to an emigration record, but a ship passenger list for him has not been found. A ship passenger list has also not been found for William.
The Name Game
English German Portuguese William Wilhelm Guilherme George Georg Jorge Charles Carl Carlos Otto Otto Otto
Jennifer Berg at the Bistumsarchiv Essen for providing Lizzie’s baptismal record and other items.
The German Genealogy and Genealogy Translations groups on Facebook for translation assistance.
The St. Louis County Library - History and Genealogy Department.
Ancestry, the Brazilian Digital Library, FamilySearch, Missouri Digital Heritage, MyHeritage, and Newspapers.com.
© 2023 Joe Beine. May not be reproduced without permission. Photographs from the Beine family collection.
For information about the research and sources used for this article, Contact Me
About the Author - Joe Beine
Information about Joe’s latest book, Made Out of Trees
A story about Lizzie’s sister: Christina Beine, the Girl They Left Behind