Monday, February 7, 2011

The Goldners of Chicago - Finding a Lost Family 1

PART 1 – Connections

Louis Goldner, the father of Louise
Goldner; photo probably taken
in Oak Park, Illinois.
The Goldners of Chicago are one of the lines in my family. Although I consider every ancestor important, this line has some particular interest for me because my great-grandmother (Louise Goldner) was very special to my father and played an important role in his life. Even so, I didn’t really know that much about the family, beyond that. After I came to Chicago to live, I started to become more interested in finding out more. Sometime in the mid-90’s the search began, albeit in a fairly modest way. I should preface this report by stating that I do not know of anyone with the name Goldner (my relations) that still reside in Chicago. There are probably some family members, distant cousins perhaps, with other surnames still around but, as of yet, I have not connected with any of them.

How did Louise Goldner come to be my great-grandmother? In the first decade of the 20th century, my great-grandfather, a young man named Frederick Roth, left his home in Monroe, Wisconsin for more promising opportunities in Chicago. I don’t know why he ventured to the city or what he would encounter but this is one area where his life and mine follow a parallel course. We both made the well-worn journey from small-town Wisconsin to big city Chicago. I have always considered Chicago to be the capital of the Midwest. It is a powerful city-state, a kingdom in its own rite that rises from the prairie. When you leave the city and venture into rural Illinois, you might as well be in Timbuktu because there is very little real connection between the two. State boundaries and provincial attitudes may work to politically separate Midwesterners but Chicago’s economic power ignores all man made boundaries. Millions of people have grown-up here and many stay but the city also taps resources and talent from far and wide. Young people migrate here from Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and downstate Illinois as well as other more distant places. One of those was Frederick Roth and of all the things he could have done, he chose what I would consider an unlikely profession . . . he became a cop.

The Roths

Frederick Roth was born in the late 19th century to an immigrant father, Frederick Roth I and a first generation American mother Mary Zweifel. Mary’s father had come over with his brothers in the 1850’s from Glarus, Switzerland and settled in New Glarus, Wisconsin. Frederick Roth I also came from Switzerland, but his exact origins are yet to be discovered, though I am beginning to surmise that he was also from Glarus. They settled in Monroe, Wisconsin where he was a business man and they raised a son and daughter. For a time, he ran the Monroe House, the local hotel and has been listed in various census records as a liquor dealer and saloon keeper. A family source has indicated that the family, including Frederick II and his sister Rose lived in the back of the hotel for at least part of their lives.

If we jump forward a few years, my great-grandparents (Frederick Roth II and Louise Golder Roth) are living in Monroe where Frederick II would own and operate the Monroe Hotel (like his father before him). They raised two boys, Frederick III and Edward. This is where my dad comes into the picture. My grandfather Frederick III would marry a local girl, Grace Holcomb and they would have a son (my dad). This was not to be a happy or successful marriage. My mom has said that Grace was from “the wrong side of the tracks,” and my dad has said that her family was “poor,” but the fact is that both Frederick III and Grace had their problems. Frederick III was a bit wild, never graduated from high school and as a teenager, was sent to Chicago by his parent to live with the Goldners in an apparent attempt to settle him down (which in the raucous late 20’s and early 30’s of Chicago would seem to backfire). Both of them drank too much and it was certain that Grace was, what we would call today, an alcoholic. When the war started, they went to Milwaukee and my grandfather worked in the shipyards. According to his own account, he came home from work one day to find my seven year old dad home alone. Grace was down the street at the “tavern.” They were soon divorced and were all back in Monroe. Because of the financial condition of Grace and her immediate family, my dad would live with his father and they ended up at the Monroe Hotel. This was probably a hard time for my dad; for one thing, he had very little contact with his mother for the rest of her life. I have researched her family extensively and know a lot about them but I don’t know much about her. She never remarried, died at the age of 56 and her story sounds rather sad.

There was one bright spot for my father, however, and that was his grandparents. He spent a lot of time with them and they were like second parents to him. By all accounts, they adored him and in-turn, he revered them. They developed a special relationship that would last the rest of their lives. Frederick Roth II and Louise Goldner Roth both died when I was very young. Even though I never knew them personally, I always felt like they were a part of my life. This was because my dad often talked about them and I could sense that there was a great deal of them, in him. He was who he was, in a large part because of his grandparents.

By some accounts, my great-grandfather was a hard man and a bit of a curmudgeon (especially as he got older). In Monroe, he was really a self-made man. The local hotel was the information super-highway of the times. He probably knew just about everyone in Green County, Wisconsin and many from other parts far and wide, including his connections in Chicago. Monroe was the county seat and if you had business there, chances are you stayed at the hotel. Farmers would also stay over when they came to town (before modern transportation). The hotel was known to “enjoy a large dining room clientele.” With his police background, he occasionally served as a deputy sheriff and did a stint as County Coroner. He was also reputed to be the local bookie, probably another skill he picked up in Chicago. During prohibition, rumor has it that mysterious trucks would, on occasion, park overnight in the hotel garage. No questions were asked. As far as his personality goes, one story comes to mind as told to me by my grandfather. He loaned money for my grandfather and great-uncle’s business. On one occasion, they were late with the payment. He got in is car and drove the 45 miles to their shop, showed-up unannounced, demanded the payment and then left with not so much as a “howdy do.” Yet, on the other hand, a local friend called him “a wise old bird . . . with a penetrating sense of humor.” Both of these descriptions seem to suite him very well.
My great-grandmother, on the other hand, was by all accounts a saint, wise beyond her means and a joy to all who came in contact with her. She ran the hotel kitchen and could cook fried chicken as well as anyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line. When she came back to Chicago for visits, she could negotiate with the Maxwell Street vendors like a local pro. She had two very young brothers, twins Ed and Fred and was so fond of them that she used the same names for her boys. My mother, who only knew her for a few years, told me she was a kind and sweet woman.

My dad would certainly share that view of his grandmother but he would never see the crusty side of his grandfather. To him, Frederick Roth II was a man with no equal and I am sure that my father’s view of him was a correct one. When dealing with my dad, the rough edges of my great-grandfather seemed to melt away. A young boy can be very impressionable and these tails that my father told had a lasting effect on me. My great-grandparent’s legacy lives on long after their bodies have left this earth. It is because of this super-natural connection to my ancestors, left to me, mostly by my father, that I feel compelled to find out more about them. As my interest in genealogy increased, it was only natural that I would want to find out more about the Goldners. After all, I was now living in Chicago and this was Goldner country.


I am one of those people who would love to have a way-back machine. I would give up more than a few vital organs see Chicago in 1900 (or 1920 or 1930 for that matter). As I walk the streets of a particular neighborhood, I often imagine my great-grandfather, a 22 year old, looking a bit like a Key-Stone Cop (but of course, much more serious) and walking a beat with a night stick and a badge as his only protection. Frederick Roth II came to the city in 1903 and worked for a furniture manufacturer. In 1907 he joined the Chicago Police Department. A year later, he married Louise Goldner. Louise seems to have had a Chicago police connection so it is conceivable that my great-grandfather chose this profession with some prompting from his future wife.

Louise’s father, like Frederick's, owned a saloon. It was on South Halsted Street, near Roosevelt Road. My grandfather often called this a Jewish neighborhood, but in fact, there were Italians, Germans, Poles, Irish and Jews in clusters around the area. Most were immigrants but there were even some more well-to-do blocks with “English” families, which meant old-line American families who had ventured west as the country expanded. This was probably a fairly typical Chicago neighborhood of the time and not one of the more notorious areas of the city (though it did have its share of drinking establishments). I have assumed that the Goldners lived in the vicinity of the saloon and know the Roths would set up housekeeping just a bit west in Lawndale. New information that was uncovered as this report was being written has shed new light on the settlement of the Goldners in Chicago and will be included in Part Two.

Frederick Roth
Chicago Police
By 1915, Frederick had risen to the rank of detective. But all was not well with his career. Being a cop in Chicago in the first half of the 20th century was not an easy task. Police were often tools of the establishment, used to uphold the status quo and the status quo of that time was corrupt government, Robber Barron industrialists, protected crime syndicates and cheap labor. Radical elements . . . socialists, communists, anarchists and not-so radical elements . . . social reformers, the temperance movement and women’s suffrage were all agitating, to one degree or another, for change and the police were often caught in the middle. Many of these agitators were immigrants who had come to the United States expecting opportunity but found that life was hard, freedom was fleeting and democracy was not always evident. Add to that an extremely corrupt police department with low pay, lack of professional standards and incomplete training. “On December 2, 1914, the state’s attorney made his famous declaration that the detective bureau was a den of thieves.” So was the world of Frederick Roth II, who by then was an experienced police officer, married and with two young children at home. In 1915 he, along with another dozen or so detectives, including the head of the department were charged with graft. He was later acquitted and quit the force soon after. I have yet to delve into the details of this incident. He may have been offered a deal to step down in exchange for an acquittal or perhaps, with his career tarnished and a bit disillusioned, he just decided to leave the force. The family stayed in Chicago for a few years. The 1920 census indicates that Frederick Roth, age 35, his wife Louise, also 35 and their sons Fred, age 10 and Edward, age 7 were living with his in-laws, who by then had moved to Oak Park, and he was “out of work.” In 1921, the Roth family would head to Monroe for a new start and better times ahead.

Finding the Goldners

So Louise Goldner found herself living in Monroe, Wisconsin, raising a family and running a hotel. She would spend the rest of her 43 years there and was buried, next to her husband, at Greenwood Cemetery. But what about her family? I had heard about some of her brothers and sisters, especially as they got older and crazier but I did not know anything about her parents or where they came from. In Part Two, I will talk about how I found the Goldners and a little bit about there lives and circumstances.

No comments:

Post a Comment