I finally have a few moments to add another family member to the blog. This post will be concentrating on Harry Meier’s father, Richard Oscar Meier who was born 9 December 1908 in Thalheim, Germany and died 31 March 1997 in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
My family and I were lucky enough to visit Germany this past summer and were able to visit Thalheim, where my great grandfather was born. I’ve attached a picture of the town and of the empty lot where his family once lived (presumably with a house on it). It was nice to see where he came from and the streets he and his family would have walked. It’s quite likely that the train station we came in at was the same one that he, his mother and his sister (and his father a few years before them) left from on their journey to America. Before our journey to Germany, I had contacted local and regional archives and churches to see if they had any records for my grandfather or his parents. Unfortunately, Thalheim was close to or part of East Germany after World War II, so between the devastation of war and the destruction of documents by the later government, there were no records to be found. We knew that my grandfather’s family was Lutheran and the only church in Thalheim is probably where he had been christened as a baby. There were no Meiers in the church cemetery, but I figured there would not be any, as his parents had come from other nearby towns.
The earliest document I found for Richard Oscar Meier was his entry to the United States through Ellis Island with his mother, Elsa, and his sister, Erna. His father, Oscar Max Meier, had already immigrated to the United States in 1914, years before the rest of the family. Richard, his mother and sister, sailed from Copenhagen, Denmark on 11 January 1917 (Passenger List below). Keep in mind that World War I is occurring at this time and that in a few short months, the United States would enter the war as well. How terrifying was it to sail to the United States, knowing that German U-boats were sinking ships along the European continent? Richard and his other family members sailed on the SS Hellig Olav (picture below) and arrived in New York City on 26 January 1917, a voyage of sixteen days. Richard was seven years old at the time and the Passenger List indicates that he was hospitalized upon his arrival in New York. Richard’s mother, Erna, gives the name of Trevor Neubert as her contact in Germany. Neubert was Elsa’s maiden name and this person may have been a relation. Elsa also indicates that she is being met by her husband, Max Meier, who lives at 775 Hubbart Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She has forty-five dollars in her possession at that time. This document also indicates that Richard was released from the hospital a week after his arrival on 2 February 1917. All family members are described as having fair colored hair and blue eyes.
Richard is next enumerated in the 1920 United States Census with his parents, Max and Elsa Meier, and his sister, Erna. The family was living on 21st Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Richard was eleven years old at the time and the record indicates that he is an alien who arrived in the country in 1917. He attended school that year and the record indicates that he can read and write, however, the record does not state whether he can read or write German or English, or both.
Richard’s next document was his Certificate of Marriage (see below) to Erna Bohme on 16 November 1929 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This document confirms the parents of Richard as being Max Meier and Elsa Neubert. It also provides the names of his bride’s parents, Ewald Bohme and Hulda Hahn. Both Richard and his bride were twenty years of age and Richard’s occupation was a knitter. This document also indicates that the bride was not an American citizen as her nationality is stated as “German,” however, Richard’s nationality is “American,” indicating that he had received his citizenship. Richard did indeed receive his citizenship when his father received his on 16 September 1926. At this time, children of adults petitioning for citizenship were automatically granted citizenship when their father was. At times in American history, wives also were granted citizenship the same time as their husbands. This was not the case in the late 1920s and Richard’s mother, Elsa, would have to petition for her own citizenship, which she did in 1936.
Richard was enumerated in the 1930 United States Census (see below) with his wife, Erna, and living with his father, Max, mother, Elsa, and sister, Erna. Richard’s father is recorded as owning the home they lived in and Richard is recorded as renting (presumably from his father, since they are in the same home) for $20 a month. The family lives on 14th Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Richard is twenty-one years of age and can read and write. His birth in Germany is recorded and the census states that he spoke German within the home. This document also records that Richard is a naturalized citizen who arrived in the United States in 1917. Last, his occupation is that of a knitter in a hosiery mill and he was recorded as having been at work the day before the census taker visited. This was important because the time period of this census was during the Great Depression, when many Americans were without employment due to the financial collapse in the country. Richard was one of the lucky Americans still employed at this time.
The next document for Richard is his Social Security Application (see below), which he filed 27 November 1936. He would have been working long before this date, remember, his marriage certificate states that he was a knitter. Social Security did not begin for Americans until after the Franklin Roosevelt administration passed the Social Security Act in the 1930s. This program was a means to provide for the elderly once they were no longer able to work. Richard’s father, Max Meier, also submitted an application, making his generation the first to apply for a social security account number. Getting a copy of an ancestor’s Social Security Application is not hard, but it does take months to receive it and it does cost quite a bit for the half sheet of paper you get in return. However, if you are unable to find out the birthdate, parent names, maiden name or country of origin for your ancestor, this record does provide that information. In 1936, Richard was living at 3602A No. 14th Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was twenty-seven years old at the time he applied and his birth date is recorded as 19 December 1908 in Germany. His parents are listed as Oskar Max Meier and Marie Elsa Neubert. We know from the 1920 U.S. Census that Richard was a knitter. This document lists his place of employment in 1936 – the Phoenix Hosiery Company at 3261 Buffalo Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Also on the document is the social security number assigned to Richard, so you can match this number to the Social Security Death Index to get a date of death for your ancestor.
Richard is recorded four years later in the 1940 United States Census, living on North 30th Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife, Erna, and his son, Harry. Richard owns his home, which is valued at $5,000.00. He is thirty-one years of age and has been married for eight years. The census also indicates that he was living in the same place in 1935 and was a knitter at a hosiery mill. The document also states that Richard worked fifty weeks in 1939 and received $2,000 annual salary and that he received no additional income from other sources. This question of additional income from other sources would indicate that an ancestor had received employment/aid from organizations such as the Works Progress Administration, which attempted to provide jobs to men who were without employment. Many of these jobs were digging ditches for irrigation, working in national parks, etc.
Richard’s last document is his listing in the Social Security Death Index, which indicates that he died 31 March 1997 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He is listed in the Wisconsin State Death Index as well with the same death date.
I’ve included photographs provided by my dad of Richard Meier, whom he knew, but unfortunately, I did not. If you have any comments or further information on Richard Meier, please reply to this post. I would love to have a copy of his gravestone. I have been unable to locate his gravesite at this time.