Frank Wiseman was born Franz Wissmann on 18 October 1878 in the family residence at Bruchstraße No. 5a in the city of Essen, Germany. View his birth record from the civil register's office in Essen here. The marriage of his parents, Peter Wissmann and Franzisca Schäfers, was recorded in the Trauungsbuch (marriage book) of St. Johann Baptist Catholic church in Essen, Germany on 7 November 1869. Peter was a Bergman (miner), working in the coal fields of the Ruhr valley surrounding Essen, but came originally from the middle Rhine area just east of Bonn. Franzisca was of Westphalian birth.
Peter and Franzisca lived in Essen until 1881 or 1882 when they emigrated to the United States. Essen is located on the Ruhr River, a tributary of the Rhine, and is now part of the modern state of North Rhine-Westphalia in the west-central part Germany. The city is situated between the Rhine-Herne Canal and the Ruhr, and was the site of the massive Krupp steel works. The development of ironworks, steelworks, and coal mines made Essen into the largest industrial city in the Ruhr coalfield and the largest mining town in Europe by the late 19th century.
Frank had one older brother, named Peter, and one older sister, named Catherina. Peter was born 22 August 1870 in Essen, where his baptism was registered in the Taufbuch (baptismal book) of St. Gertruds Catholic Church on 28 August 1870. Catherina was born 27 May 1875 and baptized on 05 June 1875 at St. Gertrud's. The neighborhood in which the Wissmanns lived during their time in Essen was located on the north side of the city, near the mining and industrial sector, and only a couple blocks away from St. Gertrud's. The Krupp steel works was just west of this neighborhood.
The Wissmann family came originally from near Ückerath, a few miles east of Bonn, then part of the Prussian Rhine Province, and now within the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The town, along with neighboring Bülgenauel and Mittelscheid, is presently incorporated within Stadt Hennef, which is comprised of more than 90 villages in the Rhein-Sieg Kreis (county). Ückerath and the surrounding villages are located in the Westerwald, a mountainous region located on the right (east) bank of the Rhine and extending eastward for about 50 miles, between the Lahn River or the Taunus (to the south) and the Sieg River or Bergisches Land (to the north).
A search of church and civil records corresponding to Ückerath and nearby villages indicates that the surname Wissmann was very common in this area during the 19th century. In fact, numerous occurrences of the Wissmann surname can be found in the present day phone directory for that area. The prominence of the surname points strongly to Ückerath-Hennef as the origin of many generations of the Wissmann family. Records from the Katholische Kirchengemeinde Ückerath (Catholic church community of Ückerath) provide a likely lineage for Peter Wissmann, the immigrant. Records indicate a Peter Wissmann born on 2 August 1846 in Bülgenauel to Peter Wissmann and Eva Barbara Porsenheim, and baptized on 3 August 1846. His baptismal sponsors or godparents were Peter Wissmann of Mittelscheid and Margarete Pütz of Davignon/Trier. Significantly, the year of birth matches the year indicated on the gravestone of Peter Wissmann in Washington County, Pennsylvania, and also his age at time of death.
Ückerath parish records show that Peter had four older siblings, Anne Maria, Barbara, Anna, and Catharina, all born between 1837 and 1844. In addition, Peter had one half brother, Johann Wilhelm, and two half sisters, Elisabeth and Anna Catharina, born to his father's first wife, Susanne Winterscheid, who died in 1836. The Standesamt (civil register's office) Hennef provided a civil record confirming the birth of Peter in 1846 (view his birth record here), and giving his father's age as 43. This indicates that Peter's father was born circa 1803. Civil records indeed show a Johannes Peter Wissmann, born 8 May 1803 in Mittelscheid to Christian Wissmann and Elisabeth Broscheid. Unfortunately, earlier church and civil records do not exist for this community, so it is not possible to trace this Wissmann line back further. Many records from the time period prior to the Napoleonic wars (circa 1806) were destroyed or lost during that chaotic period in which much of the middle Rhine was overrun by the French and Prussian armies.
The family of Franzisca Wissmann nee Schäfers had strong Westphalian roots. She was the forth child and youngest daughter of Hermann Schäfers, day laborer, and Anna Eva Priggert of Wewer. According to the baptismal register of St. Johann Baptist Catholic Church in Wewer, she was born at 9 o'clock on the evening of 27 May 1843. She was baptized two days later on May 29.
Wewer is a small village in the historic region of Westphalia in the present day state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In 1969 Wewer was incorporated into the nearby city of Paderborn. Paderborn is located on the Pader River, a small affluent of the Lippe, formed from rain seepage on the slope of the Eggegebirge and emerging from below the cathedral in about 200 springs. Paderborn was the birthplace of the Holy Roman Empire when Charlemagne met Pope Leo III there in 799 to discuss the founding of a German nation. Prince-bishops from ca. 1100 ruled it until 1802, when it passed, along with the rest of Westphalia, to Prussia under an agreement with France. From 1807 to 1813, Napoleons brother, Jerome, ruled much of Westphalia as a province. The Congress of Vienna in 1814-15 restored most of old Westphalia to Prussia.
Hermann Schäfers, the father of Franzisca, was born at 6 o'clock on the morning of 31 December 1808 in Wewer, to Johann Wilhelm Scheiffers and Anna Maria Beatrix Schonlau. He was baptized on the same day at St. Johann Baptist church. Hermann was the only male child and the oldest of six siblings. His sisters were named Theresia, Anna Maria Elisabetha, Maria, Anna Maria, and Maria Anna. On 24 April 1834 Hermann married Anna Eva Priggert (b. 9 March 1815), daughter of Johann Conrad Priggert (b. 1782) and Anna Maria Clara Angela Steffen (b. 1789) at St. Johann Baptist church. The marriage record lists Hermann as a day laborer. According to remarks made on the record, the mother of the bride consented verbally to the marriage. His father is listed as a deceased day laborer. Anna Eva died on 31 May 1847 of pneumonia, leaving behind four minor children, including four year old Franzisca. Less than five months later, on 16 October 1847, Hermann married again to his wife's much younger sister, Anna Eva Maria Elisabeth Priggert (b. 14 July 1824). Herman died at the hospital in Paderborn on 10 June 1859 from stomach cancer. He was 50 years old and left behind a wife and three minor children. His widow died on 27 November 1905 at the age of 81.The lineage of Hermann Schäfers and Anna Eva Priggert can be traced back in the Paderborn area to the late 1600s through church records. A full lineage chart can be viewed here.
Federal census returns and extant naturalization records indicate that Peter and Franzisca Wissmann arrived in America in either 1881 or 1882. According to the Essen city directory for the year 1882, Peter Wissmann, day laborer, lived at Horster Strasse. Although the directory was published in 1882, it was probably compiled during the previous year. Their son, Frank, (Franz) stated that he was three years old when his family arrived in New York from Germany, again placing the arrival date in late 1881 or 1882. Unfortunately, no index currently exists for New York arrivals during the period 1847-96, and Peter does not show up in "Germans to America" by Glazier and Filby, the published multi-volume index to German immigration records. To make things worse, departure lists from Rotterdam, the most likely port of departure for emigrants from the lower Rhine region, were destroyed during WWII. Similarly, a search of emigration records at the state archive in Düsseldorf and the city archive for Essen turned up no record of Peter Wissmann having applied for permission to emigrate, or having announced his intention to do so in the local papers, as was required by Prussian law at the time. Therefore, we will proceed on the premise that Peter, Franzisca and their three young children, ages 3, 7 and 11, emigrated in 1881-82, arriving in New York harbor, probably on a ship out of Rotterdam.
Frank Wissmann told his children that the family came through "Ellis Island", but Ellis Island did not exist as a port of immigration until 1892. The Wissmanns likely entered through the State Emigrant Landing Depot at Castle Garden. The State of New York operated the examining and processing center until the Immigration Act of 1882 gave the federal government domain over immigration facilities. Located in Battery Park on the southern-most tip of Manhattan, Castle Garden (also known as Castle Clinton) was the point of entry for some eight million immigrants who entered New York harbor from 1855 to 1890. It was the "Ellis Island" of its day.
Family sources indicate that the Wissmanns initially migrated to the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, in Monongalia County. There, in 1888, Peter and Frances were deeded a tract of land containing a farm by one Gabriel and Francis Wittman. The Wittmans, also German immigrants, were apparently family friends. The farm, located near Morgantown, contained about 60 acres and a house, and remained in the Wiseman family for over 100 years. However, it is not believed that the Wissmanns ever resided there. In fact, by the time the land was inherited, Peter and Frances had probably settled in nearby Washington County, Pennsylvania, in an area that was home to a large number of German, Welsh, Polish, Irish, Slav and Italian immigrants. Washington, Westmoreland and Fayette counties are located within the large bituminous coal fields stretching across southwestern Pennsylvania. There, Peter naturally found work as a coal miner, while the family established a home in Roscoe by 1894. The Borough of Roscoe was a mining town incorporated in 1894, and consisted of a narrow strip of land between the Pittsburgh, Virginia and Charleston Railroad tracks, on the north, and the Monongahela River, on the south.
On 25 March 1889 Peter Wissmann senior filed a declaration of intent in Washington County, Pennsylvania to become a United States citizen. The petition (view here) for naturalization filed in Washington County in 1894 states that Peter had resided in the United States for 13 years, again establishing his date of immigration in 1881 or 1882. On 6 October 1894 Peter became a citizen. Almost six years later, on 30 January 1900, Peter Wissmann senior died, like his son before him, in a coal mine accident. The following description of the fatal accident was found in an official mine report.
"Peter Weiseman, aged 52, a German miner, was killed at Snow Hill Mine, Fayette County on January 30th 1900. He was married, leaving one widow, and no orphans. The fatal accident occurred when he was killed instantly by a post which was dislodged by falling slate. He and Thomas Wright were together, and prior to the accident had been taking out posts from under the slate. One post was difficult to remove and Wright asked Weiseman (who was working on the post) to allow him to do it because he was younger and more likely to avoid the slate or post catching him. However Weiseman refused."
In the year 1900 Frank Wiseman was residing with his mother, Frances, on Railroad Street in Roscoe Borough, Washington County, and working at the American Sheet and Tin Plate Mill across the river in nearby Monessen (Westmoreland County), as Roscoe was primarily a coal mining town and lacked the industrial center now being built on the east side of the Monongahela. About 1903 he married Sarah J. Lundie, born in England to Daniel and Elizabeth Lundie. She immigrated with her family from England in 1886. By 1910 Frank and his family were residing on Reed Avenue in Monessen.
The community of Monessen was founded by industrialists seeking to take advantage of the strategic location on the east bank of the Monongahela River some 25 miles south of Pittsburgh. They named their community after the river ('Mon') and the great industrial city of Essen, Germany. Construction of a tin works, under supervision of owner William H. Donner, was begun in May of 1897. The first tin plate was rolled in February of 1898. The City of Monessen was founded as a borough on September 4th of that same year. The mill was absorbed by the American Sheet Steel Co. in 1904, becoming the American Sheet and Tin Plate Co. The Monessen plant was called the National Works, and was eventually expanded into 25 separate mills and around 50 tin sets, making it the largest tin plate plant in the nation. In 1903 there were 24 tin mills producing about 24,000 boxes of tin plates per week, and requiring the labor of more than 1600 employees.
Frank and Sarah had two children, Anthony (1906-1983) and Ruth, both born at the house on Reed Avenue. Anthony worked for many years in the testing laboratory at Pittsburgh Steel in Monessen. Ruth worked for Corning Glass, also in Monessen. Sarah Lundie Wissman died of unknown causes on 21 November 1914 in Monessen and was interred in Grandview Cemetery. On 29 June 1916 Frank married Cora Mae Elliott, at St. Leonard's Catholic church in Monessen. At the time, Cora was working as a "Fire Lady" at the Sheet and Tin Plant where Frank was employed, and it was there that they met. According to family records, Cora was born on 26 December 1881 in Pittsburgh. Her marriage license indicates that she was the daughter of James Elliott and Lizabeth Moreland.
Frank and Cora together had three children, Elizabeth "Betty", Frank "Bud" (1920-1974) and William (1922-1998), all born at the family home on Reed Avenue. Betty worked in banking for many years, married and moved to Maryland. Both Bud and Bill served in the military during WWII. Bud enlisted in the Army and was a sergeant stationed in Europe, while Bill joined the Marines and saw combat action in the Pacific. Bud went on to become a deputy sheriff in Prince George's County, Maryland. Bill worked many years in the mills of Monessen, including the Foundry, and the steel mill and coke ovens of Pittsburgh Steel.
Frances (Franzisca) Wissmann (shown left ca. 1915 with grandaughter Ruth) lived with her son, Frank, until her death at 7 o'clock on the evening of 21 April 1922, from a cerebral hemorrhage. An obituary in a clipping from an unidentified Monessen newspaper states that she died from a stroke at the home of her son, Mr. Wiseman, 460 Reed Avenue. She is survived by two children, Frank Wiseman of Monessen, and Mrs. John Otto of Roscoe, and 13 grandchildren and one great grandchild. Funeral services were held at St. Leonard's Catholic Church with interment in the Grandview cemetery in Monessen. Her age at death was reported as 78 years and 11 months.
Frank retired with a pension in 1928 because of a disability. He had lost his hearing from so many years working in the tin mill. By about 1926, Frank and Cora were residing on Donner Avenue in Monessen. Cora died on 17 April 1941 at the McKeesport Hospital as a result of complications from surgery, and was interred at the Belle Vernon Cemetery. Frank died 17 July 1954 at home due to complications resulting from a cerebral hemorrhage suffered 18 months earlier, and was buried alongside his second wife in Belle Vernon.
The other surviving sibling of Frank, and the only daughter of Peter and Frances Wissmann, Catharina, known as Katie, was about seven years old when the family emigrated from Germany. Around 1896 she married John Edward Otto (1873-1954) of Roscoe. Katie and John had seven known children: John Edward Jr., Frank, Charles, Anna, Elsie, Mildred, Walter, and Louise. Frank was a steelworker at the Pittsburgh-Wheeling mill in Allenport, Pennsylvania. He married first Garnet Sethman and second Goldie Pearl Boyer, and had eight children in all. Elsie married Thomas Shider and gave birth to six known children. Mildred married Charles Seddig and had at least two children. Walter was a talented photographer, who chronicled river life on the Monongahela. Many of his early black and white prints were hand colorized to produce a unique and historical effect. Katie Wissmann Otto died in 1957. John Otto died 11 July 1954. Both John and Katie were interred at the Howe Methodist Cemetery in Coal Center.
Children of Frank & Cora Wiseman
1. Standesamt Essen, Birth registration, No. 2271; St. Gertrud Katholisches Pfarramt, Essen (Extracts from baptismal book, Entry No. 1157).
2. St. Johann Baptist Katholisches Domkirche, Essen (Extracts from marriage book, Pg 69).
3. St. Gertrud Katholisches Pfarramt, Essen (Extracts from baptismal book, Entry No 967).
4. St. Gertrud Katholisches Pfarramt, Essen (Extracts from baptismal book, Entry No. 749).
5. St. Johann Baptist Katholisches Pfarrei, Wewer (Extracts from baptismal book, Vol 2, Pg 55, Nr. 133).
6. St. Johann Baptist Katholisches Pfarrei, Wewer (Extracts from baptismal book, Vol 2, Pg 55, Nr. 133).
7. St. Johann Baptist Katholisches Pfarrei, Wewer (Extracts from marriage book, Vol 3, Pg 52, Nr. 194).
8. St. Johann Baptist Katholisches Pfarrei, Wewer (Extracts from death book, Vol 7, Pg 75).
9. Office of the Prothonotary, Washington County, Pennsylvania.
10. Pennsylvania Report of the Bureau of Mines, First Bituminous District, Pg 312.
11. History of Our City - Monessen, Pennsylvania, Edited for the Benefit of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church (Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern, 1903).
12. Westmoreland County marriage license, Orphans' Court Docket No.40, Pg 468.