Women’s Words Wednesday – Oma’s Origin Story

So much of our history is recorded, remembered, and influenced by the views our male ancestors. But that’s only part of our story, and I am fascinated by the stories of our female ancestors. I have added a new blogging category called Women’s Words Wednesday where I will post and reflect on these important words that I have found in my research, in whatever form they arise (letter, photo, official document, etc.).

My Oma (“grandma” in German), Elise Gegenheimer, was born in 1919 in Ittersbach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Her mother, Louise Gegenheimer (age 22), was not marred and died from an infection contracted after childbirth, when her daughter was only 5 weeks old. I had heard bits and pieces of her story as a child: I knew that she was raised by a foster family, but that’s about it. Many years ago, my mother was preserving old family pictures and records and typed up Oma’s story:


“After Oma’s mother died (Oma was 5 weeks old), she was raised by her grandmother. Her mother and father were not married and he didn’t want anything to do with the baby. When Oma was around 5, a letter came from the state telling the grandmother that they were taking her grandchild away from her because she was not able to care for her properly. That was very tragic for Oma and her grandmother. Oma was placed in a foster home in Ispringen (she ended up going to school with Gretel there). The foster family had 2 children, age 2 and 6. The husband was an alcoholic and beat his wife. He also beat Oma. They only took in foster children for the money. Oma was there for 9 months until the neighbors reported the poor care of her and that she was losing weight because they were not feeding her well. Also, every Sunday she had to clean out their barber shop. She was only 6.

            The state contacted Maria Fuchs of Stein to see if you would take in a little 6-year old girl. She was hesitant to do so because she was afraid that she would have to give her up some time. She finally said she’d take Elise on a trial basis. The state supplied new shoes for Oma and money to send her to Stein on a train. The foster family kept the new shoes and put old shoes with holes in the soles on Oma and also kept the train money. She and the foster mother walked to Stein.

            When she got to Stein, the first night, Maria Fuchs put Oma in bed between her and her husband. Oma was crying at night (very lightly) and Maria Fuchs decided then and there that she was not giving this child up and that she would stay with her in Stein.”

Louise Gegenhimer, age 19.

The story of my grandmother, as told by her daughter, is an important part of our family history. These words show the upheaval of changes in living situations, the dangerous and heartbreaking year with the foster family, and the eventual placement with Maria Fuchs. We are still connected with the Fuchs family in Germany. They were my grandmother’s family – and are our family today. And my mother still stays in touch with Oma’s biological mother’s family. I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for Oma’s grandmother, having lost her daughter, to then have to give up her granddaughter (I don’t know too much about the reason why they felt that she was unable to care for Oma).

The only picture of my Oma as a child: around age 4 while still living with her grandmother in Ittersbach.


As hard as it is to read these words about my beloved Oma’s origin, I am thankful that I have a better understanding of where she came from. And I am so thankful for Maria Fuchs, and her willingness to say “yes” when asked to take in little Elise Gegenheimer. Because of her, Oma grew up healthy, married Adolf, had my mother, moved to America, and lived to be 91 years old.

Oma, Opa, and my mother in Dumont, NJ, 1953.


Fearless Females Friday – Girlfriends!

A good friend is a connection to life – a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world. ~Lois Wyse

I am fascinated by the stories of our women ancestors, and those Fearless Females in our family trees. We think of them as mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunties … and also girlfriends.

As November comes to an end, and after the last week’s day of Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking of how grateful I am for my girlfriends. Through every season these women have shared insight, laughs, feedback and love.

I wonder if my ancestor’s girlfriends were just as important to them? They had sisters, neighbors and friends. And it certainly “takes a village to raise a child.” In very different ways than it does for me.

These women took care of their families, lost children and husbands to death and illness, had sons (and husbands) go off to war, moved across the state (or the world). I would imagine that they absolutely needed that network, and that women’s friendships were just as important to my ancestors as they are for me today.

I have always wished for a journal or diary of one of my ancestors. One that might tell me about their lives. But alas, I do not. Still, I can guess a little about their girlfriends from these pictures.

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Linneman Speck, circa 1920. She is flanked by two friends and they appear to be dressed up for something. At the top her daughter wrote “cowgirls? or cowboys!”
Barbara Elizabeth
My 2nd great-grandmother Barbara Elizabeth Linneman. She looks so serious, but had been through a lot (I’ll post on her later); her friends had to have been important. She’s with “Mrs. Paul” a neighbor in Monessen in the 1920s.
My grandmother, Agnes Speck mugging for the camera with girlfriends, circa 1937.
My grandmother, Elise Gegenheimer Haberkern, having fun with a friend in 1961.
Irene, Agnes, Virginia August 1955
Agnes Speck Cubbage with neighbors Irene and Virginia in New Providence, 1955.
Neptune Cottage
Elizabeth Linneman Speck, with her daughter Agnes and fiends. The back of the photo has “Neptune Cottage 1939” written on it.

Treasure your girlfriends and the power of women’s friendships.