SESS: From Grevesmuhlen, Germany to Cincinnati, OH to Buffalo, NY
My mother was born in Cincinnati, OH, the first born daughter of John Otto Sess and Henrietta Albert. To date, we know far less about Mom's side of the family, especially her mother's, Henrietta Albert. I did come into contact with several distant SESS cousins who have done significant genealogy research that forms the basis of the SESS side of the following information. This section is also fleshed out from material provided by my mother in her 1996 memoirs.
I used sites.rootsweb.com to post information
about my SESS research efforts. RootsWeb is an online genealogy community and collection of research
resources and tools, including the Social Security Death Index. Rootsweb's version of this tool allows
anyone to add an electronic "post-it" to specific records. I placed a
"post-it" on the death record of John Otto Sess with my contact
information. About a year later, and within the same month,
I heard from two different SESS researchers, one of whom could trace the
SESS line back two additional generations beyond Miriam's knowledge, and back
to their German hometown of Grevesmuehlen.
Henry (Heinrich) Sess was born in Grebersmuel Germany in about 1803. He was married to Martha Rehe, who was born in June 1805 in Grebersmuel Germany. They had four children on record, Henry, Fred, Johann (our ancestor) and Rudolph.
Grebersmuel is now called Grevesmuehlen. It is located in northern Germany in Mecklenburg, northwest of Schwerin and due west of Wismar, near the coast of the Baltic Sea. It now has approximately 11,300 residents and is one of the oldest towns in Mecklenburg. It had reached city status in the year 1226. It was damaged by a terrible fire in the mid 17th century. Some surviving historic landmarks including the Dutch galleried windmill and the former malt factory. The city lies close to the Baltic coast and is surrounded by a beautiful landscape with gently rolling hills, dense forests and lakes. After World War II, Grevesmuehlen was part of East Germany (GDR) until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1991.
There are many historic points of interest nearby. Two archaeological sites date from the period 4500 BC. to 1800 BC. Everstorf Forest contains graves that include ancient dolmens and Hun burial chambers. The slab of Teufelsbackoffen dates from the Stone Age. Goldberg, near Everstorf, Steinbrink and Everstorf date from the Bronze Age (1800 BC to 600 BC; a number of burial sites are dated from the Iron Age (600 BC to 600 AD).
The SESS patriarch and matriach, Heinrich SESS and Martha REHE, emigrated with a number of their adult children on the ship J.L. Thierman, arriving in New York in November of 1865. Heinrich's occupation was listed as shoemaker.
Miriam is descended from Johann/John Sess (1837-1924) and Julia BERNHARDT (1848-1901). Before 2000, Miriam had no knowledge that her grandfather had other siblings and relatives living in the United States. One of Johann Sess and Julie Bernhardt's children was John Sess (1872-1942). He married Lisette Stagge on 25 September 1895 in Hamilton County, OH. Lizette was born 29 August 1876 in Germany where she claimed to have been raised on a very poor farm near the Dutch border. This may not have been too far from the hometown of the Sess branch in Grevesmuehlen. Perhaps their families even knew each other in Germany. Lizette came to the USA at the age of seven, and never advanced beyond the third grade. While not well educated, she had, according to Miriam, a good head for figures, and could do math in her head quickly.
Miriam remembers that John and Lizette's first house - on Convoy Street. Years later, they bought a house on Cavanaugh Street in the Westwood area of Cincinnati. "When I was very little, the street was dirt and would be a muddy mess when it rained." Initially, the house had no indoor facilities, and a pump at the kitchen sink. Lizette was an avid gardner and the side yard grew flowers of all kinds, as well as gooseberry and raspberry bushes. She also kept chickens and grew vegetables. "I can remember the first time I saw her wop off a chicken's head and the body ran around the backyard for awhile and I went screaming to my mom!" Miriam also remembers sitting on their back porch, helping shell peas and counting cardinals and blue jays from the nearby woods.
John Sess worked in Cincinnati originally for the Crosley Radio Corporation and later for the Frank Tea and Spice Company. Miriam remembers that when he came home at night, he would hang his clothes on the back of the kitchen door and you could smell the spices. Lizette had a wood-burning stove on which she cooked and heated her iron.
While John Sess was a stern grandfather, Miriam remembers that he "allowed me to sit on his lap and dunk a big sugar cookie into his homemade dandelion wine." He also taught her to play dominoes, and was an avid dancer, "but he didn't dance with Grandma [Lizette]."
John and Lizette had three children: Albert (1896-1963), Louise (1898-1931) and John Otto (1900-1967). Albert (who married Myrtle Menzel) was quite religious and a self-ordained minister (as well as an under-employed plasterer). Miriam remembers going to one of her uncles' church services where they spoke in tongue. "I could never understand what was going on for now and then my aunt and other members of the congregation would scream what sounded like gibberish to my young ears; it would scare the dickens out of me." Albert's daughter, Faith, died of pneumonia while her parents prayed for her. Many of the Sess descendants are still highly religious, including two evangelists in Arizona.
Louise Sess married Walter Schwander and had two children, Virginia (born 1923) and Walter, Jr. (b. 1929). Louise died at an early age in 1931 and Walter remarried. Virginia became a hospital lab technician.
John and Lizette's youngest son, John Otto Sess, married Henrietta Katherine Albert on 18 March 1922 in Dayton, OH. They lived on Valencia Street in Cincinnati in the same building as Henrietta's sister, Anna Albert and her husband Peter Wertz. Miriam remembers that her mother, Henrietta, would have to carry the laundry basket to the attic to hang it up. In 1928, the family moved to Cheviot, a suburb of Cincinnati, at the very end of the streetcar line. They lived there until moving to Buffalo in 1932. Miriam has several fond memories of this period of her childhood:
While we lived in Cheviot, life was fun for a youngster. The street ran dead into a woods where we played in tree houses, dammed up the creek to sail boats, picked violets and spring beauties in the spring. The street was actually a big hill, a small valley, and a little hill. What a thrill it was to be old enough to take the sled in the winter to the top of the big hill, belly flop and sail down the hill, through the bottom and partway up the little hill! The owners of our house lived next door with their five children. Theirs was the last house on the street and they had a huge back yard with trees with tire swings, a sandbox, and trees with little hard sugar pears and cherries that we could pick by the bucketful (and eat). My good friend, Rosella, lived there and so did her grandmother. This old lady had a special box of feathery hats and long chiffon dresses and lots of old "jooels" that she allowed us to play dress up with and were we ever grand. In our back yard was a grape vine and in the summer when it was hot, you could smell the dark purple grapes and they tasted so good Mom made jelly and grape juice each year. The only trouble is that now and then there would be a long black garden snake in the vines-harmless but scary.
John Otto Sess didn't drink at all during these early years, but that didn't stop him from offering up his basement during Prohibition so that friends could make "home brew" there. "One night there started to be a lot of popping sounds in the basement and then the explosions began. The beer spoiled in some way and fermented or whatever beer does and before you know it we had a storeroom fully of exploding bottles and beer all over. It took a long time to get rid of that smell!"
John and Henrietta took their two daughters, Miriam and Esther, on frequent trips-both from Cincinnati and later from Buffalo-including summer vacations to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, camping at Fish Creek Pond State Park in the Adirondacs. They also ventured further afield, with trips to Alabama, Gettysburg, Washington DC and Virginia.
John Otto Sess worked for Worthington Pump and Machinery Corporation. During the depression, the Cincinnati plant was closed down and selected employees (32 out of 800, including John), were transferred to Buffalo, NY. Miriam was entering fourth grade, almost ten years old. Until they found a house, the company put the family up in the Stuyvesant Apartment Hotel in Buffalo. "It was the first time that Eleanore and I ever slept on a Murphy bed that came out of the wall and we were able to eat in a hotel dining room."
Shortly thereafter, John and Henrietta settled into a downstairs apartment on Lisbon Avenue, only about three blocks from Miriam's future in-laws, the Smiths, on Highgate. They lived there until Miriam finished grammar school (P.S. #80) and high school (Kensington). The depression years were tight but Miriam remembers always eating well and getting a new dress now and then that her mother made. They even had a used 1931 Chevie automobile that John Otto took apart and put back together again. They bought another Chevrolet in 1836. Miriam also remembers that in 1934, her mother, Henrietta, had a tubercular kidney removed. Miriam describes growing up in Buffalo:
In Buffalo, we learned to tolerate the cold winters and enjoy hot summers; it was all part of our lives. We ice skated on frozen ponds, went sledding, and jumped into deep snowdrifts. Also, there was nothing in the winter quite so beautiful, or quite so cold, as Niagara Falls. The mist from the Falls would freeze on the trees - each tiny twig or nubbin, each blade of grass, each railing; and when the sun would shine on that ice, everything would glisten like diamonds. Then spring came and we biked and roller-skated (the streets were smooth asphalt and a delight for skating). In summer we went on picnics to Chestnut Ridge Park (I also learned to ski there) or to the beaches at Angola (near the Smith's summer home).
When Miriam entered Kensington High in 1937, it was brand new. "The principal, Tom McDonnell, was very strict and we were in awe of him. The boys had to tuck in their shirts and the girls were supposed to wear stockings all the time (our mothers complained about that). He chided us if we wore too-high pompadour hair-dos. Girls and boys ate in separate cafeterias and had their own homerooms and study halls. We accepted all this and certainly never questioned authority. If we had, we would have been expelled - simple as that. We went to school at 8:30 a.m. and got out at 2:40 - never left the school at all during the day except for an occasional fire drill."
High School was a lot of fun in those pre-war years. There was the debate team (we became city champions), football games, basketball, the prom (with the president of the senior class!), etc.
After Miriam graduated from high school, John (age 41) and Henrietta (age 38) bought their first house in Kenmore, NY. "Eleanore and I each had our own room."