Hailer Artefacts – Holding Pieces Of Family History Because I Asked

Jacob Hailer was a true pioneer of Waterloo County in Upper Canada (now Ontario).

A variety of records show that a 24-year old Jacob (also known as Johann Jacob Hailer) left his native Germany and arrived at Baltimore, Maryland in the United States on October 1, 1829. On board the ship that brought him to America, Jacob met Jacques Riehl, a 55-year old shoemaker from the then French Province of Alsace.

Jacob followed the Riehl family to Buffalo, New York in 1830 where Jacob married Jacques Riehl’s daughter Margaret.

Soon after the birth of their first child in 1831, a daughter they named Margaret, Jacob moved his family, following the difficult route of the ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ settlers to Waterloo County. After spending their first year in a log house in an area called German Mills, Jacob purchased his first acre of land from Mennonite Bishop Benjamin Eby in 1833.

The land on which Jacob would build a home for his family and his workshop to conduct his wheelwright and furniture making business was in a place soon to be called Berlin (now Kitchener). Jacob’s home was reported to be only the fifth or sixth house constructed in the new town.

Significantly, several sources report that Jacob was the first German-born settler in the area. The few settlers prior to Jacob were born in America of German-born parents. As a pioneer, Jacob has long held a place of prominence in the history of Waterloo County and he was honoured as an inductee into the Region’s Hall of Fame. Jacob is also my wife’s 3X great grandfather.

Bleached Beech Tree Segment, inscribed by Louis H. Wagner in 1901

Jacob Hailer Bleached Wood “cut from a beech tree in the grove, behind the barn at the Breithaupt homestead”, inscribed by Jacob Hailer’s grandson Louis H. Wagner in 1901

The Waterloo Region Museum showcases the story and culture of the region with its strong German cultural heritage and manufacturing history.

I have visited the museum on a couple of occasions in the hope of seeing the Jacob Hailer artefacts that it might hold. Unfortunately, nothing was on exhibit. Most recently, I noted in the 2015 annual volume of the Waterloo Historical Society that the museum reported the donation of a Jacob Hailer made chair to its collection.

This prompted me to do something a bit on the edge of my personal comfort zone. I sent an email to Tom Reitz, the manager and curator of the museum, explained our family connection and asked if there was any way that we could have a chance to see the Jacob Hailer items that they hold. Without hesitation, Tom arranged an appointment for Ellen and I to visit the museum offices where he and his staff laid out a number of the pieces manufactured by Jacob Hailer.

Oil Lamp made by Jacob Hailer and donated to the Waterloo Region Museum by Hailer's grandson Rev. Louis H. Wagner

Oil Lamp made by Jacob Hailer and donated to the Waterloo Region Museum by Hailer’s grandson Rev. Louis H. Wagner who received as a gift from his grandmother Margaret (Riehl) Hailer in 1885

There is a special connected feeling when you can see and touch the objects that your ancestors made and treasured in their lives. That happiness was evident for Ellen as she held items once held by her great grandfather Rev. Louis Henry Wagner and made by her 3X great grandfather Jacob Hailer. Special genealogy moments are available sometimes just for the asking – and it helps to have a great museum curator and staff like Tom and the folks at the Waterloo Region Museum!

Ellen (Wagner) Hadden at the Waterloo Region Museum with a chair made by her 3X great grandfather Jacob Hailer in 1847

Ellen (Wagner) Hadden at the Waterloo Region Museum with a chair made by her 3X great grandfather Jacob Hailer in 1847

A good source for finding family artefacts is the Artefacts Canada website. The artefacts database is searchable but be aware that contributing institutions, like museums, provide updates to Artefacts Canada so the current listing may be out of date.

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