52 Ancestors: John Jacob (John Jacob) Hailer 1804-1882

I decided to stick with my wife Ellen’s family lineage this week, in part because I have a real fondness for the history of Waterloo County in Ontario, Canada and in part because the only true family artifact that we possess is one that belonged to this week’s subject Johann Jacob (or John Jacob) Hailer, Ellen’s third great grandfather. He is perhaps better known simply as Jacob Hailer.

Johann Jacob Hailer

Jacob began his life in Wilferdingen, Baden, Germany on December 20, 1804 and records indicate that he was baptized just three days on December 23, 1804. Jacob was the son of Christian Hailer and his wife Maria Barbara Zachmann. It’s possible that Jacob was not seen as a healthy baby so the need for a baptism as soon as possible. Perhaps the baptism occurred quickly with respect to the Christmas festivities.

In 1911, one of Jacob Hailer’s grandsons, William H. Breithaupt, who was also the first president of Waterloo Historical Society, wrote a book that includes the story of Jacob’s immigration to North America. In short, we know from passenger lists that Jacob Hailer, described on the list as being a “turner” by profession, arrived in the port of Baltimore, Maryland sometime between July 1st and October 1st, 1829. On board the ship that carried him across the Atlantic Ocean were members of the Riehl family, noted by William Breithaupt as being a father accompanying his son and daughter to the United States. Once in Baltimore, Jacob was introduced by the senior Riehl to another daughter Margaret and her younger brother who had sailed to the U.S. in 1828.

Jacob followed his new friends, the Riehls, when they moved to Buffalo, New York in 1830 where that same year, he married Margaret. Records show that Jacob and Margaret Hailer established a home across the river in Chippewa, Upper Canada (now Niagara Falls, Ontario) where their first child, a daughter they named Margaret was born in 1831. Just a few months after the child’s birth, they moved again, this time following the trail laid out over the previous three decades by various small waves of the group known as the ‘Pennsylvania Dutch.’ It was a long difficult journey on rough hewn roads, passing around and over swamps near present day Hamilton, Ontario, to reach Waterloo Township.

For their first year, the Hailers lived in a log house in German Mills, a tiny village located just north of the village of Doon. In 1833, Jacob Hailer purchased one acre of land, located at what is now the intersection of Scott Street and King Street East in central Kitchener, from Bishop Benjamin Eby. This was the same Benjamin Eby who suggested the name of Berlin for the town which beforehand had often been referred to as Ebytown due to five of the villages six houses being occupied by members of the Eby family.

Jacob immediately established a home for his family along with a woodworking shop in which he could ply his trade of manufacturing wooden furniture, including chairs, spinning wheels and lamp stands.

Jacob is described as a deeply religious man who was instrumental in establishing the Evangelical Association (sometimes referred to as the German Methodist) church in Canada. Jacob used his workshop as both a church meeting place and Sunday school. Travelling ministers would preach in the workshop and then stay in the house as guests of the Hailer family. It was through this that the Hailer’s eldest daughter Margaret met and married a young Rev. Jacob Wagner. The Hailer’s second eldest child, also a daughter, Catherine, married Jacob Wagner’s best friend Philip Ludwig ‘Louis’ Breithaupt.

In 1876, although there was no apparent milestone type of event, Jacob was presented with a monogrammed walking stick or cane. It is ivory handled with a gold band covering the joining of the handle to the wooden cane. On that gold band is inscribed “J.J.H. 1876.” We aren’t certain as to exactly how it happened, but that cane, once presented to Jacob Hailer has passed down through five generations of family hands to my wife, Jacob Hailer’s great-great-great granddaughter.

The ivory-handled grip of Johann Jacob Hailer’s cane, presented to him in 1876

Jacob was about 72 years of age when he received the presumed gift of his monogrammed cane. He would die six years later of “old age” on March 6, 1882 and be interred in Kitchener’s Mount Hope Cemetery. Years later Jacob, purported to be the first German to settle in the area currently renown for it’s German heritage and annual Oktoberfest, was inducted into the Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.

Johann ‘John’ Jacob Hailer with his cane, probably about 1880

Of course, it is only circumstantial evidence that the cane belonged to Jacob. It bears Jacob’s initials and has been passed down and retained by the family and, there are no other ancestors for whom those initials and timeframe fit. Could the cane have possibly belonged to someone else with the same initials and just by happenchance it fell into the Wagner family. The ‘clincher’ was finding a photograph, taken by photographer C. R. Lundy of Berlin, Ontario, probably about 1880, of Jacob posing with his beloved cane in hand. For Ellen, it makes holding her ancestor’s cane all the more a connection to her family’s history. 

A Wagner Family Artifact Comes Home to the Family

You never know what contacts you might make as a result of an online family history blog. Sure, I’ve had the great pleasure of being contacted by long, ‘lost’ cousins but never before did I imagine that a family artifact would find it’s way back to the family as a result of my blog.

Don Wagner (no known relationship to my wife) runs the Soldier’s Museum website. As a history buff, Don also finds and collects historical artifacts. One of Don’s finds was a small, hard covered book (pictured below) entitled, “Americans’ Guide to Hindustani.” The book is best described as a pocket-sized dictionary containing the Hindi-Urdu translations of useful English language phrases and words, likely a useful book to have if you were born in Saskatchewan, Canada and posted during World War 2 to north India.

On the inside flyleaf of the book (pictured below), the soldier who owned the book had written his name and regimental assignment, “F/O Gordon Wagner – 229 Group RAF India.”

When Don decided to do a little research to see if he could find any additional information about the soldier, a Google search lead him to my blog post about Ellen’s uncle, Gordon  Gilbert Henry Wagner. Don left a comment on my Gordon Wagner blog post and then also contacted me by email to see if we could determine if ‘my’ Gordon Wagner was the same Gordon Wagner who had written his name inside the book.

There are precious few records available in Canada covering the 1,159,000 Canadians who served in World War 2 and there are access restrictions to the service files of those who survived the war, including Gordon. Fortunately for me, Gordon had two passionate interests that he pursued in his retirement. Genealogy and writing.

Gordon’s genealogy research served as the initial basis for my own research of the great history connected with Ellen’s family. Gordon’s passion for writing resulted in the publication of several books, including his autobiographical recollections of his time in the Royal Canadian Air Force, entitled “How Papa Won The War” (published by the Flying-W-Publishing Co. in 1989). 

On page 157 of the book, Gordon wrote, “In their campaign to chase the Japanese out of Burma, the British army needed aircraft to transport supplies and paratroops into the jungles of north-western Burma. The Royal Air Force received the army’s request and asked the Royal Canadian Air Force to supply the aircrews. The RAF would fly us to India, providing the planes and the base. The RCAF would form two squadrons, train the crews and take the squadrons into Burma. At least that was the plan, a good one really.”

Gordon provided a copy of his new assignment to the RAF, dated September 12, 1944 to the 229 Group India.

So both ‘my’ Gordon Wagner and the Gordon Wagner who owned the book were both assigned to the 229 Group in India during World War 2. It’s still possible that they are two different people but I doubt that very much.

I agreed to a price for the book (or maybe it was a finder’s fee) with Don and he mailed the book to me. It arrived back in the hands of the Wagner family today!