Introducing: Edna Staebler

She first appeared as somewhat of a footnote.

At the bottom of page 274 of Ruth Merner Connell’s genealogy of the Merner family published in 1976, there is a listing of the two wives of Frederick Keith Staebler.

Frederick Keith Staebler, who went by his middle name of Keith, was listed in the genealogy as he was a great grandson of Jacob Staebler and his wife Anna Merner, who are in turn 2X great grandparents to my wife Ellen.

The entry on page 274 of the Merner genealogy states “Married #1: Edna ??”

It was one of those ‘I’ll get back to figuring out who you are someday’ moments in genealogy. Keith Staebler was my wife’s second cousin, once removed and, with other research underway, I was not quick in getting back to finding the identity of Keith’s first wife ‘Edna Unknown’.

That was until a few days ago when Ellen asked if I had read her Uncle Gordon Wagner’s book From My Window (published in 1987 by The Flying -W- Publishing Co.).

I had read the book but quite a number of years ago. Gordon had completed many years of genealogy research on Ellen’s Wagner family, building a ‘database’ of about 1,500 related individuals. Much of Gordon’s work had helped in my researching Ellen’s genealogy through the Wagner, Hailer, Breithaupt, Merner, Staebler, and associated families prominent in Waterloo County, Ontario, Canada.

I decided to have another look at Gordon’s book, which is a compilation of short stories and poems. As I first skimmed the pages, it jumped out at me.

There she was on page 30, ‘Edna Unknown’ was really Edna Staebler. Of course she was, I told myself, she had married Keith Staebler. More importantly though, the five or six page short story written by Uncle Gordon about thirty years ago contained numerous clues that helped in hunting down Edna’s story.

Gordon Wagner had wanted to learn more about the family’s Staebler ancestors so he visited the Kitchener, Ontario area that his ancestors had come to as pioneers. There, without the aid of the still decades away Internet, Gordon looked through the local telephone directory, eventually calling “E. Staebler.” Edna answered and invited Gordon to meet with her.

“She’s famous, and I’m not used to famous people,” Gordon tells of their meeting.

Edna as it turns out, was a famous author, probably best known for her cookbook Food That Really Schmecks, featuring recipes that she learned living in the Mennonite community around the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo in Ontario. As a writer, Edna’s articles were featured in Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Saturday Night, and Reader’s Digest amongst others. She was the author of more than twenty books. Edna counted great Canadian writers like Pierre Berton and Margaret Laurence amongst her friends. Most importantly, I learned from Gordon’s short story of his visit with Edna, she was simply a friendly and down-to-earth person who happened to be a great writer.

STAEBLER Edna at Sun Fish Lake

Edna Staebler at her Sunfish Lake (Waterloo County, Ontario) home, as photographed by Gordon Wagner, for his book ‘From My Window’

Edna was born January 15, 1906. In the town of Berlin, Ontario. On February 13, 1906, about four weeks later, her father John G. Cress attended the local registrar’s office and registered her birth under the name Cora Margaret Cress. At the bottom of the birth registration is a notation, obviously added much later that reads “Edna Louisa new name see letter 1910.”

The 1910 letter referred to is not included with the birth registration and I have often wondered at the humour it might contain. Can you imagine what John Cress’ wife Louisa might have written had she been the letter’s author? Perhaps something like ‘Dear Registrar, I have learned that my husband John G. Cress really screwed up when he registered the birth of our daughter. I have no idea as to where he came up with the name Cora Margaret. Please excuse my husband’s error and correct my baby girl’s registered name to be Edna Louisa.’

Ah, the possibilities of that letter.

For her contributions to Canadian literature, Edna Staebler was awarded the Order of Canada in 1995.

Edna Louisa Cress married Frederick Keith Staebler in 1933 but sadly, they divorced in 1962. Edna passed away on September 12, 2006 at the age of 100 leaving a legacy of great Canadian writing and an endowment awarded annually in her name through Wilfred Laurier University.

It is great to know who ‘Edna Unknown’ is and we are honoured to count her among our family.

 

52 Ancestors: Rev. Louis Henry Wagner (1857-1945)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

A switch again this week to one of my wife Ellen’s direct ancestors. This week the story of her paternal great grandfather Rev. Louis Henry Wagner. 

Rev. Louis Henry Wagner (photo taken about 1918)


I have always found Louis to be an interesting man. Born in New York State, he was raised and received his early education in Berlin, Waterloo County, Ontario, apprenticed at a young age as a tanner and leather belt maker, attained post-secondary education in the State of Illinois as a land surveyor only to return to work in Ontario as an accountant and salesman before settling into life as an itinerant preacher for the Evangelical Association.

Louis Henry Wagner was born in Grove, Alleghany, New York on April 11, 1857. His father was Rev. Jacob Wagner, an Evangelical Association preacher whose ‘territory’ included not just western New York state but also parts of southern Ontario. On his trips into Ontario, and the German community in Berlin, Jacob would stay with Jacob and Margaret Hailer. Jacob Hailer was said to have been the first German to settle in Berlin and he would offer up the space of his woodworking shop to serve as a church gathering place for the Evangelical Association. It was here that Jacob Wagner met his wife, the Hailer’s eldest daughter Margaret (or Margaretha), the mother of Louis and his older sister Catherine, or ‘Katie’ as the family called her.

Before he was a year old, Louis’ family was moving to Berlin to live close to his maternal grandparents because his father Jacob Wagner had decided to change careers, moving to the business world, establishing a tannery in partnership with his friend and by then brother-in-law Louis Breithaupt. Mere months after the family move was complete, and just one week after Louis’ first birthday, Jacob Wagner died.

Fortunately for Louis, his family rallied around and supported him, his mother and sister. It appears that Jacob Wagner had died intestate, that is, he did not leave a Will naming a guardian for his children and the laws at the time did not automatically cede guardianship to the mother. So on September 3, 1859, letters of Guardianship were granted by the court to Jacob Hailer for both Louis and his sister Catherine. With his Berlin pioneer grandfather as his guardian, Louis went to live with his uncle Louis Breithaupt, after whom he had been named. Interestingly, Louis took up maintaining a diary as a teenager in December 1872 and much can be learned about 19th century Berlin, Ontario life in the pages of Louis’ diary volumes. His first diary entry, dated Sunday, December 15, 1872 begins with “We were all in church as usual ….” 

Over the years, the maturation of Louis is evident as his writings evolve from descriptions of the numerous times he was off to church, to his arguments to be allowed to apprentice in his uncle’s leather business, to his frustrations with the apprenticeship progress and his desire to find excitement in life, eventually leading to the anguish he experienced when his wife Mary Staebler died of typhoid fever in 1887, leaving him a widow with a one year old son.

Louis was educated as a land surveyor at Northwestern College in Naperville, Illinois although he does not seem to have ever practised that profession. When he returned home to Berlin, he took up employment as an accountant and salesman – again with his uncle Louis Breithaupt’s Eagle Tannery. In 1882, he made his final career change. After having been so involved in his church, Louis applied to the Canada Conference of the Evangelical Association, who that year were meeting in nearby St. Jacobs, Ontario, and on April 20, 1882, he was granted his first preacher’s license as a “Preacher on trial.” His first appointment was as assistant pastor in Sebringville, Ontario. 

On May 20, 1884. Louis married Mary Staebler in Berlin, Ontario. Their only child, Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner was born on May 10, 1886 in Hespeler, Ontario. On July 4, 1889, Louis married for a second time to Sarah Lodema Moyer with whom he had three additional children: Ida Louisa Wagner, Carl Henry Wagner, and Margaret Florence Wagner.

Louis spent the remainder of his long life continuing his work as a minister and officiating at many family events including the June 2, 1901 wedding of his cousin Albert L. Breithaupt to Lydia Anthes in which childhood friend and future longest serving Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King served as Best Man.

Rev. Louis Henry Wagner holding his great grandson Carl Edward ‘Ted’ Wagner


Even late in life, Louis continued to officiate at family events including baptizing his great grandson Carl Edward ‘Ted’ Wagner, Ellen’s brother. 

Louis Wagner died in his residence at 253 Weber Street in Kitchener, Ontario on January 8, 1945 at the age of 87. He rests in peace in Kitchener’s Mount Hope Cemetery with his wife Sarah.

Rev. Louis Henry Wagner and Sarah Lodema Moyer gravestone, Mount Hope Cemetery, Kitchener, Ontario (photo by Ian Hadden)

The Marriage of Rev. Louis Henry Wagner and Miss Mary Staebler

Rev. Louis Henry Wagner maintained a diary as have many young men and women. Louis wrote in his diary faithfully as a teenager but large gaps in time occur in Louis’ diary writing during his adult years. Nonetheless, his diaries, as I have previously posted, can add rich detail to the Wagner family’s history.

When Louis (pictured to the right) married Mary Staebler in May of 1884, he apparently was not in a writing mood. There is a gap between March 3, 1878 and January 1, 1887. Fortunately, the local newspaper filled in a part of this gap by providing a brief article about the wedding. Below is my transcription of the article that appeared in the Berlin (Ontario) Daily News, the predecessor of the current Waterloo Region Record newspaper. 

MATRIMONIAL


Another of our excellent young ladies has become united in the holy bonds of matrimony to the man of her choice. Miss Mary Staebler, daughter of Mr. Jacob Staebler, Sen., was married last, Tuesday, evening at the family residence, Weber Street, to the Rev. L. H. Wagner, of Hespeler, who, by the way, is also a Berlin boy. 

The Rev. S. L. Umbach, Presiding Elder of this District, performed the ceremony. Amongst the guests were, besides the Minister, Rev. Ch. [Christian] and Mrs. Staebler, South Cayuga; Rev. D. H. Brandt, Mr. J. M. Staebler and Son, Mr. L. J. Breithaupt, Mr. J. C. Breithaupt, Mrs. Breithaupt, Misses C. and M. Breithaupt, Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Hailer, rs. Hailer, Mrs. D. Bean, Mr. and Mrs. M. Wegenast, Mr. and Mrs. L. Greybill, Miss Wegenast, Miss Sarah Anthes, Miss Mary Anthes, Misses Emma and Carrie Goetze, Mr. and Mrs. I. K. Devitt, Mr. Geo. Wegenast, Mr. D. M. Staebler, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Staebler, London; Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Staebler, Cassel, and others. 

The young couple, being very highly esteemed by large circles of friends, were the recipients of numerous and valuable presents. After the ceremony a sumptuous repast was partaken of by the guests, and at 8:40 Mr. and Mrs. Wagner took the train for the East, followed by all possible good wishes for their future happiness – in which the Daily News heartily joins.”

It can be fun trying to identify the relationship of each guest to the bride and groom and, certainly Louis and Mary Wagner’s wedding guest list reads a bit like a ‘Who’s Who’ of 19th century Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario history. Most of the identified guests were cousins or friends but a few notables were present that might escape notice. “Mrs. Hailer” was the groom’s grandmother, Margaret (Riehl) Hailer, the wife of Berlin pioneer (and Waterloo (Ontario) Region Hall of Fame member) Johann Jacob Hailer. Mrs. Hailer is listed next to her daughter, “Mrs. D. Bean” who was the mother of the groom, Margaret (Hailer) Wagner Bean.

Fortunately, this newspaper clipping is safely preserved in the archives at the University of Waterloo, part of the Wagner Hailer family fonds.

Christmas Came Early To My Genealogy Land

Christmas in Hadden genealogy land came a bit early this year thanks to a new cousin connection and a two-year old blog post. The gift that I received was a whole new branch of Ellen’s family including approximately 200 new ancestors found so far.

The story of how this came about is quite simple and straight forward. In August 2010, I posted A Canadian Senator in the Family describing Ellen’s connection to the Hon. Samuel Merner who was appointed to the Canadian Senate in 1887 on the advice of Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. Samuel Merner served as a Senator until his death in 1908.

In October of this year, a comment was left on the blog post about Samuel Merner by Fraser Laschinger who indicated that he was also descended from the same Merner family line. Fraser is an historian and serves on his local historical society board and as turns out, he is Ellen’s fourth cousin. In emails subsequent to receiving his comment, he indicated that he had some genealogical information, compiled over the years by some family members, which he has graciously sent to me. One of his documents stated that Anna Merner (the name can also be found spelled Muerner, likely it’s original Swiss spelling) “married a Staebler” but offered no other reference to who the identity of the Staebler nor anything further about that family. 


Anna Merner is Ellen’s 2X great grandmother and she was one of Samuel’s younger sisters. Fraser 2X great grandmother, Mary, was another of Samuel’s younger sisters. All were the children of Jacob Emanuel Muerner and Susanna Schluchter. Anna (Muerner) Merner married Jacob Staebler around 1840. Jacob and Anna Staebler youngest daughter Mary is Ellen’s great grandmother.

The key to unlocking the new branch of Ellen’s family tree was the information that Fraser offered in his posted comment, “Mary [Merner] married Joseph Laschinger ….” I didn’t have that information and although I have yet to find a marriage record for Joseph and Mary, I have found many records listing them as living together and being the parents of a dozen children. 

Exploring the Merner – Laschinger branch has added, as stated earlier, about 200 more individuals to my genealogy database, and all sources have been cited. The ‘new to me’ Laschinger family line has discovering connections with Edmund H. Laschinger, a prominent Canadian government figure in the early 20th century, along with Russell Howard Laschinger, a prominent newspaper publisher in Gilmer, Texas along with his daughter, Sarah Jane (Laschinger) Greene who, in 2010, was inducted into the Texas Newspaper Foundation Hall of Fame.

A great early Christmas gift for a genealogist. Now if Santa could only find a photo of my great grandfather John Foley!

The Death of Mary Wagner (nee Staebler)

Rev. Louis Henry Wagner, my wife Ellen’s great grandfather, maintained a diary, off and on, for several years covering the time he was 15 years old until well into his 30’s. Louis’ diaries are significant in offering a glimpse of life into not just the family’s history but also 19th century Ontario, Canada.

Louis’ father, Rev. Jacob Wagner died only a week after Louis’ first birthday. Subsequently, Louis was raised by his mother Margaret Wagner (nee Hailer) and later, by agreement following his mother’s marriage to Daniel Bean, his uncle and aunt Louis Breithaupt and Catherine Breithaupt (nee Hailer). In 1884, at the age of 27, Louis married Mary Staebler, the daughter of Jacob Staebler and Anna Muerner. On May 10th, 1886, their only child, Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner was born in Hespeler, Ontario.

In great detail, Louis describes in his diary that at the beginning of May 1887, Mary wasn’t well. She had experienced a deal of fatigue and some dizziness. On May 1st, Louis sent for Dr. Brown who provided Mary with some medicine. When her condition worsened, Louis gave Mary “3 drops each of Landinnin and Digitalis in a teaspoonful of Glycerene and went and reported to the Doctor. He was very indignant at me interfering with his patient, called it a “terrible blunder;” but I believe, what I gave her, did her good for it relieved her.” Dr. Brown’s opinion was that Mary had “inhaled a strong dose of poison somewhere.”

Louis’ diary account of the illness, of Mary’s fever and high pulse rate, of Dr. Brown’s vagueness in diagnosing what the illness was, is filled with the frustration of a young husband becoming more concerned and helpless to the events unfolding around him. On May 5th, Mary told him that “I am so glad that I attended to my soul long ago. If I would have to do it now it would make me crazy.” Dr. Brown “wanted to make out it is a severe case of dissentary. Dave [Mary’s brother Dr. David Staebler] refutes that and still believes it to be Typhoid fever.” In Dr. Brown’s absence, Dr. Whiteman from Shakespeare, Ontario attended to Mary and expressed his opinion that Mary indeed had typhoid fever. Louis noted in his diary, “My opinion of Dr. B[rown] is that he is neither a gentleman nor a physician and not near what some people think him to be.”

Tuesday, May 10, 1887

“Last night between 12:00 and 1:00 Mary got such a weak spell that we thought she would pass away. Dave had just gone to bed, so we called him. Mary revived again, but began to rave and talk worse than ever. We had quit giving her medicine but we thought we should not let her quite alone. There might be a chance yet, so we began to give her tonic (Brandy and water) and medicine through the night with no seeming effect however…. Her breathing has been quite irregular – heart beat strong and good. Hands quite cold and feet getting cold at 4:00 a.m. Expect death at any time. May the Lord relieve her some way.

11:45 a.m. – I came down again. Mary much weaker. Eyes starey and getting glassy and she only moans with every breath. Aunt Breithaupt and John just arrived.

12:50 p.m. – My dear Mary just breathed her last. Thank God the struggle is over.”

“Our baby was just one year old this 9:36 a.m. Poor motherless child!”

Mary Wagner (nee Staebler) was just 28 years, 2 months, and 26 days old when she died according to her death registration. Dr. Brown listed the cause of death to be Typhoid fever – 2 weeks.