John and Susan Zehler - late 1800s
|John Zehler's Birth Record|
John Zehler was born June 16, 18314,5, in Nuhweiler, Rhine Province, Prussia, the first child of Peter Zehler and Anna Maria Klasen. He was baptized the same day. John's formative years were spent on the family farm in Nuhweiler, during which time he received his education.
A major turning point in John's life, and probably that of his family, came in 1847, when he left home and emigrated to America. John was 16 or17 at the time and was near the age of mandatory, two-year military service. Clearly, he left without the required governmental permission to avoid serving in the Prussian Army. Although we don't know whether this was a family decision or John's personal choice, the move certainly caused problems for his family and may have led them to name their next son, Frederick, after the King of Prussia.
|John's Baptismal Record|
At the time, emigration to America was on the rise and was being actively promoted. In addition to letters from prior emigrants, societies were forming in the States to promote migration and shipping companies had agents in Europe who touted the advantages of migrating and competed to book passengers. John was most likely aware of other families from the area who were already in America, particularly the Meyer family of nearby Mettnich and the Hahn family of nearby Kastel. Both families came to America in 1840 and settled in Wyoming County, New York1.
John's journey, whether alone or in the company of friends, would include travel by train to a port of embarkation, and a sea voyage of one or two months. Upon arriving in New York, John likely made his way to Wyoming County, New York, to join the Meyer and Hahn families as part of the growing community of German immigrants in and around Sheldon. This would involve travel by steamship up the Hudson River to Albany and by train to Batavia, with the final leg of the trip by wagon or horse.
Our first glimpse of John in America comes from the 1855 New York State Census, at which time he is working as a farm laborer on the farm of Thomas Cornelius in the Town of Murray, Orleans County, New York24. John had undoubtedly worked in similar jobs since his arrival, both to earn a living and, perhaps, to help bring the rest of the family to come America. John continued to work as a laborer for much of his life.
On May 11, 1857, John married Susan Hahn at St. Mary's RC Church in Buffalo25. Susan was born on June 18411, the daughter of Peter Hahn and Barbara Hahn. The Hahn family initially settled in Sheldon after their arrival in 18401, but soon moved to Buffalo, where their daughter was married. John and Susan initially lived at Murray, where John continued to work as a farm laborer. Then in 1866, John purchased two small parcels of land in Sheldon, possibly the start of a life of farming23. However, the following year John and Susan sold their land to his father23. At the time of the 1870 census, they still lived in Sheldon and it appears John continued to farm the land he had recently sold26.
Then, in 1870 or 1871, John and Susan moved to Michigan. They were accompanied by, his brother Martin and Martin's wife. The reason for this move is unknown, but a likely motive was economic opportunity in the lumber industry. The land records of Mecosta county show that Susan Zehler purchased a lot on Second Avenue in Big Rapids, Michigan, in August of 187117. John and Susan built their house on this lot and made their permanent home in Big Rapids.  John worked as a day laborer and apparently earning a comfortable living.
Insight into John's later years comes from the Probate Records of Mecosta County. The records for 1899 contain the following court finding:
"John Zehler is insane, and a proper person for care and treatment in the Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane, at Traverse City."
This decision was arrived at on the grounds that he was:
"Afraid that some one was plotting to kill him or to do him great injury. Also from his general conversation and becoming uncontrollable at times . Also imagining attending his own funeral, etc."
Presumably, John spent some time in the Traverse City asylum prior to his death, although we have no direct evidence of this.
John and Susan celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 190627. John died in Big Rapids on May 15, 190911, and was buried in Mt. Carmel cemetery were his grave stone can still be seen. Susan survived nearly 26 more years. She lived at home on Second Avenue as long as she was able. In the end, she lived with a nephew, Peter Hahn, where she died on March 21, 193527, age 95. John and Susan had no children.
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