Thousand Islands Marvel: Floyd Carter’s Motor Ice Boat

 


Author’s note:  A version of this story was originally published in the January 2011 issue of Thousand Islands Life magazine to mark the 100th anniversary of Carter’s invention.


 

        “The familiar sound of a put-put from the vicinity of Washington Island caused people to look at one another on Saturday.  It was the real noise so familiar to everybody on the water front and as it came nearer and more distinct the docks were well peopled.  An ice boat without a sail is a real novelty here, but such it proved to be.”

So opened a brief article in the Jefferson County Journal about the events of Saturday, January 21st, 1911, on a dock overlooking the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands region of Jefferson County, New York, describing a new invention by local man, Floyd L. Carter, that was to be the subject of much attention—and imitation.[1]

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Floyd L. Carter as a young man, about 1890.

Floyd Carter was born in 1877 near Clayton, a son of Byron Carter and Clarissa Britton.  In 1896 Floyd married Ada[2], only daughter of Michael J. Diepolder, the keeper of Rock Island Lighthouse.[3]  By 1900, the couple was living at 1711 Spring St. in Thousand Island Park.[4]  It was here that Floyd began to hone his skills as a mechanic and a boatbuilder.

The Thousand Islands region lies at the confluence of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River and consists of 1,864 islands scattered between the U.S. and Canadian mainlands. Until the Thousand Islands International Bridge opened in 1938, boats were the only form of transportation for inhabitants of the islands or for those wishing to cross the international border.  In winter, when the river froze over, locals would use “ice boats”—homemade wooden platforms to which they attached sleigh runners, a cloth sail, and a rudder for steering—and wait for a steady wind to push them across the ice. Not only was it slow going, but it was also dangerous since the boats could be difficult to control and were at the mercy of the elements.

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An early example of the kind of sail-powered iceboat in use at the time of Carter’s invention, published in Jonathan Haddock’s 1895 book A Souvenir of the Thousand Islands (Watertown, N.Y.), 257.

The first mention of Floyd Carter in connection with an iceboat was in 1904, when he was working as an oarsman carrying passengers for hire between the islands and the mainland.  The December 29th edition of the Watertown Daily Times records: “Bill Tidd visited his parents here Christmas and on his return to Clayton engaged F. L. Carter with his ice boat to take him to Fisher’s Landing.” That trip ended abruptly when the iceboat, clocking 40 miles per hour, hit a weak spot in the ice, sending its passengers skidding across the icy river and damaging the iceboat severely.[5]

Over the next few years, Floyd earned a reputation as one of the finest boatbuilders on the river.  In 1906, he assisted Clinton Snell at Lafargeville in the construction of a naptha launch, 25 feet long with an eight foot beam.[6]  He built more than 20 racing boats, including some of the Sliver model.  In 1909 he introduced the Gazelle, cited as the smallest but fastest racer of its type on the river, which was purchased by Charles Freeman of New York City.  By the end of the year Floyd had plans to move to Dallas, Texas, to go into the automobile business.[7]  Fortunately for the onlookers at the docks in the winter of 1911, he stayed put….

The iceboat that Floyd Carter unveiled in January 1911 was 8 feet long and 7 feet wide.  Instead of having a mast and sail attached for wind-driven propulsion, like those used in the vicinity up to that time, his innovation was to incorporate an airplane propeller for locomotion.  Carter used a six horsepower Panard engine to drive the propeller, which had a span of more than 6 feet.  Two large runners provided support in the back, while a shaft attached to a single steering sleigh in the front provided directional control.  On its first trip across the ice the boat topped 50 miles per hour.[8]

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Floyd L. Carter’s motor ice boat as depicted on a postcard.  The brand “Panard” is visible on the engine.  Calumet Island is visible over Carter’s left shoulder, suggesting the picture was taken at one of the docks on Riverside Drive in Clayton.  The man seated is unidentified.

Not to be outdone, other local builders soon introduced their own variations on Carter’s concept:

On January 31st, 1911, Fred Guernsey of Clayton presented his motor ice boat, identical to Carter’s with the exception that his engine was attached via sprocket chain to a spiked cogwheel at the rear of the boat which dug into the ice to move it forward.[9]

In December 1911, airplane builder Charles Hoffman introduced his “Areao-Ice-Hydro-plane”, an 11 foot contraption with 37 inch beam, consisting of runners attached to the bottom of a boat hull, powered by a five foot propeller rotating 1,900 times per minute and achieving top speeds of 60 miles per hour.  Hoffman’s invention could use the runners while on ice, and stay afloat via the hull when it struck water, making it ideal for the thawing season (if only Carter was driving this back in 1904!).[10]

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Detail from Floyd Carter’s engine repair business letterhead. Courtesy of Dr. Maynard H. Mires.

In 1912, Theron Patterson and Benton Wilbur of Alexandria Bay extended the motorized ice travel concept to dry land.  Their idea was to affix two cutter runners to a horse sleigh, and mount a 16 horsepower engine in the back, connected to a six foot air wheel for propulsion.  This new “motor sleigh” was capable of reaching speeds on land of 30 miles per hour, could climb hills, and on one trip reportedly traveled by road to Chippewa Bay, then over the river to Dark Island.  Two years later, Patterson improved his design with a new torpedo shape powered by a lighter engine, achieving 40 miles per hour.[11]

In 1929, Julius M. Breitenbach’s sleek new Arctic Goose was in service, hitting record speeds of 131 miles per hour.[12]

In 1931, Morris Knight patented a variation on Hoffman’s design, for an iceboat capable of navigating both ice and open water.[13]

By 1953, an airplane-based iceboat was in use by Robert Lashomb to carry the mail from Clayton to Grindstone Island, shortening the trip to 15 minutes or less–still the practice today.[14]

Floyd Carter died in February 1935, but his skill in both mechanics and boatbuilding continued to inspire his family long after[15]:

His young brother-in-law, Larry Diepolder, whom Floyd helped rear at Thousand Islands Park, went into business as a “gas engineer” and boat pilot.[16]  In 1921, Larry moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he competed in water races using boats he built himself.  He opened “Die Polder Electric Motors” which is still in business today.[17]

Floyd’s son Austin S. Carter moved to Chelan, Washington, after World War II, where he engaged in the boatbuilding business on Lake Chelan.[18]  In 1950, he was granted a patent for his concept of a “foldable boat.”[19]

So the next time you are on a lake or a river and you hear the familiar “put-put” of an engine off in the distance, perhaps you’ll remember the story of Floyd Carter and his motor ice boat from more than 100 years ago.  And when you hear it, be sure to stop, linger a while, and look around…. for like those assembled on the dock that chilly day, you may just find yourself a witness to the next great invention!

[Note: The author, Mark Wentling, is the great-great-grandson of the article subject, Floyd Carter.]

 

SOURCES:

All images from author’s personal collection except where otherwise noted.

[1] “Jefferson County: The News of Its Many towns as Taken From Our Exchanges,” Cape Vincent (N.Y.) Eagle, 26 January 1911, pg. 1, col. 7; digital image, NYS Historic Newspapers (http://www.nyshistoricnewspapers.org : accessed 26 January 2011).

[2] Carter Bible Records, 1834-1974, family pages only from unknown Bible; digital images made by Mark A. Wentling, Randolph, Massachusetts, 2009.  The Bible originated with Byron Carter and his wife Clarissa Britton, parents of Floyd Carter, whose births are the earliest entries; comparison of ink and handwriting suggest most entries were created by Ada Diepolder, Floyd’s wife.  The Bible passed to her daughter Kathleen (Carter) Abbott Philow and was then lost when her estate was dispersed following her death in 1984.  The Bible turned up on the online auction website Ebay in 2009 and was purchased by Mark A. Wentling, great-great-grandson of Floyd and Ada, and it is now in possession of his grndmother, Barbara (Carter) O’Brien, Floyd and Ada’s granddaughter, as of 2017.

[3] 1880 U.S. census, Jefferson County, New York, population schedule, Town of Orleans, Lafargeville, enumeration district (E.D.) 135, pg. 18-B, dwelling number 162, family number 165, M. J. Diepolder; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 February 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 839.

[4] 1900 U.S. census, Jefferson County, New York, population schedule, Town of Orleans, Thousand Island Park, enumeration district (E.D.) 26, pg. 2-B, dwelling 44, family 46, Floyd Carter; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 February 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1041.

[5] “Thousand Islands Park: Four People Spilled From a Flying Ice Boat.”  Watertown Daily Times, 29 December 1904. pg. 4, col. 3-4; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011).

[6]  “Lafargeville” [local notes],  The Watertown (N.Y.) Herald,  3 February 1906. unpaged, col. 3; digital image, NYS Historic Newspapers (http://www.nyshistoricnewspapers.org : accessed 26 January 2011).

[7] “St. Lawrence Park” [local notes],  The Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald, 1 August 1909, pg. D-5, col. 3; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011);  “Thousand Island Park” [local notes],  The Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald, 29 August 1909, pg. D-5, col. 6; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011); and “Thousand Island Park” [local notes],  The Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald, 5 September 1909, pg. D-5, col. 3; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011).

[8] “Motor Driven Ice Boat.”  Jefferson County (N.Y.) Journal, [21-23?] January 1911, unpaged, col. 4; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011); “Power Driven Ice Boats on River,”  Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times, 4 February 1911, pg. [illegible], col. 4; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011); and “Motor Driven Ice Boat Like An Aeroplane.”  Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times, 1 March 1911. pg. 6, col. 2; digital image, Old Fulton NY Postcards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 26 January 2011).

[9] “Power Driven Ice Boats on River,” pg. [illegible], col. 4.

[10] “Remembering… Dec, 28 1911,” Thousand Islands (N.Y.) Sun, 5 September 1984, pg. 15; “Remembering… 22 Feb. 22, 1912: New Style of Motor Sleigh,” undated clipping, ca. late 1990s, Thousand Islands (N.Y.) Sun. Privately held by Mark A. Wentling, Randolph, Massachusetts, 2017.

[11] “Remembering… February 19, 1914: Patterson’s Motor Sleigh”undated clipping, ca. late 1990s, Thousand Islands (N.Y.) Sun. Privately held by Mark A. Wentling, Randolph, Massachusetts, 2017.

[12]  Arctic Goose [untitled clipping],  Thousand Islands (N.Y.) Sun, 5 January 1933; Rex Ennis, “Arctic Goose,”  Thousand Islands Lifeposted 12 February 2010 (http://www.thousandislandslife.com/BackIssues/Archive/tabid/393/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/423/ldquoArctic-Gooserdquo.aspx : accessed 30 January 2011).

[13] “Google Patents,” database with images, Google (http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=1bpSAAAAEBAJ&dq=morris+knight+ice+bvoat : accessed 28 January 2011), images, Morris C. Knight, ice and water boat, patent file no. 1,816,118 (1931); original file location not cited.

[14] Robert Lashomb [untitled clipping].  On the St. Lawrence (Carthage, N.Y.), 13 February 1953; ; digital image, NYS Historic Newspapers (http://www.nyshistoricnewspapers.org : accessed 26 January 2011).

[15] Carter Bible Records.

[16] “U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 January 2011), card for Lawrence Engelbert Diepolder, card no. 21, Local Draft Board 3, Orleans District 5, Jefferson County, New York; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509, roll 1753743.

[17]  Mark A. Wentling, “Rock Island Lighthouse Keepers: Emma E. Diepolder, 1901,” Rock Island Lighthouse Historical & Memorial Association (http://rockislandlighthouse.org/row.html : accessed 30 January 2011).

[18] “Austin S. Carter,” obituary, Wenatchee (Washington) World, 27 January 1975, p. 23, col. 5.

[19] “Google Patents,” database with images, Google (http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=rQlUAAAAEBAJ&dq=austin+s.+carter+foldable+boat : accessed 28 January 2011), images, Austin S. Carter, foldable boat, patent file no. 2,533,220 (1950); original patent file location not cited.

Proud to Support Rock Island Lighthouse in New York State Parks’ New Video!

It’s finally out!!….

 

On May 16th, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation released a terrific new video highlighting Rock Island Lighthouse State Park, near Fisher’s Landing, in the Thousand Islands region.  The lighthouse was chosen as one of three sites across the state to be featured in a new series entitled “We Are New York” created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act this year.

Rock Island reopened to the public in 2013 after years of extensive preservation and restoration efforts by the State, and I was lucky enough to provide text and photographs from my research for the permanent exhibits.

The video series was conceived by Austin O’Brien and Cordell Reaves with the Office of Historic Preservation.  Their goal was to demonstrate the value of historic preservation in establishing community identity by sharing the stories of individuals with a personal connection to each site.

DB Media Company of Rochester contracted with the State for production.  Filming took place at Rock Island on August 27th and 28th last year, with brilliant sunshine and plenty of enthusiasm.  The company used drones equipped with cameras to capture the spectacular aerial shots highlighted in the video.

Among those of us invited to share our stories on camera were Deb Spry, Manager of Rock Island Lighthouse State Park, Brian Thomas, Capital Facilities Manager for Thousand Islands Parks Region, Kevin Kieff, former Director of Thousand Islands State Parks Region, Manny and Vicki Jerome, Friends of Rock Island Lighthouse State Park and long-time volunteers prior to the site’s restoration, and me Mark Wentling, in my capacity as Executive Director of Rock Island Lighthouse Historical & Memorial Association and a descendant of Michael J. Diepolder who was Keeper of the lighthouse from 1886 to 1901.  Each of us shared our personal enthusiasm for the lighthouse and what its restoration means to us.  Ruth Pierpont, Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation, was present along with O’Brien and Reeves, who conducted some of the interviews.

The video was premiered May 6th at the keynote address of the 2016 New York Statewide Preservation Conference in Albany to a crowd of more than 300 historic preservation professionals, enthusiasts and officials from across the state.

The video runs approximately four minutes in length and can be viewed on New York State Parks’ official YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/UfnurOUfteE.

It has been tremendously exciting and rewarding to be part of transforming Rock Island Lighthouse from a boarded up, neglected site in danger of being lost, into the shining example of the spirit of the Thousand Islands that it is today!

Do you want to know more about a lighthouse keeper or a lighthouse you love?  Find out how I can help through my lighthouse research service!

Mark Wentling at Rock Island Lighthouse

A secret past revealed: how genealogy uncovered one mother’s misfortune and her son’s chance to start over

[Do you have an ancestor whose story you’d like to learn?  I am a professional genealogist with more than 20 years of experience.  Find out how I can help!]

 

One of my favorite topics of study is the life of my great-great-great-grandfather, Michael Johannes Diepolder.  As a lighthouse keeper, the logbooks he left contain a 15-year-long daily record of his work, family, habits and moods.  When I read them, I feel almost as though I know him… well, as much as you can know someone you’ve never met.

Yet for all I’ve learned about his life, it took just one genealogical discovery to turn everything I thought I knew about his ancestry on its head, revealing a fascinating story—and a secret past….

What I thought I knew

From the research I had done, I knew that Michael was born on 14 December 1852 in Germany and had immigrated to the United States around 1859.

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1860 Census of Lafargville, New York, showing the Diepolder family. [1]

By 1860, he and his parents had made their way to LaFargeville in the Thousand Islands region of Jefferson County, New York, a rural farming community then and now.

In the census that year, Michael was listed as a seven year old schoolboy living with his parents, Engelbert Diepolder, a 31 year old cheese maker, and Saloma, a 26 year old woman.  As you might expect for immigrants just getting their feet under them in a strange country, they owned no real estate yet and all their personal possessions were worth only about $50.

This census record was a great starting point for understanding Michael’s family, and now I was ready to discover his ancestry before he came to America.

A mystery discovered

Since there were no naturalization records for the Diepolder family available locally, I decided to start with Ancestry.com’s online immigration records.  Knowing the family’s ages, country of origin, and year of arrival helped narrow my search, and yielded the clues I needed:

Among the records of ships arriving in New York City from Hamburg, Germany, on 1 September 1859, was that of the steamship Bavaria.  On its passenger manifest were three familiar names:  Engelbert Diepolder, 31, farmer, Salome Steiner, 25, “his bride,” and Johannes, 6, “child.”

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Manifest of the Bavaria upon arriving at New York City showing the Diepolder family. [2]

I kept searching and found the corresponding manifest created in Germany when Michael and his family actually boarded the Bavaria.  It provided crucial information about their birthplaces:  Engelbert was born in Memhölz, and Saloma and Johann were born a few miles away in Kurzberg.  Both were farming villages in the southern part of Bavaria on the edge of the Alps, not too far from the Austrian border.

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List of passengers departing from Hamburg, Germany, on 13 August 1859 aboard the ship Bavaria, showing the Diepolder family. [3]

Terrific!  I now knew which villages to start looking in to uncover Michael’s ancestry.  At first glance my next step seemed straightforward…and yet, there was something unusual about these ship records.  The more I studied them the more questions I had….

  1. Why was Michael referred to by his middle name “Johannes”?
  2. Why did both records have “ditto” marks under his mother’s last name, “Steiner,” where “Diepolder” should have been?  I knew it was typical for German women to retain their birth surname during marriage.  Had the ship’s clerk just been careless in recording Michael’s name, given where he fell on the page?
  3. And why was Saloma called “his bride” instead of “his wife,” as though Engelbert’s relationship with her was relatively recent, when Michael was already six years old?

Every record I had found on this side of the Atlantic supported the conclusion that Engelbert Diepolder had been Michael’s father—not only the 1860 census said so, but Michael’s marriage and death records did too.  I thought all my genealogical bases were covered, but these ship records were casting serious doubt on what I thought I knew about the relationship between Michael and Engelbert.

Was my great-great-great-grandfather born “Michael Johannes Diepolder” or was he really born “Johannes Steiner”?

I had a mystery to solve!

Digging for answers

Thanks to the birthplace details recorded in the Hamburg departure manifest, I knew exactly where to start looking for clues: Kurzberg.

Since birth records for Kurzberg were not online, and I could not go to Germany myself, I hired genealogist Friederich Wollmershäuser to search the original records for me.  In the Staatsarchiv in Augsburg, Wollmershäuser located the registers for Martinszell parish of which Kurzberg was part.  What they revealed was a surprise….

Among the records for 1852 was the birth on December 14th of “Johann Michael” to Saloma Steiner, “a poor unmarried, catholic person” at 4 in the morning at a house in Kurzberg—”an easy birth.”  Baptism followed the next day at the Martinszell parish church. [4]

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Birth record of Johann Michael, son of Salome Steiner.

This birth record answered one question: Michael had been called “Johann” in the passenger records because it was his first name given at birth.  “Michael,” the name he went by in America his whole life, was actually his middle name.

The record went on to state that Johann Michael had been born illegitimate.  There was the answer to my second question:  Michael appeared on the passenger lists with his mother’s last name “Steiner” because Engelbert was not his father after all!

So the obvious question was: who was Michael’s biological father?

A search within the records of the Kempten district court yielded a list of illegitimate children born in Martinszell parish in 1852.  On it was Johann Michael, born to Saloma Steiner, “unmarried poor person, daughter of widow Katharina Steiner.”  A note in the record revealed his father’s true identity:

“The father of the child is said to be a Frenchman, supervisor at the railroad, Aegidius Bollage, as the mother says.” [5]

“Aegidius Bollage” is Latin and translates to “Gilles Boulanger.

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Kempten court entry naming “Aegidius Bollage” as father of Johann Michael.

I now had the name for the real father of my ancestor—the ancestor I thought I knew so well.  His paternal family name hadn’t been Diepolder after all.  And it wasn’t even Steiner.  It was Boulanger!

So who was Gilles Boulanger?  Why hadn’t he married Saloma?  And why wasn’t he with his son in America instead of Engelbert?  Guardianship papers at the Kempten court held the answers….

In a petition to the court filed 12 January 1853, when little Johann Michael was just shy of a month old, Saloma Steiner pleaded for appointment of a guardian to support her child.  Her affidavit read:

“I denote unmarried railroad supervisor Gilles Boulanger from Nessonvaux, Cne. d’Ole near Verviers in Belgium, as the father of my child Johann Michael…. He has gone back to his home nine weeks ago.  He was employed by entreprenneurs Sinne and Groven who, as is known, also have departed.  As the French law is valid in Belgium, whereas no complaints for the payment of child support can be filed, I am unable to file any claims against him.  The child has board and lodging with my mother.” [5]

IMG_9895

Detail from Saloma’s affidavit, naming Gilles Boulanger of Nessonvaux as the father of her child.

In response, the court appointed master-blacksmith Franz Xaver Köberle of Greifenberg to be the child’s guardian.  Köberle, who was present, told the court: “I have no other choice than to agree to the declaration of Salome Steiner and know nothing odd about her good fame.”

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Saloma’s signature on her guardianship petition shows that, even though poor, she was educated well enough to write her own name.

The puzzle comes together

With the discovery of the ship’s passenger records, the birth record and guardianship petition, and through subsequent research into Belgian records with the help of volunteer genealogist Georges Close, the complete picture of Michael’s origins and his mothers’ tribulations came into focus.  Their story went something like this:

Living in the village of Kurzberg in 1852 was 18 year old Saloma Steiner, whose father had recently died, leaving her and her mother in desperate economic condition.

An influx of railroad workers meant business, since each would need food, lodging and laundry.  Perhaps it was under these circumstances that Saloma crossed paths with the man supervising the crew, Gilles Boulanger, who was 26 years her senior.  They got to know one another—well enough for Saloma to know the details of his hometown—and by the early spring she was pregnant with his child.

kurzberg_1908_Gut_lg

In this early picture of Kurzberg, the large white building at left stands on property owned by Saloma’s mother’s family for four generations, and is where Saloma was living when the railroad, visible in the foreground, came to town. From this view, it is easy to imagine how Saloma and Gilles could have met and carried on a relationship during the summer of 1852. The railroad is still in operation today. [6]

By the time the railroad was completed, Saloma was eight months along and Gilles’ employer was pulling out.  Rather than stay in Kurzberg to care for young Saloma in the final weeks of her pregnancy and witness the birth of their child, Gilles returned home to Nessonvaux, Belgium.

A month later, Saloma gave birth to their son, Johann Michael Steiner, named in honor of her eldest brother who no doubt had cared for Saloma and her mother after the death of their father.  With Gilles being long gone, Saloma leaned on her mother to shelter and feed her new baby boy.

It didn’t take long for Saloma to realize that Gilles had no intention of returning or taking any kind of responsibility for his new family. Prevented by French law from pursuing Gilles in his native Belgium for child support, Salome took matters into her own hands and secured the support of a local man who was skilled in a trade that could provide steady income.

Some time passed and Salome met and married a man from the neighboring village of Memhölz.  His name was Engelbert Diepolder, a farmer in his twenties with no children of his own.  He was the fourth born in a family of five, meaning he had little chance of inheriting land to start his own farm.  Perhaps for this reason he set his sights on taking his bride and her young boy to America, where newspapers extolled the acres of rich farmland for the taking.

When the new family arrived in America, they had a choice to make.  Saloma still carried her family name of Steiner, and could easily adapt to the American custom of taking her husband’s last name.  But what about little Johann Steiner?….

It’s clear from the records that Engelbert and Saloma decided to not only change Johann’s last name to match Engelbert’s, but to even change his first name too.  Thus Saloma’s illegitimate child was effectively given a new identity in the New World.  She could leave behind the bitter remembrance of Gilles’ abandonment, and her son would grow up free from the probing questions and knowing glances of his neighbors.

Engelbert, Saloma and “Michael J.” started over in America as a new family—the Diepolders.

….

Did Michael ever know that Gilles Boulanger, not Engelbert Diepolder, was his real father?  It’s hard to know the answer.  It’s conceivable that if Saloma married Engelbert when Michael was young enough, then Engelbert would have been the only father Michael ever remembered.  Passenger records naming her as his “bride,” though, suggest Michael was probably old enough to have remembered a life before Engelbert.

Whatever the case, it’s clear from subsequent records that Michael regarded Engelbert as his father.  Indeed, he must have held great affection for him.  In his log entry for 21 March 1895 at Rock Island Lighthouse, Michael wrote “a young visitor arrived here 7:50 a.m.: it’s a 9# boy”—he named that little boy Lawrence Engelbert Diepolder. [7]

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Michael’s logbook entry celebrating the birth of son Lawrence Engelbert.

 

Loose ends

In case you’re wondering what happened to Gilles Boulanger, there is no record that he ever visited America or otherwise engaged in his son’s life.  But he did ultimately resurface….

Gilles appeared again in 1872 in the village of Gallina, Calabria, Italy, working as a railroad employee.  There, on September 22nd, he married Consolata Luvarà.  He was 54 and she was 23.

They had no known children.

 

Lessons learned

This story shows how easy it is to take American records of immigrants at face value and how assuming that they tell the whole story can lead to mistakes in your family tree.  I spent years tracing more generations of the Diepolder family before I found the passenger lists and realized that I needed to change course.

This story also teaches how using all means available—including hiring a genealogist or seeking out volunteers—to follow the complete trail of records left by our ancestors can reveal surprising details, helping us get to know their stories, and therefore ourselves, a little bit better.

That kind of knowing, after all, is the real goal of genealogy!

 

Introducing my great-great-great-grandfather….Michael Johannes Diepolder

diepoldermj-sketch1896

 

Author’s Note:

It was Michael’s service as lighthouse keeper that inspired me to create the Rock Island Lighthouse Historical & Memorial Association in 2000.  To learn more about Michael and the other keepers of  Rock Island Lighthouse, at Fisher’s Landing, New York—now a state park—please visit rockislandlighthouse.org.

Do you have a family lighthouse keeper or a favorite lighthouse you love?  Find out how I can help you discover more through my lighthouse research service!

Sources:

[1]  1860 U.S. census, Jefferson County, New York, population schedule, Town of Orleans, p. 69, dwelling 552, family 553, Engelbert, Salome and Michael Diepolder; image Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 March 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 761.

[2]  Manifest, S. S. Bavaria, 1 September 1859, stamped p. [not indicated], line 94-96, Engelbert Diepolder, age 31, Saloma Steiner, age 26, Joh., age 6; images, “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957” Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 March 2016).

[3]  Manifest, S. S. Bavaria, 13 August 1859, written p. 409, line 94-96, Engelbert Diepolder, age 31, Saloma Steiner, age 25, Joh., age 6; images, “Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934″ Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 March 2016).

[4]  Martinszell parish church (Martinszell, Waltenhofen, Schwaben, Bayern, Germany), “Kirchenbuchzweitschriften Martinszell 1837-1861,” KBZS Kempten 2754, Staatsarchiv, Augsburg, Germany.

[5]  Kempten, Schwaben, Bayern, Germany, Landgerich ä O. Kempten, VA S Nr. 920, guardianship file for Johann Michael Steiner; Staatsarchiv, Augsbury, Germany.

[6]  Photo courtesy of Margarete Heidl, Waltenhofen, and Friederich R. Wollmershäuser, Oberdischingen.

[7]  Entry by Michael J. Diepolder, 21 March 1895; Lighthouse Logbooks, Rock Island Station, N.Y., Box 365; Record Group E 26 (NC-31): U.S. Coast Guard Lighthouse Service; National Archives, Washington, D.C.