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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Coming to America

In July of 1849 Joseph W. Herkner wrote to his brother-in-law, Wenzel Blumrich of Alpine Township in Kent County, that he had decided to emigrate to the United States. Blumrich, a physician, was married to Joseph’s sister Laura, and had emigrated in 1848. Joseph, living in Kratzau, Bohemia, part of Austrian Empire, asked how much money would be needed for the trip and to establish himself in or near Grand Rapids

Kratzau, located in the Czech Republic today, is just a few miles from the borders of Germany and Poland. Joseph listed his occupation on the ship manifest as weaver as did his wife, Elizabeth. The industrial revolution had affected Kratzau, a weaving center, and many families involved in that trade left the city. Participation in the revolution of 1848 was another factor for some who left the area about the same time. Several of those families with connections to Kratzau and Wenzel Blumrich came to Grand Rapids.

The Herkner family sailed from the port of Bremen and six weeks later on October 22, 1849 arrived in New York. They traveled up the Hudson River to Albany and then to Buffalo via the Erie Canal. At Buffalo Joseph’s brother Carl Frederick and his wife, Johanna, left the party to set up housekeeping in that city. The rest of the family—Joseph, his wife, their son Joseph Carl, age nine, and Joseph’s mother Barbara Keil Herkner—continued by sailing ship across Lake Erie to Detroit and then to Ann Arbor by train. Since the Michigan Central railroad line ended there, they made the final leg of their trip by wagon and arrived in Grand Rapids on November 15, 1849. Less than one year later in August of 1850, at age thirty-three, Joseph W. Herkner died.

In the 1850 census Enos Sholz, probably Elizabeth Herkner’s brother, was living with the family in Grand Rapids, as was John Froberg, an immigrant from Saxony who would become Elizabeth’s second husband. Whether Enos arrived before or after the Herkners is not known, but by 1860 Joseph Sholz, Elizabeth’s father, had arrived and was living with the family.

Compare the route of the Herkner family with that taken by Charles Belknap’s family as described in the Article, “Why Men Came to Michigan” found in the photo essay, Roots in New England and New York.

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