Marckhoff family lays foundation in America

Think about a trip you’ve taken with your family or a group of friends—whether as a child or an adult. Maybe you flew someplace, or drove, or took a train. You (or your parents) spent money, saw the sights, enjoyed yourselves (I hope), and then returned home. Now imagine it’s the 19th century, and you and nine relatives—including babies—are making a one-way journey of thousands of miles to a country where you don’t speak the language and everything you will have at your destination is what you can carry with you. You will likely never return to your ancestral home.

Detail from a Marckhoff headstone, Bluff City Cemetery

Like many of us with immigrant ancestors, this is a typical story. I have in my family tree many such families, including the two profiled here. They were the Marckhoffs and Jubys, Prussian Germans, builders—brick layers, stone masons, contractors—who immigrated to the United States in the years after the U.S. Civil War to Elgin, a city just west of Chicago in Kane County. There, in the Fox River Valley, they laid the literal foundations of structures throughout the area, and also the foundation of a family spanning many generations and centuries.

Now consider the steam ship Westphalia, April 1873. She is a young vessel, about five years old, equipped with one funnel, two masts, and a single screw. Westphalia was built in Scotland for Hamburg America Line, and could accommodate over 700 passengers and 120 crew.

And on that ship in April 1873 was one party of ten, three generations of a Prussian German family, aged from a six-month-old baby to a sixty-year-old grandfather. The eldest were Theodore Marckhoff, aged 60, a brickmaker, and his wife Caroline Kleinschmidt, 57. Then, their eldest child, Whilamina, 32, her husband Frederick Juby, 40, and their six children—Herman (9), Amanda (7), Frederick William (6), Albert (3), Hedwig (2), and Elizabeth (about 5-6 months).

They came from Jatznick—then a village in Western Pomerania, Prussia, now in northeastern Germany. Prussia was then the central power in a newly unified Germany, led by Otto von Bismarck, whose 1870-71 war against France consolidated a new German Empire, a Second Reich.

Their journey would have started with an overland trek of about 200 miles west to Hamburg, where they embarked on Westphalia on a voyage first to Le Havre and then on to New York, arriving in the great harbor on April 23. The port-to-port journey alone took two weeks. And then, the family of ten processed through Castle Garden, New York State’s immigration depot located in the old harbor fort at the southern tip of Manhattan.

Detail from Westphalia, April 23, 1873, in “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” Note that the Juby surname was spelled “Gubi.”

Castle Garden was New York’s primary immigration station from 1855 to 1890. It replaced a theater that had supplanted a harbor fort, and itself was superseded by Ellis Island—a U.S. government installation—in 1892 (the former immigration depot became an aquarium and is now back to its original configuration as the harbor fort it started as: Castle Clinton). At Castle Garden, new arrivals were inspected for disease, asked how much money they carried, and if they had jobs at their final destination. The immigrants could also buy train tickets to destinations further on, exchange their foreign currency, like Prussian thalers, for dollars, and retrieve any letters sent to them by relatives who had already made the journey. Immigrants could also find jobs at a Labor Exchange located at the facility. German girls were apparently in high demand as servants.

In March 1871, a correspondent wrote about “a day at Castle Garden” for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, who upon entering the Battery grounds observed that:

What was years ago a blooming garden is now a barren waste, on which hardly a sprouting grass is to be seen. It looks like a large drilling field, with a few trees standing in clusters near the entrance on Broadway. In the background looms Castle Garden, with its outbuildings, hospitals, and offices—all encircled by a large wooden wall.

Exterior View of Castle Garden from the Battery. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, March 1871.

Immigrants arriving from German-speaking states like Prussia, Mecklenburg, Hanover, and others, and then from unified Germany were among the most populous groups of immigrants to America in the mid- to late-19th century. The Harper’s correspondent observed that “The German immigrants seem altogether to be those who give the least trouble in the Garden. They are willing, obey instructions, and try to help each other along.” The Irish, he wrote, “are a little more troublesome from their frequent and repeated questions.” But, he added, “the most annoying and patience-exhausting fellow-creatures are undoubtedly the Swedes.”

Once they completed processing at Castle Garden, the elder Marckhoffs, their daughter and son-in-law, and their six Juby grandchildren still had over 800 miles to travel to get to Elgin—multiple day’s journey by train, perhaps on the New York Central Railroad from Grand Central Depot, opened just two years earlier.

This family’s 4,400 mile journey to America was a classic case of “chain migration,” a term derided by some in contemporary U.S. politics, but that describes a common set of migration events for many of our European immigrant ancestors. The elder Marckhoffs—Theodore and Caroline—had six other children born after Whilamina, who all immigrated to Elgin at different times. Three children arrived before April 1873: Charles, the eldest son (born August 1842), arrived in October 1868. Then in June 1872 the Marckhoff’s youngest child and second daughter, Ellvina (b. July 1853), came to America with her husband Friederich Rambow, their baby daughter Elizabeth Louise, and likely his older parents and possibly his younger brother. And then third, Albert Marckhoff arrived in New York in August 1872 on the S.S. Hammonia, traveling solo like his brother Charles. (Albert would later become superintendent of the Bluff City Cemetery in Elgin for many years.)

Thus, brothers Charles and Albert Marckhoff and their sister Ellvina Rambow were already in Elgin when their parents, sister, and nieces and nephews arrived. Then, just a month later, another brother—Herman Marckhoff, born November 1850—made his journey to America. The last two Marckhoff children came a few years later: William in April 1881, aged 35, with his wife Louise and their six children (ages 2 months to 9); and last, Henry, arriving in July 1882 aged about 34, with his wife Mathilde and their baby daughter Anna. Why these two men immigrated so long after the rest of their relatives is unknown. Henry would establish the Marckhoff Bros. contracting and builder business with Herman.

Detail from the 1929 Elgin City Directory. The index to advertisers indicates they had an ad on the back cover, but that page isn’t scanned.

In 1893, twenty years after Theodore and Caroline Marckhoff settled in Elgin, Illinois with their daughter’s family, the World’s Columbian Exposition was held in nearby Chicago. This was the famous “White City,” designed in part by notable architects like Frederick Law Olmstead and Daniel Burnham. By this time, Theodore and Caroline were nearing the end of their lives. She died in October 1894, and he followed exactly five months later, in March 1895. They had seven children who all immigrated to America. Four of their five sons were brick or stone masons of some kind (like their father), and their two daughters were married to masons. (Only Albert didn’t join the family enterprise: he was a saloon keeper in 1880, and then was for many years the superintendent of Bluff City Cemetery, where so many of his relatives are buried, and where he survived a tornado strike in 1896, a story for another time.) The elder Marckhoffs had at least 58 grandchildren (though at least nine had died as infants or children)—many of whom continued the family involvement in masonry—and at least 150 further descendants now scattered throughout the United States. I am a 3x-great-grandson of theirs.

I’d like to believe that some of the building work on the White City was done by the Marckhoff Brothers, or by their many in-laws like Fred Juby and Fred Rambow. or by their sons and nephews. And, I hope members of this family had the chance to enjoy the fair as visitors. Whatever the case, this family of builders led by Theodore and Caroline Marckhoff came to America at a time of new growth following the U.S. Civil War, hoping to leave the wars of the old country and build something new in America, and thereby lay a foundation for generations of Americans to come.

Whilamina Marckhoff Juby (top) with her daughters Amanda, Hattie, Whilamina, and Lizzie, ca 1900. Whilamina, the younger, is in the center, and is my great-grandmother. Family photo.

For more on the Westphalia’s history, and that of others, see “Immigrant Ship Information,” by Roger Kreuz.

Louis Bagger, “A Day in Castle Garden,” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, March 1871.

— Fred Dews

For Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 1, Foundations.

9 thoughts on “Marckhoff family lays foundation in America

  1. Great read! My husband’s family are also from Prussia – Germany. He did take a DNA test with AncestryDNA. Curious to know if you are related….


      1. hi fred, very good article about my dad’s side of the family. his name was william carl marckhoff and his dad moved to california from elgin – as a child i was told he was one of 5 or 6 brothers who were masons there. my dad was born in alameda calif and grew up to serve in ww2 as a B29 bomber pilot. he married my mom patricia at uc berkeley when he got back – and later they adopted me, and later a boy, and then had a daughter together. we are all in our sixties now, and our parents, like almost all of that generation,
        have left the planet.

        Liked by 1 person

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