The Private Intellectual
Ecclesiastes-Based Real Estate Advice

Thursday, June 09, 2011  

The Foundling

Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Irene Wagner, my great-grandmother. I wasn't quite two when she died, though I never met her anyway.

She was born in 1901 (though some documents list her birth as taking place 'about 1902'), perhaps in Iowa. She lived in an orphanage, probably St. Aemilian in Milwaukee, until 1906, when she was adopted by a couple from Kiel, Wisconsin. She lived there until 1920, after the birth (out of wedlock) of my grandfather. Her paramour was the nephew of her adoptive mother, and the mother objected to their plans to wed. After she delivered, the story goes, she was sent away.

Apparently she went back to Milwaukee, where a 1930 census roll shows her living at 324 Summit in a boarding house, with no occupation listed. Some time in the 1950s, when my mother was still very young, she visited her son's home to try to establish a relationship with him and his family. He refused to speak to her. When she died in Milwaukee, she had been living in a nursing home. And when her room was cleaned out, it was discovered that she had been subscribing to the newspaper from my mother's little hometown and had kept clippings of every story concerning one of her twelve unknown grandchildren.

One of my next projects will be to fill in whatever details I can find about her life, which I know only as a story of unrelieved sadness. In a better age she would have been better treated by those whose love we are accustomed to cherish and rely upon. She has thirty-six living descendants, two deceased, and one foster great-great granddaughter. She looks a lot like her only son in this picture.

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 10:04 PM
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