Monday, May 9, 2016

Who Got the Business?

After writing The Daughter Who Wasn't, I wondered who did get William Peter Ternes' businesses. I had heard from descendants of one of William's daughters that the children didn't get it. I also heard the same thing from a friend of descendants of one of Frank Deacon's daughters. From that source I also learned that William's younger brother, George Lambert Ternes, got the various businesses William had founded. These sources always said the name of the business was Ternes Coal & Lumber Co., which had been started by William's older brother, Albert Peter Ternes. At one time William was the treasurer of the company and George Lambert Ternes, was secretary. After reading several Detroit area newspaper articles, I do not believe Ternes Coal & Lumber Co. was the company over which the family fought for control after William's death.

William Peter Ternes died on 17 November 1926 as one of the most prominent business men in Detroit. He had eloped to Sandwich, Ontario, in 1910 to marry Elsie Agnes Gerstner, who worked at Ternes Coal & Lumber Co. along side William as a bookkeeper. They had six children, five who lived to adulthood, before William died and a seventh born three months after his death. William and Elsie's second daughter, Marian Ruth Ternes, married my first cousin twice removed, Harold Muir.

The Anthony Ternes Family. Back row, left to right: George Lambert Ternes,
William Peter Ternes, Mary Therese Ternes, Albert Peter Ternes. Middle row,
left to right: Margaret Ternes, Anthony Ternes (father), Mary Ann (Horger)
Ternes (mother), Anthony Francis Ternes. Seated in front: Della Ternes and
Frederick John Ternes; photograph courtesy of Sally (Ternes de Reuter) Martinez

The 1914 Book of Detroiters included the following entry for William:

William Peter Ternes, born Springwells, Mich., July 16, 1877, son of Anthony and Mary Ann (Horger) Ternes; educated German parochial school; Assumption College, Sandwich, Ont.; married Apr. 8, 1910, Elsie A. Gerstner, of Ann Arbor, Mich.; 2 children: Evelyn Agnes and William Anthony. Treasurer Ternes Coal & Lumber Co. since Jan. 10, 1905; vice-president The Cooper Baking Co. Roman Catholic. Member Knights of Columbus. Recreation: automobiling. Office: 1730 Michigan Ave. Residence: 303 Vinewood Ave.

William Peter Ternes; courtesy of the
Detroit Free Press

According to William's obituary, he started his own coal business, which he named William P. Coal & Lumber Co. and eventually began a successful real estate business, W. P. Ternes Real Estate. It was likely that was company that his widow and her second husband were operating when the 1930 census was enumerated, Elsie (Gerstner) Ternes Deacon as president and Frank Deacon as vice president.

An article in the 30 November 1926 Detroit Free Press indicated Elsie was an executor as well as the Union trust company and five of his six living children were his heirs.

Detroit Free Press article; image courtesy of

Children to Get Shares at Intervals During Life
Leaving an estate valued at $1,000, and upward to a widow, three daughters and two sons, the will of William P. Ternes, who died November 17, was filed for probate Monday.

Mrs. Elsie A. Ternes, 722 Chicago boulevard, and the Union Trust company were named executors. The will advised the investing of money in land contracts and retaining the site of the William P. Ternes company, coal and lumber dealers, at Twelfth and Fenkill avenue.

The shares of the estate going to the children are divided into quarters to be received when they reach the age of 25, thirds at the age of 30, halves at 35 and the balance at 40. The daughters are 4, 7, and 15 years old and the sons are 6 and 14 years old.

William's widow, Elsie was six months pregnant when he died. She gave birth to their youngest son, John Peter Ternes on 22 February 1927.

If family lore is to be believed, William's children never got their inheritance.  So who did?

The obvious suspects would be the two brothers with whom William was in business before he branched out on his own. The Book of Detroiters included profiles of both of them:

Albert Peter Ternes,  president Ternes Coal & Lumber Co.; born, Springwells, Mich., Oct. 7, 1872; son of Anthony and Mary Anna (Horger) Ternes; educationed German parochial schools, and Greenfield district school; married, June 20, 1900, Maude Burke, of Detroit; children: Arthur, Howard, Paul. Entered retail coal and feed business, 1900, with Joseph H. Schulte; president and general manager Ternes Coal & Lumber Co. since Jan. 10, 1905; also partner real estate business of Ternes & Yatzek; director Springwell State Bank; proprietor Ternes Stock Farm, breeders of registered Percheron horses and English Berkshire swine. Roman Catholic. Member Detroit Board of Commerce, Builders and Traders' Exchange. Member Knights of St. John. Club: Fellowcraft. Recreations: farming and fancy stock raising. Office: 1730 Michigan Ave. Residence: 791 W. Grand Boul.

Albert Peter Ternes; courtesy member
David Reckinger

George Lambert Ternes, born, Springwells, Mich., Sept. 12, 1884; son of Anthony and Mary Anna (Horger) Ternes; educated in German parochial school, Springwells, Detroit Business University; unmarried. Secretary and treasurer of The Cooper Backing Co., Detroit, since Jan. 10, 1905; secretary Ternes Coal & Lumber Co. since Nov. 1, 1909. Democrat. Roman Catholic. Member German-American Association. Recreations: automobiling, bowling. Office: 1730 Michigan Ave. Residence: 483 W. Grand Boul.

George Lambert Ternes; courtesy of member

Albert Peter Ternes' adopted niece, Edith Mary Madeline Ternes described Albert as "...a handsome confident man who was a very successful business man. He and his three younger brothers, Frank, William, and George were in the coal and lumber business for a number of years. The company was called The Ternes Coal and Lumber Company, which was quite normal."

Albert died in 1943 and his obituary stated he was the founder of Ternes Coal & Lumber Co. George Lambert Ternes died in 1945. It is entirely possible the heirs of Albert and George divided the business and began their own separate companies or the company may have been sold. In 1955 one of Albert's sons, Arthur Ternes, was the owner of a company called Art Ternes Coal & Lumber Co.

After spending days reviewing the archives of the Detroit Free Press, I still cannot say why William Peter Ternes' children didn't get the inheritance their father intended; or, if there was indeed a fight over his various business, who was involved or who prevailed.

The Daughter Who Wasn't
A Day of Surprising Research Finds


  1. Thank you for this article. I have been looking into family tree and found this, very well written. William Anthony Ternes is my Grandfather.....William E. Lozelle Jr.

    1. I'm glad the article was helpful to you, Mr. Lozelle. I have enjoyed researching the Ternes family.

    2. William E Lozelle Jr,
      I have something of your grandfathers you might enjoy. Contact me-

  2. The Ternes Coal and Lumber Company held many mortgages on homes in the Detroit area. William Peter Ternes would supply the lumber to build a house and then hold the mortgage on that house. This was a great business plan until the great depression of 1929. Mortgages were not paid and the business failed soon after. Elsie Ternes was all but penniless and was evicted from her home on Chicago Boulevard. Elsie passed away in 1932. She had life insurance that helped her children but all that William Peter had was gone.