Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Momma, Meet Your Great Uncle, Gustav August Fabrizius

Dear Momma,

Remember that DNA test you took in 2013 and how we hoped it would help us learn more about your family? It has and I want to tell you about the latest discovery. We surmised from a Russian birth registration which included the patronymic middle names for your Schalin grandparents that your great grandfather's name was Wilhelm Fabrizicius. I think we were right! I'm waiting on all the DNA science mumbo jumbo to prove or disprove this. (see below)

But it brought us no closer to learning the name of Wilhelm's wife and the mother of your grandmother, Auguste (Fabrizius) Schalin. I found a new DNA match whose family tree included a man named Gustav August Fabrizius along with his parents, Wilhelm Fabrizius and Anna Holstein. Momma, I think Gustav was your grand uncle, a brother to your maternal grandmother.[1]

My pedigree chart on 1 January 2018; note the missing great great grandmother;
who was Auguste (Fabrizicus) Schalin's mother? Image courtesy of Ancestry.com

Gustav was born on 5 August 1868 in the Ruthenia[2] area of the Russian Empire to Wilhelm Fabrizius and Amalie Holstein. At the age of 19, he traveled to Bremerhaven, Germany, with his maternal aunt and uncle August and Marie Louise (Holstein) Linck, and boarded the North German Lloyd SS Eider. The ship stopped at Southampton, England, before arriving at New York on 17 December 1887. He was processed at Castle Garden at the tip of Manhattan, now part of Battery Park.

Gustav made his way to Iowa and married Maria "Mary" Freund, daughter of Hans Freund and Fredricke Toglitz on 21 June 1890 in Clinton County. Mary's mother had immigrated from Germany as a young girl. Gustav and Mary's first two children were in Clinton County. On 22 October 1894 Gustav became a naturalized United States citizen at the District courthouse in Clinton County.

By 1899, Gustav had moved his family his family to Muscatine, Iowa, which is located on the west bank of the upper Mississippi River. Gustav worked as a foreman at a pickle farm. The cucumbers were likely planted after the last frost in mid-May. Those cucumbers would generally be picked in July, which might make it possible to get two crops per year.

They rented a house on Fletcher Avenue in Muscatine across the street from Greenwood Cemetery, which had been open since 1843. At the time the city did not yet have a system for numbering houses to provide an exact address. By 1904 they moved a short distance to a house on Nyenhuis Street and then by 1907 to 1212 Henry Avenue, which no longer exists.

By 1910 Gustav and his family moved to Seventy-Six Township in Muscatine County, which was about 50 miles southwest of the city. Gustav rented a truck farm which he worked on his own account. They had a hired man, named George Peters, who lived with them and helped out on the farm.

Muscatine County Townships; courtesy of the University of Iowa

About 1918 Gustav moved his family back to the city of Muscatine and began working at the McKee Button Company as a button cutter. Muscatine was known as the pearl button capital of the world...at least according to their museum. The buttons were made from mussel shells and an an article on the Muscatine History and Industry Center website describes the work of a cutter:

"Shell cutters operated lathes with tubular saws made of hardened steel and used tongs to hold the shell in place. Jets of water sprayed on the saw during cutting to keep it cool and to control dust. The cutter produced blanks or circular pieces of shell with one rough side and one smooth side. Before the shell could be cut, it soaked in water for at least one week. Without proper soaking, the brittle shell splintered and caused extreme wear on cutting saws.

Working conditions in shell cutting shops were unpleasant at best. The water needed during the cutting drenched workers with building temperatures fluctuating. All workers experienced the discomfort of standing in the same position all day, but many also sustained injuries. While shell dust irritated the throat and lungs, flying shell particles caused eye injuries.

The average cutter could use up to 100 pounds of shell a day, resulting in about 25 gross, or 3,600 blanks. Since workers were paid by the piece, they wanted to produce as many blanks as possible. The cutting shop carefully weight the amount of shell given to each worker. The skill and careful attention of the cutter was required to obtain the optimal number of blanks per shell. Managers penalized workers for cutting imperfect, thin, or otherwise unusable blanks. Workers were also held responsible for excessive waste of shell."[3]

Button cutters at work; courtesy of the Muscatine History and Industrial Center

Three of Gustav's sons also worked at the button factory. Gustav worked at the McKee Button Company until 1936. 

By 1925 Gustav rented a home at 116 Clinton Avenue and paid his daughter, Esther, $16 per month in rent. She owned the home valued at $1,600 and her mortgage was $800. Gustav and Mary remained at 116 Clinton Avenue until Gustav died on 19 March 1939 of broncho-pneumonia and chronic myocarditis. The funeral was held at their home on 22 March and officiated by Rev. D. R. Anderson, pastor of the Mulford Congregational Church. Gustav was interred at Greenwood Cemetery.

116 Clinton Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa; courtesy Google Maps

When the 1940 census was enumerated Gustav's widow, Marry lived at 600 Liberty Street. She rented it for $15 a month. Living with her was her son, Henry, who never married; and daughter, Kathleen; Kathleen's daughter Deryth; and Mary's brother, Charlie. She continued to live in Muscatine at various addresses including 1011 Mill Street until her death on 16 May 1957. She was interred beside her husband at Greenwood Cemetery.

Like your grandmother, Auguste, and mother, Wilhelmina, Mary Fabrizius had nine children:
  • Bertha Amelia Fabrizius born 14 Jun 1891 in Clinton County, Iowa; died 7 August 1971; married 1) Ralph Clarence Strohm in January 1917 in Rock Island County, Illinois, (divorced) and 2) Henry Jearold McEwen 28 January 1931 in Gretna, Louisiana. 
  • Otto Albert Fabrizius born 28 September 1894 in Clinton County; died 17 March 1980 in Muscatine; married Verna Marie Schlipf on 12 September 1922 in Muscatine; World War I Veteran.
  • William A. Fabrizius born 18 February 1897 in Muscatine; died 20 September 1968 in Muscatine; married Verna Minnie Bierman.
  • Esther Alvena Fabrizius born 23 November 1899 in Muscatine; died 15 August 1987 in Cook County, Illinois; married widower, Arthur E. Kindler 26 April 1940 in Cook County.
  • Henry Fabrizius born 21 October 1902 in Iowa; died 29 September 1966; never married
  • Ruth A. Fabrizius bon about 1906 in Muscatine; died 18 July 1994 in Muscatine; married Hugo Frederick Braasch on 11 September 1924 in Muscatine.
  • Kathleen Marie Fabrizius born on 28 February 1908 in Musatine; died 15 November 2000; married Albert Henry Benninger after 1940.
  • Carl Herbert Fabrizius born 12 October 1910 in Seventy-six Township, Iowa; died in October 1970; married Vera Pauline Allensworth.
  • George Arthur Fabrizius born 17 April 1913 in Muscatine; died in January 1983; married Odetta M. Farrier on 9 April 1938 (divorced).
Momma, remember how we speculated that Fabrizius might be a Russian name and that your grandmother, Auguste, may not have been of German heritage like her husband? We were wrong. In the 1920, Gustav indicated his native tongue was German. So I began researching the origins of the Fabrizius surname. It dates back to the 13th century and was first found in Bavaria. It was an occupation surname, used by an artist or craftsman, and was derived from the Latin word "faber," which means ingenious or skillful.

And the Fabrizius family was of the German Baptist faith as Gustav reported on the 1915 Iowa state census as were your maternal grandparents.  The federal census began asking people the birthplace of their parents in 1880. Gustav indicated his father was from Ruthenia Russia in 1920. This is now part of Ukraine and encompasses Kiev and the surrounding area. This would be east of where your Schalin ancestors lived.

Here's that science mumbo jumbo that makes your eyes glaze over:

DNA tests I manage with matches to people with the Fabrizius Surname in
their tree (centimorgans/segments); created using Microsoft Excel

Mom, since you died several of your nieces and nephews have also DNA tested and either shared their results with me or allowed me to manage their tests. As of today, we have three different people with the Fabrizius surname in their family trees who match with one or more of our relatives. Next, I need to ask the three Fabrizius testers if they would be willing to upload their results to GEDMATCH so I can compare the matching segments. Hopefully, I'll be able to make your eyes glaze over some more!

I love you and miss you every day.

Your loving daughter.

[1] Another relationship possibility is that the Wilhelm Fabrizius married to Amalie Holstein was a brother to Auguste (Fabrizius) Schalin named for his father Wilhelm. If this is the case, then I still do not know the name of my great great grandmother.
[2] Ruthenian Russia included Kiev and its surrounding areas now in Ukraine.
[3] Button Cutting, Muscatine History and Industrial Center (accessed 27 February 2018)


  1. Vera Pauline Allensworth is my great grandmother!She was married to carl fabrizius. If you know more about our family history you can email me at Samanthaluan1021@gmail.com