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Descendants of Wilhelm Klein of Germany

From 1700 Germany to Norwalk, Ohio

This is the story of the Klein and Bremser families who came to live in Elyria and Norwalk, Ohio.

The first of the Klein family to come to the United States were brother and sister Marie Henrietta "Haddie" Klein and Henry Klein. According to oral family history, Henrietta lost her wallet and all her money on the boat coming to America. Haddie and Henry headed for Norwalk, Ohio. According to Henry's niece, Minnie Klein, "...Henry got work at the old Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad roundhouse and Haddie found work for a family as housekeeper." Another sister, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Klein (m. Ernst Loeffler) and then Karl Klein came next.

Elizabeth "Lizzie" Klein Loeffler circa 1890. Photo courtesy Ron Miller.

Marie Henrietta was known as Haddie most of her life, as was her daughter Hedwig. Henrietta's or Haddie's husband Johann Andrew Opel came to America from Germany on 23 December 1882 and settled in the Norwalk, Ohio area, where he and Haddie Klein met. They were married on 20 January 1887 and moved to a farm south of Deerfield, Michigan on Rodisiler Highway. It was later called the Carl Goetz Farm. Johann, Henrietta, and baby Marie are all buried in the Deerfield Cemetery (Lot#262) in Deerfield, Michigan.

The four siblings saved money and in 1892 sent it to Germany to bring over their sister, my great-grandmother and father, Philipena Klein Bremser and her husband, Heinrich Gottlieb Bremser.

Philipena, nicknamed "Bina" according to her granddaughter Annabeth Beasley, was the daughter of Johann Jacob Klein and Katherine Wilhelmine Seel. Philipena was the second of six brothers and sisters: Wilhelm, Philipena, Henry, Haddie, Elizabeth, and Karl. Jacob Klein's oldest son, Wilhelm II, remained in Germany and attained the highest rank in Forestry. He was married and had three children by his first wife: William (Wilhelm? — killed in WWI), Hedwing, and Curt.

Heinrich and Philipena Klein Bremser, Bina's brother Karl, and their father Johann Jacob Klein arrived in the U.S. on board the Spree on May 12, 1892, after a miserable 30-day voyage. The picture of the Statue of Liberty (top) was taken on return from a later voyage in 1922. The ship was built for North German Lloyd, German flag, in 1890. She carried 826 passengers on the Bremerhaven-New York and Mediterranean-New York service. She was eventually put into the auxiliary naval cruiser service and sunk off Japan in 1905.

Philipena and her family arrived on Ellis Island in New York Harbor at age 29, on May 12, 1892, on board the Spree. According to her daughter, Minnie, "the voyage took 30 days and the ocean was very rough and the boat rocked and most everyone was sick. They were told that the food in the steerage class was not good and to take a supply of food with them, she told of taking hard boiled eggs and they were so sick the couldn't eat them and gave them to the helpers on the boat."

With Philipena Klein Bremser on the ship manifest were her husband, Henry Bremser, and their two daughters, Elizabeth, age 4, and Anna Karlena ("Caroline" on the manifest), age 2. Philipena's father, Johann Jacob Klein, also made the trip with Philippina's brother Karl. The ship manifest reports Karl's age as 16; according to our information, he would have been 14 or 15 in 1892. We can only assume that if, as reported, Karl had arrived earlier in the United States and helped raise money to bring his father and sister's family over, he must have returned to Germany and come back to America with his father on the "Spree".

Minnie Klein wrote in 1984, "[Henry] had trouble finding employment and was advised to go to Loraine where he might get work in the ship yards. Whatever happened I don't recall [my mother] telling me, but her father [Jacob] became very discontent and wanted to go back to Norwalk where he could see more of the other 4 children. They moved back to 102 Milan Ave. in Norwalk before winter set in at a time when there was no work for masons which was Papa's trade. They were in such desperate circumstances that Aunt Lizzie got Mama [Bina] a job as Chamber Maid where Aunt Lizzie worked as cook. Papa stayed home and took care of the two small children and spent much of his time knitting stockings for the girls. As time went on Grandpa Klein became discontent and homesick to go back to Germany. Nothing would content him but they promised if he would be content until Spring Mama and Papa with the girls would take him back and remain in Germany, but nothing satisfied him and he became very ill just from homesickness and passed away early in 1894."

"Bina was still working at Gardners as much as she could, but became pregnant with Edna and when the Gardner's saw how miserable she was, Mr. Gardner got Papa a job at the old Lais brewery, and he would have to go to Sandusky to cut ice on the Bay and often told how he walked the whole distance to and from Sandusky, something unheard of in this modern age. As time went on and Papa was better able to master the English language conditions improved for them and they purchased the Homesteat 53 Elm St. (This was sometime prior to 1896.) Winters were always hard since there was no mason work to be had, no heated concrete in those days.

"To carry them thru the winter, Mama took in washing and ironing, if my memory serves me right she did as many as 21 washings in a week with an old wooden tub wash machine that had to be hand operated, pushing the handle back and forth for hours. Often during those winters when Papa have little or no work, they would have to run up a grocery bill at a store at the intersection of Townsend and East Main. I always remember wanting do go along, and that was no short walk. But the owners of the store — [their] name was Erb — and they were also German and he would always give us a piece of candy or a wiener. When spring came and papa started back to work, he first thing Mama would aim to do is get that grocery bill paid, and I recall definitely her telling it would be nearly a hundred dollars for a winter's groceries."

My great aunt Minnie (Wilhelmena Phillipena Bremser Klein), about 10 years prior to when she wrote the letter quoted in this story.

In 1901, Bina "was pregnant... she got very large and she was of small stature and for the last month or so... she could hardly walk. She always sat in the rocker...and Lena and Lizzie would push Mamma around in that rocker. When her time came to deliver they had old Dr. Schuerer come to the house, no hospitals in those days, I was taken over to the Yeagers and can still remember her walking me back. The Dr. decided Mama could not give birth to the baby and it was either he save Mama or the baby, and Papa wanted Mama sound and the child had to be cut away. All I remember Mama said he was a very big baby and he was buried in the same grave as Edna.

"As time went on, Grandpa had better mastered the language he got plenty of work, but Grandma continued to take in washings and irons. At some point Papa became interested in cement blocks and it was known he was the first to manufacture cement block in Huron Co. and he made them in the basement. You may recall there were stone steps leading to the basement and he fixed a ramp so he could wheel the sand and stone into the basement and carried down the bags of cement. When he would empty a bag of cement it sifted thru everything in the house and mama nearly went crazy. He would pound out whatever number one nite, the next nite he would carry them out one by one to cure, and the pound out more and that was a routine nite after nite.

Bremser Coal and Building Supplies circa 1910. The silos increased business as the men no longer had to shovel the coal into the wagons. The building at right has been updated and still stands today. The railroad siding is behind the silos.

"At this time [in 1909] a Mr. Bell owned the buildings on R. R. property and got to know him quite well. One morning as Grandpa walked thru his property enroute to go uptown, cross-lots, as we called it in those days, Mr. Bell stopped Dad and ask if he would be interested to buy his buildings, since it appeared in the newspaper that natural gas was going to piped into Norwalk and that would ruin his business, which was mainly coal. Dad jumped at the chance, I knew [the price] for many years, but it has left me, but it was not a big price, since mama had almost enough money saved up to buy and she was so anxious to get rid of that cement dust she gladly gave Dad the money. This was the start of Bremser Coal and Builders Supplies. Lena worked for Dad for a period of time, until she and Jake were married and then I took over the office, if my memory serves me right, I must have been about 16 [in 1914].

"I never had a high school education. I was in my Freshman year and they started having the girls who were interested and had the required grades, to play gym i my middy blouse and skirt and tennis shoes, but the school did not furnish them. I went home from school all elated that I was going to play and told Mama she said I would have to tell Papa, that was the blow, Papa said if that was what I was learning in school, I was to get out of school and go to work. There were no laws in those days that could stop him. Practically every one of my teacher called Papa but he wouldn't give an inch. I had to quit school and did housework for a family named Wingeter that lived at the southwest corner of Prospect and League. I worked there until Lena and Jake were engaged [in 1914] and then Papa made arrangements for me to go to Business College, on the third floor of the building that for years was our Post Office. He paid for a 12 month course, at the end of 9 month I was permitted to take substitute work thru the Christmas Holidays, but Papa told me I could not take a steady job when I finished my 12 months, that Lena & Jake were going to be married. I faintly remember the [wedding] day was to be Aug. 12 [1914], I could be wrong.

"When I started working for Papa I had to be to work at 6:30 in the morning and worked until 5:30. On days when Papa would be working out in Country jobs Mama would bring me over some lunch at noon. These were long hours, tiresome and lonely since few customers. The business didn't flourish in those days, so to keep busy, I cleaned a room adjoining the main office, painted it and

Great Aunt Minnie Klein on her 90th birthday in 1986.

bought a sewing machine, took a course in dress making and that started my sewing and fancy needle work career. The coal business was started with the old blind horse that Papa bought with the business. I'll never forget she went a certain gate all day, but once she became familiar to her new home back of 53 E. Elm and knew she was headed for the barn could she trot!

Time went and Papa bought a team of horses and larger coal wagons, but soon trucks came in use and our first truck was a Ford and a man by the name of Henry Blakely drove the truck. Time went on and more cars were being used and a man by the name [blank] had a garage on Townsend Ave. close to where Route 20 branched in. He purchased coal from us and one day he came in the office and wanted to sell Papa a Reo car, Papa's answer was " I can't learn to drive a car" and the man said, "But Minnie can learn." "No" was Grandpa's reply, "She's too young." He persuaded Papa to let him take me out for a trial run and when he came back he said, "Minnie will have no trouble." That was the beginning of my driving days, no learner's license required, I just started to drive, and learned that Mrs. Mich Newman was the only other woman driver in Norwalk. That situation soon changed."

In 1922, after the end of World War I, Phillipena (Bina) Klein Bremser and her daughter Minnie went back to Burgschwalbach for a visit. During that trip, Minnie Klein met her cousin Curt. He later followed Minnie to the United States and they were married in New York in about 1926. Pictures from the 1922 trip are available here.


We are indebted to second cousin Ron Miller of Michigan for contributing several hundred descendents of Hattie Klein. We also thank our first cousin, once removed, Marge Miller More Barr of Norwalk, Ohio, for her notes on the Bremser and Klein genealogies.