The Vincenz and Theresia Meitner Klecker Story

From Ober Johnsdorf to Watertown

Copyright 2011, Edward G. Langer
All Rights Reserved

In early 1853, Vincenz Klecker (January 22, 1831 – November 13, 1877) and his future wife, Theresia Meitner (26 March 1832 – April 14, 1919), began a voyage that would markedly change their lives and the lives of their descendants. They had decided to leave Europe and travel to a new home in the New World. They would leave the comfort of their homes in Ober Johnsdorf, Bohemia in the Austrian Empire and travel to Watertown, Wisconsin in the United States of America.

The Old World

Both Vincenz Klecker and Theresia Meitner were from the village of Ober Johnsdorf (the Czech name is Horní Třešnovec) in the District of Landskron (Czech name Lanškroun). Vincenz Klecker was from farm number 8, which is about a 40-acre parcel. Theresia Meitner was from farm number 22, which also is about a 40-acre parcel.

The District of Landskron consisted of the Town of Landskron and about 40 villages. The town had about 5,000 inhabitants in the 1850s and was connected by rail to the rest of the Austrian Empire. The villages varied in size from a few hundred to more than one thousand inhabitants. They were connected by road to the Town of Landskron. Three quarters of these villages were predominantly German and the remaining one quarter of the villages was predominantly Czech. Both the Czechs and Germans were mostly Roman Catholic. The Town and District of Landskron are about 80 miles south of present-day Wrocław (Breslau), Poland and about 115 miles north of the capital of the Austrian Empire, Wien (Vienna), in present-day Austria.

The village of Ober Johnsdorf had about 1,000 inhabitants, most of them German-speaking, but with a significant Czech-speaking minority. (Per her granddaughter Sister Ernesta (Ida) Klecker, Theresia Meitner Klecker could speak Czech, in addition to German.) It consisted of 1,108 hectares, which is about 2,738 acres or four and a quarter sections. Although in each village there were a few people working as tradesmen, such as a carpenter, miller, blacksmith, storekeeper and innkeeper, the vast majority of the villagers were engaged in farming. In 1939, there were about 35 farms with fewer than 5 acres, 48 farms with between 5 and 12 acres, 51 farms with between 12 and 50 acres and 12 farms with more than 50 acres. The average farm size was fewer than 20 acres, with over half the farms having less than 12 acres. In addition to these farms, there were 118 houses. (Given the conservative nature of the inhabitants and legal restrictions, it is likely that distribution of farms by size would have been roughly the same in the 1850s.) The families with the larger farms were likely engaging in commercial farming. Grain was taken by horse or oxcart the few miles to the town of Landskron for shipment by rail to the cities of the Austrian Empire. Those families that were not tradesmen or only had a few acres of land were in dire economic straits, eking out a very marginal existence. They would work as day laborers for the farmers with the larger farms. In 1853, there were no churches in the village and only an elementary school. For church services and any advanced schooling, the villagers traveled to the town of Landskron, a distance of a few miles.

In sharp contrast to farming in America where farmers lived on isolated farms, the farm buildings in Landskron were all located in villages. The farm buildings were located on both sides of the main road of the villages with the farm fields stretching straight back from the buildings until they ran into the woods, an untillable hill or the farms of another village. Generally, the farmer cultivated contiguous lands in these villages, not fields sprinkled around the area as occurs in other areas of Europe. The distance from the farm buildings to the limits of the property could be considerable.

The farm buildings were also different in Ober Johnsdorf. Generally, the dwelling was physically connected with the farm buildings. The more elaborate farmsteads were in a U-shape or formed a square with a courtyard in the middle. The latter form probably developed in an attempt to provide some protection against predators, thieves and foreign soldiers.

It is likely that the Meitners and Kleckers had lived in the Landskron district for hundreds of years. Until 1848, the people of Landskron were still subject to feudal restrictions which limited their ability to move and required them to provide certain services to the local lords, in this case the Liechtenstein family. In 1848, revolutions rocked much of Europe, and the Hapsburg Emperor of the Austrian Empire removed the final vestiges of feudalism. Slowly, the word spread that it was possible to emigrate.

Increased population and frequent wars lead people like the Kleckers and Meitners to consider emigration. By the mid-1800s, improved food and sanitary conditions caused such population expansion that there were limited agricultural opportunities for the young people. There was little virgin land in the area, and subdividing the existing farms would have made them unprofitable. Further, the Austrian Empire was involved in frequent wars, which resulted in increased taxes and sending local sons to fight in distant locations.

The New World

By the 1850s, numerous sources were encouraging German peasants to emigrate to America. German writers in how-to-emigrate books extolled the virtues of America, especially its freedom and cheap land. Rail and shipping interests praised the virtues of emigration in an attempt to increase their business. Some American states, such as Wisconsin, sent agents to European ports to encourage emigrants to settle in their states. The early and brave emigrants like the Theresia Meitner and Vincenz Klecker had to rely upon these writers and businessmen for information about emigration to America. Later emigrants would hear from their fellow villagers who had emigrated to America about the virtues of life there.

In 1853, Watertown was one of the largest cities in Wisconsin with about 5,000 inhabitants. There was abundant rich, rolling farmland in the area, some of which had been cleared by earlier settlers, which would have appealed to a man who wanted to farm his own land in America. Wisconsin had become a state in 1848 and southern Wisconsin was no longer considered part of the frontier. Railroads were starting to connect the major towns in the state, and farmers were able to sell their surplus product on the market.

Watertown was also a center of German immigration. In 1853, the Theresia Meitner and Vincenz Klecker would have found in the Watertown area German-speaking immigrants from the Austrian Empire, Bavaria, Prussia and other German lands. Watertown had a German Catholic parish, Saint Henry’s, a German newspaper, the Anzeiger, and a brewery.

Vincenz Klecker’s Relatives

The parents of Vincenz Klecker were Johann Klecker (born January 1, 1798) of Ober Johnsdorf Number 8 and Theresia Tekla Schwab (born September 23, 1798) of Ober Johnsdorf Number 2. They were married on October 10, 1820 in Ober Johnsdorf. Johann was the son of Johann Klecker and Rosalia Linhard of Ober Johnsdorf Number 8. Theresia was the daughter of Johann Schwab and Rosalia Hornischer of Ober Johnsdorf Number 2.

It is not known how many siblings Vincenz Klecker had. It is believed that he had an older brother who took over the family farm in Ober Johnsdorf. There probably were also daughters. Two brothers emigrated to America –

Franz March 31, 1829 – November 23, 1911
Bernhardt June 25, 1840/41 – February 19, 1930.

Franz Klecker arrived in New York in April 1867. Franz’s wife’s name is Anna Richter (May 24, 1838 – October 21, 1921). Per the Watertown, Wisconsin City Directories for 1872 and 1880, he was a carpenter. The couple had at least six children:

Franz 1859 – 1940
Amelia 1861 – ??
Mary 1863 – ??
Bernhardt November 6, 1865 – September 15, 1890
Idaca. 1869 – ??
Willieca. 1873 – ??
Clara ?? – January 7, 1876.

Bernhardt “Barney” Klecker married Maria Langer (April 3, 1845 – August 8, 1914) in 1868 in the District of Landskron. In 1872, the three of them traveled on the Deutschland from Bremen to New York and arrived in America on May 13, 1872. On the ship manifest, Barney stated that his occupation was “Laborer.” Barney and his family stayed in the Watertown area for a number of years and their daughter was born there. Per the Wisconsin City Directory of 1880, he was living with Franz Klecker on East Water Street and his occupation was box-maker. Later the family moved to Pierce County where they bought a farm. They had at least two children:

Maria Anna February 6, 1869 – January 31, 1946
Clara 1875 – 1955

Theresia Meitner’s Relatives

Theresia Meitner’s parents were Johann Meitner (1805-July 10, 1896) and Theresia Hübler (Hübl??) (Ca. 1805 -July 14, 1888). She had at least six siblings, all born in the District of Landskron:

Franz 1834 – 1886
Vincenz October 18, 1838 – July 13, 1909
Josef 30 Nov 1840 – June 24, 1888
Johann ?? – ??
Amalieca. 1842 – ??
Anna ca. 1846 – August 30, 1904

Theresia, her parents and her siblings all emigrated to America.

At least three of her siblings married in America:

  1. Franz married Mathilda Pfeifer of Rudelsdorf (Rudoltice), District of Landskron, on October 27, 1856.
  2. Josef married Maria Hampel of Rathsdorf (Skuhrov), District of Landskron, on February 21, 1867. (The Hampels traveled together to America with the Meitners and Vincenz Klecker.)
  3. Vincenz married Antonia Hampel, Maria’s sister, of Rathsdorf (Skuhrov), District of Landskron.

The parents of Johann Meitner are believed to be Johann and Barbara Meitner.

When the 1870 census was conducted, Johann and Theresia Meitner were living with Vincenz Meitner and his wife Antonia, apparently in retirement.

Johann Meitner was one of the few early emigrants from the District of Landskron who had a sizeable farm. Did he leave because he had four sons and thought they would have a better chance for economic success in America? Did he leave because he did not want his sons drafted into the Austrian military? (It should be noted that one son, Josef, ended up fighting in the American Civil War in Company E, 20th Wisconsin Infantry.)

The Voyage to the New World

Starting in 1851, hundreds of people in the district of Landskron applied for passports to travel to America. The earliest applicants were poor Czech Protestants who traveled as a group to Texas in 1851.

On March 22, 1852, Theresia’s father, Johann, applied for passports for himself, his wife children. The stated destination was Texas. For some unknown reason, the Meitners decided to wait until the next year to emigrate. Instead of heading to Texas, they emigrated to Wisconsin. It is likely that they traveled to Wisconsin because they had heard that there was a German-speaking Catholic Bishop in Milwaukee, John Martin Henni.

In the meantime, three groups of predominantly poor German Catholics from the District of Landskron had emigrated to the Waterloo, Wisconsin area. The first group of German Catholic emigrants left Landskron in the spring of 1852. This group sailed from Bremen in April 1852 for Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. They arrived in the United States at Buffalo, New York in July of 1852 and reached southern Wisconsin by mid-July. Although there are no ship manifests for this group, other sources indicate this group consisted of at least six families from the District of Landskron. In early October of 1852, a second group of emigrants left Landskron for southern Wisconsin. They departed from Bremen on the Jason, and arrived in New York on December 7, 1852. About sixty people from the District of Landskron were on board. On January 10, 1853, the Johanna arrived in New York from Bremen with seven families of thirty-two people from the District of Landskron.

In the spring of 1853, Vincenz Klecker, Theresia Meitner and her family joined the fourth group of predominantly poor German Catholic families to emigrate from the District of Landskron. Before they began their voyage, the Meitners would have sold the land they owned and most of their possessions since most emigrants only took a few large trunks to America. The emigrants probably traveled by rail to Bremen in northern Germany, the point of departure for America of their ship, the Oldenburg.

The other emigrants from the District of Landskron on that ship were the following: the Johann Schöberle family and Franz Schöberle of Ober Johnsdorf, the Franz Hampel, Josef Jirschele and Josef Arnold families of Rathsdorf (Skuhrov), the Franz Langer, Ignatz Huebl and Bernhard Leschinger families of Rudelsdorf (Rudoltice), the Franz Fischer, Johann Plotz and Engelbert Habermann families of Riebnig (Rybnik), the Johann Smetana and Johann Kuckera families of Tschernowier (Černovír), the Franz Foltin family of Königsberg (Královec) and the Anton Kristl family of Michelsdorf (Ostrov). Two other families were from neighboring districts: the Wenzel Scholla family of Přívrat (Pschiwrat) and the Joseph Pospischel family of Litomyšl (Leitomischl).

On June 17, 1853, the Oldenburg arrived in New York from Bremen with 103 passengers from Bohemia. The Johann Meitner, Johann Schöberle, Franz Hampel and Franz Langer families, along with Vincenz Klecker and Franz Schöberle, provided the nucleus of the Landskroner community of Watertown, Wisconsin. A number of the other families joined the pre-existing Waterloo, Wisconsin Landskroner community.

It is likely that the emigrants traveled by both rail and ship from New York to Milwaukee, since the rail network was not complete at this time. Since the railroad did not reach Watertown until 1855, they would have probably made the last part of the trip by wagon or coach. They may have traveled on the plank road that stretched from Milwaukee to Watertown.

Life in the New World

Johann Meitner quickly established himself in America.

On July 9, 1853, he bought 80 acres at $14 an acre in Emmet Township, Dodge County, Wisconsin and bought another 40 acres on September 15, 1853 at $10 an acre. This was far more land than he owned in Ober Johnsdorf. Not long after his arrival, he applied for American citizenship and on December 6, 1859, Johann Meitner and Vincenz Klecker became American citizens.

Later that summer was another major event: the marriage of Vincenz Klecker and Theresia Meitner on August 30, 1853 in Saint Henry’s Catholic Church in Watertown, Wisconsin. The witnesses were Johann Meitner and Franz Hampel.

The Family of Vincenz and Theresia Klecker

The Kleckers had at least six children:

Emil May 16, 1854 – ??
Franz August 31, 1859 – January 31, 1940
Ernst December 1860 – June 18, 1931
Anna December 24, 1863 – 1952
John May 6, 1866 – March 1, 1873
Julia January 15, 1875 – July 23, 1921
Emil May 16, 1854 – ??

There is only a birth record for Emil and it is believed that he died as child.

Franz August 31, 1859 – January 31, 1940

Franz Klecker married Mary Langer (November 20, 1862 – September 3, 1955) on May 15, 1885 at Saint Henry’s Catholic Church, Watertown, Wisconsin. Mary was also from the village of Ober Johnsdorf. Mary Langer’s great-grandmother was a Meitner, so they probably were third cousins. He farmed in Emmet Township, Dodge County. Their children were:

Edward November 18, 1886 – June 4, 1961
Mary January 17, 1889 – May 7, 1909
Rosie May 15, 1891 – May 13, 1892
Eleanor March 3, 1893 – October 2, 1976
Agnes June 19, 1895 – May 11, 1896
Hattie August 26, 1897 – June 20, 1945
Lydia October 6, 1901 – February 26, 1975
Norbert June 16, 1904 – ??

Mary Langer Klecker had two brothers named Edward. The first Edward was born on October 31, 1866 in Landskron and died on March 12, 1867 while the Langers were traveling to America. The second Edward was born July 23, 1877 in Wisconsin and died June 3, 1883. When Mary told her mother she was going to name her firstborn son Edward, her mother told her not to because both her Edwards had died. Fortunately, Mary’s son Edward lived 70+ years.

Ernst December 1860 – June 18, 1931

Ernst Klecker married Mary Langer’s sister Anna (November 14, 1864 – August 24, 1906) on November 21, 1887 at Saint Henry’s Catholic Church, Watertown, Wisconsin. He farmed in Clyman Township, Dodge County, Wisconsin, a few miles north of Vincenz Klecker and Johann Meitner. Their children were:

Anna September 15, 1888 – January 21, 1933
Ida August 26, 1890 – May 23, 1989
William November 16, 1893 – November 7, 1978
Hugo March 31, 1896 – April 11, 1969
Herbert March 23, 1898 – December 13, 1968
John March 24, 1901 – July 16, 1983
Frederick August 16, 1903 – December 11, 1969

Ida became a School Sister of Notre Dame, adopting the name Sister Ernesta in honor of her father. The mother of the family, Anna, died at 41 of tuberculosis (often called consumption or the “white plague.”)

Anna December 24, 1863 – 1952

Anna Klecker went to the Convent of the School Sisters of Notre Dame on May 29, 1883. She became a novice on 21 June 1885 and a nun on August 27, 1887. Her professed name was Sister Augusta. She served as an elementary school teacher in Wisconsin and Missouri from 1883 until 1940 when she retired.She died in 1952.

John May 6, 1866 – March 1, 1873

Nothing is known about John other than his birth and death dates.

Julia January 15, 1875 – July 23, 1921

Julia Klecker married Ignatz Pitterle (March 1, 1868 – March 9, 1960) on February 7, 1892 at Saint Henry’s Church in Watertown, Wisconsin. The Pitterles came from Ober Johnsdorf. They had four children:

John December 9, 1892 – June 14, 1932
Nicholas December 6, 1898 -??
Irene July 6, 1900 – July 20, 1991
Clarence March 19, 1905 – ??

A notebook maintained by Vincenz Klecker and in the possession of his granddaughter Irene Pitterle Wanke provides a few facts about his life. Per his notebook, he bought a 40-acre farm in Emmet Township, Dodge County, Wisconsin in April 1858. In 1864, they built a barn. On March 16, 1866, they bought horses to replace the two oxen that had provided the “horsepower” up to that point. Sometime prior to 1877, he bought another 40 acres. Per the 1877 tax rolls for Dodge County, Vincenz Klecker had 80 acres of land worth $1,160. His personal property was worth $229.

In October 1877, Vincenz Klecker prepared his will. A month later he was dead. There is a photo of Vincenz Klecker which shows a sickly man. It is likely that he had a terminal illness and prepared his will and had his photo taken in contemplation of death.

The Klecker Farm Operation

Per his farm notebook, Franz took over the family farm after his father died in 1877. After Vincenz’s death, the farm continued to increase in value. By 1882, the farm was valued at $1,980 and the personal property was worth $420. By 1887, it was valued at $2,000. Franz bought the neighboring Zeiner farm on December 31, 1894, increasing the farm to 160 acres. He built a new house in 1900 and rebuilt the barn in 1905.

Further information about the life of the operation of Vincenz Klecker farm can be derived from the farm census of 1860, 1870 and 1880.

Klecker Farm Census

Acres of Improved Land
(Tilled in 1880)
Acres of Unimproved Land:205
Meadows, Pastures and Orchardsn/an/a25
Cash Value of Farm$600??$4,000
Value of Farm Implements and Machinery$5$100$150
Value of Livestockn/an/a$500
Milk cows33
Milk Sold (Gallons)n/a0
Butter (Pounds)5050
Working Oxen20
Other Cattle02
Calves: Droppedn/an/a
Wool - pounds50
Value of Livestock$87$200$500
Poultry: Barnyardn/an/a
Eggs (Dozens)n/an/a
Value of Animals Slaughtered$10$30
Irish Potatoes (Bushels)1440
Wheat (Bushels)65270
Hay (Tons)85
Corn (Bushels)530
Oats (Bushels)3530
Barley (Bushels)00
Value of All Farm Production Including Betterments and Additions to Stockn/a$350$600
Value of Forest Productsn/an/a20
Wages Paid, Including Boardn/a$500

The amount of tilled land more than doubled between 1860 and 1880 from 20 to 45 acres. The value of the farm increased from $600 to $4,000 over that 20-year period. The livestock increased in value from $87 to $500.

The most important change was the increase of the sale of milk from zero to 2,000 gallons between 1870 and 1880. The Kleckers joined their fellow Wisconsinites in changing from an emphasis on grain production to an emphasis on dairy production. Both Frank and Ernst were involved in the operations of the local cheese factories. In 1888, Ernst Klecker was the president of the Union Cheese Association which is located on the border of Emmet and Clyman Townships, near his farm. In May 1888, Frank Klecker was one of the organizers of the Tilden Cheese Factory which was located on County Trunk M (Juneau Road) near his farm. He served as the secretary of the cheese factory for a number of years. Frank was also the health officer in the Town of Emmet in 1902.

Cousins from Landskron

In August 1892, two of Mary Langer Klecker’s cousins traveled to America to work – Franz Schmied (August 7, 1878 – May 11, 1957) and his sister Viktoria Schmied (February 6, 1876 – October 1949). They had traveled from Bremen to New York on the Aller, a trip that lasted seven days. The rail trip to Watertown took three days. They spent the night in a hotel in Watertown and the next morning Franz Klecker arrived to take them to his farm. Viktoria was put to work helping with the milking and with the cooking. Franz Schmied helped in the farming operations. Presumably, the two of them also helped as needed for other relatives. Viktoria married Frank Hübl (Huebl) and stayed in America. Franz Schmied received his draft notice in 1897 and returned to the district of Landskron. Franz Klecker and Franz Schmied stayed in touch for decades.

Was the Decision to Emigrate the Right One?

Overall, the lives of Vincenz and Theresia Klecker and their children were economically successful. Vincenz and his children were able to buy sizable farms which would provide in turn for their children. However, the ability to buy these large farms was at a cost to their relations with their neighbors. Farms in America were spread throughout the countryside and this must have made life lonelier for the Kleckers in America, as they had been used to living side-by-side in a village and now their nearest countrymen were a quarter of a mile away. On adjoining farms lived Irish or English families named Ames and Connor who would not have been able to converse with the Kleckers. Living in the area were also members of unfamiliar religions such as Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Methodists, Lutherans, Moravians and Baptists. They must have felt much more isolated and undoubtedly their opportunities for social interaction were much more limited in America, especially when they first settled there.

The Kleckers’ loneliness would have been eased over time as more relatives and friends emigrated to America, many of whom later bought farms in Emmet Township. Between 1853 and the early 1920s, numerous families emigrated from the District of Landskron in addition to the families discussed above. From the village of Ober Johnsdorf emigrated five Kreuziger siblings: Theresia Kreuziger Schless, Anna Kreuziger Kreuziger (her husband had the same family name), Franz Kreuziger, Rosalie Kreuziger Steiner and Vincenz Kreuziger. A nephew, John Kreuziger, also emigrated to the Watertown area. Also from Ober Johnsdorf were the families of Ignatz Jahna (Yahna), Anton Langer, Joseph Langer and Franz Richter.

Other Emigrants from the District of Landskron were John Brusenbach, Vincenz Dobischek, John Frodel, Franz Groh (Gro), Joseph Heger, Vincenz Huebl, John Huebl, John Huss, John Koehler, Albert Kunz, Frank Melcher, John Miller, Johann Motl, Anton Pfeifer, Johann Roffeis, John Stangler, John Uherr, John Wohlitz, Franz Wollitz and John Zeiner. Many of these emigrants bought farms in Emmet Township or the neighboring townships of Shields and Clyman. It is likely that the Kleckers spent much time with their countrymen since three Klecker children married people with ties to Landskron.

Theresia Meitner and Vincenz Klecker’s relatives and neighbors who remained in Europe did not fare as well. In 1866, the Austrians and Prussians fought a major battle about 40 miles from Ober Johnsdorf. The Prussians won and subsequently occupied Ober Johnsdorf for several months. During World Wars I and II, numerous citizens of Ober Johnsdorf fought and died in the armies of the Austrian Empire and the Nazi Third Reich. After the fighting ended, the Czechs, with the assistance of the Russians, drove the German inhabitants of Ober Johnsdorf and the surrounding area from their homes into present-day Germany.

As mentioned above, it is believed that Vincenz Klecker had an older brother who took over the family farm in Ober Johnsdorf. At the end of the Second World War, the Klecker family farm was owned by Julius Klecker (March 16, 1885 – November 17, 1953). He and his first wife, Auguste Langer, had five children before Auguste died of influenza in about 1927. He later married Marie Anderle and had one child with her. Julius Klecker was the mayor of the village of Ober Johnsdorf from 1932 until the Second World War ended in 1945. His namesake, Julius Junior died fighting in Russia.

A recent e-mail from his granddaughter, Anni Gries, sheds some light on the horrors the family experienced at the end of World War II. At the end of the war, there were few men in the villages since almost all men, young and old, were in military service. Basically, old men, young boys and women were all that were left in the villages. When the Czech and Russian troops arrived, they took advantage of these helpless people. Anni Gries’s mother, Anna Klecker Maresch, was able to stave off marauding Czech and Russian troops by using the Czech she had learned in school. Others were not so lucky and were assaulted and robbed by these troops. Most of them were forced to leave their homes which were occupied by Czech families. Although they were driven from their homes in May 1945, they were not expelled from Czechoslovakia until May 1946. Then, Czech government officials put the Kleckers and others in the cattle cars of trains. Each cattle car contained about 30 people. Each person was allowed to take 50 kilograms (about 100 pounds) of food, clothing, toiletries, keepsakes, etc. with them. Some of these trains ended up in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, later East Germany. The Kleckers were more fortunate and ended up in Bavaria in the American occupation zone, near Kaufbeuren in West Germany. There they found jobs on area farms. Becoming farm laborers was very hard for these proud people who used to operate successful farms of their own.

Today, there are no Germans left in Ober Johnsdorf; they are Czech villages. The villages and town are now part of the Czech Republic. The Klecker and Meitner relatives who had lived in the village through the Second World War are now spread throughout modern-day Germany much as the descendants of Theresia Meitner and Vincenz Klecker have spread throughout the United States from their humble beginnings in Watertown, Wisconsin.