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home : opinions : columns   May 25, 2016

1/16/2013 9:55:00 AM
Column: A genealogy find right underfoot

Jeff Dankert
NewsTribune Reporter

Nearly a year ago I shared with you a 1927 newspaper headline, “Ted Ament of Louisa County shot in duel,” regarding my great-uncle in Iowa. It’s one of many reasons I enjoy newspapers and genealogy.
Since then, I confirmed my uncle Willard was assigned to the U.S.S. Detroit when the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. He spent the better part of 1944-45 as a gunner’s mate in the Pacific and while on the U.S.S. Santee, survived the first-ever kamikaze strike on an American ship.
Many genealogical findings are accidental. You’re looking for grandma and you find her brother instead. Usually that means backpedaling until you get another hit on grandma.
Last week, while searching my grandma on my dad’s side, I hit on her brother, by great-uncle, Rudolph Reichen. The record stopped me in my tracks. He’s buried in Tonica, just eight miles south of La Salle-Peru.
My family heritage is entrenched in Iowa with minor roots scattered around the Midwest and eastward to Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. My mom’s side jumps over to Scotland and Wales and my dad’s side, to Germany and Switzerland.
What’s surprising is I moved here six years ago and lived among cousins without knowing it, even as I toiled away on genealogy the last few years. I discovered the Rev. Rudolph Reichen (1890-1941) is buried with his wife, Katherine (1902-1999) in Fairview Cemetery.
I burrowed into Rudolph’s history and landed on a website for St. John Evangelical Lutheran Congregation at Schwer, established in 1875 by German settlers eight miles south of Watseka. It provides biographies for its former pastors.
The Rev. Rudolph Reichen graduated in 1916 from Wartburg Seminary, Clinton, Iowa. He served Lutheran congregations in Iowa and Illinois. In 1930 he came to the Schwer church and served until his death in 1941.
In 1923 he married Katherine Schafer of Tonica and they had six children: Esther, Herbert, Edna, Walter, Irma, and Daniel.
I reached out to local Reichen descendents. I called Rudolph’s son, Daniel —my first cousin once removed — and his wife, Dorene in Utica.
“I remember the Dankert name, my mother mentioning it,” Daniel said. “I have two sisters and a brother alive.”
Complete strangers, we talked for 40 minutes.
In Iowa Reichen was pronounced “Ree-kin.” In Illinois, they pronounced it “Rye-kin,” Daniel said. He became aware of this while attending a family gathering in the 1960s in Dubuque, Iowa.
Pastor Reichen was Schwer’s first American-born minister. World War II and anti-German propaganda in the United States changed the language of the church and my great-uncle’s sermons.
“The sermons at the church were in German,” Daniel said. “My brothers and sisters learned German because the catechism was all in German. My sister has the clipping that announces that Rev. Reichen’s sermons will all by in English because of the situation in Europe.”
My search last year also turned up Jennie, my immigrant great-great grandmother from Scotland. I found my great-great grandparents who eluded me with the name Miller. And another set of great-great grandparents was from West Virginia.
I discovered my uncle moved to Los Angeles in 1940 worked as a pinsetter in a bowling alley. This came from the 1940 census. Internet sources abound. Once you start, you will find unconventional and unexpected history that did not get passed along or placed in scrapbooks.

Jeff Dankert can be reached at (815) 220-6977 or

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