Page Five
The Vollkommers

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     The fact of the Vollkommer brothers pursuing such entry level occupations points to a lack or scarcity of capital, which, if possessed by the family in any amount, would have likely remained in the hands of their parents Sigismund and Margarethe nee Becht. The only definitive sighting of Sigismund for which we possess documentation after the clan’s partial Diaspora to Brooklyn, is his sponsorship of Joseph’s first child (see footnote #44). The matriarch of this migration, Margarethe Becht, has, for the purposes of this narrative, completely vanished from the historical screen; perhaps something of her fate will be learned by future researchers. My own best guess is that Sigismund and Margarethe remained in Manhattan, and linked their fortunes to those of their eldest son, Andreas, a family man already at the time of the Vollkommer’s arrival in 1836.46
     There is no doubt that Joseph (1817) applied himself to business and, as we shall see below, prospered. Early on, though, he suffered the tragic loss of his first wife, Margarethe Jaeger, most probably in childbirth, sometime after the end of October 1849, when a girl named Barbara was born to the couple. Given that this child’s name does not appear in the 1850 census, we can assume that she also did not long survive birth, although long enough for her name to appear in the baptismal index for November 1, 1849. By the time the 1850 census was conducted, moreover, Joseph was already married to his second wife, Katarina Saal; their nuptials took place at Most Holy Trinity on February 1, 1850, just two short months after the birth of his last child with Margarethe Jaeger, and, presumably the deaths of both mother and daughter.47
     We can plausibly read from the 1850 census one reason why Joseph remarried so quickly. In addition to the newly married couple, whose names and ages, respectively, Joseph 33 and Katarina 20, are given, the census records four children between the ages of 2 and 7. The ages of only one, possibly two of these children correspond to dates on the baptismal registry. The first child listed was Rosina, who may have begun life as a Margaret, born in 1842. Or Margaret may not have survived and Rosina, whose name is not found on the registry, may have been born in 1843, which seems the more likely alternative. Elizabeth, on the other hand, remains as named. There is also a Peter, 5, who would have been born around 1845 and a Catherine, aged 2, around 1848. There is no documentation at hand that allows me to clear up this particular mystery, though I did find it odd that such a large gap exists in the church baptismal records for the letter ‘V’ between the years 1842-47. The problem may be simply one of sloppy record keeping at a time when the parish was still in its early stages of organization, with the church premises shifting among several edifices during these years, until the current gothic structure was consecrated in 1885.
     The 1850 census listed Joseph’s assets as $2,500 in real estate; over the years, village directories record Vollkommers residing at several street numbers close to one another on Ewen Street, 127, 129, 131, 133, and 153. Since Joseph’s listings seem to shift him between at least two of these addresses, it is my guess that he owned more than one building. With the 1860 census, we learn that Joseph seems to have stayed with the grocery business for some years. But, by 1862, he is listed in both the Williamsburg and Brooklyn directories as a dealer in “dry goods” at 127 Ewen Street. By 1867, the Brooklyn directory records for the first time that Joseph has expanded his enterprise, to include “feed,” and in 1870, a new venue for this business is given as the corner of Broadway and Johnson Avenue in Williamsburg, a short walk from his residence, still listed at 129 Ewen Street. This new calling is confirmed under the category ‘occupation’ in the 1870 census, where Joseph’s assets are given as $40,000, making him a man of considerable means for the times. In 1877, the Brooklyn directory refers for the first and only time to Vollkommer & Son, Hay, Grain & Feed, still at Broadway and Johnson, indicating that Joseph and Katarina’s son, Joseph, born in 1852, was by then, well integrated into the family business.
     Of course, when I refer to a Vollkommer entering the feed and fodder business as being a “new calling,” this is only true for the family on this side of the Atlantic. In fact, the move into this commercial sector is one for which the family was well prepared, given the importance of cattle breeding and the production of fodder crops that characterized the economy in the vicinity of Bruenn at the time of their emigration, activities in which the seventeen and a half year old Joseph (1817) had undoubtedly been steeped in since birth. One almost imagines that the family had been aiming at this enterprise since arriving on these shores, and, while the documentation is sketchy, there is some evidence that Vollkommers other than Joseph entered the same business. An 1881 New York City directory lists a Sigmund Vollkommer with feed businesses at two locations in the Bronx, a man who was most probably the child of one of old Sigismund’s sons, perhaps John.48 And Joseph (1817) himself, according a 1778 directory, seems to have brought someone else into the family firm, now called Vollkommer & Co., a man named Robert Weiskittel. Weiskittel is, moreover, the sponsor of what was probably Joseph and Katarina’s last child, Maria - known as Minna - born in 1876, with mama age 46, and papa, 59!49 Perhaps Weiskittel was married to a Saal or Vollkommer relation.50
     I learned as a boy from my mother that the sturdy Joseph, her great-grandfather, sired “twenty children” between his two wives. Now that I’ve collected the birth records and collated them with the census listings to fill in the possible omissions, it seems that this figure - which I had long assumed to be apocryphal - was not, in fact, far from the mark. Added to as many as six offspring born to Joseph by Margaret Jaeger are at least thirteen children he had with his second wife, Katarina.
     For reference, I list both sets of children here, with the caveat that not in each and every case can this kinship arrangement be confirmed; it is not always clear, moreover, whether the dates listed are of birth or baptism:
     Children of Joseph Vollkommer and Margarethe Jaeger
     Margaret - January 19, 1842
     Rosina - 1943? (Listed as 7 in the 1850 census)
     Peter - 1945? (Listed as 5 years old in the 1850 census)
     Elizabeth - September 22, 1847 (listed as 3 years old in the 1850 census)
     Katherine - 1848? (Listed as 2 years old in the 1850 census)
     Barbara - November 1, 184951
     Children of Joseph Vollkommer and Katarina Saal
     Josepha - November 11, 1850 (Josephine)
     Joseph - May 29, 1852
     Johann Adam - March 3, 1854 +
     Barbara Regina - October 10, 1857 (Regina Barbara)
     Georg - September 23, 1859
     Barbara - September 15, 1861
     Michael David - October 4, 1863
     Johann Adam - January 23, 1864 +
     Catharine Elise - September 26, 1867 (Cate)
     August - September 19, 1869
     Robert - July 24, 1871 +
     Maria Amalia - December 12 1873 (Amalia)
     Maria - January 15, 187652 (Minna)
     To speak of “mysteries” in this investigation is to merely emphasize the paradigmatic component wired into the enterprise. But there is one mystery that intrigues me above all others. The names of Joseph Vollkommer (1817) and his eldest (surviving?) child, Rosina, appear on the manifest of a steamship that arrived in New York harbor from Bremen on February 16, 1859. While the name of the steamer is illegible, the other information is not. Joseph and Rosina’s ages are given as 42 and 16, respectively, and in the column “the country to which they severally belong,” we find the word ‘Brooklyn.’ Both Joseph and Rosina’s ages are right on the money. They are, moreover, accompanied by three members of the Saal family, Johann, 39, Louise, 17, and Elisabeth, 23. The evidence seems more than suggestive of the fact that Joseph made a return trip to Germany in the company of his daughter, perhaps to claim an inheritance or to facilitate the emigration of several members of his wife’s extended family.53
     As for the Saals, circumstances have not permitted me to explore more systematically the origins and history of this family. I have one record from Sankt Kilian Church in Pfarrweisach that lists the earliest Saal birth in the parish as 1725, a generation before the first Vollkommer makes an appearance there. The Bruenn history states that Joerg Saal, apparently a sheppard, settled in the village in 1808, joining the minority faction of Catholic families. The Saals, at least initially, seemed to have occupied a low-economic status in Bruenn. This is suggested by the two illegitimate births born to Saal women in the village of Bruenn during the first trimester of the 19th century. The first, Dorothea - possible a daughter or sister to Joerg - gave birth to Margarethe in 1821; the child’s sponsor was also named Margarethe Saal, and, like Dorothea, was described as ledig - single - so it would likely not have been her mother. Next, Elizabeth Saal, another of Joerg’s daughters, perhaps, served as the gooseherd in 1830, and occupied the so-called Hirten-or Armenhaus. She gave birth to Adam Saal out of wedlock in 1833 and, in later years Elizabeth resided at number 26, the house owned by an Adam Andres, though in what capacity the record does not state. The child Adam’s sponsors at birth were a single man named Adam Sachs, and a Caspar Hellmantel (?), the parish schoolmaster! Whether or not Adam Sachs or Adam Andres was the father of this child, is an intriguing question, but, whomever the father, it does seem likely that marriage for both these women was prohibited by their economic circumstances, and perhaps, by that of their paramours as well. Young Adam was subsequently employed as a sheppard in the nearby villages of Unterpreppach and Reutersbrunn, and came to purchase a half-property in Bruenn with a small house at number 19½. By wedding Margaret Megel, Adam married into another of the Bruenn’s Catholic “dynasties.” The Saal name was represented in Bruenn until approximately 1961.54
Exactly how these Bruenn Saals were related to each other, much less to the Saals in Williamsburg, remains a subject for further inquiry. There were a number of Saals listed in the various Brooklyn directories over the years, and they appear, not infrequently, as sponsors on the birth and marriage records of the extended Vollkommer clan.55 As for Katarina Saal, all we can say with certainty is that, based on her death record, she arrived in the U.S. circa 1843 at the age of 13, and from her certificate of marriage to Joseph Vollkommer at Most Holy Trinity in 1849, that her father was named Ignaz and her mother Barbara Zeiler; the name of her native village is obscured by an ink blot.
     As for all the other Vollkommers who settled in New York, a large percentage of whom lived in Williamsburg well into the twentieth century, I am convinced, if not certain, that they are mostly all descendants of Andreas (1755), whose father Joseph settled in Bruenn in 1748, and married there in 1754. A century and a half later, in 1894, the Brooklyn directory lists ten heads of household named Vollkommer in Williamsburg and its vicinity. Below are their names and occupations:
     Andrew - liquors
     Anton - baker
     George - tinsmith
     George A. - mineral water
     Joseph - feed
     Michael - truckman
     Michael Jr. - cigarmaker
     Peter - truckman
     William - baker
     These names for the most part represent permutations from the second and third generation of Vollkommers descended in the male line from those who arrived here in 1836 or later. Indeed a file of naturalization records provided by Barbara Volkomer, beginning with a Joseph in 1846 and ending with an Andrew in 1894, provide solid evidence that the chain of migration linking the Vollkommers of Brooklyn with relations from Germany, persisted over many years. These and other records compiled by Barbara Volkomer and Trish Vollkommer, whose work parallels my own, demonstrate that many Vollkommers had also dispersed over the years throughout the metropolitan area and Westchester, and to Long Island, where at least one descendant followed the family tradition of farming. There were at least three Vollkommers who served in the Civil War, one of whom did not survive the conflict.
     The one Vollkommer line that appears to be most thoroughly documented through family records is that of Joseph (1852), the son of an immigrant grocer who became founding member, and first president of the Prudential Bank,56 while the son of Joseph’s younger sister, Regina Barbara, and my mother’s uncle, Charles Buchner, also achieved prominence as a prosecutor and president of the Brooklyn Bar Association. Regina Barbara Vollkommer Buchner, and her children, with the exception of my grandmother, Regina Buchner Cushing, all rest with her parents, Joseph and Katarina, in the Vollkommer family plot at St. John’s Cemetery in Queens, N.Y.

     Genealogical efforts on this side of the Atlantic to sort through the story of the Vollkommers have been limited in part by a lack of clear documentary evidence in the form of original records from the old country. Without knowledge of the names and the exact dates and locations of birth of the German-born parents, plus whatever other serendipitous fragments of information these records can provide, it’s extremely difficult to authenticate - in terms of inter-family relationships - what we learn about the original emigrants from this side based on the census, or on the birth or marriage records of the their American descendants. My own efforts to overcome these handicaps have been only partially and imperfectly achieved. And in that imperfect state, I must draw this family narrative to a close with the fond hope that it may give some pleasure to my family and to our far-flung Vollkommer relations, and that it will provide a firm foundation for someone among them to continue and broaden my efforts at some point in the future.

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