The People of Pancho

At Play In The Archive

The Early Days of Emmi

As I described in an earlier post, my great-grandpa Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack had three sisters: Emmi, Wally (which I presume is pronounced with a “V” sound), and Johanna, and one brother, Peter. There is ample evidence that Leo was very close to my great-grand-aunt Emmi, and because I’ve been researching her, I feel close to her too. I’m warning you now, People. Get your tissues ready because her story has a very sad ending.

According to her US Passport application and other sources, Emmi was born in Hamburg on November 24, 1886. This makes her the eldest of the five Lessiack children.

The back of the photograph is labeled "1897" The boy on the right is Leo, and I assume  the girls are Emmi (in the back),  Wally and Johanna. Because I don't know Johanna's birthdate, I don't know if she is older or younger than Wally. However, I do have other photos of Emmi, so I'm reasonably sure I've identified her correctly.

The Lessiack children, 1897. Emmi (about 11 years old here) is in the back, and Leo (about 7 years old) is on the right. Peter wasn’t born until 1902, so he isn’t pictured.

Here’s a portrait of Emmi at age 20, taken in Hamburg in 1906. How about that hat, People?

Emmi Lessiack Keil, 1906

Emmi Lessiack Keil, 1906. Photograph by Atelier R. Werner in Hamburg

I know very little about Emmi’s early life in Hamburg, but I do know that she married Bruno Keil (who was born May 24, 1886 in Plauen, Saxony, Germany). I haven’t been able to locate a marriage record for the couple, so I don’t know for certain if Emmi and Bruno were wed in Germany or in the U.S.. I suspect they were wed in Germany because they emigrated to the U.S. at different times, and both are listed as married upon arrival. According to the 1920 Federal Census, Bruno emigrated to the US in 1909, and Emmi in 1911, which is consistent with the earliest entry records I was able to find for each of them. More on that census data later, because it was very revealing.

Here’s another undated portrait of Emmi as a young woman, also taken in Hamburg.

Another fabulous hat, date unknown.

Another day, another fabulous hat. Date unknown. Photograph by Kindler & Co., Hamburg

Great-grand-aunt Emmi and Great-grandpa Leo’s tales are very intertwined, so I’ll spin them together over the next few weeks.

Until I started this project, I never knew anything about Leo’s family, other than that they were from Hamburg. I’m so grateful to have stumbled across Leo’s jumbled photo collection because, without those images, chances are that these people would have remained rather abstract in my mind. Not so anymore. The process of scanning the images, trying to put them in order, and trying to correlate what I see in the pictures with what I’m finding in my research has made me feel very connected to these folks.

One similarity has really struck me in all this: like my own family, which is spread out all over the place and consequently isn’t able to be together very often, the Lessiack family straddled distant locations and probably also struggled to stay connected. It’s interesting, and a little bit sad, how patterns repeat themselves. Whether people move to follow opportunity, or whether they stay where they are rooted, something is always gained, and something is always lost.

15 comments on “The Early Days of Emmi

  1. Amy
    January 18, 2015

    I look forward to learning more about Emmi’s life. And those hats are just awesome!!

    Like

    • Pancho
      January 18, 2015

      Aren’t they, though? I wonder if they were heavy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Amy
        January 18, 2015

        I am sure they were somewhat heavy, but probably more awkward than heavy. What if you wanted to bend your neck or turn your head quickly? I can only imagine. I have a hard enough time staying balanced without a hat!

        Like

      • Pancho
        January 18, 2015

        Agree, and now I get what those terrifying hatpins were made for.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mom
    January 18, 2015

    Your final line in this recent blog describes all of us too sadly well.

    Like

    • Pancho
      January 19, 2015

      You are so right. I always thought of it as a modern phenomenon, but when I stopped and really considered it, families have been geographically separating for centuries for one reason or another. The good news is that now we have technology to help us stay connected, whereas back in the day it was much harder to communicate, much less travel.

      Like

  3. Mom
    January 19, 2015

    Beautifully written! Enjoyed it ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fran
    January 19, 2015

    Panch, so interesting, intriguing and keeping me waiting for more. Ahhh, we also are all too far away from each other. Especially our loved ones in Panama. A visit once or twice a year doesn’t cut it anymore. 😦 But at least we have the means to communicate hourly if we want. It’s sad that they did not. I look forward to reading more about Emmi and dear Leo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pancho
      January 19, 2015

      You know what’s weird? I haven’t been able to find out anything about Johanna. She is my current brick wall. Thanks for reading and commenting, Fran. More to come, I promise!

      Like

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