My Paternal Great Grandfather, Johann George Dattler

Johann Georg Dattler was my paternal great grandfather. He was born in Germany in December of 1851 and died January 12, 1906 in Syracuse, New York. George, as he was known, was the son of Johann Georg Dattler and Salomea Sütterlin. My grandfather was married twice. He married first, about 1874, Maria Barbara Herter.

George and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1885 and originally settled in Syracuse, New York. Sometime before 1900, Maria Barbara died. George remarried Magdalena Stark, a widow with two sons, William and Benjamin. By 1900, his extended family moved to New York City.

Johann George Dattler, circa 1800.

Johann George Dattler, circa 1800.

It’s easy to speculate what the conditions were like for a German family living in New York during the early twentieth century. It had rapidly become one of the most densely populated areas in the world. In 1880, five years before George and his family arrived, the population of Brooklyn stood at a little under 600,000. Twenty years later, the population had nearly doubled to 1.1 million. Indeed, George would have been keenly aware of the rapidly growing population as he struggled to take care of his family. Tenement buildings were the norm for most low-income immigrants and George’s was no exception. His home on West Street, a large brick building with terra-cotta trimmings and iron fire escape descending to the street, would have been cramped, noisy, and uncomfortable. As an unnamed author wrote in the early 1900s, “these are the tenements, where people gather by the scores in small, ill-ventilated rooms, and ply the sewing-machine, making cheap clothing. Men, women, and children work in these sweatshops, eat there, sleep there. On almost every floor is the common hallway where people wash. Nothing is private. The inhabitants are tenants in common of all the liberty and all the license of the tenement.” The Tenement House Act of 1901 sought to reform the appalling conditions of the New York tenement by mandating newly constructed buildings to specific minimum requirements for room size, amount of light, and ventilation. By 1915, the New York death rate had dropped to 13.52 per 1,000 inhabitants from 19.90 per 1,000 in 1901.

At the turn of the century, George earned a meager living as a grocer. Magdalena, a stay at home mother, presumably spent her days cleaning the tiny apartment while looking after four-year-old Julia. Elsie and Benjamin, both 11 years old, probably walked to school together, talking about their teachers and wondering which games to play during recess. Their two eldest daughters, Rose, 16, and Emma, 14, worked as pencil makers. William, also 16, worked as a saw feeder. Saw feeders worked at sawmills turning logs into working lumber. William, in all probability, provided part of his income to the family to help support their needs. By 1910, however, conditions had changed. Now living at 127 East 93rd Street in Manhattan, the family found themselves only two blocks southwest of the many fine neo-Greco, Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival, and Renaissance Revival homes on Carnegie Hill. As a matter of fact, the Dattler’s lived one block northeast from where the Marx brothers grew up. The Marx family lived at 179 East 93rd Street between Lexington and 3rd . It is feasible that the two families knew each other given their close proximity.

By this time, George was now employed as a building carpenter who, quite feasibly, moved to the Upper East Side as a result of improved employment opportunities brought on by his new trade. But, despite the change, their residence was still considered a tenement and no doubt suffered from the same overcrowded conditions as the previous one. His family composition had also changed. Rose, Emma, and Elsie no longer lived with their parents. Each had found potential husbands and obviously felt ready to start their own families. Julia, now 14, remained with George until at least 1920 when she married Everett J. Knight. In 1910 she was employed as a bookkeeper for a local plumbing office. As for Benjamin and William, only Benjamin is described on the 1910 census. Now 21, he worked as a gas fitter at the local gas company. William’s whereabouts remains unknown.

George Dattler died January 29, 1912 in New York. Magdalena died four years later on October 12, 1934 in Queens, New York. She was 77.

George and Maria Barbara had four children:

  1. Emilie Louise, b. ca. 1875, Germany; d. 30 May 1961, Syracuse, New York; m. Peter Lang.
  2. Amelia, b. 28 Dec 1876, Basel, Switzerland; d. 17 Dec 1927, Onondaga County, New York; m. Luther Josiah Kells.
  3. Freda L., b. 6 Mar 1878, Kirchen, Baden, Germany and christened 2 Apr 1878; d. 15 Feb 1966, Bouckville, New York; m. Clark D. Davis.
  4. Rose Beatrice, b. 4 Jan 1883, Germany; d. Aug 1983, Cortland, New York; m. Frederick Theodore Cole.
  5. Emma, b. May 1886, New York; m. 4 Aug 1904, Joseph Stelker.
  6. Elsie Sophia, b. Oct 1888, Syracuse, New York; m. 15 Jul 1912, Louis Loewenthal.
  7. Julia A., b. Aug 1895, Syracuse, New York; d. Jun 1987, Logansport, Indiana; m. (1) in Oct 1920, Everett J. Knight, divorced 22 Dec 1939 at Logansport, Indiana and (2) ca. 1940, Eli Wilford Reavis. Everett, Julia’s first husband, was listed as a chauffeur in the 1925 New York State Census. She was a telephone operator. Her stepmother, Magdalena, was also in the household that year. Everett and Julia were divorced on 22 Dec 1939. It was uncontested. Julia then married Eli Wilford Reavis, a C&O railroad engineer. Julia was not Eli’s first wife, however. He had been married to the former Elizabeth Helena Wiles, of Peru, Indiana, 1 Sep 1939. The marriage lasted a mere 7-days. The two were divorced on 8 Sep 1939. Elizabeth charged her new husband with cruelty. Eli died 18 Nov 1953 at the Wabash employees hospital in Kokomo, Indiana after a year’s long illness.


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