Sunday, August 25, 2013

You Bet Your Leifer

The Leifer Family, circa 1880. Click on photo to view it larger.

In this previous post about my Swiss ancestors, I commented on a photo of the Leifer family, which I estimated was taken about 1875. I proposed that the woman on the left is my great-great-great-grandmother Catherine Easley Leifer (1818-1892) and that the man she’s resting her hand on is my great-great-great-grandfather Frederick Leifer (1813-1865). But there’s a big problem with that proposal: Frederick Leifer was dead in 1875. He died in 1865. So unless he was stuffed, that guy sitting on the left can’t be him.

The back of the photo has the word “Leifers” with a question mark written on it. That question mark may cast some doubt on whether this is a photograph of members of the Leifer family, but I recognize the young woman standing just right of center from other photographs where she’s securely identified. She’s my great-great-grandmother Louisa “Lucy” Leifer Shanower (1856-1916). So I’m confident that these people are Leifers. But other than Lucy, which Leifers are they?

Well, using Lucy as an anchor, I’ve come up with an answer.

My great-great-great-grandfather Frederick Leifer was a stonecutter, according to family tradition. He and his wife Catherine Easley Leifer had seven children who emigrated with their parents from Switzerland in 1854. Frederick and Catherine may have had one or two earlier children in Switzerland, but if those children existed they didn’t travel to the USA with the rest of the family. Maybe they died beforehand.

In April 1854 the Leifer family sailed from Havre, France, on board the Cotton Planter. On reaching the USA, they settled in Sugar Creek, Stark County, Ohio, where Frederick and Catherine had two more children, Lucy and Callie. Frederick Leifer became a US citizen in the court of Common Pleas at Canton, Stark County, Ohio, in June 1859, and his citizenship seems to have covered the whole family. They were all living in Sugar Creek in 1860.

This photograph, I believe, shows the nine US-resident children of Frederick and Catherine Leifer. Earlier I guessed that this photo was taken about 1875. Now I think that it was taken no earlier than 1880.

The woman on the left is not Catherine Easley Leifer, as I’d previously thought. I think she’s Catherine’s eldest daughter, Mary Anna Leifer Klick Erb (1847-1919). Mary was born in Switzerland and died in Perry, Stark County, Ohio. Her first husband was Jacob Klick (1845-1880) and she had three children with him. Leonard Erb (1842-1892) was her second husband and they had two children. I don’t have much more information about Mary. I do know that in August 1896, after being widowed for the second time, she entertained quite a number of her relatives and friends at her home near Richville, Stark County, Ohio. Many of those relatives and friends may have been in the area because of the Roush Family reunion. For instance, I know that her sister Lucy and Lucy’s husband Benjamin Shanower, son of Mary “Polly” Roush Shanower, were then visiting.

I don’t know which of the Leifer sons is which in this photo. I’m guessing the one without a beard is the youngest brother. He’s standing next to Lucy, who is the next youngest child. In the absence of any other clues, I’m going to hazard a guess that the sons are arranged in order of birth, starting with the one seated on the bottom left and going across the first row before continuing on the top left and going along the upper row.

So that means the man seated on the bottom left is Frederick Leifer, the younger (1839-1904). Frederick, like all his brothers, was born in Switzerland and settled in Sugar Creek, Stark County, Ohio, with the rest of the family after they arrived in the USA. Frederick served in the US Civil War. After joining the military, he was promoted to Corporal on October 22, 1862. He was wounded at Chancellorsville, Virginia, on May 2, 1863. He was wounded again at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 1 of the same year. On May 1, 1864, he was promoted to Sergeant. He was mustered out at Charleston, Ohio.

After the war Frederick married Phoebe W. Urshel (1843-1920) and they had eight children. Between 1873 and 1878 Frederick and his family moved to Kosciusko County, Indiana—following his younger brother Nicholas—where Frederick continued his occupation as a farmer. He died and is buried in Pierceton, Kosciusko County, Indiana.

Second from the left on the bottom row is most probably Jacob Leifer (1842-1922), born in Zauggenried, Switzerland. It’s likely that the rest of Jacob’s brothers and sister Mary Anna were also born in Zauggenried, but Jacob’s the only one I have a confirmed birthplace for.

Jacob married Catharine Ann Warstler (1839-1904). They had seven children. Jacob spent most of his life farming near Justus, Stark County, Ohio. Like his elder brother Frederick, Jacob fought in the US Civil War.

Much of the information I have about Jacob seems to be related to finances. In 1897 he ran for trustee of Sugar Creek Township and reported his expenses as four cents for cigars and fifteen cents for telephone toll, the smallest expense account reported by a candidate in Stark County that year. In May 1898 Jacob sued E. J. Miller and John S. Fohl to collect five hundred dollars alleged to be due on a promissory note. I don’t know the outcome of that suit. In May 1900 Stark County paid him five dollars as relief for the poor. I don’t know whether Jacob had fallen on hard times or was between harvests and needed five bucks himself or whether he passed it on to someone else in need. If he was in need of money himself he probably got a tidy sum in 1906 when the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad secured a right-of-way through his land east of the Brewster, Ohio, terminal yards.

Then in March 1907, several years after his wife Catherine died, Jacob seems to have sold his farm and moved to the comparatively large nearby town of Massillon, Stark County, Ohio. The next month, April 1907, he applied for a passport and with his son, Daniel Webster Leifer (1867-1947), sailed on April 18 for Europe on the ship Kaiserin Auguste Victoria. The primary purpose of the trip was to visit his birthplace of Zauggenried, but he and his son also saw Paris, France. They returned in May 1907 and about that time Congressman James Kennedy granted a series of pensions, including a pension of twelve dollars a month to Jacob Leifer. Jacob lived until 1922 when he died at the home of his daughter Celia Catherine Leifer Roush (1876-1948).

Jacob Leifer's 1907 passport application.

Next is Nicholas Leifer (1844-1919), also born in Switzerland. He married twice, the first time before 1868 to Louisa, last name unknown, who died in 1882. They had one child. In 1883 Nicholas married Sarah A. Workman (1859-1945). They had three children.

Nicholas was the first of the Leifer siblings to move—between 1868 and 1870—from Stark County, Ohio, to Kosciusko County, Indiana, where he was a farmer. In 1917 Nicholas and Sarah Leifer were living in Columbia City, Whitley County, Indiana, when they made a trip back to Richville, Stark County, Ohio, to attend that year’s Leifer family reunion at the home of nephew Frank Klick.

In late 1918 or early 1919 Nicholas was stricken by paralysis while working on his farm east of Warsaw, Kosciusko County, Indiana. He was ill for several months before he finally passed away at the Warsaw home of his daughter, Blanche C. Leifer Lowman (1887-aft 1942).

The right-most of the seated brothers is John Leifer (1846-after 1919). What information I have about John is fragmentary. He married three wives—Lettie, whose maiden name and dates of birth and death remain unknown; then Sarah Miller (about 1848-before 1900) with whom John had three children; and finally Susannah Cook (about 1860-after 1919). In 1880 John was living in Chester, Wayne County, Ohio. In 1900 he lived in Madison, Williams County, Ohio, and in 1904 in Pioneer in the same county. In 1910 he lived in Reading, Hillsdale County, Michigan, and was there through at least 1916. It’s frustrating not to know any more about John. I don’t even know when he died.

The man standing on the left of the back row is Rudolph Leifer (1849-1906). He married Elnora R. “Ella” Boli (1856-1934) and they had five children, three who lived to adulthood. By 1888 Rudolph was a saddle-maker. He ran a hardware and harness store for thirty years in Richville, Stark County, Ohio. He seems to have been respected in his community and well known in business circles in Massillon and Canton, Ohio. He was elected a trustee of Sugar Creek Township at least once, in 1901, and in 1903 he was chosen as a Stark County, Ohio, Democratic delegate to the state senatorial convention. By June 1906 he was under the care of a Cleveland, Ohio, physician. He returned home by September that year where he died of liver cancer.

The standing man without a beard is Benjamin “Ben” Leifer (1851-1931), the youngest of the Leifer brothers. He lived in Perry, Stark County, Ohio, and I assume he was a farmer. He married Mary Ellen Thompson (1857-1887) in November 1876. They had four children, but in 1887 Mary died of consumption.

I’m not sure of Ben's ability to care for his children when Mary died. In 1893 the court declared his older brother Rudolph as guardian of Ben’s minor children, which seems to have included all of them. Then in 1898 the court ordered the sale of the real estate being held in the guardianship of the eldest child “and others.” I assume that “others” meant the rest of the children.

The eldest child, also named Benjamin Leifer (1879-before 1933), led a life that seems to have contained a degree of chaos—including drinking and divorce. I’m not sure how much his mother’s early death and subsequent wardship under his Uncle Rudolph may have contributed to this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those things were factors.

I don’t know how present the senior Ben was in his children’s lives. By 1916 he’d left the farm in Perry and was living in Massillon, Stark County, Ohio. In August 1919 he hosted that year’s Leifer family reunion at his home.

Louisa "Lucy" Leifer Shanower (1856-1916), my great-great-grandmother, married Benjamin Franklin Shanower (1845-1928), my great-great-grandfather, in 1879, when she was twenty-two years old. He was thirty-three and had already been married once before—to Sophia King (1841-1877)—and had four children from that marriage. Lucy and Benjamin lived on a farm in Burton, Geauga County, Ohio, and added seven children to the family, including their fourth, David Elmer Shanower (1885-1967), my great-grandfather, who I met when I was a baby. Lucy died in 1916 at the age of sixty-one and is buried in Claridon, Geauga County, Ohio.

Finally we get to Carolyn “Callie” Leifer Warstler (1862-1926), the last in the row of standing adults and youngest of these Leifer siblings. In February 1885 she married Simon O. Warstler (1862-1930), first cousin once removed of his brother-in-law Jacob Leifer’s wife Catherine Warstler Leifer. Callie and Simon had two children.

I base my estimation of this photograph's date on Callie's appearance. She looks pretty well full-grown, so my previous dating of this photo to about 1875--when she would have been thirteen years old--seems too early. Now I estimate the date as 1880 or later. That would make Callie at least seventeen. I think that age is more in alignment with her appearance in the photo.

Callie and her husband Simon hosted the Leifer family reunion of June 1911 at the old homestead in Justus, Stark County, Ohio. Many Leifers attended. They included Callie and Simon’s son Edward and Edward’s fiancee Artha Collier, Callie’s sister Lucy and husband B. F. Shanower with their daughter Bertha from Burton, brother Jacob Leifer with his sons Piola and Daniel Webster and his daughter Celia and her husband Andrew Roush and their daughters Bernice and Florence, brother Jacob’s son Ervin Leifer with his wife Emma and their children Halvor and Muriel and Lois, brother Jacob’s daughter Clara and her husband Clem Culler and their daughter Pearl, brother Ben Leifer and his daughters Nora and Bertha, brother Rudolph Leifer’s widow Ella and their daughters Vergie Leifer Grossman and Clara with Clara’s husband Clarence James, brother Ben Lieifer’s son Walter with wife Jane and daughter Mary Elizabeth, brother Jacob Leifer’s daughter Ada with her husband Emil Class and their daughter Pauline, sister Mary Anna Leifer Erb and her children Austin Erb and Laura Erb and Frank Klick with his wife Minnie and their childen Mary and Frank Jr.

The final figure in the photo is the child on the far right. Who is this child? I don't know. I can't even tell whether it's a boy or a girl. The child is wearing a dress, so modern viewers might automatically assume it's a girl, but dresses weren't unusual for young boys of the late nineteenth century to wear. The hair looks short, so that seems to indicate it's a boy, but the child might have long hair pulled back. Or a girl might have had her hair cut short for some reason, such as lice.

I assume the child belongs to one of the adults in the photo. Many of the adult Leifer siblings--Frederick, Jacob, John, Mary, Rudolph, Benjamin, and Lucy--had children born in the late 1870s and early 1880s. This child could be any one of them, although I guess the child is slightly less likely to have Frederick or John as a father, since their families lived in other states than Ohio when this photo was taken. I'm sure the photo was taken in Ohio, possibly in connection with a family reunion, and Frederick's or John's children might not have come along. I doubt this child's identity can be narrowed down to a single name.


  1. I'm a descendant of Leifers from Ohio and wondering if your Fredrick is related to my ancestor. I'd love to talk to you about it. Please email me if you would



    1. Oddly enough there are several groups of non related leifers in ohio...if they were from the Massilon Canton area....or Northern Indiana...then probably.

      Dave Leifer