I am going to tell you a story about the man who was the first person in our family history to step foot on United States soil. His name is Major Anton Andreae and his story changed the way I look at myself and my very resilient family.
I remember as a child, being fascinated with an old picture album that Mom has of some of my ancient relatives. I was fascinated because these relatives looked rich. The photos were professionally made in a studio back when photos were only made in a studio. My relatives, in these photos, were wearing elegant clothes and exquisite jewelry. They sat in chairs covered in real fur. This was impressive to me because my parents never had that kind of wealth. My relatives were all loggers or farmers. Even in their Sunday best, they looked nothing like the people in these photos. Who were these people, and most importantly, what happened to all that money?
A few years ago Mom dug up an old obituary of My Great Great Great Grandfather, Major Anton Andreae. For simplicity in this story, I will just call him Great-granddad. She sent me a copy of the obituary and the story in it made a huge impression on me. For the first time, I caught a glimpse of who those rich people were in that old photo album. That obituary also explained how my Great-granddad’s family became the loggers and farmers that I know to be my family and most importantly, it told what happened to all that money!
My Great-granddad Anton Andreae was born in Frankfurt on the Main in Germany, an important city centre, world renown for commerce, culture, and education. In this bustling trade center, Anton’s family was wealthy and prominent. Anton’s father, my Great Great Great Great Grandfather, was a rich merchant in the East India trade industry which included some of the wealthiest people in the world.
Anton Andreae was given one of the finest educations in the world in a school in Switzerland, the same school where Napoleon the third got his education. At school Anton learned to speak both French, and English and later in his life learned to speak Hungarian and Polish. In total he became fluent in five languages.
After his extensive education, Anton joined that military and became a Major in the army. Frankfort on the main was under the subjugation of Austria at the time. Hungary was also under subjugation of the Austrians and Anton was sent to fight with the Hussars in Hungary for Austria. Unfortunately, the Hungarian revolution broke out when Major Anton Andreae was fighting in Hungary and the Hussar regiment that Major Anton Andreae belonged to, broke rank and joined forces with the rebels.
My Great-granddad was forced by the rebels to fight his own country. He was finally able to escape and fled to Turkey as a fugitive. The obituary does not tell how he managed to escape, but now because of his ties with the rebels, Major Anton Andreae was no longer safe in either Hungary or his own country of Germany. My Great-granddad then fled Turkey where he hid for a short time until he found a way to Constantinople and from there gained passage to America, landing in New York. He traveled almost immediately to Wisconsin where he settled down. Upon arriving in New York, Anton Andreae was still quite young and still had considerable wealth. I imagine that he retained his wealth through family ties. The obituary speaks of a brother living in New York who was in the silk industry.
Anton left New York almost immediately to make a life for himself as a businessman and family man in Wisconsin. I like to think that Great Great Great Grandma was already there waiting for him. He began his career in Wisconsin as a prominent businessman, however, each and every business that he started ended in failure of some sort. During his career in business, his company was burned to the ground six different times. He started in a brewing business, then went into the grocery business, had a flour and feed store, a clothing store, a whole sale liquor establishment and finally a saloon which also folded. Finally, Anton Andreae managed to get hold of 160 acres of land under the homestead act which he cultivated shortly before his death.
Now I finally know what happened to all that money! My family went from riches to rags in the one short lifetime of Major Anton Andreae.
But, I also took away something completely unexpected from this story. The obituary describes my Great Granddad, Major Anton Andreae as, having many genial qualities, as being well esteemed in his community, and having many friends who spoke highly of him. He may have died a poor man but, he was no scoundrel. He did not give up even when the going got tough.
The obituary says that Great-granddad had “eight or nine children”. Those eight or nine children had children and those children had children who became the farmers and the loggers that I know to be my relatives today. My relatives all have those same genial characteristics that Great-granddad had. Most importantly, my family is made up of people who know how to pick up the pieces when their luck is down and keep moving forward. They are resilient. I, for one, choose resilience over money any day.