Remembering a French (and German) ancestor
Nearly 188 years ago to the date, on Feb. 13, 1821, Jean Klein was born in the small village of Schmittviller, Moselle, France, to 37-year-old Jean Klein and 33-year-old Marguerite Wuertz. The elder Klein was a shoemaker and passed the profession onto his son who shared the same name. The parents, of mostly German ancestry despite living in France, were married in Schmittviller on Oct. 18, 1816.
Extended family: Jean had one older sister, Jeanne, two and a half years older than him, who died tragically of illness in Schmittviller six days after his ninth birthday. He also had two younger brothers, Jacques and Charles. Charles died just a few weeks after Jeanne as a contagious illness had been passed around the Klein family. It is not known what happened to Jacques, who disappears from records and may have relocated to another village in the region.
Military service: Jean was conscripted into the French Army on July 24, 1842 and served with the 4th Squadron of Artillery Supply Depot. He was discharged Sept. 4, 1844 for varicose veins in his leg, which made him unsuitable for duty. Jean was not married at the time of his service, but he had a child Nicolas the year he was discharged – on Dec. 7 – with a woman named Anne-Marie Dannenhoffer from the nearby village of Kalhausen.
Marriage: Under pressure from their families, Jean and Anne-Mare married on Apr. 18, 1846 in Rahling, Moselle, France. The marriage record from the Roman Catholic parish noted that the couple had a child out of wedlock, but that he would keep the name Klein. Shortly after, Jean and Anne-Marie had their second child, a daughter Anne, on Nov. 17, 1846.
Immigration: As a shoemaker, carrying on the profession of his father, Jean was a skilled worker and thus considered a part of the wide-ranging class of bourgeoisie. As a part of the middle class of that social group, he could not vote, and he had few political rights. The mid-1840’s were a time of political and economic turmoil, and France was also suffering a foot shortage at the time. Many of Jean’s social class were killed in the mid-1840’s in an attempted revolt against the French government. It appears that the political turmoil is the reason for Jean and Anne-Marie’s immigration to the United States in about 1847 or 1848. They settled in Buffalo, Erie County, New York, either just prior to, or as a direct result of, the bloody February 1848 Revolution, after which Napoleon’s nephew Louis-Napoleon gained power.
Work: Upon arrival, Jean set up a shoe-making shop on Elm Street and Batavia Road (now Broadway) in the city of Buffalo. However, in an effort to escape the cholera epidemic – Jean was too familiar with illnesses ruining families when one swept through his family in the winter of 1831 – he moved his family to Williamsville in 1849. There, Jean was proprietor of a prosperous boot and shoe store. He purchased much land in both the village and rural area, and Klein Road is named after him as a result of the property he owned in that area (approximately 80 acres on the north side of Klein Road according to local historians).
Family: Jean and Anne-Marie added to their family shortly after arriving in America with another daughter Maria, born Nov. 15, 1848 in Buffalo. After moving to Williamsville, they had nine more children, including two that died as infants. The children to survive infancy were: John (1850), Margaret (1852), Jacob (1854), George (1856), Phillip (1859), Catharina (1860), Magdalena (1864), and Amelia (1865). Nine of their 10 children to survive childbirth had children of their own, all but Amelia. Jean and Anne-Marie had 67 grandchildren and hundreds of descendants in the Western New York area.
Death: At age 88, during the winter of 1910, Jean walked out of his 10 Spring St. home in Williamsville, slipped on some ice and fell. He broke his hip and four days later he died on Jan. 23, 1910. Ironically, his son George also died after suffering a broken hip, although he lived to be 103 years old. The family was particularly known for good bloodlines and lived long, memorable lives.
Interesting note: Though I descend of Jean through my mother, he is also a blood (though distant) relative of my father. Jean’s great-grandparents were Michael Bender and Christina Lambert of Neualtheim, Germany. Michael and Christina’s daughter Anna Maria (born 1751) is an ancestor of Jean Klein and my mother, while their daughter Maria Magdalena (born 1755) is an ancestor of my father.