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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Gray Matter: Family history

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

As you've no doubt gathered, I love to compile and preserve family stories. My kids have all been exposed to my ramblings, but like most youngsters, they paid little heed. As grownups, some have become intensely interested with one son just recently starting to take notice. His questions, coupled with looking at the old family picture which is included in the Marcus Historical Society Card Deck, started me thinking.

That picture is of my kids' great-grandfather, early settler P. Adam Dorr, with his wife, Mary, and sons, Fred, Clarence, Lester and Ray. He used his first initial, which stood for Phillipp, to distinguish him from his oldest brother, Johann Adam, who was called Adam. The way the same names were variously combined in a family gets pretty confusing. It wasn't just the Germans who did this; the British and Scandinavians were equally guilty.

But I digress... another of P. Adam's older brothers, John, first came to America in1855, at age 16, a popular age for emigration. No doubt the looming military eligibility had something to do with that. He stopped briefly in New York City where he began working in the confectioner's trade. From there he went to work in a confectionary in Detroit, where two more brothers lived.

For some reason, now lost to history, John continued westward from there, working on farms instead of in candy factories. During this interval, he returned to his homeland, and brought his chosen bride, Elizabeth Kropp, his brother, P.Adam, and sister Katie (Katarina Dorr Drefke Schmidt) back to America with him. He was naturalized, by that time, so he and Elizabeth waited to be married until they were in the U.S. That way, by marrying a citizen, she was automatically granted citizenship and didn't have to go through the naturalization process, learning the language, and all. Perhaps 19th Century Germans weren't so different from 21st Century Hispanics, after all !

They came on from Illinois and eastern Iowa, eventually arriving in Amherst Township., the fall of 1869. There a surveyor from Sioux City established their claims and they immediately built dwellings - a crude half dugout-half soddy on John's place and an even cruder sod shanty on Adam's. A residence was mandatory in order to prove up a claim.

It took a bit of searching to figure out the next part of the story, the question of who really was the "first white child born in Amherst Township." A youngster born in 1871 laid claim to the title, but Elizabeth Dorr, whose husband and brother-in-law had registered claims and built shacks in 1869, gave birth to a son, Phillip, on Jan. 19, 1870.

Letters and journals eventually revealed that the first year or so Elizabeth, her young children, and her sister-in-law, Katie, lived in the claim shanty in summer, but stayed in the Henry Bremer sod house east of Cherokee when the weather was bad. So, Dr. Phillip Dorr, who grew up to become a prominent dentist in Fort Dodge, was, indeed, "the first child born to white settlers in Amherst Township," but the other contender was the actual "first white child born within its bounds."

The stories spin on and on, and again I urge you to preserve them. As for your kids, some of them may never take an interest while others will be very grateful that you did, and they may even thank you for it !