YDNA Haplogroup I-M170
Alexander (Alex) Kaiser was born on 29 June 1904 in Grimm, Saratov, Russia, to parents Jake Kaiser and Charlotte Kerbel. The couple was married in 1903, and Alex was born the following year.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Germans were disillusioned with life in Russia. The government had reneged on some of their promises to the settlers, and many dreamed of a better life in another country. In early 1907, Jake and Charlotte Kaiser decided to immigrate to the United States with their young son Alex. They traveled in a group with other family members and their children. Upon their arrival at Ellis Island, it was discovered that one of the children had an ear infection and the child was denied entrance to the U.S. Rather than break up their families, neither family chose to remain, but that said, they still did not want to return to Russia. Once back at their original port of departure, Hamburg, Germany, the families decided to go to Argentina, where there was already a large population of Germans and Volga Germans.
The circuitous route took them back to Hamburg Germany, where they boarded a ship bound for La Plata, Argentina. Traveling steerage, they made the ardurous journey which included stops in Dover, England; Boulogne-sur-Mer, France; Coruña Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; and finally La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Note that although the two brothers’ families were listed together in the passenger list, the surname for Alex’s family was misspelled as Heiser, instead of Kaiser.
The ship docked in Argentina, and the two families made their homes there. One year later, Alex’s mother gave birth to her second child August Kaiser on April 26, 1907, in Bahia Blanca. The growing family remained in Argentina for perhaps another year, but Alex’s mother was miserable. As soon as it was financially possible, their family moved back to their village in Russia, probably in late 1908 or early 1909. Another child, Alex’s brother, Jacob, was born in Grimm on April 28, 1910.
Back in Grimm, nothing had changed, and Alex’s parents were still restless for a better life. Once again they made plans to immigrate to the U.S. For the first leg of the journey, the family left Russia and made their way south to England. Once in England, they headed to Liverpool where they boarded American Line’s S.S. Merion and set sail for the Port of Philadelphia. The trip must have been far easier than the one the family took four years earlier to Ellis Island. That’s because service to Philadelphia was designed to carry only one class of passengers, rather than three classes. According to http://www.gjenvick.com/, the passenger service on the S.S. Merion was considered exclusively second class, a far better option for those who usually traveled in steerage.
At a top speed of 14 knots and with no additional stops, the trip would have lasted almost 10 days. The ship entered the Port of Philadelphia on October 3, 1911. This time there were no problems with sick travelers and the family was allowed to enter the country.
Although the family’s first destination was Illinois to visit friends from Russia who had already settled in the U.S., the Kaiser’s first residence was in Colorado. As was typical for Germans from Russia, father Jake was a hard worker, willing to do anything to support his family. Whatever he earned at his first jobs, however, wasn’t enough to cover the needs of their growing family. Alex’s mother may have worked intermittently after her boys were in school during the winter months. When Alex was a young teen, he was forced to drop out of school and start working to help support his family. He probably worked in the nearby sugar beet factory or fields.
At some point between 1911 and 1924, Alex’s family moved to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, since they are listed as residents of that town in the 1920 U.S. Census. In reality, however, they must have gone back and forth between Wisconsin and Colorado for a period of time since their youngest son, Paul, was born in Colorado on March 29, 1922. Furthermore, his brother August graduated from high school in Fort Collins in 1924. From what I can determine from notes and information from my grandfather, Alex must have stayed with his family in Colorado and become “the man of the house” while his father was in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, working and saving money to move his family into a home there.
By 1925, the family was all together Fond du Lac, a town where many of their friends and family members from Grimm were living. Alex’s father had put his carpentry skills to work at Northern Casket Company, just blocks away from the family’s home on North Brooke Street, while taking more traditional carpentry jobs on the side. Alex’s first job in Fond du Lac was in the offices of Fred. Rueping Leather Company. He later sold leather made at the tannery to companies that made shoes. He regularly traveled around the Midwest for many years, but the traveling eventually took a toll on his health. He was forced to retire in the early 1950s.
As an adult, Alex was a respected elder in the German Brotherhood, a worship group comprised of Volga Germans who met routinely in the Milwaukee and Fond du Lac areas. This religious group did not take the place of what most would consider traditional churches, such as the Lutheran church, of which most Germans from Russia were members. The German Brotherhood provided a way for the Volga Germans to preserve their early memories, traditions, and worship style. Services were conducted in German, and sermons were given by lay-persons who were church members. Congregants were somewhat strict in how they raised their children in their new home country. While they assimilated as quickly as possible, learning English and blending in with the locals, they frowned on drinking alcohol, dancing, and playing cards. The German Brotherhood was also active in Colorado, where Alex lived as a child. Growing up, he was a member of the Brotherhood’s band, comprised of people of all ages, where he played the clarinet.
Despite his lack of a high school diploma or any college classes, Alex self-educated himself and he became a successful salesman and businessman. He was a Kiwanis Club member and routinely spoke around the Midwest. He also compiled as much information as he could about his family’s life in Russia, and he spoke regularly about these Germans, how they ended up in Russia, and how they suffered under the hands of the Russians.
Alex started dating Mollie Fritzler, also a Volga German, in the mid 1920s. While they probably knew each other as young children in Russia, they also lived near each other as teens and young adults in Fond du Lac. They fell in love and married on 01 May 1926 when Alex was 22 years old.
Alex became a naturalized U.S. citizen on April 11, 1934.
After a career as a traveling salesman he retired and opened a shoe store on a busy commercial street in Milwaukee. When old downtown locations began to see sales drop as indoor shopping malls sprouted up across the nation, Alex closed his family shoe store and opened a specialty children’s shoe store in Brookfield Mall, not far from where he and his wife lived.
As a grandfather, Alex was always concerned about his grandchildren wearing shoes that were made properly and fit well. It must have come as a shock to him when one of his granddaughters — me — had one of the widest foot sizes ever recorded for a child. I remember when how he would take me out to shoe store after shoe store, trying to find shoes to properly fit my wide feet. He would hold his chin between his thumb and index finger and shake his head back and forth every time a pair of shoes didn’t fit me. Which was often.
Alex was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. After the death of his wife Mollie in 1976, his heart was broken and he seemed to lose his love for life. He died on 18 September 1978 and was buried in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.