"The Germans established a settlement in Freedom, which adjoins us on the west, which has spread in several directions and now covers several townships, Three-quarters of the soil in Lodi Township is to-day in German hands. They have not retarded, but accelerated, the improvement of the soil. Industry and frugality are their cardinal virtues. Their strong hands have subdued and made productive the most forbidden and barren places."
—From "A History of Washtenaw County," by the Pioneer Society, early 1880s.

The author at the grave of Ignatz Wenk in Washtenaw Co., Michigan. (See his son, Atticis, at the grave in 2018 here.)
   So Ignatz made the perilous journey to America, with no money, no family, but with a hope for a better future. There is no record of his arrival, but the best guess is that he sailed to Baltimore, via New York.
   Baltimore had a large German concentration at that time, and he may have already known some of the recent transplants living there. His goal would've been to earn enough money there to purchase land and start a farm. So he probably performed day labor and worked as a yeoman, and saved what he could.
   The goal would then be to work his way along the "German Belt," stretching from the mid-eastern Atlantic states through the Midwest. These states viewed Germans as good farmers and industrious residents, and offered them cheap land, which they inevitably made very valuable.
   It is generally believed in the Wenk family that Ignatz had previously learned in Baden of a large enclave of 'Black Forest Swabians' that had established a community in Michigan's Washtenaw County.¹ They were concentrated there throughout Freedom Township, in the western portions of Lodi Township, and northwestern Saline Township.
   But all we really know about Ignatz at this time is that he married Anna Maria Esig, almost 25 years his senior, and they settled in Freedom Township, located in the southeast section of Michigan’s lower peninsula, approximately fifty miles west of Detroit. Over 1200 German families settled there between 1830 and 1900, and two thirds of them were from the Black Forest area of Germany.² It was joked at the time that Swabians didn't mind farming the steep hills in those areas because of the steep slopes in the Black Forest region, unlike the Prussians and Hessians moving into other areas. All Germans agreed, though, that the climate was much harsher in Washtenaw than in Baden: Hotter and more humid in the summer, and much colder in the winter. But the land was cheaper than in other areas, and that superceded any other wants for these poor, disenfranchised immigrants.
   There are many legends concerning the origin of the word "Washtenaw." Some people think it was the name of an Indian who lived near the mouth of the Huron River, which flows through the area. Other people think it's derived from the Potawatamie or Chippewa word "wash-ten-ong," meaning "grand river."
   According to Chapman's History of Washtenaw County (1881), the Huron River valley was originally home to a large Native American population. Then in 1680, the French explorer LaSalle passed eastward through this region, canoeing from Portage Lake down the Huron to Lake Erie. French fur traders and Jesuit missionaries soon followed. Michigan became a territory in 1805, and four years later Godfrey, Pepin and LaShambre established a trading post known as "Godfrey's, on the Pottawatomie Trail" in what is now Ypsilanti. Major Benjamin Woodruff purchased 160 acres of land in 1823 in Ypsilanti Township, beginning the first permanent European settlement. There were 15-30 settlers in the "County" at that time.
   But more kept coming, and on January 1, 1827, Washtenaw County legally came into being. It was divided into 20 townships, with the population was nearly 1,000, spanning a distance of 30 miles east-west and 24 miles in the north-south direction.
   Ignatz' home in Freedom Township was formed in that county on March 7, 1834, by the Legislative Council of the Territory of Michigan, splitting off Town 3S, Range 4E from then Dexter Township. The name for the township evolved after considerable dispute, until someone expressed that a good deal of freedom should be exercised in such matters, and that name was then proposed and adopted. (The map below shows Washtenaw in 1873.)

Personal Information
Title:   A History of the German Settlers in Washtenaw County, 1830 to 1930
Authors:   Dale R. Hertner and Terry Stollsteimer
Date:   2007
Pages:   32
View image (.pdf)
   Eventually they bought a farm. Ignaz (sp) and Anna Maria Wenk signed the original deed in 1859 (recorded in 1862), buying the property from Samuel and Hannah Peckins.
   When Ignatz arrived in Michigan, it was still wild in many places. So homesteads had to be self-sufficient in order to survive. Farms like Ignatz' had to include crop fields, stables and pens, orchards, and a wood lot filled with huge wooden timber for building, with oak, walnut, maple, white and black ash, and white and red elm (Dutch Elm disease has since killed all of that, though). His home was part of the land's ecological make-up, a self-sufficient, living organism that supplied everything the occupants needed to live. (As opposed to today, when a home is just the place you sleep until you have to go to work.) Ignatz had been a Catholic in Baden, but worshipped at the Methodist church on Ellsworth Road (the church was disbanded in 1870), and belonged to the newer, more liberal Republican party, like all good "Forty-Eighters."

Personal Information
Census Image
Name:Egnat Wank
Age in 1860:42
Home in 1860:Freedom, Washtenaw Michigan
Estimated Birth Year:1818
Post Office:Fredonia
Value of Real Estate:1000
View image
View blank 1860 census form
Personal Information
Census Image
Name: Ignatz Wenk
Age in 1870: 48
Estimated birth year: <abt 1822>
Birthplace: Prussia
Occup.: Farmer
Post Office: Fredonia
Home in 1870: Freedom, Washtenaw Michigan
Marital status: Married
Roll: M593_707
Page: 177
View image
View blank 1870 census form
 (PDF 136K)
SOURCE INFORMATION: United States Federal Census. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC

   After 10 years in the United States, Ignatz Wenk and his wife, Anna (as "Mary") appear for the first time in the 1860 census. Ignatz (spelled "Egnat Wenk") is listed as a 42-year-old farmer, with $1000 worth of property and $400 in other assets. His wife is 61! Ten years later, Ignatz is listed in the census as only 48 years old with $2600 worth of property and $660 in other assets. Meanwhile, Anna (aged 72!!!) is "keeping house."
   Everyone worked hard on a frontier farm, but nobody worked harder than the wife—especially on a German immigrant's farm. She was required to work in the fields, tend to the chickens and livestock, cook and clean and sew and a myriad of other tasks. Ana Wenk did these tasks every day until she died in 1870, having lived around 72 years (the recording of births and deaths began in 1867 in Washtenaw, but nothing is listed about her death).
   Ignatz was several decades younger than his late wife, with a farm to run, but with no family to help him or share the rewards with. His younger brother, Joseph, had moved from Baden to nearby Rogers Corners in 1870, where he worked as a tailor, so there was some family around Ignatz to comfort him in his time of loss. But Ignatz was still in his forties—he needed a wife, and still wanted children. And he was blessed with both in short order.

   A year later, Ignatz married EVA CATHERINE MANZ (4/23/1837 - 1923), originally from Oberkollbach, Calw, Germany, who had also made the long journey to America. (That's them in the photo, above.) It was probably an arranged marriage, as Catherine had a brother nearby who knew Ignatz well. Her passport describes her as 164 centimeters tall, slender, with an oval face, healthy coloring and reddish-blonde hair. She had blue-gray eyes with brown eyebrows, full cheeks, and no birthmarks. She was a young, healthy woman, and judging by the smile on Ignatz in the photo, very attractive to a lonely, middle-aged farmer.
   She was about 14 years younger than Ignatz, and in one of life's great little ironies, she brought to the marriage a one year-old daughter, Catherine, whom Ignatz raised as his own—just as Johan Wenk had raised him back in Baden. Catherine's true heritage is uncertain, but her origins give us another clue that Ignatz and Eva Catherine's marriage was arranged from overseas. Catherine's baptism record in Germany lists her sponsor as Joseph Wenk of Baden, though the church was many miles away. Eva Catherine then brought her to Ignatz in America. None of the other children would know that she wasn't the natural child of Ignatz and Eva Catherine until after their deaths.
   After Catherine, Ignatz and Eva raised four more children, as well:


  • CATHERINE MANZ WENK, b. 19 March 1869. She married Fred W. Lucht (1863 - 30 Sep 1930), born in Germany and a professor at the University of Michigan. Fred and Catherine had two children: Ella Catherine (05 Feb 1904 - 05 Jun 1977) and Frederik (1891 - 1961). Catherine died in September of 1932 and is buried in Bethlehem Cemetery in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Michigan.
  • To see a wedding photo, click the image at right.
  • JOHN WENK, b. 29 May 1872 in Freedom Township, Washtenaw Co., MI. He married Lydia M. Guenther (29 Jun 1882 - 26 Jan 1963) on 04 Jan 1917 in Freedom Township (here's a photo of them both). He was her third husband. They raised the following children: Amanda Lambarth (1906 - 1990) and Raymond C. Wenk (07 May 1918 - 27 August 1986). John died in Freedom Township on 16 Apr 1958.
  • See the Raymond & Esther Wenk family here.
  • JOSEPH WENK, b. 09 Dec 1873 in Freedom Township, Washtenaw Co., MI. He married Olga Louise Kaercher (02 Jan 1882 - 03 Nov 1964) of Scio Township on 21 Mar 1906 (here's their wedding photo) and they had Edgar, Wilbur, Herbert, Arthur and Marie. Joseph and his wife and family lived with Catherine on the family farm until she passed. They purchased a home on Waters Road later. Joseph died on 14 May 1952 in Jackson, Jackson, Michigan.
  • MARTIN WENK, b. 08 Feb 1876. He married MARTHA CAROLINA GRIEB (08 Dec 1880 - 27 Mar 1937) on 06 Jan 1909 in Lima Township, Washtenaw County. Martin purchased Ignatz' farm after his mother's death and expanded his father's business. He and Martha had six children, listed below, and twenty grandchildren. Martin died on 21 Oct 1962.
  • LOUISA B. WENK, was born on 10 Mar 1878 in Freedom Township. She married Otto Goetz (14 Nov 1871 - 22 Nov 1967) in Freedom Township on 01 Jun 1898. Louisa and Otto had the following children: Elsa, Eva, Helen, Edna and Margaret Goetz. Louisa died on 24 Mar 1968 in Ann Arbor, MI.
  • To see their wedding photo, click here.
  • Personal Information
    Census Image
    Name: Ignatz Wenk
    Age: 54
    Estimated birth year: <1826>
    Birthplace: Baden
    Occupation: Farmer
    Home in 1880: Freedom, Washtenaw, Michigan
    Marital status: Married
    Year: 1880
    Father's birthplace: Baden
    Mother's birthplace: Baden
    View image
    View blank 1880 census form
     (PDF 13K)
    Year: 1880; Census Place: Freedom, Washtenaw, Michigan; Roll: T9_608; Family History Film: 1254608; Page: 158D; Enumeration District: 229; Image: 0623.
       The 1880 census was the first to identify an individual’s relation to the head of household. In addition, the 1880 census was the first to identify the state, county, and other subdivisions; the name of the street and house number for urban households; illness or disability at the time the census was taken; marital status; number of months unemployed during the year; and the state or country of birth of every individual’s father and mother.
       The 1880 census is a valuable tool in part because it is the only US census available for the last two decades of the 1800s. Most of the original 1890 population schedules were destroyed in a fire at the Commerce Department in 1921. Less than one percent of the schedules—records enumerating only 6,160 individuals—survived.
       In this census, Ignatz Wenk is now 54, and his second wife, Catherine, is 43. He has adopted her daughter, Catherine, who is listed as an 11-year-old, born in Michigan. They have also had four more children in their first ten years of marriage: John (age 9), Joseph (age 7), Martin (age 5), and Louisa (age 2).
       Ignatz' brother, Joseph Wenk, a tailor, has emigrated to the United States, and is also listed with his family on this page, below Ignatz, who is listed as a farmer.

    The children of Ignatz and Eva Catherine Wenk, circa 1890: John, Martin, Joseph and Louisa.

    Personal Information
    Directory Image
    Name:   Ignatz Wenk
    Real estate
    value (minus mortgage):
    Personal Property:   $230
    Section/Acres:   4/95
    Township/Post Office:   Freedom, Fredonia
    View image
    Source: Glen V Mills' Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Directory, 1894; Page 500.
       The Wenk family prospered in Freedom Township. Being on the frontier, they didn't live in luxury, but they ate well, and weren't wanting for much. They lived in an all-German community, spoke almost exclusively German, and attended the local Evangelical United Brethren Church, with its services in German. The children didn't attend school because A) There wasn't any, and B) Even if there were, the children were needed to work on the farm.
       But the family didn't only work. Holidays were special times in the Wenk household—especially Christmas. Catherine would bake all kinds of cookies like Liebkuchen and Springele and a bread called Snitzbrodt. Decorations for the tree were homemade, like popcorn and cranberries chained together along the branches on string, dried apples, and real candles which were lit at night.2
       So life was hard on the Ignatz Wenk farm, but it was a truly good life, and far above what had been available to him in Baden.
       Ignatz Wenk passed away in 1897. Ignatz' obituary, printed in German, is below, reading, "When he died, he left three sons, two daughters, two sisters, two brothers and a lot of friends." He's buried in the Freedom Emanuel Evangelical Memorial Cemetery. His eldest son, John, took over the farm, while sons Joseph and Martin had to go into debt to start their own homesteads.

    INFORMATION: 1900 United States Federal Census. Roll: T623 746; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 94.
    Newspaper Article
    File Image
    Title: Ignatz Wenk
    Newspaper: German
    Subject: Obituary
    Original Publication Date: June, 1897
    Personal Info.
    Census Image
    Name: Catherine, Joseph and Martin Wenk
    Home in 1900: Freedom, Washtenaw, Michigan
    View image
    View blank 1900 census
    SOURCE INFORMATION: 1900 United States Federal Census. Roll: T623 746; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 94

       The 1900 census lists that his sons, Joseph and Martin Wenk, are working the farm for 69-year-old Catherine, who interestingly is listed as speaking no English. Catherine now ran the family. She was a very frugal person. She cooked on a huge black range, fueled by wood, and wasted nothing. She made many kinds of soups for the family, including liver dumpling, vegetable beef, and noodles called "knifle" supplemented her meals. She and her daughters baked bread every other day, made their own butter, and sold both butter and eggs. There was no refrigeration, so meat was smoked or dried in order to preserve it. And she stocked it in the cellar, along with canned fruit and vegetables, for meals during the long winters. In the fall, hickory nuts were collected and dried in the attic, to be used in hickory nut cake with caramel frosting.

    Eva Catherine Wenk with some of her descendants in 1910. Front Row: Helen Goetz, Edna Goetz, Ella Lucht, Edgar Wenk, Eva Goetz. Second Row: Louisa Goetz, Bertha Hirth (worked for the Goetz'), Katie Lucht, Catherine Manz Wenk, Olga Wenk (holding Wilbur Wenk). Third Row: Mr. Blass, Joseph Wenk, Elsa Goetz, Frederick Lucht, Fred Lucht Jr., Otto Goetz, Carl Thrum.

    "...Various immigrant groups were more or less absorbed into the Ann Arbor community within a few years. Not so the Germans. They learned English but kept their native tongue and made sure their children learned it. They joined local groups and entered politics, but they prayed in their own churches, gathered in their own service organizations, formed their own band, and established their own volunteer fire company, which drew the admiration of their Yankee neighbors. Assimilated and much respected for their industry and public spirit, they nonetheless retained for decades a separate identity as well."
    —From "A History of Ann Arbor," by Johnathan Marwil.

       Meanwhile, another generation of Wenks were carrying on with the family farming tradition. Germanic-Americans have a history of banding together in close-knit communities and family units. The Wenks were a prime example. They have survived cyclones, a Depression, wars, and draughts so bad that Joseph Wenk once had to feed tree bark to his cows, and have stayed in the same area of Michigan for 150 years, and—until recently—most of them were living on the same ROAD!

    L-R: Martin Wenk in his youth; Martin and brother-in-law Eugene Grieb posing in front of his steam tractor and thresher; and in later years, working at his sawmill.

       MARTIN WENK (8 Feb 1876 - 21 Oct 1962) was a proud, industrious man who inherited Ignatz' strong work ethic, and his sense of family. In 1909, Martin married MARTHA CAROLINA GRIEB (12/8/1880 - 3/27/1937) in Lima Township, Washtenaw County. Lima Township was first called Mill Creek, the name being changed to Lima Center after 1832.
       The Michigan Gazetteer of 1837 described the township as: “Lima Center, village and post office, Washtenaw County and Township of Lima, pleasantly situated on the branch of Mill creek has grown up. The territorial road from Ann Arbor to St. Joseph passed through it. This place is quite thriving and there are large quantities of hydraulic power that might be used to advantage in the vicinity.”
       Martin stayed close to his family and became a farmer, like his dad, and then bought a threshing business, which he ran with his brothers (and eventually his children).
       He also bought a sawmill. In the early 1900's, Martin charged $3-to-$7 for sawing 1000 board feet of trees... and he only lost one finger in all of the decades he ran the mill! (It was reattached by Dr. Bush in Chelsea.) Local farmers brought the logs from their wood lots by horse-drawn sleigh in the springtime, to cut lumber for barns, homes, fences and gates. The steam-powered mill furnished its own fuel by burning lengths of slab-wood (the first cut taken off a log) to heat the water, which was drawn from a nearby stream. The sawdust created by the cutting would be used for mulch, bedding, and ice storage (ice had to be covered in a special shed on all sides by eight inches of sawdust—there were no refrigerators yet).
       Family always came first for Martin Wenk, even at his work. The children did all they could in the threshing and sawmill business', and attended school when they could, as well. They were:


  • ELMER OSWALD WENK, b. 22 July 1909 in Lima Township, Washtenaw Co., MI. He went to Seminary at age 14 in St Louis Missouri. Because he did not have high school he also took High school there. Went by train, sent laundry home weekly. He got homesick, took the train home. Erv picked him up at station. (As narrated by Ernest Wenk, May 2001.) Elmer married Pearl Reed later in life, but they divorced on 22 Oct 1969. He died on 17 June 1976.
  • ERWIN MARTIN WENK, b. 13 Aug 1910 in Lima Township. He was an expert with engines and mechanical devices, but instead of choosing a career in that craft, chose to become a farmer like his father. He married DOROTHY PRITCHARD and had the following children: Martha, Irene, Donald, Chuck, Paul and Jean. Erwin died on 19 Oct 1982.
  • RUBENA MARITTA WENK, b. 10 Oct 1911 in Lima Township, Washtenaw Co., MI; Baptized 19 Nov 1911 at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Freedom Township. She married Walter George Loeffler (23 Nov 1909 - 27 Oct 1991) and they had the following children: Arlene (b. 05 Aug 1936. Read her family history here), Norman (b. 23 Apr 1941) and Carl Loeffler (1946 - 2001). Rubena died on 2 October 1987 in Freedom, Washtenaw, Michigan.
  • EDNA ANNA WENK, b. 13 Apr 1913 in Freedom Township. She loved to have "get togethers" according to Dorothy Wenk. She married Carlton Paul Burkhardt (22 Aug 1912 - 28 Dec 1968) in May, 1941, and they had the following children: Ronald Martin (b. 23 May 1942), Karen (b. 28 Dec 1944) and Gary Burkhardt (28 Jun 1949 - 27 Jun 2005). Edna died on 6 December 1974 in Manchester, Washtenaw, Michigan.
  • ERNEST WILHELM WENK, b. 09 June 1914 in Freedom Township. He farmed the Wenk homestead where he and his father owned and operated a sawmill. He worked for Chrysler at the Chelsea Proving Grounds. He enjoyed deer hunting, trapping, and fishing. On February 7, 1942 he married Edna M. Horning, and they had three children: Kenneth Carl, William Ernest (m. Marlene) of Denver, Colorado and Carolyn Elaine (m. Patrick) McNamara of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ernie passed away at age 91 on Thursday January 26, 2006 at the Chelsea Retirement Community.
  • NORMAN OSCAR WENK, b. 18 Jan 1918 in Freedom Township. He played baseball and football at Chelsea High, and married Lorena Alma Hieber (b. Nov. 1920) on 29 Aug 1942. Norman entered the U.S. Service February of 1942 and was sent overseas January 1945, landing at La Havre France, then invading Germany. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lt., coming home February 1946. Norman and Lorena had the following children: Barbara Jean, Marilyn, Anita, Daniel and Robert Wenk. Norman passed away on 30 Apr 2012 in Chelsea, Washtenaw, MI, and Lorena passed away on Thursday, 22 Dec 2016, at the Chelsea Retirement Community.
  • Personal Information
    Census Image
    Name: Martin Wenk
    Age in 1910: 34
    Estimated birth year: 1875
    Birthplace: Michigan
    Home in 1910: LIMA TWP, Washtenaw, Michigan
    Race: White
    Series: T624
    Roll: 677
    View image
    View blank 1910 census form
     (PDF 136K)
    SOURCE: National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, DC.
       The official enumeration day of the 1910 census was 15 April 1910. By that time, there were a total of forty-six states in the Union, with Utah and Oklahoma being the latest editions and Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Alaska as territories.
       Martin and 29-year-old Martha Grieb lived in Lima Township and had one son so far, named Elmer. Martin is listed as a laborer in a threshing business.
       Martin used his own family to run the business, training his sons to work in the threshing operation. It was important to him that each child contribute to the enterprise, and that all of his sons work not only to better themselves but the entire family.
       Martin's children bonded for life, living mostly on Fletcher Road near the town of Chelsea, Michigan, around their father's farm. While the other Wenk families continued to attend the same Evangelical church as Ignatz, the Griebs were Lutherans, and Martin switched denominations after the marriage. They worshipped at Zion Lutheran Church, just down the road from the farm.

    An early photograph of the interior of Zion Lutheran Church on Fletcher Road.

       Chelsea was first settled in 1834, and first called "Kedron" until July 19, 1850, when Elisha Congdon renamed it after his old home across the river from Chelsea, Massachusetts. The Village of Chelsea grew rapidly after 1850 as the railroad laid the pathway for business and passenger service. Elisha and his brother James got the Michigan Central Railroad to build a station there in 1848 for land concessions. The town was finally incorporated on October 22, 1864.

    County Directory
    File Image
    Title:   POLK'S Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County
    Name:   Ignatz Wenk (est.), Martin Wenk
    Residence:   Freedom, Chelsea, Washtenaw County
    Page:   956
    Date:   1914
    View file
    County Directory
    File Image
    Title:   POLK'S Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County
    Name:   Ignatz Wenk (est.), Martin Wenk
    Residence:   Freedom, Chelsea, Washtenaw County
    Page:   1030
    Date:   1916
    View file

       Martin and his brother, John, owned two 19 Horsepower Port Huron steam tractors, and two commercial threshers (Nichols-Shephard grain separators, which they rented out with a crew to local farmers. The company worked into the 1950's, by threshing, baling hay, hulling clover seed and husking/shredding corn. Eventually Martin bought the entire business from John and continued to help other farmers. The equipment would be set up and anchored next to a farmer's barn. The thresher was lined up with the tractor. Pulleys and a flat belt were hooked up to drive the separator from the tractor. Then wagons full of bundled shocks of field crops—wheat, corn, barley, oats—were parked next to the thresher. The crew would pitch the bundles into the thresher to separate the grain while a blower blew the straw up into a pile. The grain was then bagged and stored in the "granary" rooms of the barn. Straw was used for bedding animals in the winter.
       Martin's son, Ernest, recalled later to Kathy Clark in a Chelsea newspaper: "The Wenk threshing operation covered parts of four townships, namely Freedom, Sharon, Lima and Sylvain. To operate a steam-powered rig required a fireman engineer, a water boy to keep the engine supplied with water, a blower man, and a machine man. The water supply tank was pulled by two horses. The threshing crew usually slept in the farmer's barn. They had to be on the job early to build a roaring fire to get enough steam pressure to start operations, and set off a steam whistle telling the farmers it was time to get on the job. Each farmer was required to have on hand enough coal to do his work. Farm wives were popular for putting on super good meals.
       Martin's daughter-in-law through Erwin, Dorothy Wenk (née Pritchard), remembers: "You had to do a noon meal, most likely roast beef, mashed potatoes, bread, gravy, vegetables—garden or canned. We used home-canned meat but bought roast if we had threshers, and pies for dessert.
       "At night we usually served hot dogs, fried potatoes. Probably cake for dessert at night. But the noon meal was the biggest. Ruby and Edna would help me. We would work together a lot. I was glad when threshing was over!
       "We would serve least a dozen or more at noon. You had wash basins outside and towels, mirror comb on a bench outside. The water came from tubs or pails as there was no running water inside.
       "At our house we did not have enough chairs, so we used crates and boards, covered the boards with blankets for them to sit and eat. You could get more at the table with benches made that way instead of chairs also.
       "We kids had to be water boys and bring water to the field workers. We also made lemonade for them to drink. We also served ice tea, coffee and water. Art Grau was my biggest customer for iced tea. Mother always made a crock of lemonade. Hard cider and beer was available for most. My dad made beer and my job was to suck the hose. Maybe that's why I don't like the taste of beer."

    Newspaper Article
    Title:Farming has changed considerably
    Newspaper:Chelsea Standard
    Subject:Wenk threshing operation
    Author:Kathy Clark
    Personal Information
    WWI Draft Card
    Name: Martin Wenk
    Status: Natural born citizen
    Occupation: Farmer
    View file
    National Archives and Records Admin. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.

       A cyclone tore through Rogers Corners in 1917, destroying several structures, as well as a lot of others on Fletcher and Waters Roads. Joseph Wenk's house on Waters Road was destroyed, as were Martin's and Catherine's Farms. Zion Church and parsonages were damaged. But much of the community came out to help in rebuilding the properties. Fortunately, the Wenks were a hardy, devoted and industrious bunch, and the disaster didn't set them back for very long. Some photographs of the wreckage from the cyclone are displayed below.


    The remains of the barn and steam engine, with the remnants of the equipment that was inside barely recognizable.

    Personal Information
    Census Image
    Name: Martin Wenk
    Age in 1910: 43
    Estimated birth year: 1876
    Birthplace: Michigan
    Home in 1920: Freedom, Washtenaw, Michigan
    Roll: T625_799
    Page: 6A
    View image
    View blank 1920 census form
    ED: 147
    Image: 1175
    SOURCE INFORMATION: Data imaged from National Archives and Records Administration. 1920 Federal Population Census. Series T624, 1,784 rolls. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration.
       The 1920 Census was begun on the 1st of January in 1920. The following questions were asked by enumerators: Name of street, avenue road, etc.; house number or farm; number of dwelling in order of visitation; number of family in order of visitation; name of each person whose place of abode was with the family; relationship of person enumerated to the head of the family; whether home owned or rented; if owned, whether free or mortgaged; sex; color or race; age at last birthday; whether single, married, widowed, or divorced; year of immigration to United States; whether naturalized or alien; if naturalized, year of naturalization; whether attended school any time since 1 September 1919; whether able to read; whether able to write; person's place of birth; mother tongue; father's place of birth; father's mother tongue; mother's place of birth; mother's mother tongue; whether able to speak English; trade, profession, or particular kind of work done; industry, business, or establishment in which at work; whether employer, salary or wage worker, or working on own account; number of farm schedule. In 1920 the census included, for the first time, Guam, American Samoa, and the Panama Canal Zone.
       The original 1920 census schedules were destroyed by authorization of the Eighty-third Congress, so it is not possible to consult originals when microfilm copies prove unreadable. But fortunately, we can still read here that Martin and his family are listed right underneath Joseph's. Martin (43) and Martha (39) now have 6 kids: Elmer (10), Erwin (9), Rubena (8), Edna (7), Ernest (5), and Norman (nearly 2). Martin is listed as a "working farmer," as a general laborer and the owner of a threshing business.

    A photograph of Chelsea in the early 20th Century.

    Personal Information
    Census Image
    Name: Martin Wenk
    Age in 1930: 54
    Birth year: 1876
    Birthplace: Michigan
    Home in 1930: Freedom, Washtenaw, Michigan
    Owns radio: Yes
    View image
    View blank 1930 census form
     (PDF 136K)
    SOURCE INFORMATION: Data imaged from National Archives and Records Administration. 1930 Federal Population Census. T626, 2,667 rolls. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration. Census Place: Freedom, Washtenaw, Michigan; Roll: 1029; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 22; Image: 836.0.
       Martin bought the Wenk family farm after his mother died, in 1923. Then he moved from his ten-acre farm (which his son, Norman, would buy from him in the late fifties) into Ignatz' 40-acre farm (with another 40 acres of marshland in the Tamarack Swamp). Then Martin bought another 30 acres of field between the two farms, creating a substantial 130-acre family estate.
       The 1930 United States Federal Census is the largest census released to date and is the most recent census available for public access. (Census records are not released publicly until exactly 72 years from the official census date.)
       This census gives us a glimpse into the lives of Americans in 1930, and contains records for approximately 123 million Americans.
       By 1930, Martin (54) and Martha (49—she would die seven years later) are still in Freedom, and all the kids still live at home, working the farm: Elmer (20), Erwin (19), Rubena (18), Edna (16), Ernest (15), and Norman (12). Martin is listed as a "working farmer," as a general farmer, as do all of his sons, but the threshing business is no longer reported.

    Newspaper Article
    Title:Turn-of-the-Century Sawmills in Chelsea
    Newspaper:Chelsea Standard
    Subject:Wenk Sawmill(Martin Wenk biography)
    AuthorKathy Clark
    Newspaper Article
    File Image
    Title:Martin Wenk
    >Newspaper:Chelsea Standard
    Subject:86th Birthday
    Original Publication Date:February, 1962

       The mill was sold before 1939, but Ernie purchased another in the early 50's. Then the mill was removed for good in 1993, when Ernest retired from farming and the farm was auctioned off. But the sawmill is still working today, somewhere today in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
       Meanwhile, Martin's family continued to grow. His beloved wife Martha passed away in 1937, and Martin never remarried. But he watched with pride as the children that he had raised with Martha started their own families, and gave him twenty grandchildren—and those children gave him countless great-grandchildren.

    Left to right: Otto Goetz, Louisa Wenk-Goetz, Martin, Lydia Guenther-Wenk and John Wenk.

       Above is a photo of his 80th birthday party, with siblings John and Louisa, and their spouses. Martin lived until October of 1962, when he passed away at the age of eighty-six. During the course of his life he watched Michigan change from an agricultural paradise to an industrial powerhouse. But the Wenks remained farmers first, and a family always...


    ¹—"From Germany to Washtenaw County: A Story of a German Immigrant and his Descendants in America," by Kurtis McDonald, 1997.

    ²—A History of the German settlers in Washtenaw County, by Dale R. Herter and Terry Stollsteimer, 2007.

    ³—"Stories from the Family of Ignatz Wenk," by Pat Simeck, Martha Hause and Kurtis McDonald, 2006.