On the morning of August 21, 1890, Christopher C. Shayne, director and founder of the Manufacturing Furriers’ Association of New York City, future president of the New York merchant’s association, opened his mail and received a warning.
“Whereas, The organized workingmen of the world are endeavoring to improve their condition and especially struggling to reduce hours of work, and in consideration that our working hours are not at present serving to improve our station in life, and as we are convinced that only by successive reduction of working hours our rights will be obtained.
We demand that from Sept. 2, 1900, nine hours shall constitute a working day.”
New York and much of the United States were in the throes of a widespread union movement to gradually reduce the standard working day to 8 hours. For over four years, the Furriers’ Union had been agitating towards shorter work days and were now ready to take labor actions to press their demands.
Shayne was not even slightly sympathetic. He argued that furriers rarely worked more than 10 hour days and had a paid half-holiday every Saturday, as well as paid official holidays. C.C. Shayne suggested that if the union were willing to give up paid holidays, the Association would be willing to limit work hours to 9 hour days.
Being a skilled trade, it's possible that a furriers' workweek was only 65 hours as Shayne had claimed but the average workweek for a manufacturing employee was 100 hours and the movement to reduce hours was sweeping the United States and Britain. Their logo was eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for what you will. Within a few months, the Association members would lock-out the Furriers’ Union members and employ strikebreakers.
One of the locked-out furriers was Rudolf Bernegger, my wife's 2nd great grandfather, who had arrived in New York from Switzerland 10 years earlier, in December 1880.
Rudolf was born on March 16, 1856 and confirmed in the Catholic faith on May 29, 1872, at the age of 16. According to his confirmation certificate, he was confirmed in the municipality of Altstädten. This created some confusion for me about where he was living at the time, since the only Altstädten is a small town in southern Germany, with no similarly named location in Switzerland.
However, after painfully parsing some old Swiss books, I've learned that Altstätten in the canton of St. Gallen was once called Altstädten. Altstädt is the German word for "old town". Since Swiss German has diverged pretty significantly from "High" German, the name of the city likely changed as well.
NOTE: if some Swiss speaker would care to verify or correct me, I'd be grateful!
Having looked through the scarce old Swiss census data available online, I'd long suspected that Berneggers hailed from St. Gallen and this (hopefully) confirms it.
Around 1879, Rudolf married Anna Ursula Ackermann and on March 3. 1880, Anna gave birth to Johann Rudolf Bernegger. A later record claims he was born in Winkel, which is a small town in the shadow the Alps in the canton of Zurich, in the northern part of the county.
A small, mountainous nation, Switzerland had little agricultural land so frequent economic recessions made it challenging for its growing population to find enough to eat. During these times, such as the decade starting in 1880, local councils might offer families as much as 400 Swiss francs to emigrate to the New World.
In 1880, travel agencies heavily advertised packages to New York. Such a package would transport the aspiring emigrant to Le Havre, France, and provide an 8 day steamship passage across the Atlantic. This journey would absorb almost all the money offered by the local councils, so a New York immigrant would have to find work quickly.
A young man, Rudolf may have taken such an offer to emigrate to the United States. In any event, he soon set off to the new world.
Rudolf travelled alone to New York, Given the high expense of travel, his wife and son may have had to remain in Switzerland until Rudolf secured a home for the family and had saved enough money to pay for their passage.
On arriving in New York, Rudolf quickly became friends with Frank Casper and Julius Haffke, fellow furriers who had migrated from Germany, and Joseph Studli, an embroiderer from Switzerland. It's possible that these four men lived and worked together when they first arrived. All had immigrated to the United States within a few weeks of each other and vouched for one another when they all became naturalized citizens in 1886.
Anna and Johann (now John) rejoined Rudolf in 1881 and the family settled in the East Village. In the mid-19th century, the East Village was part of a large community known as Deutschländle, or “Dutch Town”, home to 50,000 German-speaking immigrants of Dutch, Prussian, Bavarian, and Swiss ancestry. The neighbourhood had German schools,churches, synagogues, theatres, beer halls, oyster saloons, and groceries.
On August 8, 1882, Anna gave birth to their second son, Geörg. Tragically, Geörg died soon after he was born.
Rudolf and his family moved frequently around the East Side for the next 20 years. In 1883, they lived at 142 Essex St., not far from where the Brooklyn Bridge was being completed. In 1884, they moved to 196 2nd Street and in 1886, they moved to 199 East 8th Street.
In 1890, at the time of the Furriers’ Union lockout, the Berneggers were living at 25 Rivington Street. in the lower East Side and were parents to their 3rd child, and my wife’s great grandfather, Edward Charles Bernegger, who was born the 14th of June, 1890.
On February 26, 1891, the furriers’ began to strike across New York, which was soon followed by a lockout by all the businesses belonging to the association. With a young family, including a newborn son, Rudolf would have been out of work. However, it was likely that he was an enthusiastic participant in the labour action.
By April, 1892, Furriers' Manufacturers Association were unable to find workers and suffered financial losses so were close to ending their lock-out and meeting the Union's demands. With victory at hand, the Union held a general meeting and elected new officers, including elevating Rudolf to Financial Secretary.
As financial secretary, Rudolf would handle the financial responsibilities of the union, receiving and depositing money and keeping the books. Clearly, Rudolf had a good education back in Switzerland, beyond that of a furrier, and was well-trusted within his organization.
As the 19th century came to a close, Rudolf continued to frequently move around the East Village; almost every census and directory has him living in a different apartment. Not only was the frequency of the family relocations odd but it was unusual that they stayed in the East Village. German-speaking immigrants were moving out of the community in large numbers as they grew more affluent, to be replaced by East European immigrants, including a significant number of Ashkenazi Jews, such as Isidore and Sadie Tabor, whose granddaughter would marry Rudolf's and Anna's grandson.
The reason for Rudolf's frequent moves and his staying in the area might have had to do with his work. Jewish immigrants became heavily involved in the "needle trades", including furs, and Rudolf would have found plenty of work there.
Around 1910, the Bernegger family finally moved out of the East Village to an apartment at 163 Southern Boulevard in the south Bronx, where they rented an apartment. Rudolf continue to work as a Furrier, selling furs from his own shop for several years.
Rudolf and Anna experienced many events during their years in the Bronx. During World War I, German saboteurs detonated two million pounds of American-made munitions, casting suspicion on the German-speaking community.
After the war, in 1918, Rudolf and Anna may have attended the Bronx World Fair, which was small and generally regarded as a failure, as most countries were still recovering from the war and only Brazil actually showed up. However, the park became a very popular spot for the locals.
Rudolf and Anna lived in their Bronx apartment until their deaths, the longest they ever lived anywhere since their childhoods; Rudolf passing at 8:35PM on April 22, 1930 and Anna passing at 11:20PM on November 10, 1934.
John moved out on his own before Rudolf and Anna moved to the Bronx, working as the head bartender at the Hotel Belmont. He married Kathryn E Curley around 1906 and had at least 2 children: Kathryn Elizabeth Bernegger and Edward Lloyd Bernegger. Kathryn moved to Pittsburgh, where she married and was a very popular social figure and businesswoman. Lloyd was a very successful executive.
Edward moved out to the Bronx with his parents to the Bronx, moving out on his own after 1915. Edward inherited his father's financial acumen and became a successful accountant, working for a commercial glassware company. He married Agnes Frank and had a single child, Joseph Harold Bernegger, on December 2, 1915,
Edward and Agnes moved Ridgewood, Queens where they rented a house at 54-45 Catalpa Avenue, where they lived for several years. Edward was Dictator of the Ridgewood Lodge of Moose and he and Anna were both very active with the group.
Their son, my wife's maternal grandfather, Joe, grew up in Ridgewood, only a few blocks from his future wife, Ethel Tenure. Following in his father's footsteps, he went to New York University, School of Commerce, Accounts, and Finance, received a Bachelor of Science on June 7, 1939, and became an accomplished tax accountant. After completing his degree, he married Ethel on November 11, 1939 and they had 4 children together: Joan, Linda, Edward, and Douglas. Joe worked for the FBI and then became a successful vice president and CFO of Lipton Tea.
Rudolf and Anna lived the classic American immigration story: pick up and leave everything behind, plunge headlong into American life and politics in one of the most dynamic cities of the era, and raise a family that prospers and thrives for generations into the future.
My father-in-law's maternal grandfather was Leonard Nicholson, who had moved to Saskatchewan from Oklahoma with his wife, Myrtie Ferguson, and children around 1912. We've known for a long time that Leonard's father was William Thomas Nicholson from Missouri, who had grown up in Indiana and had been born in North Carolina. However, determining the identify of William's parents was tricky; there was more than one William Nicholson in those parts and there were multiple families to which he could have been born.
Well, now we know a whole heck of a lot more. My wife's DNA has allowed me to break down several brick walls, including in the Nicholson branch of her father's side. I say "break-down" but I really mean pulverize. After studying the family trees of numerous DNA matches, William's history very quickly revealed itself.
William's parents were Lazarus Nicholson and Phoebe Coleman. They were both born in North Carolina, married in Wilkes County on March 11, 1809, and raised a family of at least 6 sons and 3 daughters, with our William being the second youngest child, born in 1831, when Lazarus was 41 and Phoebe was 39.
Sometime between 1836 and 1839, when William was still a young child, the family picked up stakes and joined the land rush, driving their wagons north and west to a farm in Jackson Township, Sullivan County, Indiana. They then purchased land and raised their family there for the next several years;
Lazarus and Phoebe might have had some problems later in life, possibly illness or marital strife. By 1850, they had divided up their land among their sons Samuel, James, and Charles. Phoebe and their son, William, lived with Charles while Lazarus lived with their oldest son, Samuel. Lazarus died in 1855 and by 1860 Phoebe had moved in with yet another son, Lazarus Jr.,passing away in 1865.
Looking further back, Phoebe's parents were Charles Coleman (1756-1826) and Polly Campbell (1760-1834). I don't know much yet about Charles but Polly's family has a long history which I will explore in a later post. However, the Nicholson line, as usual, continued to give me some headaches.
Most Ancestry.com family trees claim Samuel Nicholson (1730-1808) and Lidia Dickhouse as the parents of Lazarus and several other children. DNA would happily seem to confirm this connection. However, most of these family historians had Lidia's date of birth as 1734, meaning she would have been about 58 when she gave birth to little Lazarus. This is clearly wrong. However, was it simply an error of her birth date or was she not his mother at all?
We don't really know who Lidia was: Dickhouse was certainly not the real spelling of her name, as there is no one of that name recorded in the area, and no one has yet provided any corroboration of her birth date.
We do know that Lidia married Samuel on August 8, 1768. If she had been born in 1732, she would have been 36 when married, an unlikely age for a first marriage in that day and age. Many family historians attribute many children to Lidia, which would have also been very unlikely if she was older.
One problem we face when trying to sort out family connections is that the U.S. census records before 1850 didn't name all the people in a household but only named the head of household along with tick marks indicating the age range and sex of everyone else. Although Lidia was never head of household, I do believe that we see her indicated on an 1800 census in the home of Samuel Nicholson, who may have been her husband but was more likely her son. On this census, Lidia was indicated as being 45 or older, which tells us little, only that she was born was born before 1855.
However, even from these limited sources, we see several Nicholsons set up households and start families in Wilkes County about the same time, It's very possible that they were related.
One of 3 Nicholson heads of household, Samuel Nicholson, named one of his sons "Samuel" and one of his daughters "Lydia". Our Lazarus, who also lived in Wilkes County. also named one of his sons "Samuel" and one of his daughters "Lydia". It's quite possible that they were brothers with Samuel and Lidia as their parents.
If Lidia is the mother of Lazarus and Samuel, she was more likely born around 1750, plus or minus a couple years, which would have made it possible to have such a large family, with Lazarus born when she was about 40. Another option is that Lidia and Samuel were Lazarus's grandparents, or some other close relation, but there is zero evidence to suggest that hypothesis.
Given the family trees of several genetic relatives, I have little doubt that Samuel and Lazarus are close family so, at this point, I will stick with Samuel and Lidia as the parents.
Jumping back to the beginning, the earliest known ancestor was Samuel Nicholson, born in the early 1600s, in Nottinghamshire, England. He and his family were reputedly Quakers and sailed across the ocean on a ship called "Griffith" to settle in Salem, New Jersey in 1675. This is a very interesting story, which has been well-researched by Mary Flegel and is worth a read.
Nicholson means "Son of Nicholas", of course. It's typically a northern English name. The first known Samuel in this lineage would have lived through the English Civil War, with Charles I, King of England, raising his banner on Nottingham Hill, the rule of Oliver Cromwell, and the restoration of the king with Charles II in 1658.
Born Nottinghamshire, England 1604
Married Hannah Hall 1658
Migrated to Salem New Jersey 1675
Died Salem, New Jersey 1685
Born Nottinghamshire, England 1669
Migrated to Salem, New Jersey 1675
Married Hannah Hall 1695
Died Haddonfield, Gloucester, New Jersey 1702
Born Haddonfield, Gloucester, New Jersey 1698
Married Sarah Brian Burrough 1722
Died Burlington, Burlington, New Jersey 1750
Born Gloucester, New Jersey, USA 1730
Married Lidia Dickhouse 1768
Died Wilkes County, North Carolina 1808
Born Rowan County, North Carolina 1789
Married Phoebe Coleman 1809
Died Jackson, Sullivan, Indiana 1855
William Thomas Nicholson
Born Wilkes, North Carolina 1831
Married Telitha Elizabeth Thomas 1863
Died Fairview, Major, Oklahoma 1908
Born Harrison, Mercer, Missouri 1880
Married Myrtie Ferguson 1905
Died Nipawin, Saskatchewan 1957