Tombstone of Barbara Haase, Lutheran Cemetery, Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois.
Barbara (Siefert) Bieger Fennan Haase Haase (about 1825-1903) lived a life that generated many records. She also lived a life that was atypical for her era. She:
- was widowed in her late twenties with two small children in a town where she had no relatives besides her children
- ran a tavern in a Mississippi River town for a few years that was referred to as a “house of ill repute.”
- apparently was not legally married to her second “husband”
- divorced her third husband in the 1870s
- married her third husband a second time in the 1880s, left him after a few weeks, and was divorced by him
- was, according to her son, “difficult to get along with”
- was indirectly involved in a 1850-era murder
Years ago when my two daughters were small, a genealogical friend asked me what I was going to tell them about Barbara. I think she thought that I’d tell them nothing about this specific ancestor. Nothing could have been further from the truth for two reasons:
- genealogists love to tell stories
- I had no intention of raising daughters who were naive and unaware of how life worked
I don’t think I ever told them every detail of Barbara’s life–at least not all in one sitting as most children have little patience for listening to genealogy stories told by their parents.
But there were things in her life that were important lessons. Most of those were told to my children–often indirectly and usually not as part of a genealogical story. These lessons are viewed through a twenty-first century lens and intended to be non-judgmental towards Barbara. She was the product of a different time.
The death of a husband when you are relatively young can be devastating.
Barbara was left with two small children to raise when her first husband died suddenly in 1855. Times were different for her in the 1850s, but there was still something to take from her experience. Barbara did not have options in the 1850s to support herself and her children that are available today.
Don’t take the first man that comes along.
Alone with two small children and no husband, Barbara apparently entered into a relationship that barely lasted a few months. This man was even appointed guardian for her children only to leave the county a few weeks later. He was never heard from again.
Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.
Barbara ran her first husband’s tavern after his death and after her second husband left. She apparently kept a pistol behind the bar and, on at least one occasion, used it to force an unruly patron from the establishment.
Sometimes you have to do it yourself.
After her second “husband” left, Barbara was appointed guardian of her children’s estate in her place. While not unheard of, it was not common in 1855 for a woman to be appointed guardian. Sometimes one simply has to do things for themeslves.
Have a back-up plan.
Despite marrying several times and living in several other places in Hancock County, Illinois, Barbara retained the property her first husband purchased in 1850. She never sold it and still owned it upon her death in 1903. It was not a part of any property settlement in either divorce. That’s where she landed both times she separated from her third and fourth husband.
Try and avoid repeating the same mistake.
Barbara’s second marriage to her third husband lasted only a few weeks.
Don’t judge the dead.
One may be tempted to judge the dead by modern standards. That’s a mistake. While morals in the broadest sense are pretty much still the same, life was different. Barbara’s level of education was different. She was an immigrant living in a country where she was not raised. Her first husband’s death may have impacted her in ways beyond the financial. Life for women and the expectations on them were different in the second half of the 19th century than they are today. It is one thing to look back on an ancestor’s life and try to gather lessons from it. It is another matter to judge and that’s not really the place of the genealogist.
Sometimes the biggest lessons the dead can teach us are not the black and white statements we find in the records. They are in the stories the records suggest if we just take the time to listen.
Rest in Peace, Barbara.
You had quite a life.