The Michael Altwasser Family
Back Row: Elsie Alice, Julian August, Melita Victoria, Arthur, Frederick Herman
Front Row: Appolonia Altwasser, Doris Cecelia, Martha, Linda Agnes, Olga,
Delia Ruth, Michael Altwasser
Front Row: Appolonia Altwasser, Doris Cecelia, Martha, Linda Agnes, Olga, Delia Ruth, Michael Altwasser
Children of Michael Altwasser and Appolonia Grams
Michael AltwasserThe Second Child of Gottlieb Altwasser and Euphrosine Beier
Michael Altwasser was born on September 20, 1874 in Osiny, Province of Kalish, Dombie, Poland. Sometime between 1874 and 1877 he moved with his parents from Poland to the province of Volhynia, Russia. He married Appolonia Grams on December 9, 1897 in Tutshin, County Rovno, Wolhynia, Russia. Appolonia was born on January 14, 1875 in Tutshin, Russia. Her parents were Wilhelm Grams and Dorothea Pauline Arndt.
Translation of a 1905 Abstract from the Metrical Acts of Marriage
Before They Left Russia
When our ancestors initially migrated to Russia, they entered a realm where they would be swept up in powerful historical and social forces over which they had no control. The winds of revolutionary activity had begun blowing with the Decembrist Uprising in 1825. (Historians have noted that the Decembrist Uprising greatly influenced the development of revolutionary movements in Russia). In 1907, when Michael left Russia with his wife and three children, Volhynia was a troubled area. The Bolsheviks were not above lawlessness and terrorism. As well, the authorities had for years been creating problems for the German colonists settled there. Land laws directed at the German colonists made it difficult for them to own, buy or lease land to further develop and expand operations. Furthermore, a policy of 'Russification' had begun in 1881 under Tsar Alexander III. This policy, with varying degrees of success, attempted to 'Russify' all of the colonists in the country by having them become Russian citizens and teaching their children in the Russian language. There is a possibility that Michael may also have taught in the Russian language since there were not enough Russian teachers to implement the teaching policy.
Typically, the school teacher also served as the community's salaried lay preacher for the colonies of German settlers. They settled in colonies to enable them to have a house of worship and a school for their children. There were no grants from the Russian government toward the building of a school nor provisions made for the maintaining the buildings or paying the teachers' salaries. This was left to the settlers. Very few children went on to high school or university.
Michael was the lay preacher and teacher in Antonowka who was appointed to lead Sunday church services and perform church duties in the absence of the ordained pastor, E. Althausen. He did not have the authority to marry couples, but could perform baptisms and funerals, teach the catechism and prepare the children for confirmation.
Documents found in the Rowno Archives by B. Voltermann, W. Köllner, F. Winkel and G. König, "KB Tutschin, Geburten_Taufen", (Births_Baptisms retroactively issued) were translated into German and show "Küster Altwasser" and "Küster M. Altwasser", in Antonowka, baptizing Emil Kiel on November 12, 1898; Mathilde Bathke on December 27, 1899; Olga Bathke on September 22, 1901 and Emilie Schendel on March 15, 1905.
The "KB Tutschin, Geburten_Taufen" documents help to confirm that Michael lived in this village of Antonowka between November 1898 and his departure in the summer of 1907.
In 1905 Gustav Altwasser, a first cousin of Michael Altwasser, married Pauline Langner in in Wielkepole, a village about eight kilometers from Antonowka. All their friends and relatives were invited, as well as all the neighbors from both the villages. The celebration lasted for three days with a lot of good food, cooking , baking and of course no shortage of schnapps. Michael and his wife Appolonia probably joined the festivities since they were still living in Antonowka at the time.
When They Left Russia
The family pretended to be going on holidays together and traveled about sixty miles by train before they got off and boarded another train going in the opposite direction. From this point on they tried to remain hidden until they were out of Russia because they were in fear of being discovered. In Delia's words "they were fearful for their lives." Delia didn't know the route out of Russia, but knows they spent several weeks in England before obtaining passage to Canada.
Reconstructing the Journey
This story is lacking some important, but unavailable information. Were they pretending to go on holidays because of possible physical danger or was it the result of another need to hide their intention to leave?
Research indicates that travel documents were required by inhabitants wanting to travel and that a system of internal passports was highly developed within the Russian Empire. Thus, holiday travel by Michael and his family to any destination within Russia would require he have travel papers. These travel documents would have been issued by the relevant authorities in Volhynia to provide proof of identity and entitlement to travel, but did not necessarily imply any intention to travel abroad.
Also not available is documentation of their passage from Europe to England. However, it is known that the British conducted a major business transporting immigrants from northern European ports by ship to Hull, England where they traveled by train to Liverpool and thence onward by ship to the US, Canada and other parts of the world. By 1907, migration via the UK was a fully integrated business that was cheap, effective and profitable for the organizations involved, with Hull dominating as the chief port of entry and Liverpool serving as the main port of departure.
It can only be assumed that Michael wanted official government identification but did not obtain a proper passport for travel abroad. Could the risk of a severe penalty for leaving Russia without approval be worth the reward of escaping? Obviously so. Michael and his family departed Liverpool, England on July 5, 1907 aboard the SS Victorian and arrived in Quebec on July 14, 1907.
The SS Victorian departed Liverpool on July 5, 1907 and arrived in Quebec on July 14, 1907. Canadian Immigration authorities stamped the passenger list containing the names of Michael, wife Apolina and three children Olga, Marta and Anton (Arthur) on August 2, 1907. Their destination was Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan. Apollonia (Grams) had with her, three quality woolen dresses from the Rovno area, made in a woolen mill operated by the Grams family. These dresses may now be in the Weyburn museum and Michael may have been the donor. As background information, the Volhynian Births File, 1870-75, extracted from St Petersburg Archive records, notes that Wilhelm Grams is a Tuchmachermeister (translation: master cloth maker). This is Apollonia's father and the birth record is that of her older sister Amelie, in Tutschin, 1870.
Delia recalls Michael, as being a strict disciplinarian and the family had to obey his wishes. Delia found this to be stressful and commented that Michael was argumentative and difficult to get along with. When he was around "he kept things stirred up" within the German speaking community. She further described him as being an Anglophile (one who greatly admires or favors England and things English) and a completely opposite personality when dealing with the English speaking community. Delia's mother (Apollonia) told her that Michael was not like this for the first ten years of their marriage, but had changed afterwards.
Railway employees were entitled to a railway pass for use by themselves and members of their family. It is known that Michael permitted his older children to use his rail pass to travel to visit nearby relatives in Saskatchewan, North Dakota and possibly Portland, Oregon. The older children frequently used this rail pass, but eventually Michael felt they were abusing it. This resulted in the youngest ones not allowed this privilege.
1909 - 1910
1911 Canada Census
The 1911 Canada Census recorded Michael and his family living in the Village of Lang, Saskatchewan, where he had been employed for 52 weeks in 1910 as a C.P. Railwayman in the m. section, earning a total of $1080. Apparently he found steady work with the CPR and did not leave his home in Lang to begin farming the land. His faith was Lutheran, his origin German, born in Russia and he could read and write. Column 13 was blank, because he had not yet become a naturalized Canadian citizen. Other research indicates the family was naturalized in 1912. Languages spoken were English and German.
I knew Michael Altwasser quite well. There was a good relationship between our family and theirs. Michael was my mother's oldest brother and there was a very strong bond between Appolona, Michael's wife, and my mother. In fact she seemed more like a big sister to my mother rather than a sister-in-law. There were frequent visits between the two families. Michael's family used to travel free on the railroad because Michael was an employee of the Canadian Pacific Railway. When my oldest sister was born my mother went to Weyburn to stay with Michael and Appolona until after my sister was born.
My recollections of Michael was that he was a gruff sort of guy, not given to cracking jokes, but on the positive side he was a hard working man who raised a very large family and endured some very difficult conditions on his job. As a section foreman he had to be out on the railroad track every day no matter how mean the winter weather was. As he was approaching retirement age I recall Michael complaining to my mother that his bosses were looking for every opportunity to fire him because if he were fired that would mean he would lose his pension. That was the rule with the CPR in those days. It has to be a credit to Michael that he safely made it to retirement age.
Michael liked to read a lot and I am aware that he read many good books. I also know that he enjoyed good music. He liked to grow flowers and there was often a good display of flowers and vegetables. You have to give Michael credit for being a school teacher over in Volhynia (Poland). It was also an area where almost everyone kept their "heads low" for their own safety.
Unfortunately Michael did not have a good relationship with his sons, except for Julian. It seems that Michael was very hard nosed and unbending with his sons and not given to compromise. We saw quite a bit of Julian, but I don't recall that we ever had a visit from Arthur or Fred.
Michael was the administrator of his fathers estate, which was a half-section of farmland that I purchased in 1946. My mother always looked up to and respected her oldest brother, Michael, and I can't recall that she (or my father) ever complained of him being hard to get along with.
Cheers ................. Art Domes
A Dialogue About the Family's Life in Weyburn.
daughter of August Altwasser and married to Herb Newman.
The oldest four helped support the family.
Olga and Martha worked for a fruit company in Edmonton. (Royal Fruit)
Delia explained this story about the older children living in another house. In Weyburn, where the family lived, there were three buildings on two adjoining lots. The older children lived in one of these three buildings. Michael must have finally decided to consolidate the living accommodations and added a second story to the main house. Another story locates the other house where the older ones lived as kitty corner to the main house on the next street. In either case, it was close by.
Delia remembers the sisters wrangled over the sharing of clothing, more than willingly sharing. There seemed to be a difference of opinion between the sister wanting to share and the sister owning the clothing.
Yes, I remember that she had a scar over her eye.
written by Elsie Domes.
"I was born Elsie Domes on January 25, 1916, the first child of Archie and Olga Domes. At that time there was no doctor near to where my parents were homesteading. As well, long distance travel by horse and sleigh would have been dangerous at that time of year. So, before winter set in my father took his pregnant wife (my mother to be) to stay at her brother, Michael Altwasser's home, in Weyburn Sask.. One has to realize that mail service was very poor in those days and there were no telephones yet. Because of that my father may not have even known of my birth for some time."
Summer of 1946
Grandma and Grandpa Altwasser lived in, what seemed to me, a large two story house on a corner double lot located across the street from a park. The park was beside the Souris River. I was only eight years old and our house in Edmonton was only 900 square feet, so to me this house was huge. The kitchen occupied half of the main floor. There was a huge wood-burning stove on which the bath water was heated on Saturday night before bedtime. My sister had her bath first and then it was my turn. I was quite ticked off that I had to use the same bath water she bathed in. The stove also heated the flat irons used for ironing clothes. Inside the kitchen was this marvelous hand pump to provide water for washing! Where did this water come from? I learned that rainwater was collected in a cistern located in the basement. Grandpa and I went downstairs to look at the cistern. It was huge. Everything was huge to me then. It occupied half of the basement and went right to the ceiling. There was also a coal chute and furnace down there. Marvelous sights for a kid from the city.
Upstairs again. The living room occupied the other half of the main floor. There were wonderful old things in the room; a windup gramophone and 78-RPM records. When the records slowed down, you had to crank up the spring. Such an invention! We didn't have anything like that in Edmonton. This might even have been the same gramophone that Gertrude was so thrilled with as a young girl. The bedrooms were upstairs on the second floor. Four of them, I think. I don't remember too much about the upstairs. I think there were chamber pots in the rooms and wash basins on stands out in the hallway. The beds were covered with hand made wool filled quilts.
I vaguely recall that the outdoor plumbing was on the lot beside the house, surrounded by a beautiful vegetable garden. Mostly flowers and gladioli around the outhouse. The outhouse could have been else where, but there certainly was a wonderful garden next to the house. There were other buildings in the yard behind the house. I remember going into the chicken house with my mother to gather fresh eggs, while chickens pecked away at the ground in the back yard outside.
Summer of 1949
I hadn't seen the inside of the other buildings until I visited three years later with my Aunt Martha. One contained shiny milk pails and stainless steel vessels. Grandpa had one cow stabled in another separate building. Every morning Grandpa and the cow would leave home. Where in the world did they go? I finally found out when I went with Grandpa and the cow to the public pasture one morning. Grandpa staked the cow in an area with lots of grass. In the evening, back to the milk shed for milking. I think the milk was put into a vessel for pasteurizing after some of the cream and milk fats separated and were skimmed off. Grandpa then bottled the milk and delivered it in the evening to neighbors up and down the street, stopping to visit and collecting the milk money. There was lots of visiting and conversation, all in German, which I didn't understand, but it didn't matter to me. Grandpa's dairy operation also produced butter from a hand operated butter churn. The significance of this self-reliance escaped me then, but some fifty years later I can appreciate grandpa practicing a culture from his past; a resourceful post retirement activity.
The House in Weyburn, July 2001.
Mrs. Altwasser Passed away at Weyburn
Hillcrest Cemetery, Weyburn.
An error of one year was made when the double headstone for Appolonia and Michael was ordered. Appolonia actually died on January 15, 1948 and the headstone is engraved with the year 1947. Also note that both obituaries show different dates of arrival in Canada than that shown in the SS Victorian's passenger list of 1907. Appolonia's birthplace was reported as Lutshin, not Tutshin as it should be. Someone unfamiliar with the writing can easily misinterpret the handwritten "L" and "T". Thus, Tutshin becomes Lutshin. We just have to remember that obituaries are a secondary source of information, sometimes far removed from an actual event. Thus, unintentional works of fiction do occur. The date of the move from Lang to Weyburn is also somewhat in doubt as the last child to be born in Lang was Elsie Alice on July 1, 1914. The next child, Linda Agnes, was born in Weyburn Saskatchewan on December 11, 1916. Oral history indicates the move occurred about 1912; Dianne (Grams) Richards, in her family history book, states they moved in 1914.
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