Bittersweet discoveries

I have traced my husband’s paternal line back to Anthony Siekman, who was born in Germany about 1821. I knew from his petition for naturalization that he arrived in the United States in 1852, but I did not know much beyond that. As the progenitor of this line in America, I have Anthony to thank for the surname I carry after marriage and the name my children will carry into the world. Perhaps this is the reason why I first took an interest in piecing together the details of his life, but what I discovered was a tragic story that led to more questions.

What first brought me to Anthony was the birth record of his twins, Anthony and Sophia, born on 19 February 1866 at 123 Summer Street in Boston to parents Anthony and Theresa Siekman.[1] However, I had difficulty locating the family in the 1870 United States Federal Census. Since the surname was spelled in a variety of ways across records, I tried every combination I could think of without any luck. I knew that the son Anthony grew to be an adult and have children in the Boston area, so I knew the family likely was still in Boston in 1870.

I discovered that the death of half the family was the reason I was not able to locate them. First, I found a marriage record for Theresa Sickman and Bernard Bachler at Boston on 14 May 1867.[2] This meant that Anthony’s wife, Theresa, had remarried before 1870 and would have been recorded in the census under her new married name. When I was able to locate the household, I learned that Anthony Jr. had been recorded that year under the surname of his stepfather, which is why I could not find them when searching for variations of the Siekman name. However, I also noted that the daughter Sophia was not in the household in 1870, signaling that both father and daughter had died before 1870.

Sadly, Sophia’s death record indicated that she had died of scarlet fever at the tender age of three on 29 November 1869.[3] As a parent now myself, I always have a pause when finding the death record of a child, as I know that loss was sorely felt by the family. I also knew that poor Theresa lost her first husband before her second marriage. The loss of husband and child in such a short time must have been devastating.

When I finally discovered Anthony’s death record, the story became even more heartbreaking. Anthony died on 17 July 1865 – seven months before his twins were born. His Boston death record states that the cause of death was a “fall through a scuttle” at “Sugar House.” A tragic accident that also contained a clue about where he was employed: it also explained why there were so few records for him in Boston.

The twins, Anthony and Sophia, were the only children born to Anthony and Theresa, and all the Siekmans in the Boston area I have located descend from the one child of theirs who survived. Theresa remained close to her son, often appearing in his household when he was an adult. How challenging her young adulthood must have been, arriving in Boston from Germany as servant in 1860 and suffering successive losses during her first decade in the United States.

My new project is to see if I can determine which “Sugar House” may have employed Anthony Siekman. There were a few sugar refineries in Boston at the time of his death, including the Boston Sugar Refinery and the Union Sugar Refinery. An address was not included in the death record, though the birth record of the twins seven months later states their address as 123 Summer Street in Boston. I am in the works of triangulating which refinery may have been closest to their address; I can then determine what records may still exist to lead me to more information about Anthony. As with every genealogical venture, answers always seem to lead to more questions.


[1] Massachusetts Vital Records, 1866, Boston, 188: 32.

[2] Massachusetts Vital Records, 1866, Boston, 201: 54.

[3] Massachusetts Vital Records, 1866, Boston, 222: 193.

About Meaghan E.H. Siekman

Meaghan holds a Ph.D. in history from Arizona State University where her focus was public history and American Indian history. She earned her B.A. in history from Union College in Schenectady, New York, the city where she grew up. Prior to joining the NEHGS team, Meaghan worked as the Curator of the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts, as an archivist at the Heard Museum Library in Phoenix, Arizona, and wrote a number of National Register Nominations and Cultural Landscape Inventories for the National Park Service. Meaghan is passionate about connecting people with the past in meaningful and lasting ways. She enjoys finding interesting anecdotes about an ancestor to help bring the past to life.

18 thoughts on “Bittersweet discoveries

  1. It is amazing what our ancestors endured. One of my 4x great-grandfathers lost several of his children at young ages – one due to his young son’s fall while playing on castle grounds in Knaresborough, England! And he lost his first wife – and suffered a bankruptcy (though it appears he recovered a bit). Best of luck on your sugar house quest!

  2. Let us appreciate the inner strength of our ancestors who suffered various blows. We are so fortunate to live in this time and in this place. One can be sure that the Sugar House did not have to compensate the family for Anthony’s loss in an industrial accident.

  3. My stepfather’s great grandfather, August Leimberger, Was crushed to death when he fell down an elevator shaft and then an elevator went down on him in 1902 at the Barthelemey brewery in Rochester New York. As there is a death was that caused a lot of newspaper articles to be written about it which added greatly to his genealogy.

  4. I’m not familiar with Boston street names, but I noticed that the cutline under the ad for Boston Sugar Refinery says it was located “between Webster and Sumner streets.” Perhaps it should have read “Summer,” or maybe the earlier record should read Sumner? Most likely the workers walked to their jobs or jumped on a trolley.

    1. A good catch. Using Google Earth, I find 123 Sumner St located at approximately the intersection of Sumner and London St. Sumner St is a short 20 blocks long in East Boston near the wharf area close to today’s Boston Airport. Lewis St intersects Sumner about 3 blocks from No. 123 going toward the airport. At the end of Lewis St, about 2 or 3 blocks from the site of the Boston Sugar Refinery is Lewis Wharf, where presumably the raw sugar was received. Webster Street is one block over toward the wharf and runs parallel to Sumner Street. The alignment of Lewis St between Sumner and Webster is now a mall or park called Lewis Mall. It is bracketed on the opposite side of Sumner by Maverick and Chelsea Streets.

      123 Summer St is in the south west of Boston far from the industrial area of the 1860s, some distance south of Watertown, and between Dedham and Milton.

      The Boston Post of 31 Mar 1874, page 3, col 7, indicates that all the apparatus of the Union Sugar Refinery, which was located in Charlestown, was put up for sale. This location was farther upriver and on the opposite shore from the Boston Sugar Refinery in East Boston.

      Based on (1) the theory of living close to work and walking, (2) the great distance between the Summer St location and either sugar refinery, and (3) the fact that the Boston Sugar Refinery is the only one close to the Sumner St address, I suspect that the birth address was meant to be 123 Sumner St, and Anthony was working at the Boston Sugar Refinery when he died.

      1. This is great!! Thank you so much for taking the time to look into this. I agree with your assessment and think that it is likely to be the case. I’ll report back with anything else I find based on this idea!

    2. The newspaper caption referred to the factory’s location as being in East Boston (which is across Boston Harbor from Summer St in the current Downtown Crossing area near the financial district of Boston) on Lewis St between Sumner St and Webster St. There is a waterfront district in 2017 in East Boston, near the Sumner Tunnel, one of the major crossing points from Logan Airport in East Boston across Boston Harbor into downtown Boston, and near the water are Webster St and Sumner St, parallel to each other, although there appears to be no current Lewis St between those two avenues

    3. It may be that the census address for the Siekmans should have been 123 Sumner, which would place it very close to the Boston Sugar Refinery near Boston’s waterfront. There is a 123 Summer Street, but it appears to be a fair distance away from that area of Boston. This kind of mispelling is common in censuses, and would be more likely than a misspelling (twice)in a well-designed ad for a large facility such as this.

      1. Oops, opened this this morning, then got busy, and didn’t read new entries before posting. I see I am not the only one to catch this!

    4. Yes! I noticed this as well and am taking it into consideration in the search. Thank you for pointing it out!

    1. Thank you for point this out. The name variation on the death record is likely due to the fact that his name in German is Anton and the anglicized variant is Anthony. Sometimes the name is also written “Anthonie” or “Antonio.” All the other information in the record matches Anthony so we know this is the right person.

  5. Your narrative stated that Anthony was born about 1821, so my search may have found the wrong man. Through, I found a Boston marriage record, dated April 14, 1861, for Anton Sickmann (30 – parents Henry and Anna), laborer born in Germany and Theresa Rümker (27 – parents Friederick and Maria). Subsequent records identified her as Theresa Ruemker – in the June 16, 1898 marriage of Anthony C. Siekman (son of Anthony and Theresa Siekman) to Mary A. Danner, and as Theresa Ruenker, in the Nov 23, 1898 of her daughter Mary Adelaide Bachler (father Bernard Bachler) to Alois Vincent Blanke. From the Mormon Church’s, I found a record for Bernhard Heinrich Anton Sickman, born in Prussia on Dec 26, 1829, to Bernhard Heinrich Sickmann and Anna Catharine Hardenberg, with a christening on Dec 27, 1829 at Katholisch, Darfeld, Westfalen, Prussia

  6. Excellent article Meghan! I too have been unwinding the tragic and untimely death of my husband’s grandfather in the mine town of Jerome, AZ. Please keep writing; I enjoyed your turn-of-phrase.

  7. Thank you to everyone for your responses! It was my hope that by putting the story out there I may get some help from fresh eyes. There are some great sussestions here and I’ll be sure to let you know what else I find on this family!

  8. Ms. Siekman, Your article is one that reminds me of the joys and sadness found in our ancestry. I love genealogy because of articles like the one you shared about your family. Thanks, Robin Bryant Schoch

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