Frances Knoedler (pronounced “Needler”) was born May 27, 1858 in Hancock County, Illinois. Frances, who was known as Fannie her whole life, was the first of nine children born to Johann (John) Knoedler and Catherine (Kate) George. Her father was born in Germany, her mother in Augusta, Virginia, to German-born parents.
The George family had immigrated to Virginia in 1839, then migrated to Ohio in about 1850. John Knoedler likely met the George family there and joined their migration to Illinois in the mid-1850s. Soon after arriving in Illinois, John and Kate married and began a family.
In the 1860 census, the Knoedler household consisted of John, Kate, Fannie (age 2) and Mary (age 1). The family lived in Augusta Township, in the southeasternmost corner of Hancock County, where John was a farmer. By 1870, John had moved his family to a farm in Hire Township, in neighboring McDonough County, near the town of Blandinsville. The Knoedlers now numbered six, with the addition of Lewis and Caroline. (A baby girl, Josephine, died in 1864 at the age of 2.)
During the next ten years, three more children came along, Clara, Amanda, and John. Kate must surely have thought she was done having children when baby Rosa came along in 1882, twenty-three years after her first child, Fannie, was born! In addition to Fannie’s siblings, Fannie’s maternal grandparents would have been a part of her growing up, and several of her mother’s siblings and their families also lived in the area.
On Christmas Eve in 1884, Fannie married Nathaniel Asa Siepel. She was twenty-six years old, he was twenty-eight. Nathaniel was born and raised on a farm in Hancock County, and, like Fannie, his father was German-born, and his mother was born in Virginia. They both attended their local M.E. church. Nathaniel stepped in for the minister from time to time, and I wonder if he met Fannie on a visit to the Friendship M.E. Church, where her family were members? In any case, after their marriage, Fannie and Nathaniel attended Friendship Church for the rest of their lives.
Fannie and Nathaniel lived on a farm in Hancock County consisting of 120 acres that Nathaniel acquired from his father. In the first ten years of their marriage, Fannie and Nathaniel would have four children: Edythe (my great-grandmother) was born in the fall of 1885. Son John came along in 1887, followed by Morris in 1890. Sadly, little Morris died when he was just 10 months old. The Siepels fourth and last child, Edna, was born in 1894. The 1900 census enumerates their family of five. Another great sadness befell the family when John died suddenly of diphtheria in March 1901. He was 13 years old. How heartbreaking it must have been for Fannie to lose both of her boys. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
In 1905, Edythe married and moved to Galesburg, about 60 miles north of the farm. Edna married in 1913, and her husband was a farmer, willing and able to take over the family farm. The following year, after 29 years on the farm, Fannie and Nathaniel retired, making their home in the nearby village of Tennessee, Illinois. They would live there for the next 12 years, until Nathaniel’s death in 1926.
Fannie never remarried, but she lived a full and vibrant life after Nathaniel’s death. She moved back to the farm with Edna and her family. Fannie enjoyed spending time with her daughters and her five grandchildren. She spent time with her siblings when she could and was an active participant in Knoedler family reunions. She remained closely connected with Nathaniel’s family and rarely, if ever, missed the annual Siepel family reunion.
Fannie died suddenly on May 5, 1945, on the family farm where she spent so many years of her life. She was 86 years old. She was survived by her daughters, her grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren, and four of her siblings. Her final resting place is next to Nathaniel in the lovely little Friendship Cemetery, near her two sons, her parents, her grandparents, and numerous other relatives.
It’s clear to me that family connections were important to Fannie. But, oh, to know a little something more about her! This summer, I attended the 92nd Siepel family reunion…the first one ever for me. What a thrill it was to listen to a cousin who actually knew Fannie in person! He related how much he liked his Aunt Fannie, that she was fun, unpretentious, and had a clever sense of humor. Fannie once responded to an uppity neighbor’s scolding (at church, no less) that “Ain’t isn’t a word,” with “Ain’t it?” Yes, I would have liked her too!
Rest in peace, dear Grandmother.
CODA I ∼
My Dad, Donald Gene Myers, died on August 24, 2018, two days after I returned home from attending the Siepel family reunion. Dad was thrilled that my brother and I were going to the reunion this year. He wanted to come, too, so badly, and even though he was very ill, he almost did! He shared colorful memories of attending the Siepel and Knoedler family reunions. It was a big adventure for the city kids to visit the country. He remembered hot summer nights in the Siepel farmhouse, Aunt Edna bringing in wood for the woodstove to cook breakfast, him and cousin Jerry creating a little mischief by letting the calves out, and all the cousins playing in Crooked Creek.
I have chosen to write about each generation in The Singing Oak in age order (oldest to youngest). It just so happened that, when Dad died, Fannie was up next. Fannie was the only one of Dad’s eight great-grandparents that I had not yet written about, the only one on Dad’s side of the family that he will not have read. I will miss my Dad’s phone call when this post is published (“Hello Terreeee…well, I read the latest edition of The Singing Oak…,” he would always begin). I will miss hearing his pleasure in reading about his great-grandmother Fannie and listening to the memories her story would stir. And yet the serendipity of this timing brings me great comfort. Fannie is the only one of Dad’s eight great-grandparents who was alive when Dad was born. Dad was her first great-grandchild. Writing about her has allowed me to deeply reflect on Dad’s roots and ancestry, and on that part of me that comes from him. The circle of life continues. I believe that Dad was welcomed home by his beloveds who left here before him, those whose voices are heard in The Singing Oak, and others whose life songs are further in the background but still resonate deep within. I see them in my mind’s eye, Fannie front and center, with Dad right beside her, singing loudly!