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Like Daughter, Like Mother: Transatlantic Journey

It's 1908 in Northern Germany. The Trede family lives in the village of Lütjenwestedt in present-day Schleswig-Holstein.

Lütjenwestedt in Schleswig-Holstein, northern Germany
Lütjenwestedt in Schleswig-Holstein, northern Germany

20 year-old Eliese is about to embark for Morris, IL to help a distant relative with her children and household. Eliese's parents Claus and Christine have made a tough decision in allowing her to go. They don't know if they will ever see their daughter again. But they trust she's in safe hands and is going with a good family. America is the land of opportunity.

In fact, over the next several years, two more of their children, Eliese's older brother, named Claus after their father and their much younger sister Bertha will also move to Illinois, separating the family across the ocean like so many others during these times of massive transition.

Claus and Christine Trede with grandson Claus c1919
Claus and Christine Trede with grandson Claus c1919

Happily, Eliese makes her way to Chicago after a few years where she meets her Schatz [Treasure] - young butcher Hans Bruhn who is from Flensburg, not far from Eliese's hometown. The couple do well with their mom-and-pop market. Then in 1925 Eliese becomes very sick with scarlet fever caught from her daughter Helen, and then gets erysipelas (a bacterial infection) as well. The Health Department's quarantine includes sealing the door to their apartment, (although Hans climbs in and out the window of the third bedroom from the porch so he can run their store). Without today's antibiotics, the doctor recommends that a trip to Germany might be good for Eliese's recovery.

The Bruhn family, including William Tell, the dog outside their market
Hans, young Helen, and Eliese with William Tell, the dog, outside their market in Chicago

While Hans' brother and new wife run the store, the Bruhns take a three-month trip to Germany to visit both sides of the family. It is the only time that Eliese sees her father Claus again.

However, her mother Christine finally makes the journey across the Atlantic in 1950. Her daughter in Germany is worried that her elderly mother might not be strong enough. When asked what would happen if she dies in Chicago, Christine replies, "I'll be with my children."

After years of hardship, Christine is a little thing, arriving in Chicago to be greeted by her family. She hasn't seen her son Claus in 41 years - the story makes the papers.

Imagine, an 82-year old grandmother making her first trip across the ocean alone! And she didn't speak English. Her namesake great-granddaughter, Helen's daughter Christine, communicates through her elders who still speak German (and perhaps with some body language).

Christine Trede after a year in Chicago - 1951
Christine Trede after a year in Chicago - 1951

Christine visits for several months. Far from dying as her German daughter feared, Christine thrives. By the time she heads back to Germany in 1951, she's put a bit more on her bones - no longer the thin 82-year old. She's now a hearty traveler!

So often we hear "like father, like son." In this case, it's more "like daughter, like mother!"


Curious about Eliese's Schatz? Read her postcard to her aunt and uncle in the blog "From Chicago to Germany with love."

Eliese sailed on the SS Pennsylvania on her journey to the United States. Here's a bit more on her story "Servant Class: Independent Woman".


Do you have any German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish or Norwegian documents you can't read? We can help. Find out more here.


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