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    Hitching Post Sign

While we were growing up, about the only thing us kids ever heard about our grandfather's (Elmer George Jessen) background was that he and his older brother, Lawrence, were both born and raised in Joliet, Illinois.  We understood that their mother had died when they were quite young and their dad remarried.  Reportedly, neither of them got along very well with their stepmother and they finally left for parts unknown.  The boys somehow found their way to northwest Iowa and the small town of Merrill.  Elmer and Lawrence found employment, then married and raised their families.  Eventually, they died and were buried in Hillside Cemetery, at the north edge of town.  Over the years, they had seldom spoke of their early childhood.  Consequently, when I got older and became interested in genealogy, I had very little knowledge about the Jessen family history.  It was in about 1994 that I finally discovered, by checking census and social security records, that Elmer and Lawrence's parents were Peter Jessen and Fannie Niver.  A more detailed study of older census records showed that Peter's parents were probably Claus Peter Jessen and Anna Jessen.  It was further found that if this was indeed Peter's family, then he had a number of siblings, one of whom was a brother named Henry. 

The first time I went to Joliet, Illinois was in the fall of 1995.  My brother, Dave, and I drove there from central Iowa in about 5 and 1/2 hours.  After checking into our motel, we looked in the local phone book to find there were several Jessen families living in the small town of New Lenox, just a short distance away.  Since it was Sunday afternoon, and there was nothing better to do, we headed for the suburb.  A short time later, while driving aimlessly around New Lenox, we somehow found ourselves on S. Prairie Rd.  Now, according to the phone book, two of these Jessen families resided on this street.  We soon found their homes (they were adjacent to each other) and noticed there were three individuals (two guys and a gal) in the yard behind the second house.  After parking, Dave and I exited the vehicle and introduced ourselves.  We quickly found out that we were speaking with Jessens.  The younger of the two men and the lady were middle-aged.  The other gentleman, who seemed to be in his early eighties, was the one I was most anxious to speak with.  I thought he might be most apt to remember the names Henry Jessen or Peter Jessen.

I was quite astonished, and taken aback for just a moment, when I asked the older gentleman his name and he said, "Henry".  However, I quickly realized that he needed to be about sixty years older, to be the guy I was thinking about.  I then asked him what his dad's name was.  He again replied, "Henry".  Now, his dad would certainly have been closer to the right age group, but still not quite old enough.  Of course, I persisted with, "What was your grandfather's name?".  I simply couldn't believe it when the man said, "Henry.  I have a son named Henry, too!".  Well, the first thing that went through my mind was that this old geezer had lost his marbles.  It was about that same time that I noticed a gleam in his eye and quickly concluded that one senior Illinois statesman was most likely playing this gullible Iowa farm boy for a fool.

Imagine my surprise when I found out later that he was actually telling me the truth.  As a matter of fact, I had been speaking with Henry Joseph Jessen, Jr.  His grandfather, Henry C. Jessen, was the brother of my great-grandfather, Peter.  Henry Jr's son (who is also named Henry, but goes by Hank) has been instrumental in helping research and organize the Jessen family history.  I'll bet that Henry Joseph Jr. was still chuckling to himself when Dave and I returned to Iowa, nearly a week later.

  Richard Jessen
Susan Margaret Jessen's maternal grandmother was Marie Leonard.  Marie's first marriage was to Daniel Carroll and they had a daughter named Susan Carroll (who was Susan Margaret Jessen's mother).  This same Marie Leonard later married a man by the name of George Burd and they had a daughter by the name of Elmira Nellie Burd.  Therefore, Susan Carroll and Nellie Burd were half-sisters.  Susan Carroll married John Jessen and they became the proud parents of Susan Margaret Jessen.  Meanwhile, Nellie Burd wed Timothy Healy and one of their children was John Healy.  Now, Marie Leonard also happened to be the maternal grandmother of John Healy.  Because of the common grandmother, and also the half-sister relationship of their mothers, Susan Jessen and John Healy were actually first-cousins.  According to Illinois laws in effect at the time, it was perfectly legal for them to get married; but, they wouldn't have been able to have children of their own under the "cousin couples" rule, also known as the "German cousins" statute.  No one knows whether they divulged their first-cousin relationship to anyone of authority, prior to their being wed.  However, they later became the parents of two daughters.

Anna Margaret Jürgensen Jessen passed away at the age of 75 years.  Church records indicate that her death was caused by asthma.  The certificate of death confirmed that Anna certainly did have asthma; however, it also revealed that she died from an overdose of morphine.

Notes about the Jessen immigrant family:

Marie and her brother, John, were twins.

Three of the girls, as well as their mother, had the first name of Anna.

Catherine and her older sister, Marie, married brothers by the name of Brown.

Only three of the nine children lived beyond the age of 47.

Before I came to America, I had heard that the streets were paved with gold.  But, when I got here, I discovered three things:

First, the streets were not paved with gold.

Second, they were not paved at all.

Third, they expected me to pave them.

  Anonymous Italian immigrant, Ellis Island

See ya at the family reunion!

Riding into the Sunset

Genealogy Workspace

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