Happy 110th Birthday Daddy


Bert Baby
Bert’s baby picture. The photographer was W. B. Hines of Hastings. Boys wore dresses until they were two or three years old. The last I knew of its whereabouts, Aunt Martha had the baby dress which was worn by all the older children.

Engelbert Thomas Trausch known all his life as “Bert” was born in his parent’s home in Roseland Township on Thursday, March 22, 1906.  He was the second son of Matt and Catherine “Kate” Kaiser Trausch.  His older brother Edward was fifteen months old that day.  Probably Mrs. Nick Theisen, Kate’s aunt and closest neighbor, attended the birth.  The Roseland doctor was Dr. Fox.  At that time doctors charged about three dollars to deliver a baby at home.   Grandma would have been confined to bed “lying in” for ten days as was the custom.  Matt may have hired a girl to cook, clean, do chores and care for Ed during her confinement, but more likely one of Kate’s sisters came to help.               .

Grandma recalled in later years that Matt was building a kitchen cupboard the day Bert was born.  I remember the cupboard, similar to a pie safe, standing in the basement of the farm house.  By the 1950s Grandma used it to store her jars of home canned vegetables.

Engelbert Thomas Trausch was baptized March 25, 1906 at the age of three days.  His name is written Thomas Engelbert in the church baptismal register.  He was named for the priest, Father Engelbert Boll, who was well liked by his parishioners, and for his grandfather Thomas Trausch.  Bert’s baptismal sponsors were his “Grosspop” Thomas Trausch and an unknown woman written as “Elizabeth Trausch” in the baptismal register.  Grandma did not attend the baptism because she was “lying in.”

Bert’s baptismal record as it appears in the Assumption Church Register.


On March 30th in the “Assumption Neighborhood” column, the Adams County Democrat  reported “Matt Trausch and wife have a little boy since last week.”

Grandma Trausch told me a few tidbits about my Dad’s first year. In the summer of 1906, when Bert was four months old, to occupy him while she worked in the kitchen, she put him in a high chair with pillows around him.  Also, Bert was sipping coffee from a saucer when she heard his first tooth clicking on the saucer.  Grandma also mentioned that Bert cried a lot as a baby, she described him as being “colicky.”

In a 1982 interview Uncle Ed Trausch recalled an amusing incident from his brother Bert’s childhood.  “I remember when we were living in the old house yet, there was a big snowdrift between the house and barn and we took a scoop shovel and slid down on it.  A turkey gobbler came along and got Bert down in the snow bank and hammered him into the snow. He cried and hollered and Mom came running out with the broom and saved him. He was a crybaby.”

Old House
Bert, Martha and Charles. The larger dog (who moved while the camera shutter was open) was named Shep. By about 1913 when this photo was taken the house was already considered “old.” It had been built in Juniata, probably in the late 1870s. On July 8, 1891 the Juniata Herald printed “Oscar Woods began moving his residence building and barn out to his farm, seven miles southwest of town last week.” Notice that the house has no window screens or shutters.


Ed described the house they were born in. “It had a cave under a slanted cellar door on the south side. We used to get on there when we were small kids and slide down the door. Inside, the floors were just wide 6-inch boards. The first thing Mom was going to do was get a rug for the parlor floor. She was really pleased about that. The house was very cold; there was no heat upstairs. There was just one room upstairs. That was the room where Martha and I were playing. I was a Priest and we had Mass on the windowsill and the candle set the curtain on fire. Mom came running and put it out. That house stood right north of the brick house. The cellar door was right by Dad’s bedroom window. In the old house the basement had a dirt shelf all around the outside. We set fruit and beer there to keep it cool.”

When I inquired about the clothing they had as children Ed and Bert responded “Two or three overalls at the most, a jacket, shirts, shoes, a suit for church, made of blue or black wool. Probably two shirts and one pair of shoes that were wearable. Dad used to sit in the winter and take old thresher belts and resole the kid’s shoes. During the depression we used old tires for shoe soles.”  Grandma made all the clothing, including the overalls.

Uncle Ed reminisced about spending time at his Kaiser grandparent’s home. Uncles John born in 1893 and George born in 1895 were unmarried and spent a lot of time with their Trausch nephews.  Aunt Lizzie, born in 1900, was a playmate.  Bert liked to go there, but would not stay away from home over night.  He was too “timid.”

Birthdays were “just another day” in the Trausch household. If Grandma remembered and had the time, she made a cake.  The Trausch children did not receive birthday gifts.

Christmas was a religious holiday and there were few presents, usually some candy and one toy for the boys to share. Uncle Ed remembered some of those toys “We got tinker toys once; that was real enjoyable. We got a sand mill once. You filled the hopper with sand and it ran down a slant and then ran back and dumped it. We enjoyed that. We played checkers a lot. The first years I remember Santa Claus brought the tree and the toys. Dad went out and cut it. We went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve; then Christmas dinner someone always came over.”

A combination of German and Luxembourgish was spoken in the Trausch home in 1906. Church services at Assumption were in German and the Assumption School held classes in German.  One of the subjects taught was German grammar.  All of that changed at the time of World War I, but that is a story for another day.  In 1982 Bert reminisced: “I remember Grandma [Trausch] would call us on the phone and I’d talk German to her.  She didn’t talk loud enough and I’d say “Nich verstehen.” They didn’t understand English very well. We talked German at home then too. When we visited [the Trausch Grandparents] the kids would talk in English and the folks in German. Mom and Dad would talk along and some words were in English and some, if they knew better in German, they said them in German.”.

Bert made his First Communion on June 7, 1914 at the age of eight. Twenty-eight children were in his class that year.  It was traditional for boys to wear knee-length pants until they made their First Communion, which was to occur when they had reached “the age of reason.”  The transition to long pants was an important “rite of passage” which Bert often mentioned during the many hours he spent reminiscing.

The United States President in 1906 was Theodore Roosevelt and the Pope was Pius X.   The great San Francisco earthquake occurred in April.  The Wright Brothers patented an aeroplane in May.  The Panama Canal was under construction and President Roosevelt became the first president to leave the US when he went to inspect the progress.  He also proclaimed Devil’s Tower the first National Monument that year.

Grandma’s Home Remedies

OldTimeRemedies[1] We may look back on life a hundred or more years ago as idyllic, stress-free and romantic, but for many of our ancestors, it was a dreary round of poverty, grinding toil, and frequent illness. For our rural ancestors, the doctor was many long miles away by horseback.  Those available were often lacking in medical education and probably did as much harm as good.  They didn’t know or ignored basic hygiene and spread germs from one patient to the next.  My father and his mother, Catherine Kaiser Trausch, often said “The further away you stay from doctors, the better off you’ll be.”  Many times people made do by doctoring themselves with what they had on hand.  If a doctor was called it was usually after all home remedies had failed and by then it was often too late.  However, without modern drugs and surgical techniques, doctors could do little more than Grandma with her home remedies.

Most women used remedies that had been passed down from their mothers and grandmothers. Goose grease was an ingredient in many home remedies.  It was smeared on hands and faces to prevent chapping, combined with turpentine or kerosene to be rubbed on chests and throats for colds and applied to burns and blisters.

Lavina Clark, wife of Silas “Doc” Clark of Juniata, (brother of Grandma Clarice Clark Renschler Bugg) told me that her mother used goose grease because it was “greasier’ than lard. Her mother combined goose grease and turpentine for a chest rub to loosen congestion.  She also remembered her mother making a cold medicine by combining raw onions, lots of sugar and a few drops of turpentine, placing it on the back of the cook stove and letting it set until it turned into a syrup.  This syrup was good for colds and coughs.

Then, like now, there seemed to be more remedies for the miseries of colds and chest congestion than any other ailments. If my Dad felt a cold coming on he rubbed his neck,  chest and back with Mentholatum, took a good shot of whiskey and went to bed to “sweat it out.”  There was a firm belief that the stronger or more unpleasant the remedy, the better.  Mustard plaster

Mustard plasters, strong enough to take off the skin, and substitute a new pain for the original, were often used.  To make a mustard plaster, take a small amount of ground mustard, combine with a little flour and water to make a paste.  Spread the paste on a cloth, cover with another cloth and put on the chest until the skin turns red.  If left on too long it will blister the skin.  My Grandmother, Leona Bassett Kline, told me that when Grandpa Dan Kline broke a rib he thought a mustard plaster would help relieve the pain.  The heat felt so good he left the plaster on too long.  When it was removed the skin came with it, leaving a big sore. Grandma Leona Kline also remembered onion poultices. Fry onions in a small account of lard, spread between cloths and lay on the chest while hot.  Cover up, leave on until cold, and repeat.  She remarked that the onions stunk.  “We put up with a lot.”  She also remembered her father, Jule Bassett, making cough syrup.  In the fall he would take a bottle of whiskey, add to it rock candy and “some kind of oil” and shake.  “We took a couple spoonsful whenever we had a cough.”

On can imagine a desperate mother, whose baby is ill using what she had on hand trying to cure her sick child. Home-made cough medicine, onion or mustard plasters, goose grease; whether it was the remedies, the mother’s tender loving care and prayers, or just luck, if the baby survived, from that time on, the mother swore by her remedy. If someone wasn’t feeling well, many mothers would remark, “All he needs is a good physic.” A physic is any medicine or medicinal herb and the word was often synonymous with laxative.

In addition to being an ingredient in cold medicines, whiskey was also used as a pain reliever. In a December 1984 interview of my Mother, Edna Kline Trausch, she told this story.  “Just before prohibition began my Dad bought a quart [of whiskey] and he sealed it with wax and put it in the attic in case somebody got sick.  And somebody did, the neighbor’s boy got real bad and the doctor said if they could find some whiskey it might help.  The neighbor came over and asked Dad and he went up in the attic and dragged the bottle down, melted off the wax, broke the seal and gave them some.  The boy died the next day.  He had real bad sinus infection.  They gave the whiskey to him to kill the pain.”

In a 1982 interview my great-aunt, Elizabeth Kaiser Pittz told me about the remedies used by her parents, Nicholas and Susanna Theisen Kaiser. “For colds she used goose grease; Mother raised geese. She rendered the fat from the geese, and put that on our chest; put a cloth over it.  I think she put a little turpentine in the grease.  We didn’t like it, that goose grease had an awful smell to it.  It warmed a little; I think the turpentine did that.  Mother made onion plasters.  Fried onions put them between cloths and put them on.    My Dad took half whiskey and half sugar, shake that up so the sugar dissolved, we got a tablespoon of that for a cough.  If you had an upset stomach, they had spirit of peppermint, fix that with sugar and water.  That was good for diarrhea.    Mother used to raise a plant that she dried and made a tea out of for a physic.  It was a little bush that got little white flowers on.  In German she called it Cinna Blatter.  (Cinna leaves)  If you didn’t feel good, that was the first thing she would think of, a good physic.      My Mother’s sister and brother died from diphtheria or scarlet fever when they [the Peter Theisen family] were in Minnesota, but she never talked much about it.  Some said they used kerosene on a feather and put it down the throat for diphtheria.  My Mother never did that.  Mrs. Peter Eltz would do that.  She used to get the kerosene and take a chicken feather and swab the throat with that.  My folks knew the Eltz family from St. Donatus.  Grandma and Grandpa Theisen used to visit Eltz when they came out from Iowa.”

Most families had a recipe for a medicinal salve. The Ron Wright family still uses a salve they call “Grandmother’s Salve” which has been handed down in his family for four generations.  According to family tradition, Great Grandmother, Adeline Schnase, had a goiter.  She consulted an Indian Doctor who gave her the following recipe.  Mix equal parts beeswax, sheep’s tallow and castor oil.  To this add 1/3 part resin.  Place the mixture in the top of a double boiler with water in the bottom part.  Melt together over low heat.  Bottle.  Whether this helped the goiter is unknown.  The salve is still used to this day for slivers and stickers as it has a good drawing quality.  Another drawing remedy is the skin of an egg.  Break an egg, remove the skin, place on splinters, boils, etc.  Leave on until dry, repeat.  Bread and milk were also used to draw.

Clarice Clark Bugg recalled a remedy used by her mother for burns. “When I was very small I was badly burned.  My parents feared I might die.  We were in a wagon train going to Arkansas and no doctor was available.  My mother found some cattails, pulled off the fuzz, mixed it with castor oil and bound it to the burn.  It healed, but I had a scar for many years.”

Some mothers also attempted not only to cure disease but also to prevent it. Many children wore asafetida bags.  These were a cloth bag on a string worn about the neck.  The bag contained one or more foul-smelling substances.  These were thought to ward off disease.  They may have worked to a small degree as they stunk so terribly no one could get close.  Leona Bassett Kline recalls “They were put on in the fall when we put on our winter underwear.  Oh how we hated that sack!  We covered it up as deep with our clothes was we could – it stunk so!”  She recalls that most of the children in her school wore one.  One can’t help but feel sorry for that teacher.

My Dad, Bert Trausch, reminisced about a remedy for poison ivy. He had gone to his Dad’s farm two miles north of Holstein to get prairie hay.  He was up on top of the rack tramping the hay down and he got poison ivy on his legs from the dry hay.  Bert went to Dr. Mace at Roseland and his remedy only made the poison ivy worse.  Mrs. Ben Theisen told him to use permanganate of potash liquid on his legs and it dried the poison ivy right up. During the 1920s permanganate of potash was used as a remedy for chicken cholera.  It is a water-soluble salt which when dissolved turns water purple.  It is a strong oxidizing agent that was used as a disinfectant and a water treatment.

Some of these remedies undoubtedly worked, some were useless and some may have been harmful. The sight or smell of some home remedies must have been enough to work a miraculous recovery even in a really sick child.  The primary ingredient in many remedies was tender loving care.  In the days when doctors knew little more than the general population, remedies were an important factor in the family’s health.  The remedies themselves stand as a testament to the ingenuity of our ancestors.