It’s been a while since I’ve posted any family history and it’s high time I tell you a bit about the Schulers.
In 1866 my great-great-grandfather David Schuler (yes, I’m named for him although I didn’t get his full name, David Louis) and his family disembarked at the Port of New Orleans. They had lived in a small town in Switzerland, Sattel, about 50km east of Zurich. Whenever I mention where my family is from to Swiss acquaintances they always respond in the same way: Oh, real Switzerland. Sattel is in Canton Schweiz and allegedly I number Niklaus von Flüe, the patron saint of Switzerland, among my ancestors. I’ve got a genealogy of my Swiss ancestors that goes back six hundred years. That’s a matter of some dispute in the family.
David had been forced to leave Switzerland under a cloud. He had lost all the family’s money playing Jass, a card game distinctive to Switzerland something like bridge only more complicated. The Switzerland of 150 years ago was highly primogenitive—the eldest son got everything—and, since opportunities were limited, that meant that his brothers, sisters, and large extended family ended up either leaving for greener pastures or working for him so when David, the eldest son and head of the large extended family, lost everything that was a substantial disaster. When my mom and dad visited Sattel 40 years ago it was still spoken of in hushed tones.
David and family made their way up the Mississippi and Ohio, presumably by steamboat, and settled initially in Louisville, Kentucky where a number of David’s brothers, sisters, and their families had already made their homes. To this day most of my Schuler relatives are in the areas of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky along the Ohio River. By this time they’re quite distant relatives—fourth and fifth cousins—but we keep track of such things in my family.
Among David’s youngest children was Joseph Louis Schuler, my great-grandfather, also known as Grandpa Schuler. There’s a story that he disembarked from the ship they came over on, barely able to walk, potty in hand, but I have my doubts about this story since he would have been 13 years old when they arrived in New Orleans. I think his older brothers and sisters were just ribbing him.
According to the Federal Census for 1870, David and family had their own farm in Kentucky and to all appearances were doing pretty well. By 1880 Joe Schuler had established himself as a milk broker in St. Louis, Missouri. I’m not sure how or why he got to St. Louis but I have some reason to believe that he went there with his father and they established a milk brokering business there. That had been the family business in Switzerland for generations.
By 1900 Joe Schuler had married a woman named Mary Fischer of Bohemian ancestry and they’d had three sons: Joseph (Josie), Fred (Freddie), and Anton (Tony). Fred Xavier Schuler was my grandfather and I think I look a bit like him (nothing to brag about). He operated Grandpa Schuler’s saloon but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. Grandpa Schuler had continued in the milk business (my dad used to claim that he was a technological pioneer in the field, being the first to use formaldehyde as a preservative in milk) and somehow had gotten involved in the St. Louis Republican political machine, in which he eventually became very influential.
The saloon or restaurant as it was sometimes called was right across the street from City Hall and Joe Schuler had managed to wangle contracts to feed the judges, inmates in the City Jail, and city hall workers. One of my dad’s first jobs was delivering food to the prisoners in the jail and the workers in the City Morgue. When he wasn’t more than 7 or 8 years old he’d pull his wagon, laden with covered plates, into the jail, the morgue, and other city offices.
By 1920 Joe Schuler was a Justice of the Peace and, according to family legend, each of his sons was handling one of the family businesses: Josie had the milk business, Fred had the saloon, and Tony was in politics. My grandfather had married a beautiful young woman, Esther Wagner, several years previously and Grandpa Schuler, my grandfather, my grandmother, and my dad, Fred, were all living above the saloon at 14th and Clark.
My dad was a rich kid in a very tough neighborhood. His playmates were young toughs and he, in his Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, got more than his share of bloody noses and bruises.
My dad grew up in a condition which might most charitably have been called neglect with the exception of his grandfather, Grandpa Schuler. Grandpa Schuler lavished attention (and money) on him as the only male grandchild. Josie had died without children and Tony had three daughters. My dad had his own car (a Model A) at an unconsionably young age.
My grandfather died when my father was around 12. When my great-grandfather died three years later that left my dad effectively head of the family. A year later my dad graduated from high school (Roosevelt High School) and Grandpa Schuler’s money enabled my dad to attend college, law school, and travel to Europe—all during the Depression.
I’ve got a lot more to say about the Schulers and about my dad in particular. Like most of my ancestors they were characters. But, since I don’t want this post to achieve novel length, I’ll close with a single observation.
The experience of my Schuler ancestors differed in some quite notable ways from the typical immigrant experience. In each generation since leaving Europe at least one of the American Schulers has gone back to visit Switzerland. Aunt Agatha (Grandpa Joe’s sister), Cousin Agatha (her daughter), and my dad all visited our Swiss relatives. Consequently, we have more contact with and firsthand knowledge of our Swiss ancestors than is typical of Americans.
As the last male Schuler of my line, Joe Schuler’s last male descendant, I really should visit Sattel. I’ve exchanged emails with one of my distant Schuler cousins every now and again but I really owe it to myself to visit.