Letter in answer to a distant Ohnsat relative

I recently met a very distant relative on Facebook. We are related through my grandmother Louise Ohnsat.(1875-1959) and her brother Frank Ohnsat (1873-1962). When she found we were related, she asked about the family history. This is my first reply.

I have a lot of bits of a story. Perhaps the bits we put together can tell more.

First, my grandmother Louise Ohnsat died when I was almost 8 years old. I have a few memories of her, but her death and burial are what really stick in my head—not in any bad way, but it was my first observation of what death means. She died at age 83, I guess from heart failure or a stroke. She wasn't hospitalized, but was at home bedridden with a lot of my aunts in attendance. (My mother—a daughter-in-law—was a registered nurse, and a daughter—Sr. Edna Louise—was also a nurse who specialized in pediatrics.) I think she lingered a few days before death took her. She lay in the front bedroom, my grandfather slept on a sofa in the next room. The house was always dark and quiet then, even with a bustle of family members.

Grandpa and Grandma lived in a very small town, Tipton Kansas. There was no funeral home there, and Grandma was laid out for a while in her bed. Then when a casket was bought from Osborne a few miles away, she was laid out in the gym of the local Knights of Columbus hall, which was also a practices and game location for the nearby Catholic high school. Grandma's coffin was set up in front of the stage, and several rows of wooden chairs arced around the coffin and dim lamps that the undertaker had brought in for the rosaries and votive. After the funeral mass and burial, we returned to the hall for a dinner, which the whole town of Tipton attended, including many of my Ohnsat relatives.

I didn't know the Ohnsats very well, except for a few 2nd cousins who lived in Tipton and Beloit Kansas. (They are grandchildren of my Grandma's brother Frank Ohnsat (1873-1962).) Many, many years later I heard that Grandma's brothers Frank and Ben did not get along. There was some dispute among them, perhaps about their father's land (Robert Ohnsat, 1835-1897), and each accused the other of being untrustworthy and money grubbing. I bet that there was a bit of truth there, but also some source of longstanding sibling rivalry that finally burst to the surface, perhaps to the point of neither brother talking to the other.

Ben Ohnsat (1878-1948) married a neighbor girl, Cecelia Riedel (about 1883-about 1950), about 1903 and moved to Garden City Kansas, some 150 miles away. They had one daughter, Josephine, in 1904. Josephine married Joseph Jeremiah Ohmes (1899-1981) about 1922, and they had 14 children. I've been told that many of the children were deaf and needed to learn sign language at a boarding school. (I've not been in touch with any members of this family, so the information is at best second-hand. However, I do have all the children's names and birth and death dates at least through about 1995.)

I hope you can provide some information about your grandfather Francis Ohnsat (1917-1976) and his wife Mille Wiese (the name I have for her at least, 1920-1995). He was among several of the children of your great-grandparents Frank Ohnsat (1873-1962) and Appolonia Streit-Ohnsat (1883-1947) who moved from Kansas to California, generally in the 1930s. Among them were

Anna Marie (1902-1994) and husband August Arnoldy (1889-1961) of Yuba City
Mary Isabelle (1904-2000) and husband Alex Simeon (1904-1981) of Orange County
Robert Charles Ohnsat (1912-1937) of Marysville CA
Matilda Barbara (1915-1998) and husband Victor Stoffel of Fallbrook CA and/or Anaheim
Alice Marie (1925-) and husband Leo Waldman (1915-) of Anaheim.

I visited Alice perhaps 8 years ago, during one of the spring breaks we used to spend in Palm Springs CA.


My great-grandfathers John M. Kohn (1839-1919) and Robert Ohnsat owned fairly large amounts of land very close to each other in southeastern Osborne County Kansas. The land there has rocky, rolling hills and little rain. Very little of the area is tilled for crops, and the large expanses of native grass are best for cattle grazing. My aunt told me of annual cattle drives that she would see her grandfather starting out, either to drive them all the way to Kansas City (about 250 miles east) or --more likely-- to a railway siding where the cattle were loaded for transit to Kansas City. Their land is about equidistant from the county seat of Osborne and the German community of Tipton. I think the families seldom went to Osborne for supplies and social activities. Instead, they drove wagons to Tipton, about 9 miles away, where they felt at home with the older part of the community who also had a common heritage and language.

Land and its inheritance split many families, I think. My grandfather inherited his father's land, though I guess that he arranged a buy-out of the ownership of his 2 brothers' and 2 sisters' rights. I believe the inheritance occurred to everyone's satisfaction, even though Grandpa Mike (1879-1965) was not the eldest son. The eldest was Peter Kohn (1877-1941), and next were Kate Kohn-Gasper (1881-1955) and Annie Kohn-Streit (1882-1956), then Ben Kohn (1884-1955). All lived in the Tipton area, and I believe all on farms, but the original Kohn land was not split among them. I guess the same happened in the Ohnsat family. Perhaps Ben felt he was cheated on the value of the property; perhaps he was hurt that the land wasn't divided among the three of them.

Maybe you have some information to add here?

Tipton Kansas was settled by many German families from about 1870 through 1880. Though my grandfather spoke a few words of German, his primary language was English, but he had a slight German accent. My father retained even less German, perhaps a vocabulary of 50 words only. Maybe you can tell me whether there is or was a strong German community in Yuba County, which might have persuaded some of the family to settle there. There are also some extended Kohn cousins who also live the region.

Quickly I'll answer some of your other questions:

The Ohnsat family is indeed German, and they likely came from around Paderborn in the central-northeast part of Germany. However, the family I have records for so far is that of Franz Ohnsat (1803-perhaps 1870) and his wife Catharina Scholz (1806-perhaps 1870). They lived in what is now Poland, near the Neisse River, in a very small town named Grabin (today) or Grüben (then). I suspect they were part of a settling of the area while Prussia was building its empire, and that the move was temporary, tied to political pressures and economic encouragements. While they lived there, their citizenship was either Prussian (Preußen) or East Prussian (Ostpreußen).

At least two brothers of the family emigrated to the USA around 1870-1872. They were greatgrandfather John Robert Ohnsat and his brother Joseph August (1842-1880). They both lived in Pittsburgh PA through 1880. Robert married there and brought his family to Kansas between 1875-1878. Joseph married Elizabeth Rothamel (1848-perhaps 1915) there, had three children, and "He was walking down the street in East Liberty next to a tanning factory when a worker threw a piece of scrap metal out the window striking Joseph in the head. He died a day later from a fractured skull," according to contemporary newspaper reports. I've been in touch with his great grandson Larry.

The name has always been a close variant of Ohnsat, with occasional spellings of Ohnsatt and Ohnsaht in baptismal records. I too thought that Onstat, Onstott or Onstodt might be a possibliity, as that name occurs in some Pennsylvania records of unrelated individuals.

I know nothing about the Thompson seedless grape story you refer to. Perhaps your family in California has been involved in grape farming?

I know very little about your grandmother Millie. I beleive that the Social Security data includes her as "MELLADENE H OHNSAT 30 Apr 1920 22 Apr 1995 (not specified) (none specified) 429-18-9616 Arkansas" so she lived in Arkansas when she first registered for Social Security withholding from her employment. I have no other information, so this may not be her. However, I have assumed that Arkansas is her state of birth.

My data shows your father was one of 4 brothers and 1 sister (Robert, Michael John, Jim, Rick, and Donna Marie). Since I have no marriage information for your grandparents, I guess that they were all born approximately 1935-1945. I don't know who are your parents; I have only a husband for Donna Marie, Roger Baker.

I hope you can relate some of the family stories.