Monday, February 20, 2012

The Reiss Story

Johann Everhard Reis was born around 1771 at an unknown location. Sometime before 1798, he arrived in Kreis Olpe, Westfalen, Prussia and became the tailor to the Duke of Ahausen. He met and married Anna Elisabeth Freithoff and settled into a converted bakery located behind the local church in Heggen bei Attendorn. During their time there, ten children were born, eight of whom survived into adulthood.

Johann Joseph Freithoff, the brother of Anna Elisabeth, was a noted copper engraver. He died around 1819 without issue and willed all his assets to his sister. With that money, Johann Everhard and Anna Elisabeth bought the Listernohl estate, which encompassed 36 acres. The main house on the property was u-shaped. One wing contained the living quarters. The opposite wing housed the local church. The middle section was for the livestock. The last two Reis children were born in Listernohl.

In 1836, one of the Reis siblings, Johann Bernhard Reis, emigrated to the United States. He is described as half-disabled (and therefore ineligible for military service). He was a druggist by trade. No American records have been found for him and it is believed that he may have returned to his homeland.

Franz Xaver Reis was born 17 December 1814 in Heggen. In his youth, he went to Koblenz to apprentice as a jeweler/watchmaker. During his time there, he met Elisabeth Ducro, daughter of Wendel and Elisabeth Glaad Ducro. Franz and Elisabeth were married 27 September 1838 in Heggen and settled in the neighboring town of Olpe where he started his jewelry business. Their son, Emmerich Josef was born in 1841. On 18 March 1846, Franz Xaver submitted a petition to emigrate to the United States with his wife and son.

During March 1846, Elisabeth Reis, a widow for about 20 years, sold most of the Listernohl estate, reserving a small lot for herself. It is believed that she used those funds to finance the transatlantic voyage. For an extended period of time, shipping records were not found. However, Franz (now known as Francis) was in Doggett's New York City Directory for 1849-50. Since Francis Reiss does not appear in earlier directories, it is not known where he was from 1846-1849. In 2005, an inquiry to a church in downtown Manhattan provided information about the baptism of a Reiss child named Adolphus in 1849.

A few years ago, a fellow researcher solved the mystery of the Reiss family entry into America. What a surprise! It was not just Franz, Elisabeth and Emmerich who entered the US. On that same ship, the Diadem, we find 13 people in the family unit, including Franz' mother, two younger brothers and their families, and a sister - all with anglicized names. They sailed from London in cabin class and arrived in New York City in August 1846. It can be surmised that the family group left Prussia by boat, going down the Rhine River to Rotterdam and then by ferry to England. They apparently stayed in London for a while before sailing. A story can be visualized: Anna Elisabeth telling the customs officials that the family was going to London for a vacation before Franz and his wife and son sailed to America.

Francis was a Lieutenant in the Cavalry during the Civil War, as a member of the troop protecting the Capitol and White House in Washington, DC. After the war, Captain Reiss commanded a National Guard unit.

There is still much to be learned about the early years of the Reiss family in the US and the history of the rest of the family.


  1. Thank you for this post, which I found through a Google search. I've been looking for information on a jeweler named "Captain Rice." My great-great-grandfather, Joseph Brull, was a jeweler in New York City from 1860-1900. One of his obituaries says that he learned the trade when he was "apprenticed to Captain Rice." I think this must have been your Captain Francis Reiss, as census records show them both in Ward 17 in Manhattan in 1860. Joseph arrived in the US in 1847 and probably would have been an apprentice sometime during the 1850s. Thank you!

    1. Joseph Brull is listed on the naturalization card for Francis Reiss (pronounced "Rice." Apparently, he was the witness for the naturalization.
      As a matter of fact, the ship's manifest listed the family name as Rice.
      So, now I know something about that "mysterious" Joseph Brull. I would love to hear more about him. Do you know where Joseph lived before coming to the US?