Janssen/Phelan Family History
Our German Heritage
Ruhr Valley Origins
I am one eighth German, through my great-grandmother Mary M. Rupiper. The origin of the name Rupiper, often spelled Rupieper in the old country, comes from the Low German “Rohrpieper”. Loosely translated as “reed piper”, this could either be a reference to the nickname for a bird—the marsh pipit—or an occupational name for a musician who plays a reed pipe.
The story of our German heritage is the story of two families, the Rupipers and the Albys. Both families came from the Recklinghausen district of Germany. Recklinghausen is a city on the west side of Germany, due west of Berlin, near the border with the Netherlands. This region is sometimes referred to as the Ruhr Valley, after the river that runs through it. In the 19th century this district was part of Westfalen (aka Westfalia, Westphalen, etc.). There was a great deal of political upheaval going on in Central Europe in the 1800s, and at times Westfalen was a part of Germany, at times a part of the Prussian Empire, and at times an independent state. When the Rupipers and Albys crossed the Atlantic, it was a part of Prussia. Today Recklinghausen is located in the German province of Nordrhein-Westfalen. It is known as an industrial center, sort of like the Pittsburgh of Germany. The largest city nearby is Essen.
I have traced the Rupipers back to my great (x 6) grandparents, Johannes Rupiper and Elisabetha Gisen. Johannes was born about 1675 in Suderwich, a town near the city of Recklinghausen. One of his daughter’s birth records lists him as “Johanni Rupiper Junioris,” indicating that his father was also named Johannes Rupiper. His son Johannes Hindricus Rupiper was born in Suderwich 20 Feb 1709, and married Elisabetha Dietermann. They had at least four children, one of whom was Bernardus Rupiper, my great (x 4) grandfather, born in Suderwich about 1759. He married Maria Elisabetha Volmer. They had eleven children, at least two of which emigrated to the United States. One was my great (x 4) uncle Joannes Gregorius Rupiper. The other, the youngest of the eleven children, was my great-great-great-grandfather Johann Henrich Wenceslaus Rupiper.
United States of Rupiper
The Rupipers in America tend to be concentrated in three distinct locations: northeastern Wisconsin; Carroll County, IA; and the border between northeastern Nebraska and southeastern South Dakota. In my home town of De Pere, WI, on the west side of the river, there used to be a three story brick building with the name Rupiper prominently painted on its side. This was site of the Rupiper Tavern run by Henry Rupiper, a cousin of mine, who was the great grandson of Joannes Georgius Rupiper who appears in the chart above. He eventually passed down the saloon to his son Leland (Curley) Rupiper, who retired in 1976. When I was a kid the tavern was called Wishart’s, but it still bore the name Rupiper on its side. Every time we drove by the place, my parents would point at the Rupiper sign and say, “You’re related to them.” Since then the Rupiper name has either been sandblasted off the brick or painted over, and the tavern is now called The Sports Corner.
Settling in Racine County
John and Mary had six children, though I only have detailed knowledge of what became of three of those children. Wilhelmina Rupiper married Balthasar Wind, and they had two children, Alois and Frances. Joseph A. Rupiper was a carpenter and a Civil War veteran. In 1879 he moved to Clay County, NE where he opened a furniture and undertaking business. He married Fidelia Mary Foat, and they had a daughter Josie who married Thomas Bennett. Julius W. Rupiper was my great-great-grandfather. Like his brother, Julius worked as a carpenter, and also as a cooper. Julius married Henrietta Alby, whose official birth name was Maria Gertrude Alby.
From the Alps to America
Franciscus married Maria Josepha Gertrud Clara Lohoff, daughter of Wilhelm Lohoff and Clara Elisabeth Berste. They had at least three children, one of whom was my great (x 4) grandfather, Johannes Theodor Franciscus Alby, born 28 Mar 1776, in Recklinghausen. Theodore, as he was known, married Anna Maria Moellers in 1799. Anna was the daughter of Wilhelm Moellers and Maria Catherina Maybaum. The name Maybaum sounds like it could possibly be a Jewish name, though it is simply the German word for a may pole. If she were Jewish, that would make me 1/128th Jewish, in a family tree populated almost entirely by Catholics.
Theodore and Anna Maria had at least seven children, one of whom was my great-great-great grandfather, Johann Nicolaus Alby. Johann married Maria Carolina Albertine Ziegler on 11 Sep 1827 at St. Agatha Catholic Church in Dorsten, a town in the Recklinghausen district. She was the daughter of Johann Ziegler and Agnes Alfs. In 1847, Johann and Carolina Alby immigrated to America with their six children, and from then on were known as John and Caroline. They settled on a farm in Norway Township, Racine County, WI. They had six children who were born in Prussia and made the journey to America with them. One of these was my great-great grandmother Henrietta (Maria Gertrude) Alby. As I mentioned earlier, she married Julius W. Rupiper.
The Rupipers and Albys were already acquainted with one another in Germany. Julius Rupiper and Henrietta Alby were born a few townships apart, and were playmates as children. After both families ended up in the Waterford area, the two became reacquainted, and their childhood friendship turned into love. The two families were brought together in matrimony on 8 Apr 1856 in Burlington, WI when Julius and Henrietta married in St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
For example, John Gerhard Alby, my first cousin thrice removed, was the town blacksmith in Waterford in the early 1900s. He also built and repaired wagons. In 1917, John G. sold an interest in the business to his son Everard Joseph Alby, known as Abe. They were smart businessmen, smart enough to see that blacksmithing would go the way of the dinosaur. So they bought out somebody’s welding business and started up an automotive repair garage. Soon after they also ventured into auto sales, dealing first in Cleveland Cars, then in Overland Automobiles, and then Whippet brand cars. The family business continued to expand, and became known as Alby Motor Co. Abe took some time off from the auto business and became a policeman for about a decade, but then got back into it in the 1940s and opened a Pontiac dealership. Several other Albys were involved in automotive businesses—garages, dealerships, filling stations—and some of these companies may still exist in Waterford and Burlington today.
Another family business that’s still going strong in Waterford is Alby Materials, Inc. The company was founded by Ronald D. Alby and his wife Marianne Meyers in 1969. It started out as a ready-mix concrete and mining operation, but has since branched out into all manner of construction materials. The company now has two locations in Waterford, as well as additional locations in Elkhorn and Pewaukee, WI. Ronald Alby died in 1989. His son Terry Alby, my fourth cousin, is currently president of the company.
Among the families in western Racine County who are related to us, through the Albys, are those with the surnames Kortendick, Maney, Mealy, Patrick, Plucker, and Willich. One relative worth mentioning is Shirlee Emmons, my third cousin once removed. She is a world-renowned soprano who has performed all over the globe. She was the daughter of Myron Frederick Emmons and Irene Marie Kortendick. She did not grow up in Waterford or Burlington, but in Stevens Point, WI, where her father owned a stationery and office supply store. She attended Lawrence University in Appleton, WI and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, PA. Her professional achievements are too numerous to list here, but I will mention one. The Stevens Point Daily Journal had an interesting story about a two-month tour she took through Brazil in 1953, as part of an artist exchange program. She performed 24 concerts there and was treated like royalty, receiving gifts of jewelry, “leopard” skins (probably jaguar?), and crocodile purses. She has taught vocal music at Princeton, Boston University, Rutgers, and other prestigious schools, and has written at least three books on vocal music. Shirlee Emmons now teaches privately in New York, where her students include members of the Metroplitan Opera and New York City Opera.
The Children of Julius and Henrietta
Anna Maria Louisa Rupiper, called Louisa, was born 18 Mar 1857. She married Joseph W. Sanders. Joseph, like his wife, was born in Waterford, Racine County, WI to German inmmigrant parents. Joseph and Louisa married in De Pere, WI on 5 Nov 1878. This means they were living in De Pere before the rest of the Rupipers. Perhaps they convinced the family to follow them. Joseph worked as a laborer in a brick yard and later as a section man for the railroad. Joseph and Louisa Sanders had eleven children: Cecilia, Louis B., Mary F., Wilhelmina, Julia, Josephine, Benedict, Frances, William, Joseph W. Jr., and Anna.
Julius Rupiper Jr. was born 15 Nov 1858. Julius was a saloon keeper. He was also involved in local politics, and served on the Brown County Board. He married Mary Rooney about 1880. She immigrated from French Canada, though her parents were born in Ireland. Julius died in July 1912 from injuries suffered in an accident with a runaway horse. His horse took fright and ran down a hill toward the river. Julius and Mary were thrown from their carriage onto the railroad tracks. Julius suffered a fractured skull, and Mary’s arm was broken in two places.
Augusta Rupiper, born 4 Mar 1861, married George Grover. He was a carpenter, born in Iowa. They had nine children: Clare, Harland J., Bessie, Theresa, Ruth A., Alma, Florence A., Wilbur J., and Raymond. Two of the daughters, Clare and Florence, moved to Los Angeles County, CA, and married Norman Jackson and Grover Loggins, respectively. Harland J. Grover moved to Stevens Point, WI. He had three wives, but no children. Ruth married Joseph Patterson and moved to Kaukauna, WI. Alma married Ferris Nelson, Wilbur married Philomene Kaye (probably a cousin of ours from the Belgian side of the family), and Raymond married Clarissa Duaime.
Wilhelmina Rupiper, born 2 Apr 1863, married James Robertson. They had seven children: William, Myrtle, Augusta, Henrietta, Julius, John, and James. William Robertson was the grandfather of the Robertson kids who attended Notre Dame grade school and De Pere High School with myself and some of my siblings.
Maria Sophia Elizabeth Rupiper, born 1 Feb 1870, married George Barth. They lived in Green Bay, WI, where he worked as a cigar manufacturer. They had three daughters: Alta, Oda, and Erma.
Charles Gerard Rupiper, born 23 Sep 1872, died at the age of 19, unmarried.
Joseph Friedrich Rudolph Rupiper was born 16 Sep 1878. He married Wilhelmina (Minnie) Vander Zanden. Sometime around 1919, Rudolph was mayor of De Pere. He also served as city councilman and on the school board. He died 6 Jan 1955. Minnie died in 1967.
Ida Johanna Maria Rupiper, born 2 Aug 1865, married Henry J. Janssen. They had a daughter named Viola. William Rupiper, born 18 Oct 1867, married Annie Janssen. William was a machinist and mechanic. Mary M. Rupiper, born 24 Apr 1875, married Jacob Janssen. These three Janssens were siblings, the children of William Janssen and Wilhelmina Geenen.
Mary M. Rupiper and Jacob Janssen were my great grandparents. Mary’s nickname was “Mate”, which appears in her obituary and on her funeral prayer cards. Mary was a lifelong member of St. Boniface Church in West De Pere. She sang in the church choir for over 50 years, and was a member of the Christian Mothers. Mary and Jacob Janssen were married 24 Oct 1899. They had two children, Carl and Marion. To read more about the Janssens, and the continuation of this story, see my essay on Our Dutch Heritage.
I have not included any footnotes within these historical essays. For information on my sources look up the names of individuals in my genealogical database (links below). All source information is listed there.