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The Family Tree

My father and his father in Essen

The Nicolaus family name has some mythical roots.  My mother’s mother Lydia, her mind clouded by advancing dementia, maintained that it came from the Tsar, who on his travels had got the daughter of a German merchant pregnant, etc.   A myth I like much better is that we’re descended from the original Bishop Nicolaus of Myra in Asia Minor (today Turkey), known as the wonder worker, who secretly gave alms to the poor and became the model for our modern St. Nick.

My mother once paid a genealogy company to compile a book of Nicolauses, and this showed — as genealogy books will — that we have remote “cousins” all over the world.  Certainly the name or its cognates — Nikolaus, Nikolaos, Nickolaus, Nicklaus, Nicholas, Nicolas, Nicolai, etc. — is found all over Europe.  It is common in Germany, Italy, Greece, and Russia, both as a family name and as a given (first) name.  In Russian there is even an established diminutive, “Kolja,” meaning “little Nicolaus.”  This is the title character of a poignant movie, and it was my nickname as a little boy.  In the turbulent 1970s my mother, who learned ancient Greek in seminary, told me that Nicolaus in that language means “victory of the people.”  I like that.  And I don’t mind people thinking that we might be related to Nicolaus Copernicus, even though there is no evidence for it.

Closer to home, there is the town of Nicolaus on the Sacramento River about 30 miles north of the California state capital, Sacramento.  It has a neighbor, East Nicolaus, and a Nicolaus Road, Nicolaus Avenue, and Nicolaus cemetery.  My mother thought the founder was a rumored direct ancestor who emigrated from Germany in the 1840s and got in on the Gold Rush, but his tracks are long lost.  There is also a prominent financial firm, Stifel Nicolaus, based in Chicago, and various other “Nicolice” scattered here, there, and everywhere.  My mother knew of no family threads connecting us with any of them.

The known Nicolaus genealogy is prosaic and short.  Compiled from the memory of my mother and my cousin Renate in Bavaria, it is depicted in this chart:


The chart means that the earliest known and identified Nicolaus in our tree is my father’s father, Martin Karl Nicolaus.  He was born on June 2, 1885.  He started work in the Hollerith department of the Krupp works — do you know what Hollerith cards were?  — in 1910, and was transferred a year later to a Krupp works in Kiel, the Baltic seaport.  There his two children were born:  Lieselotte Nicolaus on Aug. 10, 1912, and my father Albrecht Fritz Nicolaus, on May 8, 1914.  In 1919, Martin Karl was transferred back to Essen, and he continued as an office worker (or office supervisor, as one file entry has it) for Krupp until his death on April 14, 1942, following a bombing raid that destroyed the block where the family lived.  We don’t know the names of Martin Karl’s parents.

Lieselotte Nicolaus, my father’s sister, worked for Krupp as a “Rechnerin,” something like a bookkeeping clerk, from 1929 until she quit on March 31, 1941.  Lieselotte, like my mother, married a theology student, a friend and classmate of my father’s, Helmut Wolf, and they had three children, Helmut, Gerhard, and Renate.  Helmut was killed in the war, same as my father.  Lieselotte died in 1990. Lieselotte’s daughter Renate is the cousin in Bavaria who kindly sent me a number of precious family photographs that are the only images I have of my grandparents; see below.

On my mother’s side, we know that her mother was born Lydia Streck and that she married Heinrich Wilhelm Eickhoff.  You can read about Heinrich Eickhoff in my mother’s memoirs; he was an engineer who worked on railroads and then on airplanes, and toward the end of his life became a journalist.  We know that Lydia had three sisters, Mimi, Johanna and Emma.  We don’t know anything about the parents of Lydia or the parents of Heinrich, her husband.  We don’t know what happened to Lydia’s sisters, except for a few brief recollections in my mother’s memoirs. Lydia died in a nursing home in Weilmünster on Dec. 9, 1957.

We do know that my mother had two sisters, Annelies and Lottelies.  Annelies died as a three-year old.  Lottelies was the one who married the Nazi, Wilhelm Meissner, and was never heard from again.

My father’s mother, Adolfine Auguste Anna Kroneberg (“Oma”), had a sister, Minna Kroneberg, who married K. J. Heinrich Brüggensiecker, and they had a boy, Heinrich Albrecht Brüggensiecker, whom I knew as “Uncle Heinz.”  He lived in Kiel and sent us barrels of salt herring sometimes while we lived in Frankfurt.  The genealogy chart doesn’t show it, but Uncle Heinz had a wife and they had a son, Gerd Brüggensiecker, whom I met when I visited Germany in about 1972.  After Heinz’s wife died, he reconnected with my mother, and they married in 1968.  My mother lived with Heinz in Schönkirchen, a village near Kiel, for a few happy years, until Heinz died in 1973 from complications following surgery.  Gerd studied law and at last report was working as an administrative judge somewhere in Germany, possibly in Schleswig-Holstein.

And that’s about all that we know about the Nicolaus family tree.  The sequel is up to you boys, Fred and Jack.

There are very few photographs of my mother before she began appearing with some frequency in pictures with her grandchildren.  All of these early photos, plus a few late ones, are here.  There will be more photos of her on the pages about her grandchildren.

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My mother had only three photographs of my father.  I have inserted them on the web pages of her memoirs.  I’ll insert them again here, and I’ll add the additional photographs that I received in 2010 from cousin Renate Wolf in Germany.  I’ve cropped some, pulled out faces from group shots and enlarged them, and worked on the contrast and brightness in Photoshop.  Here are all the photos I have of my father:

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Here are the Nicolaus grandparents.  All these photos are from Renate.  Renate sent me the original prints, many with handwritten captions on the back.  I scanned them, and in some cases I have cropped them, copied out and enlarged faces for detail, and boosted the contrast in Photoshop for showing on the web.  In a few cases I have copied Renate’s handwritten captions from the back of the photo to the bottom border of the photo itself.  These appear in 14-pt Arial.  In those cases, remember that Renate is the author of the embedded caption, so that “my parents” refers to Renate’s parents, not mine.  The regular captions that accompany the photo file but are not embedded in the lower border of the visible image are mine.  It is very sad that I have no photos at all of the grandparents on my mother’s side.

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These are photos of Lieselotte Nicolaus, my father’s sister:

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These are photos of Helmut Wolf, Lieselotte’s husband:

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Here are baby pix of the three little Wolves in 1942-1943:

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And here are the only photos I can lay my hands on of the Brüggensieckers:

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