My father, Otto Bruck, arrived in America aboard the Queen Elizabeth in 1948, and eventually came to be known as Gary Otto Brook after he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. The first job my father had was working at Childs Restaurants near Times Square in Manhattan, which was one of the first national dining chains in the United States and Canada; it was a contemporary of the better-known Horn & Hardart and preceded McDonalds.
After a summer stint as a tennis pro at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel in 1949, my father went to work for one of his cousins, a gentleman by the name of Franz Mantheim Kayser (Figure 1), who then operated a small import firm. Franz and his then-wife, Catherine “Ulrike” Kayser nee Birkholz (Figure 2), had had one son born in 1938 in London, John Kayser. (Figure 3) After John Kayser’s mother passed away in 2005 in New Jersey, by then long married to another man, who had predeceased her, and known as Catherine Sterner, John asked whether I knew how we are related. At the time, I had absolutely no idea. John and I would return to the question in 2010. While the intervening years had given neither of us further insight, John thought our ancestral connection went back to Ratibor; he also told me his grandmother’s maiden name was “Elly Schueck,” which he thought might help unravel the mystery. So, armed with these seemingly opaque clues, I set myself to work.
Until just this year, most microfilm records available from the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS), could only be ordered and viewed for a limited time at a local Mormon-operated Family History Center, or physically examined at the main LDS Library in Salt Lake City. Over the years, I had ordered the Jewish records from Ratibor on several occasions, and eventually created a partial database of births, marriages and deaths of people of possible interest to me. After John Kayser told me his grandmother’s maiden name and our possible connection to Ratibor, I reviewed the database I’d created and, lo and behold, I found Elly Schueck’s name; she had been born in Ratibor on September 7, 1874, and her parents’ names were Adolf Schueck and Alma Schueck, nee Braun. (Figures 4, 5, 6) For me, this cracked the code because my own great-grandmother on my grandmother’s side was born Olga Braun, so I concluded John and I have an ancestral link related to the Braun family. The database I had created from the Jewish microfilm records also included the birth information for John Kayser’s great-grandmother, Alma Braun, born on June 12, 1851 to Markus Braun and Caroline Braun, nee Spiegel. Wanting to confirm all of this, I re-ordered the Jewish microfilm for Ratibor.
After receiving the relevant microfilm, I focused on Markus Braun (1817-1870) and Caroline Braun, nee Spiegel. Ultimately, I identified twelve children they had together, born between 1847 and 1860, and established that John Kayser and I are third cousins (i.e., our respective great-grandmothers were sisters). As an aside, Caroline Braun likely died before Markus Braun because he re-married a woman named Johanna Braun nee Goldstein, with whom he had two more children, including a son named Markus, who appears to have been born in 1870 shortly after the father Markus Braun died.
My father’s surviving personal papers include a postcard dated July 28, 1912 (Figures 7, 8) written by my great-grandmother, the aforementioned Olga Berliner, nee Braun, to her niece Franziska Bruck in Berlin, the famed florist mentioned in earlier Blog posts. The postcard illustrates the brewery first owned by M. Braun in Ratibor. There exists a virtually complete listing of historic German breweries entitled “Das historische Brauereiverzeichnis der ehem. Ostgebiete und Polen,” which translates as “The historical breweries of the former Eastern Territories and Poland,” at the following URL: http://www.klausehm.de/Pagepolenr.html. Ostgebiete refers to the areas of Silesia, Pomerania, Brandenburg, and East and West Prussia. For Ratibor, there once existed 32 breweries, including one owned by “M. Braun,” and two connected to my great-grandfather, Hermann Berliner (Figure 9), his wife Olga Berliner, nee Braun, and their son, Alfred Berliner.
|Ratibor now Raciborz||1a||Brauerei M. Braun||1622|
|Ratibor now Raciborz||1b||Herm. Berliner, vorm. M. Braun`sche Braunbierbrauerei||1910|
|Ratibor now Raciborz||1c||Brauerei Herm. Berliner, Inh. Alfred & Olga Berliner||1920|
According to this database, the brewery owned by the original “M. Braun” dated to 1622 and appears to have been the second oldest in Ratibor after the “Ratiborer Schloßbrauerei Freund & Co.,” dated to 1567. (Figures 10, 11) Hermann Berliner, who died in 1910, owned the brewery originally held by “M. Braun.” His wife passed away in 1920, followed shortly thereafter by the death of their son, Alfred, in 1921. It’s unclear whether the brewery continued to be owned by either Braun or Berliner descendants following the deaths of Hermann, Olga and Alfred Berliner within a relatively short 11-year period.
There are a few things to observe from a close look at the front side of the postcard. (Figure 12) The business sign above the carriages reads “vorm. (=original owner) M. Braun.” By the time the photo was taken, prior to 1912 (the year the postcard was written), the brewery was already owned by Hermann Berliner as the “Berliner Brauerei, Ratibor” caption on the postcard tells us. Also, the carriage on the left has the name “H. Berliner” on its side, more evidence the brewery was already operated by Hermann Berliner and his descendants at the time the photo was taken.
Coupling the information from the postcard with data gleaned from both the microfilm of Jewish records and ancestry.com, one finds a gentleman named “Moises or Moses Braun,” coincidentally married to a Fanny Bruck. A definite link to Markus Braun has not yet been established although the years his children were born between 1843 and 1855 strongly suggests he may have been Markus Braun’s older brother. Moses Braun’s occupation at the time his first two children were born, respectively in 1843 and 1844, is “brauereipachter” or “tenant brewer”; this means that Moses Braun rented the house or factory where he had a license to produce beer. Interestingly, by 1849, his occupation was “partikulier,” or someone who lived without working, perhaps as a result of rental income. By 1853, his occupation is shown as “makler,” or estate agent, possibly a real estate agent or middleman of sorts. By contrast, Markus Braun is always identified as a “kaufmann” or businessman at the time of his children were born; perhaps, this included tenant brewer. In fact, on his son Markus Braun’s marriage certificate from 1900, long after the father had died, the father’s occupation was definitively specified as “brewery owner.” I surmise that the brothers together or sequentially operated the brewery, and, eventually, Markus Braun’s daughter Olga and her husband Hermann, and, ultimately, their son Alfred, inherited the operation.
The exercise I went through to pinpoint the family connection between John Kayser and myself revealed something unexpected. Again, utilizing the Jewish microfilm records from Ratibor, I identified another branch of the family who are descendants of Elly Schueck’s (John Kayser’s grandmother) sister, Auguste “Guste” Schueck. (Figure 13) The significance of this is that various surnames I heard my father mention while growing up in New York also had links extending back to Ratibor. I was eventually able to track this branch to Cleveland, Ohio, and many of the photos included in this Blog post come from the collection of Larry Leyser, a third cousin, once-removed. (Figure 14)
Pressed on the matter, my father would never have been able to explain to me how all the various families that wound up in America after WWII were related to us nor would he have had any interest in doing so. Nonetheless, as an exercise in doing forensic genealogy, this has been endlessly entertaining finding the family connections to people living in America today whose roots go back to Ratibor, where the original brewer M. Braun first established his business in 1622. Going forward, I will touch on some of these people and their connections to my family, both in America as well as harkening back to Europe.
POSTSCRIPT: A Polish gentleman, Mr. Grzegorz Miczek, contacted me after seeing this Blog post on the Braun & Berliner brewery. He asked whether I had any additional documents related to the brewery as reference for a book he’s writing on the “Raciborskie Brewery.” He mentioned he possessed a few bottles from the brewery, and graciously sent me images of them which he’s allowing me to share with the readers. These elegant old beer bottles speak for themselves. (Figures 15-18)