My Family Story: The Hidden Legacy of Caroline Feil (1858-1936)

Welcome to the next installment of My Family Story focusing on my 2x great-grandmothers. This is the story of Caroline Feil Bliss (1858-1936) who is my maternal grandmother’s mother’s mother. Caroline was born in New Baltimore, Somerset County in 1858.

The story of Grandma Caroline is itself quite a tale, as is the story of finding her story.

The Backstory

Her father was George Feil, born about 1830 in Bavaria. I haven’t found much about him because he died in 1861 while serving in the Union Army 2nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery. He was listed as a bootmaker on the 1860 Census. I have some scraps of information suggesting he may have had an older brother, Samuel Feil, but nothing concrete.

Caroline’s mother has a trickier name. She’s listed as both Mary and Fides and her surname is listed as both Fogel and Vogel. She was born in Baden, Germany and emigrated to the US in 1855. Her parents were likely Caspar Vogel and Johanne Rotinz. She had three siblings, one of whom was living with her in 1860. I’m going to refer to her as Mary Vogel. One of her siblings remained in Baden, but his sons settled in Mt. Washington. Lena (1835-1912) settled in Ohio, but died in Westmoreland County. Anna Marie (1845-1893) married an Adam Schuck and settled in Latrobe. Their children went on to found the Heinnickel Farms in Latrobe.

Mary and George had 3 children that I know of: Anna (1856-1875-1941), Caroline and Joseph (1862-1939.) Joseph became a Benedictine monk named Brother Gallus Alphonse and relocated to the state of Indiana. Anna married a carpenter named Joseph Kunz and settled in Millvale to raise 15 children. Talk about polar opposite life paths!

After George died, Mary remarried in 1863 to a Mathias Goetz (1830-1902) I think he was a farmer. He took Mary and her children to Ohio, eventually settling in Pittsburgh in their final years.

1991 obituary for Caroline’s mother. Pittsburgh Daily Post
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Sun, Apr 24, 1910 – Page 2

Mary and George had five children together, my 2x great-grandma Caroline’s half-siblings: George Goetz (1866-1959), Philomena Goetz (1868-1966), Magdalena Goetz (1871-1927), Otto John Goetz (1877-1956) and Emma Goetz (1875-1969.)

The Descendants

As for Caroline, she was working as a house servant in the 1870 Census and married my 2x great-grandfather, Henry Bliss, in 1880, settling on Penn Avenue in Lawrenceville until moving to the South Side. Henry himself came from another complicated German-Irish family. His father emigrated to the region and married three times, having children with each wife.

Henry was a cigar maker and Caroline a homemaker. Caroline gave birth 11 times, but only 6 of her children lived to adulthood. Their children were:ci

  1. Father Albert Bliss (1883-1952)
  2. George Harry Bliss (1887-1947)
  3. Joseph Anthony Bliss (1889-1962)
  4. Matthew George Bliss (1896-1965)
  5. Anna Marie Bliss (1897-1968)
  6. Marie M Bliss (1899-1984)

This family knot was difficult to untangle. I originally thought Caroline was the daughter of a Magdalene Pfeil and had worked out her entire family tree. The missing piece was any indication that the family interacted with my Caroline. That seemed peculiar. Then there was George Goetz. George kept popping up on other family trees and in a few documents. Once I ruled out the potential for George to be an alias for George Harry Bliss, I made an educated guess that he was a foster son. Given how large and convoluted both Henry and Caroline’s families were, that didn’t seem improbable.

Then I revisited Caroline’s death certificate and realized I had misread her parents names. So I had to start from scratch sometime in the summer of 2017. I found Caroline’s birth parents and spent months pursuing leads on the variants of her name. And then I found George – he was named the executor of Caroline’s will which suggested a different relationship than foster parent. Working my way back from George, I realized he and Caroline shared a parent. And then things really began to fall into place.

Important key in the story

DNA testing really helped me in this regard. I took a test with Ancestry.com and have discovered a handful of 3rd and 4th cousins who are tied to the Vogels, the Kunz family and a few ties to other Fiel descendants. Their research has helped me to confirm a lot of details and opened interesting new possibilities.

Father Albert Bliss (1883-1952) was part of the Capuchin Order for 40 years  He was ordained in Herman, Butler County. He spent 7 years teaching college in Kansas and 17 years teaching at St. Fidelis in Butler County.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, 06 May 1912, Mon, Page 4

George Harry Bliss (1887-1947) went to work in the railroads, spending his final years working in the steel mills. He married Martha Moore and they had six children: Albert (1909-1911), Mary Elizabeth (1911-1916), Florence (1915-1975), John Matthew (1918-1975), Martha Carolyn (1921-1980), and Harry George (1924-1978).

Joseph Anthony Bliss (1889-1962) and his wife had four children. He was a carpenter and they moved to Sewickley. After the Depression, they moved back into the City, renting in the East End. Their children were Joseph Henry (1910-1970), Albert Henry (1915-1945), Dorothy (1921-?), and Olive Margaret (1927-2003) There was a lot of tragedy in this family. Joseph Henry founded his own business, Artcraft Mantle. His first wife died of Hodgins disease and in a horrific twist, Joseph murdered his adopted son Dennis, attempted to kill his second wife, Grace, and then died by suicide.  Albert Henry was electrocuted at work at age 30.

Matthew George Bliss (1896-1965) became a mechanic and moved to Castle Shannon with his wife Emma. They did not have children.

Marie M Bliss (1899-1984) has a special place in my heart although I never met her to my knowledge. She married twice, first to Leo Sweeney with whom she had two children, Marion and Brayton Sweeney. Leo was a louse and died after a drunk driving accident. Marie remarried to Frank Simon. The Simons lived with Marie’s adult children on the Northside. Marie died in a Northside nursing home in 1984. I’ve since learned that some of my current neighbors knew Marion and Brayton from when they lived on Galveston Avenue.

Marion was an important person in the lives of my grandmother & mother. Who knew I would end up living a mile from her home & meet her former neighbors?

Last, there is Anna Marie Bliss (1897-1968) who is my great-grandmother. Somehow in the course of visiting her seminary student brother Father Albert in Hermany, Butler County, Annie met Charlie Kramer. And she married him, relocating from her Lawrenceville upbringing to rural Butler County. I do mean rural as they lived on a farm without electricity or indoor plumbing, not because they couldn’t afford it but because my great-grandfather was a miser with his money. According to my mother, he installed an indoor WC in the late 1950’s, but did not let the grandchildren use it. My Bethel Park born mother was using an outhouse into the 1960’s when she visited her family. Annie and Charlie had six children, but only four lived to adulthood: Mary Valda Pryor (1922-2004), Robert Charles (1924-1993), Harry Bliss (1930-?) and Edward Joseph (1932-1981). Twin girls, Jean and Mary, born in 1929 died soon after birth. My mother adored her grandmother Annie. I don’t know much about her beyond my mother’s stories. She apparently was a woman who bore her lot in life with dignity and kindness. I’m sure that’s romanticized through the eyes of a child.

This family has so many tales to share that it is difficult to stay focused on Caroline’s story. But that’s part of the point of this series – to look at the experiences of women who lived during this amazing time frame.  She was born before the Civil War, one of the earliest of my 2x great grandmothers to arrive in this world. She lost so many people to violent, premature deaths – from her biological father to five of her children and even more grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

Caroline died in 1936 at the St. Francis Hospital from pneumonia. Her husband Henry had died in 1927 from a heart condition. She is buried in Allegheny Cemetery in an unmarked grave (that I know of) which seems odd since she left an estate and her brother Otto owned a funeral home. Henry and several of their children are buried in St. Augustine Cemetery in Millvale. I don’t know why the separate cemeteries. It seems sad and worthy of an explanation.

I also don’t know where Caroline was living in 1930 after her husband died, but six years before she died. I haven’t found her in the US Census for that year. One would assume she was with her adult children or perhaps a sibling, but I haven’t found her yet.

Caroline’s family was very visible because of the men – they were prominent in business, priests, and otherwise the types to get press coverage because of their actions (often criminal or violent).  But she wasn’t so prominent other than being listed as relatives in obituaries and the mother of a priest. I can’t find her name anywhere – just “Mrs Henry Bliss” and “Bliss – Caroline.”

Caroline was the U.S. born second generation daughter of immigrants. She married the son of German immigrants. Her Catholic legacy was a significant influence in my own life. But even while the details about her extended family fall into my tree every day, I just know so little about her. I even had her name, her entire identity, wrong for years. Did she work in the cigar factory? Did the children? Is that why Annie fled to Butler County?

As I wrap up this blog post, I feel like this story remains unfinished. Maybe I need to go visit her burial spot? Maybe I feel guilty for conflating her with another person until DNA set me on the right path?

But, complete or not, this is her story as it stands right now. May you rest in power, Grandma Caroline.

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