Minnie Dora Engelbrecht Roser

1 January 1871 – 24 July 1915

The Eastland, one of five chartered excursion boats meant to ferry employees, their families and friends from Chicago over to the Michigan City shore for the annual Western Electric Company picnic, keeled over into the Chicago River while still at dock, trapping hundreds inside its hull and leading to the deaths of 844 of the 2,500 passengers aboard at the time of the incident which became known as The Eastland Disaster.

Minnie was the oldest of seven children born to German immigrants Charles and Caroline (Thorpe) Engelbrecht. Both of her parents died fairly young, her mother around 1890 and her father in 1896. She and all her siblings were born in Chicago.

Minnie married very young at about 14 years old to George Roser, a man seven years her senior. Their first child, daughter Lillian, was born just before Minnie’s fifteeth birthday on 18 December 1886. She and her husband clearly understood it was skeevy that she was so young as her age listed on Lillian’s birth record was 18* and on the 1900 census she made herself a year older. Contrary to the stereotype of younger wives/older husbands in the past, such young brides have been extremely uncommon in my research and as often as not the wives are a couple of years older than their husbands. Whatever the iniital circumstances around their marrige, Minnie and George went on to have six children together, four surviving childhood.

*While it might have been the case that Minnie lied about her age out of vanity as has sometimes been the case in my research, for Minnie, in spite of a lack of birth record to be found, the evidence is still all but conclusive that she was indeed born in 1871 as her headstone and death records state. Her parents had married by the time the 1870 census was done (for them in July of that year) but had no children at the time.

Minnie’s father appears to have been ill in the months before his death in late September 1896 as he made out a will in May of that same year making Minnie his executrix and leaving her three youngest siblings – still minors – to her care. Their mother had already passed at some point after the birth of youngest Emma (December 1888) or perhaps due to that event. I couldn’t find Caroline’s death record so that specific loss is a mystery, but in late 1896, Minnie and George took in her sisters Hilda (16) and Emma (8) and brother William (14), adding them to their household along with their own four children who at the time were all under 10 years old.

Considering the time period, it’s likely Hilda and possibly William were already working, and by 1900, William had moved out on his own. Hilda and Emma were still with the Rosers, Hilda working as a candymaker and Emma at school. The family had also taken in a boarder. At this point Minnie was just 29 years old and taking care of a a lot of people. George was working as a barber.

In 1907, Lillian married and in 1908, her first child Arleen was born, making Minnie a grandmother at just 37 years old. In that same time period between 1900 and 1910, Minnie lost her sixth child. By that latter census, the household has settled somewhat. Hilda and Emma also had married and moved out on their own, and though still at home at the time, Myrtle (20) would marry very soon thereafter. That left just Irene (17) and Philip (15) at home though both had entered the workforce. George had changed occupations in the interim as well, going from barber to insurance collector. They no longer needed a boarder and had moved from a rented home to their own house on Oakley Boulevard.

Irene married in 1912, and in October 1914, Minnie’s little brother William passed away. Both he and their father Charles are buried at Concordia and probably their mother as well, though it’s unclear where in the cemetery they are. Minnie was a grandmother five times over by July of 1915, and Philip had only just started working at Western Electric when he, his parents, and his sister Myrtle and her husband all boarded the Eastland together for the picnic. All but Minnie were saved.

I cannot imagine the magnitude of that loss for this family. I would guess that Philip likely had a very hard time, his recently-started job having been the catalyst for why his family were at the picnic. Two of his sisters marriages broke up over the next few years, and he himself died before the age of sixty. An interesting fact pattern was that both Lillian and Irene married men who were more than 10 years their seniors and were the two who later divorced. When Irene remarried, it was to a man several years her junior. Myrtle who had married a man her own age is the only one whose first marriage lasted.

George never remarried and was buried beside Minnie when he died in 1943. The children seem to have scattered, Myrtle evetually to New Jersey, Irene to California, Lillian to Florida at one point and possibly to Michigan later (though that information is hard to verify). Philip appears to have moved to and back from California in the 1930s, and he changed the spelling of his last name, too, between 1920 and 1930, from Roser to Rosier. One wonders if there was a family rift that led to this decision.

Whatever the case with the name changes, breakups, and farflung relocations, it does seem possible and even likely that the loss of the woman who held two generations of her family together was something that propelled the surviving family members apart.

RIP Rosers

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