Bringing Alice Schell Berger out of the shadows: 1868 thru 1885

Some women in my family tree lived extraordinary lives for their times. They traveled, worked, and had experiences that weren’t the norm for women of their day. Alice Deisher Schell is not one of those women. She had a nice middle class upbringing, and sustained that through her marriage.

She is the kind of person who normally wouldn’t be remembered when talking about your family history. Unlike some other women in my family tree, there are no “can you believe Alice did…” stories; no mysteries; and no secrets that were revealed when I was researching her life. Which is precisely why I wanted to write about her. She may not have done extraordinary things, but she is still someone I descend from. I wanted to learn what I could about her and bring her out of the shadows so she is not forgotten.

Alice’s Story

Alice Schell BergerAlice Deisher Schell, born in Emaus, PA on December 24, 1868, was a Christmas gift to her parents, Amanda Heistand Deisher and Ambrose Trumbauer Schell.

The Deisher and Schell families had arrived in Pennsylvania from Germany around 1730, and were well established in the local Berks County community.

Despite both of her parents’ families deep roots in Pennsylvania, by the time Alice is a year and a half her family had moved to Illinois. The 1870 US Census, taken July 5, 1870, shows them living in Buffalo, Ogle County, Illinois.

Illinois had been a state since 1818, so it wasn’t the lure of a new state opening up. Some other records I came across made me think that this was part of a larger family migration to Illinois from Pennsylvania.

Digging into it, I found that land was at a premium in Pennsylvania, and it still went to the oldest son. Amanda’s husband Ambrose was the 6th out of 7 sons, so there was no way he was inheriting any of the land.

The 1870s US Census also confirmed that this was a larger family migration, with numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins living nearby in their new Illinois communities.

Siblings Arrive

On January 13 1871, Alice gets her first sibling when Calvin Deisher Schell is born in Ogle County, Illinois. I can’t tell if he was born while they were still in Buffalo, or nearby Polo (both are in Ogle County), which is where their brother Joel Henry Schell is born on August 10, 1872.

Alice’s youngest sibling, Lucy Schell is born on on September 17, 1878 in Polo, Illinois. At first, I wondered about the larger gap in years between Joel and Lucy, and then I found the “Ogle Co. Portrait and Biographical Album” by Chapman Bros., Chicago, IL, 1886, which notes on page 741, that another child died in infancy, so most likely he/she was born in between Joel and Lucy.

Alice’s Childhood

Alice’s dad, Ambrose, was a farmer in Pennsylvania and continued that trade in Illinois. In 1870 his personal real estate was worth $400, fairly substantial for the time and place.

Some of Alice’s maternal uncles and aunts also made the move to Illinois from Pennsylvania and were living in Ogle County in 1870. It must have been nice for her family to have this built in support system and for the cousins to have playmates in this new place.

In addition to her father becoming a successful farmer, Alice’s uncles also were doing well, and became prominent citizens of Polo, Illinois, giving Alice and her extended family a comfortable life.

By June 6, 1880, according to the 1880 US Census, her dad worked as a butcher and the Schell family had moved from a farm into the town of Polo, at 90 Division St. The 1880 Census didn’t ask about personal property so I don’t know if he still owned any at this time.

In 1880, Alice was 12 years old and most likely going to school, along with her brothers Calvin and Joel. I couldn’t find any information about the school, but the first library in Polo was built in 1871 (impressive for such a small town!), so I’m sure they had a dedicated school.

Alice’s Uncle Thomas Schell, who is a stock buyer, lived next door with his family, including two of Alice’s cousins, Lydia Ann and Addison, who are around her age. I can imagine the three of them easily moving between houses, playing with their dolls, or plucking the string for cat’s cradle. Maybe they played Graces, considered a girls game, tossing hoops back and forth to each other with a stick.

Based on newspaper clippings from the late 1800s, I know that Alice’s parents, Ambrose and Amanda, were active later in life in the Lutheran Evangelical Church. And, their parents were members of the church’s congregations back in Pennsylvania, so Alice probably grew up going to the local Lutheran Evangelical Church as well.

Part 2

In the next post in the series about Alice Deisher Schell, we’ll find out about her husband, Charles Bird Berger. Where did he live? How did they meet? How old was he?

Sources for this story: for US Census information
Children’s Activities – Games



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