Henry (Heinrich) Gehling was one of the first Gehlings of record to come to the United States. It is thought that he was born on 13 October 1820 (although his tombstone reads 1818) in the town of Averesch, Westphalia, in extreme northwestern Prussia. Then - as now - Averesch was a small farming community in the rolling lowlands near the border with Holland. In elevation it was a mere 164 feet above sea level. About three miles to the east lay the city of Ahaus. (Today, Ahaus is a bustling city of more than 36,000 inhabitants. More than three dozen Gehlings are still listed in its telephone directory.)
Henry's parents were Henry and Moria (Wilton) Gehling. He had a sister named Christina (b. 1825) and two younger brothers named Herman (b. 1822) and Bernard Herman (b. 1824). All belonged to the Roman Catholic faith, then the predominant religion in Westphalia.
It is thought that the younger Henry emigrated to America in 1852 and settled in Racine County, Wisconsin, near Burlington. Burlington was a small town situated at the confluence of the White and Fox rivers in the southeastern part of the state. The town had its beginnings in the mid-1830's, and by the early 1850's already contained a saw mill, a grist mill, a woolen mill, and - perhaps of greater importance to Henry - a Catholic Church (est. 1846) and a small contingent of German immigrants.
Liking what he found in Burlington, Henry made a hurried trip back to Westphalia to claim as his bride a young woman named Adelaid Kennebeck, who was five years his junior. Adelaid was the oldest child of Herman and Elizabeth Kennebeck. She had been born on April 22, 1826 in the town of Ahaus. She had a younger sister named Mary and two younger brothers named Bernard and John.
In 1854, Henry and Adelaid, returned to Racine County, Wisconsin, and were married in the town of Burlington on 19 September 1854 under the name of Gelling. The following year, not only Adelaid's aged parents, but her brothers and sister as well, joined them in Wisconsin. The Kennebecks, however, chose to settle further north in Buffalo County near the town of Waumandee.
In July of 1855, Adelaid gave birth to their first child, a girl named Wilhelmina. Wilhelmina lived only fourteen months. She was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Burlington. Nearly a year later, on 2 August 1857, Adelaid gave birth to a second daughter named Mary Catherine. By then, however, there was talk of a move further to the west. Before the end of the decade, Henry had joined a few friends on a walk to Iowa, where they staked out claims in Winneshiek County near the 1840's military reservation known as Fort Atkinson. After selecting their acerage, the men walked some seventy more miles south to Dubuque, where they paid the required $1.25 per acre.
Henry moved his family and his farm and household goods to northeastern Iowa in wagons, crossing the wide Mississippi by ferry boat. Initially, the nearest market was forty-two miles away at McGregor, but eventually two small towns named Calmar and Festina (known early on as "Big Springs") were established nearby. A church - Our Lady of Seven Dolors, later named St. Mary's - was built in Festina. It was the first Catholic Church in the area.
In later years, many of Henry's relatives emigrated from Westphalia and joined him in the Festina area. His younger brother, Herman Gehling, brought his wife Elizabeth (Hartman) and six children over in 1869. Herman was followed by the other brother, Bernard Herman and wife Elisabeth. and later by other relatives including Herman Gehling (b. 1803) and wife Elizabeth (Bornemann) and Margaret Geeling (b. 1815) and husband Gerhard Herman Huinker. Gerhard's first wife had been Henry's sister Christina, who - after giving birth to two children in the early 1840's - had passed away in Westphalia.
Surrounded by these relatives, Henry and Adelaid Gehling reared six children of their own on their Iowa farm: Mary (b. 1857 in Wisconsin), Margaret (b.1860), Herman (b.1861), Anna (b. 1863), Henry Jr.(b. 1866), and Bernard (b. 1868).
Henry and his family were listed in the 1860 U.S. Census under the name of "Geling." They were living in Washington Township and their post office was at nearby Fort Atkinson. Henry was 39 years old at the time, his wife Adelaid 34, with their two daughters Mary and Margaret, 3 years and 5 months respectively. Living with the family was a 17-year-old farm laborer named Henry Kinker. The value of the family farm was placed at $1,600, the value of their personal goods at $400.
By the time of the 1870 U.S. Census, the family name was still listed as "Geling," although the post office had been moved to the new town of Calmar. The value of the family farm remained the same: $1,600. The value of their personal goods had risen to $1,200. Henry was listed as 49 years of age, Adelaid 44, Mary 13, Margaret 10. There were four more additions to the family: Herman 8, Anna 6, Henry 4, and Bernard 1. Also living with the family was a 59-year-old farm laborer named Henry Miller. A school had been established in the new town of Festina, and the four oldest children had been enrolled there during the previous year.
Henry had already passed away by the time of the U.S. Census in June of 1880. It is thought that his death occurred on 24 May 1874. He was 53 years old. He was buried in Our Lady of Seven Dolors Cemetery at Festina, Iowa. In the 1880 Census the family name was written for the first time as "Gehling." Adelaid was 55 at the time, and keeping house. Herman 18 was doing the farming. Anna 15 was still at home. Henry Jr. 13 and little Bernard 10 were in school.
By the late 1880's most of the original Henry Gehling family had moved away from Winneshiek County. The two oldest girls were already married (Mary to Henry Hackfort, Margaret to Henry Brinks), and both had moved to Carroll County in western Iowa. Herman and his new wife Ella Timp followed them in 1888, as did Anna and her husband Herman Hackfort several years later as well as Barney and his wife Maria Timp (Ella's younger sister) by 1900. The other son, Henry Gehling, Jr. eventually moved to Pennington County, Minnesota. Their widowed mother, Adelaid, is thought to have remained on the family homestead the remainder of her life. She died on 22 March 1892 at the age of 76, and was buried beside her husband, Henry, in Our Lady of Seven Dolors Catholic Cemetery at Festina, Iowa.
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