Frank Joseph and Mary Ann Schirck

Frank Albert Schirck is said to have been a descendant of the old Schurch Family, which originated in Bern, Switzerland. The ancestral Schurchs seems to have been members of the Menonites, a liberal group, who broke away from the Amish during the 1600's. Persecuted in Switzerland, the family settled in the province of Alsace, a German-French area that came under the rule of France in the mid-17th century.

Emigration of family members to the United States began in the early 1700's. A favorite destination seems to have been the Pennsylvania Dutch settlements in Lancaster and Allegheny counties, Pennsylvania. During the emigration, the old family name of Schurch (which is still used in Switzerland today) was variously misspelled by clerks at the ports of arrival in more than 70 different ways, among them Sharck, Scherg, Scherk, Scherrich, Schirck, etc.

Frank Albert Schirck himself was born about 1806 in the province of Alsace, France. Nothing is known of his early childhood or adolescence. When he came of age he married a local girl named Mary Ann Monk, who was seven years his junior. Soon after their marriage, the young couple emigrated to America. It is not known whether Frank joined the Catholic Church on the occasion of his marriage or whether his family had converted some time earlier. In either case, both Frank and Mary Ann seem to have been devout Catholics when they set sail for the new world.

Family stories, as recorded by their granddaughter Clara Reiling, indicate that Frank and Mary Ann "crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a sailboat. The sails were wrecked by a storm, and the boat drifted about for 5 months, til finally it was found by the crew of another boat. The people were nearly starved, and Grandfather made a promise to be always satisfied with any kind of food he would later have in America."

After their arrival in the United States, the movements of the Frank Schirck family were tracked by the census takers.

Frank Schirck, age 30-40, was listed in the 1840 U.S. Census as a "head of family." He was living in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. He was married, with two children (Henry & Mary Ann) both born in Pennsylvania. Also in the household was an older man, 40-50, probably a German named Joseph Camp, who later moved with him to Ohio.

In the 1850 U.S. Census, Frank Schirck was listed as a 44-year-old farmer living in Harrison Township, Carroll County, in eastern Ohio. With him were his 37-year-old wife Mary Ann, and their seven children: Henry aged 12, Mary Ann aged 10, Francis aged 9, Rose aged 7, Virginia aged 6, John aged 4, and Philomena aged 1. The first five had been born in Pennsylvania, the last two in Ohio. Also in the same household was the enigmatic Joseph Camp aged 61.

Ten year later, the 1860 U.S. Census still listed Frank Schirck as a farmer in Carroll County, Ohio. His family remained much the same, but with the subtraction (possibly through death) of Joseph Camp and the addition of son Victor aged 8.

By the time of the 1870 U.S. Census, Frank was 64 years of age, and the landlord of a hotel in Mansfield, Ohio. His wife Mary Ann, at age 57, supervised the cleaning and cooking. Still at home was their oldest son Henry, a member of the legislature, as well as daughter Rosa Philomena (22) and youngest son Victor (19). Added to the family were Mary Ann's 91-year-old mother, Magdalena Monk, and the three Reiling grandchildren: Joseph (12), Henry (10), and Francis Albert (8). Also living at the hotel were two teenaged girls, who worked as in-house domestics, and thirteen boarders: a carpenter, a painter, a blacksmith, three laborers, and five stonemasons, one of whom had his wife and son with him.

The Reiling grandchildren had been adopted by Frank and Mary Ann Schirck following the untimely deaths of their parents, Salomon and Mary Ann Reiling. Along with the three grandsons came the dream of moving to a new life in western Iowa. In 1871, Frank and Mary Ann Schirck sold their hotel and bought land near the newly-founded town of Mt. Carmel in Kniest Township, Carroll County, Iowa.

Kniest Township was a German colony founded by Lambert Kniest and Heinrich Baumhover. In 1868 the two entrepreneurs had purchased land some five miles northwest of the town of Carroll, Iowa, from the Iowa Railroad Land Company, with the understanding that within a year several dozen farm families would settle the township. All the families were to be of German or Dutch descent, devout Catholics, and good Democrats.

The first settlers arrived from Dubuque in the spring of 1869. By mid-July, they had founded the town of Mt. Carmel and built a 24'x40' frame church, with a nearby cottage to serve as priest's residence. By the time the Schircks arrived in 1871, the small frontier settlement contained no more than a few rough structures surrounding the little church, but the population of the township as a whole had risen to nearly 300 individuals contained in some sixty farm families. The farms themselves were small, generally no more than eighty acres. Price per acre was $4 for the early settlers, from $5-$10 for later arrivals. Until the coming of the railroad in 1874, most of the farmers raised only enough crops to satisfy their own household needs.

Kniest township remained a frontier settlement for several years after the arrival of Frank Schirck and his family. In the early 1870's there were still few roads or trees, nothing but miles of flat, tall-grass pririe filled with watery swamps and miry sloughs. Prairie fires ravaged the land in summer, snowstorms in winter. Just the year before their arrival, a seven-year-old girl of the Dewald family had been burned to death in one fast-moving fire. And the following winter, four German emigrants had perished in a raging blizzard twelve miles south of Mt. Carmel.

But the Shircks were determined to make their last home a happy one. Although of French origin instead of German, they did satisfy two of the three basic requirements by being both Democrats and Catholics. They immediately joined the Catholic Church in Mt. Carmel, and remained involved in church affairs during the construction of 1874 when the building was doubled in size.

In the 1880 U.S. Census, Frank Schirck was listed as being 74 years of age, his wife Mary Ann as 67. He remained active as a farmer in Kniest Township, she keeping house. Still living with them were their 30-year-old daughter Philomena and their 18-year-old grandson (Francis) Albert Reiling.

Frank Schirck died the following year, just as the original wooden church in Mt. Carmel was being replaced by a new brick structure, which was surmounted by a large gold cross visible for miles around. He was buried in the nearby Mt. Carmel Cemetery under a tall, white tombstone. Carved on one side were the simple words: "F.J. Schirck Died Aug 21 1881 Aged 75." His wife Mary Ann followed him in death five years later. She was buried beside him, and the other side of the tombstone was carved to read: "Mary A. Wife of F.J. Schirck Died June 5, 1886 Aged 74."

Years later, a new tombstone was placed over the graves, and the original stone was leaned against a nearby tree. On this new stone were listed the names not only of Frank and Mary Ann Schirck, but also the names of their daughters - Rosa P. (Philomena) and Regina - and Regina's son A.E. Bechler, all of whom were buried in the same lot.

Frank Schirck's generosity, high moral standards, and dedication to family values became bywords among his many descendants. His granddaughter, Regina Reiling, is said to have encouraged any of her childrens' accomplishments with the words: "That's the Schirck in you coming out."

Another of Frank Schirck's granddaughters, Clara Reiling, gave an accounting of the many Schirck children in her family diary:

"The sons had different occupations. Henry had been a school teacher. Frank was a soldier. Vic was a farmer, first on Olerich farm in Kniest twp, then he moved East of Carroll, where he owned a nice farm and lived there till he died. He was elected county supervisor on the day he died.

"John Schirck about the year 1870 was a cowboy working for the Creighton Brothers business men at Omaha~ He helped drive cattle from Mexico to Omaha. Once there was a herd of 1000 cattle got for $1. 00 a head. The men worked 3 days to get them into the Rio Grande River to swim across. It took several months to bring them to Omaha. Nights some men would watch the herd while others camped a few miles away. One time the cattle had a stampede and overran the camp destroying everything even cook kettles. The men had escaped on their horses.

"Mary Ann Schirck and her husband Salomon Frank Reiling both died in Ohio and their sons adopted by the Schirck grandparents and brought to Iowa.

"Philomena Schirck lived a maiden life, had a dress-making business in Carroll. She is buried with her parents at Mt. Carmel.

"Regina Schirck and her husband Lou Bechler first lived in Carroll. Later they moved to Omaha, where the children were educated and grew up.

"Leonard Schirck perished with the great earthquake in San Francisco.

"John Schirck later in life married, had no children, and died in California."

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