Braving the Unknown

Thinking about our ancestral heritage, I am struck by the thought of people connected to me, my family, having the courage to make their way through Ellis Island, trying to understand questions upon arrival in a language unfamiliar to anyone in their group. What money did they have after paying for passage on the ships? Where did they go once they disembarked, mostly in New York? Who could they trust to help them figure out what to do next? There was no internet, no cell phones. It’s the same sort of worries immigrants to our country face today, though they might easily place a call or get on Facebook. Back then, as now, there were mysterious diseases killing people off, people starving, and people who simply took to the streets to try for a better life.

Our Muellers from Germany were farmers who came from Simmern, Hunsruck Mountain area, Germany. They entered with a group of several men who managed to make their way to fruit producing areas of Wisconsin and Michigan. One of those men, Jacob Mueller, had money to purchase several acres to grow apples in the upper peninsula or U.P. of Michigan. Jacob himself had several sons, one of whom purchased a creamery in Daggett. That man, Edward, married a woman who had come as an immigrant and worked as a nanny for a wealthy merchant in the area. Edward and Louise(Gilbert) Miller had two daughters before giving birth to a son, Sidney Edward, who would carry the Miller name forward. Although Sidney was drafted to serve in the US army, it was after the Japanese surrender of 1945, so his family felt greatly relieved that he would not be in the thick of horrible combat. He was to report to Tokyo. There, Sidney would come face to face with Hideki Tojo, the Japanese Imperial general who ordered the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Serving as a medic, Sydney and two dentists were assigned the task of checking up on Tojo in his cell in Sugamo Prison and making sure he was fit to testify about his behavior before a military tribunal. Tojo tried to kill himself in his cell rather than come before the court, but he was revived and soon sentenced to die by hanging for the bombing that badly crippled the U.S. navy and left so many dead and wounded. There is a little known story of a prank that the two dentists and Sidney were in on. It entailed marking “Remember Pearl Harbor” in Morse Code on a set of dentures made for Tojo, whose upper teeth were so rotted it was feared he would not be heard clearly during his testimony. Sidney and the two dentists were sworn to secrecy about their stunt, but somehow word leaked out and their commanding officer suggested they go back into that prison cell and chisel it off or risk being court marshalled. (The officer added that he thought it was hilarious, but not proper military behavior.) The plaster casts used to make Tojo’s dentures still exist today.

Sidney would meet a beautiful young woman at Ferris State University where he studied pharmacy using funds from the GI Bill. This woman, Rita May, one of twelve children from nearby Remus, Michigan, was studying to become an Xray technician. The two would eventually marry once Sid became a pharmacist, and Rita a bonified xray technician. Together with friends, they built a small house on Whitehall Road, later moving to Henry Street where they would raise seven children of their own.

Rita’s heritage introduced mostly Irish Doyles, and French Mays, but included other assorted characters such as Italians, and a Russian Czar purportedly. Souflenheim is the area most closely associated with Michael and Johanna May , father of Alois, or Alex May who though born in Ontario, Canada, was by age 23 listed in the census as living in Mecosta, Michigan. His son Fred moved to California. Rita May’s father, Elmo, was the son of Fred May who worked at the Stockton State Hospital, San Quentin prison, and a warden at Folsom Prison in California. The Mays settled originally in and around the Sacramento, California area where Rita was born. Later, some of the family would move to Remus, Michigan, leaving Marvin May, Elmo’s eldest son, and his family to oversee some acreage and remain in Sacramento. Marvin served in the Korean War, one of the worst military efforts ever, that has come to be known as “The Forgotten War.” The soldiers felt as if they had been forgotten in a bitter snowy cold landscape with improper clothing, little fuel, food, or supplies, as the enemy pounded them over and over. How Marvin survived is a great testament to his personal fortitude and training.

Elmo May did meet and marry Frances Syler in California. After moving, Frances later became a school teacher at a Catholic School in Muskegon, Michigan. The couple would have twelve children, with one daughter, Alice, dying at an early age. Their daughter Rita met Sid and began to write, paint, and carve wood. Her work has been on display in galleries, libraries, and homes around the Muskegon area for over fifty years. Although Sid has been gone for several years now, Rita continues to create art and write to this day.

Crest for Simmern, Hunsruck, Germany

3 thoughts on “Braving the Unknown

    1. Glad you got to read it! Now that I have the place in Germany, I’ll add that to it. Seems like Mom had a place too where ceramics are made in France. I’ve forgotten where, but can figure it out!

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