FOUR RIVERS GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY
With a focus on Franklin County, Missouri
Mail: 4RGS, P.O. Box 146, Washington, MO 63090
Dedicated to promoting genealogical research and assisting others in researching and documenting family histories.
The “Kiel Files” are a collection of written and printed records and pictures of Franklin County, Missouri. The collection was made by Herman Gottlieb Kiel, a man born and raised to maturity in the county. Herman Kiel published part of the collection in 1925. What he published was mainly of persons and because what he wrote and compiled was just after the time Missourians celebrated the centennial of Franklin county, he titled the matter published “The Centennial Biographical Directory of Franklin County Missouri.”
The whole of his collection he called an “Encyclopedia of Biography.” He described its contents summarily on page 4 of his directory. “The centennial biographical encyclopedia of Franklin county, Missouri, is an unpublished collection of over 250,000 items of biographical data and constitutes a collection larger than the Bible and the Webster International Dictionary together. It is a highly developed “Who’s Who” in Franklin County during the first century of the County.” The Kiel Files are now at the Washington Historical Society, Washington, Mo.
How did they get there? They were given to the society by Ralph Gregory of Marthasville, Mo. He told how he acquired them. “After service in World War Two I decided to live on a farm and devote my life beyond farming to studies in science and philosophy. I bought a farm in Tennessee from money saved during the war and took college courses in farming and husbandry through the aid of the “G. I. Program.” This was a federal program to help discharged military persons in their return to American practical life. I lived at home too. “When my mother died in 1947 the ties of the family to the home in Tennessee were completely broken. My sisters and brother were married and had their own homes. I was on a farm near Ashland City, Tenn. My sister, Marian, had a daughter from her first marriage living with our mother. This girl, Rose Ann, was 16 and could not be left alone. Marian helped, but father and Rose Ann were destined to be alone. I suggested to my father that we move to a farm near Washington, Mo. That was the town where all his children were born and lived early years and where he was born and lived to maturity and marriage. It was our hometown and where mother was buried. He liked the idea, so we repaired the engine in his Chevrolet car, put in new rings and piston bearings, and made a trip to Missouri to find a farm. We chose a farm belonging to Ben Elbert near Clover Bottom about nine miles south of Washington, Mo. The farm was only a few miles from the old Gregory farm and family cemetery. I moved machinery and household furniture plus two bred Berkshire gilts and two dogs. The move was in the Spring of 1948. The house was rented and a family lived in it. The farm was rented and a neighbor had a field planted in corn but no cattle grazing in the pasture.
My father bought some cows from a sale at the Buhr farm south of Washington near the Lutheran cemetery. I began care of the farm while my father continued his work as a machinist for the United Shoe Machinery Corp. He needed two more years to become eligible for a pension. I also began care for the family cemetery. The cemetery was in bad condition. The east part of the iron fence about the cemetery was flat on the ground. Cows had gotten into the cemetery and broken tombstones. Two of those broken were of R.R. Gregory and wife who were the heads of the family that came to Franklin county in October 1833. A large limb from a walnut tree was among the gravestones. Young trees and weeds and vines were in it. With the use of my truck, an Army weapons carrier, I got the fence back up. I cut with my axe the trees, brush and dead limb and put all the cut matter in an adjoining ditch. “In caring for the cemetery I learned something about the persons buried in it. Research to learn more led to interest in family and local history.
Research in local history found Herman G. Kiel’s “Directory” of Franklin county. The “Directory” told of the many files on Franklin county’s history he had made. I tried to find those files. I could not find them in care of our state historical societies. I found a historical record of Washington, Mo, in a little book published to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the city in my Aunt Molly Gregory’s attic when I did some electrical work for her. This caused me to inquire at the Washington city library. There I found three boxes of Kiel’s files.
The librarian did not know where they came from, but knew they were used by the committee that was responsible for the centennial celebration. The files were on the city of Washington, Franklin county products and a chronological history of the county. I studied these files and wrote some articles published in the Washington Missourian. I became acquainted with persons interested in researching and writing about local history. I took time some evenings and on Sundays to visit these persons. I learned from someone of these that Herman G. Kiel was dead. “I also learned that Kiel had a niece, Mrs. Frances Hannah (Kiel) Poggas, living in Franklin county. I found her north of Gerald on the old Kiel family farmland and in the old house there. This place was only about eight miles from where I lived. I was kindly received by Mrs. Poggas, given some copies of Kiel’s book and a copy on loan of the “Kiel Tree,” a history and genealogy of the Kiel family. In the “Kiel Tree” I found the names and addresses of the persons who had been of most help to Herman G. Kiel in making the “Kiel Tree.” They were his brother Gottlieb H., Mrs. Poggas, Mrs. Eula Ruff in Texas and Mrs. Edna Doormann in Chicago, Ill. Mrs. Doormann was a daughter of Herman G. Kiel’s brother Gottlieb.
Mrs. Doormann gave the address of Hermann G. Kiel’s daughter. That important information came to me in a letter dated September 4, 1958. “Herman G. Kiel’s daughter was Mrs. Helen K. Lillis living in Arlington, Virginia. Mrs. Lillis kindly helped me. From her I learned that the Kiel files and some books and other records had been advertised for sale in 1939 and had been purchased by Herman Hansen of Union, MO, soon after offered for sale. In early 1959 I told Mr. Hansen of my search for the Kiel files and my correspondence with Mrs. Lillis. He said, “Yes, I have the files and you can have them.” The straight to me, frank and generous reply, surprised and startled me, and so delighted me I asked no questions He showed me where the files were. They were in a little room at the front of the basement of his building. The little room was under the front sidewalk to his building, opposite the front entrance to his basement. I loaded my 1934 Ford with the wooden boxes of records and some books. I came back the next day and got the remainder.
“Herman Hansen had the files for about twenty years. He got them sometime in 1939 and I got them in 1959. The files included a few books when I received them. An “Encyclopedia of Missouri” was mainly what the books were. I do not know if the books came with the files or were added by Hansen. Hansen may have had a few books, maps and other items from the collection in his home or office. I got what was in the little cellar at the front of his building on Main street in Union, Mo.
I took what I got to my barn and house near Clover Bottom, Mo. The house was a small five room structure. The original house was a “rock and timber” with an attic. When in 1960 I received the position of Curator of the Mark Twain Shrine I took the files to my home near Florida, Missouri and they were there for over fourteen years. They were in the northwest room of the house with files of newspapers and books. Soon after I began work at Hannibal as curator of the city’s “Mark Twain Properties” I put the files in the basement of the “Mark Twain Museum” When I retired from professional work as a museum curator in 1978 the files were taken to the main barn on the Brehe farm west of Washington, Mo. After my family became settled in an old house in Marthasville, MO. in 1979 the files were placed in the “summer kitchen” of our house.
After the Washington Historical Society acquired use of the old Catholic School building at Main and Cedar streets the files were moved in 1985 to the east portion of the second floor of that building. From there they were moved to the building at Fourth and Market streets in Washington, Mo.” From Washington Citizen Washington, MO January 12, 1939 p. 8, col. 2 The letter which appeared in the Franklin County Citizen newspaper was as follows: Mrs. Herman G. Kiel Offers Valuable Record Mrs. Herman G. Kiel of 522 Harvard Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. writes the Citizen as follows: “Are you and the people of Franklin County interested in obtaining the large collection of records and biographical data compiled by my late husband, Herman Gottlieb Kiel, on Franklin County? These records form the basis for “The Centennial Biographical Directory of Franklin County, Missouri,” and embrace every type of historical and biographical records for over 100 years. “Will you kindly circularize this letter among your readers for their suggestions or offer? It is necessary that final disposition be made of this collection of records before March 15, 1939, and we, therefore, would appreciate an early reply.” Anyone wishing to acquire these records may get information as to cost, etc., by writing to Mrs. Kiel.”
THIS HUGE KIEL COLLECTION IS NOT AVAILABLE ANYWHERE ELSE BUT IN THE LIBRARY OF THE FOUR RIVERS GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY AND THE WASHINGTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY, LOCATED IN WASHINGTON, MO!