Friday, June 21, 2013

Max Baerecke: Lady Elgin Shipwreck Survivor

Max Baerecke (1827-1904) my great-great-great grandfather, was born in Germany but immigrated to and raised his family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Baerecke is such an unusual surname, that sometimes I search databases just looking for anybody with the name. This was the case when I searched for "Baerecke" is the massive Genealogy Bank historic newspaper website. 

There was a hit for a Max Baerecke in the September 1, 1880 Milwaukee Journal of Commerce.

Here is the headline:

Lady Elgin disaster? What's that? I immediately Googled it. Turns out it was a shipwreck on September 8, 1860. This piece was about a memorial commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the disaster.

The article was 1 1/2 columns long. I scanned the page until I zeroed in on Max Baerecke. He was listed as a survivor at this memorial event.

Wow. My third-great grandfather was a shipwreck survivor? I searched online for other articles and information about the disaster. Here is a September 12, 1860 New York Times article on the subject.

What I did not find, was Max Baerecke's name on any other list of survivors. didn't have his name. Nor did the book from which the list apparently came.

So how do I process this information? If Max Baerecke was a survivor of the Lady Elgin disaster, why didn't  his name make it into the book? Then again, why would he show up at the 20th anniversary memorial if he wasn't on the Lady Elgin?

What I do know is that this Max Baerecke from Milwaukee is my Max Baerecke. There was only one Baerecke family in 30 years of Milwaukee City Directories and it was mine all mine. This family went back and forth between Chicago and Milwaukee. He was in the Civil War, but not Irish like the majority of ship passengers. He ended up serving in a unit with other German immigrants. He was also poor and did not speak English.

Was he looked over as a survivor? Did the author of the Lady Elgin shipwreck book miss this Milwaukee Journal of Commerce article when conducting research?

Maybe I should share this article with some of the people and historical societies that may be interested in the subject and let them utilize it as they see fit.

What's next on this subject? I'll be making a bee line for the FGS 2013 session "They Went Down With the Ship" about Great Lakes shipwrecks and led by Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens, CG. It's like FGS added this session just for me!

I'll let you know how it goes. Until then I'll just try to process the fact that if Max hadn't made it off the boat, there would be no We Tree Genealogy Blog.

P.S. Here is a video of the Lady Elgin as she rests today.


  1. Amy,

    Did you see this source:,-il-steamer-lady-elgin-wreck,-sept-1860

  2. Maybe he was employed by the Lady Elgin ship ? What a find indeed!

  3. According to the 1900 Census MY Max Baerecke did speak English :)

    1. It's possible the census enumerator just wrote that, or you're looking at Max Jr.