A Glimpse at a German-American Family: The Helmecke Family Collections at the Archives and Rare Books Library


Carl Helmecke with his wife Mildred and daughter Roberta in Philadelphia in 1919.

The German-Americana Collection at the University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Books Library holds a wealth of materials on German immigration to the United States and the experiences of these immigrants once they were here. Two collections that document the experiences of one of these families are of the Helmecke family.  These collections span from the father’s immigration to Cincinnati in 1902 to the beginning of his son’s academic career in Colorado in the 1930s.

In 1902, Stephen Helmecke of Braunschweig, Germany came to the United States to work for the Globe Wernicke Company, a library furniture company located in Cincinnati. Stephen’s wife, Marie (Engel), and his two children, Carl Albert and Marie Gertrud, followed him to the United States in 1903. The family lived in Cincinnati for five years before moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan where both Carl and Gertrud attended the University of Michigan. Carl eventually received his Ph.D in German and taught at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado. Gertrud became an osteopathic physician, and was the first woman elected president of the Ohio Osteopathic Association.


An invitation Carl Helmecke received while in Germany in the late 1930s.

Among the family’s papers are memorabilia of family events including weddings and confirmations, photographs of family members, and correspondence between the Helmecke family in the United States and relatives in Germany. Of particular interest are Carl Helmecke’s letters describing life in Nazi Germany during a sabbatical in 1937 and 1938. The Carl Helmecke papers, in fact, consist almost entirely of letters Carl wrote and memorabilia from this trip to Germany including ticket stubs, tour guide books, and other souvenirs. Finding aids for both of these collections are now available online: Carl Albert Helmecke papers, Helmecke family papers.