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The Berger Brothers, Minus One

Grandpa Joe and siblings were the third generation of post-immigration Bergers. Now that we have looked at them, we can step back to the previous generation – the generation of Uncle George the pharmacist and his brother, Henry. which I will call the “Second Generation”. They seem to have led more dynamic lives than Joe’s group.

The Untraceable “Grandpop George”

As to the identity and origin of our Bergers prior to Grandpa Joe, our Berger family seems to have done an extremely poor job of preserving and passing on documentation of our roots. After searching Grandma Dorothy’s things with Cousin Michael, we found nothing written, whatsoever, about her parents or ancestors. Grandma Dorothy had no photos of her grandfather in her photo albums. I then asked several other cousins: none of them was able to provide documentation, notes, photos or family history about the Bergers.

I pressed Grandma Dorothy to tell me about her Grandpa Joe’s ancestors. She said they were from a German family. She also told me (a) she met her Berger grandfather and (b) the grandfather was a pharmacist. She also didn’t know of any photos of him or records to share, but would have to look for me. I sadly did not follow up with that while she was still alive and, again, years later cousin Michael and I didn’t find anything about Grandma Dorothy’s own Grandpa Berger. At the time, all we had to go on was Joe’s death certificate, in which the name “George Berger” was listed for the father.

Grandpa Berger with Grandma Dorothy c 1917_fixed

Grandpa Joe Berger with Grandma Dorothy, late 1910s. Did Grandpa Joe purposefully conceal a dark family secret from his children and grandchildren? 


I can write a book venting my many and most frustrating efforts over the years in search of identifying Grandpa Joe’s father George.  I won’t. Instead, I will relegate that to a footnote and just cut to the chase:

(1) Grandpa Joe’s father’s name was Henry, not George;

(2) Grandma Dorothy never met her real Grandpa Henry, because he was already dead before she was born, and in any event he was never a pharmacist;

(3) Henry did have a brother named George, who was in fact a pharmacist;

(4) Henry was living at home with Joe and his siblings at least until Joe was in his early teens;

(5) I see no record of George ever adopting Joe as a son or, for that matter, living with Joe or any of his siblings;

(6) George lived until 1937 – thus leaving plenty of opportunity to meet or get to know his Grandniece, Grandma Dorothy who happened to not far from him, across the river, in St. Louis.

So: what was the motivation for the discrepancy? Why no record of Henry in our family?

Joe was raised in a large family, and there were many cousins and witnesses who would have known that Henry was Joes’ father and would have shared that knowledge with Joe’s kids. In such a situation, it’s hard to imagine that Grandpa’s identity would not be known by the kids and discovered by the grandkids.

What did Grandpa Joe know? What did Grandma Dorothy know? Did Dorothy grow up actually believing that her Granduncle George was her Grandfather?

My thinking is that at some point Henry abandoned his family, and in response Grandpa Joe disowned his father. Uncle George stepped in to help and be a father figure. These kinds of family situations do happen. I am thinking Grandma Annie and Grandma Dorothy were just trying to honor whatever feeling Joe may have harbored towards Henry by continuing a tradition of a “pharmacist Grandpop George” story to continue hiding whatever dark matter would have been revealed by telling the true story.

Neither Grandpa Joe nor Grandma Dorothy could ever have imagined a world with the Internet and access to family history records as we do today, many decades after-the-fact. We today have access to the baptism records that, at least back in the day, would have been kept secret. But at the time, Joe and Dorothy must have felt that it wasn’t necessary for any of us to know about the grandfather’s true identify. Perhaps they felt that it would not make any difference in the lives of their grandkids if they withheld the information. And besides, from their perspectives, by the time any of the grandkids figured things out, they’d be long-dead.

Henry and George were raised in a family of nine children I have identified that were born to farmer Matthias Berger and his wife Martha Andress. Matthias and Martha raised their family in rural Monroe County, Illinois, near the tiny hamlet of Mitchie that is adjacent to the levee along the Mississippi River. (If you are too lazy to look it up, this is just south of St. Louis, but of course across the river.)

As the children grew up, some of them started to move away from Monroe County. It appears all or most of them took something from their parents’ estate, which was liquidated. So the kids weren’t really poorly off, or they were at least okay enough financially to be able to move out of Monroe County and advance their lives beyond the family farm.

The Berger Brothers:  Several of Mathias Berger’s sons (and possibly one of the daughters) ended up moving to Carlyle, Illinois, a town that is northeast of St. Louis. There, at least three of the adult Berger brothers aimed to go into business as merchants: George, Henry and their bother Matt incorporated The Berger Brothers. With this venture the three of them embarked upon a plan to open a general department store selling a range of products including country supplies, household hardware, and groceries. George was also a pharmacist in the store, and Matt ran a line of boots and shoes. This was reported in short biographies of George and Matt in the Historical and Descriptive Review Of Illinois (1894) (now available on the Internet Archive at The Review noted that Henry was a part of the team.

So, at least for a while, we had a trio of brothers in the Carlyle retail merchant business. The Berger Brothers were also mentioned for their business lines of druggists, general hardware, and boots and shoes in the History of Marion and Clinton Counties, Illinois: With Illustrations by Brink McDonough (1881) (available on GoogleBooks).

George Berger:

G.H. Berger, Druggist normal_image_enlarged_


Photo of Grandpa Joe’s Uncle, George Berger, in the 1894 Review.

The Review described George as a “Dealer In Pure Drugs, Medicines, Chemicals, Paints, Oils, Glass, Perfumery, Soaps, Brushes, Combs, Notions, Etc.” (Initial caps. in original.)



The Free Press (Streater, Illinois)_Wed.Aug.8.1883_iron bitters

Column excerpt from the rural newspaper the Free Press, Streater, Illinois, Wednesday, August 8, 1883. Illustrative of the state of Victorian-era pharmaceutical science – and long before the advent of consumer protection laws.


Later articles mention George having a long-term successful career as a druggist that lasted for nearly 4 decades. George was active in a professional pharmacy association and kept a brisk business. He also became a city councilmember and mayor of Carlyle. He spent a chunk of his retirement in St. Louis, and died in 1937.


Matt Berger:


GG Uncle Math Berger (1848-1904) brother of G.H. Berger normal_image_M_Berger - enlarged

Photo of Grandpa Joe’s Uncle Matthew Berger, in the Review.

Grandpa Joe’s uncle Math Berger, who sold boots and shoes, was also profiled in the Review, which summarized Math’s Carlyle retail operation as follows:

Mr. Berger’s store is neatly and appropriately arranged and fitted for the convenience of his patrons and the display of his goods, the latter comprising a very select line of ladies’, gentleman’s, youth’s and children’s footwear in all grades and styles. He buys his stock from jobbers and manufacturers of national reputation. The store is eligibly located, in dimensions 20×80 feet and very attractive in appearance. He has one polite assistant.”

Henry, the Berger Brother Dropout: 



            Possible photo of our lineal ancestor Henry J. Berger

Finally, we get to Henry, who was Grandpa Joe’s father. I am not sure if I should take the liberty of calling him “Grandpa Henry” – I have found no suggestion he would (or could) have even met any of his grandchildren, since I don’t think any were born before he died.

Henry was also not profiled in the Review, and I suspect this was because he may have no longer have been in Carlyle at the time of the Review’s 1894 publication date. Henry broke away from the Berger Brothers business at some point. The review on George mentioned with respect to Henry’s time with the business, “[t]his combination did not prove successful and as a consequence the grocery and hardware department was disposed of to the firm of Allen & Cook, the brother Henry retiring.”

Unfortunately, I cannot locate any facts about Henry in Carlyle whatsoever from approximately the early 1890s onward. Henry had reared nine children with Louise Krebs (one of whom died an infant), from about 1873 to 1890 or 1892. Louise would have done most of the labor and hard work those years. But Henry was the breadwinner. During the 1890s I suspect several children were still living at home with Louise. But I cannot find any facts about how or when or even why Henry and Louise officially split. What is clear is that Henry abandoned his family some time in the 1890s.

I don’t see anything of Henry until just around the turn of the century, when he shows up as an established resident of Evansville, Indiana. As early as 1901, the Evansville City directory listed Henry J. Berger as a business described only as “Choice Foreign and Domestic Wines, Liquors, Beer, Cigars Etc.”.  Evansville is directly east of St. Louis, right across the other side of Illinois. I have to wonder if this was a place of escape for Henry to become a deadbeat dad; in those days, civil procedure laws were such that it was easier for someone to avoid financial obligations and court judgements if they moved out-of-state.

By 1901, Henry had opened up a saloon. It became know as the Henry J. Berger Roadhouse & Cafe.

In 1903, Henry also re-married in Evansville, this time to one Sarah E., who was 10 years his junior. Henry and Sarah both appeared in the 1910 Census at their home, which was on the same property as the saloon.

The Henry J. Berger Roadhouse & Cafe



A photo of the Henry J. Berger Cafe saloon, owned and operated by our/my Great-Great Grandfather Henry J. Berger, who I believe is standing on the right, plus possibly an employee, on the left. I really would love to find a copy of the original photo for high-resolution scan. Source is, original source unknown. I am hoping this photo might actually belong to a local historic association. 

I found this photo in highly fortunate moment. I was in the middle of a discussion telling Cousin Trevor G. about Henry, when I all of a sudden decided to Google “Henry J. Berger Evansville”. Completely unexpectedly, this photo popped up! This was one of those moments in a years-long genealogy search when I reached a new plateau, by a fluke: the photo quality is mediocre but, as noted above, we never inherited any photos of Henry, and I really feel grateful for this (and hope to find the original).

Let’s take a closer look at this photo. I will date this some time c. 1910. At first glance I thought I was looking at policemen at the scene of the crime. But I quickly realized the men are not wearing badges – instead, it looks like they are wearing uniforms for the bar; this is notable because it was common in the early 20th century for saloon and restaurant proprietors and their employees to dress in uniform. The individuals are not named. But, until I can take a look at the original photograph or verify with research in the Indiana or local archives, I will for now suspect it is Henry standing there on the right.[1]  Notice the hitching post, where customers parked their horses and horse + buggies; this was before the Model T went into mass production, and cars were still more than a decade away from being widespread.

I get the impression this was definitely not a shabby dive bar. The saloon building itself looks relatively new, or at least the paint job had not yet aged so much as to have deteriorated I would expect Henry did very well here, since at his location he would have served what looks like regional highway traffic, as well as local drinkers including from a nearby foundry, and other businesses. Finally, Henry had general retail experience,  so I would expect the Henry J. Berger Cafe probably also sold pub snacks as well as beer, cocktails and cigars.

In the photograph, I think that might be the residence of Henry and his new wife Sarah, on the right.

The record shows that Henry began operating his saloon in 1901, and was still operating it as of  Saturday in the mid-afternoon, June 21, 1913. That would be Henry J. Berger;s last day at the Henry J. Berger Cafe.

Midday Rages, and Their Consequences

Following is a summary of the final moments of Henry Berger’s life, as revealed in newspaper articles covering the events of June 21, 1913 at the Henry J. Berger Cafe, and during the following trial proceedings. Some of these facts are just as testified by witnesses, and were not necessarily as found by the police or jury.

  •  It’s lunchtime, Saturday, June 21, 1913, in Evansville. It is hot, sticky, and sweltering.
  •  Even so, customers would be happy to visit the Henry J. Berger Cafe and Roadhouse for their midday pint and perhaps a snack or lunch. Henry’s was a local watering hole. They catered to a regular crowd, including the many employees who worked at nearby businesses, including a nearby foundry. Henry had been operating his “Cafe” since at least 1901. So, his business was a well-established, and Henry likely knew many people in the community.
  •  Henry was for some time friends with one of his customers, a gentleman by the name of Charles F. Meissner. Charles was listed as a carpenter by trade, but at this particular time, was a night watchman for the local foundry. Charles must have been a regular at Henry’s Cafe and Roadhouse. He lived just a couple of blocks away. Charles was reported to have been a German immigrant as well as a Civil War veteran, although I have not independently verified either of those facts. Charles was 73 in 1913, and for that the press would label him “aged”.
  • Both Henry and Charles must have been a dynamic duo when hanging around together. They both had a past of aggressive behavior. Charles had years earlier actually served time after being convicted by a jury for attacking a man with a knife. He had also been arrested for barroom brawling. Meanwhile, we know that Henry abandoned his children, and for all we know may have chosen relocation to Indiana since in those days it was much easier to avoid judgment or civil suit by running away to another state (the laws of civil procedure have long since changed that). Also, a news article reported that Henry had been fined by Evansville police for discharging a firearm inside City limits: without knowing more, it just sounds like he someone capable of running a successful business, but not emotionally mature or stable.
  • On that Saturday, I bet the humidity made people feel cranky. But alcoholics could find solace in their cool beer – and besides, the Cafe may well have had large electric ceiling fans. Notice the Budweiser and Cook’s Beer signs in the photo? I bet they were lit up at night on “reverse glass”, which was popular in that era – i.e, glass beer signs illuminated at night with a lightbulb behind the glass. The concept is still relevant today, and was already popular in America in the early 1900s. Also, c. 1910, Evansville was a rapidly growing and prosperous city of industry, with benefits from being on the Ohio River; one article on the history of the  Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Company states that there were already thousands of Evansville electricity customers in Evansville by the turn of the century, and electrification greatly expanded in the 1910s.[2]
  • Also, inside the saloon, I am imagining moods were kept uplifted by the music of popular songs of the day wafting from a pianola, or player piano, which played music from punch-coded paper spools. Pianolas became widely popular in this era. Many of them at the time could play in automatic mode such as the Aeolian brand pianola playing the St. Louis Blues at this link ( ), or they were just assisted with foot pumping  (as in the Robert E. Lee pianola performance here ( )


American_homes_and_gardens_(1913)_(14597897538) wikimedia commons

Pianola from 1905, advertisement in American Homes and Gardens (1913) (from Wikimedia Commons)Charles showed up at the Cafe by noon or so and took a spot at the bar. He ordered a drink, then another. He ended up having a few. Some time passes, and at some point, Charles began asking for drinks on credit. Henry then refused, on the grounds that Charles still owed Henry for previous drinks. Charles began to engage Henry in some unpleasant haggling.

  •  Shelby Roll then appeared. Shelby was a man of the laboring class. He had been an employee at the nearby foundry. At least until recently. If my memory serves me right from the newspaper articles, the backstory was that Shelby had been accused by someone of being a “runner” – i.e., an employee of the foundry who was designated by co-workers to sneak out of the facility with a bucket, run down to the nearest saloon, have the bucket filled with beer, and then sneak back into the facility to distribute the beer to the other employees. Someone snitched and blew the cover. Shelby was canned.
  •  Shelby accused Charles of causing his discharge. Charles denied this. Shelby, who was already worked up with anger, apparently became enraged over the face-to-face denial from someone he was convinced had done him wrong. A scuffle broke out between the two of them. Shelby then knocked Charles to the floor.
  •  Henry became annoyed with the unfolding barroom brawl, and yelled at them to stop. He then joined the fray, but for some unknown reason ended up taking Shelby’s side. He ordered Charles to leave, yelling something like, “I will not have trouble-makers in here”. Henry even helped Shelby subdue Charles. When angry Charles resisted, Henry himself became angry enough to himself to start fighting Charles. The fighting continued, with Henry pushing Charles towards the front door. (“You, OUT!”)Perhaps to put an end to the scuffle once and for all, Henry pulled out a mace club, one that he obviously kept behind the bar in case of unruly drunks. Henry struck Charles with the club. That should have put the final end to the brawl. But Charles, drunken and by now probably dazed, stumbled out the front door. As he exited, he screamed back at Henry he was going to go home and get his gun. And that he did.
  •  The sweltering afternoon continued. Henry stumbled home, where he retrieved a personal revolver. Within 15 minutes he returned to the saloon. It was now about 3:00 PM.
  •  Charles arrived at the front door to the Cafe, where he stopped before entering. Henry, being alerted to Charles’s return, became instantly enraged. Henry grabbed the mace club and stormed towards the front door with deep rage. He met Charles at the door. As he reached the front door, he raised the club and sternly ordered Charles to drop the gun. (“Drop the gun, NOW.”)
  •  I am imagining pretty much everyone still in the bar became dead silent, watching for what would happen next. Perhaps the pianola played on.
  •  At this point Henry, standing just inside the front doors, would have been standing a few inches higher than Charles, but perhaps just a few feet away.
  • Charles did drop the gun. But just seconds later, Henry, glaring at Charles and still in a rage, nevertheless still swung the club out, hitting Charles on the side of the head. This caused Charles to drop to his knees.
  •  Charles’s testimony was that Henry was still raging on, however: Henry lifted the mace once more and positioned himself to strike Charles again with another sound blow. Charles, feeling for his safety, grabbed the gun back off the ground, aimed it towards Henry’s chest, and fired a single shot.
  •  The bullet went directly into Henry’s heart, instantly killing him.
  •  I imagine that for the witnesses everything seems to have been slowed down into a surreal time—all in slow motion, like an old movie – and like many people remember from near-death experiences: Henry’s final brace to hit Charles with the club, the gun blast, and Henrys body falling in the saloon’s front doorway. In the background the pianola may have continued playing. Henry’s wife Sarah comes running from the kitchen screaming and sobbing hysterically.
  • Within minutes, police officers arrived on bicycle. Charles was taken away and locked up.


Meissner Case Goes to Jury on Tuesday Journal News Sept 22 1913 copy

Meissner Case Goes to Jury on Tuesday, Evansville Journal News, Sept. 22 1913. Note the expression “rushing the can” — it it an archaic expression popular in the era of the Henry J. Berger saloon to mean obtaining a bucket full of tap beer to take away to consume offsite — typically at places of employment.  I have to wonder if Shelby purchased his beer from Henry — and with Charles allegedly snitching on Shelby, if that meant Henry lost some regular business — thereby making Henry already angry with Charles. 

You will note something else about this article: it actually names the jurors. I cannot imagine how that felt in a small town.  Privacy laws have long since been adopted protecting the identity of jurors.

Aftermath:   Evansville was by 1913 a bustling small city, but it was not so big that this story was missed. In those days, people in the community must have known each other. Again, Henry had operated his Cafe at a visible location for some time. He, or his business, must have been known around known. Gossip must have reigned supreme about this story. This was not an everyday occurrence: Henry was obviously not a local pillar of industry or society, but this story still would have shocked at least the surrounding neighborhoods. Not surprisingly, newspapers covered the homicide story, all the way through the end of the trial that ensued months later. It even reached a newspaper in Indianapolis, is nearly 200 miles to the north of Evansville.

In the end, the jury found Charles committed manslaughter, and sentenced him to 2 to 21 years. I cannot tell for sure if it is the same one, but a Charles F. Meissner, who had been living in Evansville in 1910, was found free and a resident of the town of Tippecanoe, Indiana by the 1920 US Census.

Charles Meissner’s wife Elizabeth filed a civil lawsuit against Henry’s estate, claiming that she would now suffer a loss in income due to her husband being imprisoned. She blamed Henry for getting her husband intoxicated, thereby causing him to become unruly, killing Henry, and then losing his freedom and his employment. I cannot find the article again, but I do believe the jury came back with a nominal amount in her favor.

I’ve tried to locate images of some of the players in this story. Sorry to say I cannot find Charles’s descendants online, and I had no success inspiring Shelby Roll’s living descendants to search. But, I did manage to find images on of two of the jurors, and the newspapers had a photo of the prosecuting attorney.

F.A. Ziliak, member of Meissner Jury - permission granted by descendant John Tuskid

    F.A. Ziliak, member of Meissner Jury – permission granted by descendant John Tuskid


Louis Bauer, juror in Meissner murder case

 Louis Bauer, juror in Meissner murder case – permission granted by descendant Jack Templeton


Deputy Prosecutor W.D. Hardy

Deputy Prosecutor W. E. Hardy – he did most of the cross-examination of the killer, but in the end did not secure a murder conviction from the jury.



[1]    My reasoning: (1) in those days, getting a photo taken was still a special thing; (2) it makes more sense to me that the proprietor would have arranged the photo shoot wearing the bar uniform – this was not the era of the “selfie” and I just don’t think these were random customers or passersby. Also, as between the two men standing there, I feel the one on the right is more likely to be Henry, since (a) he looks closer to the age of Henry (59 in 1910), and (b) seems to share more similarity of facial features as appear in the old photographs of others Bergers of that era.

[2]     Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Company History,












Me (on the phone): "That's "C-r-e-s-a-p".

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