My Buschell and Molby Ancestors

Recently, the Marquette Regional History Center published the latest issue of Harlow’s Wooden Man which included a wonderful article about some of the early German families who came to Marquette. This encouraged me to post something about my own Marquette German ancestors, the Buschells. The following is taken from my book My Marquette about a bit of my family history:

My grandmother Grace Elizabeth Molby White’s family settled in South Marquette, and they were among Marquette’s earliest residents. My great-great grandparents John and Elizabeth Buschell were married in Marquette in 1858. Neither John nor Elizabeth are listed on the first Marquette census of 1850 and no relatives appear to have been in Marquette with them.

John was born in 1820 in Saxony, then one of the many little kingdoms and principalities that made up greater Germany, while Elizabeth was born in Massachusetts of Irish parents. No information has been found about their parents or families. John and Elizabeth were to become my inspiration for Fritz and Molly Bergmann in Iron Pioneers. Since John was clearly German, I decided to make Fritz part of the group of German immigrants who arrived in Marquette that first year of 1849 and be among those who came down with typhoid and for whom, Peter White, perhaps Marquette’s most famous pioneer, cared, bathing them in the makeshift hospital. These Germans later started to walk to Milwaukee in December to prevent the rest of the village from having to starve until word was sent after them that the supply ship had finally arrived.

In the novel, Fritz is frequently ill, never having quite recovered from the typhoid. Since I know so little about John Buschell, I used my imagination to fill in the holes. I can find no death record for John. I only know he and Elizabeth had their last child, Thomas Buschell, in 1876 and then on the 1880 census, Elizabeth is remarried to a Jeremiah O’Leary. Perhaps John’s death was not reported and I can find no listing for him in a cemetery. In any case, I assume since Elizabeth remarried and since divorce was not common in those days, especially among Catholics, that John died, and since Fritz therefore would also die young, the typhoid and a lingering weakness as a result was a good way to explain his untimely death.

When I first became interested in genealogy and tried to find information about my Grandma Grace Molby White’s family, I heard stories that we were supposedly related to Mrs. O’Leary, whose cow started the great Chicago Fire. I assume this story comes from Elizabeth’s second husband being an O’Leary. I have not been able to locate much information about Jeremiah O’Leary other than that he was Irish and came to Marquette through Canada—his naturalization and immigration records exist in the Marquette County records. I have not been able to locate any relatives for him, but in Elizabeth’s obituary, it does state that she lived in Chicago for some time, so it is possible that Jeremiah had relatives in Chicago whom they went to visit, but for now a blood connection has not been confirmed between Jeremiah or the Mrs.O’Leary who had the infamous cow.

In Iron Pioneers, I also had Molly remarry, but I deviated from the family history, feeling I had already attested to the presence of Irish immigrants in Marquette, so I married her instead to an Italian, the brutish saloonkeeper, Joseph Montoni. I felt I wanted the novels to represent the wide number of immigrants who came to Upper Michigan, and the Italian population was significant, although that Montoni beats his wife and dies in a saloon brawl would not make his nation proud.

I also wanted motivation for Molly’s character to transform over the course of the novel from an outspoken, sharp-tongued young woman to a rather saintly one by the end, and an abusive husband served this purpose because her marriage thereby taught her about survival, love, forgiveness, and how to strengthen her faith in God. I was inspired to depict Molly as becoming kind and faith-filled by Elizabeth Buschell O’Leary’s obituary in The Mining Journal in 1897 which said, “Among her neighbors and friends Mrs. O’Leary will long be remembered for her many acts of kindness.”

John and Elizabeth Buschell had several children, two of whom particularly have lived on in family stories, notably their son Frank and their daughter Lily, the inspiration for Karl and Kathy Bergmann in Iron Pioneers. Frank Buschell, like Karl, was a logger and he did end up in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Rather than marrying a Finnish wife who died in childbirth, the real Frank Buschell’s wife, Mary, gave birth to several children, most notably for my fiction, Valma Buschell, the inspiration for Thelma Bergmann. Valma was my grandmother’s cousin and like Thelma, she came to live in Marquette. She was a wonderful pianist but she also suffered from epilepsy, which I changed in the novel to multiple sclerosis. I am sure she was much brighter than I depict Thelma as being, but one other aspect of her story is true. As far as I knew, she never married, but one day while looking through the Marquette County marriage records, I stumbled upon a listing for her in the marriage index. Surprised, I went to find the actual marriage record, only to find there was none. The clerk at the courthouse explained to me that the license must have been applied for, but that the couple had never married and therefore, had not returned the document. What happened to Valma’s prospective marriage, I don’t know, but she never did marry. In writing fiction, however, I could always make up stories to fill in the blanks as I did here, having Thelma Bergmann elope with Vincent Smiley to Mackinac Island, only to find out he was a bigamist and her marriage not legal.

Valma never adopted children, but I decided in The Queen City that Thelma would adopt Jessie Hopewell. I was inspired by this plot twist after visiting the historical Honolulu House in Marshall, Michigan. In the house was a photo of a girl who had been adopted by the female owner of the house—only the owners had been white, and the girl was black. Interracial adoptions in the early nineteenth century must not have been common, so again, I thought it would make a great story. Only, Marshall, Michigan was more likely to have black residents—it being near the route of the Underground Railroad that aided escaped slaves. Upper Michigan has very few black residents, and I had given little treatment to the large Finnish population in Upper Michigan, so I decided to make the adopted child Finnish and her adoption explainable since Thelma was herself half-Finnish although her mother had died before she really knew her. It also allowed me, in the person of Jesse’s father, to tell the fascinating true story of how many American Finns had left during the Great Depression to go to Karelia, in Russia.

One last interesting piece about the Buschell Family is that Buschell Lake, just south of Marquette, is named for them. No one seems to know exactly how the lake came to be named for the family—I would assume it was named for John or for Frank and that one of them owned property on it although I have been unable to find property record to confirm this.

As for Frank’s sister, Lily Buschell, she married John Molby, who came to Marquette in 1882. John and Lily would be my grandmother’s parents. Like her counterpart, Kathy, in the novel, Lily would end up going near deaf from the measles. I don’t know when this happened, but I decided to place it during World War I for dramatic purposes. Also, as in the novel, my great-grandparents’ sons went off to fight in World War I. My grandmother, Grace Molby White, said she remembered as a child going down to the train station to see her brothers leave for the war. Both Daniel and William would fight in the war, William going to Camp Custer in September 1917 for training and Daniel to Camp Gordon, Georgia in June 1918. After my grandmother died, we found among her belongings a handkerchief that had “Paris 1918” stitched on it which she had preserved—doubtless the gift of one of her brothers. She would have only been thirteen the year the war ended, although I chose to make her counterpart, Beth McCarey, five years younger so she would be all the more confused in trying to make sense out of the war.

My grandmother said very little about her family whenever anyone asked her questions. She told me her father was from New York, but other records say he was from Canada, and one family story said the Molby family left Ireland because they were rebels. I have found no direct connection to Ireland, but because Great-Grandpa Molby’s past was such a mystery—after nearly twenty years of searching, I still haven’t found out where he was born or who his parents were—I decided to make up information and depict Patrick McCarey as a rebel who did have to flee Ireland. This decision also allowed for the dramatic scenes in The Queen City when he is old and senile, and while hallucinating, he runs from the house, believing British soldiers are after him. John Molby was himself a bit senile and ended up running down the street in his nightclothes at the end of his life, and my grandparents would have to chase after him to bring him home when he was living with them, although what he was thinking during this time remains a mystery. I also made Patrick an atheist in the novel because John Molby apparently did not go to church or at least was not Catholic, while his wife attended St. Peter’s Cathedral and made sure all the children were baptized there. John Molby’s funeral was held at the First Presbyterian Church, although he was not a member there, and he was buried in the Protestant Park Cemetery while his wife and several children are buried in the Catholic Holy Cross Cemetery.

According to my other family members, the older Molby generations never talked about the family. Part of the reason I’m sure is because of the tragedies they experienced. My grandmother was one of ten children, yet none of her eight brothers lived beyond their early fifties. My mother never knew any of her Molby uncles as a result and my grandmother almost never talked about them. Only after we found her brother’s obituaries among my grandmother’s belongings after she died did we know my grandmother’s brother Charles was accidentally electrocuted at his job in his early twenties, leaving behind a wife and daughter with whom the rest of the family lost contact. Other brothers died of heart attacks, or what today sounds like an aneurism, and one brother died of alcoholism. I imagine all these early deaths were painful for my grandmother, who by age thirty-six, only had her sister Mary still alive, and Mary would die in 1958 at only sixty-two of cancer. My grandmother was convinced she would die young like the rest of her family, but surprisingly, she lived until 1992, passing away at the ripe old age of eighty-seven.

In writing The Marquette Trilogy, I found it necessary to reduce Beth McCarey’s siblings down to three brothers—eight brothers and a sister would have been too many for a reader. I had one brother die in World War I, one die in the Barnes-Hecker mining disaster for its historical significance, and the third brother, Michael, become a priest. None of my grandmother’s brothers became priests, but I had my reasons for Michael to become a priest in the novels as I’ll explain later when I discuss St. Michael’s Parish.


My Great-Grandparents Molby’s home on Division St. still stands today.

My Great-Grandpa and Grandma Molby lived at 609 Division Street in Marquette—their house is still standing today although it was sold out of the family in the 1930s when John, then a widower, went to live with his adult children. In the novels, I had the Bergmann and McCarey families live within only a block or so of St. Peter’s Cathedral because of the importance of Catholicism in their lives, and especially, partially to explain how the nearby cathedral’s influence would have inspired Michael’s desire to become a priest—along with the influence of his saintly grandmother, Molly, whose obituary as given in The Queen City closely resembles that of her real-life basis, Elizabeth Buschell O’Leary.

Today, the Molby name still exists in Marquette in the descendants of my grandmother’s brothers. The Buschell name is not found in Marquette, but Frank Buschell’s descendants populate the Keweenaw Peninsula, carrying on his name.

Note, I am always happy to hear from long lost relatives. I would love photos of any of the Molbys or Buschells or any other information people might be able to provide about the families.

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18 Comments on “My Buschell and Molby Ancestors”

  1. Ida M. Nord Says:

    Your story really DOES begin “at home”, doesn’t it? Loved reading this; thanks for sharing.

    • Jim Says:

      Hello, I am descended from John and Elizabeth by their daughter Elizabeth–my great-grandmother on my mother’s side. Her married name was Larue and her daughter, my grandmother, was Viola Larue Fitzgerald. Her daughter, my mother, was Dorothy Fitzgerald Holan. We are all living in or near Chicago. I just found some of Thomas’s granddaughters, too. We met last Sunday and are looking for more information. I have sent the link to this article to Jeannine McLauglin, Thomas’s granddaughter, and my sister-in-law, Mary Ann Holan, who has been doing a lot of family research. We are currently trying to find another of John and Elizabeth’s daughters–Emma, whose married name was Williams.

      • Hi Jim,
        It’s great to hear from you. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about your branch of the family. All I had were the names of John and Elizabeth’s children. Would you happen to have any photos of John and Elizabeth or their children? Or any information about John and Elizabeth’s ancestry? I really don’t have much information at all beyond what I posted here, but I’m always interested in learning more.

      • Says:

        Tyler,    This has been an amazing last few weeks.  I grew up without relatives on my mother’s side, but now I’ve found some people.  We are still trying to find out where John and Elizabeth came from more specifically than just Saxony and Massachusetts.  We have some old photos with people and places that we are trying to identify.  That was one of the main topics of our meetng with Thomas’s granddaughters, Jeannine and Estelle.  I am CCing Jeannine and my sister-in-law Mary Ann because they are both retired and are communicating about the people in the photographs.  Do you have anything on Emma as a daughter of  John and Elizabeth?  She died 60 years ago in our house and was the catalyst in this part of our search.      I’m at one of my two adjunct teaching jobs and I have to go for now.  It is really great to hear from you.  You should expect Mary Ann and Jeannine to contact you, too.  I don’t think Jeannine and Estelle knew their grandfather was in the Spanish-American War. Jim


      • Thanks for the info Jim. I will email you since it will be easier for us to communicate that way.

      • Says:

        Tyler,    Here are some of the photographs we have.  Mary Ann has the bulk of them.  Dorothy Fitzgerald is my mother and her mother was Viola Larue.  Some of the people are labelled and known, but others are not.  We think the photos were taken in Michigan, but we aren’t sure.  Do you recognize any of the people or the farm where the photographs were taken?  The very last picture in the set has Elizabeth–Lily’s sister and Emma and her husband(?).    Mary Ann may send you more later. Jim


  2. Thanks, Ida. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Jessica Bays Says:

    I lived in your Great-Grandparents Molby’s home for over a year! Zya, my youngest was born while we lived in that house!

  4. Maggie Uprichard Says:

    Hi Tyler:
    I contacted you awhile back regarding the Frank Buschell (and Valma Buschell) families but didn’t hear back. Frank was my g-g-grandfather. Frank married Emily Anderson (mother’s name Smart), and they had t children – 2 of whom lived to adulthood. Valma married briefly in 1921, but later moved to Marquette where she lived in a woman’s home. She is buried in Marquette next to Alfred and Myrtle Molby in an unmarked grave. Myrtle Molby was Emily Anderson’s niece – Frank and Emily took her in after her mother died. Jerry O’Leary went to live with Frank Buschell after Elizabeth’s death. I have more info on the family tree if you are interested. – Maggie Uprichard

    • Hi Maggie,
      Yes, I received your email and saved it and I’m happy to hear you’re still doing genealogy. I don’t know why you didn’t receive my response. I’ll send you another email and hopefully you’ll get it. If not, let me know here, or you can also find me on Facebook and we could message each other that way. I’m very interested in learning everything I can. I’m surprised to hear Valma was married briefly – I knew a marriage certificate had been applied for but never returned to the Marquette courthouse and I think it was later, like 1932, so I didn’t think the marriage ever happened.

  5. Maggie Uprichard Says:

    I forgot to mention that Thomas Buschell, the youngest Buschell sibling, fought in the Spanish-American War, and the newspaper account states that he saw some of the most fierce action. He died in Chicago in 1903 of an infection resulting from dental work with unsanitary dental instruments.

    • Jeannine McLaughlin Says:

      I would like to enter the conversation and thank Maggie Uprichard for her contribution about Thomas Buschell, my grandfather and noted in disbelief that apparently she and I are related. If I read correctly, her gg grandfather was Frank, son of John and Elizabeth, their oldest child, and my grandfather Thomas was their youngest (that’s if I understood correctly). I wonder if I may connect with Maggie via email?

  6. Carolyn Fite Says:

    Hi Tyler,
    We are related. My grandfather was George Molby married to Mary
    Thibodeau. I had never seen a picture of the great grandparents. My grandparents had three sons George, Frank and Albert. George is my father. All three are now deceased They resided at 28 Gregory St Lake Linden . I have a lot of pictures of the Molby/Buschell family. One of Frank Buschell and his daughter Myrtle in very large oval portrait frames. They have been on my walls for decades. I thought Frank was married to Emily. I met their daughter Valma when I was a small child. She was referred to as cousin Valma and was probably in her late 60’s then. She lived with the Molby family for a number of years when my father was growing up. The story I heard was Myrtle died of diphtheria right after her portrait was taken.
    My grandmother, Mary worked at the logging camps in Copper Harbor in her youth and I have many pictures of that time too.
    We owned the property next to the Copper Harbor lighthouse. My father and his brothers bought it as it had once been owned by the family but they let it go for back taxes. After my dad and his bbrothers passed away we sold the property as none of us live in the UP or could get back there often enough. One of my cousins sstill owns the house on Gregory St.
    I’I’m going to go through the picture albums I inherited and will scan t and send some to you. I actually have more information about my grandmother’s family than the Molby/ Buschell side. However the ones I have will be new to you.
    Thank you so much. My brother and cousins will be thrilled to see the great grandparents. I’ll be in touch soon.


    • Hi Carolyn,
      Good to hear from you. Yes, I think maybe we corresponded about twenty years ago in the days before the Internet when I was first looking for Molby info though I never found out anything more about the great-grandparents’ ancestry, other than the names of Lily’s parents. If you have any info on John Molby’s parents, I would love to have it. If you’re on Facebook, there is a Buschell Family group if you want to correspond with some of the other cousins. I would love to see more photos. We only had a couple from my grandma.

    • Maggie Uprichard Says:

      Hi Carolyn – Frank Buschell was my g-g-grandfather. I’ve corresponded with Tyler in the past, and through this wonderful site, we’ve met several long-lost relatives! Over the past 18 or so years, I’ve managed to create an extensive family tree on, and I’d love to have you take a look at it and provide input. I’ve included what I know about George Molby and Mary Thibodeau (F/M Prosper and Angelique). From what I have researched, Mary’s father, Prosper, owned a farm near Frank and Emily Buschell. Mary is listed on the 1900 and 1910 census records as their servant, but I learned that she was very close to them. I also heard that she worked at one of Frank Buschell’s logging camps. After Frank died, Emily and Valma went to live with George and Mary (rather than her own son, Sam). Apparently, there was some falling out between Emily and her daughter-in-law, Stella. According to family lore, when Emily died, she left her money to Myrtle (Fuller) Molby for the care of Valma. I think the child in your portrait may be Mable Buschell who died of diptheria at about 7 years old (the Buschells also lost 2 other sons, Frank Jr and Howard to the disease). Myrtle Molby was actually Emily’s niece. She came to live with Frank and Emily circa 1900 after her own mother died. Myrtle was about the same age as Valma. They both went to the Loretto Academy in the Soo and were apparently both accomplished pianists and Myrtle was also reported to have a beautiful voice. I have never seen a photo of Frank or any of the other Buschells – I think many of them were lost within the Buschell family after Emily’s death due to the family rift. It is wonderful to know that you have them after all these years. I would love to see them. I’d also love to see a photo of Mary Thibodeau – since she and George were so kind to Emily – lore is that Emily considered her as a daughter. There are photos of Sam (Frank’s son) and family on my family tree, and there is one photo of Valma as an older woman. Valma did live with Myrtle Molby in Marquette and later in a group home there. She had epilepsy, for which there were limited treatments back in the day. My Aunt Nancy (Sam’s youngest child) told me that her mother would just shut Valma’s door during her many seizures. Oh, and there is a record of her actual marriage in 1920 to someone named Joseph Smith, from Poland. Family lore has it that the marriage didn’t last – I combed through the newspapers around that date, and I couldn’t find any notification of the marriage. I think it may have been quietly annulled. One of these days, I need to finish that book I’m writing about the Buschell family!! Would love to share more with you. If you are on Facebook, take a look at the Buschell family history page or message me. If not,you can email me at Glad to meet you, cousin!

  7. Maggie Uprichard Says:

    Tyler – one thing about John Molby. I remember finding some records on him some time ago, and one of them had him in an orphanage in New York State (I think he was about 10 years old at the time). I didn’t pursue it any further, though. I can try to find more, but it may be tough. The one prospect may be a site called Fulton County Newspapers – sometimes, the town gossip section has some interesting tidbits. Interestingly, Myrtle Fuller Molby was mentioned in an estate on that site. Here’s the link to the site:

  8. Maggie, you are amazing. I will definitely pursue that further. His death record says he was born in Hamilton, Ontario but my grandmother always said he came from New York. I’ve never been able to find out who his parents were. Now I might know why. I’ll keep searching. Thanks a million! I’ve been fruitlessly on his trail for twenty years.

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