Saturday, November 20, 2010

100th COG - There's One in Every Family - Martin Joseph Villers

The Bismarck Daily Tribune 20NOV1897
I'd love to get my husband more interested in genealogy and family history.  He is interested to an could he not be married to a genealogy nut, but there are certain aspects of it that he doesn't like.  He's not so big on the paperwork...I'm the meticulous one of the pair.  He's an analyst (seriously, that's what he does) so he could be great at busting through brick walls!  Unfortunately, there are some walls that he would like to rebuild and that's just not how this works.  You can't rebuild a wall and pretend that someone didn't exist.  You can't brush history aside...even the unsavory bits.  That's where Martin Joseph Villers comes into play.

I was farting around on Ancestry a couple years ago (yes, that's the technical term).  Just typing surnames into their search engine.  Trying to see if anything would come up in newspapers.  When I typed in Villers I got a bit of a surprise...I found several newspaper articles on one Martin Joseph Villers.  The father to Florence, Mary Ann, Louis, Alta Ellen, and Agnes.  Husband of Octavia Villers nee Waguener.  And murderer of August Tromer and attempted murderer of his wife, Pauline Tromer.

So who was Martin Joseph Villers to my husband?  He's my husband's great great grandfather.  I can understand how we don't want to find bad people in our family tree (particularly our direct line), but the truth is there's going to be bad people in there.  It doesn't reflect on who we are.

I've been fascinated by this discovery and sometimes I think that my husband would prefer it if I would stop digging.  I've received penitentiary records from North Dakota, copied all the newspaper articles I could find, etc.  I don't want to glorify what he did, but I want to know why he did it.  He had been a policeman in a previous census!  Part of me hoped to find something that would lead me to believe he was innocent.  The evidence was so circumstantial in the papers.  I had dreams of being able to request a pardon or reversal for MJ Villers.  Yeah...not going to happen unless something new comes to light.

The articles are fascinating.  The terminology involved and what they seem to consider "proof" is amazing.  If you read all the articles it's evident that he was considered guilty from the get go.  From a historical point of view the case was a first for the state of North Dakota.  They were unsure of how to try him for the murder of August Tromer when he was already serving time for the attempted murder of Pauline Tromer (not a problem today, but back then they weren't sure what to do!).  He was also the first person from Stutsman County sent to the state prison for a life term.  Now granted, these aren't goals we aspire to, but it's all very interesting.

I don't know if I'll ever know why he did what he did.  Was he desperate for land?  Money?  Did he have a falling out with the Tromers?  Why did the Villers family move from Wisconsin to North Dakota to begin with?  How did the Tromer family fare as time passed?  One thing I do know is that there will be more Martin Josephs as I continue researching.  It's a statistical...and genealogical fact.


  1. Cheryl, I feel your husbands discomfort. My situation is a bit different. My father doesnt like to talk about his fathers family at all, his mother, father and younger sister have all passed and he is the only one I can go to for info. Needless to say what little he has said hasn't been pleasant to hear. Its one of the main reasons I started a new blog for all my surnames, instead of the one I had for the Ball surname only. My father asked me to stop researching his fathers line and focus on his mothers only instead.
    Thanks bunches for your posting on this topic.

  2. I hope you are eventually able to find some bit of information that will help you understand why he did it (IF he did it). It seems that the bad stuff always makes the newspapers - and the good stuff, nearly never. That's one way to find ancestors.... Thanks for an interesting post for the COG 100.

  3. My apologies, Tammy and Nancy! Comments don't normally go to moderation so it took me a minute to figure out why I didn't see them here! Ya learn something new every day! :)

    Tammy - I can understand your father not liking to talk about things. It's sad, but you can't do much unless you want to upset him. Do you at least know his parents' names? I know that sounds silly, but I don't know how close-lipped he was. You'll probably have better luck year and years down the road. It does end up short-changing the family history, but I would imagine that Florence probably didn't talk about her dad much. In her mother's obituary (which was in another post) Martin Joseph wasn't even mentioned. I am happy .that my husband hasn't asked me to stop posting these though! After 100 years it shouldn't be a fresh wound.

    Nancy - I would LOVE to be able to understand that. I would love to be able to think he didn't do it either. Once I start posting the documents from the attempted murder trial you'll see that it was pretty damning testimony there, but doing one doesn't mean he did the doesn't make him innocent either. Innocent or guilty, I would have preferred the appearance of a fair trial! Who knows what I'll dig up though. There's lots of handwriting I can't make out still! :)