1857 letter to William Hauch from his foster mother, Katherina Riede, in Oppau


This is a copy of a translation of a letter written in German, provided in 2000 to Elaine (Hauch) Raines by Ida Valentine Patterson, daughter of Ida May (Hauch) Patterson.  We do not have a copy of the actual letter, and we do not know who translated it, but what we do have tells us a great deal of the William Hauch story.


Click here to see a photocopy of the translation of the letter.


First of all, William Hauch’s name is not actually mentioned in the letter, but the contents leave no doubt that it was sent to him.  Second, the author addressed William as “Dearly beloved Foster Son,” and signed, “from your sincerely and truly loving foster mother, Katharina Riede.”  This is the only record we have which indicates that William Hauch was raised as a foster child.  And isn’t it a relief that she didn’t simply sign “your loving foster mom”?  We think that Katherina Riede was Maria Catharina (Gönnheimer) Riede, born 3 Dec. 1782, widow of the one-time mayor of Oppau, Georg Wilhelm Riede.1 Catharina would have been 75 years old on 4 Nov. 1857, the date of the letter, certainly old enough to write “old age is definitely here.”  We know from Franz Georg Wilhelm Haug’s (William Hauch’s) baptism record that his godfather was Franz Georg Wilhelm Riede, who we suspect was a son of Georg Wilhelm and Catharina Riede.2 Katherina’s mention of the godfather’s troubles, and that “I have to stand by with a broken heart, but cannot change it, cannot advise and cannot help, have to leave him to his misfortune,” is certainly consistent with a mother-son relationship.  Up to now we believed it a possibility that this Franz Georg Wilhelm Riede was the father of Franz Georg Wilhelm Haug; however, since Katherina consistently referred to him in the letter as “your godfather,” and never as “your father,” we now think that this cannot be the case.  Concerning the third person whom William mentioned in his 26 Sep. 1857 letter to his foster mother (a letter mentioned in this 4 Nov. 1857 letter), we have no idea as yet who his female cousin in Frankenthal (a town two miles west of Oppau) might have been.


We’re now wondering if Luisa Haug went fifty miles from Löchgau, Wörttemburg, to Oppau, Bavaria, to give birth to son Wilhelm specifically because the foster parent arrangements had been made in advance.  It’s a possibility.  It’s fairly clear, though, that William knew the name of his birth mother, since he named his first daughter “Luisa.”  We’d like to know what became of Luisa Haug after 1823.


We believe that William sailed to America in May-June of 1845, and considering how little his foster mother knew of his life and family situation in 1857, it appears that the 26 Sep. 1857 letter was the first that William wrote to his foster mother in the twelve years since he left Germany.  But if there were ever any hard feelings on Katherina’s part concerning William’s abandonment of the (alleged) plan to become a priest, and his flight to America, all was completely forgiven by 1857, and she was completely overjoyed to hear from him.  It’s evident too that William was fully reconciliatory in his letter to her (we wish we had a copy of that letter!), and promised to send a picture of himself and his family.  The mention of this picture is extremely interesting.  William was 34 years old in late 1857, Sophia was 29, William Jr. was nine, Louisa was seven, Emma Magdalena was two, and Albert was just born on 27 Aug. of that year.  Most likely, this picture would have been an ambrotype, the type of photograph which succeeded the daguerreotype and preceded the tintype.  If you look at an ambrotype at an angle you will see a negative image.  No matter which of the three types this picture was, the resolution of the image would have been extremely good, cheeks probably would have been reddened artificially, and rings, necklaces and hair brooches may have been colored gold.  What a wonderful picture this would have been!  It seems likely that if William had a picture made to send to his foster mother, he would also have had one made to keep for his own home.  Perhaps it still exists?  If any descendant of William Hauch has a very old photograph fitting this description, with family members of about these ages, we would very much like to know about it, and to add a good copy to our collection.  This would be our first picture of Sophia.


Katherina mentions schoolmaster Ziegler to William, thinking that this piece of information would be of interest to William.  Could Herr Ziegler have been William’s schoolmaster?  Katherina also mentions cabinetmaker Carl Befuhs, and we know that William himself was a cabinetmaker.  Could William have learned cabinet-making from Carl Befuhs?  Or could he have worked with him as a fellow apprentice at one time?  These are questions which we might be able to address.


We may never know if William and his foster mother corresponded further (we certainly hope he sent the promised picture, and if so Katherina would surely have expressed her extreme gratitude), but we do have this one letter, and from it we know a lot about the letter from William that preceded it.  Without this letter there’s much we never would have known.  If you know of other letters to or from William Hauch please share them with us and all our fellow William Hauch descendants.




1.  See William Hauch’s origins and ancestry, footnote 4.

2.  See The baptism record for William Hauch (Franciscus Georgius Wilhelmus Haug)., and also The civil birth registration record for William Hauch (Franz Georg Wilhelm Haug).


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