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Fathers and Sons, the Story of Four Franks

Among my family pictures I found a CDV photograph that had been sent to my ancestor Frank Vivell. You may remember in March 2017, we explored a picture labeled Frank Vivell, taken in St Louis in the late 1860’s to early 1870’s to determine if it was Frank X. Vivell, born 1830 in Baden, or his son Frank, born 12 May 1858 in Carrollton, Greene County, Illinois. This picture, also taken during that same time frame in St Louis, is labeled “Frank Oberkrater Bloomington Ills to Frank Vivell of Carrollton Ills”. The word “to” is not obvious, and if missed, could cause confusion on which person is pictured. Always be aware that sometimes the name on the back indicates who the picture is intended for and may not be the person pictured.

boy frankback boy frank

Using the size and shape of the card (square corners), the border (one thick, one thin line) and the photographer, we can be fairly certain this picture was taken between 1865 and 1876. Clothing matches this time frame. All evidence points to this picture being Frank X. Oberkater, Junior, born 5 March 1859.

See David A. Losso, Early St. Louis Photographers: https://stlouis.genealogyvillage.com/tracylewis.htm

We now have Frank Vivell, his son Frank, Frank Oberkater and his son Frank, giving us four people all named Frank. Further research finds a few more things that Frank X. Oberkater had in common with Frank X. Vivell.

frank table

Frank X. Vivell died in 1881. Frank Oberkoetter was in business with his son Frank in Bloomington in 1889, and did not die until 1895. The Bloomington City Directory and the family gravesite monument give us another spelling of Oberkater. Notice the error on the stone, giving the middle initial as H instead of the correct X. Anna Maria’s birthdate is 1835, although it appears to be 1806 on the stone.

listing

frank map

Bloomington and Carrollton were far enough away to preclude casual friendship or regular business dealings between the two towns in the early 1870’s. What was the connection with St Louis? Although Carrollton was close enough to St Louis for the Vivell family to have occasional business there, Bloomington was actually closer to Chicago than to St. Louis.

Family history tells us that Frank Vivell worked in St. Louis at the American Hotel when he first arrived in the United States about 1852. I have not yet found records of Frank Oberkater in St. Louis during that time frame. By 1859, the Oberkater/Oberkoetter family was in Bloomington, McLean County, and the Vivells were in Carrollton, Greene County.   Did both German immigrants work in St Louis and then stay in touch over the years, sending each other photographs of their children? But in that case, why was the photograph of Frank Oberkater (b. 1859) taken in St Louis?

We also know that Frank Vivell (b. 1858) attended Christian Brothers College, a St. Louis boarding school that encompassed elementary thru college divisions. Vivell was listed as winning several academic awards in the Primary Division in an 1869-1870 school publication. He would have been age 11 or 12 at that time.

frank book

Christian Brothers College was on 6th Street, the photograph of Frank Vivell’s father was taken on 4th Street, as was the picture of young Frank Oberkrater, although at a different photography studio. Were the pictures taken when the family came to St Louis in the fall to drop off their son at boarding school or to pick him up in the spring?

Did Frank Oberkater (b. 1859) also attend this school? He is not listed in the 1869-1870 publication, but could have attended the following year. His 1913 obituary states he attended local schools and outside colleges, but does not name any of those “outside” schools.

Was our picture of Frank Oberkoetter (b. 1859) sent from his father Frank Oberkoetter (b. 1828) to Frank Vivell (b. 1830)? Or was it given to Frank Vivell (b. 1858) by his school chum Frank Oberkoetter (b. 1859)? We may never know. It is fun to compare the picture as a child to that of the adult. Looking at the shape of the nose and mouth, the heavy eyebrows and the cleft chin, there is little doubt this is the same person. I do wish we had a picture of his father for comparison!

As I researched this family, I admit to a bit of frustration with the names. The four Franks were enough confusion without the multiple spellings of the last name. For my first search on Ancestry.com, I used the spelling on the picture. The search came up empty for any Oberkater in Bloomington, Illinois for the time frame 1865 to 1875. Expanding the search by using the broadest criteria and removing the dates and then the location, still gave me nothing. Moving on to Familysearch.com, my search gave me the first of many alternate spellings. Using those spellings yielded Census records, other records on Ancestry.com, articles on Newspapers.com, and a Find a Grave record. So, don’t give up! If something is not in the index or doesn’t show up on the first search engine, it doesn’t mean the information isn’t there. Use as many sites and as many spellings as necessary to find your answer!

Submitted by Alice Clark, SBAGS President, president@sbags.org

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