Getting Acquainted With My Luxembourger Ancestors


Flag of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

About 15 years ago I started poking around at the local Family History facility in Lake Stevens, Washington just a few miles from my home, to see what I could learn about my ancestors. I was a complete novice at searching and was simply paging through the IGI and other files, entering the name of my grandmother, Susan Clara Samels here and there when it seemed wise.  Low and behold a very complete looking genealogy chart popped up and I found, much to my surprise, that the Samels family originated in Luxembourg.  Wow!  This sounded so exotic and mysterious.  I don’t think I even knew the location of The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg at that time and just had a vague notion that it was somewhere near Germany.  Anyway, I was charged up at this exciting discovery and went home and wrote a letter to Tom Cook, originator of the chart I’d viewed.  Tom replied quickly and after a number of Email “conversations” we agreed that we really were cousins!

Since then I’ve read over Tom’s work and done some research on my own but since Tom   had already done such a complete job and generously shared it, I’ve sort of dallied on my quest.  But the time has come to share what I know of the Samels lives in America.  So here goes, and hang on tight because the story of this family just has to be interesting doesn’t it?

Franz Samels came to America in 1860 and settled in Aurora, Illinois with his wife Susanna (Nickels) and their son Franz (known as Frank). In 1874 when they relocated to Hopkinton, Iowa.

Except for their son Frank, who was born in Luxembourg in 1853, the Samels children were born in America.  Those born in Aurora, Illinois were William H., dob about 1864, Peter P., born September 26, 1864,  Katherine (Katie), born about 1866,  Susan Clara, born July 27, 1867,  Nicholas D., born about 1869, Margaret Maggie, born in May, 1870, Alberta, born about 1871, Mary, born about 1874.  Those born in Iowa were Rose (Rosie), born about 1875 and Josephine (Josie),  born about 1877.  My dad used to refer to his Aunts Rosie and Aunt Josie with a little chuckle as he said it.

I’m not sure whether Mary was born in Illinois or Iowa, but Rose and Josephine would both have been born after the move to Iowa in 1874.

Aurora, Illinois, 1867

Library of Congress, American Memory Map Collection

Luxembourg Coat of Arms

What led up to our Samels ancestors relocation from Luxembourg to America?

The history of immigration of Luxembourgers is outlined on the excellent website from the Library of Congress: “European Reading Room, Luxembourgers to America: URL:

An excerpt:


The earliest Luxembourgers to arrive in America came with the Dutch to New Amsterdam (New York), although the first Luxembourger is thought to be Philippe de la Noye (de Lannoy), who arrived on the Mayflower’s sister ship, Fortune, and who was a distant relative of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


The period from the 1830s to the mid-1840s is considered the first period of Luxembourger immigration to the United States. A few hundred Luxembourgers had tried their luck in Brazil, Guatemala, and Argentina in the 1820s, but as these areas proved more difficult to settle than anticipated, the immigrants’ attention turned to more northern regions. Points of entry were Louisiana, New York, and Maryland. Luxembourgers were known to have settled in Chicago in the early 1840s. The expansion of the railroad network made it easier for the Luxembourgers to move beyond their ports of entry.


Inexpensive farmland was the attraction for the second wave of Luxembourger immigrants, the majority of whom came through the offices of the Derulle-Wigreux and Sons agency in Luxembourg. An example of a settlement of this period is Aurora, Illinois, whose first Luxembourger settler, Phillip Jungels, arrived with his wife Margaret, and baby William, from Waldbillig in 1850. He soon increased his initial eight acres of land to over one hundred acres. It has been estimated that 70,000 to 72,000 Luxembourgers emigrated to the New World between 1840 and 1900. (Hatz)


During this third period of Luxembourger immigration, which peaked in the 1880s, Luxembourger cultural and social life flourished. The Luxemburger Unterstützungsverein (Luxembourger Benefit Society) was founded in 1870, the Létzebûrger Kranken-Ennerstétzongs Verein (Luxembourger Sick Benefit Society) in 1871, and the Luxemburger Bruderbund (Luxembourger Brotherhood) in 1887. Immigration was made easier by existing community networks and by steamships such as those of the famous Red Star Line, operating out of Antwerp.


The Luxemburger Gazette, one of the premier Luxembourger newspapers in America, was published in Dubuque, Iowa by the Deutsche-Katholische Druck-Gesellschaft. Luxembourger-Americans wanted their own German-language newspaper that was free of pro-Prussian sentiment.


Nicholas Gonner, an author and journalist who settled in Dubuque, Iowa, became the editor of the Luxemburger Gazette. In 1889 he published Die Luxemburger in der Neuen Welt (Luxembourgers in the New World), a valuable resource for historians detailing Luxembourger lives and settlements in the United States.

So it’s probable that the Samels family, like many others from Luxembourg came to America to find that cheap, good farmland.  And they seem to have settled in strongly Luxembourger communities.

In Northeastern Iowa where they settled there was also a large community of Irish immigrants and that’s where Susan Clara Samels met her future husband Robert Nolan Shane…. but that’s news for another post!


Susan J. Edminster, Granite Falls Washington, January 2, 2011.

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