An Old Wooden Box

This past week I was given a gift that came with a research challenge, and of course I love a challenge. One of my patients brought this old wooden box into the office for me. He knew I would want to find out about the person whose name is written on the box.

Wooden box that once belonged to Ernst Dietrich, Schumm, Ohio.

Wooden box that once belonged to Ernst Dietrich, Schumm, Ohio.

My patient only asked that I not touch the dirty old box before I cleaned his teeth. [And, yes! I do wear gloves as a dental hygienist!]

Written neatly in script on the box is:

Ernst Dietrich
Van W. Co O

I thanked my patient profusely and promised him I would start researching Ernst Dietrich right way, as he knew I would. I could not wait to get started and see where my research journey would take me.

With Schumm written on the box, even though Schumm was the place name and not a person’s name, I figured there was a good possibility there would be some family connection. There always seems to be some sort of family connection in small communities like this.

I quickly discovered that there was only one Ernst Dietrich in the Schumm vicinity years ago so I was pretty sure had found the correct owner of the box.

Seriously? That was way too easy! I wanted more information about the box’s owner.

Fortunately, Ernst Dietrich, aka Ernest Dietrich, or Arnst Dietrich as recorded in one census enumeration, attended Zion Lutheran Church at Schumm.

Georg Ernst Dietrich was born 9 July 1864 in Van Wert County to Adam and Maria Elisabeth (Germann) Dietrich. Ernst was baptized at home on 17 July 1864, with Jacob Germann and wife, Georg ?, and Elisabeth Germann has his sponsors.

Ernst married Clara Schumm at Zion Schumm on 14 August 1898. Both were from the Zion parish. Clara was the daughter of “River Henry” and Anna “Rosina” (Schinnerer) Schumm. [You just know there had to be a Schumm connection in this story somewhere. And there is even a Schinnerer connection, too! So I am double-related to Clara.]

Ernst and Clara had the following children:
Rosina Marie (1899-1987), married Walter Baker
Edna Magdalena (1901-1986), married George Jacob Hofmann
Leah Juliana (1902-1996), married Oscar Boenker; married Richard Merkle
Louise Wilhelmina (1905-1992), married Erwin Zitzlaff Peters

Ernst Dietrich was a farmer and he died young, at only 41 years of age. He died of gall bladder disease on 20 July 1905 and was buried in Zion Schumm’s cemetery on 23 July.

His widow Clara married Carl “Charles” Merkle at Zion Schumm on 26 November 1908. The church records indicate that Carl was 39 years old and from the Germann settlement. Clara was 33 years old and from Zion’s parish. Witnesses to their marriage were William Merkle and Henry Schumm.

Then I found an even closer connection to my family than the Schumm/Schinnerer connection mentioned earlier. Read on.

Ernst and Clara Dietrich’s daughter Leah married Oscar Boenker on 28 August 1927 [1] and they set up housekeeping in Indiana, where Oscar was from. They had one son, Herman, born 23 May 1928 in Indiana.

Sadly, Oscar Boenker died 26 July 1928, just three months after Herman’s birth. [2]

After Oscar’s death widow Leah (Dietrich) Boenker went back home to Ohio, to the Schumm area, to live with her mother Clara and her step-father Carl “Charles” Merkle. [3] On 23 April 1931 Leah (Dietrich) Boenker married Richard Merkle, son of William and Mary (Siegle) Merkle. [4] Richard was the nephew of Leah’s step-father Charles Merkle.

Leah and Richard had the following children: Norbert, Alvin, Albert, and Willard.

Years later Leah (Dietrich) Boenker Merkle’s son from her first marriage, Herman Boenker, married my mom’s sister Amy. Herman Boenker passed away in 1990 and is also buried in Zion Schumm’s cemetery.

Ernst Dietrich was my uncle Herman’s grandfather.

Wooden box that once belonged to Ernst Dietrich.

Wooden box that once belonged to Ernst Dietrich.

Another mystery solved!

But what was this little wooden box used for? That is what I would like to know now.

The box is 11.5 x 5 x 4.5 inches. It would date back to at least 1905, but likely earlier.

The person who gave it to me said he would use it to hide money in!

Maybe it was a box Ernst used in school. A very large pencil box?

I think it might have been a mailing box since it has an address on it. What could have been mailed in it? Something fragile? Something small. Spirits perhaps?

I would love to hear any suggestions as to what the old wooden box might have been used for.


[1] “Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013,” index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 June 2015), Oscar Baenker and Leah Dietrich, 28 Aug 1927; citing Van Wert, Ohio Marriages, Vol. 17, p.1 ; from FHL microfilm 1015952.

[2] “Find A Grave Index,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 June 2015), Oscar Boenker, 1928; burial Decatur, Adams, Indiana, St. John Lutheran Cemetery; citing Rind a Grave memorial no. 33164050, Find a Grave,

[3] 1930 U.S. Census, Willshire, Van Wert, Ohio, ED 24, p.5B, dwelling 112, family 115, Charley Merkle; digital image by subscription, ( : accessed 4 June 2015), from FHL microfilm 2341624, from NARA microfilm T626, roll 1890.

[4] “Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013,” index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 June 2015), Richard Merkle and Mrs. Leah Boenker, 23 Apr 1931; citing Van Wert, Ohio Marriages, Vol. 17, p.337; from FHL microfilm 10159521.


    • Brian Brewster on June 10, 2015 at 10:24 pm
    • Reply

    Could it have been used to mail bottled medicines or remedies in?

    1. I wonder. It looks like it could have been a mailing container.

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