Surname Saturday – Schiele

My grandfather’s middle name was Schiele. It was a common custom in the past to saddle a child with the maiden name of its mother as a middle name. My grandfather was the “lucky” child in the family who got Schiele as his middle name. Have I mentioned that my grandfather hated his name and preferred to be called “Jake”? My grandparents continued the tradition and gave my grandmother’s maiden name to my uncle John, hence John Foster Yegerlehner. I hope my uncle didn’t dislike his middle name as much as his father detested his.

Regardless, Schiele was the surname of my grandfather’s maternal grandmother. Schiele is German. My family always pronounced the name Shē – lē. Two syllables, both with long e. I have seen it spelled phonetically as Sheely in old census records and on Michael’s naturalization papers. I don’t really know what the name means or where exactly my Schiele family comes from in Germany. I found one definition for Schiele that is quite funny (or tragic) “one who was crippled; one who squinted”¹. I picture some near-sighted Huns wandering about the forest, running into stuff. If you can’t see very well, I am sure you could very easily cripple yourself, walking into things.

Naturalization paper for Michael Schiele, Clay county, Indiana, 1866

Naturalization paper for Michael Schiele, Clay county, Indiana, 1866

All humor aside, my great, great grandfather Michael Schiele is a bit of an enigma to me. In many ways, he is one of my earliest and most prolonged brick walls.  Why? He is from Germany. His branch is one of the most recent branches of my family to land on North American soil and therefore, more difficult for me to trace. Until recently, there have not been many German records available to search, either in a library or online, and they are usually in German.  I have always wished that I knew how to read German, especially when one wants to read old German records. Michael also did me the disservice of dying before 1900.  So no death record! And so far, I haven’t been able to locate an obituary either. He did leave two biographies in Clay county history books which have provided me with a wealth of clues and some bread crumbs.

In The History of Clay County, Indiana by William Travis (1909), there is a very nice biographical sketch of Michael within the write up of his son, Reuben Jacob Schiele. In addition, the book’s section “Memoirs of leading and familiar home people” includes a separate biography just for Michael. These biographies are written after Michael’s death and they provide a lot of good information which I have mostly verified. Travis gives Michael’s birthplace as Wittenberg, Germany. Wittenberg is a city located in the Saxony area of Germany. The only problem is that other sources give Michael’s nativity as Württemberg which is located in the area now known as Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany.  These two cities are nowhere near one another and I have been told that there are also multiple locations that have used these names in the past.  Some even better and more tantalizing clues are in Charles Blanchard’s Counties of Clay and Owen, Indiana (1884). This biography gives information on Michael’s parents. It opens with “MICHAEL SCHIELE, farmer and stock-raiser, was born, November 2, 1831, in Germany, and was the fourth child born to Michael and Mary (Smith) Schiele, both natives of Germany”.  Oh woe is me! A SMITH! Schiele, Michael - Blanchard, 1884

I keep hoping someday that a database will come online with German birth and marriage records that will reveal more about my Schiele family (AND that I can read in English). I do know when Michael was born and I know the names of his parents. I know all the names of his children and grandchildren. For now, that is enough.


  1. Meaning of the surname Schiele from


Wed (postmark June 24, 1942 8:30 PM)

Dear Mother-

Hope you are home all OK. We just got home and pretty tired, had a big day we had to shoot 22 platoons this A.M. and there are about 84 men to each platoon and besides that there was near 400 to examine.

I got real “writey” last night – wrote to Uncle Wes and Mom. Lentz was catching up on his writing so I thought I’d do the same.

It really got cold here last night – had to get under cover but it warmed considerable today-Didn’t get any mail from home today. Hope you stop that as soon as you get there because I don’t like to

(page 2) have to send it back.

Lentz didn’t take my white suit-it was in a paper cover and we just missed it at least that is what he said. But he did take the raincoat.

We ate at the Famous Café last night the food was OK but the service was poor had to wait about one hour. Don’t know where we will go tonight. I just go along because I don’t do the driving.

I’m unusually hungry tonight so will ring off and get some eats-

Love Daddy

4 thoughts on “Surname Saturday – Schiele

  1. Mom is the address of that website. You’ll probably want to view it thru google so you can use the translator. But do switch back to German when you search the name because I’ve found that it will also “Translate” your surname too! My Weiss family comes up as White. I believe you can just go to to get there (no http etc). Good Luck! And Merry Christmas!

  2. Mom

    I speak German, and per your spelling “Schiele” is pronounced she le as your family said. So, most likely they are more towards the east or south than upper western (Dutch). So thats a bit easier.
    I’ll dig out my german genealogy website address. You can view it in english or german. Maybe you’ll luck out there 🙂
    Kassie aka Mom

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      Thank you Kassie! I will look for the website address. I’ve been at a loss on how to proceed in Germany. Over the years, I have made contact with a couple German researchers but they have given me only very general advice.


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