Saturday, June 11, 2011

Happy 196th Birthday, Adelgunda Heiner (1815-1894)!

Gawain Wells' second-great-grandmother

Adelgunda, a German redhead with a great fortunetelling story, is one of my personal favorite ancestors.

Adelgunda Dietzel was born in Germany to a Lutheran weaver. She was the youngest child of three and was very well-educated. She memorized the New Testament and could quote from it all her life.  Her mother died when she was young and Adelgunda took on household responsibilities caring for her father quite early.

When Adelgunda was a teenager, her friends went to see a visiting fortuneteller, and were disappointed that she had to stay home to help her father put a piece of cloth on the loom.  They asked the fortuneteller to tell the absent girl’s future, and he asked her birthday.  He said, “She is an elect lady.  She is different from you girls.  She will not stay in Germany very long.  She will cross the great waters and join herself to another people, yes, a strange people.” The girls were so excited that they hurried back to tell Adelgunda, forgetting their own fortunes.
street where she lived in Germany

where Adelgunda was baptized as a child

church she attended
Adelgunda was attracted to the honesty and steadfastness of her father’s assistant, Martin, but one time he got in a fight over her and was jailed overnight.  Because of that, he was fired, but soon rehired.  Adelgunda’s father felt that Martin would not provide enough for her, but they married despite his objections. 

Due to some Heiner estate family disputes, the couple decided to emigrate with their four children to America for more opportunities.  Martin found work in an iron factory in Baltimore, and Adelgunda took the children outside to gather bundles of sticks.  She was discouraged at their impoverished situation and one day fell to the ground, praying all afternoon in the forest.  That night, a German-speaking man came to their door and told them he needed a weaver at his woolen mill in Pennsylvania, a much better job situation and answer to her prayer.

While living in Pennsylvania, more children were born (there would be eleven total), and to supplement their income, Adelgunda and the children gathered and sold berries and nuts.  Adelgunda stopped smiling because it was such a trial for her not to speak English, and one day she was shaking a tablecloth outside when a bird chirped.  She heard a voice say, “Why aren’t you happy like the birds?  God is pleased with them.”  That impressed her enough that she began smiling again.  Then their neighbor’s brother, an LDS missionary, came by, and the Heiners felt that the gospel was true.  Adelgunda gave her permission for Martin to be baptized, but her lack of English handicapped her desire.  In an instant a flash of light burst upon her mind, and she was happier than she’d ever been, and saw the scriptures plainly.  She decided, “I will be baptized if it kills me.” She ran to overtake Martin so she could be baptized with him before the missionary left, even though she had been sick for a month and there was ice on the water.  They cut the ice to be baptized, and after her baptism Adelgunda was able to speak English.  Adelgunda was given a golden dollar by the missionary who baptized the family, and was told if she would keep it, she would never go without.

In 1859, Elder Karl G. Maeser visited Pennsylvania and prophesied of the coming Civil War.  The Heiners left and came to Utah only a few years before the Battle of Gettysburg was fought near their former home.  En route in Cincinnati they visited Martin’s childless sister Mary, who wished to raise some of their ten children, but having learned the eternal nature of the family, the Heiners “had none to spare.”

They settled in Utah, had one more child, and Adelgunda carded and spun wool for Martin to weave.  Although they struggled to make ends meet, the Heiner home was always cheerful, bright, and full of inspiration.  Adelgunda and Martin harmonized on hymns and the family loved music and singing.  Adelgunda continued to make foods from their German heritage: sausage, sauerkraut, and dill pickles.

The Heiners deprived themselves of many comforts sending money to Germany to obtain genealogical records, and spent countless hours performing temple work.  Adelgunda sorrowed over the loss of two children.  She cared for the sick for miles around.  In her later years she suffered a stroke, and then could neither talk nor walk.  During this time, her granddaughter Sophia remembered brushing Adelgunda’s thick auburn hair for her, and when Sophia got tired and stopped, her grandmother would give her such a pitiful look that Sophia would brush some more.

In 1928, more than thirty years after Adelgunda’s death, it was calculated that the Heiners had seven hundred descendants and all were active Church members.  The Heiners’ oldest daughter Mary was the third wife of Arza Hinckley, Gordon B. Hinckley’s uncle, making Adelgunda the great-great-aunt of President Hinckley.

I would give her a new hairbrush!


  1. I love her story! I want her to write a novel about her life: it would be very interesting.

  2. Lydia likes to connect with this ancestor because he own name backwards is "Aidyl" like Adelgunda.