Antique autograph book returns to Guttenberg

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From left, Austin Greve of Guttenberg bought a Victorian-era autograph book on eBay, which turned out to contain signatures of ancestors of Guttenberg mayor Bill Frommelt. (Press photo by Shelia Tomkins)

By Shelia Tomkins 

An antique autograph book from the 1880s featuring Guttenberg names has found its way back to the community, thanks to an eBay posting.

History and genealogy buff Austin Greve regularly checks the online auction service for items relating to Guttenberg. Last month he saw a photograph book described as containing names of "people from Guttenberg and Dubuque." He clicked on "buy it now" and awaited its arrival from the California seller, in hopes that it might contain some family names.

The Victorian-era book finally arrived, bound in brown cloth with "Autographs" in gold stamping. The well-preserved album contained sentimental inscriptions from family, friends and classmates, as was the custom in that era. Poems, personal messages, short verses, and the Victorian version of colorful stickers filled about half the pages; the remainder of the book was blank.

The inscription inside the front said the book belonged to "Emma Cords, 1879." One of the pages said, "Compliments of your cousin, Dec. 1, 1880. Bernard Cords."

Though disappointed that he found no personal family tree names, Greve was curious to learn more about Emma Cords. He went to the Guttenberg Public Library's website, which contains a link to all the back issues of The Guttenberg Press, and did a search for the name. He learned that the name had two spellings through the years — Cords and Kords. More importantly, he learned about a connection to Cord family descendants, namely that Emma was the great-aunt of Claire (Kords) Frommelt, 94,  of Guttenberg.

From The Press archives Greve learned that Emma was born in 1861 and died in 1934. She was first married to John Rau in 1881; he died in 1892. She later married H.G. Jenkins, who died in 1914. Among the survivors listed in her obituary was a nephew, Willis Kords of Alta Vista, father of Claire Frommelt. 

Claire Frommelt remembers Emma. "We called her Tante Emma," she said. (Tante is the German word for aunt.) According to Claire, she lived in the "Rau house," a Victorian-era home that still stands on South First Street near Peoples State Bank. 

Greve, a city councilman,  decided to give the book to Claire's son, Guttenberg mayor Bill Frommelt, to share with the family.

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