Immigrant #29 ~ Great Great Grandfather Johann Leies, Chicago Saloon Owner and Piano Dealer ~

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My great great grandfather Johann Leies was born in Nuenschweiler in the German Palatinate in 1843 to farmers Johann Adam Leies and Elisabetha Margaretha Pfeiffer.  He came to America in 1867 and became a naturalized citizen of the United States that same year in Wayne County, Ohio.  Before moving to Chicago and running a saloon, he worked as a farmer, a carpenter, in beer and wine dealing, and married a childhood friend from Nuenschweiler in Wooster, Ohio – Immigrant #24 ~~ Great Great Grandmother Emilia Anna Bold Leies~~and had their children, Alexander, my great grandfather, and John Ferdinand.

Uncle John wrote a lot about this immigrant grandfather of his and even visited the Catholic church in Nuenschweiler to obtain a transcribed copy of his grandfather’s baptism.  The village is about 6 miles from the current day border of Moselle, Lorraine, France.  Johann was born at Huber Hof near Nuenschweiler.  Huber Hof was the name of his great grandfather Michael Conrad’s farm.  Hof originally meant temple or hall in Old Norse.  It later was used for courtyard and eventually for a collection of buildings on a farm.  Source:  Wikipedia.

When Johann was born, the farm had already been inherited by his grandmother Gertruda Conrad.  Information on his estate came from a great source: Intelligenzblatt des Rheinkreises, Volume 7, or Google Books!   Johann was the oldest of at least four children.  The baptismal records of Nuenschweiler are missing a few decades which means there may have been more siblings.

Like me, Uncle John did not know the date or location of Johann’s arrival here, although he left a great trail for the researchers that would come after him.  He thinks he may have entered the country in New Orleans.

I wondered why did Johann go to Wooster, Ohio when I read Uncle John’s research.  This past summer when I found a relation of ours (Union Soldier Peter Leies, 1841-1862, born in Nunschweiler, Germany and killed at Antietam), I began looking for more Leies family members in the Civil War.  That led me to two other first cousins of great great grandfather Johann that were drafted during the Civil War in Ohio – Henry and Anthony Leies.  They were brothers.  From what I can tell, they were only drafted and didn’t serve.  Their parents were Heinrich Leies and Barbara Buchheit from Nuenschweiler and all of them had been living in Wooster, Ohio.  Heinrich was the oldest brother of Johann’s father making them aunt and uncle to Johann.

Not only is it apparent at this point in my research that the Heinrich Leies family paved the way for the other Leieses to come to America, but they got here even earlier than our first direct American ancestor Johann Schuttler in 1849.  Heinrich Leies, wife Barbara, and their sons arrived in New York City in 1848.


September 1848 Passenger Manifest of the Nicolas, which sailed from Le Havre, France


I do siblings when I count the immigrants in my tree.  Do Heinrich and family count since he was the sibling of Johann’s father?  Definitely.

Back to Johann.  Do you think he lived with Uncle Heinrich or a cousin when he got to Wooster?  It is very likely.  Johann would only have been about 5 years old when his Uncle Heinrich and Aunt Barbara left Nuenschweiler.  Both his Uncle Heinrich and Aunt Barbara were two of his baptismal sponsors, as you can see on the parish record below.

Johannes Leies Baptism, dated April 25, 1843, Catholic Parish in Nuenschweiler


Uncle John had a copy of a letter his grandfather wrote to his cousin Johann Leies (a different Johann!) in Massweiler, Germany in 1910 that he translated from German and distributed to his family before his death.  One detail from his life in Germany is written in the letter.  He stated that “When I was 18 years old I worked in Pirmasens near the church not far from Loewenbrunnen for a Jew called Wolf.  He had a bone mill at Nuenschweiler; his son’s name was Alphonse.  He went to America.”  

Important facts about Johann’s years in America were listed in the letter to back home in 1910 in this order:

“I have been in America for 43 years.  I worked as a farmer and carpenter for two years;

Then I worked 7 years in the wine and beer industry in Wooster, Ohio;

Then we moved to Chicago.  Here in Chicago I have dealt in beer and wine for 8 years;

Then for four years in other types of work;

Then for 22 years in the piano business with my son.”

At the time of the 1880 Census in Wooster, Ohio, Johann’s cousin Henry Leies was running a saloon.  I can’t help but think that Johann may have been working there at some point before he moved to Chicago in the “wine and beer industry.”

The paper trail on Johann picks up in Chicago in 1880 where he is running a saloon according to the census.  I would love to know the name of his saloon – his beer and wine business.  I couldn’t find anything on regarding his saloon.  By the mid 1890s, the hard-working and diligent Johann owned his own piano dealing shop – John Leies Pianos.  Later he brought his son Alexander into the piano dealing business and they became known as John Leies & Son Pianos.


Chicago City Directory, 1896


Johann remarried in 1896, two years after the death of Emilia Bold.  His second wife, Carolina Sickel, was born in New Orleans. The 1910 Federal Census stated that her father was born in France, and that her mother was born in Germany.  She had been put into a home before Johann died in Chicago in 1922.  You can see his Find-a-Grave Memorial here.

Written in Latin above, in the margin next to Johann’s baptism, is his date of death in America.  Uncle John knew his grandfather often sent money home to the parish in Nuenschweiler.  The priest back home either received word of his death from a relative in Nuenschweiler, a relative in Chicago who wrote home, or from Uncle John himself when he visited.  In turn, the church books of Nuenschweiler were photographed by the Latter Day Saints.  I would like to think it was from Uncle John.

Uncle John wrote a fantastic report on this grandfather of his.  Email me if you wish to have a copy.

The Ancestry of Johann Leies (so far)

The great grandmother of Johann was Margaretha Rubly.  It is in this part of Leies line that we descend from The Anabaptist Rubeli of Aeschlen bei Oberdiessbach, Switzerland, religious refugees to the German Palatinate in 1672.  I really enjoyed researching that part of the Leies family.

One of Johann’s ancestors was named Hans Adam Schwartz, born around 1650.  According to the Contwig Reformed Church Records I found, he was a Gerichtsschoffe or Court Alderman in the Zwiebrucken area of the Palatinate.  He was our 7th great grandfather.  His daughter Anna Ottilia married our 6th great grandfather Jakob Johann Wenceslaus Layies-Trauden.  Leies was spelled as Layies at that point in the church records.

Johann also had ancestors born in France like his wife Emilia.  The earliest known of them was Jean Michel Conrad, born December 3, 1697 in Shweyen, Moselle.  I would like to point out that in 1697, parts of the Palatinate were under French rule.  His baptism from the Archives of Moselle is below.  Thank you cousin G. Pfeiffer in France for sharing and emailing many Conrad records to me.


Like some of the ancestry of Emilia Bold, going back to the 1400s in this part of Europe, there are two parts of Johann’s ancestry that “claim” to be able to trace back to the 1400s, and even to the 1300s in a town in the present-day Saarland.  In the 1300s the region of present-day Saarland was part of the Holy Roman Empire.  Emilia’s Helfrich line isn’t a myth right now like Johann’s pre-1600s ancestors are for American researchers.  Maybe those trees on Geneanet are correct, but I can’t prove it!  

Johann’s 1910 letter stated he had a photo album of his family back in Germany.  If that album still exists, it must be a treasure.  


Wayne County, Ohio Historical Society

Nuenschweiler, Germany Catholic Church Records

Hornbach Catholic and Protestant Church Records

Intelligenzblatt des Rheinkreises, Volume 7

Cousin G. Pfeiffer, France

Baptemes Loutzviller 1691-1723, Archives 57

Contwig, Germany Church Records 

Weisbach and Massweiler, Germany Catholic and Reformed Church Records

Zur Familie Trauden/Layes von Oberhausen, by Johannes Becherer via L. Broschart in Koblenz, Germany

United States Federal Censuses

Ohio Birth and Marriage Indexes

Uncle John

Chicago Marriage and Death Indexes


New York Passenger Lists/Manifests/National Archives


Google Books

Chicago City Directories

Numerous French and German personal genealogy databases