Those Places Thursday: Bertha Beatrice Beerbower and Her World Travels



Winterset, Madison, Iowa, 1907
Winterset, Iowa, 1907. “Winterset, Iowa – 1907” by FJ Bandholts – Library of Congress. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Beerbower Family

A Beerbower living in Egypt? Shanghai, China? Yes, there was, and she was living in those places, not just visiting.

We often think of our ancestors, especially those born in the 1800s, as staying in one place for much of their lives. Some of our ancestors, however, were world travelers. It would be so interesting to have them tell us their stories themselves!

Sadly, I have not found a diary or other information to detail daily life for Bertha Beatrice Beerbower, but can describe a bit of her life and travels.

Bertha was the youngest of three children born to Samuel Beerbower (1824-1890) and his wife Nance “Jane” Huggins Beerbower (1834-1930); she was the granddaughter of Caspar J. Bierbower (1782-1851) and Christina Reiber Bierbower (1784-1849). She would be a cousin, as her father Samuel was the younger brother of our ancestor, Eleazer John Beerbower.

Samuel and family moved from Marion, Ohio between 1870 and 1876, where Bertha was born 3 January 1876 in Winterset, Madison County, Iowa. Winterset is just 30 miles southwest of Des Moines, Iowa, and in 1870, the population was 1,485. The town was growing though, and by 1880 had 2,583 residents.

Berth’s siblings were quite a bit older- Olive was 21 when Bertha was born, and Casper 17; their mother age 42. Ollie passed away when Bertha was just 3, and Casper married when Bertha was 4, so she was, for all purposes, an only child.

Roseman Covered bridge, Madison County, Iowa.
Roseman Covered Bridge, Madison County, Iowa. Wikimedia Commons.

Madison County, Iowa, is located on a a beautiful prairie, with hills and rivers running through. It is famous for its covered bridges, such as Roseman Bridge, which was built in 1883. Of the original 19 bridges built in the late 1800s, there are six still standing, built 1870-1883, and they are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. (The reference number for Roseman Bridge is 76000792.) Doubtless Bertha and her family traveled over these bridges many times, and may have picnicked along the banks.

Madison County, Iowa, Courthouse.
Madison County, Iowa, Courthouse. GFDL, Wikimedia.

Winterset was the county seat, and the old courthouse, which burned, was replaced the year Bertha was born, in 1876. This would have been a familiar sight in the downtown shopping area for Bertha and family.

Bertha married Benjamin Franklin Bare (1874-1951) on 25 May 1895 (or 15 Dec 1895 or 1896- need to verify date) in Winterset, so they would have visited the courthouse to obtain their marriage license. They had one child, Robert Osborne Bare (1901-1980), and lived in Winterset through the 1920 census. Benjamin, like his father, operated a grocery store and bakery in Winterset. He was also very interested in that new-fangled invention the automobile, owned one of the first in Madison County, and even offered a taxi service around 1900.

Robert and Bertha divorced after 1920 (1918 per some researchers, but they are found together in the 1920 census, along with 18 y/o Robert). Bertha was noted alone as a roomer in the 1925 census for Winterset, so the divorce likely took place between 1920-1925.

Bertha was a schoolteacher. She likely taught in the US, but she also taught in a girl’s school in Cairo, Egypt, after her enumeration in the 1925 Iowa census.

Tourists on camels near the Great Pyramid, Gizeh, Egypt.
Tourists on camels near the Great Pyramid. Egypt, Gizeh,1904. Public Domain, Wikipedia.

Life in Egypt would have been very different than that in Winterset, Iowa! King Tutankhamun’s tomb had been discovered in 1922, and the romance of ancient Egypt permeated cultures far and wide around the world during that time period. Architecture, jewelry, and home decor reflected the new-found riches of the tomb. It would have been an exciting adventure for Bertha to be in that part of the world during that time, and especially for a single woman.

There are passenger records for her departure from Bremen, Germany, on 12 Aug 1932 with her arrival a week later in New York on the ship, Columbus. She may have traveled from Egypt to Germany for her passage to the states.

1930 Shanghai along the Bund.
Bird’s eye view of the Bund in 1930. Displayed at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. Public Domian, Wikipedia.

Bertha also taught at a school in Shanghai, China. (We are not sure of the timetable of when she taught where overseas.) China was still not very “open” to Westerners at that time, so she would have probably delighted to see the old culture. The 1930s were tumultuous years in China- there were skirmishes between the Nationalist party and the Communists, with Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) battling for the country. Additionally, the Japanese had occupied parts of the country from 1931-1945, and committed many war atrocities against the civilian population. Bertha must have been very brave to stay through it all! But what a view she had of world history in the making- the occupation during the Sino-Japanese War became a part of World War II, in which Bertha’s son later served in the Marine Corps as a General of the Allied amphibious forces in the Pacific Theatre.

Bertha’s son Robert O. Bare and his wife Elizabeth Lowes Bare were listed on a passenger list for the ship Henderson which arrived in San Francisco on 19 Nov 1927 from Qinhuangdao, China.  Perhaps they had been visiting Bertha? (Alternatively, Robert may have been stationed in China and his wife accompanied him.)

[UPDATE 6/5/15: We now know that Robert was stationed in China at one point, so perhaps this was their return rather than a visit.]

Bertha is listed on the manifest of the M.S. Chichibu Maru which sailed from Yokohama Japan on July 15th, 1938, and arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on July 31st, 1938. Her destination in the United States was the “American College for girl Winterset Iowa.” There is no one else listed on that page with the same name, nor same hometown or destination, so it appears she was traveling alone. Leaving Asia in 1938 was a wise choice, as more war was imminent.

Bertha moved to Annapolis, Maryland after she returned from her travels and retired from teaching. She died there, on 24 Apr 1950 after a long illness. She is buried in the Winterset City Cemetery.


Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) Winterset, Iowa, 1907 image: “Winterset, Iowa – 1907” by FJ Bandholts – Library of Congress. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –,_Iowa_-_1907.jpg#/media/File:Winterset,_Iowa_-_1907.jpg

2) Roseman Bridge image from Wikimedia:,_Iowa#/media/File:Roseman_Bridge.jpg. The bridge was used in the 1995 movie, The Bridges of Madison County.

3) Population statistics per Wikipedia entry for Winterset, Iowa, and originally from “American FactFinder”United States Census Bureau. and Iowa Data Center.

4) 1932 Passenger list: Year: 1932; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 5207; Line: 11; Page Number: 41. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.

5) M. S. Chichibu Maru manifest: California, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1959 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008. Page 947/1076 on Ancestry, No. 104 written in on list. Original data: Selected Passenger and Crew Lists and Manifests. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

6) Gizeh, Egypt image:

7) Shanghai, China image:

8) Bertha Beerbower Bare- Obituary transcription:

9) Find a Grave Memorial:


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