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A Donlin Family History by Dan Jensen
Gene Donlin and Tilly Schaefer

Eugene Michael Donlin was born in Union Township, near Kingsley, Plymouth County, Iowa, on 12 June 1883. The Donlin kids in the household at that time were Joseph (16), William (10), Frank (9), and Bessie (4). The Donlins had seen hard times in Iowa, but the worst was over.

Gene spent his entire youth (23 years) in Plymouth County, Iowa, and went on to spend his entire adulthood in Hand County, South Dakota.

Though Gene almost certainly began his working life helping his father at farming, he was also an auctioneer early in his years in South Dakota[63].

Tilly Schaefer
Gene married Tilly Schaefer from nearby Polo about three years after the Donlins arrived in South Dakota.

Tilly was born in Westphalia, Germany, though she had lived all but four of her years in Polo. Her family was from Kreis (County) Büren in eastern Westphalia. Her father Carl Schaefer was born in Wünnenburg, and her mother Anna Marie Schaefers was born in nearby Hegensdorf[64]. Kreis Büren has been part of Westphalia since the Duchy of Westphalia emerged from medieval Saxony in 1180. The Saxons were, of course, one of the Germanic (Frankish) peoples that invaded the northern Roman Empire in the 5th Century.

Tilly’s parents Carl and Anna Marie did not speak English, but they came across as very friendly people[65]. They spent their last days in the home of their youngest child Anna in Orient. Claire Sweeney remembers that Anna always had plenty of sweet things to eat. This was before Anna married Pete Schlechter (at age 32).

The Schaefer family is a large one. Tilly had three sisters and two brothers, and many cousins. Her oldest sister Sophia married Anton Hardes and had eleven children and 39 grandchildren. Anna and Pete Schlechter had seven children. Tilly’s brother Francis and his wife Mary had eight children, and her brother Anton and his wife Rose had six.

It is worth noting that, where Gene’s siblings settled outside South Dakota, Tilly had several siblings with large families of their own in the Polo area. In addition, Tilly had many cousins in Hand County, where Gene’s only known cousins were the Gearys of Iowa[66].

Gene and Tilly

Eugene Michael (Gene) Donlin and Tilly Schaefer
Eugene Michael (Gene) Donlin and Tilly Schaefer

Gene and Tilly had their own land near his parents’ land by 1910. Perhaps the land was a gift given at the time they were married. Life was hard for Gene and Tilly and their children, though they got an ostensibly good start.

After marrying in 1909, Gene and Tilly had received the land complete with new buildings[67], but they were to find the land itself inhospitable. Their land was located on a formation called “Bald Mountain”, one of the highest spots in Hand County, and water was scarce. They dug thirteen wells, but never hit water. So, after nearly seven years on the land, they left for Howell Township[68].

In contrast, Mike and Delia’s land has a spring, which is evident from the rich growth where their house once was.

Gene and Tilly became tenants, occasionally moving from farm to farm. By early 1930, Gene was a railroad laborer in Miller[69]. They finally caught a break when, later in the Depression, Gene was elected Hand County Registrar of Deeds. After Gene, Tilly was also elected to this position.

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The Children of Gene and Tilly