For about 10 years now, I've been trying to unravel the mysterious statements my dad made about a "Wendel fortune" connected to a prominent NY family - all the details he mentioned make sense now.One splinter of my German ancestors - the Wendel sisters - came over together from a small island off the coast of Germany called Fehmarn.This was in the mid 19th century, nearly 150 years later than the original John Gottlieb Wendel.
All the articles about John Gottlieb say he came from Denmark or Germany, but was definitely of German background.If you look at European maps from the 18th and 19th centuries, you notice that the area of Germany that sticks out into the North Sea towards Denmark (as well as the islands off the coast) was a part of Denmark for a good chunk of time.So while Wendel may have been German, he may have been a resident of Denmark when he left Europe.
My father said that when he was young there was a family joke that they would make a claim on the Wendel fortune due to the connection, but now that I understand the whole story, it was too tenuous at the time for them to take seriously.If Wendel had died today, I'm sure a dozen people could have easily traced familial relations to him using genealogical records and lawyers - and forced the probate court to pay them off with something.
There is a family history website devoted to genealogy tracing back to the island of Fehmarn, that I just discovered, and Wendel is a name that pops up a lot there.
For some specific background, here's a Time Magazine article from 1930 about Wendel and the fortune, upon the occasion of the passing of the last sibling of John Gotlieb Wendel II, who was quite a character.
It seems that most of the money passed to various charities, though a few people tried to come forward and make claims on it.Tabloid stories of illegitimate children and secret marriages and whatnot.I've cut and pasted this footnote from an article on an unrelated New York subject (it came up in a google search, and it has all the articles on the progression of the money).
"One of John Jacob Astor 1's sisters, Elizabeth, married John Gottlieb Mathias Wendel (died 1859), who,
like Astor, was of German descent, but born in Denmark. Wendel was Astor's partner in the fur business,
and is credited with being the dominant business partner, and also with developing the Astor family policy
of putting profits into the extensive acquisition and retention of New York real estate. Wendel himself
accumulated a fortune in real estate, which was transferred to his son, John Daniel Wendel (1800-1876).
Control of the Wendel estate was passed to his only son, John Gottlieb Wendel (1835-1914). The latter
Wendel, unmarried, exerted control over all but one of his seven sisters not to marry and thus dissipate the
estate; the single siblings lived in the family mansion (1856) at Fifth Avenue and 39th Street. Ella Virginia
von Echtzel Wendel (1853-1931), the last survivor, inherited the entire Wendel estate. After her death, the
estate, believed to be worth over $100 million, was tied up in court for over two years as over 2000 people
made claims. The charitable institutions that were the eventual "residuary legatees" of the estate (appraised
at only about $36 million in 1934, due to the Depression), set up the Wendel Foundation to avoid
liquidation of the real estate. The Wendel properties, including eight parcels within the historic district,
were transferred to the Foundation in 1936. "John Gottlieb Wendel," NCAB 16 (1918), 99; "Seek Wendel
Estate," NYT, Dec. 19, 1914, 15; "Wendel Estate Will be Over $80,000,000," NYT, Jan. 24, 1915, 1; "46
Transfers Made by Wendel Traced," NYT, Jan. 27, 1915, 18; "Old Wendel Home Will Not be Sold," NYT,
Feb. 24, 1929, 33; "Wendel Millions Will Go Public," NYT, Aug. 2, 1930, 1; "Mrs. Swope Left Little to
Charity," NYT, Oct. 31, 1930, 20; "Miss Wendel Left $4,952,433 Estate," NYT, Jan. 30, 1931, 15; "Ella
Wendel Dies ...," NYT, Mar. 15, 1931, 1; "Ella Wendel's Will Dividing the Family's Fortune in Realty,"
NYT, Mar. 24, 1931, 22; "Acts to End Chaos Over Wendel Will," NYT, Apr. 9, 1932, 17; "9 of Kin
Recognized by Wendel Estate," NYT, July 26, 1932, 17; "2303 Lose Claims to Wendel Estate," NYT, Jan.
5, 1933, 28; "Wendel Suit Ends
NYT, June 30, 1933, 19; "Wendel Legatees to Form a Foundation,"
NYT, Feb. 2, 1934, 1; "Wendel Fortune Put at $36,306,255," NYT, Apr. 7, 1934, 16; "Heirs Get Control of
Wendel Estate," NYT, Aug. 9, 1934, 15; "Wendel Holdings Go to Foundation," NYT, Dec. 4, 1936,48