Ferdinand is the original immigrant and founder of our Heise line in America. His
life is cloaked in obscurity, but he has left a few clues. He was probably born
in 1834 in a German-speaking area of Europe. What little we do know for certain
begins with his arrival in New York on 20 Nov 1861, on a ship called the Donau,
which had sailed from Hamburg. At that time, his age was given as 27 years, his
profession as cartwright. He was traveling in the company of two unmarried
women, Therese Heise and Louise Fischer. Their ages are given as 30 and 27,
respectively, on the ship's passenger list. Miss Fischer later became his wife.
They were married on 16 Feb 1862 in Pulaski County, Indiana. Speculation is
that Therese Heise was Ferdinand's sister, but nothing more is known of her.
On 16 Dec 1861, the records show that Otto Heise was born in Medaryville, Cass Twp., Pulaski Co., IN. He was supposedly the son of Ferdinand Heise and Louise Fischer, although their marriage did not take place until February of the following year. This would mean that Louise made the trip from New York City to a small town in the middle of the untamed fields of Indiana in just over 3 weeks, while 8 or 9 months pregnant.
In any case, after Otto, there were no more children until 4 years later, when Hugo (1866), Leo (1868), one or two daughters (1870/1871), and William (1872) followed in quick succession. When the 1870 Federal Census was taken, in addition to Otto, Hugo, and Leo, Ferdinand and Louise had a daughter named Lucy who was 1 month old. However, in the 1880 Federal Census, there was no Lucy, but instead a 10-year-old daughter named "Margaret" and the youngest son, William. Later records make no mention of Lucy or Margaret, but it is known that there was a daughter named Martha born about 1871. One explanation might be that Martha was really born in 1870 (there must have been a 1-month-old baby girl when the census taker visited the house in June of 1870; he could not have anticipated her birth a year later!), but her parents called her "Lucy" at first, and later changed their minds about her name. Or the census taker got her name completely wrong. Martha's birthdate of 1871 is taken from her tombstone, which may also be incorrect. Unfortunately, on her marriage license from 1893, her age was not entered. One additional complication is that Otto's obituary says that he was one of six children, indicating that "Lucy", "Margaret" and "Martha" were really 2 children, rather than 3 or 1.
Now back to the father of the family. It is not presently known for certain what Ferdinand did for a living during his circa 35 years in the United States. His son Otto's obituary gives Ferdinand's profession as "wagonmaker", which would corroborate with the entry on the Donau's passenger list. According to other family memories, he was a bookkeeper. On the 1900 census, his occupation is given as "Landlord". What is clear is that sometime after his wife's death on 1 Dec 1896, Ferdinand went back to the old country for good, although he did return at least once for a visit to Indiana in 1913, just before World War I.
Ferdinand died in Mrotschen, Prussia (now Mrocza, Poland) on 6 Feb 1923. According to letters written by neighbors in Mrotschen to Ferdinand's son Otto, Ferdinand died destitute and probably senile. The letters also hint to the possibility that Ferdinand may have grown up in Mrotschen. However, in the 1900 census, Ferdinand's country of origin is given as "Germany", while that of his father is given as "Russia" and that of his mother as "Prussia". Clearly, Ferdinand (or whoever answered the census taker's questions) knew that there was a difference between Germany, Prussia, and Russia. This would seem to discredit a birth in Prussian territory.
Ferdinand also had ties to Berlin, so perhaps that was his point of nativity. According to Ferdinand's granddaughter, Jessie Heise, Ferdinand's mother's name was Eva Verdeau, which points toward a French origin. There is no further corroboration for this speculation.
There were certainly Heise families in the area of Mrotschen in the 19th century, but it has not been possible to locate any certain relations. One of the Heises in the Mrotschen area was Friedrich Heise from Eichberg. His profession in 1856 is given as "magistrate, landowner, and innkeeper", which sounds quite important amidst all of his neighbors who were "agricultural laborers" and "cottagers". In our Heise family, there are stories that Ferdinand had a lot of money, or came from an upper-class family, or both, but that he lost it all when he returned to Prussia. The Great War probably did in any fortune he might have had. But it seems likely that he did come from a family of magistrates (the office tended to be inherited) or relatively wealthy landowners.