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Old Photograph Yields History of an Immigrant Family

An investigation of a photograph at the Southern Oregon Historical Society of John L. and Lily Demmer reveals a life’s story shared by many other Eastern European immigrants of their time.

Census and newspaper files show Demmer, his parents and siblings came to Medford around 1890. Born in Hungary, they emigrated to the United States in the 1870’s and lived for a time in Nebraska and Kansas where they became citizens. The men were all laborers.

In Medford in 1893, Demmer was fined $20 for fishing with dynamite.  By 1910, at the height of the Rogue Valley orchard boom, he sold real estate and was elected to the Medford City Council.

He and Lily married in 1907—a second marriage for each. At least two of their six children were teachers. Juanita became a college dean, and Edward taught in Medford schools.

Directories show that from 1914 to 1931, John was a gardener and the family lived on Jackson Street in Medford. She was on the voter rolls in 1914. He died in 1931, but Lily lived another 30 years and kept involved in community activities.

A little research about a solitary photograph yields a historical treasure.


Sources: U.S. Federal Census for 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 for John L., Lily and Lorenz Demmer; Polk Directories of Medford, Ore. for 1914, 1916, 1921, 1927, and 1931; Medford Mail Tribune, 13 Dec. 1911, 19 May 1929, 27 Nov. 1949, 13 April 1952, and 17 Dec. 1961; Medford Mail, 17 March 1893.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.