The descendants of Danny Sorbie

Family History

Daniel Sorbie was born in Stonehouse in 1880 and is featured many times on these pages. A coalminer, he was the son of Thomas Sorbie and Jane Burke and can be seen as a young man on the family photo on the main menu of this website. He married Catherine (Kate) Muir in Stonehouse June 6th 1902 and had three children in Scotland, Tom, Annie and Jean 1903, 1904 and 1907.

Catherine Muir, born 1882 in Strathaven, Lanarkshire. Pictured c.1900

Danny and family then emigrated to Gillespie, Illinois around 1912, where a fourth child Nellie was born the following year. They finally settled in Kenosha in the neighbouring state of Wisconsin in 1919 when Danny was offered a job at the Simmons Mattress factory. As was the case with many Sorbies, Danny was extremely musical, playing in the champion Stonehouse pipe band at the turn of the century and continuing as a pipe major in both Illinois and Wisconsin.

Daniel Sorbie with wife Catherine and children Tom and Annie c. 1906

Article on Danny Sorbie from Kenosha Newspaper

Danny worked in the Simmons mattress factory for 18 years before his premature death in 1937. He was an active and well respected member of the community.

 Daniel Sorbie's obituary - Kenosha 1937

Catherine Sorbie in 1955

Known as "Wee Kate", Catherine stood at only 4'10" high. Kate's granddaughter, Kathy Szelonski recalls "..I do remember my grandmother Kate Sorbie somewhat, as I was quite young when she died. She was widowed at the age of 55 years. I do not know exactly when she moved in with my Aunt Jeannie and Uncle Frenchy (Lee Degeneffe), but I always remember her living with Jeannie and Frenchy. She worked for a time at Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois in the cafeteria serving the sailors their breakfast and lunch. She would take the train to Great Lakes every day from Kenosha. After that, she worked at American Motors Corporation in the factory. She was a sweet little lady. She died in 1957 at the age of 75 years.."

The son of Danny and Kate

Tom Sorbie and the Langel family

 Tom, born in Stonehouse in March 1903 was Danny and Kate's eldest child and only son. Known as 'Fiddlin' Tom', he had his own band for many years and worked for the Simmons Mattress Company in Kenosha until it closed. After that he opened 'Sorbies Bar' on 56th Street in the town, which remained open until it was sold recently. Tam's niece Kathy Szelonski continues, "I remember my Uncle Tommy very well. He was quite a character. He played the violin like a professional. He was the only man I have ever known to balance a shot glass (full of whiskey) on the violin and have that violin sound just like bagpipes."

Tom Sorbie in 1950

Joyce, born in Kenosha in 1925 was Tom's only child. She married Elmer Langel of Illinoiss in 1943  and had five children, Tom, Mike, Daniel, Donna and Carol. She was in attendance at the Sorbie 'Kenosha Reunion' in 1974 along with her parents Tom and Ceybelle. Tom died the following year in February 1975 and Ceybelle in October 1984. 

Tom and Ceybelle Sorbie

Tom Langel, her eldest son, now lives at 'Twin Rivers' ranch in the open spaces of Montana and it is a far cry indeed from the small close-knit communities of Lanarkshire. This is how he describes his home state "..Montana is a rare commodity indeed. Yellowstone National park is less than a 2 hour drive, but the scenery is basically the same all the way there. We see deer, coming to our river to drink every morning and evening in our fields below the house. Ducks, geese, mountain lions, coyote and elk (occasionally). Beaver and otter are here most anytime. Last spring, a mountain lion killed one of our prize yearling horses..". 

Tom is at the back in the striped shirt. His son Kohlby is below him. Tom's brother Mike Langel is in the blue shirt below him. Tom's wife DeeAnn is to the extreme right in the blue shirt, his eldest son Wayne is to the extreme left in the middle.  His youngest daughter Regan is next to Wayne and his daughter Kim is at the bottom in the blue shirt with her kids. Lots of other family too..!!

In February 2001, an e-mail was received from Tom via his 2nd Cousin Joe Pinz in St.Louis asking if it was possible for him to visit Stonehouse with his mother Joyce, who unfortunately was very ill. She had never been to Scotland and wanted to make the journey from Wisconsin to see Stonehouse, the place where her forefathers lived. Tom also asked whether she could "meet some Sorbies." Of course the U.K. 'cousins' were delighted to be of assistance and plans were made over the next few months regarding their accommodation and itinerary. 

Tom Langel and his mother, Joyce

The visit of course led to the organisation of a full 'Sorbie Gathering' at which 75 cousins were in attendance. Tom and Joyce's party consisted of eight family members, including his sisters, Donna and Carol and nieces, Heather and Cassondra. Their accommodation at a hotel in Hamilton proved to be a excellent base to explore the area and one of their first ports of call the following day was St.Ninians old cemetery in Stonehouse. This place, steeped in history is where many of their descendants are buried, including Mitchell Sorbie, the famous 'foot racer' (see 'Famous Sorbies').  

Tami and Carol pictured at St.Ninians

The kirkyard is extremely well maintained with a number of gravestones dating back to the early 1600's. It is dominated by the ruined bell-tower which occupies a magnificent position overlooking the valley of the River Avon, far below. The American visitors were struck by the number of gravestones bearing 'mortality symbols' such as skull and crossbones and the amount of graves containing young children. Such was the infancy death rate there are unfortunately a large number in the old kirkyard.

 

Tami, Carol and Donna with their 5th cousin Tom Sorbie 

Another place of 'pilgrimage was 12, Lockhart Street where Daniel Sorbie lived with his parents Thomas Sorbie and Jane Burke. The original row of houses have long since been demolished to make way for newer properties. All four of Daniel's brothers emigrated to the U.S.A.  in search of work and a better standard of living.

The visit was the ideal chance to explore the Lanarkshire area and see the places were their forefathers lived and worked. Many of the buildings in Stonehouse are still as they were in the 1800's, so family members were able to get a real sense of the place as it was over a century ago. This was especially exciting for the Langel Family who have never visited the town or indeed Scotland before.

12, Lockhart Street was on the bend of the road on the left

Needless to say the highlight of the family's visit was the Sorbie Gathering held at the St.Ninian's church hall. To see the Langels meeting their Scottish cousins was a fantastic experience for all concerned. Despite their geographic distance from Stonehouse, a strong family bond still remains and everyone was delighted to see them 'back home'.

Tom Langel was keen to see his family's position on the giant family chart displayed on the wall and as a gesture of kinship he was presented with the whole tree at the conclusion of the Gathering by Hugh Robinson. Whether he got it into his suitcase is another thing..!! Tom and Joyce reciprocated by distributing out a large selection of souvenirs from their home state of Wisconsin and the gesture was greatly appreciated.

Joyce and family were warmly received at the Gathering 

The family then had the following six days to themselves to explore more of Scotland. They certainly made the most of the opportunity with the assistance of their "local guide" Tom Sorbie. Places visited included Loch Lomond, Bannockburn, Stirling Castle, Wallace Monument, Berwick-upon-Tweed and of course Edinburgh,  Scotland's capital. 

Joyce was happy to meet her Scottish cousins

The family had a wonderful visit and the 'Gathering' was the highpoint for all concerned. Joyce of course got her wish to see her father's birthplace and "meet some Sorbies". We were more than happy to help and look forward to welcoming more overseas cousins in the near future. 

"King Tom" pictured at Stirling Castle

A sad postscript to the visit was the passing away of Joyce Sorbie Langel Taylor less than 6 weeks after the Gathering.

Tom Sorbie of Larkhall described her as follows "When Joyce was with us during her visit she bore her trouble with great fortitude, never a complaint. It was a pleasure to be with her, a great lady who I won't forget. She was special".

Joyce's gravestone in Kenosha, Wisconsin

Two years after the event in Scotland, the Langel family arranged their own USA Sorbie get-together in their home town of Kenosha in August 2003. Family members travelled from near and far to be there and the event was a fantastic success. Joyce's legacy lives on in these gatherings as she was the catalyst that made it all happen.

The daughters of Danny and Kate

Annie Sorbie and the Clark family

Annie Sorbie was the first to marry in 1921, to Walter Clark who had emigrated from Stirlingshire, Scotland. Her brother Tom met Walter in a railroad car between Waukegan, Illinois and Kenosha, Wisconsin. Walter asked Tom for a cigarette and Tom recognised his strong Scots accent. They got talking and Tom asked him if he wanted to meet his sister Annie. The rest is history! Annie was a housewife and Walter went onto work for the Simmons Mattress Factory in Kenosha. Walter often told family members about his times back home in Scotland when he worked down the in the coal mines at the age of 12 years. 

Walter and Annie Clark

Walter and Annie lived in  Kenosha for some years and had two sons, David and Walter, Jr. (Buddy). Buddy was a professional musician, playing base fiddle and guitar.

The following information on Buddy's musical career was given to us by his daughter Lisa who lives in Laurel Canyon, California "My Dad played the upright bass and the fender bass. He started playing music due to his big brother David. Uncle Dave bought him a trombone when he was in his early teens and then he purchased an upright bass for him at about fifteen. When dad bought a new bass he returned that original one back to David and eventually Cousin Sandy wound up playing the bass and still does to this day. He worked with and for many famous performers such as The Tex Beneke Big Band, Les Brown and His Band of Reknown, Jerry Mulligan, Marty Paich, Mel Lewis, Terry Gibbs Dream Band, Vicki Car , Dot Records, Dave Pell, The Lawrence Welk Show, The Merv Griffin Sho w, Pat Boone, Jerry Lewis, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Peggy Lee, Anita O'Day, The Hi-Lo's, etc.

He also was a studio musician playing on several commercials and albums. He played the upright bass on the original recording of La Bamba with Ritchie Valens. He also appeared as a sideman (musician) in movies such as Harper and New York, New York. He co-found and played bass in the Jazz Group "Supersax" and did many of their arrangements. They won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance By A Group in 1973. They were also nominated for the two albums that followed. You can find facts about him in Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz. My Mom is musical too - sings and plays piano. We grew up singing 4 part harmony, Dad always singing the bass part. Dad died on June 8, 1999, he was just about to turn 70."

Buddy (right) and David Clark circa 1950

Buddy had 3 children, Todd, Lisa and Steven. David served in WW2 and later owned a large farm in West Plains, Missouri and was also a disc jockey on a local radio station. He married Mary Layton in Little Rock, Arkansas in April 1945. He died in June 2001 at the age of 78. 

David Clark

Annie died in 1957 at the relatively early age of 53. Walter remarried many years later and passed away in 1993 in Lake Zurich, Illinois at the grand age of 93. They are now survived by five Clark grandchildren, Sandy, James, Todd, Lisa and Steven. 

L to R:  Jim Clark; Father and Mother, David and Mary; Sandy Clark and husband Paul Rosengren in New Orleans, April 1995 to celebrate their parents' 50th wedding anniversary

Sandy has also carried on the Sorbie musical tradition. She is a music teacher at an Elementary school in Panama City, North Florida. She plays the String Bass and is currently learning the violin and plays with a folk fiddling group. Her sons Michael and Scott play the rock guitar and jazz trumpet and the three often play jazz music together.

Sandy has her grandfather Walter Clark's bagpipes passed down from her father and is now inspired to learn them after discovering so much about her Scottish heritage.

Jim and Sandy Clark - Panama City, Florida - Sept 2004

Sandy's son Scott Rosengren and his wife Dawn - Huntsville, Alabama - Christmas 2004

Jean Sorbie and the Degeneffe family

Jean Sorbie was Danny and Kate's second daughter. She married in 1940 at the age of 33, to a Frenchman, Lee Degeneffe, known as "Frenchy". Jeannie was also a housewife and Frenchy was a chauffeur for a doctor in town. Later he was a bus driver for the City of Kenosha. They had one child, Mary Jane, born in March 1942. Mary Jane married at the age of 19 years to Gary J. Malsch (Joe). He was a Carpenter. They had two sons, Gary and John. Jean Sorbie died in 1972 and her husband Lee two years later, both were still living in Kenosha, Wisconsin. John Malsch now lives in Madison, Wisconsin and is a computer programmer.

Wedding of Jean Sorbie and Lee Degeneffe, October 5th 1940

Taken in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Bridesmaid Nellie Sorbie, Bridegroom Ray Colby

Mary Jane Degeneffe as a teenager

Nellie Sorbie and the Szelonski family

Danny's third daughter Nellie was the only one of his children to be born in the U.S.A. She was born in Gillespie, Illinois the year after the family arrived in America. Nellie married Victor Szelonski in Kenosha in June 1938.

Clipping from Kenosha Newspaper

Victor was a member of the Polish National Alliance in the town. His parents both born in Poland. He raised homing pigeons, and this is how he came into contact with Nellie's father, Danny Sorbie. 

Brothers-in-law. L-R Frenchy, Tommy and Vic

Quote from Vic's daughter Kathy: "Before their marriage in 1938, my father was a long distance runner and was one of 17 in this country to be chosen to train in Poland in 1934 for three months. He ran 5,000 and 10,000 meter races. Also, in 1934, he ran against Jesse Owens at Soldier Field in Chicago, finishing second to Jessie in a 1,500 meter run -- a pretty good finish considering my dad was a long distance runner and Jesse Owens was a short distance runner. My father was a baker by trade, having his own bakery shop, specializing in Danish pastries and wedding and birthday cakes. My mother was also a housewife. She was also very talented at playing the piano."

Nellie and Kathy Szelonski

They had one daughter, Kathryn (Kathy). She is the supervisor in an electric motor factory in Racine, Wisconsin, the city bordering Kenosha to the north. She has worked there for the past 25 years. Kathy still lives in the house her parents built in 1949. Nellie died in 1995 and her husband Vic in 1997.

Celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of Vic and Nellie Szelonski

"Kenosha News", June 18th 1988

L-R: Frenchy, Jeanie, Annie, Nellie and Victor. Pictured in 1957

Kathy Szelonski proudly wearing a Sorbie kilt in Summer 2004

 

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