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Emma Kiel was born in 1890 in the small German-American country cross-roads village of North Plato, Illinois. She was the youngest child of German immigrants August and Johanna Kiel. The Kiels spoke German at home and Emma attended grade school at Saint Peter's Lutheran Church in North Plato where instruction was in both German and English. In her late teens Emma worked as a housekeeper for Eleanor Doty. In 1910 she married her employer's son, Sylvester Doty, a farmer who was renting a nearby farm. Three years later Sylvester and Emma moved to the farm in Dorr Township of McHenry County, Illinois, where they would raise their family for the next 40 years. After Sylvester's death in 1953, Emma moved to Woodstock, Illinois, where she lived until her death in 1983.