Friday, January 30, 2015

What Would They Think?

I try to put myself in my ancestors' shoes (wooden shoes for some of them) and imagine what they were thinking as they first saw the United States.  I'm sure the kids were filled with excitement, but if I were a mom who had left everything I knew and put all my eggs in this immigration basket, I think I would have wanted to throw up over the side of the ship.

My ancestors came to the States through a number of ports, but Castle Garden in NYC was the main one.  My Kerkhoffs arrived on 28 October 1864 after leaving Haselünne, Germany on 15 September 1864.  In a matter of 6 weeks, they bade farewell to a very small town that had been the only home any of them had ever known and then had to face navigating an overwhelming New York City.  

Hasestraße 4
The Home of My Kerkhoff Family

The Adler
The Kerkhoff Family's Ship

Lately, I've been reminded of their arrival and that it has, in part, made me who I am (this goes for all of my ancestors).  It has played a significant role in the opportunities I enjoy and the path my life has taken.  And since May, that path has taken me to NYC.  I'm based there now and commute 2 or 3 times per month.  More often than not, I have to fly into LGA and cab it over to JFK.  And if I sit on the left side of the aircraft, the view reminds me of my Kerkhoff family's journey here.  I see the area that they saw (now Castle Clinton).  And I have to wonder......what would they think of their granddaughter who now flies into NYC at least a couple of times per month?  FLY???!!!!  Travel from Cincinnati to NYC in a couple of hours????!!!!

I love this view even though I know the Statue of Liberty wasn't there when my ancestors arrived.

See the "bottom" of Manhattan? That's where The Adler sailed into.  Now, it's Castle Clinton.

What would they have thought of their great great great granddaughter standing in the same place they stood?

Great Great Great Granddaughter of Casper and Lisette Kerkhoff

Every single time I fly into NYC, I think about my ancestors.  I know that if they hadn't made the decisions they did, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing.  I owe everything to them.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Going "Home" Again

There are only a few places that emotionally feel like a "home away from home" for me, and I sense it immediately.  London and Rome are two places that I knew I belonged.  There's no logic to it, but I knew I had an attachment to those places as soon I got there.  I yearn to be there.

Then there are places that I thought I would emotionally respond to like I did to London and Rome and was surprised when it didn't happen.  Paris quickly comes to mind.  I love the history, culture, architecture, etc., but I don't have that "you're home" feeling.  Wiesbaden is another.  If any single town/city should've awakened something in me, you'd think it would be a German town.  But it didn't.  I liked it.  I liked being there.  But I didn't feel "at home."

And then I visited Haselünne three years ago, and I felt that same "at home" feeling as I did with London and Rome.  My heart yearns for it.  I feel a connection to it that I don't feel with any other town that my ancestors came from.  Why?  I have no idea.  But I've learned to not question and just accept it.

Next week, I go back "home."  But this time, two of my sisters and one brother-in-law go with me to our ancestors' birthplace.  I hope I haven't built it up so much to them that it doesn't live up to their expectations.  But I'm really looking forward to seeing the church and the Hase River again, drinking some more Korn, and just being in the same place that my ancestors were.

St. Vincent's Catholic Church--To the right is the spot where the Latin Boys School once stood, a school my male ancestors probably attended.

The tower of St. Vincent's

The "Historic" Road 

St. Vincent's

The Hase River

Grandpa Joe's pipe resting on the baptismal font where his father was baptized in 1850

Me in front of my "home."  My Kerkhoff family's home was located on this spot--Hasestraße 4

I think of Casper and Lisette Kerkhoff and what they must've been doing 150 years ago tonight.  I'm sure they were preparing for their big adventure, and saying goodbye to family and friends.  And I'm also sure that they knew that they would probably never see these people ever again.  I think of them as they visited the grave of their only daughter for the last time.  Bernadina Antonetta Lisette Kerkhoff died in 1862 when she was just 14 years old.  I can't imagine the pain my great great grandparents felt as they walked to the cemetery for the last time and told their daughter of the journey they were about to take.  A journey they had to take without her.

My sisters and I will be in Haselünne on the 150th anniversary of our Kerkhoff family leaving the town (15 September 1864), and I hope Casper and Lisette will be smiling down upon us.

Let the adventure begin!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Release the Records!

The release of "old" Catholic sacramental records has become a very personal and emotional issue for me.  I think that most people can understand how important these records are for family researchers.  Most people.

I have tried to approach this entry a number of ways, and I've deleted all of them.  Start from scratch again.  And again.  I get very caught up in the emotion of of it all.  This has become my passion.  I almost feel (actually, I think I know) that this is the mission God has given me.  See?  Very emotional.

We MUST be allowed to search through old Catholic sacramental records.  Every diocese and archdiocese has their own ways of "dealing" with requests for these records.  Some are much more accessible and friendly than others.  Understatement of the year.

Why is it so important that we can personally look through the digitized records and/or microfilm?  It's not just to find out names of godparents, places of birth, etc. (although that's incredibly important).  It's because there are "lost" children in these records.  Children who were never included in census records.  Children who died and were buried before cemeteries had a reliable way to record the information.  Back in the 1800s (and earlier), Catholic Church records were the only written proof of a child's existence.  These babies (as a mother, this is very close to my heart) DESERVE to be included in their family trees.  The sanctity of their lives demands it!

My first experience with finding a child who was "lost" was when Dr. Reinhard Cloppenburg searched through Haselünne Catholic Church records for me. I emailed him and told him the details that I knew about my family.  He quickly responded to tell me that he'd search, and search he did!  In my Kerkhoff family, it was assumed that my great grandfather was the oldest, but we discovered that he wasn't.  He shared a birthday with his older sister (by 2 years), Bernadina Antonetta Lisette Kerkhoff.  She died at 3 am when she was just 14 1/2 years old.  All of her details were included in the Catholic sacramental records of her baptism and death.

When I found out the dates of her birth and death, I had a fuller picture of my great great grandparents and my great grandpa.  I realized that Lisette, my great great grandmother, was not only "just" pregnant with my grandpa when Haselünne burned down in August, 1849, but she also had a toddler to save.  It gave me a deeper understanding of the panic my great great grandparents must've gone through in those moments.  It allowed me a window into who they were, and I fell more deeply in love with them because of it.

When I visited that small German town a few years ago and went to mass at St. Vincent's, a church that many generations of my ancestors went to, I was surprised that I couldn't stop thinking about this 14 year old's funeral.  Did my great grandfather, Anthony Kerkhoff, try to be brave?  He was only 12, and his sister was dead.  A sister who shared his birthday.  Or did Anthony sob throughout the mass?  I can't even imagine the pain my great great grandparents, Casper and Lisette (Golz) Kerkhoff, went through as they sat through the funeral mass for their only daughter and eldest child.

If Dr. Cloppenburg hadn't looked through the records for me, my family would never have known about this darling girl.  If this German diocese had the same policy as a few other dioceses and archdioceses do (which require you to request SPECIFIC records--they will not look through a parish's records for you if you don't know the exact person you're looking for), my family would be poorer for not knowing about this child.

I have other examples discovering things about my ancestors as I look through Catholic sacramental records (things I never would've found if I couldn't have personally gone through the microfilm).

There Are Times I Think I'm Pretty Good At This

But the most recent discovery I've made because I had the freedom to look through old Catholic sacramental records was that my great great grandmother had a baby in 1874, a baby no one in the family had ever heard of.

I was at the Kenton Co. library researching an entirely different branch of my tree and hitting a brick wall that seemed to be reinforced with concrete and was/is 10 miles thick.  I wasn't having any luck at all and started looking for anything that would give me a clue.  So I pulled out the index for baptisms at St. Al's church in Covington and saw that some Brand family members were listed.  I had no idea if they were "my" Brands, but I had nothing to lose.  The index gave the page number, so I got the microfilm onto the machine and started scrolling.  I stopped close to the page I needed and then started counting.  I should've stopped on the page that listed the Brand child who was baptized.  At the top of the page, I started going through the names.  For some reason, I wasn't looking at the childs' names but was instead looking at the parents' names.  And then I saw it--Mary S. Geisen.  WHAT??!!!!  That was my great great grandmother, and my great great grandfather had died 4 years before that.  And I knew for a fact that she had always kept the Geisen name.  She was listed on the US Census record as Geisen.  The Covington City Directory had her name as Geisen until she died in 1892.  Her prayer card has her name as Geisen.  Her gravestone has her name as Geisen.

Her obituary is under Maria Susanna Geisen.  But here I find her as the mother of a little boy named Philip Moxel.  The father's name was Anton Moxel.  Thinking that perhaps there was someone else with that name in Covington at the time (even though I knew there wasn't), I looked at the names of the godparents.  Her sister, Catherine Schmitz, was the godmother so I knew that this little baby was my uncle.

When I looked at the page number, I realized I was one page off.  I shouldn't have been.  I counted.  But somehow, I found this child.  A child who deserves to be included in our tree (and who now is).  With further research, I found out that my great great grandmother married this guy when she was 6 1/2 months pregnant and never took his name.  The baby is not with her on the 1880 census and neither is the husband.  I'm in the midst of trying to find out what on earth happened to my grandma and her baby (my great grandfather's baby brother).  I haven't found much else yet, but at least he's now in our tree.  As he should be.

My sister Karen writes a blog about her journey of grief since my nephew Brandon died.  And something she wrote in one of her entries really stuck with me.  "He (Brandon) is moving farther away in people's minds."

A Sorrowfull Mother

Isn't that what every mother worries about?  Doesn't every mother want her baby to be remembered, loved and honored by his/her family members?  Don't we owe it to them to try and find each one of them?  I would assume that the Catholic Church would be at the forefront of understanding this.

If you're looking for Catholic records and the diocese or archdiocese doesn't allow it, please email the Chancellor to ask/request/demand access to the records.  Our family members have a right to be found!

Old Catholic Sacramental Records are Priceless!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again--Catholic Church archivists are some of my favorite people. For the most part, they are incredibly helpful and fully understand how important sacramental records are regarding each Catholic family's history.  Each diocese and archdiocese has its own way of making these records available (or not available, as the case may be), and it's very important that the family researcher find these records.  Here are some links and tips that might be helpful to you.

The Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Toledo have their "old" sacramental records online at FamilySearch.

Archdiocese of Chicago Sacramental Records

Diocese of Toledo Sacramental Records

I could weep looking through these beautiful old records.  This is a priceless resource for people searching for their family members, and they're beautiful to read and see.  I could also cry because none of my ancestors lived in Chicago or Toledo, so these records don't help me at all (at least not that I've found yet).

Many more Catholic records are found on FamilySearch (and also on microfilm at their library in Salt Lake City--microfilm can be ordered to be shipped to your local LDS library).  I've only listed a few, but if you google "Catholic Records FamilySearch" you'll find these listed and much more.

Italian Catholic Sacramental Records

Hungarian Catholic Sacramental Records

Ontario, Canada Catholic Sacramental Records

I found the Catholic baptismal records for 2 of my great great grandparents in this German collection.

German Births and Baptisms

And some release their records to Ancestry.

Irish Catholic Sacramental Records

Quebec Catholic Sacramental Records

And some others have their own website with digital images of their records.  Why, oh why, couldn't any of my Germans have been from the Diocese of Passau?  Because that would have been too easy for me, I think.

Diocese of Passau Sacramental Records

Other dioceses and archdioceses will send you the records you need and/or allow you to come into their archive office (or library) and search through them yourself.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Archdiocese of Boston

Archdiocese of Baltimore

Diocese of Sioux City (the "home" diocese of Archbishop Schnurr, Archbishop of Cincinnati)

And still others, like Covington and St. Louis, release their sacramental records to the local library.

Diocese of Covington Sacramental Records at the Kenton Co. Library

I can personally tell you how incredible the Genealogy Dept is at the Kenton Co. library.  I spend many, many hours there.  The archivist for the Covington Diocese is also very helpful.  If you have Catholic ancestors who lived in Covington, you're in luck.

Diocese of Covington Archive Office

Archdiocese of St. Louis

Still other dioceses (e.g. the Diocese of Duluth) and archdioceses require that you contact the individual parish concerning the records you need.

Archdiocese of New York

I also have to include a couple of wonderful German archivists.  The office in Meppen is incredibly helpful and very quick to respond to inquiries.  I've never had a language problem when I've asked a question or requested records (I don't speak German).

Catholic Archive Office in Meppen, Germany

And the archive office for the Münster diocese found my ancestors' sacramental records from Dinklage.

Münster Diocese Archive Office

Depending on where your Catholic ancestors lived, you may hit pay dirt and can't believe your good luck with all the details you learn about your family. Or you may become so frustrated with the lack of help from the archive office that you literally cry.  Been there, done that, and am still doing it.

Good luck finding your family.  Remember that Googling is your friend.  And don't hesitate to send emails asking for help, records, etc.  What's the worst that can happen?  Maybe the person will delete it.  But you might just luck out and get some incredible information.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"He is moving farther away in people's minds."

Every single one of my ancestors was someone's child.  Obvious, right?  But it's not an objective thought for me.  It's very, very personal.  And that thought is always with me and has been since I started this quest.  It's why I'm obsessed with including all of them in my tree.  Every child mattered.  Each one made an impact.  It doesn't matter how old or how young they were when they died.  They all changed the world, if just a little bit.  All of their loved ones changed because they knew them.

Each member of my tree should be known and remembered.  Every mother of each of those children would ask us to not forget her child.  After my cousin PJ died, my Aunt Janny said to me, "You should never have to bury your child.  It doesn't matter how old he is.  He's still your baby."

It is my responsibility to make sure that I remember and honor each one, and my sister Karen's most recent blog entry reminded me of this.

"I am also concerned that he (Brandon) is moving farther away in people's minds."

A Sorrowfull Mother

I can only pray that we don't allow any of our family members to move further away in our minds.

George Kerkhoff, Grandpa Joe's older brother

Edna Geisen, died at 3 1/2 years of age
Grandma Elsie's older sister

Ester Helen Elizabeth Meyer, died at 5 weeks of age
Grandma Ada's little sister
Buried in the Heger family plot

Infant (Boy) Geisen, Stillborn
Grandma Elsie's baby brother
Buried in the Geisen family plot

PJ Maurer
with Grandma Elsie

Al Meyer
with his sister, my Grandma Ada

Brandon Gromada
My darling nephew

Sarah Catherine Kerkhoff
23 July 1991

Edward Kerkhoff (twin brother of Inez Kerkhoff Perkins)
24 July 1891

Bernadina Antonetta Lisette Kerkhoff (older sister of Anthony Kerkhoff)
02 March 1848 - 11 October 1862

Lorraine Kerkhoff (older sister of Dad's)
05 March 1924 - 10 March 1924

Martha Amanda Purcell (Mom's aunt)
18 May 1889 - 29 July 1889

And many, many more.................................................

Sunday, September 15, 2013

These German American Lutherans Are Tough to Track Down

Quite often, I'm reminded how thrilled I am that most of my ancestors were Catholic.  I love my faith, and I fully appreciate that the practice and love of the Catholic faith has been handed down from generation to generation in my family.  But from a genealogy point of view, if your peeps were Catholic, you've probably hit pay dirt!

That's because all sacramental records are kept at the diocese level along with being kept at the actual parish.  And every diocese has an archive department.  I could tell quite a few tales about how much I love my Catholic church archivists.  These records hold priceless information--not only names of parents but also godparents.  Usually, godparents were family members (unless you're dealing with my Geisens, and then the godfather is someone who owns a brewery), and they can lead you in all different and fabulous directions.

I know how to get my Catholic records (even if I have to wait awhile because that archive office is closed for renovation and relocation).  It must be in my blood since my great uncle, Msgr. Gerhard "Gerry" Geisen was the Chancellor (head of the archive office) for the Covington diocese.

And then I run into my Protestants.  They're tough sometimes.  The Anglicans on my maternal grandpa's side have cooperated with me.  Great Britain has released quite a few of those records.  But the German American Lutherans..........

They haven't cooperated in my search quite so much.  Actually, not at all.  I can't find Pittsburgh/Allegheny Co. Lutheran records online.  I've found a few churches that have had their records microfilmed, so I'm hoping against hope that my German Meyers and Seips worshipped there.  Yeah, what are the odds of that?  I'll put it this way--I'm not going to hold my breath.

I finally did get one lead.  Someone posted on Ancestry about where some of the old records for western Pennsylvania Lutheran records are kept.  Do I see a road trip in my future?  Certainly a phone call.

Lutheran Church Records--Thiel College

My dad's maternal grandfather, Frederick Meyer, was born in Pittsburgh to a Lutheran family.  But my great grandmother, Amelia Heger, "encouraged" him to convert to Catholicism before she'd marry him.  But I need to find out if he was baptized in the Lutheran church (he was conditionally baptized in the Catholic faith when he converted).  I need to find his parents' marriage sacramental record.  I need to find his siblings' baptismal documents.  Because those things will give me new names to track down.  I already know where the Meyer clan lived in Pittsburgh (the Birmingham suburb on the south side), and there are quite a few other Meyer people and some Seips in that neighborhood.

Historic Maps of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh City Directories

Are they mine?  I NEED TO KNOW!

Side note--Only if you're as obsessed as I am will you understand my perseverance.  If you're not into it, I fully understand you thinking to yourself "WTF?"

OK, thanks for listening to my vent and frustration.  Those of us who are ridiculously obsessed with our peeps know when we're "this close" to finding something.  And that's how I feel about this family.  I just need a few more pieces to my family puzzle.  And I need those Lutheran church records to start assembling it.  I also need to acknowledge that the research frustration is not all the Lutheran's fault.  It's also the responsibility of my Meyer family.  Try looking for "Johan Meyer" or "John Meyer."  Make sure that there's a brick wall close by that you can bang your head against.  He's become, for me, the poster boy for "Needle in a Haystack."

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Unknowns

How can I ever thank my Geisens for having family photos taken?  And how can I ever tell them how much it means to me, 120+ years laters, that these photos have survived?  Many photos that are housed in the Geisen family photo album (a gorgeous green velvet album--sounds tacky, but it's not) have the subject's name written on them.  Or I know who they are (Aunt Mayme had a distinctive look) because I distinctly remember them.

I saw the beautiful face of my Aunt Edna, my Grandma Elsie's older sister.  A sister Grandma never knew.  Edna died at 4 years of age from heat stroke, and Grandma was born the next year.

Edna Geisen (1887)

Edna in between her 2 older sisters--Aunt Dada (Charlotte) on the left and Aunt Mayme on the right (photo probably taken around 1889)

I've been to Edna's grave.  She's buried in the Geisen family plot at Mother of God cemetery in Covington.  She's with her mommy and daddy.  And as I've stood at her grave, looking at her name, I've thought of the unbelievable sorrow that her parents (my great grandparents), siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. went through during her illness, death, and the years after.

How can I express how much I love having a photo of her?  Of knowing what she looked like?  For whatever reason, I "feel" that I have a responsibility to these peeps of mine.  A responsibility to let others know who they were.  To not allow them to be forgotten.  I know it's not logical.  But it has become a sometimes overwhelming feeling.  I feel a responsibility to these family members to make sure that they live on.

That responsibility leads me to the fascination/obsession I have with my Geisen/Pistner family "Unknown" photos.  Many in the photo album have no identification.  Who are these people who my Geisens loved so much that they included them in the family album?  I'm trying to narrow some of it down.  Does a certain photo look like another photo of a "known" person?  We have a photo of Lizzie Geisen (my great grandfather's sister).  Does this other photo look like her?  As soon as I saw it, I thought to myself, "That's Lizzie." But maybe I'm mistaken.  They're obviously related, but is it the same person?  I don't know.  Will I ever know?  Perhaps not.  But I'll do my damndest to figure this out.

The "known" photo of Lizzie (Elizabeth) Geisen

Is this an earlier photo of Lizzie?

And who is this family? Where were they when this photo was taken?  The "matriarch" was wearing black.  Was she in mourning?  The men look like Geisens (like my great grandfather, but I don't think he's either one of them).

The men in this photo look like Geisen men.

Is this woman the same woman in the photo above it (center--in between the 2 guys)?

These are many of my "Unknowns."  But what is "known" about them is that they were loved by my family.  They were all so precious to my Geisens and Pistners that they were included in the album.  And that makes them very precious to me.