Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why the Kerkhoff side of my tree?

Why do I feel so emotionally connected to the Kerkhoffs "vs." other branches of my tree?  I've asked myself this many times, and I don't know the answer.  But I think I've narrowed it down.

Kerkhoff is my maiden name.  It's only logical that I connect with the name that I grew up with and am very proud of.  Well, at least I was proud until I found out what it means.  LOL!

And the old Kerkhoffs have cooperated a lot in my search.  And by the old ones, I mean Casper, Lisette, Anthony, Grandpa Joe, etc.  They filled out paperwork, they always spelled the name correctly (even going to the trouble to correct misspellings when they could), were included in the Cincinnati City Directory, took out ads for their businesses, etc.  But the biggest help they gave me was to pass down the name of the town they came from--Haselünne.

When I first asked Dad and Mom for information about their families and Dad told me about Haselünne, I remembered the name.  He must have told me many years ago that our Kerkhoffs came from there.  Then I found Casper and Lisette's Old St. Joe's cemetery records, and the town was listed as their place of birth (VERY unusual to list the exact small town).  So once I found out who to e-mail to find out about getting their Catholic church records, it was easy.  There was and is only one Catholic church in the town, so the archivist was able to easily find the information.

It's actually very emotional to read through these records.  To find out that Anthony wasn't the oldest Kerkhoff child.  He had a sister, and they shared a birthday (born 2 years apart).  She died at 3:30 one October morning when she was only 14 years old.  "Little" details like this started to paint a fuller picture for me.  Casper and Lisette started to become real people to me, not just names on a piece of paper.  You start to put yourself in their place at a specific moment in time.  How could they function after their daughter died?  How difficult would it have been to be only 2 or 3 years old and have one of your parents die (both Casper and Lisette were this age when one of their parents died)?  Why oh why did Casper marry the 40 year old stepmother of Lisette's???  I have my opinions about this, but I would love to know all the gossip and drama!

I had also found a website that listed the homes in Haselünne and who owned them during specific years.  I can't tell you how important this was to me, and it was one of the first huge pieces of information I found concerning my people.  When I visited the town, I met one of the men who compiled this list and put it online.  I will be forever grateful to him and his colleagues.

Dad showed me a copy of his Grandpa Anthony's naturalization papers (2nd copy of them--Anthony thought he lost the first set).  We always knew Grandpa became a citizen almost as soon as he could, March of 1871.  Just a couple of weeks after his 21st birthday.  According to a couple of US Census records, I knew that George and John were also naturalized citizens.  But I couldn't find their records anywhere!  And then one of my Facebook friends gave me a link to the Hamilton County Probate Court archived records.  And there it was--Casper's naturalization date.  The old man decided to become a US citizen.  Wow!  And I fell more in love with him (and with all of them).  He was 64 at the time, and Lisette and the minor boys all became citizens when he did (the law at the time).

Every bit of info I've been able to find puts another piece into the puzzle.  And I really like these people.  But I'm sure I'd really like the other branches of my tree.  Why am I not as obsessed about finding out about the Meyers, Brands, Schmitz and Purcells?  Well, I have to be truthful and admit that trying to track down records for these ridiculously common names kicks my butt.  Kerkhoff was easy to find in immigration records and city directories.  Meyer?  Yeah, right.  Schmidt?  Just try finding your specific person.  You feel like you're looking for a needle in a German haystack, and frankly, that's exactly what you're doing.  I guess I'm just an impatient American, but looking through pages and pages of Meyer, Keller, Brandt, etc. gives me a massive headache.

And there was no other branch where the name of the town survived through the generations.  I have found the specific names of 3 towns of other branches of my tree (Vodde, Keller and Pistner), but that wasn't because the family knew the name throughout the years.  What was it about Haselünne that was so special to the Kerkhoffs that explained why Anthony told Grandpa Joe about it?  And Grandpa Joe told Dad?  And Dad told me.

But I think the main reason why I focus on the Kerkhoffs is because of Grandpa Joe.  He never knew about  me.  Mom and Dad had just found out a few weeks before that she was pregnant, and then Grandpa went into surgery and died.  And I was always a tad envious of my brothers and sisters in this one area.  They knew him.  They heard him laugh.  Heard him talk.  And probably heard him yell.  They had a Grandpa, and I always wanted one.  I never felt this way about Mom's dad, and I think that's because none of my siblings knew him either.  But I grew up hearing stories about Joe Kerkhoff.  And looking at photos.  And I always wanted to know him.  I don't know what his voice sounded like.  Did his eyes sparkle like my dad's do?  And he never knew about me.  I know this all sounds really stupid.  Especially for a 45 year old woman to be going on and on about.  But I think that my ancestry search has, in large part, been a way to get to know Grandpa.  To establish some sort of relationship with him.  I know, not exactly logical thought.

Growing up, we had a framed photo of Grandpa that I remember very well.  Dad told me that it was the last photo that he ever took of him.  And that photo always represented to me everything that a grandpa was supposed to be.  I remember standing in front of it and just staring at it.  I always thought that it appeared as if he was looking right at me.

After I started my obsession, one of the first things that I discovered was that I was born on their wedding anniversary.  How bittersweet for my Grandma Ada.  Her first anniversary without her Joe, but a new grandbaby was born.  I hope it gave her a little comfort.  And I think that perhaps God allowed me to be born then so that I would have some "real" connection with Grandpa.  No, he never held me.  He never talked to me.  But he and I share a very important date.

Through this journey, I am so proud that I come from these Kerkhoffs.  And also from all the other branches of my tree--Vodde, Keller, Golz, Meyer, Heger, Kühr, Geisen, Pistner, Schmidt, Brandt, and Purcell.  We have reason to be very proud of our peeps. :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I'm Soooooooooo Tired (My CVG f/a friends will know what I'm talking about! LOL!)

We had a long drive ahead of us today.  Bremerhaven to Amsterdam Airport.  Before we checked out, I decided to look at my e-mail.  Good thing I did.

In my SPAM folder, I had a little missive from a descendant of the "other" Caspar Kerkhoff.  Apparently, the father of this guy read the newspaper article about me in the Meppen paper and was a little put out that I had claimed that my Casper owned 4 Hasestraße.  He thought "his" Casper did.  So I quickly came up with a little response (with links included) explaining how I know that my Casper owned it.  After I sent that, I found another e-mail retracting the previous e-mail and acknowledging that my people owned the house.  Woops.  Oh, well.  :)

But in that 2nd e-mail, the other Kerckhoff said this about what his father assumed, "If the informations my father got are right, both Caspar Ker(c)khoffs didn't like each other very much.  Why?  We don't know."  LMAO!  My friend Missie wondered if they fought over the 40 year old wife.  Perhaps.  But maybe they fought over Lisette.  My Casper was born in 1808, their Casper was born in 1818, and my Lisette was born in 1824.  Maybe the 2 Caspers went after her, and she chose the old guy. :)

After this little drama, Trish and I were on our way to Amsterdam.  Google Maps and Yahoo Maps told us it was about a 4 hour drive.  Well, not so much.  Just a wee bit longer.  And may I say that there are some things that Americans do better than the Germans and the Dutch.  Highway signs are one of them.  We were lucky if we were given a 3 second advance notice of which exit we needed.  More than a couple of times, we had to turn around and go back because we missed our turn off.  Or we finally figured out that our Autobahn number had somehow turned into another number.

However, one thing that the Germans are superior in is the truck stop/rest stop place.  In the States, I'm just thrilled if a rest stop has a bathroom.  Here, it's like a 4 star restaurant.  "I'll have a Bitburger and Jägerschnitzel, please."  And here's the most surprising part, it's actually good!  Plus, they had a really cool seat for me to sit in.  I'm easily amused.  We could take a lesson from the Germans in this.  And we'll trade highway sign knowledge with them.  LOL!

At least I finally saw a "real" windmill on our drive.  Germany and Holland have a lot of "environmental" windmills for power purposes.  But I hadn't seen any like those on postcards.  And I was a bit (a lot) disappointed.  Finally!  A real windmill.

We finally got to the Amsterdam airport, checked in to the hotel, dumped our luggage, dropped the car off, had a drink, got some snacks, and went back to the hotel.  All I can say is "I'm Sooooooooo Tired!"

After all of this travel, I can't imagine how our Kerkhoffs made this journey.  I was bitching up a blue streak by the end of today.  I was tired.  I was hungry.  I was irritated.  BTW, when I say that I was all of these things, just assume that Trish shared in this misery.  How on earth did Lisette put up with her journey?  I just can't imagine.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

We're doing what Casper????!!!!!

I took one last stroll around the town this morning.  Walked down the street Casper grew up on and think I found the spot where his would have been.  Couldn't help but laugh when I realized that the view out his front door was the church.  He has become a big character for me, so I can only imagine him as a little boy, always near the church.  He wouldn't have been able to get away with anything.  Well, until he married the 40 year old woman (when he was 27).  I guess he was making up for lost time.

I also walked through St. Vincent's one more time.  And placed Grandpa's pipe on the baptismal font.  So that he, in a way, could be where his daddy and grandparents were (at one time).

The street name that Casper grew up on.

I think is where Casper's boyhood home was.

If I'm right, his home would have been the one in the middle.

Grandpa's pipe sitting on the baptismal font where his dad, uncles and grandparents were all baptized.  Thank you Paul Kerkhoff for loaning it to me and allowing me to take it with me on my trip.

Before we left Haselünne, we met Matti to say thank you and goodbye.  He handed me the article that was written about  me.  I have to admit that I was thrilled with the photo!  No dark circles under my eyes.  No turkey neck.  And the photos of Grandpa and Dad are visible.  Big bonus--I'm holding Grandpa's pipe.  I'm just a little embarrassed to admit that we went to 2 stores to buy all the copies they had.  All in all, I bought 5 copies of the newspapers.  Herm and/or Beth, be warned.  I'm hoping you'll translate the article for me.  I'll buy you a beer.  LOL!

After saying goodbye to Matti, we were on the road.  I have come to the conclusion that Google Maps, Yahoo Maps and Mapquest simply do not work in Germany.  They'll tell you to get off at some exit or something, and it doesn't exist!

Today, Yahoo left out one little detail of our journey--That we'd have to take a damn ferry!  I kept telling Trish that there was no bridge, but she didn't believe me.  "The ferry will be one option.  But I'm sure there will be a bridge."  Um Trish, the sign to Bremerhaven has a little car sitting on something with the water sign under it.  I think that means we'll have to take a ferry.  "No it doesn't.  It just means it's one option!"

We got to the point where we could go no further, and she said to me "See, I told you there was a bridge." Trish, that "bridge" is to the ferry.  Not across that huge body of water.  So we had a little adventure that Yahoo neglected to tell us about.

After this, it was easy to find the museum.  It was very good and well done.  But I think I actually had more of a reaction just walking along the port than I did walking through the museum.

I could only imagine Casper (age 57), Lisette (41), Anthony (14), John (12), Henry (10) and George (6) traveling from Haselünne to Bremerhaven.  Hell, I thought Trish and I had trouble getting here.  I can't wrap my head around making this trek back in 1864 with a 57 year old husband and 4 boys.  And then getting on a stinking ship that was packed with other immigrants?  Being on that thing for weeks?  With my family?  Saying goodbye to everything I had ever known?  Knowing that I would never see my homeland again?

And as I was walking along, I had to ask myself if I think I could've done it.  And the answer was no.  Leave everything at my age?  Even if I knew someone who was already over there, it's still the "unknown."  You're putting all of your eggs in one basket.  There's no Plan B.

The only thing that could have made me decide to leave my life in Germany for a new one in the US was if my children's future was at stake.  It took guts to do what they did.  And I've got to thank them for having the balls to follow through with it.

The Kerkhoffs come from good stock.  Granted, it's "interesting" stock.  LOL!  But we're strong personalities for a reason.  And I think a lot of that is because of Casper and Lisette and their determination to find a better life for their boys.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dinklage or Bust!

This was a full, full day!  I just can't keep up this pace.  No rest for the weary.  I'm not complaining, but crap, I am not a young woman anymore!

First, Matti and Wilfried took me to the "new" Catholic cemetery.  Wilfried worked very hard finding the spot where the Kerkhoffs were reburied.  From what I understand, when the "old" cemetery was closed, they reburied everyone in the new cemetery.  I can't thank Wilfried enough for all he did for me on this subject.  Another family is buried on top of my Kerkhoffs, but that's normal in Germany (and most of Europe).  Once the "lease" for the plot runs out, someone else is buried on top of the other remains.  And a new stone is put up.  The family of the other person gets the stone to take home.

From the information I was given, our Kerkhoffs are buried under the Kaemmerer family.

After the "cemetery run," we walked to the Rathaus for my introduction to the mayor.  During the walk, Matti and Wilfried pointed out where Jewish families used to live in the town.  I was told there were 20 Jews living there at the start of the Third Reich, and 15 of them were murdered.  Five were able to get out of Germany and immigrate to Canada (I think it was Canada).  Haselünne has memorialized those who were murdered by placing plaques in the brick sidewalk in front of the spots of their former homes. Quite something to see these.  One woman was my age.  There was a 4 year old child.  Another person was Nick's age.  And this took place only 70 years ago.

Once we arrived at the Rathaus, Herr Bürgermeister was very nice and welcoming.  He seemed to really like the key to the city of Covington.  I think he actually got a little emotional about it.  He immediately placed it inside a cabinet in his office (along with other mementos).  Well, after photos were taken. :)  But I've got to admit that I felt sorry for the guy.  He didn't speak much English.  I don't speak German.  And Wilfried and Matti were telling him stuff about my Kerkhoffs.  It was very sweet of Wilfried and Matti to arrange the meeting, however, and it's something I'll never forget.

After the meeting, Trish and I were heading to Dinklage, the home of my Vodde family.  For those of you keeping score at home, Johanna Vodde married Anthony Kerkhoff.  Johanna "Anna" Vodde was born in Cincinnati, but her father (Joseph Vodde) was born in Dinklage.  And in 1860, Joseph Vodde traveled back to Dinklage to bring his father, Franz, and brother, Anton, to Cincinnati.  Are you all with me?  Do you need to take a break, get a beer, pop some popcorn?  :)

I was a good little computer user and Google mapped our way.  Wrong move.  Really wrong move.  We got so freaking lost.  So we solely used Trish's handy dandy map of Germany and went town by town.  What's the next town on the map in the direction we need to go?  And that's where we'd head to.  By this point, I needed a major beer and some food.  Trish saw a little hole in the wall restaurant, and we pulled off the road.  Best decision of the day!  It looked like a bunch of nothing special from the outside, but the owner was fantastic.  And his food!  Oh man, his food!  Every single thing is made fresh.  Order schnitzel, and he goes back to his kitchen and starts pounding that meat!  I ordered Jägerschnitzel, and as he was placing that work of art on the table in front of me, I could smell that the mushrooms were fresh.  Yes, he confirmed, he sliced the mushrooms after I ordered the meal.  Trish decided on some sausage thing.  Then the chef/owner brought us homemade pineapple "pudding."  It wasn't really pudding as we know it, but I can't describe it any other way.  Then he delivered to us a shot of coffee liqueur.  I despise coffee.  Everything about it.  But this was good.  Don't ask me why, but it was really good.  The owner loved it that 2 American women visited his restaurant and loved his food.  And he liked getting his photo taken with me.  But why wouldn't he?  LOL!

Trish and I noticed while we were there that people kept staring at us.  We decided it wasn't because we were stunning but because we were quickly identified as 2 Americans in an area where Americans are not known to vacation.  At some point during our meal, the owner/chef/waiter came up to us and asked, "Who are you?"  At first, he wondered if we were Americans in the area to buy horses (he told us that there is a horse farm close by where "rich" Americans and others sometimes go to purchase horses).  I was immediately thrilled that I was misidentified as a "rich American," but I had to fess up to the truth.  After explaining my reason for being in the area (and the fact that we were completely lost), he asked me what town we were trying to find.  I told him, and he screamed (in a darling way), "I'm from there!  I'm from there!"  He immediately wrote out directions for us (he spoke and wrote PERFECT English even though he apologized because he didn't think he spoke it well enough).  Then he asked me what family I was trying to find.  When I replied "Vodde," he again exclaimed, "I know them!  I know them!"  This darling German was one of the highlights of my trip, and I will never forget him.  But soon we had to be on our way.

We only got lost a couple of more times before we found Dinklage.  And you couldn't miss the church since the steeple was towering over every other building.  "Follow the steeple, Trish!"  The church that's there now is not the St. Catherine's Catholic church that my people went to and were baptized in.  But the old church was on this spot (as far as I know).  Found a great parking space right in front of the church, and I was off to steal pebbles from another Catholic church.  Success!  At least with this one, I didn't have to look hard.  They were right there in front of me, unlike the other churches I stole from.

The inside of the church is beautiful, and I left a little note in the prayer book.  After our little trek and how turned around we got so many times, I can't imagine what Joseph Vodde had to go through in his travels.  It was 1860, he left a wife and 4 kids to go and get his dad and deaf brother from Dinklage and bring them back to Cincinnati.  He had to travel to a port (I'll guess NYC), spend weeks on the boat crossing the Atlantic, get into Bremerhaven or Amsterdam or somewhere, get transportation to Dinklage, get his elderly father and deaf older brother, and then travel back to Cincinnati.  I bet he was gone at least 6 months.   And that's if he had pretty good weather the entire way.  Poor Franz Vodde didn't last long once he got to Cincinnati.  He died in 1861, but Anton lived until the mid 1870's.  I'll try not to complain the next time I'm stuck in traffic.

After a little light snack, we were back on the road.  Now headed "home" to Haselünne.  A lot of my trip has revolved around feeding time, and today was no different.  We were on the lookout for a restaurant.  Found one in some town whose name I can't remember.  But it was a great place with great beer and great food.  Good enough for me.  Got back to the hotel late, packed up, and will leave the home of my ancestors tomorrow.  Hopefully, someday I'll be back.  And bring family with me!

Tomorrow, we're driving to Bremerhaven, the port where our Kerkhoffs left from.  I'll keep you updated.