Saturday, November 24, 2012

Finally Able to Put a Face with the Name

I have come to love the unexpected surprises that come with the genealogy hunt.  Just when you think you've exhausted every single avenue, you find out that you haven't.

The one "face" I was missing in my search was my great grandfather, Anthony Hermann Kerkhoff.  I had photos for every other great grandparent but not him.  At first, my father told me that he didn't think there were any photos of Anthony.  How could there not be?  He died in 1905.  Someone had to have had taken a photo of him.  None of Dad's siblings remembered any photos, and Dad's first cousin (Aunt Inez's son) didn't remember any photos of Anthony.  I had also asked the granddaughter of my Uncle Frank Kerkhoff (Grandpa Joe's oldest sibling) if she knew of any photos, and she didn't.

And at some point, my dad told me about a photograph of the entire Kerkhoff family.  It was taken on the porch of their home on Mt. Hope Avenue, and he told me that he remembered looking at it in a frame as it was hanging on a wall.  But he couldn't remember which home he saw it in.  He knew it wasn't his, so we concluded it was his Grandma Kerkhoff's (Annie Vodde Kerkhoff).

Was there really a photo out there somewhere??  Unfortunately, no other Kerkhoff remembered seeing it.  But Dad was adamant about seeing that photo when he was a little boy.  He relayed the details to me that he was told about it.  It was taken by a "door to door" photographer who had knocked on their door and asked the family if they'd like a photograph taken.  I have been told stories before that had turned out not to be true (see The Immigration Story that Wasn't), so I didn't assume that all the details of the photo were correct.  I didn't even assume that there was definitely a photo of the family.  But Dad's memory is still incredibly good, so I decided to go with the assumption that there was probably a photo at some point of the Kerkhoff family.

Fast forward to yesterday and lunch at my newly discovered cousin's house.  She, her brother and two cousins (all grandchildren of Uncle Frank Kerkhoff) met with my parents and me.  I brought some documents I thought they may like having, and they brought out some photos.  One of my "new" cousins brought some photos from her hosue that she had grabbed at the last minute.

Most of them were from her grandmother's side of the family (not related to me), and then she handed one to me.  And I started shaking.  Because I knew I was looking at the face of my great grandfather.  And he didn't look anything like what I had pictured him to look like in my mind!  Don't ask me what I thought I'd see, but this wasn't it.  Maybe I thought he'd look younger?  Or with darker hair?  I don't know.  But he was even better than I ever imagined him to be.  Because I realized that his baby boy, my Grandpa Joe, grew up to look like his daddy.  Balding and fabulous.

Waking up yesterday morning, it never occurred to me that I would go to bed that night knowing what my great grandfather looked like.  What an incredible way to start this blessed holiday season.

My Grandpa Joe is sitting in the front, right in front of his daddy.  
This photo is owned by the Kerkhoff family.  
Please do not copy, forward, or download.  Thank you.

Joseph V. Kerkhoff

Thursday, October 25, 2012


My apologies to those of you who understand German and know what the meaning of the title of this post.  But nothing else seems to fit.

Why, oh why, wasn't the German language kept in my family?!  Why wasn't it spoken in the home throughout the generations so that it could've been spoken while I was growing up?  The only 2 Germans words I ever knew were Gesundheit! and Schnickelfritz!  And I didn't even know that Schnickelfritz wasn't a "real" German word until a German woman I worked with said to me, "Oh Schnookie, that's not a word.  What does it mean?"  So I found myself explaining to this 50ish something German woman what "Schnickelfritz" meant.


The question of the loss of the German language in my family has been something I've asked my parents about, and they actually know the answer.

Dad told me that his grandpa, Anthony Kerkhoff, was a very proud German immigrant and naturalized US citizen.  He did not allow any of his children to speak German and/or Plattdeutsch except when speaking to their grandparents.  And only then, if no one else was around.  There's the family story of Anthony picking up his 2 eldest children, Frank and Florence, after they spent a weekend with their grandparents (I don't know if this would've been Casper and Lisette Kerkhoff or Joseph and Elisabeth Vodde).  As they were on the trolley car home, Uncle Frank saw something and pointed it out to his father.  Because Frank had been speaking German all weekend, he said it in German.  Anthony, who emigrated from Haselünne with his family when he was 14, immediately reprimanded his son and said, "We're American!  We speak English!"

I love that passion of his.  I admire it.  I love that he committed himself fully to his new country.  He became a US citizen just 2 weeks after his 21st birthday.

Anthony Kerkhoff's Second Set of Naturalization Papers.  The first set was lost in the burning of courthouse in Cincinnati in March, 1884.

But as proud as he was to be an American, he was also proud of his hometown.  Haselünne is the one town's name that has been handed down through my Kerkhoff generations.  My dad was told by his dad who was told by his dad (Anthony) where we come from.  And my Grandpa Joe's middle name, Vincent, is taken from the Catholic church in that town.

Anthony lived the American dream.  He worked hard, he learned a trade (he was a machinist), owned his own business a couple of times (as a matter of fact, he went bankrupt in 1899), and then finished out his life working as the foreman for a large and well known machine shop, John H. McGowan Pump Co.  I assume that if he was the foreman of such a well respected machinist business (upright drills) after his company went bankrupt, he was still highly respected and trusted.

Then there's my great grandmother, Amelia Heger Meyer, born in Covington, KY.  This one is a bit fuzzy, but I think it gives a good window into my ancestors' views on language.  Dad told me that his grandma left St. Aloysius Catholic church in Covington because she had a "disagreement" with the priest over English vs. German being spoken.  Dad wasn't sure of the details except that Grandma Millie marched herself up to the priest to voice her opposition to German being spoken (we don't know if this referred to homilies, the school, etc.).  The priest at the time apparently told her that St. Al's was a German parish.  And she said, "We're American!"

St. Aloysius

From the sacramental records, I know that Millie packed up her little family and left St. Al's between 1895 and 1897.  My Grandma Ada Meyer was baptized at St. Patrick's in Covington, KY, and went to that church throughout her childhood.  She and Grandpa Joe Kerkhoff were married there in 1919.  I can't tell you how funny it is to look through St. Patrick's sacramental records and see things for Bridget O'Shaughnessy and Patrick Kelly (I'm kind of making these up, but you get the idea).  Then I came across my grandma's First Communion class.  All of these Irish names and then I read "ADA MEYER."  Couldn't they have at least written it as "Ada O'Meyer?"  LOL!

But I guess that Millie had her opinions and wouldn't budge.  And that brings a smile to my face.

My mom's maternal grandpa, Gerhard Henry Geisen (the son of 2 emigrants from Klüsserath), was bilingual.  I don't know how well his parents spoke English (if they spoke it at all), but Grandpa Gerhard was fluent in both languages.  He owned some butcher shops in Covington and also owned rental properties throughout the city.  He easily went between the languages depending upon the needs of his customer(s).  His wife, my great grandma Maggie Pistner Geisen, was also the daughter of German immigrants, but I don't know how fluent she was in German.  I assume she was, but I don't have stories to back that up.  I also don't know how fluent their daughter, my Grandma Elsie, was.  Did Grandma speak German at all?  If she did, I never heard it.  However, I do know that her brother, Bill Geisen, was bilingual.  He was the successor to the butcher business, so I'm sure he also had to speak to the German immigrants who came into the shop.

Gerhard Henry Geisen

However, the buildup to WWI changed all that.  There was, unfortunately, a strong anti German feeling among Americans during this time.  And Uncle Bill finally told his dad that they couldn't speak German anymore.  Not to their clients and not privately.  So they stopped.

I admire them for their commitment to their country.  I love that they were so passionate in their love for their country.  But as someone living in the 21st century, I am so sad that the language was lost.  I am struggling with trying to learn even a little bit of the German language.  This 46 year old brain just is not getting it.  But I'll keep plugging away.  If my immigrants can struggle to learn some English, I can struggle to learn some German.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

After all, what could these women have told me?

When I was little and not so little, I didn't give a thought to my extended family members.  Not that I didn't love them.  I did.  I enjoyed seeing them.  But I didn't think about them.  I didn't wonder about them or their lives.  I mean, how interesting could they be?  They were old.  What an idiot I was.

Aunt Mayme and Aunt Dada were my grandma's two oldest sisters and the two eldest Geisen children.

Aunt Mayme and Aunt Dada, probably around 1890

I remember both of them very well since Aunt Mayme lived to be 97 years old and Aunt Dada was 103, and they were both "with it" until the day they died.

Aunt Dada (Charlotte Geisen)

Uncle "Zazzee" and Aunt Mayme, 1910

The sisters would be at every family event (the Geisens always loved a party), and I remember visiting Mayme and Dada at their home in Covington.  They became roommates after Mayme's husband, Uncle "Zazzee" (Harry Hunninghake) died in 1965.

Uncle "Zazzee" and Aunt Mayme at their niece Janet Purcell's wedding

Neither sister had any children (Dada never married), so they relied on each other and their other siblings.  All the Geisens were very close, but these 2 sisters especially so.

I remember being extremely bored when we "had" to visit these 2 ladies.  I certainly had better things to do, didn't I?  I wasn't bored because they ignored me.  They'd "make" over me, get me treats, try to talk to me, etc., but I couldn't wait to leave.  And those feelings multiplied when they went to live in the rest home.  I hated visiting that place.  But Mom would take us, and Aunt Mayme and Aunt Dada seemed to enjoy seeing us.

I'm ashamed now at how I must have acted toward them.  I wasn't a brat or nasty.  I was simply indifferent.  I never asked them questions about their lives or what interested them.  It never occurred to me to do that.  I never viewed them as "real" people with priceless knowledge and experience that they could've shared with me.  If only I had asked.

Once I began researching my tree, I kept coming back to these two women.  I started asking Mom questions about her aunts.  Because I realized that these ladies, especially Aunt Mayme, KNEW a lot of the personalities I was beginning to obsess over.

Aunt Mayme was held in the arms of our Union spy grandmother, Charlotte Brand Pistner.  They both knew their grandpa, Adam Pistner.  Oma Maria Susanna Schmitz Geisen would've held them, laughed with them, given them treats.  They even would've known and REMEMBERED their great grandfather, Johan Jodoc Schmitz, from Klüsserath.  They knew what his voice sounded like.  What his laugh was like.  Did they know why their great uncle, Jacob Schmitz, was only left $1 in his father's will when all the other Schmitz children were left equal share of the "estate?"

And all I would've had to do was ask.  Just ask them about their childhoods and their family.  Give them a drink or two, and they would've sung like canaries.

I had no idea that Aunt Dada had been engaged to a man who was killed in Europe in WWI.  She never fell in love again.  I just thought she was a "spinster."  It never occurred to me that this "old woman" was once young and in love.  Now I think of her in that moment when she found out that the love of her life had lost his in a foreign land.

I never thought to ask Mom if she knew why Aunt Mayme never had children.  And then during my research, I found out that Aunt Mayme had survived an ectopic pregnancy early in her marriage.  That, in and of itself, was an amazing thing.  Since Mayme and Zazzee couldn't have children of their own, they doted on all of their nieces and nephews (my mother included).  But according to Mom, her eldest brother was probably their favorite.  He was their first nephew, and they adored him.

With their first nephew, Brant Purcell

I still can't believe that I missed the many opportunities I had to get to know these women.  When I find "new" Geisens or Pistners and realize that Mayme and Dada would've known them, I could just kick myself.  They were my link to these previous generations, and I blew it.

But they weren't just my link.  They were amazing ladies!  Two more examples of strong women in my family tree.  And I completely ignored them.

If you're blessed enough to still know your grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, etc., please do me a favor.  ASK THEM QUESTIONS ABOUT THEIR CHILDHOODS!  Ask them about their grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  What were they like?  What made them laugh?  Were they stern?  What stories did they tell?

Because one day, they won't be there to ask.  You can never go back.  Please learn from my painful lesson.

Monday, October 8, 2012

There are times when I think I'm pretty good at this genealogy thing

I've already written about one family story that Dad told me about as I began my genealogy quest a couple of years ago (The Immigration Story That Wasn't).  That one turned out to be a huge fabrication, so I assumed that the other story, an even bigger tale, was untrue.  Even before I discovered our Kerkhoffs' real immigration information, I came to the conclusion that the Frederick Meyer death story was outlandish.

As far as I know, Dad never told me anything about his maternal grandfather.  I don't think I had ever heard his name.  However, once I started asking questions, Dad was more than happy to tell me all about the story of his grandfather and his grandfather's death.

The Meyer family had moved to Chicago because my great grandfather had gotten a job working for his brother's company.  I was told that Fred Meyer fell off a train and then "lingered" for a while.  His family (siblings) wouldn't allow a doctor to be called because they belonged to a "weird religion" (my grandmother's words) and didn't believe in doctors and/or medicine.  He was "talking out of his mind" after his injury.  Finally, Amelia (Fred's wife and my great grandmother) was able to sneak out of the house and get a doctor.  According to the family story, my great grandfather died on the operating table.  As if that weren't enough, his brother wanted to adopt Grandma Ada.  He and his wife didn't want to adopt Grandma's 2 brothers or her baby sister.  Just Grandma.  I was told that Grandma got very upset, Amelia was having none of that nonsense from her husband's family, and she took her 4 kids and immediately moved back to Covington.

Fred Meyer and Amelia Heger Meyer, 1893

                                               Al, Ada, and Walter Meyer--Not in the photo, Nona Meyer

Where to start?  I knew his name, and I knew that he died between 1902 (when his youngest child was born) and 1910 (when Amelia was listed as a widow on the US Census).  I first tried to look for Cook County death certificates for a "Frederick Meyer" who was killed by or on a train.  Honestly, how many Fred Meyers could've been killed by trains in Chicago during those years?  As it turns out, at least 2 others were killed that way.  Moral of the story?  Don't go near a train or its tracks if your name is Fred Meyer.  However, my great grandfather's death certificate was not one of the ones I found.

I also looked at cemetery records, newspaper obituaries, and the Chicago city directory.  And I was getting more and more frustrated.  I was used to looking for uncommon names like "Kerkhoff" and "Vodde."  Fred Meyer was kicking my butt.

I put this particular branch "away."  But then, I would come back to it and get frustrated again.  The brick wall was overwhelming, and I couldn't figure out how to scale it.

And then I flew with my friend Cindy.  She has been doing this genealogy thing for decades and is a master.  She asked me what brick wall I was up against, and I told her the tale of Frederick Meyer.  She asked me some questions (where did my great grandparents meet, get married, where did Amelia's family live, etc.) and then told me, "Oh, they'd have an article about his death in the Covington paper."  EUREKA!  That made perfect sense and hadn't occurred to me.  I was focusing and obsessing on the Chicago connection, but I had completely ignored the Covington aspect of it.

We also had a SLC layover (the reason why we had both bid the trip) and immediately headed over to the genealogy library when we got to the hotel.  My dad had mentioned Covington's St. Aloysius Catholic church many times to me, so I decided to pull that microfilm and see if I came across anything.

St. Aloysius Catholic Church

Looking at Catholic sacramental records on microfilm can be quite a task.  They're normally organized into Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths for a specific time frame.  And then you scroll into Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths for another specific time frame.  For me, my eyes start to glaze over as I slowly look at microfilm.  One record leads to another and another and another.  You get the idea.  Especially if you don't have a specific document that you're looking for.  And I was just looking for any name that was familiar (Meyer or Heger).

I thought I was still looking at Marriage documents when I stumbled across a document for Frederick Meyer.  I saw his father's name, too (John Meyer--He's been another stumbling block for me).  But I didn't see my great grandmother's name.  I saw another woman's name!  Had Fred Meyer been married before he married Amelia??  What was going on?  I was trying to focus on the document, but I couldn't seem to make heads nor tails of it.

I walked over to Cindy and asked her for a new set of eyes.  I'm sure she thought I was nuts since she knew exactly what it was as soon as she looked at it.  It was his Baptismal record.  Amelia made him convert before she married him!  Yep, that sounds like a woman in my family. :)  However, it had a notation which stated that this was a conditional baptism.  Apparently, he couldn't provide proof of his baptism or didn't know if he had been baptized.

Conditional Baptism

I also found their sacramental marriage record.  They got married the day after his conversion to the Catholic church.  I have to chuckle at my great grandmother's "strong arm."

The HUGE piece of info on this fabulous Catholic document was the name "Catherine Seip."  I now knew the name of my great, great grandmother!

It's amazing how one "little" piece of information can knock down a huge chunk of that brick wall.  Armed with this new name, I found three of Frederick Meyer's siblings on  I found Cook County death certificates for two brothers and a sister.  SCORE!  I also found the 1880 US Census that told me that my great grandfather lived with his sister, Anna Mary Meyer Eisengart, and her husband, William Eisengart.  And the Covington city directory listed my great grandfather as a tinner.  And wouldn't you know, Mr. Eisengart was also a tinner.

I started to put 2 and 2 together.  Perhaps Grandpa Fred didn't work for his brother but actually worked for his brother-in-law.  That made sense.

During this part of my investigation, I followed up on Cindy's idea that there would be a mention of his death in a Covington newspaper.  The Kenton Co. library's genealogy department is fabulous.  And they came through for me again with an online newspaper headline index.

Kenton County Newspaper Headline Index

I typed in my great grandfather's name and found this:


31 December 1903
Page 5

Fred Meyer Fell From an Elevated Railroad in Chicago.

"Injuries sustained Nov. 13 by falling from an elevated railroad car, in Chicago, caused the death of Fred Meyer, formerly of Covington, in that city Wednesday.  The news of his death was received by President Robert Welling , of the Riedlin Club, Wednesday night.  Meyer fell a distance of 30 feet, breaking both legs and injuring his head.  He was formerly engaged in business at 915 Main Street, Covington, and was well known.  He was a member of the William Riedlin Club.  The remains will be buried in Chicago."

Updated to add:  I found an article in a Chicago paper about his accident.

14 Nov 1903, Page 2

Once again, I used Google and looked for information on his siblings.  And I wasn't prepared for what I found.


His sister, Anna Mary, was a deaconess in a religion called the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church.  Using Google, I quickly discovered that this was the religion my Grandma Ada told her kids about.  In the early 1900's, this religion's leaders and followers didn't believe in the use of medicine or doctors.  Another piece of the puzzle was in place.  Online, I read as much as I could about this religion and its founder, John Alexander Dowie.  BTW, this religion has nothing to do with the Catholic faith.

Wikipedia--Christian Catholic Apostolic Church

Wikipedia--John Alexander Dowie

After reading numerous things about this religion and its founder, I could only imagine what my great grandmother must have gone through.  She was raised Catholic in a very Catholic city, and the closest "weird religion" she must have come into contact with was if she met a Lutheran (her husband). :)

She left her extended family behind to take her four children up to Chicago with her husband so he could take a job with his brother-in-law.  I assume she must have been terribly homesick.  I know that Aunt Nona was born in Covington in late 1902, and Grandpa had his accident in November, 1903.  So they weren't in Chicago for an extended period of time.  The only family she had in Chicago was her Meyer in-laws.

From what I've heard, Grandma Millie (Amelia) was a devout Catholic.  I can't imagine what she went through after her husband's accident.  She had four small children up in a city she wasn't familiar with, and her sister-in-law (if not others) was, according to the family story, keeping a medical doctor away from her husband.  If I were her, I wouldn't be comfortable leaving my children with these people so that I could go and try to find a doctor in a city I didn't know.  I also assume that she was not allowed to bring a Catholic priest to him so that he could receive the Sacrament of the Sick.  As a Catholic, my great grandfather was entitled to that and should have received it.  I get pretty angry as I think of the pain my great grandmother must have gone through during this.  I get pretty angry as I think of a priest being kept away from him (I don't have proof that this happened, but I think it's a logical assumption).  BTW, I made sure that he hadn't converted to his sister's religion.  I e-mailed someone at the current church and asked if they could find any record of his conversion.  The nice woman replied and told me that the only record they had was for Maria Anna Eisengart's conversion.

Did Amelia's family finally get up to Chicago to help?  Remember, this was November and December in Chicago.  Weather was probably crappy.  And her parents and/or siblings would have had to travel through that.

Ultimately, did she sneak out (as the family story says she did) and get a doctor?  Did one of her family members find one?  I don't know.

 I do have a copy of the coroner's inquest of his death.  My great grandmother was one of the witnesses.  Imagine having to give a statement concerning your husband's death while you and your four children are grieving.  Another logical assumption, I believe, is that she must have been one hell of a woman.

I had solved almost the entire mystery concerning his death.  I knew the circumstances, the date, the place, the religion, etc.  But where was he buried?  That missing detail seemed to bother my dad.  He didn't know where his grandfather was.  I felt a need to solve this last mystery for him.

The task seemed daunting.  Do you have any idea how many cemeteries there are in Chicago?  Do you have any idea how common the name "Frederick Meyer" is?  I grabbed another beer and started googling again.  Logically, I tried to figure out where he would have been buried.  I remembered that I had read that Mr. Dowie had bought a town in Illinois named "Zion."  Would his sister have buried him there?  It was worth a shot.

Zion, IL

Mt. Olivet Cemetery--Zion, IL

Was this "my" Frederick Meyer?  The date seemed to match with his death in late December, 1903.

Frederick Meyer Burial Information

There was only one way to find out.  I e-mailed the cemetery, gave them as much information as I had (each cemetery is different regarding what type of information they keep on the deceased) and hit "Send."  A few days later, I had another fabulous cemetery worker to add to my "Favorites" list.  She responded and told me that she had no information on Frederick Meyer except that his plot was bought by "W. L. Eisengart."

I had found him.  My dad now knew where his grandpa was buried.  This may seem like a small thing, but for me, it was huge.  To give this gift of knowledge to my dad is one of the reasons I'm addicted to genealogy.

Dad asked me if his grandpa had a tombstone, and if so, what it said.  I e-mailed the cemetery worker and asked her.  She was darling and responded that he did have a marker, but she didn't know what it had engraved on it.  However, she told me that she'd send the groundskeeper out to take a photo of it.  She sent it to me the next day.

If any cemetery worker is reading this, please accept my thanks for your dedication and love for your job.  Your enthusiasm and dedication are incredibly appreciated.  I wouldn't have nearly the information I have for my ancestors if not for you.

Amelia Heger Meyer immediately moved back to Northern Kentucky after her husband died (she's listed in the 1904 Newport city directory) and raised her family.  She suffered further heartbreak.  Her young son, Walter, died in 1911 at the age of 12.

Her father died in 1912, and her mom died in 1921.

Henry Heger, immigrant from Ahaus, Germany

Henry Heger and Theresa Kühr Heger

And then, Fred and Amelia's eldest child and son, Al, died a the age of 33.

Al Meyer and Ada Meyer Kerkhoff on the left

Uncle Al Meyer, not too long before his death

Dad loved and loves his Grandma Millie very much.  He describes her as a "grandma's grandma."  She suffered much in her life, but it didn't beat her.

Amelia Heger Meyer with 3 of her grandkids (Rosemary, Ed, and Joanne Kerkhoff)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Family's History at St. Vincentius, Haselünne

Anyone who has known me for more than 10 minutes knows that I have always strongly identified with my Catholic faith.  Catholicism runs deeply throughout my family roots.  Almost all of my ancestors were Catholic.  Only two "recent" ones were not.  However, both of them (my maternal grandfather and one of my great grandfathers) converted before marrying into our family.

There is one Catholic church where much of my family history has taken place, back to at least 1721.  Multiple generations have witnessed baptisms, marriages, and funerals there.

St. Vincentius, Haselünne, Germany

                                                        The Front Door of St. Vincentius, Haselünne

A wonderful church archivist in Meppen, Germany, was able to locate many generations of my people at this church.  It's incredible to read through your family's history as documented in sacramental records.  It gives an insight into why and how they became the people they did.

I think of my great, great grandfather, Casper Kerkhoff, who was only a 2 year old boy when his father died and of my great, great grandmother, Lisette Golz, who was 3 1/2 when her mom died.  Both funerals were held at St. Vincentius.  And then in 1847, Casper and Lisette were married there, as their parents and some of their grandparents had been.

All of Casper and Lisette's children were baptized at St. Vincentius.  The same baptismal font that had been used for many generations of my family was also used for my great grandfather and his siblings.  What an incredible bond my great, great grandparents must have felt with their ancestors as they stood with their infant at that beautiful baptismal font.

I was blessed to travel to Haselünne in September, 2011.  I stood in the place where my great grandfather, Anthony Kerkhoff, was baptized, as were many of my other ancestors.  I was literally standing in their footsteps.

As happy and blessed as I felt to be there, I was also sad for my grandfather, Anthony's youngest child.  Through stories my father told me, I knew that Grandpa Joe had always wanted to travel to the birthplace of his father.  And I was very aware that I was not just standing in that church and in that specific place for myself, but I was also there for my Grandpa Joe.  I wanted to somehow bring Grandpa with me, so that some part of him would be in Haselünne, too.  My cousin Paul loaned me a pipe our grandpa used to smoke, and I carried that everywhere I went during my trip.

There is one connection to this church and town that I'm not sure my grandpa knew about.  As I researched my family, I found out what Grandpa's middle name was.  And I couldn't figure out where it came from.  I hadn't found it for any other family member.  It didn't seem to be a popular name in Cincinnati at the time.  Why did my great grandparents choose it for him?

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, I realized exactly why Grandpa's middle name was what it was.  He was named after the Catholic church where his father was baptized.  My grandfather's middle name was Vincent.  My great grandfather still identified so strongly with this town and church where he was baptized that, even after 33 years of being in the United States, he named his baby boy after it.

I'm the first of "my" Kerkhoffs (since the family immigrated to Cincinnati) to walk inside St. Vincentius and to attend mass there.  As I sat in the pew, I thought of my great grandfather sitting there in the front of the church as he attended the funeral of his 14 year old sister.  They shared a birthday (she was 2 years older), and I could almost see Anthony Kerkhoff in that pew.  Was he clutching his mother's or father's hand?  Or was he trying to be "brave?"  I thought of my great, great grandparents' suffering as they attended the funeral mass of their only daughter.

I am forever connected to this small Catholic church.  It has been and continues to be an incredible blessing to my Kerkhoff family.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Little Graces Connecting the Generations

I love it when I find a "connection" to my people.  Not just the genetic connection, but ones that are "real" for me today.

I admit that I am obsessed with uncovering as many details as possible concerning all of my people.  Where did they live?  What were their occupations?  Where did they go to school?  What Catholic churches did they go to?  I even want to know the priest's name who married them. :)  No detail is too small.  Because every single one of them gives me a new little insight into who my people were.

Through cemetery records, I knew that both Casper and Lisette Kerkhoff (my great, great grandparents) were buried from St. Anthony Catholic church at 1119 Budd St. in downtown Cincinnati.  Unfortunately, the church was closed in 1963.   It's gone.  Torn down.  Too many of our old buildings have been destroyed in the name of "progress."

Of course I wanted to find out everything I could about St. Anthony's, so I once again used my best friend, Mr. Google.

There are times in my genealogy quest that I know, I just know, that God and my ancestors are smiling and making sure I find a "gift."  And this was one of those times. (Update--Blog has been removed)

“A stone tower standing on the church’s north side contains the baptistery and a belfry whose three bells, cast in 1868, were used for many years in St. Anthony’s Church, Budd Street, Cincinnati."

Unknowingly, for over 21 years, I have been hearing the church bells my great, great grandparents heard.  The bells that tolled for each of them at their funerals.  Because I go to the parish that received these "hand me downs."  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  Lucky?  Sure.  A little gift that God sent my way?  A big yes.

Now, every time I hear those bells as I walk out of mass or throughout the day, it's as if Casper and Lisette are telling me that they love me.  That they're praying for me and for our family members.

The day after my nephew Brandon died (And the strength continues.....), I was leaving mass with tears streaming down my face.  I couldn't believe that he was gone.  I couldn't think of anything else.  I had my head down and was praying.  And then I heard the bells.  Those magnificent bells tolling away.  And it was as if my Kerkhoffs were telling me that even though Brandon was gone from us here on earth, he was with them.  And if there's any comfort that I can take in Brandon's death, knowing that Opa Casper and Oma Lisette are with him is something I hold onto.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lessons Learned

The bulk of my peeps immigrated to Cincinnati and/or Covington.  My mom's dad's people came over in the 1700's and early 1800's and seemed to stay in Virginia and Pennsylvania.  Their roots have already pretty much been traced and written about (I totally scored on those fronts).  Grandpa "Bud" (Mom's dad) was a bit of a mutt.  His ancestors were German, Swiss, English, Scottish, Irish, etc.  I think we may even be a bit French through him. :)

However, the majority of my obsession has consisted of finding my German Catholic people.  And, by and large, they have fully cooperated with their granddaughter.  They filed paperwork (wills, naturalizations, estate papers, etc.), they included themselves in city directories, and they were Catholic.  Catholic sacramental records are a HUGE source of information.  I don't know about any other religion's record keeping, but I have come to fully appreciate a priest who's detailed in his paperwork (and who has legible handwriting).

If you're looking for your Catholic Germans (and perhaps specifically your Catholic northern Germans) who immigrated to Cincinnati and/or Covington, maybe I can be of some help.  I assume you already know about,, and  If you don't, these sites are well worth looking into.  However, they don't have everything.  So you'll need some other places to search.

First of all, if your people were Catholic, you need those sacramental records!  I can't begin to tell you how important these are.  Today, the records are pretty standard (still important, though)--Name, Parents' Names, Parish Name, etc.  But back in the 1800's, priests sometimes included a lot more information.  I've found occupations and places of birth listed for the parents and godparents.  Those clues lead you to new records.  And before you know it, you may have a few more generations in your tree.

In order to get those old records (baptism, marriage, death), you will need to find out how to contact that diocese's archivist.  Some Catholic records are available on, but most are not.  Each bishop (as head of the his diocese) decides how to make these records available.  So that will be the first thing you need to uncover.

For example, the diocese of Covington, KY, has their sacramental records (within a certain time frame) available on microfilm in some libraries.  I've searched through them at the Kenton Co. library and also at the genealogy library in Salt Lake City.  I've also e-mailed the archivist, and he's wonderful in getting back to you and helping in any way he can.

The archdiocese of Cincinnati is different.  You must write them and ask for the records.  There is a set fee for up to 10 records in one mailing, and it takes about 6-8 weeks to get the records.  They do have a sample letter on their website to help you.

I know that this seems like a lot of work, but it's worth it.  Trust me.  :)

The Cincinnati library has created a pdf with genealogy resources available for Hamilton County.

Another great resource is a city directory.  The Cincinnati Library has the Cincinnati ones online.  Magnificent!  Not only do these old directories give the address of your ancestor, but it usually also gives his/her occupation.  And don't forget to look in the business directories if you think your ancestor owned a business.  If you don't find your person, make sure and look for misspellings of the name.

A Facebook friend of mine pointed me in the direction of the Hamilton Co. Probate Court archives online.  It will take you a little while to figure out how to find the exact records (Volume # or Book #) you need, but the information contained in this website is amazing.  Through it, I found out that my great, great grandfather became a naturalized citizen when he was 64 years old.  I also read my great grandmother's will (as well her father's).  And I found the estate records of a few of my family members (with a couple of surprises).

Also, make sure and look at the Hamilton Co. Genealogical Society's database.  You can check the marriage and death indexes to see if any of your ancestors are on there.  And from that, you can check for a Hamilton Co. marriage record.  If you find an obituary listed for your German ancestor, you'll need to look through the microfilm for that specific Cincinnati German newspaper.  The microfilm is at the Cincinnati library and also at the local LDS genealogy libraries (they may have to order this film for you, however).  I'm very lucky because I have a few friends who are able to read "old" German script and have been able to translate these obituaries for me.

The City of Cincinnati kept birth and death records before those records became mandatory and "official."  The Blegen Library has put these fabulous cards online.  However, you have to have the exact spelling of the name.  So if you can't find anything with one spelling, try some different ones.  That worked for me more than a few times.

The library also has information concerning Hamilton County naturalizations and wills.  However, if you don't find your ancestor's information, don't assume it doesn't exist.  For example, my great grandfather's naturalization (restored) information is here, but my great, great grandfather's info is not.  I found that on the Hamilton Co. Probate Court website.  Also, none of my people's wills are listed on the Blegen Library website, but I've found them on the probate court site.    Don't get discouraged if you don't find it on the website you think it should be on.  Keep looking.

The genealogy departments at both local libraries are amazing.  The people who work there have been incredibly helpful to me.  They're happy to answer questions and help you to figure out clues.  Ask them for help.  This sounds stupid, but it actually took me more than a few visits to the libraries to go up to the desk and just ask.  Sometimes your "brick wall" just needs a new pair of eyes.  And sometimes, the librarian knows an angle that you need in order to solve whichever mystery is giving you fits at the time.

Another important area of research is cemetery records.  I'll admit it.  I LOVE my cemetery workers.  I have story after story of them going out of their way to help me.  I've literally had one jump on his mower and zip in and out of graves (that doesn't sound right, does it?) as he helped me locate a couple of ancestors.  And he was the one who found them!  I had another one who had the groundskeeper go to my great grandfather's grave and take a photo of it so that my father could see his grandfather's tombstone (this was up in Zion, IL).  They've walked me over to the grave so that I would definitely be able to find it.  They've sat in their office (and stopped whatever work they were doing) and gone through records with me.  I can't say enough about how wonderful they are.  They "get" it.  They understand the obsession.

In my research, I've found that most German Catholics were buried in German Catholic cemeteries.  Makes sense, huh?  Don't hesitate to call or e-mail a cemetery and ask questions about any records they may have for your ancestor.  In my experience, they're happy to help.  The Cincinnati library has a lot of cemetery records on microfilm.  And if you're lucky, your ancestors filled out their family member's information card.  On two of my great, great grandparents' cards, their German hometown was listed.

Make sure and ask not just for the information card or record, but also ask for information about who owns the plots and when those plots were bought.  IMO, that's always very interesting.  Some records are online but most aren't.  Don't worry.  Send an e-mail.  Call.  Go to the library and look through that cemetery's microfilm.  You can eventually find the info.

A few Cincinnati Catholic cemeteries have some of their records online now.  But if you don't find your ancestor listed, don't get discouraged.  Not all records are online.  For example, at Old St. Joe's cemetery in Price Hill, my great grandmother is listed but my great grandfather isn't.  They're both there.  Side by side.

And even if you find your ancestor on a cemetery website, make sure and still look at the actual information they have on him/her.  Each cemetery is different in the information they have.  Old St. Joe's/St. Mary's/St. John's has one of the (potentially) best slew of information on each person.  If you're lucky, your ancestor's parents may be listed, place of birth, date of birth, parish buried from, home address, etc. The funeral home should also be included on the information card (another avenue of information).

As a side note, there's nothing like actually visiting the cemetery.  I've found one great, great, great grandfather and a set of great, great grandparents in cemeteries that have no records of them.  Major score!  Keep in mind that record keeping was not as meticulous back in the 1800's as it is now.  If you're able to go to the cemetery, do it.  Take a look.  Pay your respects to your people.  And just see if there might be a surprise or two in store for you.

I want to include a little note about using  Not all their available online information is indexed.  Which means that if you put your ancestor's name in their general search engine, certain documents won't show up. And these might be very important pieces of info.  You may have to go into each state's documents and try to find your people (by county, date, etc.).  Well, well worth it.  Start poking around these records and see what you may find.

I've been to two Family Search Research Centers in the Cincinnati area (the ones in Montgomery and Norwood), and the people who work there are very helpful.  They can order microfilms and will let you know when it arrives (there's a small fee involved to cover shipping and handling).

Another research possibility is the Cincinnati History Library & Archives.  I didn't have great luck here, but that might be because my people didn't join anything (too busy drinking beer and Korn, I guess).  However, I do plan to go again and look through more records in the hopes that I can find someone!

My next area of research is to try to find legal papers regarding my great grandfather's business and voting registrations for them.  I'd also like to find real estate papers (buying and selling) since I know my great, great grandfather owned some rental homes at the time of his death.  Now I just have to find the time to figure out where exactly I need to go for these records.

If your people were Catholic northern Germans, I've got a few websites you may want to take a look at.

The Archives for Niedersachsen may be of help.  To get to the search engine, click on "Online-Recherche" at the top of the page.

If your German Catholics lived in the Osnabrück diocese, then you're in luck.  The archivist there is wonderful!

However, your northern Catholic Germans may have lived in the Münster diocese.  The archivists there are wonderful, too.  Are your detecting a theme?  I love my Catholic church archivists and cemetery workers!! :)

Another area of contact and research (if you know the exact town your Germans came from) is the town's Heimatverein.  Members of the Haselünne Heimatverein have been so helpful to me in getting to know a bit more about my Kerkhoffs and about their lives in the town.

As wonderful as all the online sources are, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty and go to where the records are.  If you haven't looked through microfilm since you were in 7th grade, it hasn't changed.  It's still time consuming, usually dull, and incredibly tedious.  But when you make a discovery, it's all worth it.  More than a few times, I've sat in front of a microfilm machine and cried.  I discovered the date of my great, great grandmother's death.  I read the newspaper article describing my great grandfather's horrible death.  I've found wonderful baptismal records.  Those moments make it all worth it.


Friday, September 21, 2012

If God said to me ...............

Marti, I'll give you one hour with one of them.  Which one do you want?

Casper.  I want an hour with Casper.

It seems as if I've known him my entire life.  Actually, I should probably say "known of him."  However, I only discovered him 2 1/2 years ago.  When I first entered his name in our tree, I had no idea how fascinated and "captured" I would become by him.

In the beginning of my genealogy obsession, I only knew him to be Anthony Kerkhoff's father and my great, great grandfather.  I felt no other connection to him.  Reading through the Cincinnati City directories, immigration records, and US Census forms, I knew that he was a hütmacher, laborer, and finisher while he lived in Cincinnati.  I already knew that the family came from Haselünne (Dad told me this information), and the Old St. Joe cemetery records confirmed that.  I liked knowing where he was buried, but I felt no "special" connection to him.  Not yet anyway. :)

A couple of things changed all that.  A website that I stumbled across and the St. Vincent Catholic church records.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Googling has become a wonderful friend.  And using my friend, I came across the name and e-mail address of the Catholic church archivist for the Osnabrück diocese who was in charge of the Haselünne church records.  I fired away an e-mail and waited for a response. I also found a wonderful website when I googled "Casper Kerkhoff Haselünne."

and this

Edited to Note (23 Sep 2014--Apparently, these links no longer work).

I screamed.  I mean I literally screamed when I found this.  Once I spent a few minutes figuring out exactly what I was looking at, it seemed too good to be true.  Was I actually looking at the EXACT house number my Kerkhoffs lived in?  The EXACT date my Kerkhoffs left Haselünne?  Yes, I was.  I was also looking at what I believed to be the name of my great, great, great grandfather, Heinrich Golz.  A few weeks before this, I had found the obituaries for these Germans in one of the German Cincinnati newspapers.  And that's how I discovered that my great, great grandmother's maiden name was Golz.  I was assuming that the Heinrich Golz listed on the website was her dad.

I still get a bit emotional when I think about this discovery.  It was the first piece of information that made these people "real" to me.  I found out that their house (and most of the town) burned down in 1849.  I knew that my great grandfather was born in 1850.  I realized that they were "homeless" when she gave birth to him.  I'm sure they had someone (family or friends) to stay with while their house was being rebuilt, but all of their possessions were gone.  They literally only had each other and the clothes on their backs after the fire.

As I researched, I had come to the conclusion that Casper was around 40 years old when he married my great, great grandmother (I knew his date of birth, her date of birth, my great grandfather's date of birth so I made some assumptions).  One of the requests I asked of Herr Cloppenburg was to look for an earlier marriage for Casper.  I was wondering if (and hoping) we had some Kerkhoff family still in Germany.

After sending the e-mail, I took my daughter to NYC for a long weekend.  Of course, I showed her the spot where our Kerkhoffs arrived on 28 Oct 1864.  She seemed a bit annoyed at the interruption of her American Girl doll weekend, but she finally agreed to pose for a photograph where Castle Garden used to be.

I checked my e-mail very early one morning during our trip and was thrilled to find a message from Herr Cloppenburg, and it had an attachment!  Attachments are always good in a message from the Catholic church archivist.

Since I only had my iPod Touch with me, reading the document wasn't the easiest thing in the world.  But it was well worth the effort.  Scrolling through the beginning of the document, I found out the full name of my great grandfather (Casper Hermann Anton Kerkhoff) and the names of his godparents.

And then .........Casper.  The first couple of standard lines gave no hint of the spectacular info I was about to uncover.  Grandpa's full name was Joan Caspar Kerkhoff.  His godparents were Caspar Ankum and Joanna Bürgmeyer.  Nothing particularly interesting.

In the next paragraph, my hunch was confirmed.  CHURCH MARRIAGE (1)!  He had been married before.  He was married at age 27 to a woman named Maria Anna Schwarte.  I quickly wondered if they had had children.  Is there a possibility that we have Kerkhoff family still in Germany?

And then I kept scrolling on my iPod Touch.  And I started to do some math.  I found out that Maria Anna was born in 1795.  Um, so that meant that Grandpa, when he was 27, married a 40 year old woman!  I stopped scrolling and tried to wrap my head around this.  From this document, I also found out that they were married for 10 years and had no children.  WHY did he marry a much older woman?

Was it a bit scandalous?  Did town people talk behind their backs?  Was it love?  Was it business?  Casper was quickly becoming a huge personality for me.  Little did I know the surprise that was waiting for me on the next page.

I kept reading the document and just after the revelation of Casper's first marriage, I read about his marriage to my great, great grandmother.  Again, I learned her full name--Maria Euphemia (as she was listed on another website) Elisabeth (Lisette) Golz, and she was 23 years old when they got married (2 years after his first wife died).

And then their children were listed.  We had always thought that Anthony was their eldest.  I found out that he wasn't.  Their eldest was a daughter, their only daughter.  Bernadina Antonetta Lisette.  Saying it, it sounds almost lyrical.  I love her name.  And she and my great grandfather shared a birthday.  They were both born 02 March, two years apart.  She arrived about 10 1/2 months after her mommy and daddy were married.  This meant that during the fire of 1849, not only was my great, great grandmother pregnant with my great grandfather, but she and Casper also had a 17 month old daughter they had to keep safe.  My love and admiration for both of them deepened considerably.

Bernadina Antonetta Lisette Kerkhoff died at 3:30 am on 11 Oct 1862 when she was 14 years old.  I can't imagine Casper and Lisette's pain.  Had Bernadina been ill?  Was it an accident?  I have no idea.  But my heart also ached for my great grandfather.  He and his sister shared a birthday.  I imagine they were close.  And for the rest of his life, I'm sure he couldn't help but remember his sister every year on their special day.  All of his future birthdays must have been very bittersweet.

I also found out that Uncle Henry's real name wasn't even Heinrich.  Why was I not surprised?  No, his "real" name was Marcus Johannes.  In another document, I found out that he was called Heinrich.  Just another layer to our family's "fun bachelor uncle." :)

And then I continued to scroll.  I discovered the name of Casper's father and mother.  She had been married before she married Heinrich Kerkhoff, and Casper had 4 half siblings and 3 "full" siblings.  He was the baby of the family.  Why did that make sense to me? :)  But his dad died when he was only 2 years old, and one of his brothers died when Casper was 15.  They were all hutmachers, the same profession Casper would someday take up.

I kept scrolling and next found the family information for my great, great grandma.  My previous hunch was confirmed when I read that Lisette's father's name was Franz Heinrich Golz, a hutmacher.  So the home that the Kerkhoffs lived in at Hasestraße 4 had also been owned by Lisette's dad and was where she grew up.

Lisette's mother's (my great, great, great grandmother) name was Maria Antonetta Schulte, and she died when her daughter was only 3 1/2 years old.  I can't even imagine.

Heinrich Golz remarried about 9 months later and had 2 more daughters with his new wife, Maria Anna Schwarte.

WAIT!  What was this second wife's name?  I've seen it before.  Oh dear Lord!  I started furiously scrolling back in the document to hopefully not confirm what I knew to be true.

There was no way around it.  My Casper Kerkhoff was, at one time, his second wife's stepfather.  He had married Lisette's stepmother after Lisette's father had died.  So, he married his future father-in-law's second wife.  Are you with me on this?  Because it took me a long time to connect all the creepy dots.

I give the old man a bad time about this, but it actually cracks me up.  Through the church records, I found Schwarte family members as godparents to a couple of the Kerkhoff kids.  So I assume the families stayed close.

Perhaps Casper married Maria Anna Schwarte Golz in order to help her raise her 2 children with Heinrich Golz.  It was explained to me by a member of the Haselünne Heimatverein that hutmachers would have been members of a guild.  It would have been expected that a member of that guild would've married the widow in order to take care of her and her family.  How a 27 year old young man was chosen for this task is beyond me, however.  Perhaps the carrot that was dangled in front of him was that he would get the Golz hutmacher business.  Was Casper that cunning?  I kind of hope so. :)

Casper and Lisette packed up their boys and left Haselünne on 15 Sep 1864.  They trekked to the port of Bremerhaven where they boarded the ship, "The Adler," and arrived into Castle Garden, NYC, on 28 Oct 1864.  Imagine their faces as they spotted this huge city for the first time.  The boys probably couldn't contain their excitement, and I imagine that Lisette had 1,000 different thoughts and emotions running through her.  Personally, I can't imagine doing what they did.  I would've chickened out.

                                                                            THE ADLER

The family is listed in the 1865 Cincinnati City Directory and every year after that.  Casper and Lisette lived downtown for the rest of their lives.  He took whatever work he could in order to support his family, but about 6 or 7 years after they immigrated, he was listed as a hatmaker.  I love that he never gave that up.  He kept making hats and was finally able to support his family again doing that.  Doing what his father did.

And just when I thought I couldn't love him more, I found out that he became an American citizen at age 64.  For some reason, it never occurred to me that he would take this step.  So I never searched for a naturalization record for him.  I stumbled across it as I was trying to find Uncle John and Uncle George's naturalization information (I knew they were naturalized from info on US Census forms).

And then, there it was.  The spelling was wrong (which Uncle John had corrected in 1912, 18 years after Casper's death), but this was my Casper.  He swore allegiance to the United States of America on 14 June 1872.  It gets me teary eyed.  This man must have been quite a personality.

Casper finally became a grandpa for the first time when he was 76 years old.  I would imagine that both Casper and Lisette had started bugging their sons years before to hurry up and get married and start having some babies!  But I'm glad that Grandpa Anthony waited for his Anna. :)

Casper died of "Apoplexy" on 04 Sep 1894, two years after Lisette died of a stomach tumor.  The old man lived to be 86 years old.  Unfortunately, my Grandpa Joe never knew him, but I hope he was told some fantastic stories about him.  And how I wish those stories had been passed down through the generations.  I am a little upset with my Germans that they never had a photo taken which was kept safe someplace.  Do you have any idea what I'd do to find a photo of Casper and/or Lisette??!!  :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It figures that we come from wine making country

I've always been a bit intrigued by Mom's grandpa, Gerhard Henry Geisen.  He was born in Covington and, from what Mom has told me over the years, was an "upstanding" businessman who owned his own butcher shops and also had rental property.  From the few photos I've seen of him, he seemed as if he was rather serious.  But I think that of most people in photos from the late 1800's, so that might not be anything to go by.

But somehow I also had and have the idea that maybe Gerhard Geisen wasn't so "serious" all the time.  Mom told me his mustache would scratch her when he gave her a kiss.  So this was a grandpa who loved his grandbabies and wasn't "standoffish."  Mom was only 7 when he died, so she doesn't have a lot of specific memories of him.  And unfortunately, I can't ask any of Mom's siblings.  She's the only one left (as she describes it).

Mom also showed me a photo of Grandma Elsie that was taken when Grandma was probably 12 or 13 (1903 or '04).  The setting was the Geisen backyard on Holman St. in Covington, and Grandma was acting out scenes from certain plays.  Just thinking about this makes me smile.  It was so Grandma.  She loved a bit of drama (not in her personal life, but she loved being the center of attention from time to time).  But this photo wasn't just a spontaneous photo that her dad or mom took.  It was taken by a professional photographer.  Mom and I discussed how this photo session must have come about.  Grandma would've bugged her dad to hire a photographer to come to the house and take these photos.  Mom and I both agree that it would have taken some time to talk him into it, but he finally relented.  He loved his Elsie so much (and I assume got a "kick" out of her shenanigans) that he finally got a photographer to come out to the house and do this.  And as Mom pointed out to me, can you imagine how much money Gerhard Geisen paid that photographer??!!  But thank God he did.  We have this precious photo. :)

In the beginning of my search, what I knew about Gerhard Henry Geisen (outside of just the few family stories) was that he was the second son (and second child) of his parents, Gerhard Heinrich Geisen and Maria Susanna Schmitz Geisen.  He was born in Covington, KY, as were all of his siblings.  That indicated to me that his parents were probably married in the US.  He married Margaret (Maggie) Apolonia Pistner in 1881 in Covington, and they had 10 children (one who died when she was 4 years old, and their youngest was stillborn).  

I also knew that my great grandparents are buried in Mother of God cemetery with a few of their children, his parents, and his eldest brother and his wife.  That caught my eye.  Why were the parents and brother (and his wife) buried in plots owned by the second son?  I'm still not sure of the answer, but I have a couple of ideas.  I think it came down to the fact that my great grandfather had the money to buy all the plots and also because he was the designated "responsible" one of his siblings.  And I can't help but think of the burden that he must've carried (if my hunch is correct).

Thinking of my great grandfather naturally led me to wondering about his parents.  I knew they were both German and were both immigrants.  But where did they come from?  Grandma Elsie was no help since she never talked about her family's history to anyone!

I thought I at least had information concerning my great, great grandmother, Maria Susanna Schmitz.  Over a year into my obsession, Mom called and asked me if I'd be interested in Maria Susanna Schmitz Geisen's funeral card!  I swear she does this just to rile me up.  There's no other explanation for it (she's done this sort of thing more than a few times).  Gosh Mom, I don't know.  Do you think I'd like to see a 120 year old funeral card for my great, great grandmother??!!!  She swears she's only trying to be helpful.  LOL!

I almost started crying when I read it.  Now I knew her exact date and place of birth!  I knew she was Catholic, so now I could try and find her baptismal records.  And through that, I could find her parents. I was on the hunt!  I googled to find Catholic churches in Düsseldorf in the early 1800's and sent some e-mails to them.  I also tried to find the archivist in that diocese whom I would need to contact.  I received a couple of replies from churches to tell me that they could not find any baptismal record for my great, great grandmother.  Hmmm, interesting but not discouraging.  I had a few other options.

I had also found a mention about my great, great grandfather in a book that was published in the early 1900's (HISTORY OF KENTUCKY, VOL. 4, 1922, Pg. 224).  It stated that he was born in Alsace-Lorraine.  Never saw that one coming.  At first, I was nervous that I may actually be French, but then I calmed down and realized that no dude with the name of Gerhard Heinrich Geisen could be French.  I was still German. :)

As excited as I got over this new lead, I quickly became just as frustrated.  I couldn't find any information concerning the Geisen family in that part of the world.  I also wasn't getting anywhere with finding Maria Susanna's baptismal document, so I put these two ancestors "away" for a little while.  

After I got back from my trip to Haselünne and after I found the graves of Maggie Pistner Geisen's parents, I decided to start to try and find some info on the Schmitz and Geisen families again.

I cleared my head and went to and entered my great, great grandfather's info (again). And guess what?  I think I found him!  As a matter of fact, I'm quite positive of it.

There was a Gerhard Geisen, born in 1819, in Klüsserath, Germany!  Well, I knew that "my" Gerhard Geisen was born that same year, but I had never heard of this German town.  A German town which just happened to be rather close to the Alsace-Lorraine border (a detail I learned with the magic of Googling).

Googling has become one of my best friends.  And it led me to a charming little town on the Mosel River.  A town that makes wine.  How perfect is that for my German family! :)

But I didn't want to get too excited.  This may not be my guy.  I had a Salt Lake City layover soon after my discovery and ran to the genealogy library.  I pulled the microfilm for the Catholic church records for the town (that diocese has released their records to libraries--not all dioceses do this).  I not only looked at the baptismal record for Gerhard Geisen (the info I found on FamilySearch), but I also looked for any marriage or death record(s).  If I found a death record, then I would know I was barking up the wrong tree.  No marriage record and no death record.  OK, this might be promising. :)

I also noticed A LOT of other Geisens, and through these fabulous records, I was able to add a few more generations to my tree.  But I also noticed a lot of people with the last name of Schmitz.  I didn't think too much of it since it's a pretty common German name.  But I've got to say that the favorite name I came across was "Napoleon Schmitz."  My heart ached for this guy.  I assume he got beaten up constantly and never heard the end of jokes.  Perhaps I empathized with him since I was called "Marti Farty" throughout my entire grade school experience. 

I found Gerhard's immigration info (28 May 1846 into NYC) and also found him sporadically listed in Covington City directories.  

Since I had him pinned down, I decided to concentrate on finding out where his wife came from.  I thought I already knew the answer, so I hoped to find some Catholic church or civil records for Düsseldorf on FamilySearch.  I typed in her info and hit enter.  And I was thrown a curve ball!

Wouldn't you know, I found a Maria Susanna Schmitz who was born on 06 Dec 1833 in................ Klüsserath!  These 2 lovebirds came from the same freaking town in Germany!!!!  I'm going assume that they weren't dating while they were both living in Germany since she was only 12 when he emigrated.  I can only take one Casper the Casanova type in my tree. :)  I also have no idea why her funeral card states that she was born in Düsseldorf.  Did the family first move from Klüsserath to Düsseldorf and then immigrate to Covington?  

As luck would have it, however, I had another SLC layover and grabbed that Klüsserath microfilm again and checked my Schmitz family this time (how happy am I to find out that Napoleon Schmitz is a distant relative!).  And I found all of her siblings and parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc.  I also found their immigration info on Ancestry.  

She, her parents and brothers and sisters arrived into Boston on 19 May 1853.  And Maria Susanna and Gerhard married at Mother of God Catholic church in Covington in January of 1854.  Grandpa worked fast!  Good for him.  He was 34 and married a 20 year old from his hometown.  How sweet is that!

They moved to the Lewisburg neighborhood of Covington, and I can completely understand why.  It would've reminded them of "home."  The same hills, it was situated on a waterway, and everyone was German.  Maria Susanna's parents and siblings lived nearby, too.

I'm very blessed to live very close to the cities my people immigrated to, and I love it when I discover connections which link the past to the present.  I had never heard of the Lewisburg neighborhood of Covington, but once I found out exactly where it's located, I had to smile.  Both my nephew Brandon and niece Carolyn had their wedding receptions in Devou Park, which is part of Lewisburg.  At the time of those beautiful family celebrations, I had no idea that we had such a connection to that spot.  It was lovely being on top of that hill and looking across the Ohio River at Cincinnati.  And now I wonder if our Geisen and Schmitz families sometimes hiked up that same hill and looked at that big city of Cincinnati.  Granted, the lights and buildings wouldn't have been the same.  But the awe would've been.  It's as if the Communion of Saints of our ancestors is always with us. :)

Gerhard and Maria Susanna were raising their family when tragedy struck.  My great, great grandfather died of consumption 28 Feb 1870.  He wrote his will just two or three weeks before his death, and it breaks my heart that they both knew that his death was coming.  And then, just a couple of weeks later, their 3 month old son, Matthew, died of croup.

She was 36 years old, and within a period of 2 or 3 weeks, she buried her husband and baby boy.  And as if that heartache weren't enough, 6 months later she buried her mother.

She was left alone to raise her children.  Of course she still had her dad and brothers and sisters, but I often wonder how alone she felt. She never remarried, which has always fascinated me.  She was still young enough to have another child or two with a new husband.  A new husband who would have been responsible for supporting Maria Susanna's older children.  But she never did.  Why?  I'll never know the answer to that, but I wonder if it's because she loved Gerhard so much that she couldn't stand the thought of marrying again.  

I was going to cover "Whiskey Jake" and Uncle Johnny in this entry, but I'll leave them for another time.  They'll be worth the wait.  I promise. :)