Thursday, August 16, 2012

Strength Through the Generations--Part 1

This is one blog entry I can't figure out how to write.  I know what I want to say, but I don't know how to get it down on paper (or the internet, as the case may be).  

One of the reasons I became completely infatuated with my people is because I found out how strong they were.  I discovered some of their sorrows, their struggles, their heartaches, and their joys.  And at so many points in my genealogy journey, I found myself marveling at their strength.  Not just one or two ancestors but almost all of them.

One of the first questions I asked my dad was about his grandmas.  What were they like?  Dad told me that Grandma Millie (Amelia Heger Meyer) was a wonderful grandma.  The poor woman couldn't take a decent picture (from my perspective, she always looked "hard"), but Dad said she was great.  Then he described Grandma Kerkhoff.  First I had asked him what he called her....Grandma Johanna or Grandma Anna.  Oh, no.  It was Grandma Kerkhoff.  Then he described her to me, "Well......, she wasn't warm."  Gees, that was quite a description.  I quickly formed some opinions about these 2 women.  And then I got to know them.

I need to say that at this point in my search, I truly feel as if I know these people.  They're not just names on a page to me or dates or even photos.  At some point, they became "real" to me.  And I fell in love with them.

Grandma Kerkhoff's first name was Johanna, but she went by Anna or Annie.  For some reason, her nickname "softens" her in my heart.  And I love knowing the nicknames of my ancestors.  I would never want my descendants to think I was called "Martha."  I hate that name.  I want them to know that everyone called me "Marti."

I can fully picture my great grandfather falling in love with his Anna.

This photo was probably taken around the time of my great grandparents' marriage in 1883.

I will never forget going to Old St. Joe's cemetery in Price Hill and standing at the grave of Anthony and Anna's baby boy, George.

I wondered if he had been ill for a long time or if he had been killed in an accident.  And then I found his "death card" from the city of Cincinnati.

Spinal Meningitis.  I can't even begin to imagine the pain my great grandparents went through as they watched their little boy die.  Was he running around and laughing one morning and sick by that night?  Was she holding him as he passed away, stroking his hair?  Rocking him back and forth and softly singing to him?

What I also know about Anna is that her husband, my great grandfather, died at age 55 (Christmas Day, 1905) and left her a widow with a couple of young kids (their other 2 were 21 and 19).  My Grandpa Joe was only 8 1/2 when his daddy died, the baby of the family and was the youngest by 6 years.

How, as a mother, do you tell your little boy that his daddy has died?  I can't begin to imagine trying to figure out that conversation.  Yet, she had to do it, in the midst of her own grief.  She had to raise this boy without his father. I guess she did a great job since, from all accounts, Grandpa was a wonderful man.

I had also learned that Anna gave birth to her eldest child, Frank, on Day 2 of the 1884 Cincinnati riots.  The Kerkhoff home was only about 5 1/2 blocks from where the rioters burned down the courthouse.  Imagine this woman going through labor, delivering her first baby, and nursing him while mayhem is outside the door.

I also recently discovered that there was a gas explosion on Baum Street in Mt. Adams (just 4 houses away from where my Kerkhoff family was living at the time) when Anna was 9 months pregnant or had just given birth to Uncle George.

And then there's Aunt Inez's twin brother, Edward.  My father had never heard about his Uncle Edward, and I haven't been able to find any documentation about his birth or death.  No cemetery records and no birth or death cards from Cincinnati.  But that doesn't necessarily mean anything.  Uncle Frank didn't have a birth card issued for him.  Neither did Uncle George.  And I've found one great, great, great grandfather and a set of great, great grandparents in cemeteries that have no records of their burials.

Aunt Inez always told her children and grandchildren that she was a twin and her twin brother's name was Edward, and that he died at birth (perhaps he was stillborn?).  And they were born on July 24, 1891.  Well, my dad's name is Edward Kerkhoff, and he was born on July 24.  Was he named after his uncle?  A brother my Grandpa Joe never met but was told about?  I do know that Aunt Inez was delivered by a doctor even though her other siblings were all delivered by midwives (at least those I've found birth cards for).  Perhaps that's an indication that it was a "high risk" or "complicated" pregnancy?  I'm not sure, but I hope to find out.

After George's death, did Anna and Anthony suffer another son's death just 2 years later?  As I wonder about this, I flash back to how Dad described Anna to me, "not warm."  Well hell, would I be "warm" if I had suffered this type of loss?

Then Dad and I visited his first cousin, Bob Perkins (Aunt Inez's son).  I asked Bob about Grandma Kerkhoff and what she was like.  His family lived very close to her and saw her all the time vs. the Kerkhoff kids who lived in northern Kentucky and only saw her once or twice a month.

I asked Bob to tell me about Grandma Kerkhoff.  He told me what a great story teller she was.  And Dad kind of yelled, "GRANDMA????"  Bob told us the story that she told them about a funeral that she went to as a child.  They were in the house or church with the open casket, and then she saw the dead woman walk into the home!  Obviously, the children were scared and probably screamed.  No one knew that the deceased was an identical twin!  And Dad yelled again, "GRANDMA TOLD YOU THIS???"  I couldn't help but laugh at Dad's reaction.

Bob also told us that Grandma Kerkhoff used to babysit them all the time.  I asked him if she was stern.  He told me that they didn't get away with much, but she wasn't mean.  Did she discipline them when they acted up?  Nope, their mother was the one who did that when she got home, if it was necessary.  Once again, Dad piped in, "GRANDMA???"

It was as if these 2 grandsons of Anna's had completely different ideas of her.  Bob knew a grandma he saw all the time.  Dad knew a grandma that he only saw once or twice a month for Sunday lunch.

I've told Dad what Anna and Anthony suffered through.  And perhaps those events made Anna form a protective barrier.  I think I would have.  How much pain can you go through before you try and protect yourself?

Dad's eyes light up, though, when he talks about his Grandma Millie.  He told me that she was a "Grandma's Grandma."  I assume that means that she was the best of the best.  One of his memories is of the orange bread she'd bake and bring over on Wednesdays (I think that's the day of the week he told me she'd visit).  I asked him about the bread...did it have orange rind in it?  Orange juice?  Orange icing?  Nope. Orange slices.  Orange slices?  HUH?  Orange candy slices!  The woman baked candy bread!

She sounded marvelous.  I admire her even more knowing what she suffered.  I'm going to have to give the Cliff Notes version since she had more than her "fair" share of trauma.  Grandma Mille and Grandpa Frederick were married in 1893 and had 3 surviving children by 1899.

According to the 1900 US Census, she and my great grandfather suffered through the death of one child (I haven't found any documentation yet for this baby).  And then in 1901, their 5 week old baby girl died of pneumonia.  This news brought me to my knees.  My Joe had pneumonia at 6 weeks of age.  We took him to Children's Hospital, they gave him antibiotics, and he was fine after a few days.  And as I read the death certificate for Ester Helen Elizabeth Meyer, I thought that could've been my child.  I can't imagine not having Joseph in my life, not having the chance to even know him.  But their infant was gone.  How do you function after that?

My great grandfather died in 1903 after falling 30 feet off a train in Chicago.  He lived for 6 weeks, in great pain, with 2 broken legs and head injuries.  Millie was up in a city that she didn't know, with 4 small children, and with some weird in-laws (that's another blog entry).  And she watched the father of her children slowly die.

As if that weren't enough, her darling 12 year old son, Walter, died of appendicitis in 1911.  Honestly, how much can one woman take?

I love this photo of the 3 oldest Meyer kids (probably taken around 1901).  Does it get any cuter than these 3 (my Grandma Ada is in the center)?

And then, Uncle Al.  Many wonderful stories have been told about him.  He seemed very dashing and quite a bit of fun.  He was the family photographer (thank God we have his photos) and an illustrator.  He and Grandma were very close and adored each other (he's on the left in the above photo of the kids).  And he was the best man at Grandma and Grandpa's wedding in 1919 (below).

Uncle Al is on the left.  Do you see his "tidal wave" hair?  Now we know where my dad got it from.

He married in 1926 (at age 31), and his only child was born almost 2 years later.  And then he got sick, terminally ill.  He died of myocarditis when his little girl was only 14 months old.

Grandma Millie buried 4 of her 6 children.  I can't even begin to imagine.  How could she even get out of bed after those heartaches?  But she did.  Dad said that he never remembered her complaining or being bitter.  She was just what a grandma was supposed to be.  And she baked candy bread for her grandbabies.

Anna and Millie are just 2 of the examples of the people I come from.  Lisette and Casper lost their only daughter when she was just 14 years old.  Maria Susanna Schmitz Geisen lost her husband (my great, great grandfather Gerhard Heinrich) when she was 36 years old, and then a few weeks later, their 3 month old baby boy died, too. Gerhard and Maggie (Pistner) Geisen's 4 year old daughter died of heat stroke in 1890.  Their youngest child was stillborn.  Grandpa Joe and Grandma Ada's first daughter, Lorraine, died when she was 5 days old in 1924.

But they all kept going.  They didn't hide.  They didn't stop.  Their strength is an example and encouragement to me.  They got through things much worse than anything I've gone through.  Make them proud, Marti.  Make them proud.


  1. This is a lovely tribute to your ancestors. I had to laugh at your dad's reactions to the stories about his grandmother. My cousin and I have different opinions of our relatives, probably because of where we lived and which ones we saw more often. My husband has been surprised to hear stories about his mother that I picked up from being in the kitchen with "the womenfolk" preparing meals or cleaning up afterwards. So even though we think we know someone, someone else will know them in a different way, and it takes both versions to get a really full picture.

  2. You really are getting to know your ancestors, aren't you?

    Like Wendy, I got a kick out of your dad's reaction to his cousin's opinion of and experience with Grandma Kerkhoff.

    Both grandmothers had to face and deal with a lot of tragedy, but they seemed to respond to them differently. I've been wondering if part of your dad's perception of Grandma Kerkhoff isn't only that he didn't see her quite as much, but if, also, it perhaps stemmed from a difference in personalities? Not all personalities "mesh" together equally -- there's nothing "wrong" with either personality, it's just that even if Person A and B are close, Person A may get along great with and be really close with Person C, but Person B and C might not end up being as close as A and C are (if that makes sense), simply because their personalities don't mesh together as well.

    Regardless, I am now more determined than ever to maximize time with our perfect little grand-daughter! ;-)

  3. Missie and Wendy, another funny thing about my dad's view of his Grandma Kerkhoff was that he told me that Aunt Inez's kids were Grandma's favorites. But Bob Perkins told me the exact opposite! He said that the Kerkhoff grandkids were her favorites. LOL! Perhaps she talked about the "other" grandkids when she was with Perkins or Kerkhoffs. And maybe the kids thought that meant that she liked the other ones better. Who knows.

    Another aspect of these 2 women is that they had to work really hard to raise their families after their husbands died. Neither one remarried, and they raised their kids alone (of course, with the help of their families). I would imagine that they were exhausted.

    Regarding Dad's reaction, I can't begin to tell you how funny I thought it was. I was sitting in between Bob and Dad, and I was facing Bob as he was telling the story. And then, out of nowhere, I hear my 86 year old father yell "GRANDMA???" LOL! And then he kept having that same reaction every time Bob would tell a story about her. I finally asked Dad if he had ever met the woman. LOL!

    I doubt if Grandma Kerkhoff ever babysat the Kerkhoff kids simply because of distance. Grandma Ada's mom, Millie, would've been closer if Grandma and Grandpa needed help so I'm sure they would have asked her.

    Grandparents have such a special place in a child's life. Parents have to deal with the day to day stuff. But Grandma and Grandpa can just be fun. No stress. Just joy. That's how it was with my Grandma Elsie and Grandma Ada (from what I remember). I so wish I had known my grandpas. I miss them.

    1. Marti, I can just picture your dad and cousin Bob. That is hilarious! And a bit like the Smothers Brothers and "Mom always liked you best." ;-)

      And while you may not have had the pleasure of knowing your grandpas, I know that through your diligent research, you have no doubt learned much about them.