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. :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Well, that apple didn't fall far from the Casper tree...

Uncle Henry.  No, not my kids' "Uncle Henry."  This would be my Grandpa Joe's "Uncle Henry."  He was the unknown Kerkhoff, the forgotten one.

Uncle Henry Kerkhoff has become a figure larger than life for me.  I had no idea he existed until I went to Old St. Joe's cemetery to pay my respects to my grandparents and also "found" Casper and Elisabeth Kerkhoff, my great, great grandparents.  Dad had told me about Grandpa's uncles, John and George, so I was happy to discover that they were buried with their parents.  But I also found a "Henry Kerkhoff," born in 1854 and died in 1915.  Who was this guy, this Kerkhoff?  I had never heard of him, not even a mention.

So, of course, I called my dad when I got home to get the info on this Kerkhoff guy.  Dad told me that he had no idea who/what I was talking about.  He had never heard of him.  He said that Henry must be "from the other Kerkhoff family."

Let me quickly explain Dad's remark.  There were TWO Kerkhoff families in Cincinnati at the same time.  Our family and the "others."  They led rather parallel lives.  Got married around the same time, gave birth within a couple of years of the other family, and named their kids the same names.  Odd, actually.  And rather unsettling.  However, I haven't been able to find any link between our superior Kerkhoff family and their clan.  In my dreams, they'd be related to the other Casper Kerkhoff from Haselünne.  How fabulous would that be!?  Wait, I digress.  One Kerkhoff situation at a time.

Back to Henry.  Who was he?  And why was he buried with "my" Kerkhoffs?  I knew he had to belong to us.  You don't just bury someone with the last name of "Kerkhoff" in a plot owned by some other Kerkhoff guy.  There was obviously a connection.  After some thought, I decided that Henry must've been my great grandfather's cousin.  It was the only thing that made sense.  Let me interject here that I was only a month or two into my genealogy hunt when I found Henry.  It hadn't yet consumed my life.  But Henry contributed much to my soon to be obsession.  I HAD to find out who he was!  OK, back to original programming.

Thinking I had this all figured out, I called the cemetery office about some other question.  Note to everyone searching for their peeps--Cemetery workers are fabulous!  They "get" the obsession.  I could tell you story after story of cemetery workers going out of their way to help me find some clue or piece of info.

The darling St. Joe's cemetery guy answered whatever question I asked him and then asked me if I wanted to know anything else.  So I told him about the mysterious Henry Kerkhoff and wondered if the cemetery had any info.  I also volunteered that I believed that Henry was my great grandfather's cousin (I figured that he came over to find work and lived with the family).  After a few minutes, the guy came back on the phone and informed me that Henry Kerkhoff was NOT Casper Kerkhoff's nephew and Anthony Kerkhoff's cousin!  WHAT???!!!!  Now I was back to square one.

Not so fast.  Because the St. Joe's guy came through for me.  He told me that Henry was the son of Casper Kerkhoff and Elisabeth Kerkhoff!!!  WAIT!  Grandpa Joe had an uncle that he never talked about??  An uncle that no one else had heard of??  Why wouldn't he have told his kids about this Uncle Henry the way he had told them about Uncle John and Uncle George?

My interest was piqued.  I first had to start with what I knew:  Henry was the son of Casper and Elisabeth.  He was buried with the family.  And his funeral was in a Catholic church.

I had to consider all the possibilities.  Did Grandpa never talk about this "other" uncle because he had done something horrible?  Had he been arrested?  Did the family disown him for some reason?  At some point, one of my sisters warned me that I may not want to find out the answers.  I had already considered that but decided that since Henry was one of us, he needed to be remembered.

I slowly started finding pieces to the Henry puzzle and also began eliminating scenarios.  I found him on the 1880 US census, and he was living up in Dayton, OH, with a jeweler and his family and was listed as an "apprentice watch maker."  Interesting.  I also knew that he was listed in the Cincinnati City Directory as a "watch maker."

Then I found his death certificate.  And this gave me a lot of information.  He was single (never married), last known address was his brother John's house, he was in the hospital for almost 3 weeks, and his occupation was listed as "Machinist."  VERY interesting!  Because all 3 of his brothers were also machinists.  But I couldn't read his cause of death.  Frustrating but nothing crucial.

I decided to put Uncle Henry on the back burner.  I took the summer off for anything genealogy related.  But once the kids were back in school, I jumped right back in!  And Uncle Henry was first on the agenda.

I went to and once again entered Uncle Henry's information.  I knew exactly what would come up.  I had done this many, many times.  But before I hit "Enter," I had a bit of a conversation with my great, great uncle.  I simply told him that no matter who he was or what he had done, he was "one of us."  And we just wanted to know him.  After my little prayer, I hit the button.

And the exact same "hits" came up.  But this time, I noticed things I had never seen before.  My eyes were immediately drawn to the Salt Lake City directory from the late 1880's.  It showed  a "Henry M. Kerkhoff" who worked for the RGW Railroad as a machinist!  I found out that Henry lived in SLC for 5 or 6 years.  And then I started to think that perhaps that was why Grandpa never talked about Uncle Henry.  He lived far away.  I realized that I never mentioned my "out of town" aunts and uncles to my kids.  It's not because we're estranged or that there is "bad blood."  We simply don't see them often.  Was the secret to Uncle Henry as simple as this?

Throughout all of this, I became very "protective" of Uncle Henry.  I hated the idea that he was forgotten.  I felt and feel that he deserves to be known by his Kerkhoff family.  Once I learned that he moved out west to work for the railroad, I started to imagine what he was like.  Did he ever come home to Cincinnati?  Did his nieces and nephews know him?  Did his brothers or parents visit him in Salt Lake?

The 1894/95 Salt Lake City directory states that Uncle Henry moved to Denver.  I tried to find him in that city's directory but had no luck.  I "lost" him after 1895.  Where did he go?

Let me say that one of the wonderful bonuses of my genealogy hunt is that I've come into contact with extended family members.  I found family on Facebook, and through that, I was directed to other family members.  I talked with one long lost cousin (Aunt Inez's granddaughter) who also does genealogy.  We ended up having a great phone conversation and comparing what we "had" on our Kerkhoffs.

We went down the list:  Casper, Lisette, Anthony, Anna, etc., etc.  And then we got to Uncle Henry.  I was used to the response of "Who?" when I mentioned him to anyone, so I obviously expected the same from this "new" cousin of mine.

"Oh, Grandma loved him!  She said that he was the 'fun bachelor uncle!'"  I started crying.  Someone remembered him!  Now I KNEW that he was loved by our Kerkhoffs.  And what a great way to describe him!  I instantly formed a mental picture of him spoiling his nieces and nephews.  Coming home on the train with a bunch of candy and gifts for them.  Getting them all wound up and then leaving.  Exactly what the "fun bachelor uncle" is supposed to do. :)

During this time, I was also able to get a "good" copy of his death certificate, but I still couldn't read the doctor's handwriting concerning the cause of death.  So I asked one of the guys at the library if he could read it.  Nope.  He had no idea what it said.  But then he told me that there is an "unofficial" handwriting expert in the library and that I should ask her.  He gave me directions to where she was and off I went.

I opened the door and saw a woman at a desk.  No one else was in the room, but she didn't look up.  She simply said in a bit of a southern accent (while looking at her computer with her reading glasses on), "May I help you?"  Crap, this was like disturbing a senior mama on the jumpseat while she was looking at the new issue of "Star" magazine.  I knew I had to tread lightly.

I quickly explained that I was told about her expertise and that I had a death certificate that no one could read.  She figured it out within 30 seconds.  Locomotor Ataxia.  She seemed intrigued.  She had never seen that listed as a cause of death and had no idea what it was.  Stupid me thought that it had to do with working on the railroad (locomotor in my mind was equal to locomotive--yes, I know it sounds ridiculous now).

Yvonne, the handwriting expert, googled it and then exclaimed, "OH!  OH MY!  OH MY!  OOOHHHH."  What???!!!  What did Uncle Henry die of?  She took off her reading glasses, turned to me and said, "Well, about 99% of the time it's associated with........"  OK readers, go and google "Locomotor Ataxia." :)  What I know is that it was a very painful way to die, and he must have suffered greatly.

However, it also added another dimension to the "fun bachelor" aspect of him.  :)

But I had hit a wall with Uncle Henry.  I couldn't find him between the years of 1895 and 1915 (when he died).  Twenty missing years.

And then, Voila!  There he was!  I found a "Henry M. Merkhoff" listed on the 1910 US Census and living in St. Louis.  He was a machinist and immigrated in 1864.  I knew this was "my" Uncle Henry.  After I found this info, I logged into and looked at the St. Louis city directories for his "missing" years.  Everything matched up.  Perhaps he went to Denver for a year, but he didn't stay long, if at all.  He must have quickly moved to St. Louis and stayed there for the rest of his life (except for when he came home to Cincinnati to die).  And what is really interesting about this is that in my great grandfather's (Henry's eldest brother) obituary, it states that a copy was sent to the St. Louis papers.  What is the connection with St. Louis?  I also found a listing in the 1878 St. Louis city directory for an "A. Kerkhoff" who worked at A. K. Halteman & Co.  And right under that listing was one for a "Henry Kerkhoff."  Did my great grandfather and his brother move to St. Louis for some reason?  And after their year there, did Anthony come back to Cincinnati and Henry move to Dayton (the years all match up with what I already know concerning where they lived and when)?  How did Henry go from being a watchmaker in Dayton to being a machinist out west?  Did Anthony maintain a connection in St. Louis in later years (as the note in his obituary would indicate)?  Was Uncle Henry his connection?

These questions will have to be answered at a later date since the St. Louis city library is undergoing a "facelift," so their materials are not available at this point.  But I will solve this mystery.  Maybe we have Kerkhoff family there!  Who knows. :)

I think I would've loved Uncle Henry.  He brings a smile to my face.  A few times a year, I go to his grave to say "Hi."  I want him to know that he is loved and remembered.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Immigration Story that Wasn't!

When I first started down this path to genealogy obsession, I asked my parents to tell me what they knew about our ancestors' immigration stories.  Mom didn't know much of anything about her side's journey, but Dad knew the exact story of our Kerkhoff family's immigration.  Here's what he told me:

Anthony Kerkhoff left Haselünne at age 17, walked through Holland alone, and got on a boat to NYC.  From there, he jumped on a train and went to Texas to fulfill his dream of becoming a cowboy.  That didn't work out so well for the German teenager, so he got back on the train and traveled back to NYC and worked "high steel."  He sent as much money as possible back to his parents in order to put his baby brother, George, through school.  At some point, he moved to Cincinnati and finally sent for his parents and brothers to come here, too.

Anthony immediately loved the US, so he wanted to "Americanize" his family ASAP.  With that in mind, he rented an apartment for them in the Irish section of Cincinnati (no, I have no idea how this would "Americanize" them).  The family arrived in Cincinnati, moved into their new apartment, and the baby brother was immediately beaten up by some Irish kid because George was wearing lederhosen (and really, who could've blamed the Irish kid?)  Anthony and his father, Casper, got into a huge fight that night, and the family moved to the German section of Cincinnati the next day.

WOW!  I felt very blessed that these details survived.  Not many people have such a detailed account of their ancestors' immigration story.

One little problem.  NONE of it was true!  OK, maybe some of it was.  Perhaps Anthony really did go to Texas at some point to become a cowboy.  I can't prove that one way or another, but you know I'd love to find some evidence of Anthony at a rodeo. :)  Dad didn't lie or even stretch the truth to me.  He simply told me what Grandpa told him.  And Grandpa just repeated what he had been told.

Imagine my shock when I discovered immigration information on my Kerkhoffs.  The REAL immigration info.  I was sitting on the floor of the genealogy department at the Cincinnati Public Library, and trying to find any of my ancestors in the "Germans to America" series of books.  And boy, did I find them!

Anthony didn't walk across Holland alone at age 17.  He came to the US with his parents and brothers when he was 14 years old!  Their ship, "The Adler," pulled into Castle Garden, NYC, on October 28, 1864.  There were no detours to Texas or NYC.  The family immediately settled in Cincinnati (they're in the 1865 Cincinnati City Directory).  I still remember the phone call that I had to make to Dad to tell him there was no "Irish kid beating up German lederhosen wearing kid" story (around the time of this discovery, I had also found out that my northwestern Germans would NEVER have worn lederhosen--LOL!).

So how on earth did this erroneously detailed story come to be?

Here's what I think happened:  I know that a few years after Anthony died, his baby brother George moved in with the family.  Grandpa Joe would've been 11 or 12 and the only small child at home (his sister Inez would've been about 17 or 18).  I'm sure Grandpa pestered his Uncle George to tell him stories of his dad.  Tell him stories of their town in Germany.  Tell him stories of how they came to America.  I'm also guessing that during much of the story telling, Uncle George may have been enjoying a beer or two. :)  So Uncle George told Grandpa stories.  A lot of stories.  And perhaps one story ran into another in Grandpa's young mind.  Also, Uncle George was only 6 years old when they left Haselünne, so I've got to wonder how much he actually remembered from living there.  Uncle John was 12, so maybe he remembered more.  However, throw some beer and/or Korn into the mix, and there's no telling what you'll get.  Actually, we do know what you'll get--The story of an Irish kid beating the hell out of some German lederhosen wearing kid who's new to America.  The level of falsehood is fabulous, isn't it? :)

I also wonder if the story of Grandpa Joe's maternal grandpa's immigration may have gotten mixed into the Kerkhoff immigration one.  Joseph Vodde (Grandpa's mom's dad) emigrated from Dinklage, Germany in the late 1840's.  As far as I know, he came here alone.  Maybe he was the one who trudged through Holland.  And maybe Uncle George was beaten up by some Irish kid.  Not for wearing lederhosen, but maybe because he would've had wooden shoes on.  And maybe the beating took place in NYC when they first got off the boat and not in Cincinnati.  Who knows?

But what this "story" also tells me is that my Kerkhoff family was and is full of characters.  It takes quite a personality to come up with these details.  How did lederhosen ever weave itself into the tale of a northwestern German family's journey to America??!!!

I can just imagine Uncle George and Uncle John telling their nephew all about his daddy and their eldest brother.  And maybe, just maybe, the telling became "bigger" as the years went by.  And who could blame them? :)

     Uncle John Kerkhoff

     Uncle George Kerkhoff