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 Ancestry.com 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 Fold3.com 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.

1 comment:

  1. There are 5 family trees that were options for my Dad's side. ahgg... this is so fun! Love the picture!!