Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Aggravation Continues...The Adoption Story

For the past year or so, I have continued to hit brick walls researching my Great Grandmother, Elizabeth.

A summary: she was born the year 1874, possibly in Quincy, Illinois. According to her death certificate, her father may or may not have been Edward Bartholomew. She was adopted before 1880 and was living in Jefferson Township, Stephenson County, Illinois, by 1880. Her adoptive parents were Anthony and Elizabeth Briner, and they all adored one another, which is awesome, but unfortunately, her adoption was considered a dirty little secret that no one talked about in our family.

So in the last year, I have been chasing my roots. I get my hopes up, then they get dashed. What was once a sure thing is, well, no longer. I really only have three options left before I have to fold on this one, which aggravates me to no end.
     1. I have contacted a woman that has done extensive research on Orphan Trains in the state of Illinois, to see if she could possibly have any info on the adoption of Elizabeth. I don't know if she was on an Orphan Train, but hopefully I can find out.
     2. Possible newspaper articles with the Briners announcing the adoption. I've contacted the Stephenson County Genealogical Society.
     3. Ancestry DNA on the website. My dad is going to have his DNA tested in the next month or so to at least find out where our ancestry starts.

That's it. All I can really do now is wait. I've exhausted all my options through the state of Illinois and surrounding areas with the information I have at my disposal (which I admit, really isn't much.) I'm disappointed on the results so far, but I know that ultimately so many other families go through the same thing when searching for adoption records. Ultimately, I have to honor Anthony and Elizabeth Briner as her parents. They took her in, cared for her to the best of their ability, and they treated her like their own. They're it.

But, I would also like to get the truth down on record. For so long, the Gerke family history has been nothing but rumors and or lies started by the likes of my grandpa, and I want to know where I really, truly came from. So now it is time to play the waiting game. I'll keep you updated.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

1940 Census Time!

Hello everyone,
I know it has been an extremely long time since the last time I blogged about genealogy, but my schedule has been crazy. I was in Massage Therapy School and really have not had time to do much but study. Graduation now behind me, I've been working hard helping FamilySearch.Org, along with many other members of the site, index the 1940 census so I can continue on with my genealogy work. Unfortunately, in my family, I am unable to search for anyone by enumeration district as they moved around to much and lived in large cities like Chicago and Minneapolis. Alas, I have been trying to wait patiently and offered a helping hand so that we can all search indexed records. It has been quite the rewarding experience. It is amazing how much work goes into indexing, I will tell you that. Today they started giving out badges for our work in all the states we have been apart of. My badges so far:

If any of you have the chance to index records, I invite you to do so! It looks like volunteers have been able to finish a large chunk of the indexing a month ahead of schedule. https://the1940census.com/

Monday, August 1, 2011

We've Lost An American Hero-A Tribute To My Great Uncle

I found out yesterday that my Great Uncle, Bill Kirschbaum, passed away at the end of June. He fought in World War 2 and Korea.Bill was a Marine, ending his career as a Master Sergeant. He was a quiet man, and he never really spoke of the things he saw during the war, and out of respect for Bill, no one really asked. But there a few things I want people to know, because I don't think we should ever forget what took place during World War 2.

We know that he was stationed at Pearl Harbor. On the day of the attack, he had been given a day or R&R, and his best friend took over his duties. His best friend was one of many that did not make it out alive that day.

For  a while after Pearl Harbor, no one knew where Bill was due to communication issues. However, we do know that he was involved in the Pacific Theater of Operations, and based on the Lexington during the Battle of Midway (the only U.S. carrier that sunk during this battle). He was a gunner, so apparently he sat in the back of the planes. He once mentioned a couple things he could not forget, but I don't think I should post them out of respect to everyone, including Bill.

This video talks about the Battle of Midway at about 3 minutes in.

RIP Bill Kirschbaum. You will be missed and never forgotten. I only had the opportunity to meet him a few times, as he lived in another state. However, I have always had a great respect and admiration for him.  We've lost one of the "good guys."

I would also like to mention his wife, Geraldine. She was such a sweetheart, and she passed away in Feb. She was a nurse in the Armed Forces; I believe in the Marines. This is another post that does not deal with the Gerke line, but my mom's side, the Kirschbaums.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Adoption Saga Continues...

I realize it has been a while since my last post, but I wanted to wait until I got all the information back from IRAD about my ancestors.  So here is my little update: no info.

I've now sent letters searching for birth and death records of not just my great grandmother, Elizabeth, but the family possibilities of Edward, Jennie, and William Bartholomew and a possible sister, Mary to two different IRAD databases located in Chicago and Quincy, what I had thought to be my best bets. They've looked at all possibilities for me, and there is no information whatsoever.

I'll admit, it makes me a little sad. I was hopeful that they could find something. All that said, I am not completely without hope as of yet. I am nothing if not persistent. I did find an E. L. Bartholomew that died in Chicago in 1897. Although it is 17 years after Elizabeth was adopted, it could be a possibility if he was ill or couldn't afford to take care of the children, so I will order that record and see what comes of it. I am also going to contact the IRAD for the Stephenson County area and possibly the SCGS to see if they can find any info. One of my main problems is all these issues (aka births and disappearances) in my family happened before records were required, so researchers have told me that although there is no record, it doesn't necessarily mean it didn't happen. Which helps me none. I need to be able to prove this stuff.

It could all be a shot in the dark, but I'm not going down without exhausting all options. When all is said and done, I will at least be able to say that I did all I could to put the truth down on paper.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Calling All Bartholomews....

It's been a while, I know. I was recently thrown a little off track when I found out that my great-grandmother, Elizabeth, had been adopted by the Briner family instead of them actually being her birth parents. I wasn't really sure what to do with her information. Well, I can finally answer some questions, although I may not be able to go as far back as I would like.

I finally got Elizabeth's death certificate, and let me say that although I never met him, I am certain I would have really liked my great-uncle, Samuel Gerke.  He was the informant during the time they were filling out her death certificate. He gave her exact birthdate, confirmed she was remarried to another man after Simon, gave her birth place, and although he did not know Elizabeth's mother's name, he gave her father's name: Edward Bartholomew. Yep, I would have liked Samuel.

So I got his name, threw caution to the wind, and ran full speed ahead with said info, when I inevitably hit a very large brick wall. There was only one Edward Bartholomew in the whole of Illinois in 1870 that would have matched the requirements of being her father. Elizabeth was living with the Briner family by 1880, so I would not be able to find her with her birth family at all, being she was born in 1873. There was not one match for Bartholomew in the entire area of Quincy where she was supposedly born in 1870 and 1880. I checked hundreds of records personally, twice, just to make sure the last name wasn't spelled differently. I was interested in her birth record only to find out that she was born just years before there was a requirement to have those records. Figures.

So,for the heck of it, I decided to do a little research on the one Edward I found. Turns out he was easy to track, and if I am related to him, virtually all genealogy is done until about 1400. He was living with his wife Jennie, and his mother in Chicago (she was a widow) in 1870. Although his mother was in the 1880 census, Edward, Jennie, and their young son, William, disappeared off the face of the planet and cannot be found ANYWHERE after 1870.

Edward was born in Connecticut, and she in Ohio. His father, from a long line of Bartholomews in Connecticut (we're talking generation after generation) was even easier to find. His name was Philander Bartholomew. He had a lot of money and decided to moved to Peoria, Illinois to be near his brother and other family. I found all this info in less than an hour. For the record, there are a lot of Bartholomews in the Peoria area throughout the census years. I decided to take this information and work out a little map. Edward would have had to go from Connecticut to Peoria, Peoria to somewhere in Ohio, Ohio to Chicago, Chicago to Quincy, and Quincy to Stephenson County, Illinois. It's a mess, and just didn't make much sense.

Why would Edward leave Chicago and move to Quincy, and how did Elizabeth end up in Stephenson County? I couldn't find much for the surname Bartholomew in Stephenson or Jo Daviess County. So I went back to the Illinois marriage records again. An Edward Bartholomew married a Miss Jennie Barber in Peoria, Illinois. So, I decided to check for the Barber family in the same two counties, and that's when I found a possible connection. There was a Barber family, a very large one in fact, that came from Ohio and settled in Jo Daviess. It wasn't just any township, however,but the one right next to where the Briner family lived in 1870. In 1880, one of those Barber children was living in Jefferson Township (where most of my family hails from) in Stephenson County. He was a blacksmith. And according to the census, he lived very near the Briner's and practically right next door to my great grandfather's brother, William Gearke, also a blacksmith. Trying not to get ahead of myself, I decided to write the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) in hopes they could track down some sort of birth record or index of Elizabeth in Quincy.

I received the info today, and was disappointed to learn that only one Bartholomew was born even remotely in that time period according to index records, and that was in 1880. So now I am at another aggravating standstill with a lot of questions. Was Elizabeth really born in 1873? Was Edward really my great grandfather's name, or was it a middle name? Who was Elizabeth's mother? Was it Jennie Barber? I am a person that follows my instincts, and my instincts are telling me that I am so close and staring right at the info, but I am just missing that one little thing....my instincts are also telling me I am on the right track. I can't explain it, but I just feel like I'm right. I don't know why.

So there's my book for the day. Lots of questions and not too many answers. Will I be celebrating and putting this all down in my family tree? Absolutely not. I have no concrete proof that my instincts are correct and have a very long way to go. But I hope that someday, I will be able to find that concrete proof, although I fear that I have pretty much exhausted my options and am not sure where to go from here. I've checked birth, marriage, and death records. I've gone through hundreds of pages of census records in Adams, Jo Daviess, and Stephenson Counties. I've contacted IRAD and Stephenson County Genealogical Society, newspapers, and obits. Quite simply, without Elizabeth's mother's name (even just a first name) or more info on her father, I'm a little stuck. Well, not a little, a lot. I have more respect than ever for people that were adopted or have adoptions in their family.

Friday, April 1, 2011


This is Elizabeth Briner, later Gerke, and even later, Farmer. She's my great grandmother, and as I've mentioned before, my mystery. I thought I had been making progress on my research. Then, last week, I decided to try Ancestry for the first time in ten years. She was born in 1874, so I decided to start with the familiar 1880 census, and I decided I was going to spend some time printing off census records.

The first thing I noticed: that particular page was in awful shape. It was very faded, and you could hardly read the names; it was the only page that really had this trouble. I magnified it to about 400% and got the surprise of my life.

The 1880 census is the first census I found in my earlier years as a researcher. It was a good price-free, and it had the info I needed. I had seen the index many, many times before, and in the back of my mind, I always questioned why her father was listed as born in Illinois. I figured it was a typo, because Anthony and Elizabeth (Handschuh) Briner were both from Germany. I never gave it much more thought.

Well, to my surprise, when I magnified the census record, it clearly showed that my grandmother was adopted. I was stunned. It had never been talked about, and no one ever gave any hint that someone else had been her parents.

I checked her marriage record and found she was born in Quincy, Illinois, not Stephenson in 1874. It made things more difficult, because I could not check 1870 census records for possible matches to her family. I went back to the 1880 census records to see if anyone else had been adopted at the time in the area. I found four other children, but only one matched with her information. Another girl, Mary, that lived near Elizabeth. Maybe a sister?

I feel bad for Elizabeth, because she seemingly lost her family. However, Anthony and Elizabeth Briner treated her like a daughter. I am grateful that she went to a good home. I am also frustrated. This isn't a little wall; there may not be any record anywhere of her birth parents. The aggravation I feel for possibly not knowing completely where I come from is well beyond high. One thing I will say, whether or not I find this information, is that I will go down every avenue to try and find my ancestors. I'm going to at least be able to say that I tried my best.

So a new mystery unfolds. I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Another Wall Tumbles to the Ground

As you know, for years I've been researching the Gerke line. It has been a struggle, especially once I get to my 2nd great grandfather, Henry Gerke. But ten years after starting my research, I now know who his mother and father was.

I am fortunate in that once my family came from Germany, many stayed in a very small county in Illinois, known as Stephenson. Not only did they stay in that county until they were married (and my gg grandfather died there), but they primarily lived in two towns, either Jefferson Township or Freeport, IL. The wonderful staff at the Stephenson County Genealogical Society has helped me a lot over the years and have been a pleasure to deal with.

This fall, they sent me a family history of the Kortner family of Stephenson County and highlighted an area that they thought I might find interesting. The paragraph that they highlighted basically stated that in Germany, it was customary for the first born child to take over the family farm. In the event that this child was a woman, the man she married would take HER name. I skimmed over it, and put it in my interesting file and didn't think much about it again.

I continued to look for Henry, hoping that someday I could find his parents. I knew his exact birthdate. I knew where he was born. But nothing ever came of it. I just didn't understand it. Then a wonderful genealogical angel found his obituary for me, and I found out that he had at least one brother in a neighboring county named August---a whole new Gerke line! I couldn't believe it. So I started to search for him in birth records, but nothing. In fact, according to Lippe records, the Gerke name just wasn't listed in the area. I was stumped.

On a hunch, I went back to the Kortner history. According to said history, this brother or cousin to Konrad Kortner married into the line and changed his name, and his descendents were living in the Loran, Stephenson County area under the Gerke name. How on earth could I miss that little tidbit!? So I went back to the records and started to check Koertner marriages before 1822. Within minutes, I had found a Koertner marriage record that about knocked me out of my chair:  Friedrich Adolph Koertner married Sophie Christine Gerkensmeier.

Yep, Gerkensmeier.

Trying not to get too excited, I decided to do a general search for Gerkensmeier births in Lippe. I could never find the Gerke name, but just like that, numerous records popped up of Gerkensmeier babies. So my hands now shaking, I decided to try to find Henry. Up popped Simon Henrich Conrad Gerkensmeier, born Sept. 11, 1822 to Sophie Christine Gerkensmeier and Friedrich Adolph Gerkensmeier or Koertner.

I decided to do two more searches. I knew he had at least one brother, August, born around 1828. I also had  a hunch that William Gerke, a man living right next to August in Jo Daviess County could also be a brother. I searched for the record of their birth, and within minutes had confirmation of the same parents. If the good people at SCGS wouldn't have sent me that small history, or if Mr. Kortner wouldn't have mentioned this paragraph in passing, I would have never found this information, because I would have never thought of this name change, nor did I know that we were once under the surname Gerkensemeier. Think about it, had my 3rd great grandmother not been the first born, I would now be known as Kortner, not Gerke.

So there you have my good news. My 2nd great grandfather was born September 11, 1822 as Simon Henrich Conrad Gerkensmeier. He was the first to come to America, and he changed his name to Henrich C. Gerke, and his brothers followed suit. My great grandfather was born Simon Conrad Gerke in Stephenson County, Illinois.

The name changes in Germany are a real pain, and I've found that unless I can visit the country of Germany some day, I really am probably closed to finished with that side of the family. It's just too confusing, and I am in a real gray area. Now that I know Henry had two brothers, I'll be kept busy trying to do research on their families, too. Have I told you how much I love genealogy?