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 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?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Marty Stuart - Farmer's Blues

I thought I would do something a little different, and pay a little tribute to all my ancestors, 99% of which were farmers. So instead of a book today, enjoy a little Marty Stuart and Merle Haggard singing Farmer's Blues.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Fearless Females Day Two: My Mom

Victoria Lea (Just) Gerke
Meet my mom, the most incredible woman that I have ever had a chance to meet. She was born on April 4, 1944 in Wood Lake, MN to Harlan and Viola (Kirschbaum) Just. She was well-known and popular and very smart. She met my dad when she was just 19 years old to his 28 years. They married in 1963 and had three children. My mom's favorite job was being with her kids. She hated it when school started year after year, because she missed having us around all the time. She was our rock and kept the family stable. She was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2003. No matter how much pain she was in, she never complained, and she kept her sense of humor until the day she passed, June 6, 2004. She left behind a family that misses her dearly. I added my mom today, as much as she would probably be mortified, because there isn't anyone that was stronger than she.

Fearless Females Day One: My Favorite Female Ancestor

My favorite female ancestor? Well, that is a tough question, because I come from long lines of strong, independent females. I admit, I have to cheat a little bit. This is technically a blog about the Gerke family and related surnames, but the female ancestor I have chosen for this post, is actually a Kirschbaum from my mom's maternal line. I simply do not know enough about the Gerke family to choose someone on that side. So, meet my 4th Great Grandma, Caroline (Reinke) Kirschbaum:

Caroline Kirschbaum
 She was born December 18, 1847 in Friedricshorst, Germany to Michael and Christina Reinke. She married August Kirschbaum in 1866. She came to America with her husband in 1869, and they eventually made their way to Minnesota. She had 20 kids (yep, you read that right), including four sets of twins. Out of those children, 16 survived. Here's a picture of the children:

From the left front: Caroline(Rebers), Reinhold (my g-g-g grandpa), Emma (Schultz), Christ, Louisa (Henke), August. Middle Row: Julius, Anna (Just), Herman. Back Row: Bertha (Hulke), Agusta (Menge), Otto, Wilhelm, Martha (Schroeder) and Leona (Giese)

When Caroline passed away in 1932, all children were present but one.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday-Samuel Gerke and Elizabeth Farmer

The gravestone of Samuel H. Gerke and his mother, Elizabeth Briner Gerke Farmer (my great-grandma). They are buried in Oakridge-Glen Oak Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Louisa Ploeger Gerke

A few days ago, I received an email from a man in Freeport, Illinois. I had put a request on a week or so ago for an obituary lookup for my great-great grandparents, Louisa and Henry Gerke. He sent me a lengthy email with not just one, but three different obits for my great-great grandmother. I couldn’t believe it.  Here is one of them:

Freeport Daily Journal
Monday, July 7, 1913

Mrs. Henry Gerke, 14 Garfield, died at her home yesterday morning at 6:30 from cancer which she had suffered for the past 7 years. Mrs. Gerke was born in Lippe Detmold, Germany, May 23, 1830, and came to this country from there with her parents before 1848 when she was married to Henry Gerke, of the same place. They settled on a farm near Loran, where they lived until 1897, when they moved to the home in this city in which she died. Mrs. Gerke, who was Miss Sophia Ploeger, is survived by six children: Mrs. Carrie Tollymeyer of Pearl City, IL; Mrs. Simon Stinecke of Cherokee, IA.;  William, of Minnesota; Henry of Aurelia, IA.; Fred, of LeMars, IA.; Simon of Neelsville, WI.; Edward died two years ago, Louise died in 1893, and John and Carl died in infancy. Her husband, Henry Gerke, died in 1901. No funeral arrangements have been made as yet because of the difficulty in getting word of the death to her son William, in Minnesota.

I know it is a little sad, but this information brought tears to my eyes the other night. I learned a lot from this small paragraph (and the other obits that were sent). First, I learned that I had been on the right track regarding the Ploeger family. Through German births, baptisms, and marriages, her side of the family had suddenly opened up completely. I had seen these records times before, but until I received her death certificate and other info, I could not be positive I was looking at the right person. However, a few weeks ago,  I was 99% positive I had found her birth and baptism records, along with a few Ploegers that I found lived near to her.  This all just helps confirm it.

The birth records said she was actually born Sophia Louise Ploege, which matches many documents I have. Her birthdate and  baptism date all match. The Ploeger family around her that look to be her brother and sister all match census records, etc. Everything is starting to match up. Through this information, I can now go back seven generations on the Ploeger side, and it opened up a lot of really interesting information and many new names. For example, I have found that my great-great-great grandmother Ploeger was born a Martensmeier, and her brother Adolph was among one of the first settlers in the Wisconsin Lipper settlement, and there is tons of information about him and his family online. It’s amazing.

Another thing I had learned that had been a complete mystery was the name of two of her children. I had known for a long time that she had ten children, but only eight survived. I just recently found the eighth, Louisa. I had known there was a Hoefer that married one of the Gerke daughters, but because they had spelled the Gerke name so many different ways, I had struggled to find the marriage record for her. I just recently learned her name and her husband’s name, and started to complete that line of the family. However, two children still remained a mystery. I didn’t know if they had grown to adulthood or passed away young. This obit answered my question. Turns out they died in infancy, and their names were John and Carl.

But a lot of what this did was just prove to me that I was on the right track. Not just with the Ploeger family, but with the Gerke family. I’m right. I didn’t screw up my great-grandfather’s siblings by going down the wrong line. It was a proud moment, because that is one of my biggest fears: being wrong. I have a couple family members that did some research on the family (only half seriously) and it was completely different from mine, so it is always in the back of my mind. But I have the proof to back up my research.

The nice couple that did this lookup for me told me that they were going to continue to look up some obituaries for me. Henry Gerke, my great-great grandfather is starting to turn into one heck of a brick wall, and they are looking for that obit. I can’t find any records of him at all in Germany, and I pray they can help. They were also going to look for Edward’s obituary. All in all, it was a slow blogging week, but a very fruitful week of genealogy. I don’t have a picture of Louisa or Henry, but I do have a picture of their gravesite, which will have to do.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday's Obituary- Simon Gerke

Sherwood (Oregon) Valley News, 3 September 1931, page 1, column 3

Simon C. Gerke

Simon C. Gerke, 68, died suddenly at his home in this city Saturday, August 29. Heart disease was the cause of death.
Funeral services were held from Hollingsworth & Son’s chapel in Newberg, Tuesday afternoon. Interment was in Newberg cemetery.
Simon C. Gerke was born in Freeport, Stevenson County, Illinois, September 14, 1862. Came to Oregon in 1927 and to Sherwood in December, 1930.
He leaves his widow, Katherin Gerke, at the Sherwood home. He also leaves two sons, Donald of Long Prairie, Minesota, and Samuel of Chicago; four daughters, Mrs. Otto Wittke of Milwaukee, Wis.; Mrs. Bertha Seiler of Chicago; Mrs. Fred W. Wittke, and Mrs. Ruby Robbin, of Milwaukee, Wis.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History-Toys

My favorite toy growing up? Well, I was a child of the 80's, and I have to admit, we had some pretty cool stuff. I loved my Carebear, Rainbow Bright, My Little Ponies and refused to go to sleep at night without my stuffed animal, a dog I had named Brownie.

But I think my favorite toy had to be my Baby Talk. They didn't make many, and it wasn't easy for my parents to find. But it had to be the coolest doll ever made. It was the size of a real baby. It had short blond hair and pigtails with a cute little pink overall outfit and booties. If you talked to her, she would talk back and let you know when she was hungry or sleepy. Ah, the memories. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Mystery No More?

Samuel Gerke and Elizabeth Farmer, Mother and Son

Just a couple of days ago, I posted that my great grandmother, Elizabeth had been driving me crazy for years in "Madness Monday."  Well, today I took a huge step in solving the mystery of what happened to her.

A couple of weeks ago, I was finally able to get some information on my grandpa's brother, Samuel. Rumor had it that he had taken care of his mother in her last years, and Elizabeth, who had been divorced from my great grandfather and possibly remarried, had been living with him. I had a small sympathy card, although I don't know who it was for, signed Mrs. E. Farmer and Samuel Gerke, mother and son, but that wasn't enough concrete proof. Finally, I was able to get a hold of Samuel's draft registration card from the 1940's, and she was listed as the person that would always know his address and that she was living in the same apartment. I also found his death date and obituary, which states he was buried in Glen Oak Cemetery.

Searching for the cemetery in Chicago, I found two. One was in Hillside, just a few minutes from his home, and one was in west Chicago, at least an hours drive. Since everything regarding his funeral was within blocks of his home, I decided to contact the good people at Hillside to find out if that was where he was buried, and if he was, could they please check for an Elizabeth Farmer around the same area?

Big shout out to Nelly, the genealogy clerk. The first email I opened today brought tears to my eyes. Not only was Samuel buried in the Glen Oak side of Oak Ridge and Glen Oak, but he shared a companion stone with Elizabeth Farmer interred on 5-13-1952. I went back to the Cook County vitals website, and there she was. Elizabeth Farmer died 5-10-1952. Woooooooo Hoooooo!

Now, I know before I get too excited, I need to order a copy of the death certificate to make 100% sure that this is my Elizabeth Farmer, but I am  about 99% sure. Why? I know she died in Chicago and was living with her son Samuel. I know the exact date he died,was buried and where. I know she died shortly before Samuel. And I know that an Elizabeth Farmer was interred right next to him.

I think I'm on my way to breaking down one more wall!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Madness Monday: My Great Grandmother

Elizabeth Briner Gerke Farmer????

Above is a picture of my great-grandmother, Elizabeth. She was born to Anthony and Elizabeth (Handschuh) Briner and was the only surviving child. Born in Illinois, she married Simon Gerke in Stephenson County, Illinois on March 9, 1891.

Simon was a traveling salesman for Watkins, and at the beginning of their marriage, they made their home in Nebraska where she had two children. They moved to Illinois again, and she had another child. Finally, they headed to Neillsville, Wisconsin where she had her remaining children, including my grandfather, Don in 1905. In all, they had seven kids and six survived.

According to newspaper articles and census records, they were in Neillsville in 1910 and quite social. Then the trails stops. I know they were divorced, but I don't know when or why. My grandfather always claimed that at eight he was an orphan, which I thought was always a made up story and kind of mean to say about your parents, but that was all he would ever say about them. Now I'm not so sure he was making it up. My grandfather and his sister, Ruby, were the last of the bunch. He was born in 1905, a girl was born and died in 1907, and Ruby was born in 1910.

According to the 1920 census, Ruby was living with her grandparents, Anthony and Elizabeth Briner, now in their late eighties, and my grandpa was living with people not considered family, both in Neillsville. So no matter what, he wasn't with his family by age 15 and considered himself to be an orphan. Now I know why Don and Ruby were close--he helped take care of Ruby and his grandparents after their parents, Simon and Elizabeth left.

If this isn't placing Simon and Elizabeth in a great light, I don't know if it should. Even if they got a divorce, why would you leave two of your kids behind, one forced to work in what I would consider deplorable conditions to support one another? Why would you do that? Either one of them?

In 1927, I know for fact that Simon moved to Oregon with his second wife, Katherine (maiden name unknown). What he was doing between 1910 and 1927, I have no idea. Rumor has it, I may need to start looking at Minnesota during that time period.

Then there is Elizabeth. I know she died in Chicago, Illinois before 1952. I know, only based on rumor and speculation that her son Samuel H. was taking care of her, and that he died shortly after she did in 1952. She may have married a man at some point with the last name of Farmer (I only know that because she signed a card stating Elizabeth Farmer and Samuel, mother and son), but I cannot pinpoint a death record or a marriage record. You have no idea how many people with the last name of Farmer lived in Illinois during that time. So many questions I have about Elizabeth. I need to figure out what she did between 1910 and about 1952. She is my mystery. She is driving me insane and has been for a long time.

How can someone that is not so far back in generations be such a complete mystery to her family? Why after seven kids would you get a divorce and abandon two of them? I so wish I could sit down and have a conversation with those two, so they would have a chance at defending themselves. I'm disappointed in the way it looks right now, and since talking with them has never been an option, I'll just keep chugging away.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Picture That Started It All

Simon Conrad Gerke     
My dad gave me this picture ten years ago. He told me it was of his grandfather and the only known picture of him at the time. The only other things he knew about this man was that his name was either Samuel or Simon, and he used to spell his last name differently. That's it.

The first thing I would have loved to do is go straight to my grandpa or grandma, but both had passed away by the time I was four years old. I asked my dad about my grandpa's brothers and sisters, thinking maybe I could learn something from them. He struggled to tell me their names, though, as he had never really met most of them. The ones he did remember, well, they had passed away, too. My dad finished with this line: all my dad ever said about his family was that he was an orphan by eight. (That's a story I will share another day)

So started two years of complete confusion, anger, and brick walls that wouldn't fall no matter what I did. How are you supposed to start a family tree when the only thing you know is your grandpa's name and the age you were when he died?

I started with my grandfather's death certificate, because the Minnesota Historical Society was fast becoming the leader in adding death certificates online. That at least got me his father's name, Simon, not Samuel. His mother was Lizzie. That was a help. Two years after I started, I got lucky. I was on, and didn't have a subscription. I happened to spell the Gerke name wrong. I had added an 'a.' In my searches, I had always made is so they didn't search for just the exact spelling, but it had never registered. But it did this time. GEARKE. Up popped my great grandfather's 1880 census. I'm pretty sure I cried. To find more info without a subscription, I hopped onto another site and used the same search terms to get all the general info. I ordered his marriage certificate, managed to find his death certificate in Oregon, and I was off and running. Let's just say, my persistence paid off.

I still have a lot of mysteries to solve, especially regarding my great-grandmother Lizzie Briner. But just in the last week, I have made great strides in my research. Turns out, my dad wasn't the last of the Simon Gerke line after all. My grandpa had a brother, and he had one son that survived and from the looks of it, had a lot of kids. I'm in the process of contacting them now, hoping that my information is correct. It's just another day in the life of many researchers: No info for what is seemingly forever, and then...there it is.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Hi everyone!

This is my first blog. It was created while listening to GeneaBloggers Radio, a link I had received on Twitter.

I've been working on my family tree for ten years, since the age of 19. Growing up, my mom had a wall full of old family photographs, mostly from her side of the family. She had books and books on her family genealogy, all researched by a cousin of mine. But my dad had nothing but a couple of pictures.

Everything was such a mystery, and everyone on his side had already passed away when I started my journey. No one had written anything down, and not having any idea of what I was doing, the first few years were a struggle.

Ten years later, here I am, writing a blog about genealogy, and four generations deep into the Gerke name. Has it been a pain? Yes. Have I had to break down a lot of walls? Absolutely. Am I finished? Not by a long shot. I still have a lot of mysteries and questions that could take years to answer. But I love genealogy. I love opening my computer and starting my quest to find and know my family and meet interesting people along the way. I hope you'll join me in that journey, and if you haven't already, I hope you start your own. The frustration is worth it in the end.

I'll admit, this journey has become nothing short of an obsession for me. It has made me want to be a professional genealogist and help others solve their puzzles. I love the research.  But right now, my mission is to find twenty and thirty-somethings interested in their family tree, because many may still have a person they can go to in their family to ask questions before it is too late. It was something that I was unable to do, and it is such a passion of mine, I want to share it. In fact, I know a lot of people my age that are interested in learning more, they just aren't sure how to go about it. Maybe we can all learn together?

So hopefully in the next few days, I will figure out this whole blogging thing. I hope you'll join me.