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.