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.

1 comment:

  1. That is a lovely picture. Very unique.
    Theresa (tangled trees)