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 ancestry.com, 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.

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