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?


  1. My husband's mother was born a Gehrke, one of her aunts spelled the name Gerke all of her life. Just have to wonder, where in Germany were your Gerke's from??

  2. My family was from Lippe-Detmold, mostly around Kalldorf.

  3. Ahhh, Hubbie's are from Hammerstein Germany which is now in Poland and is known as Czarne.

  4. My Great Grandfather's name was Conrad Gerke...