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.