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Posts Tagged ‘Kent County history’

Two years ago I posted about Grandma’s uncle Fred Waldeck and his wife Caroline Meir (Meier). Fred was terribly injured in a streetcar accident. Because of severe brain damage, he had to live out the rest of his life at the State Hospital in Kalamazoo. He lived there for over 53 years.

Before the accident, the young couple had had one child, Edward. He also was involved in an accident when he was fourteen years old–when a man hit his bicycle in a hit-and-run!

Here are two posts about Fred, Caroline, and Edward.

The Waldeck Search Begins to Yield a Few Answers

Waldeck Family Research

I had never seen a photograph of Caroline or Ed, although I do have the one photograph of Fred with his family of origin. Fred is the man standing on the left, behind his father. The mother is Alwine, the younger sister of August Noffke. The little girl seated is my great-grandmother, Clara.

Recently, I made contact with a man named Roy through Ancestry.com who is related to Caroline Meir Waldeck. He rescued some negatives of the Meir family that his father was going to throw away and had them made into photographs.

 

Caroline Meir Waldeck, Wilhelmina Draheim Meir, and Louise Meir Schulz (Caroline’s sister)

Both Roy and I would like to know if Edward Waldeck is in the group shots. Edward August Gottfried Waldeck (1897-1971) was my first cousin, 2x removed.

Here is one of the young men so you can focus on them. Roy has names for the ones on each end, and thinks he knows who the second from left is.

Could the third from left be Edward?

Here he is with a young woman, maybe his future wife or wife Cora van Strien? Does he show resemblance to Caroline and/or to Fred? If you know who these people are, please let us know.

So wonderful that Roy saved the negatives and thus the images of the Meir family!

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This story is very tragic, and I hope family members don’t mind me sharing it because we need all types of stories to do justice to our history. Having read family history stories for years now, I know that every family had events like this occur. This post is about the Noffke branch.

A year and a half ago, I wrote about Louisa/Louiza/Louise Rutkoski, who had married my 3rd great uncle, Charles Noffke, back in Prussia–before immigrating to the United States. When they arrived here, they had a son, Herman, and after settling in Kent County, Louise gave birth to a daughter, Clara. The reason I wrote about Louise was that I had discovered through old newspaper articles that on 7 July 1920 she had drowned in Emmons Lake while suffering an acute attack of “indigestion.”

At the time, I didn’t mention a much earlier article I found about Louise, Charles, and Herman. However, coupled with the story of Louise’s death, that earlier article did inspire a poem, called “Half-Naked Woman Found Dead,” that I included in Kin Types. 

This is the article I found quite some time ago, published in the Grand Rapids Press in 1893.

At the time I read this article, I was saddened for the whole family, but I saw it as a terror for Louise and Herman.

The other day, I was organizing my files on this family and made a little stop at Genealogy Bank to recheck the articles. They have changed the site, and I’m not familiar with it yet. It seems to me that some articles are no longer easy to find, but one I had never seen before popped up.

It’s not only a tragic story in its own right, but it happened a year and a half before Herman put a stop to Charles’ violence. I can’t help but wonder if the event sparked a worsening state in Charles, his emotions, and brought about or increased his drinking.

My great-great-grandmother, Alwine Noffke Waldeck had only two siblings (that I know of), brothers Charles and August. What could have happened in 1891 to send Charles into a state where his violent actions were recorded in the local newspaper?

This is what I found about brother August in the 22 May 1891 issue of the Grand Rapids newspaper, The Evening Leader.

Look at that sensational headling: SHOT THROUGH THE BRAIN. Then the subtitle: August H. Noffke Commits Suicide After Threatening His Wife. So when Charles came home and “proceeded to make things lively,” endangering his wife, son, and the brindle cat, his only brother had somewhat recently been extremely intoxicated and killed himself.

If you read the whole article, you will see that there are two sides to this story–or maybe three. Was Mary Mueller/Miller Noffke mentally ill, cruel, and a nag, causing an unemployed depressed man to finally take his own life? Or was August abusing her and she was trying to put a stop to it through the courts when he got drunk and violent? Did he truly kill himself or did she shoot him? What really happened in that family–and what happened that day?

The way the article ends does try to slant the story against Mary with her cavalier attitude toward August’s death and funeral.

Of course, I’ve only found three (not four!) Noffke children: Maria, Otto, and Emma. I have no idea what happened to any of them except that Otto got married when he was twenty in Montana where he was living at the time and Maria (called Anna) married a man named Benson and ended up living in Illinois (but her body was returned to Michigan for burial). After such a dysfunctional upbringing and the suicide of their father, I’m a little worried about what happened to August’s four children.

One last thing. When I was researching Maria Anna Noffke, I found her death record–and on it was the only mention I’ve ever found of a birth place in Europe for the Noffkes–the birthplace of her father, August. I had already been told by a professional German genealogist that the Noffke surname could be found in Pomerania, so I hoped I would eventually find them there. And that’s what has happened. It lists a place called Schwitzkow. I couldn’t find this place anywhere. But then a man on the Prussian Genealogy group on Facebook identified it: http://gemeinde.schwetzkow.kreis-stolp.de/.  This was in Pomerania. I don’t know how big it was when the Noffkes immigrated from there in the 19th century, but in 1925, there were about 300 people and about 56 residences! TINY! And everyone was Protestant–no Catholics or Jews at all. Schwetzkow lies 57 miles west of Gdansk (Danzig), and I have seen that name mentioned somewhere in my years of searching my Prussian branch. But do you think I can now remember where I saw it? No . . . .

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A deeply grateful thank you to Amy at Brotman Blog for this beautiful review of Kin Types.

Most of us who engage in family history research probably try in some way to put ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors. We try to imagine—what were they really like? How did they cope with the failures and successes, the heartbreak and the joys that colored their lives? We want to get beyond the […]

via Kin Types by Luanne Castle: A Review — Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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From being in touch with some Noffke cousins, I now have a lovely copy of one of the Noffke families.

 

My great-grandmother’s brother was Charles Noffke (who married Louisa Rutkowski). If you recall, this was the woman whose death was public and unexplained. I wrote about her death in How to Explain This Death.

They had a son, Herman (1871-1944). This is Herman with his wife Mary Morganer Finkbeiner (1881-1971). These are some of their children.

BACK ROW: Floyd is on the left. He was 1906-1959. On the right was George, born 1901 (died 1990). He was the oldest child.

MIDDLE ROW: Wilbur is the boy in the middle with glasses (1903-1986).

Alfred is the handsome young man on the right (1905-1963).

Roy is the boy on the left (1911-1991).

Carl, as I mentioned, is the little boy (1917-1970).

It has been wonderful to meet Waldeck and Noffke cousins, but they are all wondering the same thing I have been: where in Europe did these people come from? To be clear: both lines apparently came from the same place in Europe. On one death certificate, I do have a town name. But I can’t find this town any place, and I have asked in genealogy Facebook groups to no avail.

Any ideas on this location of origin?

But I guess I have made strides. After all, we used to think the family name was Neffka . . . .

 

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My 3rd great uncle, Charles Noffke, married Louisa Rutkofski. This event must have occurred back in the “old country.” Just where the old country was has not yet been determined. All I know is that the Noffkes (and the Waldecks) were some sort of “German.” They might have been from Pomerania, but maybe not. The Waldecks-Noffkes had regular family reunions for years, decades actually, and yet their origins are more murky than my other branches. It would make sense if these people came from an area that is now Poland because I do have Polish DNA, but also it might fit Louisa’s maiden name (which can be German or Polish, according to trusty Google).

Anyway, I am writing about the disturbing story of Louisa’s death. Charles, who was born in 1843, passed away on 26 May 1897 in Caledonia, Michigan, where the family had settled. Louisa, born 24 April 1845, never married again and passed away on 6 July 1920. So she lived alone, presumably, for many of those 23 years. The couple had two children, a son Herman, born 1871 and a daughter, Clara, born 1875. Herman was married in 1900 and Clara may have married soon after.

I had never heard of Louisa until I began to do family history research, particularly on Ancestry.com. That’s when the Noffkes began to populate my family tree. She threatened to remain an enigma because I had little information and, after all, she is not such a very close relative.

But when I plugged the name Noffke into the newspaper database on Genealogy Bank, I was startled to learn the circumstances of Louisa’s death.

 

Clothing torn from her body? Some articles of clothing missing? Trampled weeds along the lakeshore? Scratches and bruises on the body?

DEATH FROM INDIGESTION?

It sure sounds as if she was murdered.

Clearly this shows that an investigation was opened into her death.

THEN SILENCE. Nothing else appears in the newspaper except information about probate of her estate.

What do you think happened to her?

For a link to a beautiful image of the lake go here.

***

Adding Louisa’s death certificate, thanks to Su Leslie’s comment. Notice that the cause of death is even stranger: that she died by drowning in the lake while ill with acute indigestion. HUH? And notice that there is no DOB, although they seem to know her age in days. There are no parents listed, although her only son gave the information. I can’t tell who signed the certificate because of the spot on the paper.

One more thing. Her daughter Clara died eight years later, at age 53, in bed–dead from the gas from a coal stove.

 

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In my post, Mulders Everywhere, I wrote about finding Merry, my 2nd cousin, 1x removed. I mentioned that Merry is the granddaughter of my great-grandfather Charles Mulder’s younger brother, Henry (born Hendrik). We are all descended from Pieter Philippus and Neeltje (Peter and Nellie) Mulder who arrived in Grand Rapids with two babies.

Great-grandpa was the oldest child. Henry was in the middle of the family, born April 19, 1897, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was a stonecutter who engraved monuments.

Henry married Hettie Mae Simpson. I think Hettie was known as Mae. Merry, please let me know where I’m wrong and what I should add!! By the way, do you know his middle name? Did it begin with a J?

Here are photos of Henry and Mae from Merry.

 

More photos of Henry and Mae:

 

A very cute couple!

Henry and Mae had four lovely children: Eloise/Fern, James, Mary Ellen, and Judith. All four children were born in the 1920s.

Henry and Mae: each with their four children

 Henry passed away from tuberculosis in a sanitarium on May 27, 1947. According to Merry:

He is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Grand Rapids. I was 2 years old when he died so I do not remember him at all. I do know that my mom took me to the sanitariium so he could see me but she had to stand across the room at a distance for this. A few years ago I had my mom write about both of her parents and this is what she said. “My dad, Henry, was a very gifted man. He had a beautiful singing voice, played the violin and could draw beautifully. Dad only got to see 2 or 3 of his grandchildren as he spent the last 4 years in a hospital with TB. He loved children. Dad was a good father. He wanted the best for his children. Dad died at the age of 50, too young.”

My great-grandfather also had TB and sometimes had to spend time at a sanitarium. I remember visiting him there.

It means a lot to me that Merry and I have found each other because my great-grandfather was very overtaken with grief when Henry passed away far too early. They must have been quite close.

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Right now I am corresponding with several new people from the Noffke branch of the family, as well as from my dad’s family. The Noffkes are connected with the Waldecks and Kuschs and possibly immigrated from East Prussia. I’ve also got a really busy two months ahead of me, so I can’t share all the information or move very quickly on any of the leads I have.

I’ve met another roadblock, though, in learning the name of the town these people actually came from. I tried to get the death certificates of all the Waldeck kids. By kids I mean my great-grandmother and her siblings. I found Godfrey’s. He is the only one I actually knew. His certificate says he was born in Germany. No help there.

I really wanted to find Fred’s because he is the one who was catastrophically injured in a streetcar and wagon accident and had to live out his life at the State Hospital in Kalamazoo. At first, I thought his certificate was lost, but then I found it under the name Walback, rather than Waldeck. Sadly, it gives the time he lived at the psychiatric hospital. 53 years, 11 months, 1 day. They don’t even know his last name, but they knew how long he was there to a day. Since he died on January 22, 1953. That would mean that he was injured before February 21, 1899. Imagine living in that institution for almost 54 years!

Of course, Fred’s death certificate also says he was born in Germany. No other origin info. For “citizen of what country?” they typed in “Unknown.”

 

On the 1900 census, his wife Caroline was found living with a farm couple out in the country, working as their servant. Their son Edward (the boy who was hit by the car when he was a young teen) would have been a toddler and probably was living in Grand Rapids with his maternal grandmother while his mother sent money to them. What a tragedy for that young family.

Several Waldeck siblings died while still in Europe, apparently as babies or children. But that leaves my great-grandmother Clara, her sisters Ada and Annie, and brother August. I haven’t been able to find any of their death certificates yet! A lot of the databases only go until 1952 in Kent County, and Clara died in 1953, the same year as Fred. August died during WWI, but I can find no information about him. If I can find these death certificates, maybe, just maybe, somebody will have something more definitive on there for origin than “Germany.”

Apparently, the State Hospital (Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital) had several buildings on their campus. Maybe Fred lived in this building, called Edwards, which housed male residents. This photo belongs to the Kalamazoo Public Library and can be found with others on their site. Click through the photo to enter.

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