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Posts Tagged ‘Noffke’

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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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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First things first:  Happy Birthday, Mom!!! xoxo

Some time ago I wrote about Mom’s grandmother, Clara Waldeck Mulder, and her family in “I Uncovered a Stunning Clue in My Search.” I explained that I had had difficulty discovering any information about Clara’s mother. Her name was Alvena, and I had a photo with her in it, but her last name seemed to lead to a dead-end–as they say in specific genealogy jargon, I’d hit a brick wall.  Heh.

My mitochondrial DNA comes to me from her: Alvena to Clara to my grandmother Edna to my mother (who turns XX years old today) to me.

Alvena married Gottfried (Godfrey) Waldeck, and they had perhaps ten children. Clara was the youngest. Eventually I found that Alvena’s maiden name was Noffke, and I discovered on Ancestry that there are lots of descendents of Alvena and Godfrey throughout southern Michigan.

I have made contact with two people who share this ancestry. The female relative and I have DNA hits on both Ancestry and 23andme. She is from this Waldeck/Noffke branch. I also “met” a man with the last name Noffke and we are actually related in the same way, except that his dad was adopted so when he takes the DNA test, his results won’t help us narrow in on anything.

When I found the female relative, she gave me a copy of the minutes from years of family reunions. This report documents births, deaths, etc. I felt at that time that I was closer to finding out more about the Noffkes and to discovering where the Waldecks and the Noffkes came from.

We’ve always been told they were from Germany, although some documents I’ve read online say “Prussia.”

Germany at the time that Alvena's parents were born

Germany at the time that Alvena’s parents were born

But what now?

The concept of “Germany” could mean different things to different people in the 19th century, when the family emigrated. My 23andme report shows that I have at least one Polish gene. Could it be from that branch of the family?

How can I locate the area of Europe, even the town or village, that my ancestors came from?

I do have the names of Alvena’s parents. They are Ludwig (Louis) and Dora Couch. Couch doesn’t sound like a German name to me. It seems to be an English name. But where could that come from?

Brick walls are crazy-making.

Any ideas on where to go from here?

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I wrote about my great-grandmother Clara Waldeck Mulder in The Lost Bracelet. At the time I posted about her, I didn’t really have a lot of facts about her, other than that I lost her bracelet because the clasp didn’t hold while I was at work.  Ironically, I was selling costume jewelry at Jacobson’s, in downtown Kalamazoo.

Since then my mother gave me some notes about her grandma:

  • She regularly did heavy farm chores, especially after her children were old enough to stay in the house alone. She was a big strong woman.
  • She cooked without recipes, but the food tasted very good.
  • In the evening she served us homemade ice cream that she and Grandpa made.
  • She cared for the chickens, including slaughtering them to cook and eat.
  • Along with family help, she kept a large vegetable garden.
  • She let us go wildflower picking in the “woods” across the road from their farmhouse and barn.
  • She let us play the player piano as much as we wanted. It used the perforated paper rolls.
  • Her family, both sides, seemed to carry a glaucoma gene; many experienced at least some loss of vision.
  • Some of her relatives were farmers.
  • Her family met for a family reunion with extended family every summer–it went on for many years.
  • When she got sick in her sixties and died, I felt a great loss.

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Although I never got to meet my great-grandmother Clara, I did visit her farm and even stayed there for a week once with my great-grandfather and his second wife Margaret.  I remember my grandmother, Clara’s daughter, taking me wildflower picking in the woods across the street from the farmhouse.

By this time you might wonder what the clue could be about the Waldecks.  Well, the information I had been given was that Clara’s father was Godfrey (probably Gottfried) Waldeck and her mother’s maiden name was Alvena Neffka.

I had met a brick wall trying to trace these people back to Germany. I even talked to a German genealogist who has helped me in the past. He said Neffka couldn’t be a German name.  He questioned if that was really the name.

The only clue I’d found was on Alvena’s death certificate which indicated that her father was Louis Koffler and her mother Dora Couch.

So I started picking and probing at the name Neffka (on Ancestry), trying to figure out what else it could be.  That’s when names like Gniffke, Koffler, Knoffka started showing up all over the place.

Then suddenly I started getting hits on Noffke right and left, especially in Caledonia, Michigan, where my great-grandmother was from.  I changed the name to Noffke on my tree and I was showered with little green leaf hints from Ancestry.

For the first time, I found tons of Noffke relatives right in southwestern Michigan, where they ought to be.  I am still going through this treasury of information.

I’m a little closer to breaking through that brick wall.

Also, I had a DNA match at Ancestry with a verifiable relative—we are both 2nd great-granddaughters of Godfrey and Alvena.  She and I inexplicably showed up with eastern European DNA.  That, and some documents which say “Prussia,” seem to indicate that my grandmother’s Noffke family—and probably the Waldecks as well—are actually from Prussia, not Germany proper.

Onward in my search.  Polishing up my Nancy Drew microscope for the Noffke leaves.

Leaving you with a photo of old Caledonia, Michigan:

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