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My grandfather probably sometime around 1946 which would make him about 56 here (give or take).
On March 1st, 1913, the RMS Hesperian docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Among her passengers was my grandfather, Gottfried Holstein. He was from the German-Russian village of Galka, located on the lower Volga River in Russia (near the far western border of Kazakhstan).
Grandpa on the Hesperian passenger manifest.
Two and a half years later, this ship that safely carried my grandfather across the Atlantic was torpedoed by the same U-Boat that sank the Lusitania four months earlier. An interesting side note about that...
Frances Stephens (1851 – 1915), 64, was a Canadian philanthropist of Scottish descent and a prominent lady of Montréal high society. She was the wife of the landowner and lawyer George Washington Stephens, a Cabinet minister of Québec.  She was traveling aboard Lusitania with grandson John Harrison Chattan Stephens, maid Elise Oberlin, and nurse Caroline Milne.  The entire party was lost in the Lusitania sinking.  Frances’ body was recovered, but while her body was being transported back to Canada aboard the RMS Hesperian, the U-20, the same German submarine that sank the Lusitania, torpedoed and sank the Hesperian.  Frances Stephens was twice a victim of Kapitanleutnant Walther Schwieger and the U-20.
The Hesperian.
At the risk of repeating the same stories I've already told, let me tell you a little about my grandfather after a word from our sponsor.


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Like I said, my grandfather was a German born in 1890 in a German village in Russia. In 1913, his Uncle Gottfried (his mother's brother) sent him some money from Winnipeg so he could make the journey to Canada. As I've mentioned many times in the past, his parents did not join him because he had a younger brother who died tragically at the age of one. His mother refused to leave his grave behind.

Let me stop. I have talked about his brother before here and here but I haven't really explored the effect this must have had on my grandfather.

I've mentioned one of the possible reasons my grandfather didn't talk about his family might have been a feeling of guilt because he was evidently supposed to be watching his brother when he was kicked and killed by a horse. I'm still trying to find the church records from Galka to discover when his brother was born and when he died and, by extension, the age of my grandfather at the time. My aunt wrote that the brother was only one and a half when he died. I'm sure my grandfather couldn't have been more than 8 years old or so. He could have been as young as 4 or 5 or 6. I can't imagine the guilt and pain he must have lived with his whole life. It makes me think of the movie "Ray" about Ray Charles. There's the scene where Ray (as a boy) watches in a frozen terror his little brother drown (this was before he lost his sight). In the movie, he's haunted for the rest of his life by the image. What a terrible thing for a young child to have to witness and carry for the rest of his life. Did my great-grandmother noticeably hold this against him?

Anyway... Here is a picture of his uncle and aunt who saved his life by helping him get out of Russia just a few years before it became nearly impossible leave:

My Grandfather's Uncle Gottfried and Aunt Katherine at the grave site of their only son who died of cancer as a young man.
My Dad remembers a couple stories Grandpa used to tell about his journey. He always said the thing to do when you got on board ship was to have a gallon of whiskey so you wouldn’t get seasick. Also, when you went through customs, they each had to show $50 to show they wouldn’t be a burden on the community. So the first guy in line would have $50 and after he showed it, he would put it behind his back and give it to the next guy in line. Grandpa always had a good chuckle about that.

My Grandfather lived with his aunt and uncle for a couple years. During that time he tried to send food and money to his parents back in Russia. But after the Revolution, none of that ever made it past the Russian authorities.

At some point, Grandpa heard about a large community of German-Russians in Sugar City, Idaho. He decided to head down there to look for work.

He started out working in a sugar factory for a while before he went to work for a local cattle man, Joe Woods. Grandpa soon became acquainted with the Kerbs family (a daughter of whom was married to my Grandmother's brother).

In March, 1916, Grandpa and Grandma (Maria Bischoff) were married. Nine and a half months later, their son Edward was born. Grandpa worked for various local farmers the next few years. In 1918, his very pregnant wife was caught in the influenza pandemic. She was so sick, she gave birth to my Aunt Alvina without realizing it. The doctor didn't think the baby would live and asked Grandma's sister Katie what name to put on the birth certificate. She told them Againa (Agnes) after their oldest sister who stayed behind in Russia. Apparently, Grandpa did not get the memo. When they had the baby blessed, they named her Alvina.

Grandpa had a hard time caring for a sick wife, newborn baby, and a two year-old. I'll let Aunt Alvina explain (from her memoirs):

My dad had quite a time taking care of me and my older brother, as people were afraid to go where people were sick. Dad said he didn’t know what to do, so he would take the bottle out to the cow and fill it with milk and then bring it in to me.  Dad never strained the milk. He was very worried that I may not survive. He said I got really thin. (I must have looked like a scarecrow.) One thing he said – he never had to wash diapers. He said I was so constipated, he just took the diapers out and shook them clean and put them on me again. But he said soon I started to gain some weight.

Mom got well, but dad said he couldn’t ever figure out why grandmother didn’t at least come and get the baby and care for it. People were so afraid of the 1918 flu. He said a German lady brought chicken noodle soup but wouldn’t even come to the door. Dad had to open the window to take in the food.

Dad never ever quite forgave mom’s folks for not helping him out when I was first born. My Aunt Mollie came and helped mom later, although the rest of the family didn’t want her to.

"Never ever quite forgave...". Apparently Grandpa could hold a grudge (a trait Dad inherited). Another example: He traded some horses in for a tractor one year, but soon after the crops turned out a little thin. Grandpa had to ask the bank for an extension, but the bank refused because another farmer by the name of Fred Hines had agreed to buy the tractor. As it turned out, Mr. Hines was friends with my grandma's brother, Henry Bischoff, who liked Grandpa. Uncle Henry told Mr. Hines, "If you buy that tractor, I'll never have anything to do with you again." So Mr. Hines decided against buying it and the bank came back to Grandpa agreeing to give him an extension. Grandpa told them, "You can take your extension and stuff it. You wanted the tractor, you got it." This was in 1938. Nobody bought it. It sat in the lot until after the war.
My grandparents and their five children.
My grandparents went on to have three more sons (my father being one). They led a non-exceptional life. Navigating their way through the Depression, they had a better time of it being farmers. They moved to Montana in 1939 where they lived out the rest of their lives with Dad.

In 1953, Grandpa had his first heart attack. The doctor told him he was lucky and that the next one would take him. And that it did - 6 years later in 1959 at the age of 69. Seventeen years before I was born.

Grandpa never became a naturalized citizen. He had filed a Declaration of Intention in 1916, but never followed through on completing his naturalization. Sometimes Dad says that Grandpa couldn't find some needed information to complete it, other times he says he doesn't know why he never did. Whatever the reason, it didn't happen. Grandma was the same - never officially became a citizen. Obviously I think of them and the stories of being called "the dirty Germans" during a lot of the current immigration debates. Especially when it gets nasty. It seems so many people take for granted how easy it was for our ancestors to become citizens and don't realize how much more difficult our country has made it now. There also seems to be a surprising lack of sympathy from people who's own parents or grandparents were subjected to the same hatred and bigotry that is directed to today's immigrants.

I haven't figured out how to fit this in to the diary, but wanted to share it. Here's a funny story from my Aunt's memoirs about Grandpa:

I can remember one time dad took me to town with him to buy me a pair of shoes. He bought me shoes then left me sitting on the window box in Penneys, saying he would be back soon. I was only 5 years old. This was about six in the evening. I waited and looked for dad, but he never came. He left me there for about four hours, while he was in the pool hall. Finally, I got terrified and started to cry. (They kept the stores open until eleven o’clock in the evening in those days.) Anyhow, people would come up to me and wanted to know my name (I guess). Anyhow, I couldn’t speak any English, so I couldn’t tell them. I guess they figured I had been deserted. (I only got to go to town once a year.) Finally, our neighbor came along, picked me up, comforted me and assured me that he could find my dad. Sure enough, he headed straight for the pool hall with me, went in, and got my dad. He gave him a talking to for leaving his little girl alone for so long in a strange place. Dad felt bad. I guess after he got visiting with the fellows, he forgot about me. This experience still stands out in my memory. (I forgave dad, though. I’m sure he just wasn’t thinking.)

Gaa! Just found a clue to my grandfather's family in a pile of papers I swiped on a previous trip back to visit my Dad. I'll put that in the comments.

It's open thread time, what gifts and headaches have the Genealogy Gods bestowed upon you this week?

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Comment Preferences

  •  new clue (6+ / 0-)

    So, I pull out a stack of papers I had to double-check a document I have that my grandfather was given by the church in Galka documenting his last communion, his confirmation date, and his birth date.

    Lo and behold, I also notice there are 3 letters. One is from his Aunt Katherine (pictured early in the diary), another from a distant cousin in Canada. But another one is from Milwaukee, WI. Here's the sum total of the identifying information in the letter:

                         Milwaukee Wis
                          Sept 6 - 55

    Dear Cousin,
    ...
    Your Auntie passed away on Aug 28. ... Her daughter Mary called a rescue squad... her husband passed away 8 years ago...
    (then she talks about herself...)
    ...
    We also helped my daughter move in her new home. We get up there only every 3 weeks as George works the other 2 Sundays. My Granddaughters are so much fun. One will be 2 years in October & the other 1 year old.
    ...
    Love, George & Ruth

    No last names in the entire letter! Aah! So we have a lady who passed away on Aug 28th, 1955 who would be my grandfather's Aunt. Her husband died 8 years earlier. And she had a daughter named Mary. And somehow must be related to this Ruth or George.

    It's not quite clear if the aunt was living in Milwaukee as well, or did she just live in that part of Wisconsin. The letter did say that they had just had dinner with her and they took her to get new glasses, so she probably didn't live too far from Milwaukee.

    Neither my Dad nor my Uncle know who this George and Ruth are or what relatives lived in Wisconsin.

    So the initial thrill of finding the letter immediately turned into a new wall.

    •  Could you check (5+ / 0-)

      for people who died Aug. 28, 1955 in that area? I've spent time on a couple of occasions going through a large number of records trying to find the right one.

      Labor-intensive, frustrating, boring, but sometimes fruitful.

      Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

      by fenway49 on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 08:59:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I started last night (5+ / 0-)

        doing that on ancestry.com. Most of the available records were findagrave.com links. None of them seemed to fit.

        Curiously, no social security death index records came up. Hmmm, I guess I need to search those specifically.

        Then I have to find a man with the same last name who died in 1946, 47, or 48.

        And hopefully find a daughter Mary and a link to a George and Ruth. Too bad they didn't live in a tiny farm town. I have all of Milwaukee to search.

    •  I find a Geo and Ruth Bischoff (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      edwardssl, Jim H

      living in Racine, WI in the 1955 Racine city directory.
      He's managing the Robert Hall clothing store in Racine.
      There's quite a few Bischoffs living in Milwaukee and the area.
      Various spellings as usual.

      "Never wrestle with a pig: you get dirty and the pig enjoys it"

      by GrumpyOldGeek on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 07:01:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great story! (5+ / 0-)

    I love the part where he screwed the bank. Everyday people working together can still achieve things.

    My grandmother was an infant during the 1918 flu. Her father fell sick (he survived) and she was taken in for a time by a neighbor, an African-American woman in her 50s. My grandmother always remembered that woman's kindness to a family of Ukrainian immigrants and insisted that differences in background were no excuse for treating each other badly.

    After posting on Tuesday about my wife's grandfather, we spent some time tracking down her family. We did pretty well considering how sparse the records are.

    Also did some research on a friend's family. Her great-grandfather came with his parents and six siblings from Ireland in 1889. Citizenship was easier then. Within a year or so they all were citizens and her great-grandfather became a police detective in Brooklyn. They lived about three blocks from my own grandfather.

    Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

    by fenway49 on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 08:43:02 AM PST

    •  Thanks (5+ / 0-)

      I enjoyed your story about Abuelo. Reminded me that my sister married a Puerto Rican. They went back to visit his family last year. He's a giant of a guy, but has this tiny little grandmother. It made a great picture.

    •  1918 flu... my grandmother got it, she wd have (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      edwardssl, Jim H

      been about 19 or 20 I think. In her very old age, a doctor implied she must have been a heavy drinker, from the state of her liver -- she about knocked him across the room (TEA-TOTAL!!!, her father drank, she NEVER did). Apparently when they looked into it, they decided a lot of 1918 survivors had low-level liver damage that didn't show up for many, many years. At least, that's the story as I heard it.

      "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

      by chimene on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 06:49:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wow. Haven't you posted a photo (6+ / 0-)

    of your Grandpa's Dad before?  If he's the same person I'm thinking of, your Grandpa is a carbon copy of his Dad.

    I love this part

    Also, when you went through customs, they each had to show $50 to show they wouldn’t be a burden on the community. So the first guy in line would have $50 and after he showed it, he would put it behind his back and give it to the next guy in line.
    LOL!!

    Terrific diary.  I enjoyed this very much.  And good luck following that new clue.  Detective work is so.much.FUN!!

  •  The line for Volunteers to host (5+ / 0-)

    a Friday GFHC Open Thread starts right here.

    Current schedule

    Mar 8    Land of Enchantment
    Mar 15  GrumpyOldGeek
    Mar 22  fenway49
    Mar 29  figbash
    Apr 5    open for adoption
    Apr 12  fenway49
    Apr 19  open for adoption

    Form a single line - No pushing or shoving, there's plenty of dates available on the calendar for everyone who wants to host.

    I'm ready with my pencil and paper to take the names and dates.  Who's first?  Volunteers??

  •  I can't say that my genealogy work this week (7+ / 0-)

    was successful at all.

    I was set to go to 2 county courthouses in southern IL on Monday: Bond and Montgomery, only ~ 30 miles separating the two. I had something very specific to try to find - marriage and divorce records between a set of GGGrandparents. But, as I am wont to do, I was side-tracked by going thru Vandalia which is the county seat of Fayette Co. and thought at the last minute I ought to stop at their library and see if I could find anything from the local papers on a house fire sometime in 1906 that proved to be a great tragedy for my Great Grandmother Nancy Elizabeth Halford.

    So after sitting transfixed at a microfilm reader for 2 hours, I found nothing on the fire. It's a very small community and I'm sure there must have been note made of it. I must have missed it or maybe should have looked at 1905 as well. My eyes rebelled at that very thought,

    Since I was already in Vandalia, I made another trip the the County Clerk and County Recorders office, seeing if I could find any pertinent records on anybody else. Spent another hour or so pouring over those great big ledger books in which all the estates and court cases were recorded. I did find the estate papers of two of my ancestors so I had them copied and will be scouring them for any clues they might hold.

    Only you guys could appreciate my sitting in the archives with those big books, reading though and making note of cases I wanted to see and then keeping clear of the big gripper stick that pulls those steel boxes out of their homes way up high on all four walls. It was heavenly.

    Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it. --- Bob Dylan.

    by figbash on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 10:09:45 AM PST

    •  oh, I long for the day... (6+ / 0-)

      I live on the wrong coast to be able to enjoy those experiences.

      Is it wrong that my lottery fantasies always involve being able to fly around the country on a whim to do exactly what you're doing?

      •  No (7+ / 0-)
        Is it wrong that my lottery fantasies always involve being able to fly around the country on a whim to do exactly what you're doing?

        Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

        by fenway49 on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 11:05:51 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  fenway is right again... (7+ / 0-)

          Oh, if I only had the sense to arrange to stay in the area overnight. It's 3 hour round-trip drive from my daugher's place and I just didn't get an early enough start.

          I've got to say, though, that paging thru those old newspapers is an incredible treat. From a quarter page advertisement that announced the opening of 2,800,000 acres of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation to homesteaders... free acreage, register in Le Beau and Aberdeen, S.D.; to a few paragraphs on a black man who was lynched from his front     porch in Live Oak, FL; to throngs of people watchiing seagulls catch fish on the local river after being driven inland as far as Pine Bluff, AR by a fierce gulf storm; to a brother shoots brother in self-defense story, to the suicide by hanging of a young woman leaving three children motherless. Can you wonder why I got side-tracked?

          Oh, and the suffering from consumption, piles, gas, skin diseases, etc. Each of which had a patent medicine to cure it all. And caffeine ... it was considered quite evil and the cause of great ill health at the time. Carter's Little Liver Pills seemed to be as popular a cure-all for anything that ailed you. Maybe I should try to find some...

          I love reading aboutthis stuff!

          Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it. --- Bob Dylan.

          by figbash on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 11:30:18 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Heavenly, it is. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jim H, figbash, edwardssl, brook

      For me, anyway. I think this is symptomatic of our addiction.

      I got a chuckle about the courthouses being ONLY 30 miles apart. Having grown up in this part of the country, 30 miles is right next door. My maternal family cemetery, according to the Google map machine, was 137 miles away. I wouldn't give a second thought to driving 137 miles round trip. It's a day trip. No big deal.

      Then I moved to New England. A trip from Brattleboro, VT to Hartford, CT is considered to be a very long journey for many native New Englanders. It's 84 miles. An hour and 20 minutes. Nothing. I've met folks who would plan to stay overnight for such a trip. And there's no distance between many towns. They abut one another. And the borders have changed often over time. Towns are renamed, merged, and abolished. Even the NH/MA border was adjusted by a few miles. So I have ancestors who never moved but lived in VT, NH, and MA. Even in NY in some records. Northfield, MA has an interesting history.

      So where do you find the records? The towns hold the original vital records. Maybe. The counties hold the official property records. Maybe. You can expect to find Nancy Elizabeth's records in the Bond or Montgomery County county seat courthouse. In New England, search the online records first. Some vitals are recorded in several towns, often far apart. Some are recorded in other states. Too many weren't recorded at all.

      But the heavenly part of this is visiting all those tiny town halls and meeting the town clerks. You need to know when the town offices are open. Some are open just one or two days a week. I've visited town clerk offices that are little more than a closet hidden behind the police chief's office, another closet.

      That's just heavenly. Holding original records written with quill pens from 1730 or so is a joy that's hard to describe. Digging through boxes of old records amidst the odor of old, old, paper and leather bindings is a gift from heaven. When it's something signed by one of your own ancestors, it's just crazy wonderful.

      I feel sorry for those who can't seem to find the patience to enjoy the journey.

      Most of the time, it doesn't matter whether I find something relevant.

      "Never wrestle with a pig: you get dirty and the pig enjoys it"

      by GrumpyOldGeek on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 05:02:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You are right. That I didn't find what I was (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        edwardssl, GrumpyOldGeek, Jim H, brook

        looking for - specifically - on this trip doesn't mean I didn't find anything. If truth were to be told, I sometimes wonder if there is a certain ambivalence about finding that tantalizing bit of history that's dangling just out there in the middle distance. It's kind of like with a really good mystery novel.... I want to get to the end, but then the excitement of the solution is gone, and I feel a bit of a let-down.

        Ah but all is well. My daughter has asked me to come back the first weekend of April to babysit the granddog so I'll plan an overnight in Vandalia then. Hillsboro and Greenville, here I come. Great Great Grandfather Prater, you're gonna get found.... just you wait.

        Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it. --- Bob Dylan.

        by figbash on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 06:19:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Couple of funny stories (7+ / 0-)

    In doing the research for my friend, I came across a number of news articles from the early 1900s about her police detective great-grandfather. In one, from 1911, he arrested two "Italians" who "apparently were the worse for drink" on the streetcar steps from where my grandfather (who was 2 at the time) then lived.

    He was "keeping an eye on them" because they kept deliberately falling in the lap of female passengers at each lurch of the car. When one of them did it again after a warning, the detective stepped in. He saw a gun in the offender's pocket, which he quickly grabbed away. They then wrestled on the floor while the other "Italian" looked for a chance to shoot him before being knocked out cold by a passenger.

    The article spoke of the "Italians" in terms reserved, 50 years earlier, for the Irish. This was somewhat amusing because my friend's mother is Italian, daughter of immigrants.

    In another story, from January 16, 1920 (the day before Prohibition went into effect), he was contacted by a Manhattan liquor dealer who was sure the young man he'd hired to transport cases of Irish whiskey had conspired to steal the whiskey. (It soon would be illegal and worth a lot more.)

    My friend's great-grandfather questioned the trucker, who confessed a plot to stage a collision and steal the whiskey in the melee. The collision never took place but the whiskey disappeared anyway. My speculation was that the detective's family, as I know them, always did like their Irish whiskey...

    Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

    by fenway49 on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 11:21:00 AM PST

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