Sister

“When traveling life’s journey it’s good to have a sister’s hand to hold on to.”–unknown

Christoph Jacob Meintzer, my grandfather, was the youngest child of his father, Christian Meinzer (Colorful). Christian had thirteen children all together: four with his first wife, Maria Elisabetha Weidmann (Cause of Death), then nine more with his second wife, Sophia Gaertner (My Favorite Photo). As the youngest of the nine who lived to adulthood, my grandpa had nieces and nephews older than he was!

Of the nine, only three were boys, so Christoph had six sisters! The two oldest (his half sisters) were Lizzie & Kate, and I’ll be focusing on them. They were well into their twenties when Grandpa was born. I always knew they were his half sisters, but he never focused on that distinction. Was he as close to them as to some of his other siblings? Probably not, but I think it was likely due more to the age gap than the “halfness.”

Both girls were born in Dehlingen, Bas-Rhin, Alsace. Lizzie’s (Marie Elisabeth’s) birth record1 (click on Accepter button, if you click through to see the image!) showed her mother to be a couturière—a seamstress or dressmaker. When she emigrated in 1881 (Elise, age 17), the passenger list2 showed her as also being a seamstress! I find it curious she developed the same skill as the mother who died when she was only two.

Elizabeth married John Ahrens 9 March 1885. Unfortunately, Illinois had no state census after 1865, so I can’t see if she was still working as a seamstress when she got married. By 1900 she had five children, so employment was not an option!

Elizabeth Meintzer Ahrens (1963-1945). This is an undated studio photograph. The prop in her hands (Abel’s Photographic Weekly) was published between 1913 and 1934, so presumably the photo was taken in that window. The image can’t be enlarged enough to read the date on the cover. The pleated top and skirt suggest the 1920s, placing her around age 60.

According to the census records, LIzzie and her husband rented in Chicago, in what might be considered the Irving Park neighborhood on the city’s northwest side. It wasn’t terribly far from her siblings, but far enough not to be able to visit easily or frequently. She was widowed in 1919, and around 1930 ran a grocery store—a small, neighborhood one, I imagine—assisted by her daughter, Josephine. It seemed one or the other of her adult children were usually living nearby.

By 1935, she’d purchased a home in Norwood Park, a little closer to her siblings, and lived there with her son, William, until her death. When Lizzie died 20 November 1945, the Illinois Bell Telephone operators had been on strike for a day, already. The strike ended by the 26th, but it complicated her funeral. Her siblings could not be reached by phone to be told of her death and what the funeral plans were. Her children mailed penny postcards with the information, but those weren’t delivered quickly enough to get the information in time. Her sister Sophie felt bad about missing her sister’s funeral on 23 November.

Younger sister, Catherine (Kate), was barely nine months old3 when their mother died. She was sixteen when she emigrated,2 and had no occupation listed at that point. In Favorite Name we got a glimpse of “Kitty” marrying George Warren in 1890. Unfortunately, we don’t really know what she was doing for the nine years in between. Did she live at home? Was she working somewhere? Or was she employed as live-in help in someone’s home? No answers to those questions.

In the 1900 census, Kate was running a boarding house in West Town (a west side Chicago neighborhood) with her two young children, along with five lodgers. She was listed as married, but George was nowhere to be seen. I don’t know what became of him. I couldn’t find him:

  • elsewhere in the 1900 census
  • in a death record (despite her listing as “married” for her entry)
  • in a divorce record (though it seems Illinois doesn’t have divorce records online)
  • on Find-a-Grave (obviously not all headstones are recorded there!)

Nevertheless, Kate married Morton N. Smith in St. Joseph, Michigan, 2 October 1904.4 The marriage register indicated Kate was living in Hammond, Indiana (right around the corner) and Morton was living in Blue Island, Illinois. St. Joseph was a common “marriage mill” for the greater Chicago area, because it avoided the Illinois 3-day wait rule. Morton was listed as never married, with Kate having one prior marriage. Presumably her marriage to George ended officially!

Kate, Morton, and her children go missing in 1910. While her son may have been old enough to be on his own, daughter Mabel was only 15, so a little too young for that. I didn’t find them in Illinois, Indiana, (prior residences) or Ohio (where Mabel got married in 1911). In 1920, their oldest grandson, Walter (age 7), is living with them in Chicago, but they are alone in 1930, shortly before Morton’s death.

Kate Meintzer Warren Smith at the 1930 Meintzer reunion. Not the best scan, but it’s hard to get a good one from a group photo like that. I don’t really have any other photos of her, that I know of.

Now widowed, she continued to live in the Chicago area. My mom remembered as a teenager, Aunt Kate visiting, and hearing Kate Smith (the singer) on the radio. They all thought it amusing that “Kate Smith was listening to Kate Smith on the radio!” I believe there was also a time when she had moved in with my mom and her parents. Later on, Kate moved up to stay with Carrie, a half sister, in Rondout, Illinois. She was living there at the time of her death in 1949.

This week has taught me that even though I was familiar with these two sisters, there were still a lot of unanswered questions with them. Some details got filled in, but many more questions remain. It was good to take the time to fill in some of those gaps. Maybe I need to schedule a road trip to research records not available online to fill in the rest?

#52Ancestors


1“États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Dehlingen, Registre de naissances (Birth Registers) 1863, p. 7, no. 20, Marie Elisabeth MEINTZER, 20 December 1863; accessed 7 August 2019.

2“New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957”, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), citing Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897, NARA Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. Records of the U.S. Customs Service; Record Group 36, Roll #437. National Archives, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. Entry for. Elisa MAINTZER, entry number 496, line 9, list number 661; accessed 8 August 2019.

3“États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Dehlingen, Registre de naissances (Birth Registers) 1865, p. 3, no. 5, Catherine MEINTZER, 11 March 1865; accessed 7 August 2019.

4“Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952”, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), accessed 11 August 2019, citing Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics,1903 Wayne – 1904 Chippewa, film number 80, record # 935. Morton N. SMITH (38) and Catherine WARREN (37).

2 thoughts on “Sister”

  1. It seems that every time I write about an ancestor something new turns up, or I discover another aspect to a piece of information I already had. That’s why all genealogists and family historians should be writing the stories.

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  2. I know what you mean! Even the information I already have becomes “new.” I realize as I’m combing through it now, that I initially glossed over some of it (Kate living in Hammond before her 2nd marriage, for instance). And why is she AWOL in 1910? Were they skipped over? In Detroit (where Morton lived, growing up)? In Cleveland, where her daughter got married the next year? I will need to do some creative searching to find them to close that gap.

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