Sister

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

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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).

Favorite Name

Sometimes a name surprises you . . .

You probably noticed from the favorite photo prompt that I have a problem picking a “favorite” of something. My brain doesn’t really think that way, and it drives Mike nuts. “What was your favorite part of the trip?” “I don’t know. I enjoyed everything.” Cake or pie? Well, it depends on what cake and what pie! Maybe neither. Well, that’s probably not going to happen, but you know what I mean.

Truth be told, my “favorite name” is probably any name that didn’t get misspelled in the records! But the name that always makes me smile belongs to my Grandpa Meintzer’s older half sister, Catherine.

Aunt Kate (yes, she’s a “C” for the Catherine and “K” for Kate!) was the youngest child of Christian Meintzer and his first wife, Maria Elisabeth Weidmann, and was born on 11 March 1865, in Dehlingen, Bas-Rhin, Alsace (France).¹ Her mother died 7 months later, and her father remarried about 7 months after that. He had young children at home, so frankly, he needed a wife to manage things.

In May, 1881, Catherine crossed the Atlantic with her family on the “Labrador.” She was 16 years old and was leaving behind the graves of her mother, 2 older brothers (Christian & Heinrich), and half-sister, Christina. The family settled in the Riverwoods area northwest of Chicago. Their farmhouse (in the background on the Favorite Photo post) is no longer there, but it was up the road from the Orphans of the Storm animal shelter, which still IS there.

Carrie Lizzie Sophie Kate 1930.jpg
From 1930 family reunion photo: Carrie (Meintzer) Kranz, Lizzie (Meintzer) Ahrens, Sophie (Meintzer) Kranz, Kate (Meintzer) Warren Smith. Carrie & Sophie are sisters who married brothers (Adam Henry and Edward, respectively). Lizzie & Kate are their half-sisters. This may be the only photo of Aunt Kate that I have. Her 2nd husband, Morton Smith had either just died, or would die shortly at the time of this photo.

In 1890, Catherine married George Warren. They had 2 children, Robert and Mabel. I haven’t quite determined what became of George–whether he died or they divorced. The 1900 census shows her as married, but the head of the household (no George present), with her 2 children, running a boarding house.² In 1904, she married her 2nd husband, Morton N. Smith in Berrien, Michigan. There were no children born in that marriage, and Morton died in 1930. Catherine spent 19 years as a widow before dying in 1949.

So, where does the “favorite name” come in? Every record for her I have ever found was either Catherine or Kate. Nothing to dislike, but not too exciting, either. But when I searched for her first marriage record at http://www.CyberdriveIllinois.com, I kept coming up dry. Her maiden name of MEINTZER could show up with a wide variety of misspellings:

  • drop the I
  • drop the E
  • drop the T
  • S or C instead of Z
  • combinations of the above!

That left a lot of potential permutations. I finally decided it might be more productive to search for the groom. His name was less prone to variant spellings. Limiting the search to Cook County, I had just 7 choices.³ There she was! Not the name I expected, but unmistakably her:

Menzer, Kittie

KITTIE!?!?! Seriously? It’s a good thing I decided to search for George, because never in a million years would I have put in anything other than Catherine or Kate to search for her. It’s a perfectly valid nickname for Catherine, though. I’m sure my jaw dropped at that sight, and I no doubt laughed. I still chuckle or smile every time I think of it, and it has been years. The novelty has certainly worn off, so it isn’t that. But the name conjures up an image of a young 25-year old girl excited to be getting married–not the image of the middle-aged woman in the photo above–so I always smile.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the photo above, it’s just that we tend to think of our older generation relatives as always being that age we saw them at (in person or in photos). We forget that they were once young, carefree, maybe spending the day (or evening!) at Riverview Park with friends or a sweetheart. Finding that unexpected “Kittie” in the records is a wonderful reminder to me of that, still.

#52Ancestors


¹http://archives.bas-rhin.fr/detail-document/ETAT-CIVIL-C88-P1-R18444#visio/page:ETAT-CIVIL-C88-P1-R18444-271043

²https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-D1FS-W2W?i=19&wc=9BQR-VZG%3A1030552601%2C1031967101%2C1033794001%3Fcc%3D1325221&cc=1325221

³https://www.ilsos.gov/isavital/marriageSearch.do  Enter “warren, george” in the groom field, and select “cook” from the drop down list.