Monday, March 31, 2014

#52Ancestors (13) The Sad Saga of Sarah Donaldson Kerr

Sometimes our lives seem overwhelming or tiring or lots of things we'd prefer not to experience. My complaints are nothing compared to the sad life of my great-great-grandmother, Sarah DONALDSON KERR.

In 1854, Sarah was born into the laboring class of post-famine Ireland, perhaps County Down. Shortly after her birth, her parents, Edward DONALDSON and Margaret JOHNSTON(E) crossed the Firth of Clyde and settled in the village of Kilwinning, Ayr, Scotland. Edward worked in the local coal mines. Edward and Margaret had at least eight more children, though not all survived childhood.

On the Scottish census of 1871, Sarah was working as a domestic servant in the home of John LAW, a grocer and spirit merchant in neighboring Kilbirnie. It was there in Kilbirnie Sarah likely met Robert KERR. Robert was another Irish-born coal miner. Their marriage took place on 15 June 1874 in Kilwinning.

Sarah and Robert had their first child, Margaret Donaldson KERR, on 18 March 1876. Only a few months passed before the KERR's were on their way to America. Arriving early in 1877, the young family settled in Braidwood, Will, Illinois. Braidwood was a coal mining town, full of immigrants just like them.

The little family's new life was short-lived:

Sarah died on 12 May 1877. She appears on the records of Oakwood Cemetery in Braidwood, but no stone exists.

Sarah died on a quest for bits of coal:

As a young child, Sarah moved to a new country for a better life. As a new mother with a young child, Sarah made the bigger move to the United States for an even better life. It was not to be. Only 22 years old - a new mother and a new immigrant - and Sarah was dead.

This was one of the saddest news stories I have read. It was short. It was detached. And it was my ancestor. Rest in peace, Sarah.

(c) 2014 Sally Knudsen

Saturday, March 22, 2014

#52Ancestors (12) Louise Wilhelmina Dork Hummel, In Pictures

This week's #52Ancestors post is a photographic tribute to my great-grandmother, Louise Wilhelmina DORK HUMMEL. She was Gramma Lucy to me.

in Lansing, Michigan, c 1908

Lucy on right, with sister and cousin
in Lansing, Michigan, c 1917

Lucy and Bill Hummel
in Lansing, Michigan, c 1945

in Lansing, Michigan, c 1955

Four generations with me
in, Joliet, Illinois, c 196-something ;)

Louise 'Lucy' Wilhelmina Dork Hummel
born 28 December 1895 in Lansing, Ingham, Michigan
died 9 January 1973 in Delhi Township, Ingham, Michigan

Lucy's page in my database

(c) 2014 Sally Knudsen

Monday, March 17, 2014

Can I Get Lucky With My Irish?

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Sláinte!

Of my eight great-grandparents, three are of full Irish ancestry.  Using my basic math skills, that makes me 3/8ths Irish.  In other words, 37.5% of my DNA is probably* green.

*No scientific basis for that fact.

Actually, based on my more scientific 23andMe results, I am 37.7% British and Irish. Well done, me, in confirming my DNA test!

Here are some of my Irish roots. Have a connection?


from County Tyrone
oldest known ancestor is Daniel McBride, born circa 1805
his son Daniel, born circa 1840, left Ireland for Birtley, County Durham, England
he married Mary Ann McAleer in Birtley
Daniel, Mary Ann, and son Joseph arrived in Illinois in 1880

Daniel had two known siblings:
Jane (c1838-1912), married Michael McCormick in Durham
Edward (c1843-1903), married Ellen Dinnery in Durham

and two more likely siblings:
Bridget (c1831-1893), married Samuel Lee(s) in Magherafelt, Ireland
Alexander (c1835-1902), married Mary Monaghan in Durham


from unknown county in Ireland
oldest known ancestor is Joseph Kerr, born circa 1790
his son Robert, born 1829, left Ireland for Kilbirnie, Ayr, Scotland
his son Robert, born 1853, wife Sarah Donaldson, and baby Margaret arrived in Illinois in 1876
Robert worked in the coal mines of Braidwood, Will, Illinois


from County Westmeath
immigrant and oldest known ancestor is Thomas, born circa 1840, died 1915
arrived in Illinois as a child with unknown family members
settled in Lockport, Will, Illinois during height of I and M Canal construction
married Mary Ann McWeeney in 1865

I need help with these lines!

Mmm. Our celebratory corned beef brisket.

(c) 2014 Sally Knudsen

Sunday, March 16, 2014

#52Ancestors (11) Otto Carl Dork, My First American Dork

From the title of this post, perhaps you think I'm mocking someone. That could not be further from the truth. Otto Carl DORK is my great-great-grandfather and he was the first male Dork in my line to emigrate from West Prussia to America.

Having a unique surname in genealogy makes searching for ancestors infinitely more easy. I'm pretty sure Dork falls into that category. I suspect that the name was pronounced 'Derk' but spelled with German vowels often as 'Dork' or 'Doerk.' I have come across several different spellings, but they mostly are of the vowel variety:

  • Dork
  • Doerk
  • Dirk
  • Durk
  • Derk
  • Derke

For the most part though, searching databases was pretty easy. Using the internet was hard. Try googling 'dork' and see where that takes you. 

Back to Otto.

Otto Carl DORK was born in the village of Charlottenwerder, Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia on 23 November 1869. His parents were Carl DORK and Caroline PAPKE. Charlottenwerder is today known as Redaki, Poland. He emigrated to America with his mother, grandmother, and several siblings on the ship Braunschweig, landing in New York on 22 April 1882. The family settled immediately in Lansing, Ingham, Michigan, among a group of Evangelical Lutheran families.

Otto's birth record, third from top

On 18 May 1893 in Lansing, Otto married Wilhelmina KOPKAU, another Prussian immigrant who was born only four miles away in the village of Peterkau, now Piotrkowo, Poland.

Otto, circa 1895

They had five children: Carl (1893), Louise (1895), Eva (1897), Ferdinand (1900) and Edward (1905). Carl was born in November so the math gives us, hmm, a late marriage. I found several of these Prussian families having children not quite nine months later. My grandmother told me that the families wanted to make they could reproduce before marrying. Hey, that's the family story.

None of their sons had male children, so my immediate line of Dork's has died out. Otto had nieces and nephews who also lived in America, but I have not yet found modern descendants. At some point I would love to connect with other descendants, whether still in Poland or of emigrants to other countries.

Otto worked as a laborer. His wife, Wilhelmina, died of heart disease in 1915. He never remarried and raised his children with the help of close immigrant family and neighbors. He died in 1949 and is buried with Wilhelmina in Mount Hope Cemetery in Lansing.

Microfilm snip: FamilySearch microfilm reel #208194: Kirchenbuch 1736-1944, Evangelische Kirche Langenau (Kr. Rosenberg)

(c) 2014 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tombstone Tuesday - MIZPAH

In a recent post about my great-great-grandparents, Asa SPENCER and May COUNTRYMAN SPENCER, I added this photo of their identical gravestones:



They have a unique inscription:

The word or term mizpah is Hebrew, meaning 'watchtower.' On a gravestone, it often means 'The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from the other.'

May lost her husband Asa suddenly and I'm sure this was a way for her to remember him until they were reunited.

The term is often used on jewelry:

  1. Wikipedia
  2. BibleHub
  3. Google Images

Sunday, March 9, 2014

#52Ancestors (10) May Countryman Spencer, The Matriarch

On the weekend celebrating International Women's Day, this week's post is appropriate. As I contemplated the life of my great-great-grandmother May COUNTRYMAN SPENCER, I was struck by her place with her family. She was the spine, the glue, the Matriarch.

matriarch: noun. a woman who rules a family, clan or tribe.

May was the matriarch of her family in every conceivable way.

May Genevieve COUNTRYMAN was born 6 May 1864 in Tompkins Township, Jackson County, Michigan, the first child of Jacob COUNTRYMAN and Amelia TENNEY. Four sisters followed, and, I suspect, she spent time helping raise her younger sisters.

In the early 1880's, the COUNTRYMAN family moved north, near the border of Ingham and Shiawassee counties. May wed Asa Wyman SPENCER on 2 April 1883. Children quickly followed: Beulah (1884, died as an infant), Roy (1886), Edward (1888), Bessie (1890), Burr (1892), and Florence (1896). This new family lived with her aging in-laws, Wright and Sally SPENCER, on the Spencer family farm.

This photo is of May, Asa, and son Roy:

Lansing, Michigan, circa 1887

The mid-1890's saw tragedy: both May's father and Asa's mother died at the farm in the summer of 1895. I have no doubt May was integral in their final care. May had her last child in 1896, followed shortly by the death of her youngest sister who had been residing at the Shiawassee County Poor Farm.

This photo of May is probably during this period:

By the turn of the 20th century, life was moving forward on the family farm. After the deaths of her in-laws, the farm was now Asa's and May's and their growing children. Then tragedy struck again: Asa Spencer had a burst appendix in 1911, and died of surgical complications. May was now alone to run the farm with her barely twenty-something sons. 

Edward, my great-grandfather, married in 1913 and had his first two children while living on the farm. By the late 1910's, the family was no longer able to keep the farm running, sold the land for what they could, and moved into nearby Lansing, Michigan. At least Lansing had the booming automotive industry, and most of her sons found work in those manufacturing plants.

The 1920 census shows May living in southeast Lansing with her daughter Florence and husband, and her divorced daughter Bessie and Bessie's two young sons.

In 1930, May still lived with Bessie and sons, and now widowed Edward and his four children moved in. On the 1940 census, May was working as a clerk for the telephone company - at age 75! May continued to live with various children and grandchildren for the remainder of her life.

The recollections my grandfather had of May were of a stern, staunchly Methodist matriarch. May survived the loss of an infant and adult child, her sister, her daughter-in-law, and her husband way too soon. She supported her family through divorce and loss of property. She instilled order and constancy to her family.

Lansing, Michigan, circa 1930's

Spencer family, Lansing, Michigan, Easter 1940

For all that May lived through - family tragedy, war, the Depression - she still lived to be 79 years old. She died in Lansing on 15 June 1943 and is buried alongside Asa and five of her six children in Rowley Cemetery, Ingham County, Michigan.

Rest in peace, May.

(c) 2014 Sally Knudsen

Monday, March 3, 2014

#52Ancestors (9) Peter Countryman, Dead and In Debt

Peter COUNTRYMAN died. He was intestate. And he was in debt.

Peter had quite a file of documents that I located at the State Archives of Michigan in Lansing several years ago. Sometimes being in debt isn't such a bad thing: it produces paperwork.

Peter was a son of Jacob COUNTRYMAN and Margarethe MEYER and was born about 1800. He and a number of his siblings moved from Ontario to New York to Ohio, finally settling in Ingham County, Michigan in the 1830's. Much of his early life is unknown. His wife was Matilda AMES and they had seven known children: Rachel, Joseph, Isaac, Jacob (previous post), Margaret, Daniel, and Peter. Matilda likely died even before Peter. 

An early settler in Phelpstown Township, Ingham County, Michigan, Peter owned a 40 acre farm. For reasons unknown, he had a large debt to his brother Jacob for $13.00. Then before the loan was repaid, Peter died intestate, or without a Will, on 30 August 1844. And he owed a lot of money. Having no Will means there is no legal direction to pay debts or distribute assets. The court will appoint an impartial administrator to appraise the assets and allow any claims to be filed for payment from those assets. 

Let the paper trail begin!

$13 note due Jacob Countryman, 1842
Coffin bill, 1844
$1.93 land tax bill, 1847

Here is a timeline of the documents in Peter's probate file:

This is the final administrator's report of all of the debts Peter owed to various merchants, as well as costs incurred during the administration of the estate:

Administrator's inventory, 1848
There were no documents discharging the administrator. However, since the real estate was the last item in the inventory, this was probably the end of the court matter: can't get blood from a stone, as they say.

Finding a 170 year old probate file was a huge coup. It answered questions, while raising others. It mentioned Peter's brother and named in-laws and neighbors. It described his land and all of his household possessions. It even contained a promissory note with his signature!

It did not, however, mention his wife or his children. We know the children were set up in local households after their parents' deaths, but it would be nice to have details. I don't know where Peter and Matilda are buried.

But the most intriguing piece of this file was this scrap of a note:

...much obliged to...
...Mother and...
...George is wel...
...kiss the children...

Kiss the children? Whose children? Who wrote this?

Some secrets, and debts, will be taken to the grave.

(c) 2014 Sally Knudsen