Saturday, November 28, 2015

I Do Not Know if Anyone Remembers Katherine Reimer

I do not  know if anyone remembers Katherine Reimer. I have only known about her for a month, but her story has stayed in my heart. Her mystery started years ago and I need to write about a small part of her life.

I had suspicions about Katherine, yet I did not have a clue about her the first time I saw the passenger arrival list of the Astoria, which departed in 1900 from Glasgow on May 28 and arrived at Ellis Island on June 9 of that year.

I discovered the Astoria passenger list in 2004 when I searched for the Reimers entry to the United States at Ellis Island.  Despite the text annotating my maternal great grandfather’s name as Phelep instead of Phillip, I found my great grandmother Anna and my grandmother Sophie listed beneath his name.  Sophie’s two sisters, Marie/Mary and Elizabeth, are also shown.  Philip’s occupation was recorded as a farmer.  Their ages matched my other records, their nationality was German and their last residence was Libau, Russia, one of the major ports of Russia at that time. How they traveled to Libau is likely another story unto itself.  Their destination?  Sheboygan, Wisconsin, of course.  Everything matched the oral history passed down by my family.


Since I found this passenger list, I have tracked Philip and Anna’s births to the 1850 and 1857 Reinwald Census among many other discoveries.

During the last few years, I sensed a strong need to go back, retrace, re-organize and cite all of my sources on the family history I have accumulated.  Over the years, my enthusiasm, computer and laptop changes, and destroyed external hard drives have left my research scattered and undocumented. Beginning with my conversation with my paternal Grandma Clementine Bauer in the 1960s to the last AHSGR convention, I have a broad and extensive period of documenting sources awaiting me in my near future.

One of the first documents I re-visited was the Reimer Passenger list. This time I noticed the total number in the Reimer party was six, not five.  Why was it so easy to miss this obvious count accentuated with a bracket when I first looked at this record?  I believe in my excitement to verify what I already knew, I missed an opportunity to learn more.

Line 26 shows the name of a 3 year old girl with the Reimer family.  The name looked like Kathe to me, however my daughter thought it was Ruth.  It’s definitely hard to decipher. Could my grandmother have had another sister of whom I never heard? Anything is possible, but why would no one have talked about her? I asked my mother about the extra passenger, but she did not know who it was.  It’s one of those mysteries that got tougher to solve as the years passed.

So, I continued on with other research, connecting with other experts, visiting fellow Germans from Russia in Leader, Saskatchewan, Bismarck, North Dakota and Billings, Montana. I learned about more and more research I needed to explore.

During a visit to my hometown last August, I asked my cousin, Charlotte Lamb, if she had any idea if our grandmother may have had another sister.  She was not aware of anyone else beyond ourfive known Reimers coming to America. Mystery unsolved.

About two months later I was accepted into the facebook Sheboygan Area Volga German group. One of the creators of the group was a fellow North High School student, Scott Lewandoske.  Scott has collected Volga German articles from the Sheboygan newspapers for years and is one of its most active historians.

On October 28, Scott posted the following article from the Sheboygan Telegram.

My heart leapt when I saw the surname Reimer, but I did not want to jump to conclusions. The article lists the family’s location as North 11th St and Ontario Ave.  I knew my great grandparents lived on Erie Ave., two blocks north of Ontario.  I consulted with my cousin, Mary Dotz, as we are both descendants of the Reimers. She thought the article tied to my family but also shared, "On second thought, my great grandparents lived at 1017 Ontario Avenue. I was not aware of this until Scott Lewandoske posted this.  The Reimer family were member of Trinity and the children attended Trinity."

I thought about this article for a few days and I could not come to terms with the loss of such a young girl. I knew this young Russia girl had to be a relative, but I wondered how close she was to Mary and me and exactly who her immediate family was.

I contacted the Wisconsin Department of Vital Records to request an uncertified death certificate. I included a copy of the Sheboygan Telegram article and all of the information I knew, which was not much.

On Thursday, November 19, I received my answer. As I held the self-addressed return envelope in my hands, I delayed opening, as I knew I would have an answer. Would it e the answer to the mystery I so wanted to solve? The anticipation was great and I didn't know what I would find inside.

I used my mother's favorite letter opener, pulled out the single sheet of paper, and slowly unfolded it. On the certificate, her name was spelled as Katherine Reimer. The next thing I saw was her parent;s names: Philip Reimer and Anna Kerber. Besides the names, the address on the death certificate matched the home where Phillip and Anna lived on 10th and Erie Ave. The paper fluttered out of my hands. To finally have the connection was overwhelming.

As I read the death certificate, I could understand why there were no stories. During the early 1900s, many children did not survive past infancy, much less to age 11. And, her death from bronchial pneumonia was likely an awful struggle for the family. As someone who lives with asthma and has experienced bronchitis, I understand a bit about her illness. I also know I had drugs and cures that were simply not available during Katherine's time.

Katherine died on Christmas Day, December 24, 1908.  Her oldest sister Marie/Mary was 19m, my grandmother Sophie was 18, and Elizabeth was 15. About a month and a half before Katherine died, Sophie gave birth to her son, Fred, on November 6.

I was heartbroken for the family yet so glad I found out who Katherine was. Yes, my grandmother, Sophie Reimer Jurk Herzog Balde Balte, had more than two sisters. She had three. On of whom was never spoken about or included in any family stories.

Phillip, Anna and Sophie were gone years before I was born. What I would give to talk to them and hear their tales.  Their journey to Libau, Russia, then to America, journeys Phillip and Anna traversed at least twice.What other secrets have gone with them?

It is gratifying to find out who Katherine was. It is also gratifying to ave a reasonable understanding of why I had not heard the story.  I will remember Katherine Reimer, especially this upcoming Christmas Day and include her in her rightful spot in my family tree. Finding out about Katherine Reimer is what genealogy is all about for me...uncovering stories and honoring those who went before us. It is about remembering. Yes, that extra name on the passenger list was a family mystery. And, now I can say, "Mystery solved."


©Anna Dalhaimer Bartkowski