We are turning our genealogical lenses on members of our extended family who came to America from Germany and Eastern Europe. This part of our search has brought us to the Midwest, home of sturdy old houses, meat-and-potatoes menus, and beautiful views of rich farmland. Chicago Public Library
We stopped in Chicago for two reasons: First, to hunt for Cantor Ben, who came to American in the 1890s from, we think, Russia. Soon after his arrival he developed lung problems, couldn't sing, and was sent to San Antonio, Texas in the hope that the warmer, dryer air would help him. Unfortunately, he died in 1903, leaving his wife and four children. We visited the Asher Library of Judaica in the Spertus Institute, in downtown Chicago, where a gifted reference librarian soon produced a stack of reference books which filled the entire library work table. We learned that Jewish Genealogy is a vast area which intersects Gentile Genealogy at places but has a methodology and array of resources all its own. We're still digesting the information -- largely lists -- websites and bibliographies and libraries and organizations.
Our second mission in Chicago was to use the excellent if busy airport for a weekend trip to Jupiter, Florida, where Bob's 92-year-old stepmother had just had her first experience through the eye of a hurricane.
We found our flight much less stressful than we had anticipated, partly because our fellow passengers seemed just as intent as we were on being courteous, patient, and cooperative. Like Japanese entering a traditional home, all the passengers doff their shoes for security inspection. Hurricane aftermath
A week after Hurricane Frances hit, the massive cleanup operation was almost over. Squads of utility trucks from Quebec and Ontario were queuing up to drive to the Gulf states to start restoring power to the areas devastated by Hurricane Ivan. Fallen trees cut into branches were being hauled away (finding available landfill is always a problem after a hurricane). We have to admit that we didn't mind seeing the wanton destruction of billboards and advertising signs; perhaps some of them will not be rebuilt! Bob's stepmother is not the type to be daunted by a mere hurricane; her biggest complaint was that she had just bought two quarts of maple walnut ice cream! She's a little more fragile than last year, but otherwise looks like she's good for another ninety years.
We avoid freeways whenever possible, so we drove through miles and miles of the Chicago - Northern Indiana megalopolis, punctuated by stretches of highway construction and uncounted streetlights. For the most part we passed through thriving suburbs, but the sudden poverty of Chicago Heights reminded us of cities like Benton Harbor -- all black, poor, apparently crime-ridden, with dozens and dozens of vacant lots where buildings had burned or been torn down, and nothing better built in their places. Great grandfather's church
When we were thirty miles south of Lake Michigan we began to see the corn and beans, beans and corn of Indiana farms, punctuated by pretty small towns, small rivers, and a few patches of forest.
In Peru we looked some more for Peter, a Bavarian who came to Indiana where he lost four daughters, a stepson, and two wives. A religious man, he helped found the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bunker Hill (now the Masonic Temple). We learned more about his second wife, Barbara, who came to take care of Peter's three young children and brought nine of her own! And we learned that after Barbara died, Peter took a third wife, Rosina. All three of his wives were German, but we haven't found a trace (as yet) of the towns in Germany from which they emigrated.
Northern Indiana was the last part of the state to be settled (we didn't know that). It had been set aside for Indian Reservations, but of course the government kept pushing the Indians west, and by 1850 the Northern part was carved up into counties. So Peter was an early settler, but as a relatively poor German immigrant he didn't get as much attention in the County Histories as the immigrants from the Eastern United States. His sons might have stayed in Bunker Hill (they tried running a hardware store and the newspaper), but things didn't work out, and the town has slid slowly downhill. After the death of their stepmother and their father's remarriage they moved to Cleveland, where there were paying jobs. Ben, the 4700-pound steer
We haven't found any German origins, but we have a few more contacts, and a little more understanding of the story, and some more ideas on where to keep looking.
As always, when we are on the hunt, we are impressed by the majesty of some of our public buildings. The Chicago Public Library, for example, is a huge, dramatic building with wonderfully colorful roof decorations -- but it is a long walk from the front door to the first sight of a book! The Kokomo Courthouse is such a lovely piece of Art Deco architecture (built in 1938, just restored to its original glory) that it's worth a peek for anybody traveling in the area. And to add to our meager sightseeing, we did locate what were once the two main tourist attractions in Kokomo -- the trunk of a giant Sycamore, 54 feet in circumference -- and a stuffed 4700 pound steer, Ben, who died young when he fell through the ice in 1910. As the largest steer known in Kokomo at that time, he was stuffed and still stands in his special room in Highland Park, next to The Stump. We include a photo of The Building.