“The Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar…”

14Aug10

The quote above has nothing to do with what I’m about to write.  Not really, anyway.  It’s just that I like Paul Simon and he happens to have a song about Graceland which happens to be the cemetery where my great-grandfather is buried.  Do you like how I said that all nonchalantly like finding out THAT SORT of information was no different than discovering 5 bucks in my wallet I didn’t know I had?  Moving on…

As is much documented here, I’ve always wondered where my great-grandfather, Bernhard Kramer, was buried.  Actually, ‘wondered’ is not the proper word.  How about ‘yearned’?  Let’s go with that.  I’ve always YEARNED to know where my great-grandfather was buried.  I’ve always felt the NEED to know how it was he died — how old was he?  Was he happy then?  Was he remarried?  Was he an asshole?  I’ve searched for nearly 6 years and the answers to those questions were scant.  I started with this: “Samantha, LOOK.  I told you, I DON’T KNOW.  He just never said.  They lived in Chicago and he was German and I think he was a butcher.  I don’t know, something about the stockyards up there.”  Seriously, that was it.  Now I know the following: birthplace (Augustfehn, Germany), date of birth (20 Sep 1883 – exactly 102 years after my own), parents (Bernhard and Hermine Fittje), his second wife’s name (Mary, didn’t know she existed), his burial place (Graceland Cemetery, Chicago), and the time of his death.  19-f’ing-61.  I also know his favorite rock band — AC/DC.  Just kidding people, we Kramer’s hate the AC/DC.

As mentioned in the last post [ED. Note: now removed.  Potentially AWKWARD.], I took some time off to work on the genealogy of someone else.  I obsessed over it as I would my own and it effectively cleared my brain.  I’m gonna start charging people for Brick Wall Research and then I’m just gonna tell them to aggressively research the family of someone not related to them.  Works.  And as I predicted, as soon as I returned to my own research, there was a breakthrough.  I took some time to read the emails from my dad’s long-lost cousin who I located only after cold-calling tons of people with her common name in the Wisconsin area.  I was so excited to read what she was writing at the time that I figured it was likely I might have missed something.  I read slow.  Then, right there.  Ben.  He had never been called ‘Bernhard’.  He was just Ben.  One would think this would be obvious considering it’s the name given to my little brother but I’m nothing if not oblivious to the obvious.

So I searched for Ben.  Ben Kramer.  I resumed my process of ordering every birth certificate on the Cook County Clerk’s site, each one starting with the death year that seemed possible  This is an issue I’ve had as there was really no way for me to get a grip on the man’s year of death.  At first, I was sure it had been between 1920 and 1930 — after all, he wasn’t in the census with his family in 1930.  That ‘fact’ was proven wrong and from there I began working my way to the present.  19-f’ing-61.  As you can imagine, this was a fucking expensive operation.

It had never seemed even remotely likely to me that he had died after 1956, the year of my dad’s birth.  My grandpa Ben (!) was active duty then and they lived in France for a good portion of my dad’s early childhood (by the way, I need to interject here: my dad is a trucker, man.  He is not refined; his CB handle is BirdLegs for God’s sake.  The fact that he ever resided in France, even for 97 seconds, it just hilarious to me).  It might have made sense that he wasn’t in contact with his father for those years but what about when they moved back to the States?  My dad was 5 years old when his grandpa died, the same age as Jude.  I cannot imagine my child not knowing his grandfather.

I don’t know if that speaks to the fact that my grandpa was an asshole or to the incredibly odd and very harsh reality of my father’s family — they split, they went their own ways, and then no one else mattered.

From Ben’s death record I learned a couple interesting things.  He died of pneumonia, a condition that apparently was common among those men who spent their lives in the Chicago Union Stockyards as he did.  There’s a coalition of those that died in astounding numbers of kidney disease.  Ben was 77 and he was still working as a butcher, though no doubt he had been kicked out his stockyard job at that age.  If I learned anything from The Jungle, then I learned that.  He was married.  To a woman named Mary M.  He lived on Orleans Street and he suffered in the hospital for a week before he finally died.  And I learned that he was buried at Graceland Cemetery.

I immediately called the undertaker listed on the certificate.  The woman (she was working on a Sunday.  You work at a funeral home AND on a Sunday?!  Your job sucks, nice lady.  Just sayin’.) said that she would wander down to the basement later and take a gander.  I was stoked!  Then I received an email telling me that they don’t keep records.  I bet that chick who took my call was just in a bad mood because she was WORKING AT A FUNERAL HOME ON A SUNDAY!  I forgive her.

At any rate, I was still at a dead-end.  I emailed the funeral home, hoping they might be able to give me Ben’s plot number and more details on his wife.  This past Monday I got a fat package from them.  Ben was cremated and his ashes were scattered near the Chapel.  I imagine that his wife (who also worked at the Stockyards as a stenographer) hadn’t the money to pay for an elaborate burial with coffins and plots and whatnot.  It’s incredibly sad really.  I take comfort though in hoping that Ben is somewhere watching someone giving a shit about where he’s buried.

That’s the update.  All of it, I think.  I’ve got burial records for a Mary at the same cemetery that might be my lady so now I’m working on tracking her family.  I’ve never seen a photograph of my great-grandfather and dammit, I want one.  If anyone knows a Christine Richard (possibly married at some point to Hardin Probis) then have her give me a call.  I need to talk to her about her sister.

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