As I mentioned yesterday, there are many mysteries hidden in my family tree.  There are the two relatives of my great-granny’s that left for Kansas and were never seen or heard from again.  There is the question as to when and where my great-grandfather Bernhard died, even though I thought I’d had this one at least somewhat figured out for a good two or three years.  And then there are larger mysteries.  Not just twigs but whole branches with no beginning or end in my tree.

When I first started this genealogical journey I remember asking my dad about his father.  He had never really talked about him before.  His mother, my Granny Agnes was still alive but honestly, her sarcasm (which I now cherish) was hard for someone my age to understand and because of that we weren’t close.  Plus, she obviously favored my sister :).  His father I’d never really heard about.  There is but one picture of my grandfather Bernard in my parent’s home, a house full of walls of family photographs, lovingly framed and organized around the table in which we all now sit for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  I never got the impression that this was because Bernard, or Ben as he was called and for whom my brother was named after, was a bad man or a shitty father.  It was just that Dad never talked about him.  He died in 1976, when my dad was just 18, and it seemed like something he’d come to terms with long ago and maybe that my dad never understood him anyway.  This made it all the more interesting to me of course and it gave me a way to connect with my dad.

I asked my dad for any information he could give me, a look at heirlooms and possessions of Ben’s, stories about him while my dad was growing up.  My dad rolled his eyes no doubt and gave me very little for he has very little.  There was the oh-so-mysterious Purple Heart, a hat my grandpa wore in the jungle during the war, and a few scant pictures.  He remembered meeting my grandpa’s two brothers, Wally and Frank, at his dad’s funerals.  But his grandpa and grandma’s names?  Yeah right.  He remembered that his grandpa was a butcher at the Chicago stockyards and that his family was German.  This is what I got.  It was all my dad knew.

While there are so many things I’ve learned from researching this side of my family, the most immediately pressing things I felt I should research was Ben’s military service.  It was a huge part of my dad’s life — not only was his father a career military man, his mother was a lifelong civilian employee at the military hospital (we live very close to a large military base in the Midwest).  At that point, I was certainly a novice but I started researching where I could.

The obvious best place to locate military records is the National Archives.  Because we live in Missouri, this seemed easy to me considering that most of these records are house at the Archives in St Louis, just a few hours from my home.  But as I wanted information pretty quick like and because I had no desire to travel that far with a small child who has a penchant for destroying my stacks of papers lying around with drawings, I used eVetrecs to request the records for my dad.  Through my own fault of the fault of NARA, the records were not found through my initial 5 requests.  Finally, after diligently requesting records for years, I got notice that NARA would be sending two gigantic envelopes with every record they had on my grandfather.  The day they arrived was probably the greatest day of my research I’ve experienced yet.  Pulling a giant envelope out of the mailbox, knowing what answers might lie inside, was absolutely exhilarating.

Little did I reckon, I can’t read a damn military record.  As I’ve come to find out, even people who spent a lifetime in the military and study it as a pastime, have a hard time reading them as well.  I frantically thumbed through the hundreds of pages of records looking for three things: mention of my grandfather’s Purple Heart, mention of where he might have served, and the names of my grandfather’s first son and his first wife.

The story I’d always been told (in bits and pieces) was this: my grandfather had served in WWII and Korea.  In the latter war he was injured and a POW.  He had a scar on his leg, evidence of a battle wound.  It was said that he was either shot or had a stick of bamboo shoved through his leg.  There was mention of the Bataan Death March but nobody knew for sure.  During his early service my grandfather married and had a son — this was only mentioned ONCE and even then, my grandfather mentioned it while speaking to my dads 4th grade class.  My dad had no idea he had an older half-brother but he never asked about it after that mention.  My grandfather retired from his long career in the military on permanent disability due to his raging diabetes, something my grandmother always attributed to his time as a POW and his poor diet then.

These papers, however, did very little to answer my questions and in fact, only compounded them.  There is mention of his first wife, Dorothy McKenna of Chicago, Illinois.  There is mention of money being sent to his first son, Robert Neal Kramer, also of Chicago, even after my father was born in 1956, and even though my grandfather was then supporting my grandmother and five children.  When my grandpa finally retired he received more than $2000 a month in pension from the VA.

But my questions about his service loomed large.  There is but one mention of his Purple Heart — and it’s not mentioned on his official papers.  There is mention of him being a military hospital for a while — the 229th General Hospital in Nagoya Japan — but really nothing else.  The military sent along the medals to which he was entitled, medals my dad remembers from his childhood but did not possess.  He remembers that at one time the Purple Heart, still in it’s original box, had “some other little pin with it” and that there was also a certificate.  Those very necessary other bits have long since disappeared.

Military records are a maze of confusing terminology and dates and unit abbreviations.  I’ve consulted with two different people who specialize in records and both were pretty mystified.  The latter could find no indication that my grandfather had actually earned his Purple Heart or served in combat.  I’ve searched for living Kramer family members who might remember something but the older ones directly related to my grandfather have passed away.  His brother Walter died in a car crash in 1985 in Schaumburg Illinois and his other brother Frank died in Florida long ago.  Both their wives have also passed.  My grandfather’s mother, Elizabeth Wonderlin (the surname coming from her second marriage) died in 1952, before my dad was even born.  I’ve spoken to Walter’s grandson but his mother was adopted and he knew nothing of my grandpa.  I’ve looked for old war buddies but with such confusing unit assignments shown on the records it’s hard to pinpoint with whom he might have served.  My grandfather helped to form what is now the American Legion Hall in my town (the men who started it each asked their wives for $100 a piece and raffled a donated car to build the building) and I’ve looked for men who were his friends here in town who might have a story or clue but only one is living — he remembers the Purple Heart and insists my grandpa earned it.  Aside from that, my grandpa’s name does not turn up in NARA records for POWs (oddly, he was given three different serial numbers throughout his time in the service).  In short, he is a phantom.

While I did not know my grandpa I know of his character through my father.  That he would concoct a story about earning a Purple Heart and then deem it necessary to lie to the Army itself about said Purple Heart seems so very unlikely.  I have no pictures of my grandfather in his uniform to verify he wore it — towards the end of his career he was an activities specialist, a SSgt at our base in Ft Leonard Wood, and most of the time dad says he didn’t wear clothing that resembled any sort of military garb.  While my dad freely admits that he knows very little about his father and that it’s possible he might have embellished the story when he was little, all his brothers and sisters agree on the story.  That a career military man, constantly roaming around bases and surrounding himself with other war veterans, would have the audacity to lie about such an honor seems impossible to me.

But at this point I have no proof, aside from the errant record listing the award.  While there are so many mysteries in my tree, most of them concerning the Kramer side of my family, this is the one that haunts me the most.

Advertisements

I work at a local charity that supports, among other things, a domestic violence shelter and a food pantry.  If ever one was granted their dream job, it is I.  If someone had asked me to write up a job description for employment that would suit me perfectly, this is what I would have written:

Duties and responsibilities must include digging through boxes of possibly vintage and antique goods donated by grandchildren and great-grandchildren who, for some reason, have no attachment to the beautiful and meaningful things collected by their ancestors.  Also, sorting through boxes of books deemed unneccessary by their previous owners.

That’s pretty much what I do.  This is what I did before being hired for this job.  I hit yard sales, I jumped in dumpsters (once, because I was too big to get in a dumpster my faithful charge, The Bug, got in for me a retrieved an old decorating book worth 80 bucks), I searched antique malls and flea markets, for goods to resale in an internet venue.  I made an excellent happy living doing this.  I’m amazed that was even possible.  So you can imagine my amazement at finding out that someone, ANYONE, would HIRE me to do such a thing.  Anyway, I digress…

Among the things that I sell is books on Amazon.  From time to time I’m lucky enough to run across books that I probably wouldn’t ever buy because they don’t apply to my own research, but that are of some worth to others researching their families.  Weird, hard to find books, most of the time.  The other day I ran across Fairfax County, Virginia in 1760: An Interpretive Historical Map.  Contained in the book are “maps” of the landholding and land-leasing residents of that historical county in 1760.  For anyone with ancestors in this area, this would be a valuable resource.  Let’s look at a Mr. Charles Broadwater.  This book tells me Charles owned 1700 acres in Fairfax County and that he leased another 200 acres from Simon Pearson.  He has 22 slaves in 1760.  He owns three separate pieces of land, all of which he inherited.  He has a tenant named William Harbin on 100 acres of this land.  This book also contains information on ferries, mills, tobacco inspection warehouses, courthouses, and churches in this area.

If you’d like a lookup from this book, drop me a line.  With all the lookups I’ve requested in Cook County, Chicago, and beyond, it’s only good genealogy karma for me to help…


I used to blog.  Used to love it.  But there was always a purpose.  While I learned to sew not from a family member, but in high school, I only took up the past time as a way to connect with my roots and my great-grandmother.  When that hobby took off as a business, the ol’ blog became a way to attract customers, keep people and friends up to date, blah blah blah.  But as I let that business die, in favor of working instead for a non-profit, the blog died too.  I’ve missed it but what I established and maintained for so long with that blog centered around something I was no longer doing so to change it around and make it something new seemed pointless.  Plus, it’s nice to have something there that I can point to, examine whenever I like, and remember that part of my life.

Genealogy, particularly my own, is something that I only became interested in a few short years back.  Actually, it feels like it was many many years ago but whatevs.  What I’ve found since I started doing this more than five years ago now is that one, my family is mysterious and seemingly lived their lives in a way that would make it hard for obsessive complusive future generations to locate (hell, even NAME) them, and two, I’m the youngest person I know or have ever encountered that is interested in their personal heritage.  The latter is not something I ever notice but it certainly makes having conversations with my friends about this hobby of mine that takes up such a large chunk of my free time, well…weird.  There’s a glaze in their gaze when I go on and on about towns in Germany that no longer exist or ancestors that founded hot springs.

Over the past five or so years I’ve kept a log, a sort of genealogy journal, detailing things I find and want to write down for posterity so that one day when that old connection I no longer remember might solve a mystery.  This here blog is my attempt at putting that out in the world, not only to connect with others so interested in heritage, but that hopefully one day, some distant relation will send me a thank you note for clearing up our ancestry and doing all the work for them.  I wish someone had done that for me…

As I mentioned, my family is mysterious.  On my mother’s side I am lucky enough to have the journals of my great-grandmother and her father.  My Granny Dorothy, as she was always known to us, was alive until just a few short years ago and I was lucky enough to learn most of what I know about her family directly from the horse’s mouth.  That woman was a wealth of knowledge when it came to not just our own family, but the families of so many that live in the town in which I reside and in which she grew up and never left.  Her and my great-great-grandfather’s journals are an amazing repository of birthdates, historical happenings, weather news, and personal anecdotes about trips and the history of our region.  It’s a truly amazing thing to have and it got me far when delving into that side of the family.

My father’s side…sweet Jesus, my dad’s side of the family.  My dad’s dad was quiet I suppose.  He was a career military man (who, by the way, never spoke of his war service) who moved around a lot in the service and didn’t keep close contact with his immediate family.  Add to that that his parents and older brother immigrated to Chicago in 1912 from Germany, a country which I initially knew NOTHING about, and that adds up to a brick wall that would rival the shit they have in China.  My dad’s father died during my dad’s senior year, long before I was born, and my dad never thought to ask questions.  It took me 3 and a half years to finally get his service records (which I still suffer figuring out and translating).  It took me four years to find his mother’s maiden name.  It took me five years to discover how and when she died and finally, where she was buried.  My father mentioned once that his dad made note of another son he’d had long before my dad was born…but never gave a name and never spoke of it again.  I just found that half-brother a few months ago.  And just a few days back, with the help of a lovely man who is translating the parish records of a church in the town in which my great-grandfather was born, I found a further generation to my dad’s family.  A Kramer, born in 1856 in Ostfriesland Germany.  It took me 4 years to find my dad’s two uncles, both deceased, and the closest thing he has to a cousin, who I was lucky enough to speak to on the phone.

Every once in a while I take a break from the German mysteries and delve into my mother’s side but the farther back I get I encounter brick after brick there as well.  It’s been a journey…and one I feel I should write at the very least a little something about.  I’m saving and planning for a trip to small towns in Germany, where my family came from.  And little by little I’m learning German (Guten Abend!).

This consumes a large part of my time.  My mother is interested in what I find occasionally and my father mostly looks at me with blank stares.  Granted, he’s listened to me ramble since I was a wee lass and people, I ramble A LOT, so I don’t blame him.  I get on kicks.  I’ll get frustrated and give up for a month or so but more often that not, you can find me scouring any and all records I can in search of my ancestors, my kin as we’d call it where I’m from.