Is There More to the Story of Your Ancestors?

I was having a discussion with my mother some years ago about her Aunt Irene Earp that had been adopted by my mother’s grandparents.  My grandmother never knew what had happened to Irene after Irene had ran away from home at the age of about 18.  My grandmother never liked to discuss the topic of Irene either and my mother, my aunts and uncle knew not to bring the subject up, so very little was known.  I decided to do some digging back then and this is what I had found out.

In the Spring of 1920, the Kuhlman family from Enhaut, Pennsylvania had tragedy strike.  The influenza outbreak of that time had hit the family hard.  Six of the ten George Kuhlman family were stricken and taken to the hospital. Mrs. Kuhlman was pregnant at the time with their 9th child:

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Mrs. Kuhlman delivered her baby while in the hospital, bringing the total family members to eleven.

Tragically, four of the eleven family members died, which included the father and mother, a daughter and the new-born.

On June 11, 1920, Aaron J. Keim, my g-grandmother’s brother, was granted custody of the children by the courts until they could be officially adopted.  By September of 1920, four of the remaining children had been officially adopted.  In the end, the seven orphaned children were all adopted:

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The only picture I’ve had of Irene is one that I shared in my last post:

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Picture taken, sometime between 1922 to 1924.  Irene would have been between 14 and 16 years old (she is standing 3rd from the left, between my great-grandmother, Edna Earp and my grandmother, Geraldine Earp).

Sometime in 1927, Irene had married Rueben Rhoads.  I could not find a marriage certificate for either Rueben or Irene.  In the 1930 census, Irene is staying with a Samuel Flowers as a cousin.  She is recorded as being married, she is 21 years old and was married at the age of 18 (placing her marriage to Rueben in 1927).  In the 1940 census, she is still staying with Samuel Flowers, recorded as a boarder.  Her marital status is marked as divorced.

Irene passed away from pneumonia in 1941 at the age of 33:

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The informant was Samuel Flowers and ex-husband was Rueben Rhoads.

Now, you would think that’s the end of the story, or at least I thought so…until now.

I was recently perusing some Ancestry Trees of my Earp and Keim family.  I came across this one that pulled me in for some reason.  I contacted the creator of this tree, Karen Biebel-Sutera, telling her of my relation to the Earp and Keim families.  She immediately contacted me back, and we concluded that we are cousins through my great-grandmother, Edna (Keim) Earp and Karens’ great-grandmother, Edna’s sister, Annie E. (Keim) Hartman.

As luck would have it, Karen is also a professional genealogist.  I wish I had this kind of luck with the lottery!

As we corresponded, Karen sent me something I had not seen before.  Another newspaper article that escaped my research, indicating that “relatives” of the Kuhlman family were ready to adopt the surviving Kuhlman children:

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This information focused a whole new light onto the story.  How was the Kuhlman family related to our Keim and Earp families?

I told Karen I would do some more digging…

Another piece of the puzzle fell into our laps:

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So this little gold nugget told us that Aaron Keim was a half-brother of George Kuhlman.  That would also make George a half-brother to my great-grandmother Edna Earp, and to Karen’s great-grandmother Annie Hartman.

I next found the newspaper article of Irene Earp’s death in 1941.  Although it says Renee, which was her name given in the censuses, this is definitely Irene.

The article clearly states the names and the towns for the rest of the Kuhlman children that had been adopted.  Both Karen and I had wondered what had happened to Woodrow Kuhlman, as he was adopted by Walter and Annie Hartman, but he couldn’t be found in the 1930 census with them.  It turns out that the Hartmans must have put him back up for adoption, as his adopted last name became Lightner (Note – although this article mentions that the siblings of Irene are half-brothers and half-sisters, I found no indication that any of the children’s father and mother were anyone else other than George Kuhlman and Fannie Sweitzer):

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From this, we were able to track down the remaining children of the Kuhlman family, but one question remained…

How was George Kuhlman and Aaron Keim half-brothers?

Karen found the last piece of the puzzle that finally explained everything.

George Kuhlman’s Death Certificate states that Michael Kuhlman was George’s father, and Elizabeth Hummer was George’s mother.

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Mary Elizabeth Hummer married John Keim after the birth of George.  So John and Elizabeth Keim were mine and Karen’s great-great-grandparents. George lived with Elizabeth’s parents.

Michael Kuhlman moved to Chicago after the birth of George.

After this new discovery, I contacted my mother and asked her point blank, “Did you know that Irene Earp, was not only your mother’s adopted sister, but was also her half-cousin”?  She said no.  I also asked her if she believed that grandmother knew this. She said no.  I shared the same information with two of my aunts. One said she didn’t know it, the other aunt I haven’t heard back from yet, but I’m sure I will.

My correspondence with Karen allowed me to finally put all the pieces together.  It now made sense that our related families stepped in on behalf of the orphaned Kuhlman children and wanted to give them a stable family environment to grow up in.  I do know that only some of the children knew that George Kuhlman and Fannie Sweitzer were their parents, based on records I found.

So, what can you learn from this?

  • If you think you have the complete story of your ancestors, it may turn out that you don’t
  • When you make connections with people from message boards or ancestral trees, there’s a good chance that you are related. Start asking questions of how the person you have contacted is related to your ancestral family.  They may be able to fill in some of the gaps you have or visa-versa
  • Go back over everything you have discovered about your ancestor(s), and start asking yourself, “Is this all there is”? and “Have I done enough”?
  • Check every single detail of the records you have, because sometimes even the smallest amount of information you may have overlooked can sometimes lead to bigger and better things
  • If you are fortunate enough to still have your grandparents around, or even great-grandparents, they can be a great source of information. If there are gaps in your family history, attempt to set up impromptu “sit down” interviews with them.  It’s best not to overwhelm them with too many questions at one time.  Sometimes grandparents can be resistant to answering too many questions, or questions regarding events that happened that they may be ashamed of or unwilling to answer.  Be prepared to ask the hard questions, and don’t be disappointed if you don’t get the answers right away.  Give them time to think it over.  You may be surprised when they reconsider, and then want to give you the information you are looking for.  Even the smallest morsel of information can turn the tide in your research
  • Revisit Ancestry Family Trees to see if any new trees of your ancestors have been added or if existing ones have been modified, but as a reminder, only use these trees as a beginning point. Do the research and verify everything that you can when you find something new or different.  WikiTree is another site that may provide more to your ancestor’s story

Remember, there is a truth to history and historical events surrounding our ancestors. We may know only part of that truth as we are telling our ancestor’s story, because we only have a portion of the records and documentation behind the history of our ancestors.  No matter what type of events that have happened in our ancestor’s lives, and no matter how big or small, shameful or unlawful, nor how much we want to turn a blind eye to certain events, we must take on the responsibility to tell the truth as family researchers, so we can pass down to the next generations of descendants the real story of our ancestral families.  Thus, making their story come to life.

Our ancestor’s story may never be completely written, but there’s nothing stopping us from adding new chapters.

Images from Ancestry© and Newspapers©

Special thanks to Karen Biebel-Sutera, my newly discovered cousin, for her input and dedication for helping me tell this story.

Brian S. Miller

 

 

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