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Off to America

She was born 154 years ago yesterday. The year was 1859, the place the little village of Bad Köstritz in what is now the German State of Thüringen. Her father was Johann Christoph Gustav Graumüller, her mother Auguste Wilhelmina (Zimmermann) Graumüller.

BadKostritzOn the 26th of December, she was baptized at the Lutheran Church in Bad Köstritz and given the name Henrietta Louise.1

She was my great grand-aunt and, from the available records, the fourth of the seven children born to her parents, my second great grandparents, who had been married in that very same church in 1852.2 She had three older sisters, two younger brothers, and one younger sister.3

Like so many of my German relatives, I know so very little about Henrietta.

And there is something in particular I would so much like to know.

Henrietta was born, the church records say, very early in the morning on that December 13th: “Am dreizehnten December früh um 3 Uhr wurde dem hiesigem Einwohner und Steinmetz Johann Christoph Graumüller von seiner Ehefrau Auguste Wilhelmine geb. Zimmermann eine Tochter geboren, die am zweiten Weihnachtsfeiertage (d.26. ej.) getauft und Henriette Louise genannt wurde.” (On 13 December, at 3 a.m., a daughter was born to Johann Christoph Graumüller, resident and stonemason here, and his wife Auguste Wilhelmine nee Zimmermann; on the second day of the Christmas holiday (26 December) she was baptized and named Henrietta Louise.)4

That’s all there is. There are no other references. And, as a family, we have nothing more.

No family stories. No photographs with her name carefully written on them for us to see. No school reports carefully preserved. No letters. No notes.

I don’t know if Henrietta ever married. I don’t know when and where she died. It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to get the marriage and death information for her sister, my great grandmother, Emma Louise (Graumüller) Geissler. Records from that part of Germany haven’t been microfilmed, and my resources have been put primarily into researching my direct line.

So there are really only two more things I know for sure about Henrietta.

I know for sure that she was just 20 years old when, on Christmas Eve 1879, she gave birth to her own daughter, Martha Elisa. The child, called Elisabeth, was baptized on the 18th of January 1880; her godparents were her aunts Ida Graumüller Franke and Auguste Graumüller, both of Gera, and her uncle Ernst Graumüller of Bad Köstritz.5

And I know that — if she was still alive — Henrietta would have been just 47 when she bid goodbye to that daughter, who was headed for America, and a new life in Chicago.6

A new life free from the stain of one word carefully recorded by the pastor of that church in Bad Köstritz. The word written in the column where, for other children, the name of the father was written.

The word? “Unbekannt.” Unknown.

It’s pretty clear that the marriage prospects for an illegitimate girl in that part of Germany were poor. Elisabeth was still unmarried at the age of 27 when she came to America. It’s also pretty clear that the opposite was true in the booming German community of Chicago. Elisabeth had barely been in America three years when she married Hermann Marks in Chicago in 1910.7

And it’s also pretty clear that Elisabeth wasn’t exactly coming clean about her parentage in her new land. When she registered for Social Security in 1940, she listed her grandparents as her parents8 — probably to avoid having to admit that she didn’t know her father’s name.

So… I can’t help but wonder… here all these years later… what Henrietta was thinking in those days before her child was born.

Was she excited… or fearful?

Was she thinking of the child’s bright future… or her dim prospects?

And my mind wanders to that day some 27 years later when Elisabeth prepared to leave Germany, saying goodbye to all she knew for what could well have been the last time.

Was Henrietta still alive? What was she thinking then? Did she regret any of the choices she’d made? Was she happy for her child… or grieving over losing her… or both?

Oh, for that time machine…


Image: Bad Köstritz, Germany, via Google Earth.

  1. Kirchenbuch Bad Köstritz, Taufregister Seite 216 Nr. 83 aus 1859 (Church book of Bad Köstritz, Baptismal Register, Page 216 No. 83 of 1859), Henrietta Louise Graumüller (digital image of entry in the possession of JG Russell).
  2. Ibid., Trauregister, Seite 434 Nr. 11 aus 1852 (Marriage Register, Page 414 No. 11 of 1852), Johann Christoph Graumüller and Auguste Wilhemina Zimmermann.
  3. Ibid., Taufregister, Seite 57 Nr. 35 aus 1855 (Ida Emma Graumüller); Seite 110 Nr. 52 aus 1855 (Emma Louise Graumüller); Seite 162 Nr. 64 aus 1857 (Auguste Pauline Graumüller); Seite 313 Nr. 19 aus 1863 (Ernst Gustav Graumüller); Seite 414 Nr. 42 aus 1865 (Karl Emil Graumüller); Seite 10 Nr. 54 aus 1867 (Anna Emilie Graumüller).
  4. Ibid., Taufregister Seite 216 Nr. 83 aus 1859.
  5. Ibid., Taufregister Seite 16 Nr. 69 aus 1879 (Martha Elisa Graumüller).
  6. See Ship Manifest, SS Pretoria, August 1907, p. 160 (stamped), line 14, Elisabeth Graumiller, age 27; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : accessed 28 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 972.
  7. Cook County, Illinois, marriage license & return no. 544476, Marks-Graumuller, 3 Sep 1910; County Clerk’s Office, Chicago.
  8. Elizibeth Grawmiller Marks, SS no. (withheld), 6 Sep 1940, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore.
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