Herman Gerken (1819-1875)
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|Herman Gerken (1819-1875) and his wife M. Catherine (Schulte) Gerken (1822-1869), my great-great-grandparents, were our earliest Gerken immigrants to the United States. In 1851 they came to America from the village of Hegensdorf in Germany. Their firstborn was born in Germany; their other children were all born at New Vienna, Iowa, where they first settled. The family later moved to a farm east of Dyersville, Iowa. Their children were Mary (Gerken) Kerkhoff, Margaret (Gerken) Kunkel, William Gerken, Henry Gerken (my great-grandfather), Caroline (Gerken) Steger, Herman Gerken, Sophia (Gerken) Kunkel, and Louis Gerken. T.L.|
The long trip across the Atlantic Ocean was harrowing in one respect for the Gerkens, for their two-year-old daughter Mary escaped drowning when someone caught her by the dress as she was falling overboard.
From New York this family from Prussia, one of the European German states, made their way west to New Vienna, Iowa, only five years after Iowa had entered the Union.
Birth of Herman Gerken in Germany.
Herman Gerken was born on May 11, 1819, to Johannes Heinrich and Maria Catharina (Stratmann) Gerken, at Hegensdorf, Westphalia, Prussia. Herman's full name at birth was Johann Heinrich Hermann Gerken, as recorded by the Catholic church at Hegensdorf, Germany. Herman Gerken was the youngest of seven children, the others being Anna Maria, Johannes Adamus, Anna Maria Gertrud Elisabeth, Jodocus Wilhelmus, Maria Agnes Gertrudis, and Joanne Hermann; Johannes Adam and Joan Hermann both died as young children.
Note that children were often given three or four names (with Johann[es] for boys and Maria for girls often given as the first name) but were known familiarly by the second or third given name, especially if there were some other immediate or extended family members already known by the first or second given name. Thus Johann Heinrich Hermann Gerken was called Hermann, and he was ever known as Herman Gerken in the United States.
Herman Gerken's parents.
Herman's father, Johann Heinrich Gerken, was born on October 4, 1773, to Adam and Gertrud (Cramer) Gerken. Herman's mother, Maria Catharina Gerken née Stratmann, was born on December 25, 1779. They lived at Hegensdorf in Prussia [now Hegensdorf, Nordrheim-Westfalen, Deutschland (Germany)], in a dwelling called Haus Schnieders.
In the oral tradition of the Gerken family, Herman's father, Heinrich Gerken, rendered military service under Napoleon Bonaparte. This ancestor was a member of Napoleon's personal bodyguard during that fateful expedition into Russia where a severe winter ruined the army and began the decline of Napoleon's star. That a Prussian would be serving in Napoleon's army should not be surprising, a good half of the 500,000 member force on Napoleon's March to Moscow were foreigners, many shanghaied into service. Indeed, Napoleon had secured his flanks by forcing an alliance on Prussia and Austria as his conflicts with the czar were escalating. On June 24, 1812, Napoleon sent his vast force across the Nieman River border into Russia. Napoleon brought into the expedition contingents from nearly every satellite country in Europe, in part to impress the world; unfortunately many of these foreigners were simply hostages from the various people under the Napoleonic yoke. In addition, many of Napoleon's finest French troops were serving in Spain during this same period. Out of the half million force that entered Russia, bands barely adding up to a few thousand eventually returned.
In whatever manner this ancestor Gerken came to be in Napoleon's service, this soldier Gerken did return safely from the Russian expedition, married a French lady and returned to civilian life. Years after his death when his home was torn down workers found a box of personal effects and records that had been cached among the brick and stone of the chimney. In this box were found a document declaring Mr. Gerken's honorable discharge from Napoleon's army, and a soldier's chevron or decoration bearing the emblem of a bee. This oral tradition, which was passed down through at least two separate branches of the Gerken family in America, is believed to have originated with F. X. Gerken, a nephew of Herman Gerken who himself emigrated to the United States, and the story was recorded in Dyersville: Its History and Its People. The historical facts concerning Napoleon detailed above are taken from Manfred Weidhorn's Napoleon (New York: Atheneum, 1986).
Oral traditions generally have some basis in fact, but one can find reasons to doubt some of the preceding. The wonderment that a Prussian would be serving in a French army has already been dealt with above. That a Prussian would be in the personal bodyguard of Napoleon could be questioned, although Napoleon might have desired to have more than just French troops in his own guard. The fact that he survived the expedition indicates he must have been with Napoleon to the end. Church records from Hegensdorf, however, do cast doubts about the oral tradition. First, Heinrich Gerken would have been 39 years old by the time of the Russian expedition, and he was already married with four children, born in 1803, 1805, 1807, and 1810. A fifth child would have been conceived in July of 1812, a month after Napoleon's expedition began. Certainly he did not marry a French woman after the expedition. Was his wife French at all? Her name Maria Catharina Stra[d]mann seems German, although Germanic names are certainly not uncommon along the border between France and Germany. We may never learn the authenticity, if any, of this oral tradition. One record uncovered by a Hegensdorf historian, Heinz Lummer, does tell, however, of a Gerken taking a health examination for Napoleon's army.
Heinrich Gerken was a Tagelöhner, which literally translates into "day-labourer."
Deaths of Herman Gerken's parents.
According to church records, Heinrich Gerken died on October 24, 1823, at the age of 50 years, 9 months, and 14 days. He was buried October 27. A fall from a beech tree at eight o'clock in the morning while gathering the fruit of the tree for its oil--used for food preparation--led to Heinrich Gerken's sudden death. Herman Gerken was only four years old when his father died, and he was fourteen years of age when his mother Catharina Gerken died on February 23, 1834. She was buried on February 26. She died of Brustbeschwerden, which literally translates as breast or chest (lung) troubles. Church records give her age as 52 years at the time of her death.
The family dwelling was passed on to Heinrich and Catharina's daughter Anna and her husband Michael Ostwald, who themselves later emigrated to the United States.
Herman Gerken's trade.
Herman Gerken was a carpenter and a cabinet-maker by trade. This trade was said to be hereditary in the Gerken family.
Marriage of Herman Gerken and M. Catharina Schulte.
Herman Gerken married Maria Catharina Theresia Schulte on February 1, 1849, at Hegensdorf, Westphalia, Prussia. She was born on April 30, 1822, in Hegensdorf to Johann Wilhelm and Maria Christina (Schulte) Pape Schulte. (Maria Christina Schulte's son by her first marriage, Joannes Wilhelmus "Wilhelm" Pape, emigrated to America in 1850, settling first at St. Louis and then at New Vienna, Iowa.)
Concerning Maria Catharina Theresia (Schulte) Gerken's name.
Which given name did Maria Catherina Theresia (Schulte) Gerken go by? The ship's manifest listed her name as "Cath."; her gravestone has the first two given names; some records list only Mary for her name, but that may simply because of the fact Mary was her first given name; it seems likely she was familiarly called Catharina or Catherine, an 1856 Iowa State census identifies her as Catharine, and a recently published history of New Vienna, Iowa, refers to her as Catherine, as well as an online birth record for her son Herman.
First child born.
Their first child, Mary Gerken, was born on May 19, 1849, at Hegensdorf in Prussia.
Some reasons for emigrating.
Two years later, in 1851, the Herman Gerken family left Germany for America. Probable reasons for the departure from Germany include the uncertainty of future prospects resulting from continuing political upheavals in Prussia and throughout Europe. The conditions in Europe, combined with the allure of America, resulting from reports sent back by those Germans already in America, brought the Gerken family, along with many other German-Catholics, directly to the New Vienna, Iowa, area.
Herman Gerken was subsequently following in the footsteps of previous emigrants from Germany to the New Vienna area. Herman Gerken is the earliest known Gerken to have emigrated from Germany. Herman Gerken’s wife, Mary Catherine (Schulte) Gerken, may have had relatives who preceded them here; records of others with the Schulte surname in the New Vienna area do exist prior to the Gerkens arrival in 1851; at any rate, there was a trail blazed by other German Catholics to the New Vienna area, a trail that ultimately brought the Gerken family to eastern Iowa.
The Atlas of Dubuque County, Iowa, 1906, published by the Iowa Pub. Co. of Davenport, Iowa, tells about these early Catholic emigrants from Germany and how New Vienna became their destination. The Atlas contains an essay titled "St. Boniface Congregation: New Vienna, Iowa" on pages 153-154, written by the Reverend F. W. Pape, pastor at the church. The essay recounts the history of the parish, which is synonymous with the early history of New Vienna itself. A nephew of the Gerkens, Father Pape was a son of Wilhelm Pape, M. Catherine (Schulte) Gerken's half-brother. Excerpts from the essay follow:
ST. BONIFACE CONGREGATION,
NEW VIENNA, IOWA.
CONTRIBUTED BY REV. F. W. PAPE, PASTOR OF ST. BONIFACE, NEW VIENNA, IOWA.
New Vienna is located in the northwest corner of Dubuque County, within half a mile of the Delaware County line, in a beautiful valley, on the north branch of the Maquoketa River, twenty-six miles due west of Dubuque, sixteen miles southeast--nearest air-line point--from the Mississippi, just on the outskirts of the once beautiful woodland bordering that great river.
It may be said that New Vienna and St. Boniface congregation really are identical; both were founded by and represent the same people, the same American citizens, the same Catholic Christians.
The soil of New Vienna Township is considered the most fertile in the great agricultural state of Iowa. The county offered great inducements, especially to early settlers who were attracted by above conditions favorable to agricultural pursuits as well as by its many streams, by an abundance of building material, essential prerequisites to people of newly-settled countries.
The name New Vienna was given the town by the Rt. Rev. Mathias Loras, first Bishop of Dubuque, in honor and gratitude to Leopold, Emperor of Austria, for his magnamimous gifts and his support of the American Catholic missions.
The first settlers were natives of Oldenburg, Hanover and Westphalia, Germany. The first five pioneers came to the United States in the year 1833 and settled on small farms near Muenster, Ohio. There they remained for ten years, building homes, accumulating some means as they worked with great care and diligence their small farms. But there was no room for new settlements, no government land for themselves and their relatives and friends in Germany who were soon to join them in this country, the "promised land," America. In the year 1843 five energetic brave men, together with their resolute wives and families, resolved to sell their farms in Ohio and move on westward to the territory Iowa. Their object was to take up government land in some location affording opportunity for a large German-Catholic settlement.
This band of genuine spirited German-American farmers set out with a well-defined purpose and, no doubt, were guided by Divine Providence.
In October 1843, the first log houses were built.
After the five pioneer families had fairly come to rest, having built homes and made other necessary improvements, they hastened to communicate to relatives and friends elsewhere concerning the good things they had found in the new world, and before long many accepted the invitation to come and join the colonists. In the year 1846, when the venerable Bishop Loras visited New Vienna for the first time, he was pleased with the progress made, the number of colonists having increased to seventeen families, and he was accustomed to address them as 'My beloved seventeen."
From this date forward a large number of settlers came from Europe, especially from Oldenburg, Hanover and Westphalia, Bavaria, as also from the eastern states of the Union, seeking better and more land, but especially to find better church and school facilities. As the newcomers arrived they selected and entered land, often small pieces, many only forty acres, not having the means to pay for more even at the government price of $1.25 per acre.
Five miles south of New Vienna the vacant land was rapidly taken by some hundred British colonists, mostly direct from England. They located and organized what is now the thriving town of Dyersville, surveyed and platted in 1854. [Dyersville and other settlements on all sides of New Vienna] have, within the last quarter century, come into the possession and control of German-American Catholics--in other words, into the possession of the five pioneer families and their kin and kind. The change was effected by the most friendly dealings. In those days people knew nothing of strife and wranglings.
When in time the number of members of St. Boniface Church had grown to such an extent that they could not be accommodated, the people urged that other churches be built. Thus the first offspring of St. Boniface was St. Francis, at Dyersville, five miles south of New Vienna. It now outnumbers St. Boniface by 200 families.
The first church [at New Vienna] was built in the year 1848 on a large lot near the primitive graveyard. It was dedicated to St. Boniface, the great apostle of the Germans.
from the Atlas of Dubuque County, Iowa, 1906
The Herman Gerken family at New Vienna.
Into those circumstances, as put forth by Father Pape above, did Herman Gerken, his wife Catherine, and their firstborn child Mary arrive at New Vienna, Iowa, in 1851.
First Gerken born on American soil.
Shortly after their arrival, later that same year, their second child, Margaret, was born on Christmas Eve. Margaret Gerken thus was the first Gerken to be born in the United States.
During the first few years Herman Gerken went to Dubuque with a bag of tools on his back and worked at carpentering there between field work seasons, leaving his wife and children to take care of their log cabin, little stock and small fields. They had bought the land from the government for a dollar and a quarter an acre. The Gerkens were during those first years molested on various occasions by herds of deer which swooped down upon their fields of wheat. Early settlers also encountered wolves and black bears and prairie chickens, which were reportedly as abundant as sparrows are today. Mrs. Gerken also experienced visits from groups of Indians who would make themselves at home in her cabin and take any and all the food she had. She avoided trouble with them by showing no resistance to their plundering. On one occasion, however, when they left and took with them the smoked ham, the last food store she possessed, she besought them in sign language for some food for her children and herself. The Indians then softened and left some of the meat. Most encounters of Indians by the early settlers were friendly.
Like other German-American Catholics, they attended Mass at St. Boniface Church at New Vienna. The first church building there was a little log church measuring 24 by 30 feet, with walls 10 feet high, and topped by a neat cross. The growing congregation necessitated the building of a larger church, and a new church was dedicated in 1855. This church was built in good plain church style, of solid stone taken from the nearby quarries, measuring 64 by 100 feet, with walls 22 feet high, with arched windows and ceilings, and surmounted by a belfry. The seven children born to Herman and Mary Catherine Gerken in the United States were baptized in these early church buildings. The present-day St. Boniface Church would not be built until 1887.
Herman and M. Catherine (Schulte) Gerken had eight children in all; Mary, the eldest, was born in Prussia, and the last seven all were born near New Vienna, Iowa:
Herman Gerken's early property holdings at New Vienna.
Land records indicate that in 1856 Herman Gerken bought Lot 73 (located along the north side of Main Street at the North Fork of the Maquoketa River) in New Vienna for $40, which he sold in 1863 for $50. Meanwhile, in 1861, he had purchased 80 acres of farmland two miles southeast of New Vienna (the West half of the South West quarter of Section 16 of New Wine Township). This land had been homesteaded and purchased at a nominal price, $1.25 an acre, from the State of Iowa. The 1860 U.S. Census valued Herman Gerken's land holdings at $2000, and the Gerkens' personal property was valued at $475.
Herman Gerken's sister arrives from Germany.
Herman Gerken's sister, Anna Maria "Mary," her husband Michael Ostwald, and four of their children came to America in 1856, and Herman met them at Dubuque with a lumber wagon drawn by a team of oxen. A trip to Dubuque from New Vienna at that time took at least three days. They stayed with the Gerken family upon arriving at New Vienna. The 1856 Iowa State census indicates that Michael Ostwald, his wife Mary, and two of their children, Tracy (Theresia) and Herman, were residing with the Gerken family, consisting then of Herman, his wife Catharine, and their first four children, Mary, Margaret, William, and Henry.
Herman Gerken becomes U.S. citizen.
The 1856 Iowa census has Herman Gerken listed as an alien, but he was to become citizen that same year--he was naturalized a citizen of the United States on November 3, 1856. The census also has a box checked indicating he was a member of the militia. The 1856 census listed the Gerken household as consisting of Herman, age 35; Catharine, age 25; Mary, age 7; Marg., age 4; Wm., age 2; and Henry, age 9 months.
The 1860 U. S. Census includes one H. Scholte living with the Gerken family. He was listed as a farm laborer, 54 years old, and born in Prussia. The name suggests this man might have been a relation of Mrs. Herman Gerken, née Schulte.
New Vienna Mutual Insurance Association.
The New Vienna Mutual Insurance Association, which is the oldest such association in the State of Iowa, was founded in 1863, and Herman Gerken was one of the original directors. The association had its inception on April 14, 1863, the wedding day of Bernard Henry Forkenbrock and Anna Fangmann. The merry-making on this day was suddenly interrupted by a sudden cry of "Fire." The wedding guests rushed toward the cloud of smoke at the Conrad Pape farm in an attempt to wage a useless battle against the fiercest enemy of the pioneer, fire. One of the wedding guests took his hat, went among the crowd that was gathered at the scene and took up a collection for the strickened farmer and his family. At this time the settlers realized they must have some protection against fire, and the Reverend J. Orth called a meeting on May 25, 1863, to form the insurance society. In addition to Herman Gerken, other directors elected were John Klostermann, Henry Tauke, Joseph Schemmel, and Henry Vaske; G. Menke was elected president.
Sadly, the Gerkens' sixth child, Herman, died at the age of seven on June 5, 1866.
The Herman Gerken family moves to farm east of Dyersville.
Herman Gerken, like other German-American Catholics who were expanding their sphere of influence in the area, sold that first farm in 1867 for $3300 after buying 200 acres of farmland about three miles east of Dyersville, Iowa (the West half of the South East quarter of Section 27 and the West half of the North East quarter of Section 34 of New Wine Township, with the homestead located in Section 34). The new farm cost $4500.
|This 1999 photograph pictures the former Gerken homestead, which was located east of Dyersville, Iowa. The house and a barn in back (not pictured) date from the time of the Gerkens. Photograph by T. Larson.|
Detail from 1874 plat showing Herman Gerken's 200 acres of land situated in Sections 27 and 34 of New Wine Township in Dubuque County, Iowa.|
View the entire 1874 New Wine Township plat (offsite link)
The Gerken family from this point forward attended Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church (the early church building; today's magnificent basilica was not built until 1888-89) in Dyersville, which was the first German Catholic Church to spring up as a result of the growing population of the St. Boniface congregation.
Maria Catharina Theresia (Schulte) Gerken dies.
M. Catherine (Schulte) Gerken died at the homestead on February 17, 1869, and was buried in St. Francis Xavier cemetery at Dyersville, Iowa. At the time of her death, Mrs. Gerken's seven surviving children ranged in age from 6 to 19.
Herman Gerken's nephew arrives from Germany.
Conrad Herman "Herman" Gerken, a nephew of Herman Gerken, came to America sometime during the 1860s, and he lived with the Herman Gerken family for a time, as the 1870 U.S. Census indicates. He was listed as a carpenter. In addition to Herman Gerken's nephew, the 1870 census has the Gerken household consisting of Herman Gerken, his children Mary, age 20, keeps house; Margaret, age 18, at home; William, age 16, works on farm; Henry, age 14; Caroline, age 12; Sophie, age 10; and Louis, age 8, with the latter five children having attended school within the year. Also part of the Gerken household was Christina Finger, age 23, stated as being at home; one presumes Christina was taken in to help out with the household after the death of Herman Gerken's wife.
The 1870 U.S. Census valued the Gerken homestead at $6000, and personal property was valued at $2000.
Herman Gerken and his Combined CHAMPION.
An advertisement appearing in the Thursday, July 23, 1874, Dyersville Commercial lists H. Gerken as one of the "parties who have used the machine from one to three years." The machine is "The Combined / CHAMPION / Self-Raking / Reaper & Mower / Does the Best work, is the Most Durable, and requires the Least Repairs of any combined machine."
Herman Gerken dies.
Herman Gerken died at the homestead east of Dyersville, Iowa, on July 13, 1875, and he was buried in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery, Dyersville. He lies in rest there a few rows from the spot where his wife was buried.
At the time of Herman Gerken's death in July 1875, his daughter Mary was 26 years old and had been married to Herman Kerkhoff for over two years. His daughter Margaret was 23 years old and had married Frank Kunkel just a month earlier. Daughters Caroline and Sophia were 18 and 13 years old, respectively. His sons William, Henry, and Louis were 21, 19, and 12, respectively.
Herman Gerken's last will and testament, written in 1874, a year before his death, follows:
The Last Will and Testament of Herman Gerken
In the name of God, Amen.
I, Herman Gerken, of New Wine Township, Dubuque County, and the State of Iowa, of the age fifty-four years, and being of sound mind, do make publish and declare this is my last Will and Testament, in manner following to wit.
First, I give and bequeath to my oldest daughter, Mary, the South half of the Southeast quarter of Section 20, Township 89 North of Range 3 west of the principal meridian in Delaware County, which I value at three thousand dollars, one thousand dollars of which I give and bequeath to her as her inheritance and the other two thousand dollars to be paid to the other heirs of the Estate.
Second, I devise to my daughter Margareth the sum of one thousand dollars, one midling good cow, one heifer two years old, our table, six chairs, our Bedstead and Bureau. Five hundred dollars of the above named sum of money to be paid to her by my son William at the time she gets married and the other five hundred dollars to be paid one year thereafter, also is the furniture to be delivered to her at the time of her marriage.
Third, I give and devise to my son William, the West half of the North East quarter of Section 34, the West half of the Southeast quarter of Section 27, the Southwest of the Northeast quarter of Section 27, all in New Wine Township, also the West half of the East half of the Southeast quarter of the Southwest quarter of Section 11 in Iowa Township containing two hundred and ten acres, which land I value at six thousand five hundred dollars of which sum he shall pay to my daughter Margareth, last aforementioned the one thousand dollars as named before, to my son Henry one thousand dollars, to my daughter Caroline one thousand dollars, one thousand dollars to my daughter Sophia, and one thousand five hundred dollars to my son Aloysius. And I also give to my son Aloysius, the Southwest quarter of the Northwest quarter of Section 12 in Colony Township, Delaware County, Iowa.
And lastly, I bequeath to my son Henry, one thousand dollars as named above and one complete set of Carpenters tools, To Caroline one thousand dollars as named above, To Sophia one thousand dollars as named above, and to my son Aloysius the sum of one thousand five hundred dollars together with the forty acres of land as referred above, and after my death the personal property that I may be possessed of at the time of my death is to be sold and of the proceeds, two thirds thereof shall go to my son William and the other third to be divided equally between my daughters Mary, Margareth, Caroline and Sophia, and my sons Henry and Aloysius. The above named sums of money shall be paid to my above named children as they become of age in sums of five hundred dollars a year, but he shall not be compelled to pay more than the sum of five hundred dollars a year in any one year. And only in the case of my son Aloysius should he wish to learn a trade, the sum of five hundred dollars shall be paid to him by William before his maturity.
And Lastly, I hereby appoint John Christoph and Ferdinand Mais sole Executors of this my last will. In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of January in the Year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-four. Herman Gerken
Witnessed by John Christoph
all of Dyersville, Dubuque County, Iowa.
|The headstones marking the graves of Herman and Mary Catherine (Schulte) Gerken at the St. Francis Xavier cemetery in Dyersville, Iowa. Photographs by T. Larson, 1999.|
11 May 1819
13 July 1875
Maria Cath. Gerken née Schulte|
30 April 1822
17 February 1869
Sources include Dyersville: Its History and Its People (Halbach, Rev. Arthur A., Milwaukee, Wisc.: St. Joseph Press, 1939); Unity in Community: St. Boniface Parish - New Vienna (eds. Bockenstedt, Laverne "Toby" and Bob Mescher, n.d., circa 1995); the Dyersville Commercial (weekly newspaper of Dyersville, Iowa); records from Hegensdorf, Germany; records from the Dubuque County Courthouse, Dubuque, Iowa, and St. Boniface Church, New Vienna, Iowa; St. Francis Xavier Cemetery, Dyersville, Iowa; 1860 and 1870 U.S. Census and 1856 Iowa State census information; and the Atlas of Dubuque County, Iowa, 1906 (The Iowa Pub. Co., Davenport, Iowa). T.L.
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