Sunday, October 1, 2017

Tracking Elderly Ancestors

Sometimes it may seem that the retirement years of a person's life are unimportant - genealogically speaking.  But tracking elderly ancestors can tell you a lot about family dynamics.  And sometimes the only way to find an ancestor in old age in the census is to look for his children since he might have been living with them.

Here's an example of my great-great-grandmother, Katharina Bergmann #7126 (1834-1916).  In 1894, her second husband Martin Barkman died.  She continued to own an eighty-acre farm near Jansen, Nebr., that she had bought in 1879, shortly after her first husband died.  But I suppose that her son-in-law, Klaas R. Friesen, farmed her land because he had purchased the neighboring eighty acres in 1892 in the inheritance settlement of her first husband.  Klaas was married to her second daughter, Aganetha Barkman (1858-1931).

Here is a snippet from a plat map.  The land in green to the south is the tract that Klaas R. Friesen had bought from the other heirs in 1892, while the land in blue to the north is the tract that Katharina had purchased herself in 1879 just after her first husband died.

Plat Book of Jefferson County, Nebraska (Northwest Publishing Co., 1900) 7.  Accessed at Fairbury Public Library, Fairbury, Nebraska.
Then in 1899, at age 64, Katharina sold her northern eighty acres to the same son-in-law, Klaas R. Friesen for $2000, which made sense because he owned the adjoining piece of land.  Klaas gave his mother-in-law a mortgage for $1000, so he must not have been able to pay the entire amount at once.  Here is a snippet from the deed:
Warranty Deed, Katharina Bergmann to Klaas R. Friesen, 27 March 1899, Jefferson County, Nebraska, Deed Book 25:165, Register of Deeds, County Courthouse, Fairbury.
A year later at age 65 in the 1900 census we find her living with her oldest daughter, Heinrich and Katharina Reimer, a couple miles away in Rock Creek Precinct just south of Jansen.
Henry Reimer household, 1900 US Census, Nebraska, Jefferson County, Rock Creek Precinct, SD 4, ED 92, p. 15, family 301, lines 31-41.  Accessed at on 7 November 2012.
The census even gives her relationship as mother-in-law and her birth month of December 1834 - very helpful information in identifying her and confirming her birth date.

In the 1910 census at age 75, she was back in Cub Creek Precinct living with the Klaas R. Friesens, her second daughter's family.  At least two of her daughters and their families, Heinrich and Katharina Reimer and Jacob and Anna Reimer, had moved to Meade, Kans., in 1908; so she moved back to her second daughter then.  It was even a three-generation household, as her newly-wed granddaughter and husband, Henry and Aganetha Kroeker, were also living at home.
Klaas R. Friesen household, 1910 US Census, Nebraska, Jefferson County, Cub Creek Precinct, SD 4, ED 90, p. 11, family 117, lines 37-45.  Accessed at on 7 November 2012.
Then at age 80 in 1915, she was recorded living with her third daughter's family, Jacob and Anna Reimer near Meade, Kans.  I wonder if she moved from Nebraska to Kansas because her son-in-law Klaas Friesen was getting sickly - he died in 1922 at age 65.  But this is only speculation.  Here is a snippet from the Kansas state census:
Jacob Reimer family, Kansas state census 1915, Meade County, Logan Township, p. 9, lines 10-21.  Accessed at on 26 June 2016.
My grandmother has told my mother that both of her grandmothers lived in her parents' house at the same time and that sometimes they would argue so severely that her father, Heinrich Reimer, had to come in from the field to settle matters.  I haven't found them living together in any census record, but this story sounds true.

Finally my grandmother Margaretha H. Reimer #321744 (1895-1993) recorded in her family register that her grandmother Katharina Bergman died on 25 November 1916 at age 81 at Jacob Reimer's, the same place she was staying in the 1915 census.
Freundschaft Register Buch (Relatives Register Book), Family records of Margaretha H. (Reimer) Siemens, book begun in 1923, covers years 1808 – about 1980, held by Anna (Siemens) Fast, Hillsboro, Kansas.
By tracing Katharina Bergmann through the documents in her retirement years, we can see that three of her daughters cared for her.  I don't think we can say that she wasn't close to her other children - since the census records are only snapshots, perhaps they don't catch the times when she lived with them.  We also learn that she sold her land to a son-in-law and that he wasn't prosperous enough to pay the full amount at once.  It's important not to ignore the last couple decades of her life.

The key to tracing the last years of elderly ancestors is often to know the names of their sons-in-law.  Most often, they lived with their married daughters, so you need to know the names of their husbands.  If I hadn't known that her daughters married Klaas R. Friesen, Henry F. Reimer, and Jacob F. Reimer, I might not even have found some of the census or land records.  This is probably the most important reason to follow the children of your direct ancestors at least until the parents pass away.


  1. Has the practice of Altenteil / Ausgedinge (Lat. reservatum rusticum) ever been popular in the Mennonite community?

    1. Yes, it has been common in Russia and North America. I don't know about Poland/Prussia. Of course, today the custom is gone.