Saturday, May 26, 2018

Putting the Sad Facts Together

I have known little of my great-great-grandfather Klaas F. Reimer #3719 (1812-1874). He was born and died in Russia and not much seems to have come down about him in our families. But I have gleaned some facts about him.

1. He married his first wife Katharina Friesen in 1836, and they had thirteen children, including my great-grandfather Heinrich F. Reimer.

2. His first wife Katharina died in 1864, and he remarried to Maria Bartel (1843-1921) four months later. A quick remarriage was common at the time, especially since he had young children in the household. He was 52 years old, and she was 22, so there was a big age difference. Such an age difference was relatively rare, but he was wealthy, so it wasn't too unusual.

3. Klaas F. Reimer died in 1874, apparently as they were preparing to emigrate to America. The rest of the family postponed the trip and left in 1875 for Jansen, Nebraska.

4. In the 1880 census in Jansen, Nebraska, the widowed second wife Maria was living with her married step-daughter and unmarried stepson. But none of her four children, who ranged in age from 6 to 14 years old, were living with her. And in the census it was recorded that she could not read or write. You might think that she couldn't read or write English, but all the other Mennonites on that page were recorded as being able to read and write, so it must have been that she couldn't read or write at all.  When I found this census several years ago, I concluded that something was badly wrong, but I didn't know what.

5. My grandmother, Margaretha H. Reimer #321744 (1895-1993) told my mom that both her maternal grandmother Katharina Barkman and paternal step-grandmother Maria (Bartel) Reimer had lived with them when she was a child. She said that the two grandmothers would argue so fiercely that her father Heinrich F. Reimer had to come in from the field to settle things between them. I haven't found a census where both of them were living in the Heinrich Reimer household, but I don't doubt the story.

For a long time, this was all I knew. But then I found a couple more facts in the Abraham F. Reimer diary, who was the brother of my great-great-grandfather Klaas F. Reimer. They must have been quite close because the two of them visited each other frequently, even though Abraham lived in Borosenko colony in Russia and Klaas lived in Molotschna. But now I have found a couple more facts in Abraham's diary.

6.  Brother Klaas started living in Heubuden in Borosenko colony in October 1871, according to Abraham's diary. Abraham didn't explain why, and it puzzled me. Klaas was wealthy and only 59, so it seemed unlikely that he would have retired from farming so young. And if he had retired, surely he would have continued living with his family in Tiege, Molotschna, instead of moving to another colony without them.

7. Then in July 1872, Abraham recorded, "Brother Klaas Reimer from Heubuden was here for faspa. He was sad and complained about the ways of his wife. He denounced [absagt] the church."

8. Then I noticed in Grandma that there was a gap in children being born at this time. In the 6 years ending in November 1871, 5 children had been born. So they were having children frequently. But then a gap of nearly two years between children, until August 1873, during this very time, before the next child was born. In fact, he was already living separately by October 1871, and their fifth child was born in November 1871. While a gap of two years is quite normal in most families, it coincided with a time when they were living separately and not getting along.

What to conclude? My guess is that Maria Bartel, the second wife, was intellectually limited since she couldn't read or write or take care of her small children in 1880. And she seems to have been difficult to get along with, based on what my grandmother said, although perhaps one shouldn't read too much into the fact that two elderly grandmothers couldn't get along when living in the same household. And it clearly affected my great-great-grandfather Klaas F. Reimer so much that he moved away and lived separately for a while. Was he also responsible? Again, we don't know the details at this remove, but I think it's fair to say that both spouses are usually at least a little bit responsible when a marriage goes bad. And it's pretty awful that he had moved out of the family about a month before his child was born, regardless of how bad the circumstances were. But then it seems that they reconciled because they had one more child born to their marriage in August 1873.

It's a sad story, and we'll never know all the details. But we're all human and make mistakes and have difficult relationships at times. It helps me to understand my great-great-grandfather Klaas F. Reimer better. And it helps me understand the family that his son, my great-grandfather Heinrich F. Reimer, grew up in.

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