Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wednesday’s Child - The Story of Myka

In August of 1994, I was visiting family in Michigan and again went the Grand Rapids Public Library to do more research. This time, I checked the 1884 State Census of Michigan for any references to the Kiel family. I knew the family was in Grand Rapids then and could just have easily decided not to look at that record since I thought I knew everything about the family. Luckily for me I followed the rule of leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of genealogy.

Sure enough, on page 331 I found Henry Kiel and his wife Margeritte listed at 233 Lagrave Street. The next family was Henry’s brother, Herodas and his wife Gertie. This I knew was my ancestor. He is listed in various records as Gerrit, Gerhardus, Herodus, etc.  Continuing on the next page was my great-grandmother Hendrika at age 1. This information I was aware of, but the next listing was entirely new to me: another daughter Myke was listed age 7 months. Myke is a spelling variation of Meike or Maike and is a Dutch, Frisian and German derivative of the English name Mary. Though I refer to her as Myka in this narrative, it is actually pronounced M-AYK. The family followed traditional naming patterns and gave this second-born daughter the name of her maternal grandmother. 

The census record indicated that this child was born in October of that census year. This was the first I learned about a sister of my great-grandmother. I assumed this child must have died young, since my grandmother had never mentioned her and probably didn’t even know about her. Herm Kiel was also listed, age 76, as Herodas' widowed father.

On a previous research trip, I had looked up the death records in the Kent County clerk's office for any references to persons named Kiel. Funny, I thought, that I didn't see Myke listed before. I again checked the index to those records housed at the library. No listing. I tried a spelling variation, K-E-I-L. There she was, Micka Keil. I drove over to the county building and checked at the clerk's office. On November 11, 1884 Micka Keil (mistakenly listed as a male) died at age 1 year, 14 days of "teething." Her parents were Gerhardus and Geertje Keil. I was happy to add some new information to the family history. She turned out to be a very important key to finding even more about the whole family.

The next thing I did while still at the library was check the cemetery index for the Kiels. Harm and his wife Henderika Ziegers Kiel were listed as was their son Henderik and his wife Margaretha Kiel. The index listed their burial place as Valley City Cemetery. I asked the librarian for directions to this cemetery. She noted that it was renamed Oak Hill-South and gave me directions. It was too late in the day to visit the cemetery then. I didn't have very much time left on this trip, so I decided to wait until the day I had to go back to the city to catch my plane for the flight home.

I left early that day and went to the main office at Woodlawn Cemetery to check the index books for the exact place they were buried. Looking up Harm Kiel in this index, his burial card was listed as 14 C. When I looked at that burial card, I discovered it wasn't the right one. It didn't even have Kiels listed. I looked up Henderika Kiel in the index, but the space for the burial card number was blank.

How was I going to find where they were buried? It’s a pretty large cemetery and could be an almost impossible task to find where a person is buried just by walking the cemetery. I didn't have that much time, either. Fortunately, I knew about Myka and checked the index book for her. Lucky for me, even though the name was mistakenly written originally as Meike Riel, it was indexed properly in the section of "K"s. This index indicated that she was buried in lot 57C. The index also stated that Meike was aged 1 year, 6 months, and 14 days and died of scrofula. Antiquus Morbus, "The Genealogist's Resource for Interpreting Causes of Death." states that scrofula was a "form of tuberculosis affecting the lymph nodes, especially of the neck, that is most common in children and is usually spread by unpasteurized milk from infected cows."

The burial card for lot 57C did indeed have Kiels listed including Myka's father Gerrit, her grandparents Harm & Henderika and her uncle and aunt, Hendrik & Margaret. Knowing about Myka, I was able to pinpoint the burial location. Interestingly enough, Myka was not listed on the card at all.

Armed with a map of the cemetery, I set out for lot 57C and found it. There is a stone in place for Harm & Henderika and a stone for Hendrik & Margaret. There was no sign of a stone for either Gerrit or Myka.

There were so many opportunities to have missed the short life of little Myka. I could have easily decided not to look at the state census. I could have walked the cemetery without checking the records and might have discovered her grandparents and uncle without knowing that she’s probably buried there, too, in an unmarked grave. And it was all because of her that I found the tombstones so easily in the first place.

Was I just lucky or was there a wisp of a ghost, ethereal and almost too elusive to pinpoint, leading me to our family?

Tombstone of Harm & Henderika Ziegers Kiel

1 comment:

  1. Nice story! I wonder if you might get lucky and find a death notice in the paper for Myka that might help determine whether teething or scrofula is more likely to be the cause of death. I would probably lean toward "teething" because that record probably came before the cemetery record, but since there were no death certificates required then the cause of death for anyone should probably be considered akin to heresay.
    I too sometimes feel like our ancestors are whispering to us. It's nice to imagine them cheering us on and nudging us toward more records.