Monday, April 6, 2015

Military Monday: The Women's Committee of WWI

My maternal grandmother's maternal grandmother was Gertrude Bos Kiel. I imagine her to have been like my own maternal grandma, Theresa Katsma Timmer, whom I loved dearly, but I really knew little about Gertrude.

Me with my grandmother, Theresa Katsma Timmer. November 2006.

When I asked, my grandma told me this story of her grandma:

"My grandmother, her name was Gertrude, took care of us when mother worked at the mission.  She was in a wheelchair.  She could walk though, maybe she had what I have.  My mother cleaned at the Bradford Street Mission.  My Uncle John was superintendent.  My Uncle Heiny worked there, too.  Uncle John moved out to California, near Los Angeles.  He came back to Michigan and took my grandma Gertrude back to California with him.  She died out there."

Margaret Katsma DeWitt, Theresa's sister, later said that when her grandmother died in California, her mother could not go out there, so Uncle John sent a picture of her in the casket. 

I only have one photograph of her and it's not the one in the casket. Like the rest of my mother's heritage, Gertrude was of Dutch origins. She was born in the Netherlands and emigrated to the U.S. in about the year 1881 as inferred from records I have located on her, although I have been unable to locate her immigration record yet. She was the only Dutch ancestor for whom I was not readily able to find in the extensive vital records available from various Netherlands provinces. I did have her parents' names listed as John Bos and Margaret Dykstra from her second marriage to Peter Draai in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan in 1909. I did not have a complete birth date for her, though, which made finding a birth record from the Netherlands vital records more difficult. 

Answers finally came after focused research on her yielded a copy of her death certificate filed in the state of California. This record indicated that she was born 28 November 1852 in the Netherlands. I was then able to pinpoint a vital record for a child named Gertje Jans Bos born on that day to Jan Feikes Bos and Maaike Jurgens Dijkstra. From there I extended her pedigree back to at least her great-grandparents on both sides using those vital records.

But what does all this have to do with the military, you might ask. Well, I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been studying my Dutch immigrant women ancestors after hearing about a presentation on that topic by a local researcher, Janet Sheeres. Janet directed me to the website of the Grand Rapids Public Library which has a database of a card file of women who registered to do volunteer work in April of 1918 during WWI.

The digital collection is titled "Women's Defense Unit Cards" and the digitization is still in process. (While I found records on the Kiel surname, I did not find any references to Timmer or Katsma women relatives in the area at this time).

Gertrude's card says a lot about her. At age 66, Gertrude did not readily offer any service and the registrar's notes indicate that Gertrude spoke very little English and "feels that she can do nothing." She did not list any education and mainly listed household skills (along with two agricultural skills of farming and poultry raising). This is very typical of all Dutch immigrant women in the area during that time period. The registration of one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth Kiel, is also available.

You can read more about the cards and the Women's Committee of WWI at the Grand Rapids Historical Commission's website. Apparently, this was a nationwide effort but the records at this location are one of the very few surviving collections of such.

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