Sunday, November 22, 2009

Talk to Me, Aunt Elsaa "Lena" Margheim

Lena Margheim was born May 7, 1883 in Friedenfeld, Samara, Russia, the second daughter of George 'Jakob' and Mary Catherine 'Katie' Winter Margheim. She came from the Volga River region of Russia with her older sister Eva, her older brother Fred and her mother and father to America, through New York, in December 1886. After her family arrived in America, they immediately moved to Russell County, Kansas, along with many other "Germans from Russia". In 1887 her brother Jacob was born, in 1892 her brother Alexander joined the family, a sister 'Mary' Margaret came along in 1894, younger brother George was born in 1896, little sister Mary Elizabeth 'Lizzie' was born in 1898 and my grandfather John was the last child to be born to Jacob and Katie in 1900.

Eva was married and was not present when the family portrait at right was taken. Lena is pictured second from right and above, also.

Lena was the only child of Jacob and Katie who never married. I asked my father (Ernest Margheim) recently what he knew about his Aunt Lena. He doesn't remember ever meeting her, but remembers his parents telling him that "she thought she was too pretty to ever have to do any work." I'm not sure that any child born in this difficult time of early immigrant settlement into the plains of Kansas had that option to not work! I don't know the explanation behind that comment, but I do question it. The only other fact Dad had heard about his Aunt Lena was that she 'went crazy'.

My research into the censuses to determine the living arrangements of this Margheim family show these results:
1895, March 1 Kansas State Census in Lincoln, Russell, Kansas: Lena is listed as age 5 (evidently born about 1890).
1900 Federal Census in Fairfield, Russell, Kansas: Lena is listed as age 10, born June, 1889
1905 , March 1, Kansas State Census in Union, Barton, Kansas: Lena is listed as age 16 (evidently born about 1889)
1910 Federal Census in Union, Barton, Kansas: Lena is listed as age 20, (born about 1890 in Kansas)
1920 Federal Census in Union, Barton, Kansas: Lena is living in the household of my grandfather John Margheim age 20. Lena is listed as sister, unemployed, age 28 (born about 1892)

I'm not able to find any census listings for Lena Margheim after this 1920 Census where she was living with her youngest brother, my grandfather, John Margheim, who was age 20 at that time. John married my grandmother Amalia 'Mollie' Koleber in November, 1920. So I've wondered what happened to Lena! Her father had died in 1912 and her mother went to live with daughter Mary, born in 1894 and married in 1919 to Conrad Wilhelm. Why was Lena not married back in the day when many marriages were "arranged"? Why was she living with her younger brother John? To where did she move when John got married in Nov. 1920?

I mailed a request for a copy of her death certificate last month and just yesterday received it in the mail. That's the very best kind of mail! As you might be able to see, Lena died while in residence at the Topeka State Hospital, in Topeka, Kansas. She died January 3, 1928 as a result of Pulmonary Tuberculosis at age 36 (indicating she was born about 1892). She was buried January 5, 1928 in Hoisington, Kansas. My grandparents are buried in the Hoisington, Kansas cemetery, but my dad says Lena is not buried there. Her name is not listed on any online inventories of burials there either. Tomorrow I'll be calling the cemetery office to inquire further. My Dad believes she's buried in the Michaelis Cemetery, Russell, Kansas alongside her father and mother. However, her name is not listed in the online listing of burials there either. Dad thinks he's taken a photo of her headstone, so I'll be digging for that in the next week or so too.

Lena's birth date is left blank on the death certificate. Wouldn't you know it?

This is a copy of a page from the Margheim Family Bible, translated by a translator for the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. It's included in the "Descendants of Gottlieb Margheim" genealogy book prepared and published by Clarence Margheim, one of my distant cousins. The translation says "Elsaa Margheim", born in the year 7 May 1883, baptized 8 May 1883 in Friedenfeld, Godparents Elisabeth Margheim, Eliesbeth Winder. Incidentally, her father was also born on May 7th, 26 years earlier in 1857. Was Lena born in 1883? I tend to believe she was born on the date recorded in the family Bible. But why does her age vary so often in the census listings? I know there are often variations in peoples' birth dates, death dates, burial dates, names, spellings, etc. I'm just wondering what the true story is about my Grandaunt Lena Margheim.

I don't know when Lena was admitted to the Topeka State Hospital, but the death certificate indicates that the doctor treated her from 1926-1928. It's possible that she was admitted to that facility for treatment of the tuberculosis, but I think she was probably admitted becasue of the "mental illness" my dad had heard mentioned, and probably contracted the tuberculosis while living there. I've read online about the unsanitary and very undesirable living conditions of that facility at that time.

I wish I could sit down and interview my grandaunt "Elsaa Lena". I've been so drawn to her lately, even though my research plan was focused on continuing the research into my son's birth family. As quite often happens, I got sidetracked. Certain ancestors seem to call me and just won't fade away for another day. I know she has a great story to tell! And I'd listen. Very intently.


Claudia's thoughts said...

I was searching for a great uncle and he was also in a "mental institution" They also had a ward for TB, I guess that was not that uncommon. This was in Allegheny County, Pittsburgh PA

Sharon said...

Love this story, very intriguing. Hope you can find out more about her. She will guide you ;-)