Monday, July 14, 2008

The Negative Impact of some Early Deaths of my Ancestors

The Age at Death Pedigree for my ancestors is kind of scary. The yellow colored squares indicate my direct ancestors who died at less than 55 years of age. At a genealogy conference I once attended, a physician talked about Medical History for the genealogist. He told the audience that nobody could predict when one would likely die. It was a combination of GENES and LUCK. Well, I guess I am pretty lucky because I am over 60 (I’ll leave it at that), and I’m still kicking. My mother is extremely lucky- but I don’t believe she sees it that way.

On the other hand, my father was not so lucky, he died at a relatively young age. But, that was not the worst of it. His mother, Emily, died in the 1918 Influenza epidemic only seven days after giving birth. Robert was then fostered and eventually adopted by his father’s sister, Martha Streich (Strike). She was married to Robert William Kramp, and that is why I am a Kramp instead of a Streich. But yet, there is a blood connection; Martha was my father’s paternal aunt. Not shown on the above chart is that Dad’s adopted mother Martha died of a heart attack when she was only 50 years old. By the way, I wish there was an easy way to show these adopted relationships on one’s pedigree.

My father did not comprehend the circumstances surrounding the death of his biological mother- how could he; he was only a week old when she died. That these German immigrants did not talk too much about such things to the children further added to my father’s frustration. His first inkling that he was adopted came from the neighborhood kids. Sometimes they teased him about it.

When his adopted mother died, my father’s biological brother, Russell Stryke, took him from Ramey, PA, to Alexandria, VA, and started him in the printing trade as a Linotype operator. As my father applied for his apprenticeship card, they asked for his name. He replied that he was Robert Kramp. It was then that his brother told him that this was not true; his name was not Kramp, but Strike. Still not fully comprehending the situation, my father made the decision, perhaps with some resentment to his biological family, to become legally adopted by the Kramp family- even though his biological father was still living at the time. The episode sparked some hard feelings between my father and his biological family of which there were five other siblings.

So, my father lost his biological mother when he was a week old and his foster mother when he was 15 years old. Go now, hug your children or your mother.

However, as I researched further, I discovered that Dad’s biological father, Otto, lost his own father, Karl Strike, when he was only 8 years old. His mother quickly re-married but her second husband was a rather stern, German step-father. Otto and his brother, Julius, left home at a very early age. Julius married a 16 year old Welsh girl when he was only 18 years old. He had one child, a daughter, and then abandoned his family, never to be heard from again. Incidentally, Julius is one of the “missing persons” in my research.

My point regarding these early deaths is that I believe it disrupted the closeness and togetherness of the family. Also, I believe that the loss, in particular, of the Nourisher of the family which has traditionally been the mother often has a drastic negative impact on the family unit. I was told that Emily Russell’s daughter, who did not talk for a year after her mother died, took all the family pictures and letters to the backyard when she was a teenager and burned them. I can see the mouths of my fellow genealogists dropping to the floor now.

In my great grandparent’s generation, there were two early deaths of the matriarchs, Eleanor Hartley and Maria Gutgsell. Eleanor’s husband never re-married and his five motherless children were raised by older daughters in the family. However, Maria Gutgsell’s husband Joseph Austel remarried a girl half his age. She was a good and faithful wife, but some say she was very partial to her own nephews and nieces to the consternation of her step children.

What was that story told by the Brothers Grimm regarding the wicked step mother? I’m sure everybody has heard of Cinderella. My mother told me that Mrs. Emily (Russell) Strike made Otto promise on her death bed that he would not allow the children to be raised by a step mother. Otto kept his promise.

NOTE: This blog entry was submitted to the 52nd Carnival of Genealogy; topic, “About Age” hosted this week by the owner and blogger of Lisa's 100 Years in America


Miriam said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Bob. I'm curious about the results if you were to discount your ancestors' deaths by accident and epidemic; how would that chance the prediction of your longevity?

Family Tree Magazine has a handy three-generation chart that can be used to show both adoptive and biological family trees. See it here.

Bob Kramp said...

Thank you Miriam for the chart ref. I downloaded the pdf chart and will give it a try. Now, if I could just get my computer geni program to print out a chart from the data I already have inputted ... OK, I hear you, if I discounted non genetic factors, I think I could increase my longivity chances statistically. But, the early deaths of the mothers in my direct tree could not have been spiritually helpful- but perhaps it might have, to contradict myself. My father was a great father even though he had none himself.

wendy said...

Bob, wonderful write up on an unfortunate subject. Thanks for making me reflect on this subject. I also posted some statistics about age of my direct ancestors for this carnival.