I’ve hit a brick wall. I’ve been poking around on my father’s side, curious about the Kansas line, but one ancestor has me befuddled. I decided that if I introduced her here, to you, it might clear the fog and jump start my gray matter.
Grab a maple bar and settle in…this one’s a bit long.
Bertha was my father’s grandma. I don’t know much, but from the clues I uncovered, I have a sense about this tough, determined woman.
This is my grandfather Carl Geier with the woman I’m guessing is his mother. If so, this is our only known photo of Bertha. I wish I could be certain.
The first record I have of Bertha is a census record when she was six. It was Ohio Township, Franklin County, Kansas. The year was 1880.
The snag here is the adoption. It lists her birthplace as Indiana as was that of her birth parents (since Prussia and Pennsylvania are where William and Cordelia were born, I presume this listing means Bertha’s birth parents were born in Indiana. This is the only clue I have). Yet, any or all of this information, while on an official census record, could be untrue. Still, these are important clues.
Five years later Bertha was 11 and still in Kansas. I expanded this one to show the N. Matts family at the bottom. Bertha’s mother Cordelia (Delia Fietta Servatius, or DF here) was a Matts, and Nicholas was her brother. In 1881 William Servatius, Bertha’s father, passed away so isn’t listed below.
I wondered whether the Hackett family may be involved with Bertha’s past. The Servatius and Hackett families appear as neighbors or boarders for each other on several census records. John farmed her land after William passed, and she later boarded with his family. I’ve researched Hackett family members but have yet to find what could be a connection to Bertha’s birth. Bertha could be a niece, one of Cordelia’s sibling’s children, or one of William’s sibling’s children. She may be no relation at all.
Backtracking a bit, the year Bertha was born, 1874, a devastating locust infestation (1) affected much of the mid-west. While the census states Bertha was born in Indiana, she may have lived in Kansas at the time of the infestation, possibly forcing a struggling family with a newborn to make an adoption decision.
The next record I found for Bertha was her marriage, only six years later. The record states Bertha was 17 and her husband, Joseph Geier, was 29. They married in Homewood, Franklin County, Kansas in 1892.
Math wasn’t my forte, but this jumps out. Bertha was born March 20, 1874. Her marriage was March 9, 1892, making her 17, almost 18…
…which means, according to the above, a record of births in Homewood, one month after their marriage, on April 7, Bertha gave birth to a son. At the time of her marriage at age 17, Bertha was eight months pregnant.
Six months later, baby W. Herbert would die. By then, Bertha was 18 and pregnant.
On March 18, 1893, my grandfather Carl Joseph Geier was born in Ottawa, Kansas. The family continued to live in Franklin County and on December 16, 1895, a third child, Mary G. “Mamie” Geier was born.
In 1901, Cordelia Servatius, Bertha’s mother, died. I was able to locate Delia’s probate record and hoped it would provide a clue about Bertha’s birth. It did not. William and Cordelia were wealthy land owners, however, enabling Bertha to receive an inheritance with which, we presume, she and her family left Kansas and headed for Montana.
I have yet to learn why they were Montana bound, but settle in they did. Christmas, 1905, Trout Creek, Montana. What could be better than “Christmas tree exercises” performed on Friday night?
Drum roll please…
I now introduce you to Carl (age 11) and Mamie Geier (age 10), performers in the Trout Creek Elementary school Christmas program:
To hear the recitation of “If Santa Claus Should Stumble,” (2) or the singing of “Away in a Manger” would be entertainment in the highest. I imagine Joseph and Bertha were proud parents.
Sadly, the family’s joy was short lived.
On 26 January, 1909, Mamie passed away from Scarlet fever. She was 13. Several news articles stated that many children and adults were afflicted. Joseph was mentioned in one article when he was on the mend. We now have more clues, sadly, from Mamie’s death certificate.
The Geier family lived in Trout Creek, Smead Township, Sanders County, Montana in 1909. By the time of Mamie’s death, the family had lived in Montana for three years. Bertha’s birth place is listed as Indiana. Mamie was buried in Thompson Falls.
The rest of this short timeline leaves me puzzled. I have more questions than answers.
—26 Jan, 1909 Death of Mamie
—5 Feb., 1909 Joseph listed as ill, on the mend, Trout Creek (Sanders County Ledger, Feb. 1909)
—14 May, 1909 Joseph listed as leasing Foster building, will sell “confectionary and cigars,” Ponderay, Idaho (The Pend dOreille Review, 14 May, 1909, pg. 6)
—14 May, 1909 Fire destroys business district Trout Creek, no one injured (The Pend dOreille Review, 14 May, 1909, pg. 14)
—21 May, 1909 Residence, family listed as living in Ponderay, ID (The Pend dOreille Review, 21 May, 1909, pg. 21).
—13 June, 1909 Joseph begins work as Warehouseman for the Northern Pacific Railway Co., Kootenai, ID (NPR Co. employment file).
—4 May, 1910 Residence, family listed as living in Bonner, Kootenai County, ID. Joseph listed as Freight Clerk for the NPR. (1910 census)
—13 July, 1910 Carl began work for the NPR as a Machine Apprentice at age 17. Joseph had to sign since Carl was under age. (NPR Co. work records).
—20 August, 1910 BIG BURN FIRE. Idaho, Washington, Montana. Trout Creek area was burned. Many relocated to Spokane. (US Forest Service records).
—June 1911 Joseph resigned from the NPR Co. This is the last trace of Joseph.
—24 Oct., 1915 Bertha marries Charles F. Keane, Coeur d’Alene Idaho.
—3 Jan., 1920 Residence, Bertha and husband Charles live in Spokane. He owns a plumbing business.
—10 Feb., 1924 Bertha Servatius Geier Keane dies.
This is all I’ve been able to determine about the life of my great grandma. The rest are guesses. Carl entered the Navy in 1917, and left, honorably, in 1920. Carl married my grandma in 1921, and this woman (next to Carl) is not in the wedding photos.
In this photo, Carl is using a cane. When he entered the Navy, he did not use a cane. While serving, he endured a fall and injured his back, necessitating early discharge and the cane.
My guess is this photo was taken in 1920, after Carl was discharged and home to see his mother. I guess Spokane since this is where Bertha lived, but also much of the older architecture looks remarkably the same now.
Last summer we drove through western Montana and northern Idaho. We were able to visit Thompson Falls, Trout Creek, and Spokane. I had hoped to learn more about Joseph, Carl’s father. Sadly, we did not, and he remains my most difficult brick wall.
We did, however, find two very important graves.
Mamie is buried in Thompson Falls, Montana. Her grave sits alone. She rests by herself, no family nearby. I was unprepared for this, the lack of care of the headstone itself, but most of all the strong feeling that I was likely the first family member to visit in countless years.
I stood there and cried, completely surprised at the emotion being there evoked. I tried to imagine her mother, father, and brother standing in that very spot on a cold, January day. With the family moving that same year to Idaho, I doubt it was easy to get back there to visit her grave. I wonder whether anyone ever did. I cleaned the stone as best I could, and let her know she will not be forgotten.
We also found her mother, my great grandma Bertha’s grave, in Spokane.
Being adopted can be a very good thing; I’m an adoptive parent and see many sides of this complicated issue. One record lists Bertha’s parents’ places of birth as Scotland and Spain. Others say Indiana. Conflicting records leave me conflicted.
Bertha was pregnant at 16. I can’t imagine the social pressure in 1892. Did she have a difficult home life, did she run away? Was Joseph the father of her firstborn? The records state he is, but this may not be true. How did her parents treat her and/or help her when they learned she was pregnant? Did she have many friends? Was her marriage to Joseph required?
Here’s another twist: Bertha’s uncle Anton Servatius (William’s brother) married Joseph’s aunt Theresia Geier (Christian Geier’s sister; Christian was Joseph’s father). It’s likely they knew each other due to the previous Servatius/Geier marriage, but why was Joseph a candidate to be Bertha’s husband? He wasn’t previously married as far as I know. He was single, known, and therefore convenient? Did they even like each other? He was 28 and she was 16…I don’t even want to discuss what this would mean by today’s standards. Calgon take me away!!!
What happened to Joseph? The last trace was his signature on his NPR Co. work record in 1911. Did he and Bertha divorce? Did he die? If so, when and where? I find death records for Joseph Geier, however I cannot with complete certainty believe they are our Joseph Geier. Back to square one.
The birth year on Bertha’s stone above reads 1883. Most records say 1874. I can only guess why there are different dates for her birth. Second husband Charles no doubt provided information when Bertha died, so what had she told him, and why the secrecy and/or possible lies?
Bertha’s life story elicits many questions. With adoption in the picture, we may never know her birth origins. Because we may never know, the mystery is heightened.
Bertha May Servatius Geier Keane, “Who WERE you?!”
1. 1874: The year of the locust (http://www.historynet.com/1874-the-year-of-the-locust.htm). History Net.
2. I had to don my detective cap to find this poem. I am not certain about the title since I saw it listed two ways. Either way, here is the full poem, by Harriot Brewer Sterling. Imagine Carl, age 11, wearing a little red tie…are you smiling yet?