Monday, January 26, 2015

#4 in 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks; Elsa Wilhelmina Hedrich Spatz Kerner Haegemann

Elsa, my great grandmother, was born on the 21st of June in 1879.
Her mother, Luise Wilhelmine Spatz, was unmarried and living in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany where she was a hat and accessories maker for women in the well to do town of Baden.  Luise was the daughter of Johann Jakob and Anna Maria Herold.  She had been born in 1858 and we know that she was 21 years of age when she had her first and perhaps her only child, Elsa.  Luise Wilhelmina was unmarried.  No one knows if she hid her pregnancy but we do know that she travelled across the river to a nearby town, Mannheim, to be delivered by a mid-wife named Katherina Mussig in the woman's apartment.

Continuing to search for the whereabouts of Elsa in her early years was nearly impossible until a researcher in Germany discovered that she had been adopted and raised by Luise's older sister Elizabeth and her husband Ernst Wilhelm Hedrich.  Elsa showed up in New York City in 1894.  She had arrived at the age of 15.  Family legend has it that Elsa learned that the mother she thought was her mother was really her aunt and left home in a fury, stowing away on one of the many boats bound for the United States.  Since no passenger records have been found for her, this is a real possibility.

On the 31st of May in 1898, Elsa had her first child, a girl she named Rose.  Rose's last name is listed on her birth certificate as Kerner although a marriage to Louis Kerner is not recorded until the 22 of November in 1898.  Elsa was then 19 years old.  Was Rose his child?  My own mother told a story that Elsa was young and "wandering the streets of New York" although by the time of Roses's birth, she had been there for four years.  Had she been a "girl of the streets?"  Where did she stay?  Who was she with?  Did Louis,  a Jew, marry her out of pity and compassion?  Was he the real father?  How will we ever know?
What we do know is that by 1907, Elsa's eye was wandering and she left Louis to marry George Frederick Haegemann.  The marriage certificate reveals that the couple were married by a "Pastor" and not a Rabbi.  Interestingly enough, Elsa stated for the record that this was her "first" marriage.  She already had had two children, reportedly fathered by Louis.  In addition to Rose, Martha had been born in 1899.  Martha died of diptheria in 1901 and was buried in Mt. Zion, a Jewish cemetery. Years later, in 1927, Louis would be buried in another Jewish cemetery, Montefiore in Springfield Gardens in Queens.

No divorce certificate seems to exist for Elsa and Louis and according to my mother, Louis "let her go" to be with the younger and more exciting George.  My mother reported that both of these men remained active in Elsa's life.  Louis was also a loving grandfather to my mother, as was George.

I remember my strong and feisty great grandmother.   She was a loving woman who loved to watch boxing on television. According to my mother, she saved not only her life but mine as well.  Elsa had become a nurse and my mother supposedly had been stillborn until Elsa took charge during the home birth and breathed life back into her lungs.  Years later, I had had my tonsils out removed and this loving woman
stayed with me in the hospital, nursing me back to health after I had hemorrhaged unexpectedly.  

I also remember the pride she took in her appearance and the
lovely, oval fingernails that she massaged regularly.  She insisted
that rubbing the nails made them grow.  The mole on her right
chin has been passed to my eldest son who has an identical
mole in the identical spot.

I lost my great grandmother on Christmas Eve in 1965.  She died
at the age of 86.  I think she must have led a very complicated but interesting life.  She certainly left us some wonderful memories! 

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