Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Family Secrets

Back in May before my family reunion, I did some research into my Dad’s side of the family. His parents were Lou Ella Morgan and Fred W. Barker. We can trace Lou Ella’s family back to the Revolutionary War, and I am a DAR member to prove it. Fred, though, is a bit of a problem. When he died in 1955, his discharge papers from the US Army were found in order for my grandmother to get his pension. The problem was that his name on the discharge papers was Fred W. Bernecker instead of Barker. My grandmother did not want to know why his name was not Barker, and she put the papers away and refused to discuss it.

We know very little about my grandfather. We know he was born in Longwood, Florida, and lived in North Carolina At some point, he moved to Chicago where he was drafted into WWI. After the war, he ended up in Wichita Falls where he met and married my grandmother, Lou Ella. He was a chef/caterer and man of many talents. My mother said he was a handsome little man at 5’ 6” (my grandmother was 5’11”), and that he could be quite charming. He was a boxer and told stories about fighting someone very famous, but I cannot remember the boxer’s name. In 1952 he wrote a letter to the President of the US in order to get my father out of the military. I have letters from the Secretary of the President, William D. Hassett on White House Stationary and a letter from WM E. Bergin, Major General, USA, Adjutant General forwarding his letter to FT. Bragg where my father was honorably discharged due to hardship. We assume my grandfather knew someone high up the ladder to pull that off.

Here is what I found while researching my grandfather. Through Ancestry.com I keyed Fred W. Bernecker into the WWI military records. I came up with his draft card from 1917. His name was Fred W. Bernecker at that time. He was 30 years old, born Dec. 6 1986 in Longwood, FL. It lists his occupation as Butcher at the Sherman House on Randolf and Clark St. in Chicago, IL. Under “previous military” it says he was in the Appalchian Navy for 3 years. The word “Appalachian” is difficult to read, but I am pretty sure that is what it says. The only other thing interesting about the card is that under dependants listed is “child”, but who knows what that means.

Continuing to use Ancestry.com, I keyed “Fred W. Bernecker” into the regular search program. In the 1900 Census there was a family of Berneckers in Ashville, NC that could be my grandfather’s family. The parents were Julius (1847) and Frances (1852) who migrated to the USA in 1882 from Germany. They had Freda (21), Paul (20), Anna (18), all born in Germany, Henry (17), Fred (14), Clara (12) born in Florida, Amelia (8), and Bertha (6) born in NC. It lists the father, Julius, as a carpenter.

In the 1910 Census in Ashville, NC, the Berneckers are still there, but now it is only Julius (carpenter), Freda (dressmaker), Clara, Anna (bookkeeper), Bertha and someone named Lillie Lavine listed as a border. Apparently, Frances has died and some of the children no longer live at home.

In the 1930 Census still in Ashville, is Julius (83), Bertha and Freda listed in the same household. I did find a Clara Bernecker in Savanah, GA, as a governess. I found a Henry Bernecker in Charleston, WV, who was a printer and had served in WWI. Also there was a Paul M. Bernecker in Chatham, GA, who was a printer and also served in WWI. Whether these are the same children of Julius and Frances, I do not know for sure, but their info seems to be similar.

I also found the death records of Bertha Bernecker who was born in 1893 and died in 1973 in Ashville, NC. She never married.

I think this could be my grandfather’s family. I think he was born Fred W. Bernecker and changed his name to Barker sometime after leaving the military in 1919 and marrying my grandmother in the early 20’s. The “why” is the big question. I also find it very interesting that he possibly had a whole family on the East Coast and none of us ever knew any of them. What would make a young man leave his family and never look back? I wish I had known the man.


Laurie said...

My brother has been looking up a lot of info on our family. On my Dad's side, a log of that was done by a cousin's husband because he has been very big into genealogy. But we didn't know very much on my mother's side. He traced one line back to England. On the paternal grandparent side though he has his a wall.

Buck Pennington said...

TSMP was very big on genealogy, as well, and she published a genealogy newsletter for a few years...a combination resource and clearing house for members of her (very) extended family and others carrying her surname. It can be both fascinating and/or all-consuming, depending upon how far you wanna go.

I never even got started...and was never all that interested. I must be missing that particular gene.

Bag Blog said...

As usual, I am just a mediocre geneologist sort. I just want to find out a few things. It irritates me that no one knows anything - my mother does not know her great grandmother's name, and what she does know is not always factual. So I dig now and then.

Becky said...

My dad was big into geneology. After he died, my brother took up where he left off. We have traced a branch back to Sweden, and another back to England. I find it fascianting--as long as someone else does the digging. :)

Catherine MacDermott said...

I love this sort of stuff -- it's like unfolding a great mystery where you see glimpses of yourself in the characters...thanks for sharing this great story Lou!

Anonymous said...

Lou, when I was in Ashville, NC, around 1981 or 1982, I went to the public library and looked up what I could find about "Papoo". I wish I could find where I saved what I photocopied. But it was mainly addresses from those years in the phone book or some kind of census data, I believe. Anyway, for some years, there was listing for 2 women living together: a "Freddie Bernecker" (in some years it was "Freda") and woman with the last name of "Barker". I can't remember the first name of the Barker woman. At some point, I think Freddie/Freda Bernecker dropped off the roles and only the Barker woman remained at that address -- but I could be remembering wrong. I shared all of this with dad at one point, showing him copies. We theorized that maybe Papoo's last name was Bernecker and that the Barker woman was perhaps a boarder and close friend who was like an aunt to Papoo. And that maybe he changed his name so that his benefits from his military service would go to the Barker woman. This would make sense with your info that Freda was his mom (I couldn't tell this from the library info). If she passed away, and Papoo wanted her friend to be covered under his military benefits. Pretty interesting. Thanks for looking all this up!