FamilySearch has been digitizing, indexing, and adding records like mad, so it’s important you check back often. I went in recently, checked the records for Iowa, and was happy to find many new records up so I searched for the Burgraff line again. Amazingly, I found a record for male child born 27 April 1889 in Rock Valley, Sioux, Iowa. Unnamed on this record, this date correlates with Little Arrie Burggraaf.
Sioux County, Iowa, has been doing a great job getting their old newspapers online. They’ve been working at it for a couple of years now. Recently one of the people that I correspond with in the Netherlands let me know that they’d added papers and offered to translate some of the Dutch items for me if I needed help. Albert and I have been trading information and help for years, and his English is far better than my Dutch.
I went back to the site, entered the name “Burgraff,” and narrowed the years to 1885-1895, fully expecting to get nothing. However, what I saw had me doing the happy little genealogy dance around the room. There under a listing for the December 8, 1892, Rock Valley Register1 was a snippet
“…Home Monday morning John Burgraff died at the family home about four miles northeast of of inflammation of the Deceased was about 32 years of md leaves a sorrowing husband…”
As soon as I saw the words “inflammation of the…” and “…sorrowing husband…” I knew that I had finally found a death notice for Elizabeth Burgraff, my great grandfather John’s first wife. I have been searching for information on Lizzie’s death since I began genealogy work. I quickly clicked on the article and raced through it:
On Monday morning [5 Dec 1892] Mrs. John Burgraff died at the family home about four miles northeast of town, of inflammation of the bowels. Deceased was about 32 years of age, and leaves a sorrowing husband and four children to mourn her untimely death. The sympathy of all goes out to them in their affliction.
More happy dancing ensued. This confirmed the memories of Minnie VandenTop in her 1973 letter. Lizzie did die on the farm of bowel trouble. But wait! There’s a couple of problems here. My first error was in thinking that Little Albert survived his mother. He obviously didn’t as the article says four children. I know that Peter, William, Arrie, and Sadie are still alive at later dates so that leaves not only Albert as deceased prior to his mother, but also the unnamed male child mentioned above.
The biggest problem is the dates of Elizabeth’s death versus another known date – the date of birth for Mary’s daughter Maggie. Every extant document for Maggie clearly reflects her birth as being in 1892. It begins with both the Iowa and Minnesota state census records, which both claim she is three years of age prior to June and July of that year. This date remains consistent throughout her life and is clear on every census record, along with her three marriage records, and her obituary. Her sister Sadie pointed out in an interview that Maggie died 20 March 1967 on her 75th birthday.
So who is Maggie’s father? I have found no birth record for her. Based on this newly found news article it is clear that she was born nine full months before Elizabeth’s death and almost eighteen months before Mary and John Burgraff wed.
Absent any other records, there are only two choices. Either John and Mary had a relationship prior to Elizabeth’s death, or John Burgraff is not Maggie’s father.
It would be easy to think the worst, but I’m not buying that one, and here’s my reasoning:
1. William (Elizabeth’s brother) remained close to John and moved to Minnesota with him, living next door to John and Mary during their time there. Arie (Elizabeth’s brother) also remained in close contact with John over the years. I find it hard to believe that Lizzie’s brothers would remain close to a man who had a child outside the marriage to their sister.
2. Illegitimate children were not as uncommon as we might think. While it wasn’t “approved” of, there was not the stigma that we would have expected. It is possible that Mary Kortlever bore a child out of wedlock by another man.
3. It is also possible that Mary was previously married and had Maggie. Although I have found no evidence of this, I am not taking this possibility out of the equation. I remember being confused when I saw the marriage record for John Burggraaf and saw his wife was listed as a Burggraaf. My immediate thought was that it was error, until I found they were cousins. Mary appears as a Kortlever on her marriage record to John Burgraff, but for all I know, she might have married a Kortlever cousin, had Maggie, and then he passed away. With the lack of extant records, it’s as plausible as anything else.
So, with no clear evidence to say otherwise, I have decided to go with the more positive option. I believe Mary had a child and when John’s wife Elizabeth died, Mary came to work for him, bringing her child along. John and Mary wed, and John raised Maggie as his own. Not an unusual circumstance for its day.
1. “Local Item,” Rock Valley Register, 8 Dec 1892, p. 5; digital images.