Katherine Keck’s Life Reads Like Romance

Here is a transcription of the newspaper clipping from Agnes Springsteen’s scrapbook about her mother’s life experiences.

Katherine Keck’s Life Reads Like Romance

Mrs. Katherine Keck, whose maiden name was Kurtz, was born in Hesse, Dravenstadt, Germany, January 19, 1837. While still a young child she was bereft of her mother and lived with relatives. In 1853, when 16 years of age, she received a letter from an older brother who had come to America and settled in Holt, Ingham county, several years previous, asking her to come to America and live with him and sent the money to defray her expenses.

Mrs. Keck has often told how pleased she was on receiving this letter, as her work was very hard and the outlook for anything different in the future did not look very promising to her. She has often said among her many duties she had to assist in herding 200 or more geese, as raising geese was the main occupation in that part of Germany. For these reasons the young lady decided to make the change and leave at once for America. Among her belongings of homespun clothing and linen, she brought her feather bed—an article every girl of her age possessed. She never had any desire to return to Germany. As the three weeks’ voyage was a very rough and stormy one, everyone was seasick and several passengers sickened and died and were buried at sea, making an impression on her mind that time has never erased. When she reached Erie, N. Y.,—near Lake Erie—she had to stay for a while, and engage in work to earn money for the remainder of her journey. She said she used to go out to the beach and look at the rough waters of Lake Erie and wonder if she would ever be brave enough to cross its waters to Detroit, then finish her journey to Holt.

While residing in Holt she met George Keck and January 1, 1858, they were united in marriage at Holt. Mr. Keck was born in Wertenburg, Germany, February 11, 1824, coming to America when he was 21 years old, residing in Holt. Soon after their marriage they came to Dewitt, Clinton county, and located on a 60-acre farm south of Gunnisonville, which they cleared from its forests and were well versed in the privations and hardships of pioneer life. To this union seven children were born, four sons and three daughters. George passed away seven years ago and Henry 24 years ago, the other sons, Charles Keck, lives near Wolverine. Jake near Lansing, Mrs. Eva Andrews south of Lansing, Mrs. Agnes Springsteen in Watertown and Mrs. Anna Heeb in Lansing. The father, George Keck, passed away April 6, 1908, aged 84 years.

Mrs. Keck remained on the farm until 10 years ago, when she went to Lansing to reside with her daughter, Mrs. Edward Heeb. April 13, 1922, Mrs. Keck had a stroke of paralysis and fell and broke her hip. Since that time she has been bedridden and is given the best of care by her devoted daughters, who have taken turns caring for her. Mrs. Keck was made very happy Friday, January 19, 1923, when the Gunnisonville Aid society gave her a post card shower and her friends in different localities sent her choice fruits and flowers to remind her of her 86th birthday.

Card of Thanks

I wish to thank the Gunnisonville Aid society for the post card[s] and for the fruits and flowers sen[t] by other friends on my 86th birthday.—Mrs. Kate Keck.

Searching for Kate Keck’s Origins

My interest in family history began in the early 1960s when my friend Eric started researching his family tree. I talked with family members and outlined as much as I could learn about our ancestors based on their personal knowledge. That was enough to kindle my long-term interest, but my investigation lay mostly dormant for years while I was in high school, college, and serving in the army.

Majoring in History at Michigan State University, I learned a great deal about the depth of understanding and documentary examination that support the superficial facts of high school history classes. This gave far greater depth to my latent interest in family history and taught me to read the evidence of our past analytically.

What does this have to do with Kate Keck? This is mostly a backdrop to my interest in family history and does not pertain directly to my search for Kate’s life and origins. If you’ll bear with me, though, we’ll get around to Kate soon.

Harold Springsteen, Kate Keck, and Agnes Springsteen
Harold Springsteen, Kate Keck, and Agnes Springsteen

Harold Springsteen, Kate Keck, and Agnes Springsteen (back)

Early in my family history exploration, probably after my great-grandmother Agnes Springsteen’s death in 1963, I was given a few old family papers and pictures. These were primarily from my great-grandfather L. D. Springsteen’s family. I was aware that Great-Grandma Springsteen’s family had come from somewhere in Germany. I knew that her parents were George Keck and Katherine Kurtz, but that was about all I knew.

While I was in the army, Dee and I lived in Germany for two years. My service provided an exposure to German history and culture that I would not otherwise have been able to dream of experiencing. When Dee returned to the United States near the end of my service in the spring of 1974, our son was on the way. Our family was taking on an entirely new meaning. We could not have guessed, however, that we were leaving our future daughter-in-law behind in Germany.

While Dee and I lived near extended family in the late 1970s and early 80s, I was given much more family material from the elder generations. Among the materials I received were scrapbooks that had belonged to Great-Grandma Springsteen. She had collected newspaper clippings about relatives, friends, and acquaintances around Dewitt and Lansing, Michigan. One of these was an article about her mother’s life on the occasion of her 86th birthday.

Katherine Keck's Life Reads Like Romance
Katherine Keck’s Life Reads Like Romance

The article heading declared Katherine Keck’s Life Reads Like Romance. The article reported that Kate was born as Katherine Kurtz on January 19, 1837 in Hesse, Dravenstadt, Germany. Now we knew where she was born, right? Wouldn’t it have been nice to know that when we lived in Germany?

Based on our experience in Germany, Dravenstadt sounded like a typical small-town name. We were familiar with the countryside being dotted with small farming communities every few kilometers down nearly every road. Hesse is one of the modern states of Germany, and has existed in many political forms and alliances for centuries.

Over the years I looked occasionally for Dravenstadt in various atlases and maps, but to no avail. As information became available online, I asked on public forums if anyone could locate Dravenstadt, but no one was familiar with it. Finally, it dawned on me that I might have fallen victim to the article writer’s misinterpretation of an unfamiliar place name heard through heavily accented English. Kate might have informed the writer that she had been born in Hesse-Darmstadt, one of the Hessian states in the nineteenth century. Thus, there would be no Dravenstadt to find.

Are we left clueless? The article mentioned a brother in Holt. If I could find him, maybe I could learn something from his family.

The population schedules for the 1860, 1870, and 1880 United States Federal Censuses reveal a Kurtz family in the neighborhood of Holt, Delhi Township, Ingham County. Henry Kurtz and his wife Elizabeth were reported to have been born in Hessen, Germany in the early 1820s, making Henry a potential candidate to be Kate’s older brother.

An index card for the naturalization of a Henry Kurtz in New York, New York on 2 May 1859 indicates that his former allegiance was to the Grand Duke of Hesse Darmstadt. Is this the same Henry Kurtz? Unfortunately, the index card did not report the dates of birth or immigration. The card may be viewed here on FamilySearch. Henry and Elizabeth’s sons Charles, Henry, and John appear to have been born in New York around 1854, 1856, and 1859, respectively, which is consistent with naturalization in New York in 1859. Could Henry’s witness George Reihart lead me to information that would clarify whether this is Henry Kurtz of Holt? The naturalization papers that are indexed here would almost certainly provide more information.

I still have work to do to discover Kate Keck’s origins, but I know more than I did. Meanwhile, the hunt goes on.