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.
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.
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.