Monday, February 28, 2011

King - Kong

Henry and Barbara King
I've spent about 40 years trying to figure out where I came from.

I know the biological part, I did well in science subjects in school.

What I didn't know was who came before us that got us to this country, how they got to the town where we lived, and why they didn't amass a fortune to leave to me so I could spend my days pasting stamps into albums.

And the "King-Kong" reference in the blog title has nothing to do with on!

As part of a social sciences class in college, I embarked on a genealogical project that soon came to a stop when my grandmother (the only grandparent alive at the time I started working on this) couldn't remember much about her parents or siblings.

Her inability to come up with facts wasn't due to dementia or Alzheimer's...she just never paid attention.  As the youngest of 11 children, she was busy trying to keep up with the crowd and was much more interested in having fun.

She also wasn't hearing many of the family stories.  Some of her older brothers and sisters had married and moved out of the house before she started grade school.  There was that big of an age difference from eldest to youngest and her brothers wanted their own farms and her sisters married.

Before I go on, note to my boys here: they moved out!

My grandmother did remember that her father was in the Civil War, that he was brought to this country from Germany as a child, by his parents, and that he fell off a wagon in his latter years.

Nothing to do with drinking, he actually tumbled off a farm wagon and seriously injured himself.  That spill did him in and ended any possibility of anyone else finding out how he got to America or who his parents and their families were.

Another problem, as my grandmother started talking about her childhood?  Her father's name was Henry and she had two brothers named Henry.

Henry, the first son with that name, died young and when the next boy was born he became Henry.  People do that sometimes.  So, when I asked about Henry, depending upon which Henry she thought I was talking about, I could take quite a trip around the family tree, wondering why one day Henry was in the Civil War and the next day Henry had died before he was 10.  No, Henry lived to be an adult, got married and lived on the farm.  Henry the father or Henry the son? Yes.  Turns out those facts are correct for both, same farm, just different years for each of them.

The other issue that had to be dealt with was the change in the family surname from there, Germany, to here, New York.

In Germany, the family name was Koenig.  In America, King.

Now, it so happens that Koenig is German for King, but it wasn't until I saw a recent document that I may have gotten a clue that the name was changed for them, rather than they going to the English version.

For years, I searched for immigration records.  I looked at Koenig and King records for over a generation.  I searched via mail, filling out countless forms and, when it became available, on-line.  Searching ship manifests, going on the basis that Henry traveled with his family, as a  young boy.  I came up with his parent's names early on, Andrew and Elizabeth, but couldn't even get a hook with that.

Then, I found a census record that indicated Henry came over from Germany in 1845...he would have been about 5 years old.  That fit with the family story and I set off to search records with that new information.

Try as I might, no Andrew and Elizabeth, with Henry in tow, Keonig or King.  I pressed on.

The other day, somewhat frustrated, I decided to go through any ship's manifest I could find coming out of Germany where the last name started with "K", with an Andrew, Elizabeth and Henry and was struck still when I saw Andrew Kong.  1845.  From Germany.  Wife Elizabeth and son Henry, aged 4, with a sister, Marianna, aged 3.  Henry had a sister just two years younger...we knew her as Mary.  And Henry would have turned 5 just three weeks after landing in New York City.

I was able to print out the record and check it against the manifest that was replicated and found "Andrew Koenig."  The person who transcribed it for storage had changed Koenig to Kong.

Perhaps, as they gave their names for the manifest, they Koenig, the clerk said, "Kong," they heard "King," and here we are 165 years later living the lives of Kings!

Henry's father, Andrew, had a farm (go ahead, e-i-e-i-o), and then Henry had one that he left to his son Henry, who then sold it off when he had no one to take it over.

They were sustenance farmers, pretty much using up stuff and, apparently, the money on-the-go, and we were left with stories.

Some stories were funny, like the one about how my grandmother and her sister, as young girls about aged 8 and 10, had put chicken manure in the cider barrel and then watched her father, older brothers and uncle drink heartily from it one hot summer day!  They weren't feeling too well the next day.

Others were tragic.  In a day before penicillin, her brother was racing through a field in his bare feet and ran a Goldenrod stalk up into his foot.  He developed an infection and died from lockjaw.

I think that some who search their family histories are hoping to strike gold.  I wonder if Andrew and Elizabeth, who boarded the boat in Bremen in the summer of 1845, with their two children, Henry and Marianna (aged 4 and 3), thought that they were going to America to find gold.  It seems they had intentions of doing well.

Another family story was that Andrew and his family were on their way to California to become beer and wine makers.

Andrew had brought yeast from Germany with him to start the process.

But, once they landed in New York City, while the manifest checker called them Kings and they must have thought they had really made it, they had to turn over what monies they had to pay for the items they brought with them.

Finding they couldn't pay the freight to get to the West Coast, they found their way to upstate New York where friends beckoned them, hearing that their dream of barrels of beer and vineyards was dashed and that they were penniless from having to pay out what they had at the duty port.

Upstate, they did what they knew from the homeland and took up farming.

The Koenigs became the Kings, though the immigration agent called them "Kong."  They gave up their fermentation dreams, due to having to leave their cash at the piers in New York City.  It turns out, twas duty killed the yeast!

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