52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Blended Family

The following entry is about the Stork family. They were one of the first pioneer families to settle in the Washington County area. 

Barry Graul, great-grandson of the Reverend Doctor Jacob Graul (a neighbor of Peter Jaeger), and I have been in contact for nearly five years. Barry has visited his ancestors’ farms and became acquainted with Aunt Delores (Gummelt), who helped him learn more about his family’s history. I learned last year that Barry’s great-great-grandfather, Philipp Peter Stork, was buried on what is now Dodd Lange’s farm, in Burton. The grave sits alone, next to the Stork house which in recent years has fallen into ruin. Philipp Peter Stork’s life and death is a very interesting one and at Barry’s request, I set out to find the grave. I located the address of the farm, and it was by sheer luck that I connected with Dodd. While driving past the farm with two cousins, we saw him working in the field and waved him over. Dodd and I made arrangements for me to visit the grave and got together about nine months later when the weather was favorable.

Philipp Peter Stork, born November 18, 1798, hailed from the little village of Dienethal, Duchy of Nassau, in modern-day Germany. As he grew, he learned the trade of “Schneidermeister” which is a master tailor. He was married his first wife, Henriette Justine Reck, on June 22, 1828. Sadly, she passed away six months later. Philipp married his second wife Maria Elisabeth Paul, in 1830. They had five children, but only two survived to come to America: Johann Philipp and Karl Christian. Philipp sadly lost his second wife on May 6, 1837, just one month after their daughter Karoline was born, likely due to complications from childbirth. He married his third wife Marie Karoline Goeth four months later and shortly afterwards, the infant Karoline died. Philipp and Marie had five children, one of whom died in infancy.

The couple was adventurous and sailed to America in December 1845. After landing in Galveston, they travelled to Winedale and settled near the Nassau Plantation. The Storks purchased land jointly with Burkhardt and Mayer families (the land was later split among the three). The families began work immediately to build houses and establish their farms. Philipp Peter and Marie Karoline had a child there named Adolph on February 9, 1849. Their good fortune did not last long. On September 29, 1849, Philipp Peter died of a “high fever” after cutting logs. It is likely that he died of yellow fever or malaria (then often called “black water fever”).

Just as the family was starting to establish their lives as Americans, Karoline was left a widow with a farm and seven children to take care of. What was she to do? Philipp Peter Stork died without leaving a will. On September 26, 1850, Gottfried Braun was appointed as the principal administrator of her estate and the legal guardian of her children. They were married shortly thereafter. One can’t help but wonder if this was a marriage of love or convenience. Caroline (she began spelling her name with a “C” at the time of her marriage to Gottfried) needed a helper and she did not have relatives around her to offer assistance. Her eldest children Johann and Karl, ages 16 and 14 were still not old enough to manage a farm and the family.

What we do know is that Johann never did accept his stepmother’s decision to remarry. Henry Brenneke, a neighbor, was appointed his guardian a shortly after Gottfried came into the picture. Gottfried and Caroline went on to have two children, Karolina and Rofina, which left a very blended family, with Philipp Peter and Maria Elisabeth’s two children, Philipp Peter and Caroline’s five children (four not counting Johann), and Caroline and Gottfried’s two children.

I imagine it was a challenge for young Philipp to accept his stepfather, after having experienced so many new challenges and successes with his father Philippe Peter. To have someone new come into the picture to take charge so abruptly must have been upsetting. Johann was fortunate to have been accepted into the Brenneke household, where he began using the name “John.” Unfortunately, his story does not have a “Hollywood ending.” John Stork tragically was killed in action on May 15, 1864, while serving in the Union Army. According to oral tradition, he was crossing a field to retrieve water when he was shot by a Confederate sniper. He left behind his wife and daughter, who, surely needing a helper and companion, remarried into the family of Henry Fisher.

It was a challenge to get to Philipp Peter Stork’s grave; however, it was well worth the effort. The space was eerily quiet. One can stand in the grove under the ancestral oak, cedar, and blackjack trees and imagine the cloud of sadness descending on the Stork family, as they mourned their patriarch and pondered an uncertain future. I treated the headstone with D2 to prevent further growth of moss and vegetation and documented the GSP coordinates at the request of the family. The headstone and foot marker are enclosed by a fence. The hand pointing upward signifies the reward of the righteous and the confirmation of life after death. Its inscription, Selig sind die Knechte die der Herr Gott Kommen wachend findet” is translated as “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching” (Luke 12:37a).

This picture above was taken in the 1970s following restoration. The headstone had fallen down and was broken at the base and near the top. A concrete base was poured at that time and a supporting buttress was added to keep the stone in place.

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