My grandpa Bebensee had sparkling blue eyes that seemed to dance when he smiled, but, if he was riled they could pierce through you like a knife. You towed the line with Grandpa – no messing around – now that's not to say you couldn't have fun, but, you better not cause trouble or there would be a price to pay. Grandpa loved to sing, I can still see him standing there singing “Oh, I wish I were single again – for my pockets would jingle....” and he would reach in his front pocket and shake it so the change would jingle. So long ago now and yet it could be just yesterday because the memory is so clear in my mind. Grandpa grew up near Hamburg, Germany – he was a city boy. I imagine when he emigrated in 1906 to the flat open state of Nebraska it was quiet the cultural shock.
My grandfather was just 7 years old when his father and older brother emigrated to the US in 1898. In a letter written in 1899 by my grandfather and his mother to his brother it tells of the how painful it was not to have his father there with them (see my post of December – to read the letter http://terri-thetiesthatbind.blogspot.com/2008/12/christmas-letter-to-nebraska-1899-from.html). The only memory of his father passed on were stories of how his father would take him to the docks in Hamburg to see the big ships that came in and out of the harbor. So in 1994 when I traveled with my parents to Germany it was a must see for my Mom who wanted to see what he so vividly remembered and told her about as a young girl. The docks and locks in Hamburg are an impressive site and I imagine in the early 1890's that it was just as impressive, especially to a little boy.
I think most of us have a grandiose idea of who our ancestors were, that they were honorable and noble people. With the disappearance of my great grandfather in 1906 it was assumed, since the last known residence was in San Francisco, that he must have died in the great earthquake disaster. Something just ate at me about this assumption and I began a quest for some record – anything that would prove that he was there. Searching through every website I could find on this disaster led me nowhere. One site claims only 500 people died in the earthquake. Other's say it's in the 1000's that died, not only from the earthquake itself but from the after effects such as fires, disease and shock. I've also read that the city tried to cover up how bad it really was because they were afraid people would not come there any more. I've searched through all the available hospital records and hotel registers that are available online. Nothing on Gustave Bebensee. Now I realize there were probably a lot of people that died that had no identification and that the conditions were such that possibly there were inconsistencies in the records. But, I just felt he had to have friends or people that he worked with that would report him missing or that would send a letter to the family of his demise – there was nothing.
As I mentioned before I never neglect to look for three particular individuals when I search any genealogy site – my great grandparents the Bebensee's and my grandfathers sister Greta. To my surprise one day up pops the 1910 census with a Gustav Bebensee living in Los Angeles, California. Could it be I thought? I was kind of shaking as I read the information. The age was about right -he was German and emigrated in 1898 – oh my gosh that matches too. But it could still just be a coincidence. I'm sure there could be other Gustave Bebensee's out there – however, when I read the occupation “decorator” - which was what my great grandfather had trained for in Germany and that was his occupation as an adult – I really felt this could be him. Right down to my bones I suspected it was him.
Now if the census had said his occupation was something more common, like farmer, I might have dismissed it, but, decorator – come on – really could there be so many coincidences?
The surprise on the census was that there was a wife listed – Jennette Bebensee – and it stated they had been married for 5 years. That would put their marriage around 1905 -hmmmmm??
As I shared the information with other family members I got a variety of responses. From “hmmmm” to an absolute “No it can't be him – he would not have deserted his children!”. I on the other hand was not so sure. Of course I'd like to believe that he would not have deserted his children, but really what did we know about him? Only a little boy's memory of how much he loved his father who would take him to the docks to see the big ships. My great grandfather was a relatively young man when he came to the US – just 35 and an entire world away from Germany. It stands to reason that he could be attracted to someone else and choose to start a new life. In my heart I wasn't so sure that I wanted it to be him either, because that would change my whole way of thinking about him.
Until a couple weeks ago this was the only record I had found that indicated it could be him. Then as I was doing my usual blog reading of up-dated posts I read on James Tanner's, Genealogy Star, that the Family Search had updated records for California. As I clicked on the link I hoped that possibly there would now be new information on Gustave. I had hoped I would again find him on the 1920 California census report, but, he was not on the census. What I did find though, after all these years, left me stunned and unsure of whether I really wanted to know what I now knew.............
Join me again when I will share what I found that has brought me to tears and yet.........