On this date in 1915, my great grandfather George William Schenk died. He was survived by my 37-year-old great grandmother Mary and four children: his daughter Georgiana Frances, age 141; son Christopher, age 12; daughter Irene, age 9; and daughter Evelyn, age 5. He was preceded in death earlier that year by his daughter Valentine Dora, who was not quite 14 months old at the time of her death.
Several years ago while reading through an autograph book that belonged to my grandmother, I realized that the second page was signed by her father George. I was thrilled to see the little note he had written her. One of those beautiful personal treasures a family historian loves to find.
As I read the note a second time, I wondered why his handwriting seemed a bit shaky – like that of an elderly man. I knew he was in his late thirties when he died so it didn’t make sense.
And then I saw the date of the note – October 25, 1915.
My heart sank as I came to the realization that it had been written just six days prior to his death.
I pulled out George’s death certificate and was reminded that he died of tuberculosis of the lungs and had been sick for two years prior to his death. And it occurred to me that he might have known the end was near when he signed his daughter’s autograph book.
Suddenly, the “little note” took on a whole new meaning.
Marysville, Montana | October 25, 1915
Dear Daughter Georgie:
First in your album, I sign my name; because I am your Father. First in my heart, put all your love; because you are my Daughter.
Your loving Father, George Schenk
Years later, my grandmother wrote these words in her journal2.
I realize the sense of security that only a Father can give a little girl.
There are no words when the little pieces come together to tell a touching story.
Georgiana Frances was my grandmother. I suspect she was named after her father and he called her “Georgie”. ↩
My daughter-in-law gets the credit for locating this little gem in my grandmother’s journal. She had it blown up and framed and then gave it to me as a gift several years ago. It would be several more years before I discovered the autograph album and the note written by my great grandfather. I think they call this genealogy serendipity. ↩
Mary and George knicknamed their baby girl “Georgie”.
This photo was taken in the Schenk living room. In the background, above the piano, is a portrait of Georgie’s father George. There are also numerous photographs on top of the piano but it’s difficult to identify any of them – except possibly a wedding photo of Georgie’s parents on the far left.
I was also curious to know more about the metal-appearing container on the far right-side of the photo. After a little research, I concluded that it was probably some type of primitive parlor stove.
Young George’slife was forever changed when at age 6 his father, Johann “John” Frederick Schenk, died in Iron Mountain Michigan on April 27, 1884 – at the age of 39. George’s mother, Katharina “Katherine” Ziegler Schenk, was left to raise George and his seven siblings on her own – the youngest being 9 months and the oldest being 14.
George William Schenk (pronounced “Shank” and sometimesspelled Schenck)was born September 29, 1877 in Houghton, Michigan. After his father died, George’s mother found it difficult to support her family and soon made the decision to follow her two oldest sons who had left Michigan to work in the gold and silver mines of Montana. By age 14, George found himself working in hard rock mines as a water carrier.