Casefile Clues

22 April 2013

A 1917 Baptism

Chances are the actual baptismal certificate for my grandfather is long gone and I'll never see it. It likely was destroyed in a 1923 house fire which destroyed the family home. I never really thought about looking for the church record of Granddad's baptism.

Granddad Ufkes was one of those Germans with four names: a first name, two middle names, and his surname. Granddad was the oldest in his family and the only child to get a German name. He was named for his Grandfather Ufkes, who had the exact same name as he did. Both grandfather's Anglicized first names were John, but the Ufkes grandfather had a High German name (Johann) and his maternal grandfather had a low-German name (Jans).  To the Ostfriesen ethnic community Johann and Jans were different.

Granddad's younger siblings were all given "English names."  Born in 1917, he was arrived before the First World War brought an end to the use of the German and Platt names that had been passed down for generations.

Baptismal entry for Johann Heinrich Friederich Ufkes, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Basco, Hancock County, Illinois; digital image, Archves.com. 

The entry really isn't all that noteworthy. The information about his birth and the names of his parents are all details I have known forever--in fact, his mother lived long enough to see me graduate from high school, nearly seventy years after Granddad's birth. His parents are listed correctly as Fred[rich] and Trientje Janssen Ufkes and the indication is that he was born on 27 January 1917 in Bear Creek Township. His baptism was 22 days later on Sunday, 18 February 1917. His sponsors were his father's brother Eielt Ufkes and his wife Antje. The name of the sponsors and the date of his baptism were the only pieces of information I did not already have.

Granddad's brother's baptism is recorded a few years later in 1923 and that's the last entry for the family in the Immanuel Lutheran Church record book. His three younger siblings are not there. The reason they are not there is simple, but it took longer than it should have for the reason to dawn on me.

It was one of those things that never made sense, but was never questioned. My grandparents lived on the Ufkes "homeplace," west of Basco and maybe a half a mile from Immanuel Lutheran Church where Granddad was baptized in 1917. Yet my Grandparents didn't attend the rural church. They, Grandad's mother, and my family attended the Lutheran church several miles north in Carthage. I always thought it odd that despite their proximity to the "south church," they went to church in town. Granddad's mother lived in Carthage my whole life and I lived north of Carthage, so it going there for us made perfect sense to me.

The story, which I learned sometime later, was that Fred Ufkes wanted his children to learn English, which was spoken in the town church while the south church continued to have services in German.

When I remembered that story, I knew exactly why the younger children were not listed in the records of the south church. They were born after the family had transferred their membership to the town church. I had it in my head that the transfer happened during the First World War, but it did not as my uncle was born in 1923.

The timing of the family's transfer probably was not the war. It most likely was the fact that Johann Ufkes, Fred's father, died in 1924. There are no entries for the Fred Ufkes family after that time. Johann was an early council member of the south church and it was where all his children were baptized and confirmed and it was in that church cemetery where Johann's wife Noentje and infant son were buried. It seems more reasonable that there was a wait to leave the church until the grandfather passed away in 1924.