NaNoWriMo Project: The History of Martha

For this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project, I am working on a Kirsch book, which I’ve named “The History of Martha” for now. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of a novel (and, ideally, finish the novel) in the month of November. This isn’t a novel and I’m not planning to finish it this month, but I’ve managed to write 4522 words so far. This is not ideal for November 8, but much of the work I do before and after work, and usually late at night with a cup of tea, is research. That’s still progress, right?

The section I am focusing on right now is Marth Kirsch’s arrival in Canada. I haven’t found a record of her traveling to Winnipeg. Martha’s obituary indicates she arrived in around 1904 or 1905. The 1916 Census of Canada says 1910; the 1921 Census says 1905.

The Stories from the Past blog post series recalls Martha traveled from Russia to Winnipeg with the Rempel family, an elderly couple for whom she worked as a domestic: “Mr. and Mrs. Remple, August Remple and Martha went to live at 868 Ballantine [Bannatyne] Avenue, Winnipeg. It is not certain if Martha’s sister, Julia, was already living in Winnipeg or whether she immigrated along with the Remples. Julia and August did not know each other in Germany. August Remple and Julia Kirsch eventually married each other.” However, according to the 1891 Census of Canada, Martha’s sister and husband were already living in Winnipeg .

“[Rempel family in Hansa ship manifest, 1890]” from Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934, accessed 07 Nov 2020 through Ancestry.

August and Julia immigrated to Canada with their sons Adolf and Gustave August in 1890 (see above record). In 1891, they are living in Winnipeg with August’s 81-year-old father, also August Rempel. In the 1906 Canada Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, the Rempels are living at 509 Alexander Avenue with one boarder, Robert Palmer.

Gustave August Rempel, born in 1889 and referred to as August in most records, would have been in his early teens when Martha arrived.

I indulged my theory that Martha left Russia with another Mr. and Mrs. Rempel (maybe relatives of August Rempel) and that the abundance of August Rempels complicated the story. I began looking for immigration records for any Rempel coming to Canada in the early 1900s.

“[Rempel family in Montezuma ship manifest, 1908]” from Canada Passenger Lists, 1881-1922, accessed 08 Nov 2020 through FamilySearch.

I found a “Marta Rempel” in the Canada Passenger Lists, 1881-1922 collection in FamilySearch. When I clicked on it, the image revealed that her surname was possibly not Rempel as Marta is recorded as having the occupation of “domestic,” perhaps for Friedrich and Rosa Rempel, who were 68 and 60 years old when they traveled aboard the Montezuma and arrived in Quebec City on September 14, 1908. The record shows that they were from Russia and were destined for Winnipeg. Finally, this Marta is 25 years old. Martha Kirsch would have been around 27 in 1908 (and there are usually discrepancies in age reporting).

Friedrich (Frederick) and Rosa (Rosella) “Rimple” are possibly found living in Sunnyside township in 1911. In the 1911 Census of Canada, they are recorded as German Baptists who immigrated in 1809 (born in Russian Poland). This 1911 Census of Canada districts and sub-districts guide shows “Township 11 in ranges 5, 6 east of the 1st Meridian” as including “Oak Bank Village” and Sunnyside. As their ages are close to that of the aforementioned Friedrich and Rosa Rempel, I am very certain they are the same people.

According to Manitoba Vital Statistics, Friedrich Rempel died November 20, 1932, in Springfield, Manitoba (Springfield, which merged with Sunnyside municipality, is a rural municipality that includes Oakbank, which was where Julia’s father-in-law, August Rempel, apparently owned a farm–or perhaps the story refers to this elderly Rempel couple after all?). Rosa died three years later, on June 6, 1935.

Was this our Martha Kirsch aboard the Montezuma? I don’t know if I will ever find an immigration record that confirms when Martha arrived in Canada or be able to iron out the story. Like many tend to do when researching, I get excited over a possible record and try my best to make it fit what I think happened. Perhaps “domestic” was simply just 25-year-old Marta’s occupation and she was the daughter or relative of Friedrich and Rosa. I am curious what others think!

Stories from the Past: Hardships (Part 4)

First of all, congratulations to my cousin, Daniel Kelm, and his wife, Leah, for their marriage on October 25!

Records to do with the following installment of “Stories from the Past” can be viewed in previous blog posts, Journey to Canada and Finding Serafina Kelm. “Julius Junior” in the story is Gustav Kelm. We don’t know why there is a name discrepancy, but a possibility is that Gustav is a middle name.

Note: The following stories were written by a Kelm family member who was close to Julius and Martha. They were both interviewed and their stories retold revealing insights into their personal lives, marriages, births, and deaths. The stories were transcribed by Phyllis Kelm Reakes with permission to share from the original author.

Stories from the Past: Hardships (Part 4)

The journey by ship from Russia to Canada was full of many hardships. Julius and Serafina’s young son Julius Junior became ill on the ship coming over to Canada and he never fully recovered. Julius died of respiratory problems and he was buried in the pauper section of Brookside Cemetery. This was the area set aside for free graves for people that had no money to purchase a burial plot for the deceased. Serafina died in 1910 and was buried in the section just opposite of where Julius Junior was buried. It is believed to have been tuberculosis or because of a weak heart [note: the death record states “organic heart failure”].

When Serafina died, Julius had to board out his two children Bill and Olga. He had to work and had no one to care for them. He therefore placed them on a paid basis with some people while he went to work. He lived in the basement of his employer’s home, August Remple, at 808 Ballantyne Ave. The people who were boarding the children and the Remples, knew each other. Martha and Julius met at 808 Ballantyne as they were both living in different parts of the house. Soon, Martha’s sister Julia began to play matchmaker, as did the people caring for the children. They were not interested in looking after Bill and Olga and certainly did not do a very good job of caring for them. Martha for her part did not want to marry.

Stories from the Past: Martha Kirsch (Part 3)

My great-grandmother, Martha Kirsch, was born in April 1881 in Lutsk, Volhynia, Russia, to Samuel Kirsch (Wisniewski in Polish) and Karolina Wurfel. As all of the Kirsch children born between 1877 and 1897 were born in Ludwischin (village), Lutsk (district), Volhynia (region), Russia, it is possible Martha was also born there.

Note: The following stories were written by a Kelm family member who was close to Julius and Martha. They were both interviewed and their stories retold revealing insights into their personal lives, marriages, births, and deaths. The stories were transcribed by Phyllis Kelm Reakes with permission to share from the original author.

Stories from the Past: Martha Kirsch (Part 3)

Martha came from a very poor family of 19 children. She recalls her father, [Samuel], as an old man with a beard, who married three or four times. Martha’s siblings Julia, Carl and Daniel all immigrated to Canada, too.

Martha said that there were so many children that at night her parents had to make a roll call to see that all the children were accounted for and none were missing. One evening one of the children was missing. The parents and the older children started to search for him. They found him sleeping in the outside oven. It was warm in the oven and he had crawled inside and fell asleep there.

The Kirsch farm was situated next to a school but the Kirsch children did not go to school as they were too poor and had to work. Martha’s job was herding cows. She would go outside all day in the field watching the cows and would hear the children singing in the school house when the windows of the school house were open. She sang along with them and soon she knew all the songs. At night she said she would sit on her father’s lap and sing the songs to him. He was amazed and asked her how she had learned the songs. She told him she had heard the children singing in the school house and learned the songs. This made her father very happy. Martha was very intelligent. She had an excellent memory. She never went to school but at age 30 while living in Camper, Manitoba she learned to read and write German from the minister that used to visit. She then taught all her children to read and write in the German language.

In Germany, the Remples were neighbours of the Kirsch family. They felt sorry for Martha and took her in. She worked for them as a domestic and they were very good to her. The Remples decided to come to Canada with their 12-year-old son, August. They asked Martha to come with them and she decided to immigrate with them to Canada.

About this same time Martha fell in love with a young man. They wanted to marry but he had to serve a year in the army first. She said that she could not wait for him as arrangements had been made for her to go to Canada with the Remples. The young man was very heartbroken. He told her that she would never be happy because she did not marry him, a man who truly loved her. Later, Martha learned that this young man had been killed in the army. She often told this story and over the years the words of her young man came back to haunt her. She did not have a happy marriage to Julius Kelm and although she loved her children she often wondered how her life could have been different if she had remained in Volhynia and had married her young soldier.

Mr. and Mrs. Remple, August Remple and Martha went to live at 868 Ballantine [Bannatyne] Avenue, Winnipeg. It is not certain if Martha’s sister, Julia, was already living in Winnipeg or whether she immigrated along with the Remples. Julia And August did not know each other in Germany [note: August and Julia Remple immigrated to Canada in 1890 and appear in the 1891 Census of Canada with August’s eighty-one-year-old father, August Remple]. August Remple and Julia Kirsch eventually married each other. Also living in the house about this time was Martha and Julia’s brothers, Carl and Daniel, who worked for the CPR.

Mr. and Mrs. Remple were already fairly elderly. They had purchased a small farm at Oak Bank, which was not far from Winnipeg. Later, when Mrs. Remple was dying she only wanted Martha to look after her. Martha left her husband, Julius, and children to care for Mrs. Remple who died within a week. The house at 808 Ballantine [Bannatyne] was a large two or three story home that was located close to the General Hospital [Winnipeg General Hospital, now Health Sciences Centre]. August Remple was a sewer contractor and had people working for him digging sewer lines for the City of Winnipeg. The Remples also had rooms rented out to boarders, most of whom worked at the hospital which was located nearby. Martha got a job working in the laundry room of the hospital. She would wash the hospital sheets on washboards and folded the clean laundry. She described herself as being quite happy. She had a real job for the first time in her life and was making her own money. She was quite content and had no interest in getting married.