22 December 2013

Way out in the middle of nowhere...

Way out in the middle of nowhere is where my 2x great grandfather, Eilert Heerten, decided to settle. 

Homesteading in Keya Paha County, Nebraska, the property is nearly in South Dakota. The last time I was there... well, let's just say I couldn't yet read, write or cross the street by myself.

The red point on the map represents Springview, Nebraska; the
closest town.
Google Maps

A recent discovery on this particular family (and an exciting one!) started me thinking... was Eilert involved in any fraternal societies? If so, how? Where?

One benefit I have as the researcher is the surname I'm working with: Heerten. Find a Heerten in the U.S., and I'm related. Pretty much guaranteed. Not "I just met them online because we're researching a mutual 6th great grandfather" related; but the "oh, yes, I talked to her last week and her daughter just got a trophy for gymnastics" related. Eilert came to the U.S. with his brother, Sweeney, and as far as we know, they were the only two of their generation to do so. Everyone else stayed home in Germany. And so, if you find a Heerten in the U.S., I'm related.

The second benefit I have is that I know exactly where Eilert and his family settled. I can say this with such certainty because their direct descendants are still working that land. He became a naturalized citizen in Menard County, Illinois, and finalized his homestead in June, 1890.

These two points allow me to be fairly easily intimately familiar with the family tree once more, at just a glance. It's been a while since I actively searched on this line, but a quick refresh was all I needed to get going again. I started by taking a second look at the family headstones, nearly all located in the Ainsworth Cemetery in Brown County, Nebraska. With a new focus on fraternal organizations, I was specifically looking for any symbols or markings that may indicate involvement in any organization. A quick run through the images, and... nothing. Not a single standard symbol from any member of the family, in the Heerten line or a collateral line.

I have looked before for city directories or even state directories that might include this area. It is so remote, though, and has such a low population, I have never been able to locate any. I did a quick search, and once again came up empty.

My next move was to try the Grand Lodge of Nebraska (Masonic). Simply because they are the largest of the fraternal societies, I felt it more likely that there would be a Masonic lodge in the area than any of the others. I found this list, which made me realize that the Masonic mission is still very much alive in the State of Nebraska. From this list, however, I was not able to determine those that might be closest to the Heerten's.

Stop and Evaluate: What do I need? 

As I try to find an answer, I realize that I am more likely to find useful information if I reach out to a couple of folks first:

  • A good state map of Nebraska would be very helpful. I have requested one via the Nebraska Tourism Commission
  • I have reviewed the History section of the Springview, Nebraska website. It would be unlikely for them to mention anything specifically about fraternal societies, but I read it to be sure anyway. I followed up with an email, asking about the general history of societies in the area. 
  • Knowing that Eilert and Sweeney immigrated from Germany, it would be beneficial to look at the general populous, to determine if they were in a community that was heavily influenced one way or another. Were their neighbors also German? Or did they originate from another country? Finding a general sense of the heritage of the community may help me narrow down exactly what it is I am searching for; which organizations would have formed naturally in this area? 

The current population of Springview is less than 300 people. I guess if I exhaust all online resources, I'll just have to drive out there and start asking around! 

What am I left with? 

Essentially, just another course of research that is in "pending" status. I am still waiting to hear back from organizations in the Denver area on another family member, and now I am waiting for resources from northern Nebraska. (Not to leave out the very southern edge of South Dakota, certainly!) Hopefully I will have an update on at least one - if not both! - soon after the start of the new year. 

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