Family Secrets

June 24, 2010

“Every family has secrets. It’s what we do with them that counts.”
—Kay Elizabeth, Editor/Owner, The Cuckleburr Times

A few months ago I read an intriguing, at times heartbreaking, book called Annie’s Ghost, by Steve Luxenberg. It’s the story of his mother and how she hid the existence of her disabled sister throughout most of their lives.

The story initially caught my attention because it takes place in Detroit. My attention then grew to fascination because Luxenberg comes through with this ace investigative journalism—as well he should since he’s an associate editor at The Washington Post.

Luxenberg’s methodical research into his family’s secret interests me because we too have a family secret—unanswered questions that I would love to further investigate.

And like Luxenberg, who at times questioned revealing his mother’s secret, I too have been unsure of what to do with information many of my family members already know, but others do not.

Here’s a quote from Luxenberg’s blog. It’s the comment a reader made to him, and I’m taking it as my cue.

“I was talking about your book at a family gathering, and it led to a conversation about some family secrets that we had always avoided discussing. Thanks for making it safe for us to talk about things that we needed to bring out.”

—Comment made to Steve Luxenberg from reader of Annie’s Ghost

So here goes…

Years ago, there was an afternoon when three generations of my maternal family sat reflecting on the past—my grandmother Ruth, my mother Carol and I. We talked about things we remembered, some of them funny, some of them not so much. Naturally, I was intrigued by the story of Ruth’s father, Carl Hooge, who was a Chicago policeman and shot in the line of duty.

After our time together, my mom was upset. In private, she told me Ruth’s father was indeed shot in the line of duty, but there were rumors he wasn’t shot by someone else. He shot himself.

Does Grandma know this, I wondered?

My mother didn’t think so, and she wanted it to stay that way. She was insistent that Ruth be allowed to keep the noble image she’d always had of her father.

Well, it’s been more than 15 years since that afternoon together. My dear mother Carol died in 1999. And Ruth died seven years later at the wondrous age of 97. As far as we know, Ruth always believed her father was shot in the line of duty.

So what of those rumors? Are they true?

After reading Annie’s Ghost, I emailed Steve Luxenberg. He emailed me back. He even called. What a super guy!

Steve offered many helpful suggestions on how to research Carl Hooge’s death. He also did a little looking himself—apparently the reporter in him couldn’t resist. He sent me a Chicago Daily Tribune article, dated June 13, 1917, which reads:

Policeman Carl Hooge of Deering Street Station, 36 years old, 5340 South Wood Street, shot himself in the head while on duty at the South Halsted Street bridge yesterday. He died at the People’s hospital. A sealed letter to his wife will be opened at the inquest today.

Policeman Martin McFadden, who went to relieve him at 6 o’clock in the evening, found him in the bridge shanty shot. Hooge’s revolver lay beside him.

“So long, old pal,” Hooge murmured as he sank into unconsciousness.

No cause for the suicide is known to his comrades of the Deering Street station, where he had served four years.

—Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922); Jun 13, 1917;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849 – 1986) pg. 17

A copy of Carl’s death certificate verifies this same thing and states that the officiating undertaker was Edward Hornburg, Carl’s brother-in-law.

Not too long ago, I called Edward Hornburg’s grandson. Mr. Hornburg is, at the least, a third generation mortician for the Hornburg & Sons Funeral Homes. He’s recently retired and has closed the doors of his family’s business.

Imagine the stories that come with three generations of working with people in their greatest time of need. Perhaps Mr. Hornburg knew something of ours? After all, we are distantly related and stories do get passed along.

Mr. Hornburg, however, said he knew nothing.

I asked if it was possible for Carl’s death to be publicized in the newspaper, yet facts kept so quiet that Ruth never learned of them, even later in life?

“Yes,” he said, in the nicest of ways. “In those days if something seemed disgraceful, they would have just kept it under wraps. They didn’t want to bring shame to themselves, they thought it was a reflection on their family.”

Here’s where the questions start to arise, some of them hypothetical and some of them ethical.

First and foremost, did Carl really shoot himself?

Could it have been a murder and cover-up?

Was it right or wrong for an 8-year-old girl to be safeguarded from the truth? To be allowed to grow up with the confidence that develops when a daughter can idolize her father?

Did Ruth ever know the truth? Did she choose to ignore it? Hide it?

And finally, there’s the question of transparency. Transparency—what a cliché word this is nowadays. We’ve become such an open society and we talk about everything, including family secrets.

Should we talk about ours? Here’s why I think we should.

Of the many possibilities concerning his death, one is that Carl could have suffered from depression. Knowing what we know today of this merciless disease—that it’s a medical condition no different than diabetes or heart disease—it’s important we be aware of our family’s full medical history. Our possible medical history.

Talking about Carl’s death also compels us to think with compassion. We wonder about his life, his work, his agonies. We sympathize with his wife Emma and the decisions forced upon her. Our hearts ache for his children, his daughter—our grandmother.

And finally, Carl’s death is part of Ruth’s story. It’s who she is. It’s what made her to be. It’s our story, as well.

Certainly, there’s no shame in that.

What do you think?


Purses and Impressions

June 3, 2010

Aren’t the impressions we have of things as kids funny? And later, when we learn how off we were, isn’t that funny too?

For example, when my son was little he thought his great-uncle Ken was Watertown’s claim-to-fame astronaut Dan Brandenstein. He thought this because Uncle Ken had emphysema and toted a portable oxygen tank.

Or, when I was little, I often heard my grandmother Ruth speak of her brother Carl and his wife Maybelle. Because Carl and Maybelle lived in Chicago, I never remember meeting them. But being a young, impressionable Michigan girl, I assumed Maybelle was Mabel, from Black Label Beer commercials.

(By the way, this week, would have been Carl’s birthday. He was born June 6, 1906.)

Perhaps my most profound, yet disappointing, misconception was of my grandmother’s sister Charlotte. Before I can ever remember meeting her, Aunt Charlotte sent my sisters and me glamorous gifts such as party dresses, umbrellas and little white gloves. She also regularly attended the Ice Capades and afterwards would send us the program filled with pictures of beautiful skaters wearing flowing taffeta gowns.

Now, I wasn’t much of a girly-girl back then so the flowing gowns weren’t that important. But I did have this sense of Aunt Charlotte being an Ice Capade. When I finally got to meet her, I remember feeling greatly disappointed because she was just like every other old lady. I may have even thrown a temper tantrum about it, which supposedly was common for me at the time.

In retrospect, when I first met Aunt Charlotte, she couldn’t have been old at all. She was was born May 21, 1921, and was twelve years younger than my grandmother.

Unlike Carl, who was never part of our lives, Aunt Charlotte involved herself very much with the younger generations. She had no children of her own, but she had money and time to spend. She adorned us with the most impractical and delightful fluff. That’s where the previously mentioned little white purses come in, also the purse pictured above.

In Aunt Charlotte’s view, the little white purse was as much a needed fashion item as the little black dress. I could easily supply a boutique had I saved all the purses she sent during my childhood and young adult years (before she gave up on my sense of style). Obviously, my disregard for their value was another of my off impressions.

How about you?

Do you still have your purses?

What funny ideas did you have as a kid?

I had always thought this was a picture of Carl Hooge (Ruth’s brother). However, now that I know more of history and dates, I’m not so sure. This looks like a military uniform, doesn’t it? Yet his age doesn’t coincide for either World War I or II.

Ruth also had an uncle named Carl Hornburg. Perhaps it’s him?

This picture was taken during the “Charlotte-is-not-an-Ice Capade” visit, circa early 1960s.

Seated from l-r, Charlotte (Arendt) Matz Prischman, Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt (Charlotte and Ruth’s mother) and Ruth (Hooge) Larson (my grandmother).

When my husband was thirteen, his mother telephoned the township chairman about the poor state of affairs in the Union Cemetery. Her concern was for a small, country plot of land up the road from their farm that had long served as a historical record of the surrounding neighborhood.

As a result, that summer my father-in-law became sexton for the Union Cemetery of Jefferson Co., Wis. (a poetically old-fashioned name befitting the caretaker of gravestones dating back to the 1850s).

For his work he received an ever-so-slight compensation, which he passed on to his 13-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter for diligently pushing their lawnmowers up to the cemetery, mowing and trimming, and then pushing them back home again.

Little did my mother-in-law know this would become a perpetual position. In fact, here it is forty years later—my father-in-law still serves as sexton and three generations of our family have taken turns at mowing, general maintenance, a periodic grave fill by hand and the annual Memorial Day cemetery board meeting.

I know, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with Ruth? Or beaded bells?

Well, in a paradoxical way, maybe it does.

This weekend, as we celebrate Memorial Day, we’ll head up to the cemetery for that annual board meeting. With the exception of my husband and me (because we, of course, never age:-), its a gathering of ever-aging members whose loved ones are buried there under the trees. They come with the pretense of discussing cemetery business, however, in truth I know they come to reflect. They walk through the rows examining gravestones. They tell stories and connect the family names. They bring reverence to this hilly sanctuary of lives worth remembering.

As I watch and listen to the board members, I’m reminded of Ruth. I think of all the family names connected to her, none of who rest in the Union Cemetery. Instead they’re in Chicago’s Bethania and Oak Woods Cemeteries. Or Oak Hill Cemetery in Owosso, Mich. Or a country cemetery outside Imlay City, Mich.

I hope someone is taking care of those grounds as well as my husband’s family has taken care of these.

George and Ruth Larson’s stone in Oak Hill Cemetery, Owosso, Mich.

The state of Wisconsin has an ongoing genealogy project called the U.S. GenWeb Archives Project. Volunteers have photographed thousands of tombstones and submitted them for an online database. Does your state have anything like this?

And lastly, the end of May brings an end to the heavy duty family tree stuff. By now, I’m sure you’re thoroughly confused. If so, but you still want a basic record, I’m including two charts here, taken from They’re somewhat abbreviated so I eventually hope to add pages with full names and such.

Click below and enjoy now. Check back again later for updates.

The Hooge Family Tree

The Larson Family Tree

Age is a Relative Thing

April 24, 2010

So here we are, still celebrating birthdays. You know how each family has a month that’s just lambasted with birthdays? Well, years ago April was that month for our family. And because Easter often was in April as well, my mother would combine all the birthdays with Easter for a big family gathering.

Here’s a bulleted list of birthdays for you. I do this because, as a graphic designer, I’m skillfully aware that a vertical list of many items is visually more pleasing to the eye than a horizontal (how’s that for a shameless business plug?)

  • April 3:     Rebecca (my sister)
  • April 4:     Harriet Amos (my paternal step-grandmother)
  • April 10:   Diahann (me)
  • April 24:   Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt (Ruth’s mother, my great-grandmother)
  • April 27:   Gladys (Gulick) Amos Klotz (my paternal grandmother)

April 24. That’s today.

And today was my great-grandmother Emma’s birthday. So today we’re talking about her.

As you know, Emma was born in 1884 to Charles and Wilhelmina Hornburg. As a young woman, she married Carl Hooge, a Chicago policeman, and together they had two children, Carl and Ruth. In 1917 Emma’s husband died, leaving her the single mother of an 11 and 8-year-old.

A year later, Emma married Rudolph Arendt and together they had a daughter, Charlotte. They were married 37 years before Rudolph died in 1955. Emma lived another 23 years, many of them residing with her daughter, Ruth, and her final years with her daughter, Charlotte.

Emma died in 1973 when she was 89 years old.

All of this seems rather factual and impersonal, doesn’t it? But the truth is, I remember very little of my great-grandmother. From my childhood, the only image I have of Emma is her sitting in a chair by the window. She lived with my grandmother at the time and whenever we visited, there she was sitting in her chair.

She sat. And sat. And sat. Besides needlework, I wonder if she did anything else?

You know, age and time are funny things.

As a young child in the 1960s, I thought Emma was a very old and ancient woman. Yet 25-30 years later, when I was an adult and Ruth had reached that same old age, somehow Ruth didn’t seem ancient at all. She certainly didn’t sit around in a chair all day.

I guess age is a relative thing. Children naturally think everyone is old. And for each generation, the average life expectancy and quality of life exceeds the one before it.

Ruth (Hooge) Larson, 1909-2006

Pretty in pink, here’s Ruth standing by her granddaughter, Cheryl’s, car. It’s 1997 and Ruth’s 88-years-old. Don’t let the cane fool you—she did pretty good getting to wherever she wanted to go!

Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt, 1884-1973

Flashback to 1968. Here’s Emma (Ruth’s mother) sitting in her chair. She’s 84 in this picture. This is the same spot she was sitting nine years earlier…

Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt, 1884-1973

…in 1959 at age 75.

Wilhemina (Behrendt) Hornburg, 1854-1939

Going back even further to 1934. Here’s Emma’s mother (Ruth’s grandmother). She’s 80-years-old in this picture—this is the woman who had 12 kids!

So, of course, there’s more to Emma than her just sitting in a chair. What memories do you have of her? Can anyone fill us in? Please do!


Ruth Hooge’s Confirmation, 1923

March was always a big month for Ruth, with her birthday and all. But in 1923, it was especially momentous. That year Ruth turned 14, and on Sunday, March 25, she was confirmed.

Confirmation is a Christian’s public profession of faith. Churches traditionally hold Confirmation on Palm Sunday, a week before Easter, and that year Ruth’s church, the English Ev. Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, did the same.

Confirmation is another tradition Ruth’s descendants have upheld. I’m trying to round up pictures of four generations of us women on our Confirmation Sundays: my grandmother Ruth, my mother Carol, me, and my daughter Jenny. Stay tuned for those. And send me yours!

Nowadays, we use Confirmation to get the families all together for a celebration. I wonder if Ruth’s family did this as well? Do you think all the relatives came? By then those 12 aunts and uncles from her mother’s side were married and had children. This is where Lola, Minnie, Nuttie, Hattie, Daveeda and Russell come inthey were just a few of my grandmother’s many cousins.

Those must have been some family gatherings!

Ruth E. Hooge, 1923

My grandmother, Ruth (Hooge) Larson

Carol R. Larson, 1947

My mother Carol (Ruth’s daughter)

Diahann, 1973

Yep, that’s me.
Two things stand out in my memory about Confirmation. One is my sling-back shoes, which I thought were very stylish. The other is the ring my paternal grandmother, Gladys (Gulick) Amos Klotz gave me. Initially, I didn’t understand the significance of the gift—her diamond engagement ring, which also happens to be my April birthstone. I remember feeling a moment of secret disappointment because I had been drooling over a black onyx ring in the Sears catalog for $29.99.

Thankfully, I grew wiser with time.

Jennifer, 1993

My daughter Jenny.

Jenny is wearing the ruby ring her grandmother (Ruth’s daughter Carol) gave to her as a Confirmation gift. George and Ruth had originally given it to Carol for her Confirmation.

Four generations: 1993

Ruth, 84, with (counterclockwise) her daughter Carol, great-granddaughter Jenny and granddaughter Diahann. Jenny was confirmed 70 years after Ruth and now has Ruth’s certificate hanging on her bedroom wall.

The Great Census Debate

March 18, 2010

So, our census arrived this week. As we answered the ten simple questions, I couldn’t help noting how, compared to past censuses, the Census of 2010 is going to reveal very little of who we are today.

For example, look at the censuses from the 1880-1900. According to the IPUMS USA, the Census of 1880 had 26 questions, including matters regarding occupation, health, education, and place of birth (even parents’ place of birth). The Census of 1900 eliminated the glaring health questions—like are you insane, idiotic or deaf and dumb?— but added four more in areas of citizenship and home ownership. The Census of 1890 is unavailable because most of it was destroyed in 1921 during a fire in the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.

Because of these informative censuses, I know my grandmother’s mother Emma was one of twelve children born to Charles and Wilhelmine Sophia Carolina (Behrendt) Hornburg, both originally from Germany. Emma was born in Chicago in 1884, smack in the middle of Charles, Albert, Wilhem, Ella, Edward, Wilhelmine, Frank, George, Porter, Frieda and Bertha. These names vary in spelling from census to census because historically censuses were handwritten by enumerators who came door to door. In fact, the Census of 1900 lists the family name as Hornbusy.

I also know Emma’s father worked as a laborer, and at the age of 49 had lived in the U.S. for 41 years and rented, rather than owned, his home. Before marrying and while still living at home, Emma and her sisters worked as laundresses and housekeepers.

Interesting, yes? I think so.

So bear with me as I direct this from historical to slightly political. Because I thrill with the hunt of genealogy, I can’t help wondering what can possibly be the cause of the great debate of Census 2010?

My knowledge of government, politics and anything too brain-consuming is limited. But I love research (obviously), so I started digging.

According to Wikipedia, the U.S. has been taking censuses since 1790 and uses the dicennial count to “allocate Congressional seats (congressional apportionment), electoral votes and government program funding.”

The Census of 2010 has become a bipartisan hotbed that started already a year ago when Obama took office. According to Amy Sullivan in her Time magazine article, February 2009, the argument lies in how people are counted, which results in who gets counted.

“The battle over how to count people only makes sense when you look at what is at stake,” writes Sullivan. “The redistricting of local districts and reapportionment of congressional seats is based on census counts — a state could gain or lose seats based on its population, and shifts within a state determine plans for redrawing political boundaries.”

She also writes:

“Democrats have long charged that the undercounting of minorities and poor Americans prevents federal funding from reaching strapped communities. Meanwhile, Republicans argue that Democrats seek to boost numbers in order to create extra congressional districts in urban areas and to bring in more federal money for their constituencies.”

And then there are those who worry about privacy. Privacy from what, I wonder?

I personally don’t know anyone who’s been harmed by the government knowing how many people live at their house and how much they earn (as if the government doesn’t know this already…uh, federal income taxes?). With GPS, web tracking, business, bank, credit and medical records; not to mention those geeky teenage techies; do we really think we can hide anything from anyone wanting to “spy” on us?

Ah, the fun of politics. What’s your thought on this? Have you filled out your census? All of it?

How much will your descendants learn about you from the Census of 2010?

Happy Birthday Grandma!

March 5, 2010

Today, March 5, is my grandmother’s birthday. This day, 101 years ago, Ruth Esther Eliza Bertha Hooge was born, beloved daughter of Carl and Emma Hooge and sister to 2-year-old brother Carl.

Happy Birthday Grandma!

I suppose green beads and shamrocks are somewhat misleading since Ruth wasn’t the least bit Irish. She was German through and through. But March just seems to be a month when we all look forward to seeing the color green.

Funny thing about my grandmother’s birthday—it was usually white. Very white, as in lots and lots of snow. As adults, many of us moved away from Michigan and, inevitably, whenever we came back to celebrate her birthday, we ran into snow, ice, and everything else Midwestern winters offer. I have pictures of some of those birthdays. Ah, but they’re in that chaotic box of family photos and finding them could take some time.

In the meantime, on with the green!

March is going to be Ruth’s family history month. We’ll look into the Hooge and Hornburg families and figure out how names like Lola, Frieda, Minnie, Nuttie and Hattie fit in—names I grew up hearing all the time but never knew whose they were.

Stay tuned.

Ruth Esther Eliza Bertha Hooge, 1909
Picture provided by Terri Baur

Ruth and her brother Carl. Look at the bow on his shirt—no wonder he’s not smiling.

Getting to Know Ruth

January 17, 2010

crochet afghan

When I think of my grandmother, the first thought that comes to mind is needlework. Knitting, crocheting, cross-stitch—you name it, she did it.

As a kid, I took this all for granted. Don’t all grandmothers knit endless supplies of mittens, scarves, sweaters and afghans for their grandchildren? And when those grandchildren grow up, don’t all grandmothers crochet lovely lace doilies and table runners to adorn their homes?

Well, my grandmother did. And no, I didn’t know the value of these treasures until I actually tried making them myself. I wish I paid more attention to her instruction when I was young.

As I’ve mentioned, Ruth was born in 1909.

She was born March 5, 1909, to Carl and Emma (Hornburg) Hooge. Her brother, Carl, was two years older, and, according to a Chicago Tribune article, they lived on 5340 South Wood Street in Chicago, Ill.

Ruth grew up, married George, and together they had two daughters, Carol and Judith. In the 1940’s, the family packed up their household and left the big city of Chicago for Henderson, Mich.

Henderson, Michigan?

Is that even on the map? Well, maybe on a county map.

Henderson was a pretty small village back then (it’s even less today). It was a blink of an eye, with only a country school, church, grocery store, hardware store, post office and feed mill (grain elevator, as we call them in Michigan).

It was here that George, Ruth and the girls started their new adventure. They bought the village grocery store, lived in the large apartment above the store (seemingly large to me, as a child) and supplied the rural townsfolk with food and a friendly smile.

Can you imagine the extreme change of lifestyle this must have been?!

George and Ruth kept this store for 25 years, and all the while she knitted, she crocheted, and she cross-stitched.

That was my grandmother. To start, anyway.

Also, just thought I’d mention: I’ve got two bells done.