My dad’s paternal grandmother, Lillie Caroline Herpst, was born in Butler, Montgomery County, Illinois, on December 1, 1868. Lillie’s German-born parents were John Charles Henry Herpst and Caroline Milberg. Lillie was the third of nine children born to John and Caroline, all girls except the oldest and the youngest. Lillie also had six older half-siblings (three boys and three girls) from her father’s previous marriage(s).
Lillie was born before birth certificates were required in Illinois. However, I found a record of Lillie’s baptism in the old church books of the United Church of Christ in Marine, Madison County, Illinois, where the Herpst family lived for several years before moving to Montgomery County in or around 1867. The UCC was a German church established in 1863. All services at the church were conducted in German until 1907! Lillie was baptized on March 22, 1872, when she was three years old. Her younger sister, who had just turned one, was baptized on the same day. Lillie’s parents apparently waited until they had an opportunity to visit Marine, which was approximately 50 miles away from their home in Butler (no small trek in a wagon with several small children).
German naming patterns in that era were complicated. Baptismal names often incorporated the names of witnesses made masculine or feminine according to the child’s sex and were often quite different from the name a person was known by in the world. Lillie was baptized Dorothea Friederica. Her younger sister, possibly Alice, was baptized Alwine Caroline and her sister Josephine was baptized Friedericke Wilhelmina Francisca.
Lillie is shown in the U.S. Censuses in Montgomery County in 1870 (age 1) and 1880 (age 11). In 1889, when she was 20, Lillie married Henry Andrew Myers in the town of Litchfield, also in Montgomery County. Their application for marriage license stated that both lived in Litchfield at the time (pop. 5,811 in 1890), but they settled in Peoria (pop. 41,024 in 1890). Henry and Lillie had two daughters, Minnie and Phrona, in 1891 and 1893, respectively. (Phrona was named after Lillie’s baby sister, Sophrona, who was 5 months old in the 1880 census—the only record I’ve ever found of her existence.) Sometime between 1893 and 1900, Lillie moved with her family to Oklahoma. Her mother died in 1895 and her sister Alice soon thereafter. I wonder, was Lillie in Oklahoma when they died? How long before she would have learned of their deaths?
After Lillie and Henry returned to Peoria in 1902 they had two more children, Hattie in 1903 and Hank in 1908. Lillie’s father-in-law Andrew lived with the family off and on until his death in 1905. The older girls were both married by 1911 and Lillie’s first grandchild (the only grandchild she would know) was born just four days after her 43rd birthday in 1911. Although Lillie didn’t live very near her family, she did stay in touch. In 1912, she witnessed a niece’s baptism in St. Louis and she traveled to Marine for her father’s 93rd birthday in 1915.
Lillie died in October 1922 when she was 53 years old. Her son Hank was 14 years old and daughter Hattie was 19.
The only person I knew who would have known Lillie personally was my Grandfather Hank, but I never heard him talk about her. According to my Dad, Hank talked very little about his family although he and Grandma Evelyn kept in contact with cousins on his mother’s side. Since Lillie and I share a birthday, I like to imagine that we might also share some personality traits: Optimism, perhaps? A terrible poker face? A bit of restlessness, traveling in mind if not in body? Curiosity?
If I could meet Lillie, I’d ask, “Grandmother, what was it like growing up in a German-speaking family in rural Montgomery County, Illinois? How did you meet Henry? Do you like living in Peoria? Were you frightened on the trip to Oklahoma? What happened to your sister Sophrona? Do you like cats?”
What questions would you have for Lillie Caroline?