For this week’s prompt “Same Name”, I am reposting a blog post first published on July 24, 2012. It is the story of two John Burbachs, one my grandmother’s brother, the other her cousin Johnny. There have been some changes and revisions made for this post.
It began with the answer to a question I asked my Grandmother when I was about eight years old. "Bockie" I had asked "why don't you ever go swimming when we are at the lake?" She relied that she was afraid of the water since her brother had drowned as a child. I accepted her statement at face value and moved on.
Years later when I began researching our genealogy and recording census forms, her answer to my question came to mind. My grandmother was the youngest of six children, two girls and four boys. Which of the boys had died? As I was using HeritageQuest online one day I happened on one line from the diary of a Milwaukee policeman. The line said only "Burbach's boy drowned today". This I felt totally substantiated my grandmother's statement. It was true. Of course, in my excitement, I neglected to cite the source!
I still didn't know which of her brothers had drowned and to complicate matters further there were two related families with children of similar ages. Brothers John and Herman Burbach operated a butcher shop in Milwaukee in the 1880s and 1890s. Both men were raising families at the same time.
I used books.google to find the quote "Burbach's boy drowned today" and this time I cited the source and noted the date of the occurrence.[i]
“5-8-1892 Went to SS with the childre. Then went out walking with Minnie. Called at Rohdes and found no one at home. Went to Foster's and staid a while. When we got back found Christie Roder and her cousin at the house. Burbach's boy drowned this PM.”
Next I checked the Wisconsin Death Records online at ancestry.com for the family name and year of 1892. I found the name John Burbach as having died on May 8, 1892.
Using obituary records from Milwaukee German Language newspapers (ordered from and translated by Gary Rebholz) I found obituaries for both a John and a Johnnie, Burbach cousins, both aged 11. The death dates were 1892 and 1895. Who was who?
Using the 19th century newspapers online, Milwaukee Archdiocese Cemeteries online, and the Milwaukee City Directories online to determine which John/Johnnie lived at which address with which father, I was able to document the story of my grandmother's brother John. An additional nugget or information disclosed in the 19th Century Newspapers was the fact that John Burbach had made his confirmation at St Joseph's Church on the morning of his death.
On Sunday afternoon the Burbach family, living at 1535 Walnut Street, has been affected by a sad blow. The 14 year-old John Burbach, and two companions 16 year old Peter Altman and 14 year old Frank Berninger, hired a boat for a fun ride on the Milwaukee River. When the trio arrived in the vicinity of the Schlitz dam, the boat was caught in the strong currents prevailing there, causing it to sway and tip over, so that the three occupants of the saame fall intothe water. While Altman and Berninger were clinging to the boat until help arrived, the young Burbach was swallowed by the waves and never again appeared. The police were notified of the accident, and the patrol wagon rushed to the scene and brought the wet, cold, shivering boys to their homes, respectively. Up to this point, Burbach's body had not been found.[ii]
John Burbach drowned on May 8, 1892 in the Milwaukee River. His two friends were rescued but John's body was not recovered for two weeks. He was finally buried on May 22, 1892 in Calvary Cemetery in Milwaukee.
Sadly, the other John ”Johnny” Burbach “died following a long illness on 18 Aug 1895 also at the age of eleven years 5 months, and 5 days.”[iii]
[i] William Bramwell Sizer Diaries May 1892, Milwaukee County Police Department
[ii] Excelsior! Fur den Katholischen Familien Kreis (Catholic Weekly) 12 May 1893, pg 8 col3
[iii] Germania (daily ed.), 19 Aug 1895, pg 5, col 7