• Kristin Wenger

Surprises of Serendipity and Sorrow (#52Ancestors week 5: In the Census)

In my years of research, I have studied thousands of census records. There is one particular census record, however, that immediately stands out in my mind because of the multiple surprises it revealed.

1920 U.S. Federal Census for Warwick Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania[1]

Taking a closer look, I realized that I recognized two of these families who were living on neighboring farms: my husband’s great-great grandparents and my great-great grandparents! Surely, as farmers living in such close proximity, they must have known each other and interacted. What a small world!


Surprise #1 - Serendipity: John and Anna Becker (my husband’s great-great grandparents) were neighbors of Harry and Cora Kramer (my great-great grandparents)


The John B. Becker family pictured in 1914.

Seated: Alice M. Becker (1887-1973), John B. Becker (1864-1929), Anna L. (Moyer) Becker (1868-1928). Standing: Alice’s husband Ira H. Becker (1889-1970), John M. Becker (1893-1985), Elam M. Becker (1895-1980).


This family (with the exception of Alice and husband Ira, who had moved to another farm by the time of the 1920 census) lived on the Valentine Becker homestead on Pine Hill Road in Warwick Township. Much has already been written about the Becker family:



In contrast, as far as I can tell, I am the first person to attempt to document the lives of my great-great grandparents.

Harry E. Kramer (1884-1955) and Cora N. (Faus) Kramer (1889-1951)

The 1920 census record for the Kramer family is where the first hint of the second surprise came to light. I knew my great grandma Grace quite well before her death when I was eighteen years old.

Grace Faus Kramer (1912-1995) as a young woman


My brother, Ryan, and I visiting Great Grandma Grace, April 1995

Brethren Village, Lititz, Pennsylvania


In the time we spent together, I never heard her mention anything about having siblings. In hindsight, I guess I just assumed she had been an only child.


The census revealed that in 1920, she was living with three brothers: Lloyd, Earl, and Walter.[4] At the time I made this discovery several years ago, there were not nearly as many records available online as there are today. Since I knew the family lived in Warwick Township, I turned to the Lititz Obituary Project at my local public library. Two of the three brothers were included in the list, which specified their burial location at Middle Creek Church of the Brethren in a rural area of Lititz, Pennsylvania.[5]


My next step was to visit the graveyard at that church, where I discovered multiple small stones, some with partially illegible inscriptions. It was then that I realized the full scope of the surprise that began with noticing some siblings in the census.[6]


Surprise #2 – Unspeakable Sorrow: My great grandma was one of seven children in her family, but she was the only one to survive to adulthood.


Using information from the gravestones and death certificates, I was able to establish an identity for each of Harry and Cora’s children:

Walter Harding Kramer (8 November 1905 – 12 July 1924)

Age at death: 18 years, 8 months, 4 days

Cause of death: Mitral regurgitation (a heart problem)

Walter was actually Harry and Cora’s nephew, but was raised as their son. Walter was born to Harvey Kramer (Harry’s older brother) and his first wife, Bertha Harding, who died after giving birth.[7]



Grace Faus Kramer (2 January 1912 – 17 June 1995)

Grace married Lloyd G. Millhouse on 20 January 1934.[8]

Her obituary, below, provides more details about her life.[9]



Lloyd Faus Kramer (14 December 1913 – 4 March 1934)

Cause of death: Chronic glomerulonephritis (a kidney problem) [10]



Earl Faus Kramer (1 May 1919 – 26 January 1926)

Age at death: 6 years, 8 months, 25 days

Cause of death: Measles [11]



Anna Faus Kramer (19 June 1921 – 30 October 1922)

Age at death: 1 year, 4 months, 11 days

Cause of death: Bronchopneumonia[12]



Esther Faus Kramer (11 January 1922 – 7 April 1926)

Age at death: 4 years, 2 months, 6 days

Cause of death: Diphtheria [13]

(Note: The math for her age at death doesn't quite add up. Her death certificate says 4 years, 2 months, 6 days while the gravestone appears to read 4 years, 2 months, 22 days. I also noticed that Anna and Esther were born only seven months apart, leaving two options. First, the birthdate for one of the girls could be incorrect. Second, one of the girls was adopted, which is entirely possible since Harry and Cora were already raising a nephew as their own.)


John Faus Kramer (29 July 1926 – 27 February 1927)

Age at death: 6 months, 28 days

Cause of death: Cerebral meningitis (“due to running ear”) [14]


Moms and dads, can you begin to imagine burying six out of seven children? Five of those children died within four years and four months. Earl, Esther, and John died within a thirteen-month period between January 1926 and February 1927, all because of what are now preventable or treatable childhood illnesses. I can’t even comprehend the depth of grief in Harry and Cora’s hearts. My great grandma Grace was the big sister of these little ones. How did such massive loss impact her as a young teenager?


I have not found any photographs of my great grandma’s siblings. Three of them did not live long enough to ever be recorded as part of their family in a census. There are no stories of their contributions to their communities, occupations, marriages, children, or grandchildren. One wonders why God permitted so much pain and suffering in one family. How did Harry, Cora, and Grace find hope and strength to continue on?


I think they must have had faith that they would be able to see those precious children again in Heaven. I hope to meet them someday, too.


But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Luke 18:16



Take-aways for your family history: After interviewing living relatives and investigating photos and artifacts in the home, the next step for beginning researchers is to find your ancestors in census records. Look for my next post which will feature tips on making the most of these sources.

[1] 1920 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Warwick Township, Enumeration District (ED) 134, page 5B, dwelling 117, family 120, John B. Becker, and dwelling 120, family 123, Harry E. Kramer; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 January 2018); citing National Archives Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication T625, roll 1585.


[2] Clarke Hess and Lee J. Stoltzfus, “Becker Homestead: 1150 Pine Hill Road, Lititz, PA,” Historic Mennonite Farms and Homes: Lititz, Pennsylvania (http://pennblog.typepad.com/lititz_mennonites/becker-homestead-pine-hill-road/ : accessed 30 January 2018).

[3] Leah B. Becker, A Biographical History of the Becker Family: And Their Early Settlement in America and Other Unpublished Information Belonging Thereto (Lititz, Pennsylvania: Express Printing Office, 1901); digital images, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books/about/A_Biographical_History_of_the_Becker_Fam.html?id=lnUxAAAAMAAJ : accessed 30 January 2018).

[4] 1920 U.S. census, Lancaster Co., PA, pop. sched., Warwick Twp., ED 134, p. 5B, dwell. 120, family 123, Harry E. Kramer; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 January 2018); citing NARA microfilm pub. T625, roll 1585.


[5] Lititz Public Library, Lititz Area Obituary Index for the years 1877 to 1998 (Lititz, Pennsylvania, 1998); digital images (http://lititz.lancasterlibraries.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/04/LititzObits1887-98XB2SortIIDOKA2ExpDone.pdf : accessed 30 January 2018).


[6] Middle Creek Church of the Brethren Cemetery (351 W Middle Creek Rd, Lititz, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania), gravestones for Walter H. Kramer, Lloyd F. Kramer, Earl F. Kramer, Anna F. Kramer, Esther F. Kramer, and John F. Kramer; personally read, 22 May 2013.


[7] Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 69725, Walter Harding Kramer, 12 July 1924, Lancaster County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 January 2018); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1963, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.


[8] “Weddings: Millhouse-Kramer,” The Lititz Record (Lititz, Pennsylvania), 25 January 1934, page 2, column 1; digital images, POWER Library: Pennsylvania’s Electronic Library (http://digitalcollections.powerlibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/slchs-lnp1/id/20430/rec/4 : accessed 30 January 2018).


[9] “Grace Millhouse, 83, of Mountville,” undated clipping, June 1995, from Lancaster Newspapers (Lancaster, Pennsylvania); privately held by Kristin Wenger, Lititz, Pennsylvania, 2018. Inherited from her grandmother, Doris (Millhouse) Hornberger, daughter of Grace (Kramer) Millhouse.


[10] Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 29622, Lloyd Kramer, 4 March 1934, Lancaster County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 January 2018); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1963, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.


[11] Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 7795, Earl F. Kramer, 26 January 1926, Lancaster County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 January 2018); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1963, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.


[12] Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 94774, Anna Kramer, 30 October 1922, Lancaster County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 January 2018); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1963, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.


[13] Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 46359, Esther Kramer, 7 April 1926, Lancaster County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 January 2018); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1963, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.


[14] Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 17859, John F. Kramer, 27 February 1927, Lancaster County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 January 2018); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1963, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.

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