Family Heirlooms


While exploring backwards, I have become the repository for some of our family’s heirlooms.  I could not be more proud.  However, in order to be a good custodian, you want to know the story behind the object or objects.

I have my great-grandfather Peter Kersten’s revolver.  It is a top-break Iver Johnson.  It is a very old gun.  I suspect he purchased it so after he arrived in the United States.   Peter immigrated in 1893.  The model that I have is probably from 1895.

Peter and his gun

Peter and his gun

As discussed previously, I am the custodian for the Whitehead Family Bible.  You can read about it here:

I also have two books that my grandfather, Fred Whitehead had in school.  One that I received from my cousin Sara, and just recently, my sister, Kathy passed on the Fryes Higher Geography book.  Inside the book, it has my grandfather’s signature and a date of September 16, 1913.  That is over 100 years old that he was holding this book.  He used this textbook in high school.

Fred's textbook

Fred’s textbook

September 1913

September 1913

Most recently, my sister let me take home a portion of a tea set of two mugs and a sugar bowl.  It is unknown if there were more pieces at one time.  The history of the set as we know is that it came from my German Grandparents, Peter and Anna Kersten.  After inquiring with my paternal Aunts, neither of them knew anything about it.   I am stuck without a story.  You see, the set has images of the Cherbourg Swing Bridge that was created in 1885 in Cherbourg-Octeville, France.  This is on the English Channel.  Therefore, it is unknown how my great-grandparents come to have this piece.  I am left to wonder.  Maybe it was a house-warming gift from a family member.  Maybe they took a trip at one point after they were married; a honeymoon even.  Maybe Anna found it at a flea market or estate sale.  Who knows?

Anna Kersten's tea set

Anna Kersten’s tea set

I think I will try to my second cousin, 2x removed, Father Ron.  Maybe he can shed some insight.

Heirlooms.  You do not need to fill your house with everything they owned, but to share these priceless family artifacts with each other is what genealogy is all about.  Until later, I will be exploring backwards.





Chicago born and raised

Margaret Agnes Kersten was the grandmother that I never met. My Aunts and father both stated she was a religious woman. She is one of my ancestors that I wished I could have met.

Margaret was born to Peter and Anna Stalhaber Kersten in Chicago on March 13, 1906. She was the second child born to Peter and Anna. She was baptized at St. Anthony of Padua on 15 April 1906 (Source: Delayed Birth Certificate). Margaret and her older brother William were first-generation German Americans. Just for a frame of reference, in 1906, Theodore Roosevelt was the President of the United States.

In the 1910 Census, the family is living at 2804 Calumet Avenue. Also living there are three boarders. Her father Peter is a brewer.

Kersten Home-1910 Census

Kersten Home-1910 Census (source:

When she was 8 years old, World War I started. I wonder what it was like for such a young girl when I am sure her parents were worried about loved ones that were still in Germany.

When she was 14 years old, Women got the right to vote with the passing of the 19th amendment. I wonder if she ever voted?

In 1920 Census, the family is living at 2411 South Park Avenue with her parents, her Uncle Johann Kersten, her cousin Harry Stalhaber and three lodgers. She is 13 years old. Margaret and her brother are listed as attending school. I wonder what she thought about having three lodgers in her home. I know at 13 years old, young girls and boys are wanting their privacy. I am sure there was not much of that in the household of 8.

Kersten Home-1930 Census

Kersten Home-1930 Census(source:


I have a letter from Fred to his father, Papa dated 7/27/26.  He is living and presumably working at the Palmer House in Chicago.  He writes,

Marge is all enthused with expectancy and I hope not in vain.  I know I will do my utmost to make her as happy as my means and brains will allow.  She is sure one sweet girl and deserves a whole lot more than she is getting but if I can make her happy, I sure will as she wants.

On September 18, 1926, Fred and Margaret were married at Saint Dorothy’s Church in Chicago, Illinois. The witnesses listed were Joseph Donnelly and Helen Diefenbach. I believe Helen was Margaret’s first cousin. The story about how my grandparents met is a little vague. I think it was Aunt Lee that told me she heard that Margaret and her friend were walking down the street when Fred and his friend walked by. Apparently, Fred starts chatting her up. The rest is history…

In the 1930 Census, Fred and Margaret are raising their first-born, Vivian, at 509 79th Street, Chicago. Fred is listed as unemployed and Margaret is listed as working as a stenographer in the Chemical Industry. The rent is $50 per month and they have a radio. It is interesting that Fred is not listed as a veteran. In some records, the census taker makes a notation as to who they spoke to at the residence. This record does not list that. I wonder if Margaret’s mother is caring for the young Vivian, or is Fred taking care of her. Recall, this is 1930 and the depression is in full swing.

Whitehead Home-1930 Census

Whitehead Home-1930 Census (source: google maps)

By the 1940 Census, the last one that has been made public, Fred and Margaret are living at 618 East 77th Street. Fred is indicated as the respondent in this census. He is now working as an Accountant doing tax appraisals. Margaret is listed as not working outside the home. But, how could she, she had Larry, age 3, Annette, age 7, and Vivian, age 12. The question about education level shows that Fred, completed the second year of high school and Margaret, completed the 7th grade. So, why did Margaret stop going to school? Is this accurate?

Whitehead Home-1940 Census

Whitehead Home-1940 Census (source: Google Maps)

I have a 1950 Tax Return. This was the tax return for the year her husband, Fred, died (4/3/50). It listed her occupation as a Stenographer. The family is listed as living at 7939 Champlain Avenue with her parents. It shows that Fred last wages were for James R. Casey on Clark Street. If I recall, I think this was an accounting office. Margaret’s listed occupations in 1950 were at Maywood Park Trotting Association and Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railway Company.

Kersten Home

Kersten Home (Source: Google Maps)

At some point she moves to 8638 South Sangamon Street, as that is the residence listed on her death certificate.  Margaret died 27 August 1967.  She was 61 years old.

Margaret Whitehead's Home

Margaret Whitehead’s Home (Source: Google Maps)

I would like for my Aunts and Father to chip in and send me some more memories of their mother. I have written far more than I had planned.  Hopefully we  all learned about a wonderful woman, Margaret Agnes Kersten Whitehead.

Below are some more pictures that I wanted to include.

Whitehead Family

Whitehead Family

Fred and Margaret

Fred and Margaret

Fred and Margaret

Fred and Margaret

Margaret, Larry, Vivian, Kathy

Margaret, Larry, Vivian, Kathy


Happy Easter!  Join me again later as we explore backwards!



Beer and Baking Great-Grandparents

My partner, Cheryl has her mother’s and her grandmother’s cookbooks.  I always thought that was so neat.  You can see the little notes about tweaks in the recipes.  It is a great heirloom.

I have not been able to find the same treasures in my family.  But, we had beer and baking.

Peter Kersten (my great-grandfather) was a brewer.  It is interesting because my younger brother Joe became a home brewer.  According to census records, Peter was a brewer from his arrival until his 50’s.  According to my Aunt Viv, he was also a home brewer and wine maker.  I have an email from her from 2010 in which she states “When I was young, I can remember my daddy (Fred Whitehead) taking me with him to pick up grandpa after his evening shift at Keeley’s.”

After doing a little research I found that Keeley’s Brewery was around both pre and post prohibition.  I can safely guess he worked there post prohibition. You can read about them here:

I have another document, Peter’s World War I Draft card, it shows his place of employment in 1918 was at McAvoy Brewery.  This was likely his employment prior to prohibition.  You can read about  this brewery here:

Viv also recalls Anna Stallaber Kersten being a baker.  She wrote “Grandma Kersten was a magnificent baker.  Every Saturday she would bake all kinds of coffee cake, etc. and we would go over to get our share.  Also on Saturday evening there was a gathering of friends at their house for cards…I think pinochle.”  In a more recent email she added, “I can still remember helping to roll the dough….and the wonderful kitchen smells…and eating warm coffee cake.”

I started to think about Pinochle, because I wanted to get the spelling correct for this post.  I just learned that German Immigrants (like my great grandparents) brought this game with them to the United States.  It is actually a mispronounced French word, “Binochle” but apparently with the German accent it came out as Pinochle and it stuck.  You can read more about it here: 

Viv goes on to say that they were great grandparents and she spent a lot of time with them.  It is making me hungry for coffee cake right now, or maybe a beer.  Hmm.  I digress.  Until later, I will be exploring backwards.

Below is a picture of Peter and Anna.  They look both very young, so I am unsure when this was taken.

Peter and Anna Kersten

Peter and Anna Kersten


What’s in a surname?

As I started exploring backwards, I really only knew of two surnames.  My father’s, Whitehead, and my mother’s maiden name Sublett.  What you learn quickly is how these names grow exponentially as you research your family tree.  The difficult thing to do for someone like me (can you say Adult ADHD) is to stay focused on a particular branch and not wonder off onto another branch before it’s time.  I can attest to the many times I have been beckoned out of the office (or Vortex, as Cheryl calls it) and back to the present, that I refocus and ask myself, how did I get on this path.

As we begin to explore backwards together, I am going to try to focus on my primary surnames.  We will see how I do.

I am very fortunate because my Aunt Leah had done an extensive amount of research on the Whitehead and Kersten side of the family.  So, before we get further along, I want to know how thankful I am for her research.

Margaret Agnes Kersten, my paternal grandmother, was born 13 March 1906 in Chicago, Illinois.  Her parents, Peter Kersten and Anna Stalhaber had married 26 December 1903 in Chicago.  According to the 1910 census, both Peter and Anna immigrated in 1893.  But since they were not married at the time, I do not know if they had been engaged in Germany or just happen to meet.

Aunt Leah? Aunt Viv? Dad?  I would appreciate any of your recollections.

Peter Kersten is listed as Single on the 1900 Census.  He is was a boarder and renting a room from John Kalde and his family.  His occupation was that of a Brewer.  John Kalde is also listed a Brewer.  So it is likely, they became friends while working together.  The home is located on Cottage Grove Avenue.

However, after trying to find 2461 Cottage Grove Avenue, I realize that the areas do not match up.  I went to this website,

Here I discovered that the streets in the 1900’s do not reflect the current street map of Chicago.  A more accurate understanding would be to review what enumeration district he was in.  He was in ED 51, the boundaries of which were: E. 24th St., Lake Michigan, E. 26th St., and South Prairie Avenue.  The reason I mention this is as we explore backwards we will see how much or how little the family moved.

In 1910, Peter Kersten is now married to Anna Stalhaber.  Margaret and William Kersten are listed on a census for the first time.  Peter still works as a Brewer.  This time, it is he who is renting out rooms.  There are 3 boarders listed on this census.  Peter’s family lives at 2804 S. Calumet Avenue.

In 1920, Peter and Anna and the two kids are still renting their home.  Peter’s brother John is living with them as well as a nephew, Harry Stalhaber.  They are now living at 2411 South Park Avenue.  Peter is still listed as a brewer.  They have a couple of boarders listed here as well.

According to his WWI, Draft Card, Peter Kersten worked as a Brewer for McAvoy Brewing Company.

Okay, until later where we will explore backwards!

McAvoy Brewery circa 1886

McAvoy Brewery circa 1886

McAvoy Brewery

McAvoy Brewery