Hendrik Ferverda (1857-1898) and the Secret That Killed Him, 52 Ancestors #225

Sometimes, when you’re researching your family, you discover something that just doesn’t seem right.

Just doesn’t make sense.

Over time, things begin to feel odd.

Pieces that don’t fit.

heart missing piece

Or pieces that are missing…that shouldn’t be missing

That’s what happened with Hendrik Ferwerda, born to Bauke Hendrick Ferwerda and Geertje Harmens de Jong on October 5, 1857 in Eernewoude,Tietjerksteradeel, Friesland, Netherlands.

Welcome to the Family

I’m sure that Bauke, Geertje and Hendrik’s older brother, Hiram, my ancestor who had turned 3 just a few days before Hendrik’s birth were thrilled with the new baby’s arrival.

Every 3-year-old boy wants a little brother.

To play ball with.

To chase and tumble in the mud with.

To grow up with.

To be best buddies forever.

Two years and a month later, a new baby, Lijsbertus, joined the family too, on November 21, 1859.

Things looked rosy for our young Dutch family. Bauke and Geertje were 29 and 30 years old, respectively. They had been married for six and a half years. Bauke was a teacher, and the young family had moved to a new city a few years before when Bauke began teaching in a different school, presumably for better pay. Some motivations are universal!

But Then…

1860 would unfold differently than expected.

Bauke took care of his three young children.

Geertje was ill – very ill.

He took care of the baby as best he could, but on July 23rd, baby Lijsbertus died, followed by Geertje two and a half months later, on October 3rd. We don’t know why.

The death notification published in the newspaper by Bauke said, “After a very long but patient suffering, my beloved wife Geertje Harmens de Jong, in the yet youthful age of 31 years 6 months, leaving me, after a comfortable union of almost 7 ½ years, two sons.”

Hendrik would turn 3 just two days after his mother died. I’m sure he had no memory of her, but as a young child, his heart would have been broken.

But Bauke’s heartache was just beginning, because young Hendrik’s body held a deadly secret.


Perhaps to start over again, or maybe for another reason, Bauke moved once more – this time to Oudega where six months later he would marry Minke, known as Minnie later in the US, on October 30, 1863.

Hendrik would just have turned 6 when he and his brother, Hiram were blessed with a step-mother. At least, I think it was a blessing – although there are some hints that it might have been otherwise.

By 1867, two daughters had joined the family. Hendrik would turn 10 that fall and his elder brother Hiram was apprenticed out in another village to a baker that July, a few months before he turned 13. The boys were separated for the first time in their lives.

A year later, in August of 1868, the entire Ferwerda family set sail for America. So far, other than the fact that Hiram was apprenticed at the age of 12, everything seemed pretty much normal.

The Journey

The trip to America cost Bauke and Minnie their daughter, Lysbeth, who would have turned 4 on the ship and instead, died during the passage. Grief swept over the family, I’m sure. We don’t know why Lysbeth died – whether she was hurt or became ill. Bauke had lost two of his 5 children in addition to his first wife. He must have been devastated.

All 4 children were listed on the passenger list created when the ship left Europe, but one less child arrived. The oral family history tells us this story, confirmed by the presence of Lysbeth on the roster and her absence here.

We know that both boys, Hiram and Hendrik, arrived in the states, in part because of this photo of the two brothers taken at some point after arrival.

Henry & Hiram Ferverda

Hiram (Harmen Bauke) Ferverda (Ferwerda) at left, Henry (Hendrik) Ferverda at right, assuming the Ferverda booklet is labeled correctly.

We don’t know how old the boys were in this photo, but given that they are 3 years apart, I suspect they are about 14 and 17, or maybe 15 and 18? The photo would have been taken between 1870 and 1875.

The photo was included in a Ferverda family booklet written for a reunion in the 1970s by Donald Ferverda (1940-1993), a descendant of Hiram, then scanned. I wish I had a high resolution scan of the original, but I have no idea who actually has that photo. However, the boys look so much alike that they could have been identical twins.


In the 1870 census, neither boy was living with Bauke and Minnie. I found Hiram, listed as age 14, living and working on a farm a few houses away, but search as I might, I could not find Hendrik, called Henry by the family in the US. Hiram was actually 13 when the census was taken and Henry would have been 10 – but where was he?

One problem was that the surname Ferwerda was badly butchered in any number of ways in the US. In the 1870 census, Bauke’s surname was spelled Ferverda and is indexed the same way. Hiram’s surname, clearly enumerated by the same person, probably on the same day just 3 houses and a few minutes apart was spelled Fervada and indexed as such.

I searched for Henry and Hendrik by any number of first and surname variations, then by no surname but with a birth year, with and without Holland, until I couldn’t think of any other way to search. Henry was not in Elkhart County, Indiana, nor the neighbor counties. He wasn’t anyplace in the US that I can find.

Had he passed away? The information I had indicated that he died in 1898, not before 1870.

I shrugged and moved on. He’s not the first child that was missed on a census. Maybe he was in the barn. Who knows?


On October 11, 1876, both Bauke and Hiram applied for citizenship at the courthouse in Elkhart County.

I envision father and son, now 46 and 22, riding together on the front seat of the wagon, driving a team of horses, or maybe even in a buggy, journeying the 20 miles or so to fill out their paperwork together. Maybe they made it an overnight trip, staying with the John David Miller family on their farm just south of Elkhart, Hiram’s new wife’s parents. Both families were Brethren, and now related by marriage, so they certainly had a lot in common.

However, Hendrik didn’t apply for citizenship. I didn’t think too much about that, because he would still have been a minor, just having turned 19.

In some cases, the father’s citizenship application also applied to the emigrating children that arrived with the father. I don’t believe any other of Bauke’s children or wife applied. So, Henry’s absence didn’t seem remarkable.


By the time 1880 rolled around, and I still couldn’t find Henry in the census, I was beginning to wonder. Where was he?

Family stories indicated that the two brothers at some point had some sort of disagreement and that the “other brother moved up by Napannee” while Hiram lived near Leesburg, about 10 miles distant from Bauke’s property. It was closer for Bauke to visit Hiram than to go to the county seat.

As it turns out, it was Hiram who did the “moving away,” if you consider 10 miles moving away. Bauke lived near Nappannee as did the rest of his children – at least the ones he had with Minnie.

But where was Henry in 1880? No place to be found. Again, I searched by a variety of search methodologies – but nothing.

He wasn’t living with his parents, but that’s not entirely surprising, given that by then he would have been 22. His brother, Hiram, had married at age 21, so I wouldn’t have been one bit surprised to find Henry married and starting a family.

But where? I searched all over the country and found a number of Ferwerdas living elsewhere, but not Henry or Hendrik, or any similar name.

Unfortunately, the 1890 census is missing, and Henry wasn’t anyplace to be found in 1900 either.



Then, I began to doubt.

I knew the photo existed, but maybe, just maybe, young Henry had died shortly thereafter.

I checked the Brethren cemetery at the Union Center Church where all of the early Ferwerda family is buried – including Bauke and the rest of his children except Hiram. Nope. Nada.

Maybe Henry is buried where Hiram and his wife are buried in a nearby Brethren cemetery. Nada.

Maybe FindAGrave can find Henry. Nope, nada.

What the heck?

From someplace, I had information that Henry died on April 11, 1898 in Marion, Indiana and was buried in the IOOF Cemetery there.

Was that wrong?

Had Henry actually died much earlier?

Where did I get that information?

Did I find it someplace, or was it from someone else?

And why didn’t I record the source? Had it been oral history from the family long ago and I just didn’t remember? (Hits head on table.)

What happened to Henry never seemed terribly relevant – at least not until I started to write Bauke and Hiram’s stories.

While I couldn’t find Henry himself, I did find some information that bracketed Henry’s death.

Goshen Democrat July 7, 1911, pg. 3

FERVIDA – B.H. Fervida is dead in Union township at the age of 81 years. He is survived by two sons and two daughters.

By 1911 when Henry’s father, Bauke, died, Henry was deceased because Bauke’s two living sons were Hiram and William.

I needed to narrow this window down. A death between 1868 and 1911 is a very large span. The only hint I have is Marion, Indiana.

Marion, Indiana?

Marion is a strange place for Henry to be, so this death location could well have simply been wrong. I had never heard of any Ferverda family member living in Marion. All were Brethren and all lived in or near Elkhart County.

On the other hand, Henry could have been visiting Marion when he died, or maybe that rift between Henry and his brother worsened, although the ONLY information about Henry in the family stories was that the two brothers developed a rift and one moved up by Nappanee – and the brothers spelled their surnames differently. I think the rift was the official explanation for the differing surname spellings, but as genealogists know, that’s an explain often used to explain the rather common phenomenon of spelling differences in a time before spelling was standardized.

I think I presumed that some of the Fervida family “up near Nappannee” were Henry’s children – or maybe Mom presumed that. I spoke with my cousin, Cheryl, my mother’s first cousin. She had beard the same “rift in the family” story, but she didn’t have any additional information. There’s no one else left to ask.

I decided to look in Marion, Indiana to see what I could find.

It was a long shot, I knew.

Having had recent success with new newspapers being brought online through subscriptions at both Newspapers.com and MyHeritage, I decided to try the newspapers first.

In 1898, I found this article in the Elmwood Daily Record on page 2:

Henry Ferverty article 1

Henry Ferverty

Ferverty? A new and different spelling. This person seems a likely candidate though, based on the comment that he had come from Elkhart, “a few years ago.”

But they referred to him as an old man. And as “an inmate of the county infirmary.” Those inconsistencies would have to be examined.

What does “supposed to have dropped dead” mean, exactly – especially for a man who was only 40 years old?

I tried a general Google search. Nothing.

I tried FindAGrave again, and discovered that indeed, Henry’s grave had been recorded with a yet different surname spelling; Fervery. That’s probably how it sounded when pronounced, remembering that Henry would have had an accent and English was his second language.

Henry Ferverty Findagrave

I found this entry by searching for the name of Henry Fer* in Grant County. The information I had indicated that he had been buried in the IOOF Cemetery in 1898.

However, this record says “Estates of Serenity,” but it does provide the source being the permit. It also tells us that Henry is buried in Row 1, grave 13. I clicked on the “Estates of Serenity” link.

As it turns out, the IOOF Cemetery had been renamed, so now I wonder if I had somehow found this record before, or someone else did.

Henry Ferverty cemetery

I found Estates of Serenity on the map. If Henry’s grave is in row 1, that may be along the road and we may be viewing the location in the following photo from Google Maps Street View in a space with no tombstone.

Henry Ferverty Estates of Serenity.png

This seems to be the historic section of the cemetery.

It looks quite possibly like we may have found Henry, but what’s that about being an inmate in the county infirmary?

The Grant County Infirmary

Given the history of the Grant County Infirmary, it’s rather amazing that there is very little online and no photos of this historic building. It seems that the infirmary history reaches back to 1855, but a new building was erected in 1889 on a farm north of Gas City in the northwest quarter of section #27, near the location of the Griffin Mill on Walnut Creek.

This site is the only source I could find about the infirmary, also referenced as the poor house and the old folks’ home. Apparently, a cemetery, Mount Hope, was also established at the infirmary, but as you might expect, there were no stones.

The Infirmary continued to function at least through 1954, but after the building on Garthwaite Road was torn down in the 1970s, the cemetery was plowed and planted.

This 1877 map shows section 27, Walnut Creek and the roads, so we get a good idea of where to look today – approximately where A. Oliver lived at that time, right at the southwest quarter section boundary on the river.

Henry Ferverty Grant Co map

Today, this is the location of the Highway Department, which makes sense since the land would have been government owned and still remains that way today. In the photo below, taken from Garthwaite Road, the east side of the bridge over Walnut Creek is shown, looking towards the corner of section 27 where A. Oliver lived on the map above.

Henry Ferverty infirmary location

You can’t see a lot from the road, but you can see where Walnut Creek crosses Garthwaite Road and the corner of section 27 where the mill would have to have been located.

Henry Ferverty infirmary aerial.png

The same area from the air using Google maps. The bridge is a different color pavement than the road itself.

Why Was Henry in Grant County?

Why was Henry living in Grant County, roughly 90 miles away from his family?

Henry Ferverty map

This might make sense if Grant County had the closest poor house or infirmary, but there was one in neighboring Kosciusko County beginning in 1879. Furthermore, Elkhart County had their own poor farm beginning in 1845. A later building built in the 1886 offered 113 rooms to care for people who were disabled, orphaned, elderly or had other issues. So proximity wasn’t the issue.

Furthermore, based on a land sale in 1898, Bauke Ferwerda, Henry’s father, wasn’t poor.

The Infirmary Residents

What kinds of people were living in the Grant County Infirmary in 1900, the closest census year to 1898 when Henry died?

I found the infirmary and the residents in the 1900 census who were also referred to as inmates. This term is not uncommon in institutions, including prisons, but also boarding schools and other public facilities that housed people together.

In 1900, the Grant County Infirmary housed 38 inmates, 21 male and 17 female, plus the director, his wife and 5 servants.

Three individuals had comments on the census. Two women were “feeble minded” and 1 was “epileptic.” Several were elderly, 9 being 70 or older, the oldest being 89. One poor woman that was 83 had borne 9 children and none lived. Most residents were single or widowed. Three were divorced, three were married and some were young adults in their 20s and 30s, but no actual children. The youngest was 18. No individuals were obviously related to each other.

That didn’t tell me much in terms of why people were living there, so I moved to the Indiana death records which began in 1899. Why couldn’t the records have begun a year earlier?

I found death certificates for several individuals that I could readily identify as the same person in the census, mostly because their residence was given as the infirmary.

Name Year Cause of Death Age Comment
Anna Smith 1901 Epilepsy for 16 years 29 She started having seizures at age 13
Lydia Rhodes 1921 Heart disease for 15 years 47 Heart disease beginning at age 32
William Jones 1906 Mystenary?, old age 76
William Ash 1922 Heart 72
James Smith 1902 Old age, paralysis of bowels 89
Joseph Connell 1901 Blood poison for 2 months, blind, morphine and masturbation for 8 years 38, buried at the infirmary This poor soul, the 1900 census said he had been married for 21 years
Samuel Longstreth 1901 Old age, paralysis for 30 minutes 87
Belle Williams 1950 Stroke 95 Location is stlll called Grant County Infirmary
Delilah Doman 1908 Dysentery, ovarian tumor 84 Buried IOOF
Susan Ward 1906 Epilepsy 48 Buried IOOF, was listed as “feeble mind” on census
Ada Long 1939 Chronic bowel obstruction 76 Was listed as divorced in census
Laura Kaylor 1912 Pneumonia 38
Christian Oliver 1912 Coma, alcoholic 71 Died in a different state institution in Lafayette

After looking at the causes of death, it’s obvious that these people were well fed and taken care of, as many lived to be quite elderly. Several people lived in the Infirmary for more than 20 years. In a sense, the Infirmary or poor farm was a type of homeless shelter for people who had no place else to go.

Their causes of death don’t necessarily tell us what afflictions they lived with and why they were residents at the Infirmary. People with Down’s Syndrome, for example, would not have had that listed as a cause of death – but people with Down’s often have severe physical disabilities including congenital heart defects that take them at a young age.

Susan Ward had epilepsy and was listed as feeble minded on the census. For anyone who has ever known anyone well with this terrible disease, it not only governs the individual’s body, but in addition every seizure destroys a few more (or many more) brain cells. It’s a horrible, miserable, brain-damaging, life-stealing affliction that can kill you.

What we can tell, from this list and the census is that Henry probably knew many of these people. These would have been his friends, his compatriots, when he lived at the Infirmary.

What Killed Henry?

Genealogists are relentless, aren’t we!

I discovered that the Marion Public Library has an Indiana History Database including an obituary index.

Henry Ferverty Marion Library

Sure enough – three records for Henry and all three, given the date, would reflect Henry’s death. I also discovered that one can order copies to be delivered electronically for $2. The first one arrived the next day.

The Morning News, on April 12th, 1898 provided the information I was seeking.

Henry Ferverty article 2 Marion

Henry died of epilepsy which probably also explains why he was living at the infirmary in the first place.

Of course, this article, as sad as it is, begs even more questions.

Why did Henry come to Marion from Elkhart “a few years ago,” as was revealed in the first article I found?

Clearly, if Henry could have taken care of himself, he would not have been living in the infirmary.

Why didn’t the family, Bauke and Minnie, take care of Henry?

Or, why didn’t Henry live with his brother, Hiram?

Why did Henry leave the Infirmary?

Was Henry working, or trying to?

How was he supporting himself?

When did Henry’s epilepsy begin?

Does this have anything to do with why Henry can’t be found in the 1870 or 1880 census records?

Is this why there is no oral family history about Henry?

The 4-year-old daughter who died on the ship on the way to America in 1868 is remembered fondly in stories by the family, but not Henry who lived until 1898, 30 years later?

Was the family ashamed of Henry’s epilepsy and what happened to his body when he had a seizure? People often lose control of their bladder and bowels. It’s torture to watch someone having a seizure.


The Mayo Clinic says that epilepsy is most commonly diagnosed under 20 and over age 65. The under 20 group stems from difficulty during birth, childhood infections and accidents, typically meaning closed head injuries. In children, sometimes high fevers damage important brain functions, triggering epilepsy.

Uncontrolled seizures have negative effects on cognition and behavior, especially in the developing brain. According to this paper, epilepsy has moderate to profound effects on cognitive function. Both early onset and the duration of untreated epilepsy contribute individually and in combination to this downward spiral.

Epilepsy has been intertwined with superstition and religion throughout history. Exorcisms were performed on people afflicted with the disease. The epileptic’s behavior or that of their parents or family were sometimes blamed for the affliction. Victims were often shunned, at best, or stigmatized, hidden and sometimes imprisoned. “Insane asylums” housed many who suffered from epileptic seizures. In ancient Rome, epilepsy was known as “St. Valentine’s Curse” and was believed to be a curse from the Gods.

This resulted in people denying they or family members had epilepsy when possible. Families tried to hide afflicted members and didn’t discuss the situation. The stigma caused embarrassment, especially in areas where the victim or their family were somehow blamed or believed to be at fault.

Was Henry perhaps sent elsewhere?

The Final Chapter

The thing that haunts me the most about Henry’s story is his final chapter.

Bauke was clearly notified on the day that Henry was found. On April 12th, a day after Henry’s death, the paper said that Henry’s father in Elkhart had been notified by phone, past tense. It had happened.

This also tells me that Henry was not yet buried when his father was notified. Bauke could have gone to Marion to retrieve his son’s body. Bauke could have had Henry’s body shipped home by train. Marion had train tracks that connected with tracks in New Paris or Nappanee, not far from Bauke’s home, or in Leesburg, near Hiram.

Bauke could have brought his son home to be buried in the Union Center Cemetery where the rest of the family would be laid to rest, together for eternity – but he didn’t. Hiram could have brought his brother home, assuming he knew in time – but he didn’t either.


My first thought was perhaps that these farmers simply couldn’t afford to bring Henry home – and that might have been true for Hiram who had 9 children with number 10 on the way, although a year later he signed as bond saying he was “worth more than $2000” for his brother, William, who was appointed as guardian to orphans in an estate case.

But Bauke unquestionably wasn’t poor in April 1898 and could have afforded to bring Henry home.

As it turns out, I just happen to have some cost information about funeral preparation expenses at that time. Bauke and Minnie’s daughter, Melvinda died a year later in 1899 and her estate showed that the cost of her last sickness, funeral and support was $203. The receipt from the funeral home totaled $91 with $80 for a casket and trimmings and $11 for a vault. Of course, Henry would have had no costs for a last sickness, nor for a vault and his casket was probably a pauper’s pine box.

In 1907, Melvinda’s husband died in Port Angeles, Washington and his expenses were also attached to his probate record. The undertaker in Washington state cost $163 which included $125 for the casket, $5 for a box, $1.50 for taking the body to the chapel, $30 for embalming and $1.50 for taking the casket to the wharf. The cost of express shipping the body to Nappanee, Indiana by train was $80.

Shipping Henry’s body home would have cost little and going to Marion to retrieve Henry would certainly have been within the realm of possible. Bauke could have afforded to bring his son home, but for some reason, he just didn’t.

You might be wondering how I know that Bauke had financial resources. The evidence lies with what happened a week later.

Eight days after Henry died, on April 19th, Bauke and Minnie sold their farm to William O. Fervida, their only son together, for $2000 according to deed records. They owned the land outright. There was no mortgage or loans.

Fifteen months later, William Fervida sold the land back to Minnie Fervida, his mother, in her name alone, excluding his father – for $2000 plus Minnie paid an additional $300 mortgage that William had taken against the property.

In essence, this was a triangular 3-way transaction to transfer the title to Minnie without Bauke deeding the farm directly to Minnie.

When Minnie died in 1906, only her children with Bauke and their heirs (in the case of their daughter Melvinda who had died) inherited her estate, including the farm. This effectively cut Hiram out of any share of the inheritance since he was not Minnie’s child, and Minnie alone owned the farm.

If you were wondering about my comment that Minnie might not have been a blessing as a step-mother, you now understand why I have suspicions.

Hiram was apprenticed out in Holland at 12 years of age and was working and living on a neighbor’s farm in the US in 1870 at age 15. Henry apparently is never found living with the family from 1870 when he would have been 12, until his death. Neither boy may have lived with the family after they immigrated.

The Rest of the Story

I contacted the Marion library again, asking if the other two newspaper articles were exactly the same as the first article that they so kindly sent. Often during that timeframe different local papers would pick up the same story and run it verbatim, so I assumed that to be the case since the library only sent one article. I’m glad I asked because a second article gave us a few more details.

Henry Ferverty article 3 Marion

Henry died, alone, on a river bank of a massive epileptic seizure. He was found in or near the straw pile, with his head partly in the water.

Did he drown?

But there’s more.

Henry had been hanging out in the saloons, implying of course that he was drinking. Brethren are extremely conservative and most don’t drink at all and never outside the home. Being visibly drunk is frowned on and smoking and gambling are forbidden. If Henry was drinking and hanging out in saloons, he had broken with the Brethren religion, which might explain a lot about why he seemed to be estranged from the family. He was. Brethren are known for the practice of shunning, but would they have shunned a person with limited capabilities and perhaps limited cognitive function?

On the other hand, Henry wasn’t entirely estranged, because the doctor knew who to call to notify family members of his death.

Clearly, Bauke and Hiram made the decision to have Henry buried in Marion, in the IOOF Cemetery, the local “Potter’s Field” with no tombstone, where Henry was all but lost to history. We don’t know what transpired in Henry’s abbreviated life between him and his family. However it happened, Henry was the scandalous brother that everyone wished wasn’t so.

I do know that alcohol is sometimes used for self-medication, as the phrase, “to drown one’s sorrows” indicates. Henry certainly had plenty of sorrow to drown.

I reached out to the library one last time, asking about the third article. Once again, I’m glad that I did.

Henry Ferverty article 4 Marion

In this article, Henry’s surname is nearly unrecognizable, spelled consistently as Fersirty. I would never have found this article had they not included it in their index.

Henry’s face was in the water. If the seizure didn’t kill him, the water did – or perhaps a combination of both.

The interview with Banks, the Superintendent of the “poor farm” was quite telling:

Fersirty came to Grant county from Elkhart County. His father lives 3 or 4 miles from the city of Elkhart and is said to be tolerably well to do. He has $300 of Fersirty’s money and he paid the interest annually, but Fersity spent it for drink. Fersirty holds a note against his father for the amount named above. I think Fersirty had been at the poor farm for about 3 years. He was subjected to epileptic fits, which made him somewhat demented. He left the poor farm about 3 weeks ago and went to work at Zimmermann’s saloon near the Evans glass factory. I had not heard from him since that time until notified this morning of his death.

It sounds like Henry was probably an alcoholic, given the comment that he spent his interest payment annually on alcohol and hung around saloons – yet he lived at the poor farm for most of that time.


I’m left with so many questions.

To begin with, why did Bauke have $300 of Henry’s money?

Was this somehow connected with an inheritance from Henry’s mother’s family that Bauke was holding in essence in trust for Henry?

Clearly, Bauke didn’t need Henry’s $300, so I’m wondering if this was the only way that Bauke could assure Henry of having some income, at least once a year. On the other hand, Bauke could simply have given Henry money and spaced it out over the year. It’s just an odd situation and I’m trying to think of reasonable possible scenarios.

Was this “link” maybe Bauke’s way of knowing where Henry was, at least once a year when it was time for the interest payment?

However, knowing that Henry was living in the Infirmary in Marion for 3 years meant that Bauke could have gone and gotten Henry and brought him to the local poor house which would have been much closer and allowed Bauke to visit Henry, but for some reason, he didn’t. We can only conclude that Bauke felt it was best for Henry to remain in Grant County, and that apparently Henry did too.

This information also tells us that Henry was someplace in Elkhart county until about 1895, or at least that he came from Elkhart County about that time. I wonder what drew Henry to Marion.

Grant County and in particular Marion and Gas City had experienced a huge increase in residents, doubling its population in the 1890s as a result of the discovery of natural gas. With cheap and plentiful gas, manufacturing plants were built as well as supporting industries and businesses, such as saloons. According to some of the descriptions, Marion during that time of rapid growth resembled the wild west a bit.

Henry may have traveled to Marion against the advice of his family and perhaps to escape their oversight – especially if they objected to or tried to prevent him from drinking.

The timing of what happened next seems too much to be coincidental.

I wonder why a week later, after Henry’s death, Bauke sold his land to William, only to have William sell it back to his mother, but not his father, 15 months later. Was that extra $300 that Minnie paid to William when she repurchased their farm the mortgage note that used to belong to Henry?

We will never know what motivated this series of events, but we do know that the part of the story that was handed down via Hiram’s children’s is that indeed a rift developed between the two Ferverda brothers – although the story never said which two brothers.

“They changed the spellings of their last names to be different. One moved up by Nappannee.”

Personally, until I began documenting the Ferverda genealogy, I never realized that Hiram had a half brother, William. I thought his only brother was Henry.

That “rift” story was at least partly accurate, but the facts were somewhat muddled – as many oral history stories are. One brother, William did eventually live on Bauke’s land up by Nappanee, but Henry moved to Marion where he died.

Which brother did Hiram have the rift with?

Perhaps both for different reasons. This story could be applied to either or both brothers and the surnames changed with both brothers. Ferwerda (Bauke, the father, near Nappanee) – Fervida (William, half brother, near Nappanee) – Ferverda (Hiram, near Leesburg) – Ferverty (Henry, full brother, Marion).

Rest in Peace, Henry

Poor Henry is buried alone in Marion, in an unmarked grave. I still don’t understand, regardless of what Henry had done as a result of his epilepsy and resulting disability how his family could not bring him home to bury, in spite of his alcoholism.

Maybe they didn’t want a visual reminder of a terrible chapter for everyone involved that had finally drawn to a close. Maybe they were ashamed of Henry, or how they had treated him, or both. It’s impossible to put myself in their shoes, especially not without additional information, 120+ years after the fact.

Henry was clearly challenged and incapable of making rational decisions. Bauke obviously knew this, as evidenced by the $300 note that he held instead of giving Henry the money outright. But Bauke may have been unable to control Henry or to keep him safe as an adult. Henry was, after all, of legal age and physically, a man – able to make his own decisions and take himself wherever he wanted.

This also tells us that Henry had been suffering from epilepsy since before he reached the age of majority, or he would have been given his money at that time – so at least 20 years. Perhaps Bauke was doing the best he could for his son under very difficult and heart-breaking circumstances.

I can only imagine Henry’s terror as he tried to work, or tried to do anything for that matter, and felt a seizure coming on. The saloon owner where Henry worked for 2 weeks said that Henry had several “fits,” as seizures were called at that time, while he worked there which tells us how often Henry’s seizures occurred. Henry’s last terror would be to know, perhaps, as the seizure overtook him and he slipped from consciousness one last time that he was headed face-down into the water.

My God, the stuff nightmares are made of. Except Henry would never wake up. I pray that death enveloped him gently and swiftly. The only good news is that Henry never had to suffer another seizure, embarrassment or any other indignity. It was finally over and not just numbed until the alcohol wore off.

I feel no judgement for this poor man, only empathy, pity and sorrow for his life circumstances, his suffering and his pain. His life was out of his control and unfair from very early, if not the beginning. It never improved. In fact, it probably deteriorated with every seizure, and thanks to the newspaper article, we know how frequently they happened.

As the reporter said, “Death was, indeed, a relief from his terrible earthly suffering.”

Death was not the grim reaper, but the merciful releaser.

Henry, may you truly rest in peace.

Henry Ferverty Estates of Serenity 2



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29 thoughts on “Hendrik Ferverda (1857-1898) and the Secret That Killed Him, 52 Ancestors #225

  1. Wow. What a story! You made me feel all the feels for this poor guy. I love the stories you are able to put together all the ancestors you research. Really, really impressive. I wish you were related to me, and working on some of my ancestors!

  2. You might want to look up some of the laws concerning Poor Farms in Indiana about this time. I know that in some areas, families were required to reimburse the money that the county had spent for their family member’s care. If that is the case in Indiana then, that might explain some of the family behavior. By the way I’ve had relatives and ancestors living in Nappanee, Etna Green, and other areas in this part of Indiana; and it’s been fun hearing about the area – mine were United Brethren (New Constitution) so probably not that much contact.

  3. Henry’s tragic story is just another reminder of what our ancestors endured before the blessings of modern medicine came along. What he suffered is heartbreaking.

  4. Very nicely done. Your articles really personalize the individuals involved, plus the addition of historical records and places being fleshed out, gives new insight into families and their tribulations many years afterwards. Thanks again for another well considered and researched article.

  5. On my husbands family tree, he has a Sjoukjen Paulus De Jong b. 1798 in Tytsjerksteradiel, Friesland. Perhaps this is the same family???

    • That’s very interesting. Geertje was born in 1829 in Baard, and her father was born in 1803 in Oosterlittens. Her mother born in Leeuwarderadeel. I wish these people would stay put:)

  6. Modern medicine does not always fix epilepsy. Henry’s terror as he tried to work, or tried to do anything for that matter, and felt a seizure coming on. Reminds me of a friend’s reaction to her own seizures……. in 2010…. scary.

    I wonder if Bauke’s wife #2 controlled a lot of how the family related to Henry… shunned.

    As I read many of the paragraphs I found myself relating to JB…. a great uncle who is only in one census as a patient at Alexis Brothers – hospital like place. The family is in all the census since they came to this country but JB is not listed with them only once at this institution where no doubt there was no one to keep JB from answering questions. JB’s father remarried very fast after his first wife died. And wife 2 was 20+ years younger than father. Wife two died one year after JB….. I can see she was his caretaker and when he was gone …….. so much to think about and probably no more answers to be found.

    Love your writing…. thanks for sharing with us.

  7. Wow !

    I want to know why my great-great-grandfather was not included in his dad’s last will and testament, and I wonder why my great-great-grandmother left him with her children to live solo and labor as farmers, after only a few year’s marriage. Like, yikes, was he that horrible? His son, my great-grandfather, was very cool and a responsible family man. His dad (my great-great-great grandfather) seems to have been a responsible family man, and so was his dad (my great-great-great-great grandfather). The other odd thing is that there aren’t any birth records for him. So maybe that’s a part of the answer somehow …

    *** It’s awesome to read about your research treks. I’m heartened to find out answers for my questions! Thanks ! ***

    LOTS of my family tree has holes in it. Ancestry-dot-com members find links to connect the gaps, but there aren’t records for their links. Your family research is great cheers for me to dig deeper into my family stories 🙂 !

  8. Interesting article. I went to school with a girl that had epilepsy, and it’s a terrible disease which today has many medical treatment options. I found the attached article: The Course of Untreated Epilepsy (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1834662/) which you may wish to view as the over view of the article states in part: “. . . in many patients there is an accelerating disease process in the early stages of epilepsy.” If Henry received no treatment for his epilepsy his seizures could have become more frequent and the damage to his brain worse. His family may not have wanted him closer to home so people wouldn’t talk about why he wasn’t being cared for at home.

    So glad we have more treatment options today and society is more understanding.

  9. I am so glad that, for the most part, views on epilepsy have changed. I was diagnosed at 17, but I started having seizures at about 14. I am 62 now. Fortunately mine have always been well controlled on medication. There are many different kinds of epilepsy, and not all continually kill brain cells, making someone “feeble minded.” Ours is genetic. Fortunately, my children did not develop epilepsy. I pray my grandchildren do not.

  10. Wow Roberta,
    I always enjoy how you put your stories together of your family. I start reading them and I am hooked to the last word. I am working on my family history too and cannot help but wonder how many long hours have gone into your quest to find out what happened to Henry. Let alone when you told the story of your dad that had so many twists and turns. It’s a very sad and tragic story about Henry. He may not be buried with his family but through your wonderful and determined quest to find him, he is no longer a forgotten person from your family because his memory will live on through your work.

    I feel very strongly that as I uncover my ancestors life stories through family history, I am creating opportunity to heal the family sorrows that have passed down through the lines. I found a relative that was murdered at 30 yrs in 1903, a day before her wedding by her would be husband. I cannot begin to imagine how heart wrenching that would have been for her family- yet she also became a family secret.

    I love your Blogs and your shared knowledge and skill as a family detective. You always seem to overcome the brick walls that get it the way.

    • It was sad enough that your relative was murdered, but them to become a non-person. Makes you really wonder why.

  11. It doesn’t sound like a death certificate would add details but Death certificates in Indiana began in 1882 at the county level even though there wasn’t 100% compliance. You may wish to check with the Grant County Health Department. They may have records that are not found on Ancestry.

  12. I don’t know if Indiana keeps asylum and poor house records or required them but I have found these types of records in New York, Kentucky and in Minnesota. I have also found mental health records in court records in Minnesota. It might be worth a look.

    • I need to visit Elkhart County. I wanted to finish the next article, but I really can’t until I can actually go there. I want to see the land anyway.

      • Hi Roberta… i am not sure , but i think Indiana does have MH records… try looking in Goshen at the University…i would love to go there again to visit my relations…but my age and frailness do not allow me to travel

  13. What a difference a generation or two makes or in the family around a person. My grandfather had epilepsy, born in the late 1910’s. He was a ranch hand for a lot of his early life and then a janitor at the local college. Somehow, he survived multiple seizures over the years and lived into his 60’s. He had a horse that was loyal only to him and wouldn’t let others ride unless my grandpa was there too. This horse would also stand over my grandpa while he was having a seizure and keep him safe from anything around him. My grandfather also had issues with alcohol and I wonder how much the epilepsy may have encouraged that, if at all.

  14. What a sweet tribute to Henry. It’s hard to imagine the difficulties some of our ancestors endured when medical conditions weren’t understood.

  15. Pingback: Hiram Bauke Ferverda (1854-1925), Part 2: American Farmer– 52 Ancestors #240 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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