Say Mr. Kreeger, Kruger, Kreger and Krueger, were you my Great-Grand Uncle?
Published in the Ashland Daily Press
The Ancestry.com internet site advertises how people have found relatives through their DNA test matches, often times when they weren’t even looking. I started my research because I wanted to learn the truths about my Great-Great Grandpa’s life. His name was John J. Kreeger, AKA, J.J. Kreeger.
J.J. died in 1935, when my Mom was seven-years-old. When I badgered Mom with questions about J.J., she answered with caution. “I thought I heard he was a traveling salesman when he and your Great-Great Grandma met.” Mom also thought that J.J. owned a photography shop while he lived in Iowa. She remembered J.J. speaking of a brother named Louis. And finally, it was either him, or my other Great-Great Grandpa who came to the States at the age of two.
Finding proof that J.J. was a photographer was simple. I Googled the facts I had; J.J. Kreeger, photographer, Iowa. I wasn’t sure of the year so I added 1898 to the search.
I smiled when I saw the top result was a link to one of his cabinet cards (a photo on cardstock), along with a link to the Pinterest site. I purchased the card. I had no idea who the people were in the photo, but I had the proof that my Great-Great Grandfather was a professional photographer in Eddyville, Iowa.
In order to track J.J.’s footsteps, I started searching the census listings on the Ancestry site. After hours of research I finally found something. The census of 1885 listed his occupation as a traveling salesman.
Mom showed me a 1999 newspaper article she had in storage. My Great-Uncle Ray Borens, J.J.s third oldest grandchild, was interviewed at the age of 91 by The Pantagraph in Bloomington, Illinois. J.J.’s legendary exploits sounded astonishing.
It was about 1868 when J.J.’s father abandoned his family in Chicago. Fourteen-year-old J.J., being the oldest of the five boys, became ‘the man of the family.’ Besides caring for his four younger brothers, he was expected to tend the family’s general store.
J.J. didn’t want to do that, so he ran away from home. An Uncle found him and dragged him back.
J.J.’s family store was in the same neighborhood as the O’Leary’s barn, which was where the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 started. J.J. took the place of an ill fireman, and was on one of the last fire wagons to cross the Chicago River before the bridge burned down.
J.J. was 16-years-old when he ran away a second time. That time, in an effort to not be found, he changed the spelling of his last name. He also changed his date of birth so he could join the army.
The most incredible part in the newspaper interview was when Ray told of the time J.J. served under Col. George Armstrong Custer. Custer, along with the entire 7th Calvary of 265 soldiers, was killed in less than an hour when they battled against the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne Indians during the American Indian Wars.
It was the Battle of Little Bighorn, and J.J. was one of the scouts who was sent to find reinforcements. The urgent message he was entrusted with read, ‘Big Village. Bring packs. Come quick.’
When J.J. reached the closest army unit, the commander refused to come. When J.J. threatened him with a court-martial, the commander replied, ‘I know, Jack, but it’s better that I die than my whole army.’
“Jack?” I questioned my mom.
“Some people called him Jack.” She enunciated each name, “John. Jack. Kreeger.” She added that the pronunciation of the last name was important to her Great-Grandma Kreeger. But to this day, my mom isn’t sure if she wanted it pronounced with the long ‘u’ or the long ‘e’.
Ray said that J.J. had three horses shot out from under him the day Custer lost his fight at Little Big Horn. Ray spoke of a scar on J.J.’s leg, from his ankle to his hip, that proved it.
I began searching military records through the Ancestry site. It was in the United States Civil War Soldiers Index 1861-55th Regiments, Illinois, that I wondered if I found the proof. The document read; Infantry John Kreger also known as John Kruger Note: Original filed under John Kruger John Kreeger also known as John Kruger Note: Original filed under John Kruger
It was almost too confusing to make any sense. I wondered if I could find more information through the descendants of one of J.J.’s four brothers.
I typed ‘Kreeger’ into the DNA match search. No matches found.
I figured it may be interesting to find out if Mom’s cousins might know something.
Mom got in touch with her cousin Joan. She shipped us a box of photos and albums that were given to her by her dad, Leo Borens. Leo was J.J.’s second oldest grandchild. It was in this box of treasures that I found a paper bag style envelope, addressed to Leo Borens, from a Mary J. Krueger, dated 1948.
I felt my heart race waiting for my Ancestry site to load. I wondered if I’d finally figure out who J.J.’s four younger brothers were. I put Mary J. Krueger,1948, and her return address into the search field. I drummed my fingers on the table . . . and . . . boom! There, on the screen, was the name, Louis Krueger. A few more searches and up popped the names Robert and Fredrich Krueger. Excited to have found at least three of the four brothers, next thing I did was type the name Krueger into the DNA match search. I couldn’t believe my luck.
I ran to the phone. “Mom! I just found three of J.J.’s brothers! One was Louis, just like you thought.” I shared the best part of it all with a melody in my voice, “You’ve got some 4th cousins you never knew about. . .”
Mom and I sent an email to our newly found relatives, Kate and Susan. Neither knew about J.J. We mentioned we had reason to believe there was still another brother. But, besides the DNA, the letter from Mary Krueger, and Ray’s interview in the newspaper where he spoke of J.J.’s ‘four’ younger brothers, the only other document I had to offer was the following mention in a 1901 Gossip column by The Eddyville Tribune. It read, ‘J.J. Kreeger visited with relatives and friends in Chicago over Sunday.’
With our new Krueger cousins joining us in the hunt for information, I got to thinking about how we found them. I signed into Ancestry and typed the surname ‘Kruger’ into the DNA search. And wouldn’t you know it. We’ve got a connection to that name too.
It’s been a journey to learn about my Great-Great Grandfather’s life. I’m still searching for his other brother. And even though I haven’t found the proof yet that J.J. served as a scout under Custer during that infamous battle back in 1876, I feel there are some truths to the story. At this point, with all those name changes and poorly recorded documents, who is to say that he didn’t?!