A Genealogical Mystery: The Beiderbecke Family

The Beiderbecke name has been made internationally famous due to the talent and success of jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke.

Locally, though, the Beiderbecke name has been well-known in the area since 1856 when Charles Beiderbecke, Bix’s grandfather, moved to Davenport from Germany, with a stop in Indianapolis along the way.

Charles Beiderbecke would find great business success in Davenport when he partnered with fellow German immigrant Frank Miller to form Beiderbecke and Miller Wholesale Grocers.

On April 21, 1860, Charles married Louise Piper and began a family.  And here lies a small genealogical mystery for those who have researched the Beiderbecke family:

What happened to three of the children born to Charles and Louise?

The 1900 U.S. Census asked women the number of children they had and how many of those children were living. Louise Beiderbecke, who was 59 years old at the time, reported that she had given birth to seven children, four of whom were still living when the Census was taken.

Those four living children were Carl T. born 1865, Ottilie born 1866, Bismark H.—the future father of a certain jazz musician—born 1868, and Lutie born 1870.

A look at Louise’s obituary in October 1922 also says that she bore seven children, four of whom survived her.

So when were the other three children born?  Iowa birth records were first recorded in 1880, so there are no records for any Beiderbecke children born prior to this date.  Our Scott County birth indexes report no children born to Louisa between 1880 and 1900.

Death records would be the logical place to try next, though if the children died prior to 1880, there would be no death records available, either.

On to cemetery records.

Through a search of Oakdale’s burial records, we know they were not buried in the family plot there.  And as the family was Presbyterian and not Catholic it seems likely they would not have been buried in a Catholic cemetery.

West Davenport Cemetery, later renamed Fairmount Cemetery, did not open until 1881. If the children died in infancy, presuming they were born before their brother Carl, they could not have been buried there. Still,  a just-in-case search found no evidence that the children were buried in Fairmount.

Which brought us to Davenport City Cemetery.

The Special Collections has copies of the City Cemetery Sexton record books and the Sexton Reports to City Council. These records are not complete for the early burial years and are also very hard to decipher at times.

However, through the dedication of a Special Collections volunteer, all the Sexton Reports to City Council that we have been able to locate were entered into the Genealogy and Local History section of the Davenport Public Library’s website. These reports are now searchable through the Free Local Databases page.

Using this resource, we found evidence that two of the three children are buried in City Cemetery.

Mina Beiderbecke was buried on September 21, 1863 in lot #257. She was aged 2 years and 6 months. Her birth date was probably around March 1861.

Mary Beiderbecke was buried on October 8, 1863 in lot #257. She was aged 2 months. Her birth date was around August 1863.

It’s interesting to note that Lot #257 was owned by a successful business man named Joseph Coe who had once lived in Davenport, but had moved to LeClaire by 1860.  Frank Miller’s daughter Emma is also buried in Lot #257. She was buried on April 20, 1863 at age 8 months and 20 days old.

Charles Beiderbecke would later buy lot #267. He buried his brother Fritz there when the young man passed unexpectedly from typhoid fever on December 24, 1867. The two lots are located near each other in the old section of the cemetery.

As for the third child, the mystery continues. As our collection of Sexton Records is not complete, it may be we just do not have the record for this child. There is also a possibility that we have been unable to read the name correctly due to poor penmanship and faded writing.

We may never know.  But the search continues!

(posted by Amy D.)

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