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Gertrude Holl
 1864 - 1874

A photograph of Gertrude Holl has not been positively identified but this one is believed to be her. Regarding her appearance, all that has been passed down about her is that she very closely resembled her niece, Margaret Holl, at age 9 years.  Gertrude's oldest brother was John Holl who, being 7 years her senior, remembered  her well. He spoke only seldomly of his sister, but remembered her as quiet, hard working and always at her mother's side to help.  She was bright in school, athletic and pretty, with long dark brown slightly curly hair. She was a favorite of her father Jacob, who read to her in German from the bible. 

Gertrude Holl was the 4th child born to Jacob and Margaret Dollar Holl on June 23, 1864 at the farm in Brown County, Wisconsin. She was the first daughter, so in keeping with the naming traditions of children from the homeland, she was named after her maternal grandmother, Gertrude Kaster Dollar.  We know very little about her brief young life as she was the first of her generation to pass away on  April 16, 1874.  She was 9 years and 10 months of age and the only child of that family not to have lived to adulthood. Descendants of her siblings do not recall having heard anything about her. It was a common custom "not to speak of the dead" in those times, and the experience might just have been too painful to pass along.

We also know that on October 8, 1871, she fled, along with the family, and survived  the flames of the Great Peshitgo Fire. She was witness to the rebuilding and repair of the farm that followed and attended the community built one room school built just across the neighbor's land, directly west of her home. A faint outline of this school foundation is still visible near the creek on Cottage Road. The bell from that one room schoolhouse, now long demolished, is in a specially built steeple at the entrance to the Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, named in honor of the teacher who lost her life in a space shuttle explosion. The land for this newer school was donated  many years after Gertrude's death by her brother Henry Holl.  Henry had been born next after Gertruda and was 8 years old when she passed away.

It was traditional for the first daughter to become the "second mother" to younger siblings, and take on much of an adult woman's responsibilities as early as possible. Having and raising children was a dangerous prospect for farm women, with limited help and resources. Neighbors were not nearby and were just as busy with pioneer survival. Extended family often lived far away. Mothers tended to have large numbers of children in a short span of years, continually leaving the women in less than good health. And early rural pioneer life was notoriously hard, nearly constant work for them.  In this weakened sstate, a substantial number of mothers died from childbirth and disease. Any help these women could get gave them a better chance of survival. The oldest daughter was left, at the loss of the mother, to take her place. The more she had learned at a young age, the better her younger sibling's chances of survival.

The time that mother and daughter spent together was also enriching, with the passing down of family history, songs, sewing and meding, special needlework, gardening, animal care, baking, cooking and recipes, storage and hand milling of grain, the preparation of foods for winter through spring storage, learning about other places and customs, birthing of people and animals, care for the sick, making medicines, thinking through problems to solve them, what the priorities in life
are and how to conduct yourself properly in a social setting. These are only a few of many lessons.

Gertruda was the only known child in the family not to have lived to adulthood at a time when nearly half of the children born were lost before age 5 years.
She was buried in the Old Catholic Cemetery behind Holy Martyrs of Gorcum Church in Preble, WI.  Her death certificate was copied from the church burial book, neither of which offers a cause of death. The only additional information was her father listed as "a farmer".  A. Van Grotel from Preble was listed as undertaker. Like most graves in the Old Cemetery, no stone is visible and Holy Martyrs office does not have records of where people were buried.


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