Church Records: Finding Grandma’s Birth

Helen Desens

My paternal grandmother died before I was born so I never had the privilege of knowing her.  So many times, I wished I could talk to her.  Not just for genealogy purposes, I wanted to know her like I knew my other grandma.  As a kid, I would visualize her watching me from heaven.  All I know about my paternal grandmother is what my father told me. 

Helen Desens was born on 23 March 1900 at home in Forest Park, Illinois.[1]  According to my father she attended St. John Lutheran Church and school through 8th grade in Forest Park, Illinois, and was baptized and confirmed at this church.[2] Unable to find a birth certificate for her, I turned to church records.  This was many years ago before the Internet.  I called the church and asked if they had records and would it be possible search them.  They said, “Yes, come on in.”  When I got there, I had to ring a bell and someone met me at the door and escorted me to the church office.  I had to walk through the school and across the gymnasium to get to the church office.  The school and church were old, and I don’t think it had changed since my grandmother attended school there from approximately 1905 to 1914.  Walking through the halls of the school, I imagined my grandmother as a little girl going to this school and I felt a real connection to her.  If I was alone, I think I would have cried.  But on to the office and records.  I found her confirmation record, but not a baptism record.  The confirmation record stated she was confirmed on 5 April 1914 and her parents were Carl Desens and Augusta Gabbie.[3]  She was born 23 March 1900 Forest Park IL and her church was St. Paul in Forest Park, Illinois.[4]  Although, I could use the confirmation record as a secondary source for proof of her parentage and birth date, I was disappointed.  The baptism record would be a secondary source too, but closer to the event (birth). But at least it told me that she was most likely baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Forest Park.  I didn’t know that Forest Park had two Lutheran Churches. While I was there, I looked for anyone who had the last name Desens, and I did find some of her brothers and sisters who were baptized at this church, plus some cousins.  I left that day with the intention of calling St. Paul Church and going there to look for her baptism.  But since I did have the proof I was looking for, I put it off for many years.  I put it off so long that now with the Internet many records are online, and I found her baptism at St. Paul on Ancestry.com.  My grandmother was baptized Helene Margarete Auguste Desens on 12 May 1901.[5] It states she was born 23 March 1901 (the year different from the confirmation record). It lists the parents as Carl Desens and Augusta Gabbei (slightly different spelling than confirmation record).[6]

According to my father she went to church regularly and brought him up a Lutheran.  I am not sure of my grandfather’s religious beliefs.  My father did not mention him going to church.  I assume he was probably brought up Catholic because his mother was a Catholic.  My grandparents went to the DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton, Illinois on the 22 March 1919 to be married.[7]  I find it interesting that my grandmother was married the day before her 18th birthday. Actually, if she was born in 1901, she was still 17 when she got married.  Marriage record lists her as 19 on the day before her birthday.  So did they lie about her age to get married, but then why didn’t they wait one or two more days until she was 18.  Why didn’t they have a church wedding?  Was it because of age, different religious beliefs, or could it be for some other reason?  I’ll never know the answer to that one.

There seems to be a discrepancy in her birth year. 

  • Confirmation says 1900[8]
  • Baptism says 1901[9]
  • Marriage cert says she is 19 years old and that would make the birth year 1900[10] 
  • She is not listed on 1900 census with the rest of her family[11]
  • Her death certificate says 1901[12]
  • My father said 1900 [13]

I decided to go with the 1901 because the baptism is closed to the event and the fact, she is not listed on the 1900 census with the rest of her family.   If born in 1900, she would have been 3 months old when the census was taken on 30 June1900. 

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[1] Told to me by father George Manfroid, Jr. in 1979.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Confirmation Record for Helen Desens,” born 23 March 1900, confirmed 5 April 1914, St. St John Congregational book 1908 – 1926, Page 227. Book located at John Lutheran Church, 305 Circle Ave., Forest Park, Cook County, Illinois.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Baptism record for Helen Desens,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Archives; Elk Grove Village, Illinois; Congregational Records Source Information:  Ancestry.com. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Records, 1781-1969 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “George Manfroid marriage Record to Helen Desens,” Wheaton, DuPage, Illinois, 22 March 1919. Original located at DuPage County Government Offices, 505 N County Farm Road, Winfield, DuPage, Illinois.

[8] “Confirmation Record for Helen Desens,” born 23 March 1900, confirmed 5 April 1914, St. St John Congregational book 1908 – 1926, Page 227. Book located at John Lutheran Church, 305 Circle Ave., Forest Park, Cook County, Illinois.

[9] “Baptism record for Helen Desens,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Archives; Elk Grove Village, Illinois; Congregational Records Source Information:  Ancestry.com. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Records, 1781-1969 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

[10] “George Manfroid marriage Record to Helen Desens, Wheaton, DuPage, Illinois,” 22 March 1919. Original located at DuPage County Government Offices, 505 N County Farm Road, Winfield, DuPage, Illinois.

[11] Year: 1900; Census Place: Proviso, Cook, Illinois; Roll: T623 294; Page: 53A; Enumeration District: 1182.

[12] “Death record for Helen Manfroid,” Elmhurst, DuPage, Illinois, 4 September 1946. Original located at DuPage County Government Offices, 505 N County Farm Road, Winfield, DuPage, Illinois.

[13] Told to me by George Manfroid, Jr. in 1979.

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