Names of godparents can be clues on a variety of levels. Whether something is a clue depends upon what clues you need.

An 1883 letter from Noentje Lena (Grass) Ufkes mentions that her father had been visiting her family near Basco, Hancock County, Illinois. Johannes Grass is known to have died in Wiesens, Oufkesletter1883part1stfriesland, Germany, in the 1880s and the letter was the first reference to his time in America that had been located. A superficial search of passenger lists failed to locate a reference to his entry into the United States. I wondered if the interpreter of the letter somehow made an error when they translated the word “Father” (admittedly “father” is a difficult word to misinterpret).

Noentje makes no other mention of her father in any of the letters she writes to the Harmses during the 1880s.  There’s no reason to doubt her reference to her father. After all, she certainly would know if her father had been visiting her or not. That much is fairly obvious. The letter is the original source (the translation as shown here is derivative) and Noentje’s knowledge and the information Noentje provided in the letter would be primary in nature.

But it would still be nice to obtain some confirmation of Johannes Grass’s time in Illinois in 1883 other than her letter. It turns out there is confirmation of his time spent in Illinois in the 1880s.

In July of 1882, Joh. Grass and Gretje Fecht appear as sponsors for Garret Anton Grass, son of Bertus Grass and son of Johannes Grass. Gretje Fecht is likely a reference to Geshe Fecht whom Johannes married after the death of the mother of Bertus and Noentje Lena Grass. In May of 1883, Johannes Grass appears as a sponsor at the baptism of Gerhard Jansen Ufkes–son of Johann Ufkes and Noentje Lena (Grass) Ufkes. This is the child that Noentje mentions in her letter as having been agitated.

The appearance of Johannes Grass on baptismal entries in July of 1882 and May of 1883 indicated that his stay in the United States was longer than originally thought based upon Noentje’s letter. It is doubtful if he returned home between the church entries but it is possible.


Baptism entries from the Immanuel Lutheran Church, Harmony Township, Hancock County, Illinois, 1882-1883; digital image,, accessed 3 September 2015.

Baptismal records that name sponsors can provide significant pieces of information as the sponsors often are relatives. In this case, if I had not known Johannes was alive in the 1880’s then I would have gained that information. In my situation these records help me to pinpoint when Johannes was in the United States to facilitate a search of passenger manifests.

Why he went back home is another story and one I may never figure out. After his death, his widow did emigrate to the United States.


The church records for the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Hancock County, Illinois’ Harmony Township are available in the “ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)” database on



3 Responses

  1. Can one be a sponsor without being present? Is it possible he was sponsor in person with the first, but was sponsor from afar for the second?

    • Lisa–Sorry as I just saw this. That’s a good question. I really thought that sponsors usually had to be there. In the current Lutheran baptism rite the sponsors have to speak in response to various things. What the precise procedure was in the 1880s I can’t say, but that’s an interesting question.

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