Thursday, April 23, 2009

Namesakes: Garfield Mentor Berger

I have always had a love for names, their meanings, what they sound like, patterns in my family tree, etc. I'm also fascinated by the people in my tree named after the famous of their day. Running across little Andrew Jacksons, Abraham Lincolns and others in my family tree always tickle me because it is a glimpse into the thought process of their parents and a personal connection to the family. It also excites the historian in me to find examples of the influence these famous people had on the populous of the day. I thought I would do a series on the famous names in my family. First up is Garfield Mentor Berger, the brother of my great-grandfather.

Garfield isn't a family name so I always thought there might be a connection to our twentieth President in their somewhere and minimal research proved this true. President James A. Garfield is not a namesake you see often since he was only in office a few months, the second shortest term of any President (next to William Henry Harrison). Garfield was an Ohioan by birth, born in 1831 in a log cabin. At first he became a preacher and then a teacher before entering into the law. Once the Civil War broke out, Garfield joined up and served for his home state in the Union Army. He saw action at Shiloh among other battles and reached the rank of Brigadier General. It was during the war, in 1862, that he was elected to the House of Representatives (he had previous been a Ohio State Senator for one term that ended in 1861). Since Congress was in recess at the time, he was able to continue in the field until December of 1863. Garfield also continued to practice law and argued cases before the Supreme Court. In 1880 he went to the RNC fully supporting another for the Presidential bid but ended up the surprise nominee because a deadlock between the front runners for the nod led to a compromise in the form of dark horse Garfield. In the general election, Garfield defeated Democratic candidate Winfield Scott Hancock and was inaugurated in March 1881. In July of that year he was shot at a Washington train depot by Charles Guiteau and died two months later, on 19 Sept 1881 from an infection due to the shooting.

The day after Garfield's assassination, on 20 Sept 1881 in South Bend, Indiana, another Garfield was born. Garfield Mentor Berger was the son of Rev. John W. Berger and Susanna (von)Allmen Berger. Obviously, he was named after the recently slain President, but his middle name has always perplexed me. I know President Garfield lived in Mentor, Ohio but my Bergers have no connection to that area. All I can think is that Garfield's parents must have either REALLY liked President Garfield or been fond of the unusual name. Garfield's father, John did travel quite a bit around the Midwest for his job so it is also possible that he stopped in Mentor and took the name from that. Garfield and his family came to California (first Los Angeles and then Oakland) when he was around eight years old. He married first, Anna Tretheway/Trethaway and they had six children: Dean, Arthur, Garfield, Ernest, Anna and Frances. Anna died around the time of Frances' birth and Garfield remarried Bertha Fischer Peterson, a divorced mother of one. Garfield died in Alameda, CA in 1964, Bertha in 1971.

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