Saturday, November 5, 2016

Eugene Gochenour Memoirs: The Becker Family of Tonawanda

Martha Keen Becker and John August Becker
Dad began his memoirs with his family history. Our roots in Tonawanda, NY  dates to the immigration of  the Becker family to America. They were German nationalists living in Volhynia, Russia, now the Ukraine. 

Waves of migrations of Germans to Russia occurred over hundreds of years. Germans were first invited to Russia by Catherine the Great who wanted their farming skills to develop new agricultural centers. With the freeing of the serfs, a labor market opened up and more Germans arrived in Russia. With the war between France and Germany decimating areas of Germany, some refugees went to England and America, but others went East into Prussia or Poland. When conflicts arose there, they escaped into Vohlynia.

The Germans who settled in Russia remained German nationalists. They did not have to serve in the Russian army. The early settlers were lured by advertising of free land. They arrived in Russia with basic instruments and had to start from scratch to build a house and prepare the land for farming. Over time they created prosperous farms. Tides of Germans from Poland, Prussia, and Germany came to Russia, including to Volhynia where the Beckers settled.

Martha Keen Becker, my great-grandmother, was from the Kelm family in Volhynia. The Kelms were part of a movement of German Baptists who left Poland to establish some of the earliest Baptist churches in Russia. Read about the German Baptist movement at

As tensions between Germany and Russia increased, leading up to WWI, the Germans living in Russia were persecuted with confiscation of lands, arrests, and deportation. They could no longer buy land and were made to serve in the Czar's army. Many Germans were deported to Siberia. Thankfully, many left Russia before it was too late, including my Grandmother Emma Becker Gochenour and my husband's grandfather Gustaff Bekofske.

"Born Eugene Vernon Gochenour on the 13th day of August, 1930, I am the only son of Alger Jordan Gochenour and Emma Becker. My sister Mary Martha was born two years before me, and my younger sister Alice Beverly six years after. Mary and I were born in the City of Tonawanda, and Alice in the Town of Tonawanda. Located between Niagara Falls and Buffalo are three communities with the name Tonawanda. There is the City of Tonawanda, the city of North Tonawanda, and the Town of Tonawanda. The Town of Tonawanda contains an incorporated village named Kenmore.
John Becker
"Mother’s maiden name was Emma Becker. Her father, my Grandfather John Becker, was conscripted into the Russian army. He once told me that when he was in the army the lice were so bad they would roll a string across their arms, legs, and body to remove the hair to get rid of them.

"Documents, written in Russian, show John was born in 1876, was taken into the Russian army during 1898, and married during 1903. [Ed. Note: I found a birth record showing John August Bacher born to August Bacher and Margaretha Bodner on October 29, 1876 in Andrejew, Volhynia, Russia. His parent were married in 1899. I also found a birth record for his sisters Pauline Baecker born November 3, 1870 in Zhitomir, Russia and Rosalie born December 12, 1873 in Andrejew, Volhynia, Russia.]

"May 21, 1910 he arrived in New York City on the George Washington out of Bremen. [The passenger list shows a Johann Becker, saddler, a German from Torchin, Russia with $22 to his name, who last lived with his wife Marta; his destination was Tonawanda, NY, where he had a friend, Julianna Tolz, residing at 121 Clinton St.]

"When John Becker was established at Tonawanda he purchased steamship tickets and sent them to Grandmother so the rest of the family could join him. The tickets were bought May 15, 1911 #46969, from the North German Lloyd Steamship Co for the SS George Washington from Bremen to New York, for the cost of $178.50 plus $4.50 per boarder, a total of $183.

"Grandfather had deserted the Czar’s army and lived the rest of his life in fear that he would someday be forced to return to Russia." [I recall hearing that when letters came to John from Russia he was afraid to open them, but family members were concerned they contained family news.]

Dad later had his grandfather's passport translated:
Perpetual Passport issued by Chernyakovski Local Elder Council of Zhitomir District of Voyhn County, March 15, 1910 to peasant Iogang August Becker, D.O.B. January 29, 1876, Lutheran, residence Kolkhoz Sofievka, Goroshkoc Area, Zhitomir Dist.
Military Service: Private of Ulyanov reserve of Warsaw Regiment.
Height: above average; hair: light brown
Wife: Marta August, 26 yo
Children: Arthur 7 yo, Reuben 4 yo, Alina 6 years [must be Emma]
Military Service Discharge Card Iogang August Becker
184 private of Warsaw regiment discharged per order of demobilization #43m. of Okhotsk Regiment, transferred to the reserve in 1905 until January 1, 1916. Admitted into service by Zhitomir military summons and recorded in the military list #84 on October 27, 1897, starting date of service January 1, 1889. No participation in military campaigns, no awards. Trained in Formal Drill. Age January 27, 1826, single, Lutheran, dismissed honorable, Volynsk region, Zhitomire Dist, Chernyavki area, village Kolkhoz, Pekarshina.

"Grandfather was a carpenter. He built the house his family lived in, and many more. When my parents were first married they bought a house he had built, across the street from him.

John Becker's Certificate of Naturalization
"In 1926 my grandfather obtained his certificate of naturalization. He was 51 years old, 5'4" tall, medium complexion, brown eyes and hair, and he had a growth in his left ear. His children living at home included Reuben, Alfred, Edmund, and Adeline.

"Grandfather died December 17th, 1951. He was 75 years old.

"Grandmother Becker's maiden name was Martha Keen. She was born at Torchin, Volinski Russia, on March 30th, 1871. During 1903 she married my grandfather John Becker. By 1910 they had four children, and that year Grandfather came to America by himself to prepare a home for his family.
Martha Keen Becker

Keen relatives

Unknown Ancestor--A Becker or 'Keen' in Russia

Russian Funeral of unknown ancestor, a Becker or Keen
Unknown Keen family member
"The names and birth dates of their children were: Arthur, born October 5th, 1903; Emma, born February 8th, 1904; Reuben, born May 5th, 1906; and Benjamin, born during 1909. All the children were born at Torchin Volinski, Russia. While Grandfather was in America, Grandmother had another child. His name was Edmund, and he was born on November 9, 1910.
Back row: Mrs. Rinkey, Martha Becker, John Becker, Mr. Rinkey.
Front Roy: Alfred Becker, Elsie Rinkey, Walter Kinkey
Adeline Becker, Albert 

Martha Becker

"Grandmother received the steamship tickets purchased by Grandfather May 15, 1911. The tickets cost $183 dollars. They were to sail on the George Washington out of Bremen to New York City.

"Grandmother started her journey to the ship with her five children. She had to pay bribes at some of the borders they crossed as they traveled through Europe. [My grandmother said they traveled by night, sleeping during the day, while traveling to the border. A system had been set up to help German Russians once they reached the Germany border.]

"When they arrived at the German border they were held up for five days because Reuben had an eye problem that had to be treated. [Trachoma, or pink eye, meant no admittance into the States. My husband's great-grandfather and family had to return to Germany because their daughter Wanda had Trachoma upon arriving at Ellis Island; the family was lost during WWII.] This caused them to miss the ship when it left port. On July 29, 1911 they boarded to Neckar and arrived in New York on August 9, 1911.

"Finally on July 29th, 1911 she bordered the ship “Neckar” and sailed from Bremen. The ship arrived at New York on August 9th, 1911. Martha was 31 years old, born in Torchine, Volinski;  Arthur was 8 yo and born October 5, 1903 in Tochine; Emma was 6 yo, born Feb 8, 1905 in Torchine, Volinski; Reuben was 4 yo, born May 5, 1906 in Torchine, Volinski; Benjamin was 2 yo; and Edmund was 8 months old, born Nov. 3, 1910. Martha's father's name is given as August Kiln, and her home was in Tortschine, Volh., Russia. She was joining her husband John Becker at 121 Clinton, Tonawanda, NY. Martha had red hair, the children were blond.

"I am thoroughly amazed at the courage and tenacity it took for Grandmother to venture across Europe, the Atlantic Ocean, through Immigration, and on to Tonawanda with five children, one an eight-month-old baby.
Martha Becker at right
"Two more children were to come, Adeline, born January 11th, 1903, and Levant, born September 8th, 1926. Benjamin was to die when he drowned in the Erie Canal."
The Becker kids, Art, Rube, Emma, Abby and Adeline

Becker kids in front of their house build by John Becker

Adeline and Abby Becker

Adaline holding baby brother Levant Becker,
later Eugene Gochenour's good friend

Adeline, Abby, and Reuben Becker

Art Becker

Adeline and Emma Becker
"Martha died February 23, 1943. I am not sure when my grandmother died but I remember she was laid out in the dining room of their home.

"After a few years, my Grandfather married Lane M. Pedt, a widower. Grandfather also outlived her, and spent the rest of his life a widower. Lane passed June 2, 1949 and John on December 17, 1951.
520 Morgan Street, Becker family home

520 Morgan St with Becker boys
"My mother Emma Becker Gochenour was born at Torchin Volinski, Russia, on February 8th, 1904. She came to America with her mother and her brothers in 1911 when she was seven years old.

Emma Becker at her home located at Wheeler and Morgan Streets,
with the Murray School in the background. Later the
fire station was built on the site.
"The earliest photograph of Mother one was taken in 1921 when she was sixteen years old. The school in the background was the Murray Grade School, located on Morgan and Wheeler streets where mother lived, in the City of Tonawanda. The school was soon to be torn down and a fire station built on the site.

"When mother was old enough she got a job at the Remington Rand factory that was located at Military Road and Wheeler Street. It was only about a mile from her home. She worked there for a few years, until she met father and they married.

Emma Becker graduation from high school
"On December 24, 1927 my parents were married. At that time Father lived at the Lincoln Hotel in North Tonawanda, and mother lived on 520 Morgan Street in the City of Tonawanda. Mother's maid of honor was her life long friend Mildred A. Behner of 12 Park Ave. Mother was working in a factory and Father was a salesman. Mother's parents names were given as John Becker and Martha Kean.
Wedding of Emma Becker and Alger Gochenour
"Times were good and since Dad made good money as an insurance salesman they bought a new car and a new house. It was a house built by my Grandfather Becker, located on Morgan Street across from Grandfather.  Morgan Street is about three blocks from the Niagara River and between our house and the river. Mother quit working and sister Mary was born in 1929.
Al with the new car
Al and Mary Gochenour at Morgan Street
"The Depression started in 1929 when the stock market fell, and in 1930 I was born. Sister Alice was born in 1936.

"The insurance business deteriorated and Dad lost his income. [In the 1926 through 1928 city directories Alger is a salesman for F. Becker Asphaltum Roofing; on the 1930 Census he is an insurance collector living in a Morgan Street home valued at $2,500. In 1945 Al was working at the Chevy River Rd plant until he opened his gas station.]

In 1935 my parents lost their new car and the house. I was five years old when we moved to 1851 Military Road.
Emma in the center; her father John Becker at her right
and daughter Mary and grandchild Linda at left.

"On February 3, 1944 Mother received her certificate of naturalization. She was described as 39 years old, married white female, Russian descent, with fair complexion, brown eyes, brown hair, 5'4" in height, weight 116 pounds. Actually Mother had red hair as did her brother Alfred. 

"On December 27, 1965 mother applied to the U. S. Naturalization Service requesting information about her date of birth so she could apply for Social Security. The information that was sent back stated that her name was on the New York Census of 1915, and listed her age as 10 years old. Her Certificate of Naturalization was acquired on February 3, 1944, and it lists her as 39 years old, female, white, fair, with brown eyes, and brown hair. She was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 116 pounds."

Emma Becker Gochenour
Sheridan Park Volunteer Fireman supporter
After the death of Al, Emma lived with my family until 1964 when she moved in with her daughter Alice. She died in Tonawanda in 1997.

Art Becker married Florence Neale Groffenberg. They lived on Grand Island, NY. Art served in the military. He died at age 87 in 1990.

Reuben Becker married Dorothy Holmes in 1931. They had five children. He died at age 62 in north Tonawanda in 1969.

Edmund Becker married Bessie Spencer in 1938. They had one child. He died in 1970. He lived on Wheeler St in North Tonawanda.

Adeline married Harold Chester Killian in 1935. They lived on Grand Island and had two children. She died in 1991.

Alfred married Olga Shenk and they had three children. He served in the army during WWII. He lived in Rome, Ohio and died in 1988.

Levant Becker married Mary Kolb and they had three children. They lived on Grand Island. He served in WWII and was a volunteer fireman. Lee passed in 2009.

Benjamin died in 1910, drowning in the Erie Canal.

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