Gierk's Ladies Band of Richmond, Michigan
06 May 2010
Posted by Mike Brubaker
It helps the research when names are distinctive and Gierk is a most uncommon surname in America. Since Mr. Gierk thoughtfully had the photographer add an address, it allowed me to find in the U.S. Census Records a Fred Gierk, Jr. of Casco township in St. Clair County, Michigan. It is only a few miles from Richmond. Casco and Richmond are in the "thumb" of the Michigan mitten, and are quite close to Lake St. Clair which is a not-so-great lake linking Lake Huron and Lake Erie.
Fred was born in 1874 and lists his occupation as farmer. His wife Mary Gierk is 4 years younger and his daughter Edna was born in 1898. In the 1920 census, Fredrick Senior is living on the farm and lists his birth year as 1841 in Brandenburg, Prussia now Germany. Perhaps this is where the music tradition comes from. There don't seem to have been any other children in the family.
Looking at the band, I'd like to think young Edna and maybe even Mary are there. Look at the girl on trombone seated in the center, and the women next to the bass drum. But this is just guesswork. Fred appears to be in his mid-thirties so I'd date the photo before WWI. The card was unused but the postcard stampbox is an AZO with 4 triangles up which is consistent with this time-frame.
The photographer is Clarence W. Flowers who worked in Richmond, MI from 1910 to 1920, listing his occupation as "photographer, own shop". In the 1900 census he was merely a "House & Sign Painter".
The hats and bows are the big feature here. Certainly not store bought, these farmer girls would make their own. But what color?
UPDATE Correction 4/17/11: Recently I noticed in my Blogspot statistics that someone had found this post by doing a search on "Gierk Richmond Michigan". Curious as to the result, I did a new search and found a website on the community history of Richmond, MI that I had not seen before. http://www.richmondmihistory.org/index.html
Under the index to Family Histories is an entry on Gierk taken from a 1951 Richmond Review. The article on families of Richmond in Macomb county, describes Fred Gierk's brother William Gierk as the founder of Gierk's Ladies Band, which performed from 1913-14. He also organized the Richmond Cornet Band, according to the article.
William Gierk (or Giske or Girke as it was spelled in the 1910 Richmond MI Census) was born in 1868 and ran a shoe store. With his wife, Martha, they had three daughters - Laura, Rena, and Viola - aged respectively 14,10,and 6 in 1910 and in 1911 added twins Howard and Florence. William died in 1941.
It makes sense now that a businessman, who played the cornet and also had three daughters, would promote the town (and his store) with a Ladies Band. So I offer this correction and apology for getting it wrong. But I was pretty close with brother Fred, and I still think the musical talent may have come from their Prussian father, Fredrick Sr.