The Gedman took an unusually circuitous route to Springfield. Along the way, a mystery emerged: two local Gedman families who don’t know each other, yet whose ancestors lived in close proximity.
Kaitonis Gedman (Lith. Kajetonas Gedmanis or Gedminis?) was born in Kvedarna, Lithuania in 1859. He left behind his second wife, Petronėlė Kupšaitė, born in Kvedarna in 1864, and two children to work in the coal mines of Bentlyville, Pennsylvania. When his wife, Petronėlė, died back in Lithuania in 1903, Kaitonis sent for his daughter, Anna, who had been born in 1882 of his first wife, and his son, Joseph, to join him in Pennsylvania.
Joseph C. Gedman, who had been born in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1895, came to the U.S. when he was just eight with his half-sister Anna Gedman (later Pinkes), who was 21. Joseph, who had less than a year of schooling, worked as a coal miner like his father Kaitonis, and also in ordinance plants, first in Pennsylvania, then striking out on his own in Coalton, Oklahoma, where he returned to live and work after serving in World War I. (His sister Anna Pinkes also lived in Coalton, and all her children were born there.) Interestingly, Joseph also secured his U.S. citizenship via honorable discharge from his service in World War I.
Joseph married Helen Beneky, the 20-year-old Springfield-born daughter of Lithuanian-born Anthony and Barbara (Wisnoski) Beneky. The couple apparently were introduced by Helen’s cousin, Jack Harmon, whom Joseph met in Coalton. We don’t know what the Joseph and Helen trans-continental courtship was like, but we do know that the couple married in 1921 at Helen’s “native” church, St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian Catholic Church, in Springfield. After living for a time in Coalton, Oklahoma, where their only child, James L. Gedman, was born later in 1921, Joseph and Helen moved to 2110 Peoria Road, near the Illinois State Fairgrounds, in close proximity to many other Lithuanian immigrant families.
According to Betty Gedman, the granddaughter of Joseph and Helen, as a young girl, Helen slipped getting off the streetcar (Inter-urban) that used to run down Peoria Road, and lost all but two of the fingers on her right hand. Yet she went on to have perfect handwriting, and to work at the International Shoe Factory for many years, “outworking many of the men there.”
Helen also played an important role in the 1930s “Mine Wars” (covered elsewhere on this blogsite) as a board member of the Illinois Women’s Auxiliary of the Progressive Mine Workers of America (AFWAL), representing Springfield. Helen died in 1947 at the age of just 46, only five years after the death of Kaitonis, the paterfamilias, in Springfield in 1942 at age 83. Kaitonis had finally arrived in Springfield by 1925, following his daughter Anna and son Joseph. Joseph died in Springfield in 1990 at age 95.
Joseph and Helen’s son James L. Gedman, who served in World War II, worked as a lineman and mechanic for Illinois Bell Telephone. He married Loretta Rose Gietl in 1950, and they raised three children at 1703 E. Matheny: twins Helen Gedman (Coleman) and Betty Gedman–and son Joe. Helen died in 1980 at 29, but had a son John, and daughter Erin. Joe, of Belleville, is retired from the U.S. Air Force and has two children.
Betty Gedman, the informant for this piece, is an R.N. and perioperative nurse manager in West Virginia. Her husband John Wiley is of Connecticut Lithuanian descent on his mother’s side (Neverdousky).
Let me end this blog post with a mystery: Does anyone know the connection, if any, between Kaitonis, Joseph and James Gedman’s family and a Charles Gedman of Springfield who married Emma Valentine (Lith Valentuonis? also spelled Valtioneys, Valentinaocius) and in 1902 had daughter Julia, who married Peter Lukitis? Julia (Gedman) Lukitis was a devoted parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul’s who worked in the church office for many years. She was also a cashier at The Hub Clothier, and had a daughter, Rita Mae Marley of Decatur and two granddaughters.
HI Sandy The name Gedman sounded familiar to me when reading that article. Then when it said 1703 Matheny I remembered. That was one block from me where I grew up. Don’t remember much more than that. Bill Urban
Maria Race said:
Love that last gorgeous picture of the girls!
Pat Yuskavich Towner said:
Such a small world. Sorry to hear about Helen’s passing. Either Betty or Helen was my big sister at Ursuline Academy!
GeorgeAnn Madison said:
Very interesting……….This family lived very close to my family (2009 N. 11th St – in an apt above Klim’s Shoe Shop). My mom, Ann Yanor-Carver and my Aunt Josephine Yanor-Stankavich) would have known them or of them. Unfortunely, my mom and aunt have passed, along with their knowledge of the many Lithuanian families living in Springfield and their stories.
Thank you, Sandy, for these wonderful blogs.
Rita R (lukitis)Marley said:
Charles Gedman was my grandfather and an article was printed in the History of Illinois Encyclopedia (1912) that I will forward to you soon
Thanks for your comments, everyone!
So exciting to hear from you, Rita, about Julia (Gedman) Lukitis. Do you know if/how Charles was related to Kaitonis and Joe Gedman? Would love to write your family story, as well.
Betty Gedman said:
Can’t wait to hear more about Charles Gedman ! Thanks for bringing this mystery to light Sandy !
Patricia (Chepulis) Wade said:
My connection to this wonderful story, is as a child (1950’s). My family would occasionally visit Louie and Annie Beneky and Mrs. Pinkes (didn’t know her first name)but I do remember that she lived with Louie and Annie at the corner of 16th and Converse Streets in Springfield and that she was very old and kind. Mrs. Pinkes would come to my grandmother ‘s house (Mary Lelesius Chepulis 9/6/1884 – 7/16/1961) and keep her company after she had a stroke.
Louie Beneky worked for my father (Joe Chepulis, Sr) and uncle (Bill Chepulis) at Champion Garage for many years.
Sandy: Your genealogical research is providing the Lithuanian community in Springfield a great service. So many interesting stories and missing links – thank you so much.
Patricia (Chepulis) Wade
Patricia, sorry for the delayed forwarding of this response from Betty Gedman: Ann Beneky was one of Anna Pinkes’ daughter’s. Anna had 5 daughters, and I think one son, although I never met him–nor did they talk about him much. The daughters were Lena, Ann, Julia, Matilda & Eleanor (the last two were twins). The only surviving child is Eleanor, who just turned 95 on Tuesday! They were all born in Coalton, OK and moved to Springfield before my grandfather, Joseph.
Ann (Pinkes) Beneky married my grandmother Helen Gedman’s brother, Louis Beneky, so they were my father’s cousins. Ann and Louis lived at 1531 E. Converse their entire married life (married January 1, 1937 at St. Joseph’s Church). Ann’s mother Anna Pinkes died in 1969 at the age of 87, and is buried in the Gedman burial plot, along with her brother Joseph, and father Kaitonis.
Candace aaron said:
My son and ex husband are Joseph C Gedman in Scranton Pa. Charles E Gedman is my sons grandfather, -!: his parents were Edward and Helen Gedman. All in Scranton PA
Interesting…a lot of people here passed through Pennsylvania coal field towns. Do you think your family might be related to the Gedmans here? The Gedman/Gedmins saloon-owning family was here, along with the Gedmans that came from Kaitonis/Kajetonis. Thanks for reading!
Michael Richardson said:
My Grandfather was John Anthony Beneky, son of Anthony Beneky and Barbra Wishnowski and brother (or perhaps half brother) of Helen. I just read the preface of Sandy’s book. It is my grandfathers life to a tee. He was born at 2110 Peoria Rd on August 3, 1903. His mother worked at Pillsbury. His father Anthony committed suicide after a store he owned failed. As the eldest son, my grandpa left school in 6th grade to work and support the family. He worked at an Elgin watch factory. Then after a few years he got his mining papers and went to work in the coal mines tending mules and as a shot fire. A shot fire was a boy who, at the end of the day, ran from room to room in the mine lighting dynamite charges with a carbide lamp. The job was done by a boy because his death would be less important to a family than a grown man. Grandpa always had a dent in his forehead where he was kicked by a mule. During the mine strikes he ran a tent camp on the Sangamon River that served bootleg liquor that he imported from Keakuch Iowa and fried catfish that he caught to prositutes and Johns who came there to party. He sent the money that he made home to his mother who by that time had remarried. Great Grandma Barbara’s second husband was abusive. One day my Grandfather returned home to find him beating Barbara. When Grandpa Jack tried to intervene, his mother scolded him and defended the stepfather. Grandpa Jack left Springfield shortly thereafter for Chicago. He married a Lithuanian girl named Annabel Arbitan and had three children (Marion Beneky Kern, Lorraine Beneky Richardson and Willis Paul Beneky). Jack visited Joe Gedman and sister Helen in Springfield during the 1960s. Joe and Helen lived on Lake Springfield where They enjoyed fishing. He also visited his mother who by then was in a nursing home with dementia. Jacks wife Annabel died young in 1969. John (“Grandpa Jack) Beneky lived with my family and worked as a machinist until age 79. Then he moved to California to live with a woman named Estelline who he met on a trip to Bali. When she died roughly 10 years later he returned to Chicago. As a young boy I loved listening to Grandpa’s stories of the coal mines, life on the river, bootlegging and Chicago gangsters. He drank at least 3 quarts of beer every day and smoked constantly Perodi cigars and cherry pipe tobacco. He ate koshelina, kugelis, bacon buns and all things salty and fat, and was never sick a day in his life. He died at the age of 93.
Heck of a story! You should share it with the Illinois State Museum for their upcoming “We Are Illinoisans” immigrant history exhibit. Was your grandfather, or were his parents, born in Lithuania?
Joseph Toles said:
Sandy…my family Geedman/Gedman/Gedminis also were coal miners in Pennsylvania. My great grandfather was Antonor Enoch Gedminis when he arrived by way of Ellis Island in 1903. My grandmother was Antoinette Remakis, also from Lithuania. I am curious about how they all might be related. I am trying to track ancestry information back to Lithuania. Maybe you can help.
Julia Gedman Lukitis in Springfield was related somehow to the Yucas and Yezdauskaus families here–I think also the Valentuonis family. Unfortunately, her daughter Rita Lukitis Marley died a few years ago. Seems to me that there were lots of kids in Julia’s family, per a photo I have, but I have never been in touch with any of those other lines of descent.