Monday, December 05, 2011

A Lothringen Christmas

Nativity Scene at the 2009 Christmas market in Metz, Lorraine, France
Photo by Josiane of  Lorraine






















In today's world of rapid transportation, we would  consider eastern French Lorraine - which was known to my ancestors as Lothringen - a "stone throw" away from my Kreis Saarburg ancestors' villages.  It is not surprising, given the proximity to the French border, that some of the Christmas customs in Lothringen were much the same as those in Kreis Saarburg.

In a book by Josef Ollinger called "Geschichten und Sagen von Saar und Mosel, the author includes French Lorraine as a part of the above-named German regions, with Christmas customs that would have been very familiar to my Kreis Saarburg ancestors.  Since many of the traditions, whether from Lothringen or Kreis Saarburg, were unfamiliar to me, I thought it would be fun to share them for this post.

Christmas Preparations

The Midnight mass was the most important part of the Christmas time, and a true family celebration.  In the days before Christmas, in order to get ready for the Midnight mass, everyone in the family gathered together to practice the church hymns so that the singing would be especially beautiful on the holy night.

Christ Child baking Christmas cookies 
During Advent, the children kept an eye on the evening sky.  If there was a red sky when the sun set, they knew that the Christkind was busy baking Christmas cookies.

Willow and hazelnut switches were cut by the householder, if possible it was a midnight cutting which gave the branches the best defensive power.   They were bound together and meant to defend against trouble-making spirits who wanted to do evil on the night of the Christ Child's birth.

Christmas Eve

For Lothringen households, the hearth in the kitchen was the heart of the Christmas Eve celebration.  It was the time for the Christbrand, the Christmas fire.  The members of the family dressed in their Sunday/holiday best and spent Christmas eve in the kitchen, sitting close to the hearth.  Two men of the family brought the Obstbaumstamm, the fruit tree log, inside.  It had been cut in summer so that it would be thoroughly dry.  The log was laid on the hearth, and the mother and daughters of the family carefully wound ivy tendrils around the log.  After the log was decorated, the father said a blessing over the log. One end of the log was pushed firmly into the glowing embers, so that the log would burn down from that end to the other.

Modern children's book of Christmas carols
After these ritual ceremonies had been performed, everyone gathered around the hearth to eat Christmas Kuchen and drink hot mulled wine, the Glühwein.  Until it was time to leave the house for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, the family sang familiar Christmas carols, "Ihr Kinderlein, kommet," "Es ist ein Rose entsprungen," "Morgen, Kinder, wird's was geben,""Von Himmel hoch, da komm ich her," "Christkindelein, Christkindelein."

They also shared familiar Christmas stories.  In some areas of Lothringen, three stools were placed near the hearth so that, if the Holy Family should arrive, they would have a place to sit and warm themselves.  It was strongly forbidden to sit on the non-burning end of the log, which would surely lead to calamity in the future ( a matter of common sense as well as a superstition in my opinion).

The appearance in the hallway of the house of the Christ child with his silver wings was the high point of the Christmas Eve celebration for the young ones.  Dressed in white, the Christ Child walked into the Stube (good room) and asked each child to sing a Christmas song or say a prayer, admonished them to be good children, gave them some sweets - and disappeared.

In families where the Christkind did not appear in person, the children put their largest shoes around the edge of the hearth on Christmas Eve.  In the morning the shoes were filled with apples and nuts.

Midnight 

Before going to the Midnight Mass, the householder went out to wake his bees in their basket hives.  He said, in blessing, "the Savior has been born."  It was believed that the bees hummed/sang all during the time of the Midnight mass.  The householder also went to the stable to spread a thick layer of straw beneath the animals to protect them from predator's teeth and claws during the upcoming year.  Another legend said that at midnight, in honor of Christ's birth, the animals were given the gift of speech.

It was also believed that if someone wanted to learn who in the village would die within the next year, he or she must be in the cemetery when the clock struck midnight on Christmas Eve.  Then the faces of those who would not live to see the next Christmas would appear.  If there was a face that could not be recognized, it meant that the person who stood in the cemetery would die that year.

The Midnight Mass was the holiest and most important experience of the Christmas religious experience.  In addition, because it was believed to bring good luck, some families attended all three Christmas masses to give them special blessings in the coming year.

Christmas Day

The house held a jug with the Barbara
Zweige which had been cut about Dec. 4. Usually these were cherry branches that had budded, the flowers meant to open by Christmas Eve. The cherry branches (Kirschzweig
) or other fruit tree cuttings were placed in water and kept in a warm room after they were cut. If all went well, on Christmas day the sprig displayed blossoms. If  the branch bloomed precisely on December 25th, it was regarded as a particularly good sign for the future.

December flowering cherry tree branches,
Wikipedia Commons 
After the Midnight Mass, there was a special "night meal" at which meat was a special part of the repast, a treat that was not very often a part of a meal, no matter what time of day or year.

Other Superstitions

After the Christmas Eve log had been completely burned, the fire was left to die out, since the ash and charcoal had gained a wonderful power of blesssing. The wife carefully saved what was left of the Christmas Eve fire.The charcoal would be placed under the bed of the man of the house and on the timberwork of the storeroom stall and of the stable.  This protected all from lightening, fire, and sickness.

The Christmas log's ashes were spread on the fields to make them fertile for the next year's crops, to destroy weeds and vermin, and to protect the land from hexes and any evil enchantments which resided in the earth.

The dreams of the 12 days of Christmas, der Losnächte which lasted from the 24th of December until January 6, were thought to foretell a person's future in the coming year, each night representing one month.

Preparing this month's blog post has put me in the Christmas mood much earlier than usual.  Yesterday, St. Barbara's feast day, I cut three small apple tree branches with buds and brought them inside - in the hope that on Christmas day, they will show at least one flower and good luck will follow me in the new year.


Sources:
Josef Ollinger, Geschichten und Sagen Von Saar Und Mosel, 2005
Anne Diekmann and Willi Gohl, Das Große Liederbuch, 1975










Monday, November 14, 2011

On St. Martin's Day, Winter is Not Far Away

Saint Martin's Day Procession, Saarburg 2011




St. Martin's Day, November 11, marked, in former times, the start of winter. It was a day which affected the residents of each village in many ways. It was the time when interest and lease payments were due. This was the origin of the following farmers' saying, "Sankt Martin ist ein harter Mann für den, der nicht zahlen kann." ("Saint Martin is a hard man, for those who cannot pay.") It was a better day for the sheep herders and the servants who received their yearly pay on this day. The geese lost their heads, literally, at the beginning of winter, and the celebration of the feast included roast goose for those families that could afford it. "Sankt Martin ist ein guter Mann, er bringt die Bratgans uns heran," was another farmer's saying that represented St. Martin's Day (Saint Martin is a good man; he brings the roast goose to us).

By St. Martin's Day, the field work and the harvest were finished. I was surprised to learn that in earlier times, Advent began right after St. Martin's Day, with the eating of meat strictly forbidden during the entire period. Therefore, the roast goose eaten on the saint's feast day was the last meat that would appear on the table until Christmas Day and this must have greatly increased the enjoyment of the St. Martin's Day meal.

The custom of the St. Martin's procession is one of the few that is still observed in the current time, as the picture above shows. The children go out with colorful lanterns, following St. Martin on horseback, dressed as a Roman soldier, who leads the parade. At the end of the procession, a giant Martin's bonfire is lit and the children receive
Brezeln, a bread pretzel formed into distinctive symmetrical loops from a long strip of intertwined dough.



After St. Martin's Day, the hard work of the months of harvest came to an end and the cold winter months began. The soil began its yearly rest. Then farmers too could sit near the stove or the fireplace, rest, and enjoy a break from the heavy labor which would not start again until spring.

In the autumn, some of the fruits gathered had been mashed and put in oak barrels to ferment. In the winter came the time to distill or "burn" the fermented fruit into Schnapps. Many kinds were made. The cherries, Mirabel plums and Zwetsch plums made an especially fine Schnapps that would be served on special occasions and feast days. For every day, a Schnapps made of pressed apple peelings called "
Balesch" was a drink for workdays. A typical farmer would drink Balesch each morning after his breakfast. It was meant to protect against every kind of illness. If a person had a stomach ache, not the doctor but Balesch was the prescription.

When the weather was cold enough to freeze, the farm's pig was slaughtered for the family's winter food. Often the village butcher would come to the farm to make sure that no scrap of this valuable animal was wasted. The farmer's wife had already filled the large pig kettle with water and heated it on the fireplace. The pigs legs were bound together and the animal was dragged into a pile of clean straw. The butcher knelt down on the pig as it struggled to avoid the sharp pointed knife but in vain. The butcher made a cut from the throat to the heart and the farmer's wife caught the flowing blood in a large pan. Then the pig was covered in straw which was set on fire, burning the bristles from the pig's skin. The pig was pitch black as the fire was extinguished and his carcass was lifted on to the butchering table.  Any remaining bristles shave off and washed with the hot water that had been heating in the kitchen. It took more than one man to lift the pig's carcass and hang it on a ladder which leaned on the outer stable wall. The housewife then carefully cleaned the inside of the carcass, and it was left there until the rind or outer skin would harden with the cold.


The following day, the butcher returned, cutting the pig into pieces to be smoked, made into sausages or eaten fresh.  Even though the farmer's wife had previously felt compassion for the animal she had fed and tended throughout the year, now she could not but be happy as she thought about the tasty ham, bacon, fresh meat and sausage that she would put on the table for her family during the winter months.

Many cellars were made of stone which was an especially good place to store the winter supply of produce that was the result of months of hard work growing and harvesting it.  The stone construction helped keep the cellar at a temperature that was ideal for storage purposes all through the year. It had kept things cooler in the summer and now would be warm enough to avoid freezing the winter food supply. From November on, the cellar stored wine, potatoes and other root vegetable, and crocks of cut cabbage fermenting into Sauerkraut.

The farmer had felled trees and chopped wood for the fireplace in the first days of the winter season and stored it in a shed or shelter. The smaller branches of the trees were tied together into giant bundles. The smaller twigs were useful for quickly starting a fire on a cold winter morning.

All in all, the coming of winter was a time to be looked forward to for the hardworking farmers of the small villages in the Rhineland. For the farmers, there was now time to sharpen the tools that had been dulled from the cutting of crops or tilling the soil and to make any necessary repairs to the farm equipment. These were the hours when the father, mother, and children had opportunities to spend with each other in simple pleasures; when the men had the time to talk and have a drink together, when the women had no more field work and could sit to spin or knit, either alone or with a few women neighbors, and most of all it was a period when the children could once again look forward to the visit from St. Nikolaus and the wonderful celebration of Christmas.

I grew up on a small Wisconsin dairy farm and I remember winter's pleasures, especially seeing my father eating a leisurely supper because there was no hurry to get ready for the outdoor work of the next day. Those were times of family laughter and togetherness and is probably one of the reasons, unlike many other people in Wisconsin, I still look forward to the coming of winter and the memories that go with it.


Ollinger, Josef. Geschichten und Sagen von Saar und Mosel, 2005
Jean Morette.
Landlleben im Jahreslauf, 1983

St. Martin Photo by Josiane of Lorraine

Sunday, October 09, 2011

A Look at Le Havre, a Less-Known Port for German Emigrants

Port of Le Havre in 1856
Gustave Le Gray photo in Metropolitan Museum of Art






One of the basic questions for most people who are attempting to tell the story of their ancestors centers on the port of departure for the emigrant family. Early in my family research, I thought that all Germans left their country from either the port at Hamburg (for which there are passenger lists which give the town where the emigrant lived) or Bremen (where passenger lists were destroyed by fire). I became convinced that all of my ancestors sailed from Bremen, since the Hamburg passenger lists did not log any of my ancestors at all.

If I couldn't find the departure point, I decided to take second-best. I began to search the New York Passenger Lists of arrivals. Perhaps I would be lucky and find a ship captain who gave the city or village of birth for one of my ancestors. Since I undertook this project in the days before the internet existed, my search meant hours scanning unindexed passenger lists for the New York port on microfilm. My Meier ancestors, according to their citizenship application, arrived in the US in May of 1861, I started my search with May 1, looking at each name for each passenger list for every ship. It was not a small undertaking! I did find my ancestors arrival from Prussia (no city or county given) on May 9, 1861. I was no closer to finding their village of birth than before I started. But I had learned an important fact. German immigrants left their native land from a number of ports other than Hamburg and Bremen: Antwerp, Belgium and Le Havre France being two of the most important. I later learned that not only the Meiers but also my Probst ancestors from Bavaria had chosen Le Havre as their port of embarkation to Amerika. I started collecting information about Le Havre but, as usual, not much was written about what most US family historians seem to consider a very secondary port.

My sister, with her fluent French, was able to lend a helping hand for the Le Havre information through a a search of the French national library, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, on line. I owe most of the information which follows to her efforts.

Le Havre of the 19th Century

The end of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars allowed a revival of commerce and economic and population growth. The city became crowded within its walls and new neighborhoods appeared. But many of the poor were clustered in the unhealthy neighborhood of Saint Francis where the epidemics of cholera, typhoid and other diseases caused hundreds of deaths from the years 1830 to 1850. Rich traders were very much in the minority but increasing in numbers little by little. They built beautiful homes outside of the ramparts, on the “coast”. The settlement of a large Breton community (10% of the population of Le Havre at the end of the 19th century) changed the cultural life of the city. The economic success of the city attracted Angle-Saxon and Nordic entrepreneurs. Italians, Polish and then North Africans worked on the docks and in the factories.

Construction of a commercial center began in the 1840s and there was some gas lighting as early as 1836. In the middle of the century, the old city ramparts became a thing of the past as adjacent communes were annexed. As a result, the population of the city of Le Havre increased dramatically. The period 1850-1914 became a golden age for Le Havre. Business exploded and the city became more and more impressive with large boulevards, a city hall, court house, and a new financial exchange.

The effects of the industrial revolution were everywhere. By 1841, there were 32 steamships in the harbor, and the shipyards develop. The railroad which was built in 1847 allowed the opening up of Le Havre. The docks were constructed in the same time period, as well as general stores.

The harbor remained the port of the Americas: it received tropical products (coffee, cotton). European coastal shipping carried wood, coal and wheat from northern Europe; wine and oil from the Mediterranean. The abolition of the African slave trade brought with it, little by little, a change in that traffic. During the first part of the 19th century, the port maintained the Atlantic slave trade (this pertains to an illegal period because in 1815, during the congress of Vienna, the importing of slaves was forbidden).

During the 1830s, Le Havre also became a resort frequented by Parisians. The creation of seaside baths increased in this time.
















"Sadly sitting on their sorry baggage, waiting the time of departure, they have descended into a kind of stupor, overwhelmed by the vague intuition of the immensity of what they were undertaking and by the memory of that which they left behind them. " Theophile Gautier about the painting The Emigrants of Alsace by Theophile Schuler


Le Havre remained a place of passage for those who sought emigration to the United States. The transatlantic trips became important in the second half of the 19th century.  It was the beginning of the era of the ocean liners that turned their seaport into the pride of the people of Le Havre.

A memento of the importance of the port of Le Havre for German emigration to the United States is John Shea's Englisch-Amerikanisches Handbuch für Auswanderer und Reisende, which was published in Le Havre in 1854. It claimed to be "the first book of the kind ever attempted in Havre for the instruction of the English language to emigrants", with a phrase book and a pronunciation guide. Besides reprinting the regulations for steerage passengers to New York and New Orleans in both English and German, it also provided a list of emigration agents, noting "By their endeavors, Havre has become the thoroughfare of emigration from Switzerland and the South of Germany to the United States..." This now obscure work was an attempt to cash in at the high point of the first boom period for emigration via Le Havre, which would taper off at the end of the decade.

To some extent, Le Havre owed its existence to America, since its harbor was constructed by Francois the First in 1519 for colonial expeditions to the new world. Its function as an emigration port took on a new quality after the end of the Napoleonic wars, when mass movement once again became possible. Secondly the developing cotton industry in Alsace required raw material from the United States. German disunity, and the resulting multiple tariffs imposed on Rhine river traffic made it cheaper to do this overland, across France. As elsewhere, the shipment of persons was a by-product of commercial shipments: the docks at Le Havre were enlarged and steamboat traffic on the Seine increased. Emigrants could obtain transport on freight wagons returning from the east. They were at first mainly Swiss and Alsatians. At any rate, according to a letter from Le Havre sent to the prefect of the department of the Moselle on May 20, 1841, "Here, no distinction is made between German and Alsatian emigrants, they are all just called Swiss." (quoted in Camille Maire, L'émigration des Lorrains en Amérique 1815-1870, Metz 1980). Due to the timber trade, a certain number of Norwegians sailed to Le Havre and then boarded ships to America.

As a result, traffic between New Orleans and Le Havre was particularly important, although New York was also involved in the trade in cotton and was of course a magnet for immigrants. The majority of immigrants did not remain in Louisiana, but proceeded up the Mississippi to St. Louis and Cincinatti, at least before the expansion of the U.S. railway system. In 1818, passage from Le Havre to America was 350-400 francs; in the early 1830s it was 120-150 francs. Leaving aside the difficult question of how much this was "worth" in purchasing power, the fact remains that the increase in shipping (including regular packet service) had led to a dramatic decrease in prices for transport. The majority of these ships were American. Since the only emigration lists that have survived are for French ships, this leaves an enormous gap in the records.

The Emigrant Travels to Le Havre

The Meier ancestors booked their passage on a relatively small (197 passengers) American sailing ship called Rattler.  Every passenger is listed as "Farmer" (many were probably landless day laborers) and the majority came from Prussia, although there were also travelers from Baden, Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Hesse and Switzerland with five or less each from France, Italy, England and the United States.

At first, it was necessary for emgirants to make arrangements for passage directly with the captains of the vessels. During the sailing season there were thus always several thousand persons waiting to leave. They could be obliged to wait for weeks, partly in lodging houses, partly outdoors. A German colony of innkeepers, shopkeepers and brokers materialized to service them. Agents began meeting the emigrants on the road to Le Havre to sign them up. After the French government required in 1837 that Germans present a valid ticket at the French border, local offices began to be opened in Switzerland and the German states. Again, as elsewhere, French authorities did not want large numbers of indigent would-be emigrants stranded in the port. Previously, the only document required to cross the border had been a passport.

There is some difference of opinion as to why the number of emigrants who went through Le Havre began to decline. In 1854, it is true, the Prussian government forbade its subjects to emigrate via France, but this ban was lifted in May 1855. Despite growing competition, mainly from Bremen, Le Havre could still have held its own. An economic slump in the USA slowed immigration in 1858, but this applied equally to all European ports. The development of the French railway system also made passage across France easier (one day's travel from the border to Paris). Yet, although the state railway system offered reduced fares and even special trains in the spring, it seems that in general the French railroads were more expensive than German ones. A ticket from Mayence (Mainz) to Le Havre in the 1850s cost 40.65 francs, to Antwerp only 12 and to Bremen 15.50 (Camille Maire, En route pour l'Amérique, Nancy 1993). Jean Braunstein suggests that there were stricter border controls in 1858, due to an attempted political assassination, which was then exaggerated by the German press.

During most of this period, emigrants were required to bring their own provisions. It is sometimes thought that this was disadvantage compared to German ports, where early on, emigrants were provided with meals on board. In reality, many southern Germans were decidedly unimpressed by North German cuisine and such unfamiliar foods as herring, and preferred to bring their own. On the other hand, Bremen and Hamburg did take more steps to protect emigrants from unscrupulous agents and salesmen who sold them overly expensive and sometimes unncessary goods.

Waiting for and Boarding Ships in Le Havre

"The accommodation of emigrants awaiting departure is a serious problem.  The less fortunate sleep in the street, on the floor, or up makeshift tents on the banks of the streets and sidewalks of St. Francis and Notre Dame. Others took refuge in shacks close to the fortifications or in the plain with their baggage.  In 1840, the "Revue du Havre" wrote that "the city is crowded with the poorest Bavarian immigrants...  The floating population began to camp out on the ramparts of the east. They takes shelter under the elms; excavations in the thickness of slope ditches serve as their home ... Those who have two francs a day, can find accommodation among innkeepers of St. Francis and Our Lady, who specialize in taking care of immigrants. There are a dozen in 1850. As the Commissioner of the emigration noted, the high price of rents in the city of Le Havre force the landlords to establish themselves in the narrow streets in areas that are dirty and wet ... " Andre Corvisier

Among the hotels for travelers but with a cost much too expensive for the average German emigrant were Hotel Richelieu: Richelieu Place, No. 2; Hotel de Normandie: Rue de Paris, No. 106; Hotel Helvetia: Quai de l'Ile, No. 3; Hotel de la Marinae: Quai Notre-Dame, No. 7

Known hostels/Inns were the Hotel Suisse (François Merki): Quai barracks, No. 2;  Golden Lion (George Rau): Quai Casimir Delavigne, No. 27;  the Polar Bear (Philippe Gaspard): Rue Dauphine, 46.

There were two distinct categories of travelers - the passengers and the immigrants.  The passengers in cabin class could take advantage to the comfort of ships that became ever faster and more luxurious.  The immigrants were housed in steerage, just like the inanimate cargo they were replacing.  It was usually miserable and overcrowded.  The Meier ancestors sailed on a ship with only one class - steerage.  Obviously the Rattler was strictly a cargo ship, whether that cargo was meant for French and German factories or for emigrants on their way to a new life.

Note: If, after September 18, 1856, your ancestor sailed from Le Havre or from any other port on a ship that was bound for the port of New York AND if you have the name of the ship and the New York port arrival date, you can find the day of departure as explained in my January, 2014 blog post.

Sources:
Wikipedia Le Havre, 19th Century
"Prosperite du Havre au 19eme siecle" Wikipedia
"Le Havre, port des émigrants" (p. 205-215). Je vous donne quelques extraits des pages 206-207: Legoy, Jean Hier, Le Havre. Tome IIHistoire du Havre et de l'estuaire de la Seine / sous la dir. de André Corvisier. - [Éd. mise à jour]. - Toulouse : Privat, 1987. - 335 p. - (Pays et villes de France).
Dax, Albert de, Guide de l'émigrant partant du port du Havre pour le Rio de la Plata, Montevideo et Buenos-Ayres. - Havre : impr. de H. Brindeau, 1856. - 48 p. (A book that provides practical information for potential migrants to Latin America. It includes, p. 9 and 10, a list of hotels and inns that can accommodate them before they leave.)

Photo by Gustave Le Grayhttp://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/2005.100.273

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Pilgrimage to the Holy Robe in Trier


Next year from April 13 to May 15, the Cathedral in Trier will open the Chapel of the Heilige Rock.  The Heilige Rock is thought to be the garment with no seams that Christ wore on his way to Calvary. The exposition of the Holy Robe is a special time and thousands of faithful come to the Trier Dom where it is housed in the special chapel that is only rarely accessible to the public. The last actual Heilige Rock pilgrimage was made in 1996.

The Holy Robe is the most important relic held in the Trier Cathedral. According to tradition, the Empress Dowager Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, brought the seamless robe of Christ to Trier. There is no exact verification of this since the Holy Robe is first mentioned in a document from the 12th century when it was moved from the west choir of the Cathedral to the new altar in the east choir in 1196.

The time between the showings of the Heilige Rock has varied over the centuries. The first showing was at the time of the dedication of the new high altar of the Cathedral in 1512.  Pilgrims saw the Holy Robe held high for their veneration, when for several days the garment was taken from its storage place behind the altar and held out for the people to view.  Following this pilgrimage, once a year from 1513 to 1517, another pilgrimage occurred.

There were only four occasions for such pilgrimages in the 16th century and then, most likely because of historical events like the 30 Years War and successive smaller wars, the garment was removed from the Trier Cathedral several time to the fortress at Ehrenbreitstein, near Koblenz, to secure its safety and the pilgrimages stopped.  When Napoleon attacked the city in 1794, the garment was taken to the interior of Germany for safety and kept at Augsburg.  This, however, caused the Bishop of Trier to have difficulty negotiating its return.  The garment was restored to the Trier Cathedral in 1810.  In celebration of the return, a pilgrimage to the Dom was made by the faithful from many parts of Germany.  

In 1844, when the Holy Robe was next exhibited, masses of people, some sources say a million, reverently came to see it, including those from Zerf who were led by their priest, Father Matthias Guckeisen. In these years of the 1840s, when there was extreme poverty and disease in Zerf and the surrounding area, the strong Catholic faith of the people put their trust in God by making a pilgrimage, praying for improved conditions.


In 1891, Pope Leo XIII granted pilgrims who participated in the pilgrimage a plenary indulgence, which brought almost two million people to the Trier Cathedral for the celebration.

Since the time of the Cathedral renovation in 1974, the Holy Robe has been kept in its wooden shrine, which was built in 1891.  It lies under an air-conditioned glass, where only a glimpse of it can be seen.  The entire garment can no longer be viewed. The original state of the textile has altered too much to allow for full viewing because of the past events and the unfavorable storage conditions .

The last pilgrimage, held in 1996, was estimated to have brought over a million people to Trier.  Since then, annual Holy Robe Days have been held at the Trier Dom. Only during the Holy Robe Days is the Holy Robe chapel of the Dom accessible. 

The painting by August Gustav Lasinsky at the beginning of the blog, as well as the line drawing in the content itself, record the famous pilgrimage of 1844. The Lasinsky painting, done in 1847, is a good representation of the clothing worn by the people of the area at that time.  Be sure to click on the picture two times to compare the clothing of the lower and the middle classes.

Sources:
Edgar Christoffel, Der Hochwaldort Zerf am Fuße es Hunsrücks, 1981
Trierer DOM web page - www.dominformation.de
Catholic Encyclopedia - http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07400b.htm

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Postal Coach and a Wedding"

Postal Coach - Photo by Virginia Streit
So many customs and events in the life of our ancestors can be looked at in two ways.  There is the overview, which, in this blog, is what I have written about for the most part:  What were the wedding customs?  How were mail, cargo and crops transported from one place to another?  How did an application to emigrate go from hand to hand until the necessary permission was obtained.

But there is another way to look at such events.  And Maria Croon, who wrote what is now my "go to" book for sheer enjoyment while I learn, prying deeply into the everyday workings of her village.  For example, there is a commonalty in every wedding day in the small Kreis Saarburg villages.  The overview is the same.  But each life-changing commitment made by two young people of this long past time had its own special details; its own unique story that had led up to the moment when the bridal pair pledged their love for each other and became a married couple.

So I want to share one of Frau Croon's stories that delighted me and that focused on the courtship and mariage of a boy and a girl who met by chance and moved step by step to their wedding day.  I hope you will smile and enjoy the romance between Thais (Matthias) and Kathrinchen (young Kathrin).  It is a telling that puts a personal face on the traditions surrounding a rather ordinary village wedding, although not every girl marries a postcoach driver.

Thais is that postcoach driver, and as such, he is a minor (very minor) Prussian Government official.  His coach is gold with an official emblem painted on its door, identifying the vehicle as the possession of the Prussian Emperor.  Thais wears a uniform, a hat with a plume, and a leather shoulder belt that holds the horn used to announce that the mail coach has reached the edge of a village.  He often plays a tune in keeping with his exuberant and fun-loving nature.  In each town, he brings the postal coach, with its two strong white horses named Mine and Stine, to a halt in front of the local inn where the innkeeper receives a bag of letters and dispatches for the people of the town.

There is a special village on Thais' route, the one where pretty Kathrinchen lives.  The fountain in the village, the Markusbrunnen built in honor of St. Mark, boasts a wide jet of water that flows into the trough below.  The postcoach horses know where to find water in each village on their route so as soon as the mail bag is inside the Wirtshaus, Mine and Stine begin to pull at their harness, eager to get a drink and a short rest at the Markusbrunnen.

In this village, the team's respite will be substantial because young Kathrinchen has been listening for the postcoach horn and is off on her way to the Markusbrunnen with a large kettle of greens and a bucket to be filled with water - just in time to be seated at the edge of the trough when the horses of the postcoach arrive.

Seeing Kathrinchen, Thais jumps from his bench at the front of the coach, makes a courtly bow, and graciously offers to help her with her work.  He holds each and every leaf under the cascading water of the Markusbrunnen until blond, curly haired Kathrinchen takes it from him and carefully inspects and washes it yet again, five or six times, in her bucket of water.  She explains to Thais that her father is always most upset when he finds a snail or a bug in his salad; the young man is delighted that she must work so diligently and for such a long while.

Eventually Thais must leave the village.  The tune his horn plays is usually a familiar one about a young man who must leave his sweetheart behind.  Kathrinchen walks home with the scrupulously clean salad greens, sad because she will have to wait another long day before seeing Thais again.  Her aunt Kathrin caustically remarks, on one particular day,  that they will have the greens for dessert, since she and young Kathrin's father have already eaten the rest of the noon meal while they waited for Kathrinchen to return.

Time passes and one day, after the two young people have received conditional approval for their courtship, the parents of Thais, who live in the Hochwald, arrive in the village.  They are dressed in the Tracht (traditional festive costume) of their district and have come to inspect the home of the girl their son hopes to marry.  Kathrinchen's father, Herr Laux, and her aunt Kathrin are ready for this visit.  Kathrinchen has put up fresh white muslin curtains to which she has affixed gold dots and which are tied back with a blue ribbon.  Every pot, kettle, and frying pan has been scoured with sand until it glows.  The smell of pork ribs roasting permeates the air all along the village street.  Aunt Kathrin leads the tour of the house in which Thais, Kathrinchen, her father and her aunt will live after the wedding, pointing with special pride to the two cupboards, both sides of each cupboard tight full of linens.

Herr Laux becomes the guide as the visiting couple visit cattle stall and fodder storage area of the farmhouse.  There were two cows, one was a horned, strong beast and the other a calf.  A sow for breeding as well as two half grown pigs and two little piglets made up the rest of the livestock.  With pride in his possessions, Herr Laux observes to the visiting couple that since Kathrinchen is his only child, all this will be hers - nothing will be divided.  Thais' parents are pleased because they have six children, meaning their farm must be divided six ways.  However, they are quick to point out that they have one or two more cows than Herr Laux and that Thais has an important government position.  Not to be outdone, Aunt Kathrin observes that Kathrinchin too is a capable young woman and has always been at the head of her school class.

The meeting of the future in-laws having gone well, Thais and Kathrinchen are to marry in October. Thais would gladly have driven his bride-to-be to the wedding ceremony in the gold postal coach.  But Herr Laux firmly denied this request.  It was his little girl's very special day, and she was meant to walk exceedingly slowly along the road from the Laux house to the church, with the wedding guests behind her.  In this way there would be enough time for all to admire his lovely Kathrinchen, while her dead mother smiles from her place in heaven and gives her blessing.

So it was that there was much activity at the Laux house on the morning of the wedding as the guests milled about until all were were in their places and the procession could begin.  At the head of the procession was Kathrinchin on the arm of Thais' brother.  She wore a black silk dress, and a crown and veil adorned her blond hair.  Thais came next, walking with Kathrinchen's cousin.  Then came the relatives and wedding guests - first the single young people; then those who were married.  Many in this second group wore their own wedding day finery, somewhat dulled with age, and often stretched at the seams.

A little girl dressed in all white recited a poetic adage to begin the procession.  It was so sweet that many of the women wiped their eyes with their handkerchiefs as they heard the words.

The procession went first to the village hall for the civil ceremony, next to the cemetery to pray at the grave of Kathrinchen's mother, and finally to the church where the bride shed many tears as she and Thais knelt at the altar.  The wedding guests whispered to each other, "Kathrinchen weeps loudly; that means luck." If the eyes of the bride remained dry, her crying, it was said, would come during her marriage.

On leaving the church, the bridal couple found their way blocked by schoolchildren holding a chain across the road.  They recited:

"Your bride is pretty and fine,
therefore she shall be our prisoner. 
If you wish to have her back again, 
you must pay a lot of money."

After much negotiation, Thais and some of the other men contributed a suitable ransom for Kathrinchen as her young captors auctioned off her shoe.

In the afternoon, the wedding procession assembled again, and trod the village street once more, led by a Malerjab* wearing a wreath of Kuchen around his neck and with a brandy bottle tucked under his arm.  Every passerby got a piece of the Kuchen and a swallow of brandy.   The wedding guests followed him until they came to the house with its tables laden with every kind of cake and torte.  There was singing and merry tunes from a concertina or two, but all went suddenly still when Thais' horn played the tune with which he had teased and courted his Kathrinchin "Hopp, Kathrinchen, tanz mit mir."

Tanz!  It is the magic word and the young people can hardly wait until the musicians arrive in the village for the evening of dancing.  For a third time, the wedding procession forms and makes its way to  the Wirtshaus where the sound of Rhinelander melodies, waltzes, polkas and mazurkas float over the rooftops and into open windows all along the Dorfstraße.

A bucket of greens and a postcoach horn - unusual and endearing components for a successful courtship.

Compare the courting and wedding customs in neighboring villages for an enlarged picture of courting angst and wedding happiness.



*Malerjab could be the dialect word for the man who took charge of the wedding arrangements and saw to the entertainment of the guests?  Or perhaps he was just a man who enjoyed a wedding?


Source: Maria Croon, Die Dorfstrasse, Eine bunte Heimatchronik


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Climbing the Stairs of the Farmhouse


Stairway to the upper floor 


















Remember Onkel Willem and his simple barnhouse?  We explored the ground floor of his dwelling in my last post.  You probably guessed that there was more to come because his house had two stories.  So it is time to climb the stairs to see what is in the rooms situated above the Stube and the tiny dark kitchen.

Bedroom in one of the houses at the Roscheider Hof Open-Air Museum
The second floor of Onkel Willem's house had more space because it covered not only the two ground-floor rooms but also extended above the stable.  The animals below, snug in their stalls, provided heat to the upper floor during the winter.  This is where the sleeping rooms were situated.  Another room, called the little meat house, was the place where the smoked meat (that had originally been cured in the fireplace downstairs) was now strung on a pole.

Meeting the family's need to save whatever might have future value -and to visiting children's delight - there was a little, almost invisible door in a dark corner of the upper floor which led to a kind of low-ceilinged space filled with a mixture of objects.  They were seldom if ever used, but they might be needed at some yet unknown time in the future.  We would call it a junk room perhaps; the German language calls it Gerümpel, one of those great nouns that sounds like what it is.  It was also a place where young imaginations could run wild.  Two or three children could pretend that one was the jailer and the others the prisoners.  The prisoners had to pay to get a bread crust and some water and were confined until the master jailer (Kerkermeister) opened the door.  Or they could imagine that the attic was the place where a fugitive, during some long ago war, had hidden a treasure - a basket with Zwetschen brandy, a nice fat ham, and perhaps even a pig bladder full of hard tallow (an air-tight container that could be used as a ball in a variety of games).

Next, up a flight of very narrow stairs, came the third floor "real" attic where the corn, wheat and oats were stored.  There were small white ovals here and there amid the hills of golden colored grains.  Those were the eggs that Onkel Willem's wife, Mimi Sus, had stored there to preserve them for the winter months.  (Winter was the time the hens lacked food and stopped producing eggs).  Sacks with dried peas, linseed and clover seed for planting in the spring stood nearby.  There was a ceiling beam in the upper attic where the women hung small bags with garden seeds.

An even longer beam was hung with work shirts, bed linen, dish and hand towels that were washed each week but which were not needed before the next "big wash" in either spring or fall.  During the big wash, these pieces, along with other anything else that was dirty, were soaked in lye made from ashes - then bleached white in the sun and given a fresh, pleasant-smelling scent before they were stored in cabinets and on shelves for future use.

Now we have a word picture of the house of Onkel Willem, one which bears a strong resemblance to many of the houses of his neighbors - and to the Irsch house of my great-great grandparents.

Source:  Croon, Maria.  Die Dorfstrasse, Eine Bunte Heimatchronik



Friday, May 20, 2011

The Stube and Futterküche of a Small Farmer's Dwelling

"The Village Street, a Colorful History" by Maria Croon

















There are not many librarians who can resist going into the bookstore/stores when on vacation. That has been true on each of my four visits to Saarburg.

On my first visit nearly 30 years ago, I found a children's book about life in neighboring Lorraine.  It was meant for grade school youngsters and the customs and living conditions described were almost identical to life in Kreis Saarburg. I had a fighting chance of understanding it if I had a dictionary - I knew only about 50 words of German then.  Fortunately the book had great illustrations. It eventually taught me a lot about the life of farming families in the previous century.

My favorite bookstore in Saarburg these days is on a side street near the center of the city. Usually I buy at least one or two history books about the small towns of the area, and once I bought a children's book of German songs with beautiful pictures. It seemed to weigh about 20 pounds when I had to carry it home.

In October, 2010, my recent trip to Saarburg, I bought a easy-to-carry memoir book called "Die Dorfstrasse" which means "The Village Street."  There was a difficulty, however. The Trier and Saarburg areas, as I've noted in at least one other post, had a dialect that actually requires translation to German in this 21st century. While almost no one speaks the old Mosel-Frankische dialect now, dialect words turn up regularly in conversations among people in the area and words I struggle to read in this book would be familiar to them.  For me, that is not the case.  But Maria Croon, the author, grew up in Meurich, a farming village not too far from Irsch, Zerf, and Serrig.  She describes exactly what I want to know so I keep struggling.

In the first chapter, I was invited into the Stube and Futterküche in the house of Grandfather Willem, and it would have strongly resembled the small, crowded Stube to which great-great-grandmother Lena came when she disobeyed her father and married into a much poorer family.

The chapter started with a description of a bench.  It seemed to be one of the most important things a Stube held. It was called a Taakbank. Taak is one of those dialect words.  Google Translator and all my dictionaries were no help. So I turned to Ewald Meyer, who is still able to read the old dialect.  My e-mail's subject line read, "Help!" By the next morning I had the knowledge I needed.

The Meyer's Decorative Takenplaten 
Ewald said, "In her books, she (Maria Croon) has narrated her memories and experiences from her childhood. In the old farm houses, there was usually only one fireplace - in the kitchen. The living room or Stube was next to the kitchen. The wall between the fireplace (in the kitchen) and the Stube had an opening which was closed with a cast-iron plate called a Takenplatte. These plates were often decorated with a motif from the Bible or the rural life. However, these plates were called Taakplatten in the Mosel Frankisch dialect. They transferred the heat from the fireplace in the kitchen into the living room. The bench in front of this plate, the Taakbank, was particularly popular as a place to sit in the winter."

The Taakbank is the reserved place for grandfather Willem, smoking his pipe that envelops him in smoke. The Stube where he sits is is a "family room" in the true sense of the words.  Here one could witness almost all the comings and goings of the family during those few hours when they were not engaged in work in the stables, the garden, or the fields. Today we might think of it as a place that functions as a living room, family room, dining room and part of the kitchen.  This is made obvious by the objects that can be found in the Stube of grandfather Willem and his wife, known as Mimi Sus.

To the best of my ability, using my imagination and the descriptions in "Die Dorfstrasse," I determined what objects might have occupied the Johann and Lena Meier's Stube. In addition to the Taakbank, there were shelves for dishes, some Viez mugs  and a Viez jug for pouring.  On the shelves closest to the Taakplatten there were more perishable items such as a container of sliced bread, a saltcellar, bowls of homemade cheeses, marmelade, Kuchen and, in good times, there might be a bag of sugar lumps, much loved by the children.  The proximity to the heat kept these items dry and avoided mold and spoilage.

As in the house of Grandfather Willem, the Meier's Stube had a clock in a dark wood case, often difficult to keep running. A goose feather was used to make adjustments and keep the mechanism oiled when this prized possession was not working well.  The goose quills as well as a few chicken quills were kept in an earthenware jar close at hand for they were often needed to fix the clock or clean the bowl of a smoker's pipe.  The clock stands on a homemade cabinet which holds practical items that should be in easy reach for doing indoor chores; they are not at all decorative.  There is as a whetstone for sharpening knives, the container with quills, the paddles for carding wool, a hackle for readying flax for spinning into linen, to name a few.

The large table in this room served more than one purpose. Each day, the family gathered around it for the daily meal.  But once a week, the top of the table was put aside, revealing the Backmulde, a bread mixing trough, which was hidden underneath.  Many loaves of bread as well as the dough for seasonal Kuchen--apple, plum, pear--were made here in the Stube.

Unlike our kitchens today with its many countertops, drawers, and cabinets, the kitchen in this house was small and dark, known as the Futterküche.  No room to mix and knead bread here.  Many chores related to food were done in the Stube.  The floor of the Futterküche was made of uneven slate pieces.  It occupied what we might call a cubbyhole area in the back corner of the house next to the Stube; its only light came in through the large chimney opening of the fireplace, where ham, bacon and sausages hung as they were smoked.  Sometimes the swallows made a nest at the top of the chimney.  Two buckets filled with water from the village well were kept in the Futterküche, along with the feed kettle used for the scraps that will help fatten the pigs until it is time to "harvest" one or more of the animals for winter food.  The bake oven here, with its heavy iron door is where the bread was baked.  A fire was started in the oven.  When the inside walls of the oven were hot enough, the ashes from the fire were removed and the bread or Kuchen carefully pushed inside by means of a long paddle - to be baked by the thoroughly heated oven walls.

In one corner of the cramped, dark kitchen there were some small sacks of dried Zwetschen plums and pieces of pears.  Above them hung the discolored everyday caps and aprons of the mother, grandmother and daughters.  A cow collar (cows did the work of a horse for a small landowner), tea herbs drying in bunches, onion bundles, and a deflated pig bladder (used for sausage casings) also hung there.

Grandfather Willem's Futterküchen also had mouse droppings - At this point I'm still undecided whether to add them to the contents of the interior of Lena and Johann's abode.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Introducing a Companion Blog



A photo from my companion blog!


In April of 2011, I began a companion blog to "Village Life in Kreis Saarburg, Germany." I thought it would be nice to be able to take a visual tour through the area my ancestors call their "Heimat." For some reason, whatever I wrote at that time seems to have disappeared. There is a link to it on this blog, but it seems that I should do something about my latest genealogical mystery "The case of the missing blog text." The picture above comes from the companion blog; the following is the introduction to "Pictures from the Alte Heimat"


Pictures from the Alte Heimat

One picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say. Thus, this blog will be mostly pictures. German emigrants, having no cameras, had to store pictures of the "old homeland" in "their minds' eyes." Surely the images faded as the years went by. Fortunately, I can stop the fading of my memory pictures with pictures from my own camera, and the photography skills/pictures of some very kind residents of the "Alte Heimat". 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Three generations Living Under One Roof

Front of Meier House



Sometimes you have to think outside the box; other times the box needs to be flipped!

In my last post, I described the house-barn-stables of my great-great grandparents.  Most of my information came from Ewald Meyer, who had obtained the 1927 building plans of the property from the current owners.

I thought I had understood that data pretty well, but I had a tendency to forget that the plan which I had before me was not from the year 1860 nor from 1828, when the Kataster map, which came with the tax documents,  was published.  In 1828, Johann Meier was only 3 years old and had a one year old sister.  They lived with his father and mother, who were newly married, and with his grandfather and grandmother.  In this scenario, there were three adult couples and two children.  Johann's father Matthias also had two unmarried brother who undoubtedly lived with the family until 1847 when  this youngest son of Michael Meier (not much older than Johann Meier) married a widow from Freudenberg and went to live there for the rest of his life.

 In the 1860s, as I said in the previous post, there were four (sometimes five or six) adults and five children in the living area of this very small barnhouse.

That led Herr Meyer to contact me and point out some possible misconceptions on my part.  It was obvious I pictured eight to ten people shoe-horned into tiny rooms on the first floor.  His ideas made a great deal of sense and helped me understand how a family with a very small barnhouse managed to live together in what seemed an impossibly small space.

To make it easier for me (and you) to envision the house from its front, I have turned the diagram of the house plan to show just where the front of the house was located.  It is easy to forget that the front of the house did not border the large main Saarburger street that ran the length of the building and the length of a good part of the village.  Instead, it faced a smaller side street - a street that does not exist today.

The following are the thoughts sent to me by Herr Meyer after he had read my February blog post.  They completely reoriented my thinking, and my plans for describing the Meier family's living quarters as I continue to write their story:

"The building owned by Johann Meier in 1860 reached to the street in front of the house. In the picture (which was taken in 2011) a car is parked there. On the ground floor there was house, barn and stable. You have correctly determined that the house was quite small for all the Meiers. This applies to the ground floor. There, the interior dimensions of the living space is so small that there was scarcely place to live. I suspect, therefore, that there were also rooms on the upper floor, which passed over the stable. It even had the advantage that these spaces were, due to the underlying stable floor, heated!  In comparison with the attached neighboring houses on the street, the building of the Meiers was small."

Now I could understand how as many as ten adults and as many as five children had managed to live in the small space at one time or anotherAnd because I often forget just which people lived in this small dwelling in 1828 and 1860, here is the list of family members who probably resided in the house for those two specific years:

House of Michael Meier 1828/1829
Michael Meier, property owner
Magdalena Steffes Meier, wife of Michael
Matthias Meier, eldest son of Michael and Magdalena Meier
Maria Margaretha Weber Meier, wife of Matthias
Michael Meier, second son of Michael and Magdalena Meier
Peter Meier, third son of Michael and Magdalena Meier
Johann Meier, first son of Matthias and Maria Margaretha Meier
Anna Meier, first daughter of Matthias and Maria Margaretha Meier

House of Johann Meier 1860/61
Johann Meier, property owner
Magdalena Rauls Meier, wife of Johann Meier
Matthias Meier, eldest son of Johann and Magdalena Meier
Anna Meier, eldest daughter of Johann and Magdalena Meier
Anna Maria Meier, second daughter of Johann and Magdalena Meier
Johann Meier, second son of Johann and Magdalena Meier
Michael Meier, third son of Johann and Magdalena Meier
Matthias Meier, father of Johann Meier
Michael Meier, uncle of Johann Meier

The Meiers lived in a small structure compared to those of many of their neighbors. They had no place for a garden near the house, their two garden plots were far away. If they had a rough bench where they could sit on a Sunday or on a rare day when their farm work was finished before it was time to get a little sleep and start working all over again, that bench was in the road. And if I guess correctly, so was the manure pile. In spite of those almost impossible living conditions, the family was able to dream and to find their way to a new land. But meanwhile, in the interests of my further orientation, here are two maps from the http://www.irsch-saars/denkmaeler.htm.de website which show the street names and the buildings and monuments known to the Meiers while they lived in Irsch.

Meier farm stood near No. 7

The Meiers lived near the Catholic Church
 on the Saarburger Straße


Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Building That Was Left Behind

Getting near to hallowed ground in 2004

Every time I came to Irsch - from the 1980s to my last visit in fall of 2010 - I passed the place where my ancestral home once stood.  Part of it, greatly changed over time, was still there.   But I had no idea I was walking or driving past what was, for me, hallowed ground.   

I had asked about records that would show the location of Johann and Magdalena Meier's house many times over the years and was always told that those records no longer existed.  In a village that had seen severe destruction from the time of Napoleon to World War II,  I had to accept the idea that I would never know where my Meier (or Hauser, Schawel, or Weber) ancestors had actually lived.  

I also thought that I had exhausted the resources in the Koblenz Archive when I found great-great- grandfather Meier's and Hauser's emigration documents.  But that was definitely not the case.  That Archive has so much more to offer - if you know how to look.  A genealogy friend told me about a researcher friend in Germany who used the Archive documents regularly and about the possibility of additional records.  She encouraged me to write him and ask him if he would do a search for me when he next visited the Archive.  He graciously agreed.  That was in about July of last year.

Just back from my trip to Germany in September  and October 2010, I retrieved my mail and found a package full of documents from the Archive.  It had been sent by the German researcher.  There were Kataster maps of Irsch and Zerf, or what we here in Wisconsin would call plat maps.  There were also pages of tax lists.  They dated from approximately 1829.  The Kataster maps showed not only numbered land holdings, but also tiny sketches of each house in the village.  It was possible to see the shape and relative size of each dwelling including the barn-house where Johann and Magadalena, my 2nd great grandparents had lived just before they came to Wisconsin!

No. 4091- Barn House of Matthias Meier in 1829, future home of Johann Meier and Magdalena Rauls Meier
That was exciting but would not have been as much help without the tax documents which came with the maps.  The copies of tax lists gave the size of each land parcel by number, told what type of land it was, the name of the area in which it lay (Beim Holzapfel Baum, In Der Wolfshek),  and showed the tax rate for each piece of land, no matter how small.  I matched Kataster number to Prussian tax number, and found the pieces of land owned by my Meier and Rauls ancestors in 1828-9, including their dwelling.

Herr Ewald Meyer of Irsch, who has always been a wonderful help to me, is able to read the old German handwriting, and once more I counted on his aid.  I sent copies of the documents to him, knowing that he would be able to read the difficult handwriting on the tax lists and also hoping that there might be a place in Irsch and Zerf to keep this duplicate information as an example of what a wealth of family history information can be found at the Archive in Koblenz.

E-mails began to fly back and forth.  I learned that the Meier family had pasture land, two small garden plots (neither close to the house they lived in) some fallow land - 19th century Germany used the three field system at this time - and one small field of "wild land/hedges."  Herr Meier, analysing the total land ownership in 1829 of Matthias Meier, Johann's father, came to the conclusion that he was a "small farmer" known as a Kleinbauer.  He had barely enough land to feed his family and probably owned very little livestock -- perhaps a cow or two and a pig.  To pay the taxes on the land, most Kleinbauern like Matthias had to have a second way to make a living, perhaps as a small-time craftsman such as a tailor or barge puller.

I thought my knowledge of the area couldn't get any better than that - but it did.


Remains of the Barn House of Johann Meier today
As always, Herr Meyer went the extra distance - and then some.  Soon after he got my package of documents, I received e-mail pictures of the part of the dwelling - the storage barn and the stable - which exists today in highly remodeled form. It is owned by the family across the street, even though it stands wall to wall with the home of another Irsch resident.  The Fisch family uses the former home of my ancestors for storage of wood, tractors, and other equipment.  This remodel was done sometime after I visited Irsch in the 1980s.  Because of the German love of order and paperwork, there were documents which spanned the time of the first remodel in 1927 and, after a visit from Herr Meyer, Herr Fisch, the current owner, was willing to give them over for scanning.  You can imagine my excitement when the e-mail scans arrived in my mailbox. 

First the building of today.  Notice the wall without windows in the new storage building.  That was the length of the Meier family's living space - and the width of their quarters was about one-third of that length.  According to my calculations, there could hardly be more than three rooms on the first floor; and each room on the first and second floors would have been about 6 feet by 7 feet in size.   Have you ever felt your kitchen or bedroom was too small?  It is probably palatial by these standards.
Diagram of the Barnhouse of Johann Meier in Irsch

The three colors on the diagram indicate remodel plans by Michael Britten in 1927 (red) and the later remodel (green) by the neighbor across the street, Herr Fisch.

Also notice the size of the stall area and the storage barn, (Stall und Scheune) compared to the size of the family's living quarters.

There was also a diagram for the walls and roof of the house.  You can see that in the last remodeling of the barn area; that is, the stable and storage, the top of the roof was reshaped and now has the flatter roof one can see in the current photo taken in 2011.  Before that time, there was a second floor for the living quarters.  A little more than a year before they applied for permission to come to America, Johann and Magdalena Meier had five children, and it is likely that Johann's father Matthias and his unmarried uncle Michael also lived in the house with them.


view of the buildings from the main street


It seems that by 1927, the part of the structure that had been the living quarters was in very bad condition and at that time was rebuilt by Michael Britten and combined with the storage area.


The living quarters faced the side street off of the larger main road
The final site plan shows an unusual land pattern.  The land on which the Meier dwelling sat had been divided into three separate plots: house, stable, and storage areas - each have their own site number.  Did Johann and Magdalena have a difficult time selling their dwelling and barn before they left for America and divided the lot for a quicker sale?  Another idea to be considered for my novel.

The building that was left behind saw its worst time in 1945 because of its unfortunate location near the German defense line set up to stop the invading WWII Allied troops if they managed to cross the Saar River.
American GI walks where once Johann and Magdalena lived

History ebbs and flows, changing destruction into renewal, enmity into friendship and, with luck; it allows families, once divided by unhappy circumstance, reconnection in future generations.  I feel privileged to be part of such a reconnection.

Sources:
Landeshauptarchiv Koblenz, Kataster 001_Best.737 Nr.164 Bl.103 tif; Cataster 002_Best.737 Nr.164 Bl.103 tif;
Catastral-Steuer, Mutter-Rolle für die Catastral-Steuer der Gemeinde Irsch
Photo collection of Ewald Meyer, Irsch