My ancestors, peasant farmers and craftsmen, came from small towns in Germany’s Rhineland. In the 19th century, like villagers all over Germany, they left their homeland to immigrate to America in search of better lives. This blog shares information I gathered since 2005 from all types of German sources. Traditions, home life, daily labor and political events create the backdrop for an eventual exodus. I wrote HOUSE OF JOHANN, a novel, imagining how my own family fit into this history.
Johann and Magdalena Meier of Irsch left their home village in order to emigrate to Wisconsin, but three cows, four geese, a ladder wagon, and an iron pot were left behind - as were many other possessions or "moveables." These were sold at auction on March 22, 1861, most likely a day or two before the couple and their four children said goodbye to the barnhouse on the main road of Irsch in Kreis Saarburg, Rhineland. The familiar house was no longer theirs. And they were leaving behind the grave of their child, Anna Maria, who had died just one year before.
Almost since I began working on my family history, I have tried to imagine what my great-great grandparents' last days in Irsch were like but never imagined that I might actually know what they sold before leaving, who bought these things, and how much money the Meiers earned from their sale. This auction of moveable possessions was the final opportunity to acquire additional funds for their future in the new land, but for that money, the family Meier must stand watching as the bits and pieces of their life in Irsch were carried off by others.
The notary from Saarburg, Mathias Waringer was in charge of the auction. The sale began at nine in the morning. In all, 168 "moveables" were sold that day for a grand total of 223 Thaler and 3 Groschen.
There were a number of rules of the sale set down in this auction document. It seems that most of the buyers did not pay for the items they bought on the day of the auction. Essentially, they bought on "credit." Evidently it was unusual for a winning bidder to have in hand the money to pay for his purchase. Most purchasers had until November 2 to make a payment for the things they bought. Due to the difficulty of deciphering and understanding the old German in the document and my limited ability to translate a German transcription (sprinkled with question marks where words were illegible ), I cannot tell you with any certainty whether the barrel or the axe or the jug, as yet not paid for, went home with the man or woman who gave the highest bid. At the very least the cows and the geese, which needed to be watered and fed, probably were with their new "owners" by the evening of the auction day.
Those who bought on credit were to make payments to the "old" tradesman, Simon Wulff, who lived in the village of Wawern and who functioned in approximately the same way as today's banks. He probably loaned money for the expenses of their upcoming trip to Johann and Magdalena Meier in advance of the auction against the anticipated proceeds of the auction sale. As a result, all money from the auction went to him. After he deducted the cost of the loan and the additional interest fees due him from Johann and Magdalena, he gave any remaining money to them, taking the risk that each successful auction bidder would pay him as agreed. There was also an extra fee (a type of interest) paid by the bidder at the time payment was due in November.
Most of the people at the auction were Irsch villagers. But other villages were represented, so either word of mouth or some type of printed advertising must have brought people from them. For instance, Johann Meier's uncle Peter from Freudenburg bought a farm chain of some kind for six Groschen . A farmer from Magdalena Rauls Meier's birth village, Oberzerf, bought a sack of grain for two Thaler. One of the three cows, costing 25 Thaler and 6 Groschen, was walked to a new home in Paschel, a somewhat distant village. Villagers also came from Serrig, Ockfen, Beurig, and Saarburg.
Where does one find these actual auction documents signed by Johann Meier and his wife Magdalena? The nine pages of handwritten minutes of the auction proceedings on 22 March 1861 were found in the State Archive in Koblenz. The LandeshauptarchivKoblenz holds a magnificent variety of historical documents which are becoming better known as the archive digitizes its holdings.
Special and heartfelt thanks to the two generous helpers who made my knowledge of my ancestor's departure from Irsch more detailed than I could have ever dreamed: the Rhineland researcher who surprised me with the auction records in November, and my German friend Ewald from Irsch who managed to read almost all of the old German "Gekritzel" of notary Waringer. (As a boy, Herr Waringer evidently doodled while the other school children practiced their writing skills!)