Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Markets of Today and Yesterday

Christmas Market in Stadt Saarburg

This December I was at a loss for an idea that reflected the Christmas Season in Kreis Saarburg.  After eight years of posts about Christmas customs in the Rhineland area of Germany, there wasn't much I hadn't tried to research.  Then I found an article that was brief yet concise, full of interesting details I had not known.  Thus the information that follows is taken from that source.  

In the spirit of the season of the Christmas market, I am including photos from markets which are near to Kreis Saarburg, even though one market is in Strasbourg, France.  After all, a Prussian general once referred to our ancestors as "painted French."  And at the time the Christmas markets developed, German and French citizenship could change from week to week.

The History of the Christmas Market

The centuries-old tradition of the Christmastime markets were joyful occasions for weary villagers and gave them something to look forward to on the long winter nights.  The first Christmas markets were held at a time when regular markets took place throughout the year. The first Christmas markets were little more than winter markets that lasted a couple of days. Instead of the colorful booths that are a part of Christmas markets in our time, traders in some cities just laid their goods out as best they could, sometimes even in the street.  

I found it surprising that as early as the 17th century, gift-buying at Christmas Markets had already become a usual thing.  There is something about the Christmas spirit that opens the heart and also, at times, the purse.

The usual place for the Christmas Market to be found was surrounding a city's church.  In larger cities, the main church was chosen in order to attract the most buyers when residents arrived for the services.  According to the writer of the article I am using as a basis for my post, a priest in Nürnberg in 1616 complained that he did not hold the afternoon service on Christmas Eve because no one attended.  They were waylaid by the Christmas market.

The same article says, "It is likely that the Christmas markets drew more visitors when religious reformer Martin Luther instituted new customs for Christmas.  Before Luther, the exchanging of presents took place on the saint days of St. Nicholas, December 6, or of St. Martin, on November 11.  It was Luther who suggested that children receive presents from “the Christ Child,” hence the name “Christkindlsmarkt” (Market of the Christ Child), a popular name for many Christmas markets especially in the south of Germany."

In the past, only local tradesmen were allowed to sell their wares at the city’s market, which led to the distinctive regional character of today’s markets.  Because in the past each region had its own customs and needs, Christmas markets have continued to focus their wares in that direction, giving each market a distinctive air.  They specialize in "local delicacies and traditional products." 

Beyond the commercial aspect of the markets, they have another function: a cheerful, high-spirited place for local residents to meet as well as a place to sell their homemade crafts, decorations, and ornaments.

The items in the Christmas market in each city are not all unique, or course. There are traditional German handicrafts that can be found at nearly every Christmas market.  There have to be nutcrackers, wooden figurines, straw stars and smokers as well as the iconic cookie tins, glass balls, toys, and tin tree ornaments.

Since most of us will not have a chance to tour these Christmas markets, here are some photos taken at regional Christmas markets by the photographers listed below:

Christskindl Market in Stadt Saarburg

At the Saarbrucken Christmas Market

Saarbrucken Market

Strasbourg's Famous Christmas Market

Strasbourg Market at night

Market is next to Strasbourg Cathedral still!

Strasbourg Market classic items

Delicious Bakery in Strasbourg

Trier Christmas Market closeup

Trier Christmas Market in the market square

The Joy of the Trier Christmas Market 

Merry Christmas Wishes from the Singleminded Offshoot!


Trier Volksfreund Täglischer Newsletter 
Josiane of Lorraine
City of Trier Webpage

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Giving Thanks and Celebrating Autumn in Kreis Saarburg

Irsch, St. Gervasius and Protasius Catholic Church in Autumn 2004
Irsch, St. Gervasius and Protasius Catholic Church in Autumn 2010

Potatoes, squash, apples, grapes

Halloween celebrated, we look forward to Thanksgiving in the United States, and Christmas is already here in if you believe shop windows, TV ads, and some radio and television stations.

In Kreis Saarburg, there are also celebrations but they seem to meld better into the autumn of the year.  Here are some that originated with our ancestors and are still a part of the excitement of early and late fall.

Giving Thanks For the Harvest 

Autumn customs in one of my Heimat villages come to mind at this time of year as the leaves fall and pumpkins, squash, root vegetables and winter apples appear in our American markets.  We use many of them for the feast of Thanksgiving, decking our tables with cooked or baked varieties.

An article I read in a German language book explained the thanksgiving of German farming communities of the past.  They thanked God for the harvest, whether good or bad, by sharing their crops with God who gave them.  This has been carried on for centuries, even to the present day.  God's table in the Church, is decorated with the produce of the current year.  There may be squash, cabbages and other large vegetables, but there are often dry seeds of all kinds: flax, rye, wheat, oats, barley, legumes of all kinds.  All are harvested from German soil, traditionally from the soil that surrounds the village where the church is located.

I had seen this kind of decoration on autumn trips to my ancestors' village church in Irsch, enchanted with the kind of workmanship I generally associate with the Rose Bowl parade.  The closeup pictures above and the one below show the elegance of the most commonplace of decorating materials and the time given to produce this kind of thanksgiving to God from the fruit of the land.

Giving Thanks for St. Martin, Happy Children, and Rabimmel, Rabammel, Rabumm

Over the past several years, I have explained many of the traditions associated with St. Martin's Day (also known as Martini) as well as the importance of his November Feast.  If you click on the St. Martin's Day label at the right of the post page, the many activities associated with the day as well as the history and social customs are described, including carrying hollowed out gourds or pumpkins lit with candles.  

The custom of this celebration is still alive and well in the villages around Saarburg and in that city itself.  Most of 2013's customs are much the same as in the 1800s, although the lanterns carried by the children as they parade in the street are made of fireproof material and lighted with safe candles of one kind or another.  The Irsch website page just recently announced the village's 2013 lantern parade:

"The St. Martin's traditional lantern procession in Irsch will take place on Saturday, 09.11.2013 (November 9, 2013).  The assembly place is the parish church of Irsch at 5:30 p.m.  It will begin with prayer and a short homily about the holy St. Martin. Then the lantern parade (about 6 p.m.) led by St. Martin (on horseback) will parade to the Irsch multi-purpose hall. Once there, the great St. Martin's bonfire will be ignited and the Martin Brezeln (St. Martin pretzels) will be given to the children.

The lantern parade will be accompanied by the music society of Irsch as well as the torch bearers of the volunteer fire department, who also provide for the safety of traffic management and the burning of the St. Martin fire.  All children and adults are welcome  Hot drinks and snacks will be sold. The net proceeds as in prior years will again be used for the cost of transporting Christmas packages to help the needy in such countries as Romania."

In the event that you would like to see a typical St. Martin's parade, you can watch the video called "Rabimmel, Rabammel, Rabumm." The German words are given as subtitles on each screen of this very traditional children's song.  Unfortunately the translation in English below does not rhyme.

I go with my lantern
And my lantern goes with me
Up above the stars are shining,
Down here we're shining.
The rooster, he crows; the cat meows.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm.
The rooster, he crows; the cat meows.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm.

I go with my lantern
And my lantern goes with me.
Up above the stars are shining,
Down here we're shining.
St. Martin, he marches on.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm.
St. Martin, he marches on.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm.

I go with my lantern
And my lantern goes with me.
Up above the stars are shining,
Down here we're shining.
Lantern light, don't go out on me!
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm.
Lantern light, don't go out on me!
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm

I go with my lantern
And my lantern goes with me.
Up above the stars are shining,
Down here we're shining.
A sea of light in honor of Martin.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm.
A sea of light in honor of Martin.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm.

I go with my lantern
And my lantern goes with me.
Up above the stars are shining,
Down here we're shining.
My light is out,
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm.
We're going home,
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabumm.

Giving Thanks for a Blog Recovered

Due to circumstances I do not understand, for two weeks I lost access to this blog.  When I tried to make a correction in one of the previous posts, Blogger refused to let me do it.  After a great deal of wasted time and several curt notes to Blogger, all ignored, I had the good luck to bumble back into possession.  I was so thankful.  But it made me realize that, had I not had that bumbling good luck, I could never have posted to this blog again.  It would have been necessary for me to start an entirely new blog. So if you are a regular reader, you would probably have concluded that I got tired of blogging and quit without a goodbye.  

There are two ways to find out if I have been forced to start a blog with a new name: Register as a follower of my blog, and I will be able to notify you about where to find my new posts.  Or you can use my e-mail address (which you can find by reading my profile) to e-mail me.  

In the meantime, I promise to try to keep "Village Life in Kreis Saarburg" posts of the future right here.

Happy Thanksgiving to all

Die Martinsumzug, http://www.irsch-saar.de/irschnew.htm
English for Rabimmel, Rabammel, Rabumm, http://german.about.com/library/blmus_laternegeh.htm


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Looking Inside the Ranzen Satchel

Antique Ranzen on ebay
Child's School Slate

I have begun my vacation. You will understand when I say that I was not planning to post to my blog. But shortly after my last post, "Schultüte und Ranzen Go to School," Ewald Meyer, who grew up in the little village of Beurig, gave me some exceptional details about his own Ranzen after he read the blog post. I am very glad to have this new information about his school days when writing paper in a school satchel was rare.

Rather than add this content to the September 6, 2013 blog post, which would make it unlikely that people who have already read that post would read it again, a short new post seemed a better idea. Therefore, this month's post is mostly written by Ewald Meyer with a few additional details which were left out the last time I posted.

Here is what Herr Meyer says he carried to school in his satchel on the first day of his first year in school - my translation. "When I first went to school in Beurig in 1937, the Schultüten (see last post) were still unknown here. They existed in Beurig only since about 1950."

He goes on to say that in his satchel were a slate with a wiping cloth, a wooden pen box with pen for the first written exercises, and a small box with a wet sponge to clean the blackboard. There was a primer in the satchel for learning to read. The slate's front panel had double lines which were to help the youngest students write the letters of the alphabet by giving them ample space. On the back side there were squares for mathematical problems.

As I had surmised in the last post, the Schultüte was not known in the villages of Kreis Saarburg until the 1950s. In the local history book, "Beurig Lese- und Bilderbuch," there are yearly photos of the first grade class for each school year. From 1950 on, the Schultüte is held by every child. Earlier pictures, dating back to 1908 show no sign of the paper cone filled with little gifts.

In Beurig, where Herr Meyer went to school, first grade students were known as ABC Schütze. Schütze, Herr Meyer tells us, is derived from the Latin "tiro" or raw. Thus, a recruit who was drafted into the military, was known as a Schütze. The beginning school children therefore became the "ABC Schütze."

In some places in Germany, i-Dotze or i-Männchen was the nickname for the first-time scholars, a throwback to the time when the first letter of the alphabet to be learned was the letter "i." It was the most easily taught. Sometimes on the school grounds the little ones were teased with the following nonsense rhyme:

Abgeleckte Heringsschwänzchen'"

This translates as
"i-little people, 
little coffee pots, 
licked-off herring tails." 

 It defiinitely seems to lose something in translation.

Der Blumenbaum, Oct, Nov, Dec 2005, p. 68. 
Ewald Meyer e-mail

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Schultüte and the Ranzen Go to School

Early photo of boy with Schultüte and Ranzen

Wooden Ranzen School Satchel

School has just begun in Germany, and it seemed to me that a post about the Schultüte would be very timely. American school children, as well as most other school children outside of Germany are not familiar with the custom of the sugar cone Schultüte. In fact, the English language has no exact equivalent word for it, but the picture above will give you the idea of this "school bag." (Tüte means "bag" when translated literally; however the Schultüte was in the shape of a cone.)

After seeing some pictures of a young relative from the area near Saarburg, Schultüte in her arms and a shy smile on her face, I wanted to determine if the custom reached back to the time of my Kreis Saarburg great grandparents or, if not, just when and where did this custom originate.

To begin my search, I called up the German version of Google and found two good articles that answered many of my questions. One of the first things I learned was that German children of the 19th century did have my version of a school bag - something called a "Ranzen," a word that means satchel.   Not every child's family could afford a leather Ranzen and those who had them guarded them carefully. They were shaped like a small briefcase with backstraps. The Ranzen was the German school child's prize possession. The true Ranzen was leather except in areas where people were poor but wood was plentiful. A poor child from the Schwarzwald might have a Ranzen made of wood, as illustrated in the picture above.

I also learned that the beginning of the school year has been a special occasion since the middle ages, usually celebrated with a special church service and a procession to the school and/or the presentation of cookies baked in the shape of letters of the alphabet. It was a momentous event for these young children to take the first steps away from their parents' home into a school room.

In some parts of Germany, parents accompanied their child on the first day of school and stayed for a time, while the children became acquainted with each other and with the teacher. In other regions, the celebration of the first day of school took place in the home, often with godparents and other relatives present. It is my impression that, as the 19th century began, education was less highly valued than in the later days of the century. Parents, especially those who were struggling to put food on the table during the hard times in the 1840s and 1850s, were less than enthusiastic about a child being taken away from the work on the farm for several years.  Such might have been the case for some of my ancestors.  It is not likely that they had either Ranzen or Schultüte.

The Schultüte did not appear until the 19th Century. The first documented report of the cone-shaped Schultuete comes from the city of Jena in 1817, closely followed by reports from Dresden (1820) and Leipzig (1836). It caught on in popularity in the bigger cities first and spread eventually to the small towns and villages of northern Germany.  One source I read was of the opinion that the sugar cone Schultüte was a way of "sweetening" a young child's anxiety at beginning school.

About forty years after the acceptance of the Schultüte as a tradition in northern Germany, a book about the sugar cone tree was written for young children and even recommended by a teaching manual used in many schools. It was meant to be read to a child just before the little beginner started attending school. In this tale, a Schultüte'sugar cone tree began to sprout and grow in the school basement. It produced not fruit but cones with sugar cubes and candies.  It was time for the little ones to go to school when they were brave enough to go into the school's cellar and pick the tree's cones which had now matured and were filled with sweets.

There was also a difference in the Schultüte's first appearance in North Germany to the adoption of it in south and western Germany. The Schultüte was almost unknown in the Catholic part of Germany in the mid 1800s. In the Catholic areas, it is my guess that a blessing for the new little scholars and perhaps a procession from the church to the school took place, sometimes with and sometimes without parents and godparents on hand. One source says that in rural areas there was possibly a large "baked pretzel" for the whole class or small school day treats from the teacher to reasure newcomers on their first day.

After the introduction of compulsory education in all of Germany in 1871, the demand for sugar cones increased greatly and were very commonplace in north German schools as the first years of the 20th century began. By the 1930s, the Schultüte occasionally appeared in the schools of west and south but did not really become a custom until after WWII.

Today the custom has changed in that less and less sweets are appearing in the Schultüte, with more practical gifts such as crayons and pencils, small toys, CDs, books and even articles of clothing replacing them for the good health of the child.

My research about the origins and time period of the Schultüte revealed that none on my ancestors carried such a prize to their first day of school.  But I do hope they had a teacher who distributed small treats or let them share a pretzel.

Der Blumenbaum, vol. 26, no. 3
Der Blumenbaum, vol 23, no. 2
http://fanzone50.com/misc/Schultuete.html http://www.brauchwiki.de/Die_Schultüte

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Delinquent in His Old Home Village

Cemetery in Rüber 

Polch Railroad Station

Polch City Hall

Rhineland emigrants who left their country in the 1840s and 1850s have descendants who would be willing to hunt in every archive in Germany, if it would assure them of information similar to the story of this daring and determined ancestor.

A genealogist who belongs to a collateral line of the descendants of the emigrant I will write about gave me copies of the transcribed documents that make up the story.  She was unsure about the wisdom of using the emigrant's full name, so I will call him Mathias Namenlos.  Namenlos is the German word for nameless.  From documents kept in the State Archive of Koblenz, and the skill of three people: a German-speaking relative, an experienced researcher who knew his way around the archive, and a skilled translator of old German documents, this unusual story emerged.

The archive documents tell the story of the emigrant who returned, for a short time, to the Alte Heimat of Rüber, Germany in the Rhineland. This ancestor had left the Rhineland in 1854 to take up residence in the United States; then came back three years later.  It reminds us that we can never assume. Since this is not my ancestor, I haven't investigated sources in this country to see if there is any travel record from 1857 for this former immigrant who journeyed back to Germany to claim his share of the estate of his father.  But there were times when people returned for some reason and it is something to check when writing the family story..

The documents of Mathias Namenlos are also a prime example of the change in attitude of the Prussian government concerning emigration during the 1850s and onward.  In the first half of the 1800s, emigration was rarely a matter of concern to the Prussians or to other kingdoms.  Sometimes it was actually encouraged in order to free the local cities and villages from families who might, at some time in the future, become a drain on the funds for the poor which had to be provided to those who were truly without any other means of survival. Poor people, of course, also paid no taxes to the Prussian Emperor; therefore they were of very little interest.

But by the second part of the century, many of the people who decided to emigrate were not quite as poor. They were inhabitants who were able to make a living and who contributed the taxes demanded by the Prussians. These emigrants had learned that relatives, friends, and neighbors who had already gone to the United States were, for the most part, prospering.

Also at this time, the shipping companies saw a growing market for transportation across the ocean, carrying people as well as cargo. They sent their agents and representatives to stimulate interest in a move to a country with more opportunity than they could expect to have in their current living situation. The agents were now not popular with those who governed the Rhineland.

Enter Mathias Namenlos, returning to his home country and village after spending three years in America. The Mayor of Polch, who also governed tiny Rüber, grew suspicious when, about the same time that Mathias Namenlos appeared, the younger brother of Mathias applied for permission to emigrate as did five other young people from the area.

In 1857 the "kingly constabulary" of Rüber received a communication from the Mayor of Polch that Mathias Namenlos, a former resident of Rüber, now living in North America, was again staying in Rüber. In the following documents "the plot thickens": 

No. 1193
Polch, July 16, 1857

Mathias Namenlos, in the past living in Rüber, now living in North America. He is supposed to be suspicious to tempt others for Emigration. The kingly constabulary herewith is ordered to catch him and to bring him here to me.
The Mayor
... Driesch

Negotiated at Polch, July 17, 1857

The kingly constabulary caught the above mentioned Mathias Namenlos.  The caught Namenlos declared the following on request:

My name is Mathias Namenlos, I am 33 years old and I was born in Rüber. I am currently living in Mil:Waukie in the State of Wisconsin in North America.

On April 1854 I emigrated to North America by the approval of the kingly administration of Koblenz. I am now back to dispose my fatherly heritage, which are some acres. I sold the acres at a price of 1,100 Thaler to my brother Joseph Namenlos of Rüber, whom shall be given the money from Johann Anton Müller of Mayen (probably a money lender).

My brother Johann, who requested his emigration, sold his acres, too, by the same procedure and at a price of 1,200 Thaler. We are scheduling to emigrate together as soon as we both have approval.

I herewith declare forcefully that I did not tempt others to emigrate. I even did not tempt my brother Johann to do so.

I do not own a passport and for my legitimation I have (unreadable words) citizen document (prossibly a set of first papers for citizenship filed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) of April 17, 1857 that I hereafter would like to read out.

Reading out loud, approved and signed.
Signature of Namenlos and The Mayor

Things did not go well for Mathias who was currently back in his home village, Rüber, to take his rightful share of the division of his father's estate. The Mayor of Polch, after taking the statement of Mathias, added his own report before sending both documents to the Kingly Administration in Koblenz. He named six young men who had requested permission to emigrate from Rüber shortly after the arrival of Mathias. For this reason, he said, "Now I am suspecting that he tempted the above mentioned people for emigration." He went on to say that he had no proof this was the case, but since Namenlos could not show any acceptable documents as to his status, he wanted to know how the Administration in Koblenz wanted him to proceed. He suggested that Mathias be banished after he had been able to finish his family affairs which Mathias had said would take until October.

However after more bureaucratic paperwork flowed from the Kingly Administrator to the higher Administration he served who commented that it was likely that Mathias Namenlos was an emigration troublemaker, the Kingly Administrator was told to set the banishment date of his choosing. The lower level Kingly Administrator, in an August 3 communication to the Mayor of Polch, set the date of banishment for Mathias as August 15. For whatever reason, the Mayor of Polch waited until August 12 to send the notice to Rüber, giving Mathias only three days to leave or be subject to the Prussian civil code. Case closed.

There is one last document in the case file of the former citizen of Rüber. Since there was no way that Mathias Namenlos could finish the inheritance work and book passage back to America in just three days, he stayed on.  On August 24, the "kingly policemann Hoffmann" arrested Mathias who had been seen again in Rüber and brought back to Polch. The next day "the deliquent" declared on request:

Negotiated at Polch on August 25, 1857

"I avow that the kingly order had been handed out to me on 12th of this month but I could not leave because:

1. I could not finish my deals yet

2. I did not have any possibility for traveling

Currently I got my deals ready so I am able to leave and to follow the order directy.

The delinquent had been told that he is ordered again to leave the Kingdom within 24 hours otherwise he would be punished or brought to the Border of the kingdom with the help of the police.

The delinquent has been released into freedom after the negotiation."

Signature: Driesch

Since no further documents were found, I assume that Mathias Namelos did leave, probably in the company of his brother Jonathan and one or more of the other men who had gotten permission to emigrate. 

With the reception by the Prussian Government to former residents of Prussian cities and villages being most unfriendly, any stay was likely to be short and definitely not pleasant.  For us, descendants of former Prussian citizens, the documents are another amazing set of records that despite two world wars still survive in the German archives - if we are determined enough to search.

Documents from the
Landesarchiv Koblenz

MSU Study Abroad Program
Stady Polch http://www.polch.de/sv_polch/

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blog Anniversary: A Few Favorites of 2005

A farmer's implement - the hackplow

The Halfen room updated
A barge stop at the inn

Saarburg's upper city

June 24 is my blogging anniversary for 'Village Life in Kreis Saarburg." I wrote my first post on June 24, 2005, working at the dining room table with my sister giving me verbal instructions on how to set up a blog and how to write a post. At that point I didn't know the difference between those two words. When I had finished that first post, I wondered if I would want to write another one and, if I did, how long it would be before I ran out of ideas. That was eight years ago and the ideas keep coming!

I had a nostalgic look back at those first posts this anniversary morning and am glad that I wrote them (even though I knew very little about what I was doing at the beginning). Some of those first-year posts are especially dear to my heart because of the circumstances that surrounded my choice of subjects.  To see the full post, click on its title.

"The upper city is slightly newer than the lower city. Houses and shops began to spread up the hill as the city grew. Saarburg was a market town and the markets gave names to streets and squares in both the upper and lower city. There was the horse market, the fruit market, the butter market in the upper city, and the old market in the lower city. The Butter Markt runs along side the Leukbach, a stream which runs through the upper city, then forms a waterfall and drops toward the old city. The waterfall on the Leukbach powered a water wheel for the former grist mill which is now a museum. Above the city stand the ruins of a castle built in 964. All around the city there are steep hills covered with vineyards."
Have you ever seen a place for the first time and fallen in love with it at first look - almost as if it might be the place you were always meant to be. That is what happened to me on a sunny day in July 1984 when I arrived in the upper city of Saarburg. I had been many beautiful places all over the US and Europe and seem some spectacular scenery, but the upper streets of this city of approximately 6,500 population claimed my heart forever. When, some years later, I had a chance to buy a two-volumn history of the city, I jumped at the chance, even though I knew how heavy it would make my luggage. This very early post was a pleasure to write, bringing back memories and explaining much of the history I had not known.

"Each day there were also rest stops and during that time the sailors and the Halfen would discuss any problems along the next stretch in the river. Lunch would be carried ashore from the ship and eaten at an inn or tavern, with the landlord providing the dishes, tableware and the wine. The shipowner, of course. paid for the wine that the landlord of the inn placed on the table."
This subject was special to me. It was very likely that my ancestor, Johann Meier, had been a handler for the horses pulling the barges, guiding them along the tow path along the Saar River. I had heard that these men were called "Halfen." Since my apartment was on the west bank of the Saar, I asked my German landlord if he knew anything about these men. He looked at me in amazement and then excitement. He was a descendant of a barge-building family of sailors. The apartment which I had rented was once a place where the men who handled the barge horses took shelter and slept after a day of encouraging their team of horses to pull one of the heavy barges against the tide of the river. It was very possible I was sleeping in the same place that my great-great grandfather once laid his head. I'm sure though that my lodging was much more comfortable.

"Up here we bind the grape vines, and below us runs the plow. Between wine hill and plow, between furrow and vine, that is our way of life on our farms. And year in and year out all life and all nature go back and forth; spring and fall, summer and winter between wine hill and plow. With dung spreading, digging, planting, cutting, tying, binding up, and harvesting. With plow, sower, mower, sickle and plow, so must we all struggle and toil."
That is a description of a Kreis Saarburg farmer's life from sunrise to sunset; from spring through the winter time. It is written in German and in rhyming verse which, in this post, I did my best to translate into a prose description. The book was a gift from Herr Ewald Meyer who had translated it from the old dialect of Kreis Saarburg to modern German, managing to keep the rhyme, rhythm and mood. I grew up on a farm, and the lovely descriptions brought back many memories of farm life in the 20th century. These poems, however, described farm life in the 1800s. It was like spending a year with my farming ancestors, learning that they had worked even harder than their descendant, my father.

"An older person acts as the matchmaker. If permission to marry is given, the engagement is announced. It is made official when the young man and the members of his family are invited to a fine dinner at the home of the bride-to-be. It is also the occasion of the first gifts."
I wanted to write a novel about a young woman who runs away to marry a suitor from a poor family against her father's will. But without knowing the marriage customs of the time, I wouldn't be able to create an accurate setting. Then, in 2003, on a river cruise in Normandy, I had found a book that described in great detail their marriage customs in the 19th century. I knew enough Spanish to figure out the general content of the chapter on weddings, even though the book was written in French (the pictures also helped a great deal). With the additional help of my sister and one of my best friends, I learned so much about the wedding customs of Normandy. Then within a short time, I also found two books in German that explained wedding customs, those in Bavaria and those in the Hunsruck (the very places I needed). To my delight, almost all the customs were the same as in Normandy. And I had the stuff of a great chapter for my novel.

Each time I compose a post for this blog, I increase my understanding not only of Kreis Saarburg but also of most of the rest of Germany.  Blogging has been fun and very educational for me.  But there is a problem.  The mass of information I've collected is not as easily accessible as I would like.  If you are a reader of my posts, I hope to have a partial solution to that problem in year nine of "Village Life in Kreis Saarburg."

Friday, May 31, 2013

From 1861 Irsch Kreis Saarburg to 1863 St. John Wisconsin

The Old Home
Photo from www.Irsch/Saar.de

The New Land
If you read posts on this blog regularly, you will recognize the name of the author of today's post which I have translated into English - Ewald Meyer. Herr Meyer has written two books, one about the village in which he now lives, Irsch; and one about the village in which he was born, Beurig. Those two villages are about a mile apart. So Ewald Meyer definitely has a wealth of information on the history of these two villages in Kreis Saarburg. 

Herr Meyer and his wife Helena have become good friends who continue to help me with my research whenever I need some elusive information on life in Kreis Saarburg or translation from the old German scripts. To my surprise, this month Ewald Meyer wrote a piece about Irsch's Germans in America for the Irsch monthly on-line newsletter. The family he described just happen to be my great-great grandparents, Johann Meier and Magdalena Rauls and their children. He wrote in German so, although I was bursting with pride and wanted to share my delight, I could not refer my friends or my blog's readers to a URL. Therefore I did my best to translate his article as my blog post for this month.

With apologies for any translation mistakes I make with my self-taught German, this is my attempt to share the May Irscher Newsletter article writtem by Herr Meyer to be read by the residents of Irsch, Kreis Saarburg, Rhineland, Germany."

by Ewald Meyer 

"During the colonization period of the United States of America, Germans were the largest non-English-speaking population. Around 1900, Wisconsin had about 2 million inhabitants, 710,000 of whom were of German descent. 

After publishing a list in 2002 of emigrants to the United States in the "Irsch Chronicle" on the Irsch Homepage, descendants of Irsch immigrants to the U.S. finally had an answer to their questions about the German home of their ancestors, "Where is Irsch in the former Prussia?" From then on, continuing to this day, a flood of requests for information have been received over the Internet. Visitors from overseas who are looking for their ancestors are not rare in Irsch. 

A particularly strong connection exists between a woman from Waukesha, Wisconsin and our family. For the time being, she has intensively researched the history of the emigration of her great-great grandparents: John Mayer (Meier, Meyer, Maier) from Irsch and Magdalena Rauls from Oberzerf. She is writing a book about them. In advance of that, extensive information on the project is contained in her versatile blog about Irsch, indexed on the Irsch-Saar website and called "Village Life in Kreis Saarburg, Germany" It is under the "Documents" link. To date, she has traveled to Germany four times and now calls our country "my old homeland."

In April 1861 her great-great grandparents with their family and some other families from Irsch started on their way to Le Havre. After receiving the naturalization permit, the 35-year-old John Mayer and his 33-year-old wife Magdalena Rauls Meier with their 10-year-old son Mathias; the 7-year-old daughter, Anna; the son, Johann 2; Michael,10 months old; and a 50-year-old uncle left for America on board the sailing ship "Rattler." A total of 197 passengers were crowded into it, including yet more families and people from Irsch. Thirty-two days after a perilous voyage across the Atlantic, they reached the Port of New York on 9 May 1861. 

At length they settled in St. John, Wisconsin where already by 1856 some former immigrants from Irsch had joined a few others in this near wilderness in northern Calumet County. Possibly among them were John Mayer's sister Anna, born on February 26, 1829 and brother Michael, two years younger. The early years of the settlers were marked by hard work to convert the forest land into fertile farmland. Today, St. John in Woodville Township is located between Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan in one of the most fertile farmlands in Wisconsin.

Since the settlers were almost all Catholic, in 1862 they established a parish church built of wooden logs. Between 1862 and 1869, the parish was run by the pastor from another village called Hollandtown (because it was first settled by emigrants from Holland). He came once a month to celebrate the Mass and the sacraments. In 1865 a new church was built because the log church was now too small for the church members. It was consecrated by the Archbishop of Milwaukee and dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The old log church became the first school building for St. John. The children of the settlers of St. John were taught by Theresa Wolf, a German Catholic who had, with her parents, immigrated a short time before. In 1870 Father Anton Leitner became the first priest of the parish.

 The parish of St. John celebrates its 150th anniversary this year on three Sundays in May, after re-establishing the original stones in the old part of the cemetery and doing extensive renovation and restoration work on the church. The Centenial festival committee was led by Joe Kees and his sister, two descendants of an early Irsch immigrant, Michael Kees, their great-great grandfather. The religious belief that originated with the St. John founders is still conserved and living today.

St. John the Baptist Church, St. John, Wisconsin
St. Gervasius and Protasius Church in Irsch
Photo from www.irsch/saar.de

Ewald Meyer, Germans in America,  htpp://www.irsch/saar.de

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"America Letters" and a Wisconsin Catholic Church

This year the small village of St. John, Wisconsin will celebrate the 150th Anniversary of its parish church, established in 1862 and dedicated to St. John the Baptist.  Since this is a blog about the life and customs of villagers in Kreis Saarburg Germany and the small villages of Irsch, Zerf/Oberzerf, it may seem strange that I am writing a post about an American Catholic church.  But this is not just any Wisconsin Catholic community and church.  It became the new home for a very significant  chain emigration from the village of Irsch to the village of St. John.

I want to write about a generally unknown and uncelebrated early settler, perhaps the earliest person of all to take his family and leave Irsch, Kreis Saarburg, and settle in St. John, Town of Woodville, Calumet County, Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, he has somehow been missed when, over the years, the storis of this settlement have been written

There is another reason for writing this post beyond the identity of the man who is probably the first settler of St John.  It is also a great example of the effect on emigration from Germany of the “America Letters,” as mail from the United States came to be called.   When such letters crossed the ocean to be read by the relatives and villagers of the old homeland, many people who had been doubtful about leaving now dared the trip across the Atlantic to a strange country.  At least one of those letters, long lost, surely came from a resident of Irsch who settled in a place he liked and told others in his German village about it.

I was not paying any attention to the St. Gervasius and Protasius church records of Philip Thomas and his family when I searched for my Irsch ancestors.  I was trying to figure out why Johann and Magdalena Meier had chosen to live in tiny St. John,Wisconsin.  They had selected this remote area of Wisconsin to be their home for the rest of their lives.   Other emigrants from Irsch did the same thing.  It was good farming land, of course.  But why this farm land?  

There was one reason that seemed likely.  Someone in the group of families from Irsch who became the first link in the chain of emigrants from the village of Irsch, sailed in March of 1861 to settle in St. John.  Someone must have had a relative who would be waiting for them, I reasoned, someone who had given advice on how to make the trip based on experience.  In other words, a former Irsch resident who was writing "America letters."

I searched the centennial books created for the St. John Parish anniversatries in 1962 and in 1987 to find a name that was not on the list of residents, as recorded by the immigration officials in Saarburg, who had traveled to Wisconsin in 1861 and 1862,  These people were listed as the very first emigrants from Irsch.  But I doubted.  Like Adrian Monk, the quirky but amazing detective on one of my favorite TV mysteries, I tried to find motives and clues others did not recognize; someone who had arrived before 1861, who had not been listed in the records of the time (the careful filing of documentation only started about 1860-61) and who was now hiding in plain sight, waiting to be discovered. 

I started with the 1860 Federal Census of the United States for the Township of Woodville in Calumet County.  This was in the days before so many records were digitized and available on the Internet.  I stuck my head into a dunce-cap microfilm reader at the library and scanned the Town of Woodville census line by line.  I believed I would recognize a family surname from Irsch.  I had spent so much time reading and rereading the microfilms of St. Protasius and Gervasius Catholic Church at LDS branch libraries that I had most of them memorized.  It was as if I myself had been born in that town and could say, “Yes, that’s an Irsch name all right.”  I had to search the census twice but on the second try, I found a name I thought might be the one I was looking for: a farmer named Philip Thomas, born in Prussia.  He had a wife and children and, as I thought, all had been baptized in Irsch.

Philip Thomas was born in 1808 in Beurig.  He was a Landwirt (a farmer who owned land) in the village of Irsch, married to Anna Britten of Irsch.  Philip was 48 years old, hardly the time a man might have been expected to leave the village he had resided in for so many years and make a harrowing trip.  Why did he do it?  His good luck in raising several children beyond the time of most danger for early death, worked against his staying in the Heimat.  He had four sons and two daughters.  His land holdings in Irsch, probably not very large, would by law be divided into six parts after his death, both sons and daughters inheriting.  This was a law imposed on the area when they were a part of France and never changed after Prussia took power.  Like so many emigrants, lack of land for the children to inherit and survive was most likely the motivating factor for Philip Thomas' decision to leave Irsch.

The Philip Thomas family arrived in the United States in June 1856 according to Philip's first papers in which he swore his intent to become a citizen of the US, and renounced the emperor of Prussia.  The Calumet County courthouse is where he filed his petition for citizenship on 1 April 1859.  In July 1860, the US Federal Census of Wisconsin lists him with $1,800 in real estate and $250 in personal estate in the Town of Woodville, Calumet County Wisconsin.

Philip’s wife, Anna, was the sister of one Heinrich Britten who still lived in Irsch.   The two families probably maintained contact through letters.  Philip would have described the availability of good, low-priced farming land with lots of trees that would leave the soil rich once the land was cleared.  It would also would provide logs for houses and barns. Evidently Heinrich began planning to take his family to Calumet County to join his sister and brother-in-law,  sharing the content of these America letters as well as his plans with his neighbors.  These families, including the family of Johann and Magdalena Meier, my 2nd great grandparents, decided to emigrate as a group.  In March 1861 they began their travel together from Irsch to the Port of Le Havre in France on their way to join the Thomas family.

I cannot produce any letters that Philip Thomas sent back to Irsch.  My evidence, I know, is circumstantial, but similar letters are recorded in a book called News from the Land of Freedom: German Immigrants Write Home, edited by Walter D. Kamphoefer, Wolfgang Helbich, and Ulrike Sommer.
I think I may, with my circumstantial evidence, get Philip Thomas and his family noted among the first settlers from Irsch to St John.