Friday, December 12, 2014

Christkind Decorates the Christmas Tree

The Christkind Brings the Ice Apples to decorate the Christmas Tree
Wreath made with ice apples (Eisapëfl)

I've written on a Christmas topic ever since I began my blog posts. There are things that I am rather unsure about, especially the arrival of the Christmas tree in my ancestors' homes. It is almost like searching a genealogy. Just where was the original Christmas tree conceived and, over the centuries, when did that tree's descendants move to other countries, then cross the oceans and emigrate from Germany to the rest if the world?  Progress equals brick wall - I still have no idea if my great-great grandparents had a Christmas tree in the years before they emigrated. I like to think they did.

Some sources say that the Christmas tree developed from a pagan tradition which was adopted by Christians as a holy symbol. The custom does seem to have started in northern Germany and then spread south, having been a matter of contention between Lutherans and Catholics for a time.  That's not very specific, is it.

This year the book, "Inventing the Christmas Tree" came to my attention.  It didn't solve the puzzle for me, but I have chosen a few interesting facts about the Christmas tree and its decoration, although I'm no closer to knowing the exact date of the Christmas tree custom in Kreis Saarburg.

The Tree

Many of thee common folk, I read, had no separate parlor room for a Christmas tree and in 17th and 18th century many hung the tree from the rafters although it was hard to light the candles if the tree was hung upside down. This custom seems to have originated in Slavic countries, such as Poland.

For those Christmas trees that that were placed on the floor, a tree stand of some kind was needed. Some of the methods used for this were: a wooden cross painted green or covered with moss or stones where a hole had been drilled into the center of the cross pieces, a stool with a hole in it, a tub of water or a bucket with wet sand, In times of adversity.  Some wedged the trunk into the hub of a cartwheel or cut a rutabaga in half and drilled a hole to accommodate the tree. In the 1860s, cast iron stands became more common, shaped to resemble gnarled roots.

Decorating the Tree 

According to a story from the Lorraine region of France, a variety of apple is cultivated in France in the Alsace and Lorraine regions as well as in the Rhineland area of my ancestors. It is known as the Christ's apple (Christapfel) or ice apple (Eisapfel), and this fruit traditionally was used to decorate the Christmas tree since it was red and lasted well through the winter.

In 1858 a drought in the Alsace region caused the ice apple harvest to be lost. The famous glass blowers of the 18th and 19th century from Meisenthal in Lorraine took the opportunity to make red glass spheres of the same size that could be used on a tree instead of the apples.

It is also possible that the origin of such ornaments can be found in the Thuringian forest. There the craft of blown glass can be traced to the beginning of the seventeenth century, when immigrants from Bohemia built their first huts."

The Red Eisapfel

Origin: very old, widespread apple type from Germany
Other names: Heart apple, Christ apple, ice apple, red warrior
Uses: Eating, cooking, dried.
Fruit: Midsize to large, color gold-green, turning a dark red if left on the tree long enough. 
The taste is sweet as the apple ripens from October to January 

Whether you have a fresh tree covered in red glass balls or some other beloved decoration in your home this year, it is my wish that your Christmas is as filled with pleasure as those of old when the Christkind brought the Christmas tree and decorated it with red apples.

Inventing the Christmas Tree by Bernd Brunner, 2011
Christmas in Alsace by Jean-Claude Colin and photos by Christophe Hamm
Christmas in Alsace by Jean-Claude Colin and photos by Christophe Hamm

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Pig Herder

Bremen square gives a tribute to the pig herder

To try to hang on to my German vocabulary when I haven't had a chance to speak it or review a practice tape for some time, I picked up a book that is at least somewhat close to my reading level, Geschichten und Sagen von Saar und Mosel by Josef Ollinger. Once again, I learned something new and I wanted to share it with you.

The chapter I chose to read was full of facts about a job that Olinger says was considered one of the four most useful occupations in any Rhineland village. This is the order of their worth: Pastor, teacher, mayor, herder. The first three did not surprise me, but I had not known that a sheep, pig, goat or cow herder held such an important post. If you discovered that your ancestor was a pig herder, you might make the mistake of thinking his was a lowly position. To the contrary, herders were valuable and respected for what they did.  They were the farmers' insurance that their animals were cared for in a way that assured these assets would thrive. All of them depended on the herders to find good foraging spots for their animals and guarded them from any form of danger.  So important were these herders that they were entitled to special rent-free dwellings, "Hertenhaüsern" (herder houses), for themselves and their families. They were also provided with a small piece of land for a garden.

In the 19th century, especially the first half, all but very tiny villages had a herder for each kind of animal. Hence the occupation "sheep herder, goat herder, cow herder, pig herder" can be found in the pages of church baptismal records which usually list the occupation of the father of a newly baptized child. The occupation of herder was one that was often passed from father to son.

The work of the herder was seasonal. It was not unusual for the village teacher to take over the job of herder when school ended in March and the children went to work in the fields. The herder of pigs might supplement his income by doing the fall slaughtering for farmers who had raised a pig for a winter supply of smoked ham and sausage. For this service, the herder received a piece of the meat from each pig he slaughtered.

Many of the herders were gone by the late 1800s, choosing to migrate to the industries in nearby cities. But in the little town of Tunsdorf, which is in Saargau area near Kreis Saarburg, Nikolaus Adler, the son of the former pig herder, kept his job until 1959, when he retired. He felt great pride in the work he had done, especially because, in all the years he worked, he had never lost a pig.

Each year Adler started his work as a herder on March 17, the feast of St. Gertrude,  called St. Gertraud in most of Germany. This saint's' feast day was often associated with the coming of spring. Some examples of Gertraud lore: "A sunny Gertraud's day will bring the farmer happiness. If Gertraud's day is sunny, it is the gardener's delight. If it freezes on the Gertraud day, the land will need 40 more days to warm it enough for planting. If it freezes on Gertraud's day, all summer will be cool."  St. Gertraud's day somewhat resembles groundhog day in U.S.

In his book, Josef Olinger described this last herder of Tunsdorf as a daily presence, walking the village road with a horn he tied around his neck with a piece of rope. There were three different notes that he blew. One was used to signal the pigs to come out to him. At that horn note, pigs left their pens without coaxing and came through the farm yard into the road. From one end of the village to the other, new pigs joined those which had been called out earlier. If a farmer neglected to open their stall, his pigs would push and might break the pen's latch at the sound of that horn call. A different horn note alerted the farmers whose pigs were still in the stable. They knew it was time to open the pen latch rather than risk a broken stall. The third note was one that seemed to calm the pigs as they walked, assuring them that the herder was looking out for their well being.

Male pigs and boars did not leave their pens. They were fed a diet of table scraps and garden root vegetables, fattened as much as possible for the slaughter in the fall.  The sows and the young pigs ate from the meadows and woodlands. They could use their snouts to dig for food in the fields chosen by the herder. There was enough vegetation to sustain them during the summer months. A successful herder like Nikolaus Adler knew the best places for forage.  On hot days, he would look for a spot in the shade to keep the pigs tender skin from the burning sun.  He would try to get permission from the village forester who protected the government's woodland to allow the pigs to search for acorns and beechnuts that had dropped to the ground, a gourmet treat that the pigs loved.

Since pigs are not easy to keep together in a herd, Adler had two dogs that helped him round up a sow or young pig that went astray.  His dogs were rough mongrel types but devoted to their master and to the job for which he had trained them. Even a huge sow with formidable strength did not deter the dogs. One sharp bite to a sow's rump or leg, and the animal hurried to regain the safety of the herd.

In the evening, the herder brought the pigs back to their pens. The older pigs recognized the barn and stable which they had left that morning and trotted to it willingly without any help from the herder.  The very young pigs sometimes wanted to stray into the wrong farmer's pen.  Nikolaus Adler knew his pigs so well that there was never any mixup.  If a piglet strayed in the wrong direction, Adler would call to his dog, "Kastor, get me the little one" and the dog would sort the piglet out and bring it back for delivery to the proper barn. The number of pigs grew smaller until each was back in the pen where it belonged.

On Fetten Donnerstag, (Fat Thursday), which was the Thursday before the beginning of Lent,  Nikolaus Adler was paid, mostly in foodstuffs like meat, grain, sausage, and lard.  Each house that paid him also served him a glass of Schnaps.  I can only assume that the herder had a significant hangover, perhaps lasting until Ash Wednesday.


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Surprising Village Residents

Johann Nepomuk
Government Worker

Regine Braconnier
Photo from Kommern Open Air Museum Website

The open air Museum in Kommern, with its costumed interpreters, allows one to step back into the lives of ancestors who lived in the northern part of the Rhineland. While the farm buildings are somewhat different from those in Kreis Saarburg in the lower Rhineland, many of the customs and living conditions would be very similar to those of the people of Kreis Saarburg's villages and small cities. 

In addition to interpreters who take on the identity of farmers, craftsmen, day laborers, etc., three of the historical figures described in detail on the museum's website were such interesting inhabitants of the area that I have translated their stories to share them you. The interpreters at the museum dress in the costume of their time as you can see in the two pictures above.  

The Government Man

Johann Nepomuk lived in Schwerz, a village in the upper Rhineland. He was a government worker commissioned by the Prussian government in 1816 to describe the agriculture of the Rhineland. For this purpose he spent three years creating records of Rhenish lands, coming in contact with many people and documenting the land they owned and the outlook for agriculture in a part of Prussia far removed from Berlin. At the open-air museum, visitors can look over his shoulder as he works with maps and writes down his observations about the farms for his reports to Berlin.

The actor who plays Nepomuk says, "It is exciting to see how we make a journey into history possible." The young and the old can observe the clothing of that time or watch a letter being written by the writing instruments of the past, using a font that some of the oldest visitors still know from their school days and that the young ones have never seen. They "can touch history."

The Upper Middle Class Frau

In 1892 Sybilla Schmitz was living in Poppelsdorf near Bonn, and her story is interpreted for visitors by a woman dressed as a visitor just arrived in her home village.  Sybilla was born in 1833 in Ruppenrod in the Westerwald, the daughter of wealthy farmer and mayor August Mungenast. In 1847 she moved to Bonn to live with her godmother, whose husband "had achieved something." As a trained cabinetmaker he ran a thriving furniture manufacturing business. In Bonn Sybilla attended a girls' school where she received lessons in music, handicrafts, painting and French. There she met her future husband Hermann, who worked as an administrative lawyer at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University and later held a senior position in the direction of the Agricultural Academy in Poppelsdorf. Thanks to the elevated position of her husband, Sybilla Schmitz lived in a spacious house with front garden and there was a servant to take care of the house and its cleaning. Ladies of the house in those circumstances had spare time, and this was the case for Sybilla. She had activities like a Reading Society weekday visits to her friends, and opportunities to travel.

The invention of modern transport such as horse-drawn trams and the steam train made it easier for people of Sybilla's class to travel longer distances. It was possible to visit her family in Ruppenrod, the village of her birth and perhaps stay for a few days.

 The Traveling Trader and Mousetrap Maker

Regine (Jien) Michels was born in 1833, the daughter of a poor farmer in Kirchweiler in the Eifel. It was a place that was shrinking, partly on account of the bad harvests from 1843 to 1845. In 1858, Regine married Hans Braconnier, a trader, who owned a farm in Neroth which was only 5 5 kilometers away. Like almost all others in Neroth. Braconnier, in addition to his farm needed a trade route to survive. A third pursuit to earn money was the production and sale of mousetraps.

For Regine this marriage with Hans was an economic improvement. The butter and eggs which the farm produced earned money for the couple or could be exchanged for other goods. Regine ran the farm while her husband was working his trading route and with the additional money, they were able to buy sheep, lease some more land, and send their sons Robert and Francis to school. With the help of her ​​mother, sister and the Braconnier children, Regine was able to keep making the mousetraps when her husband was traveling, sending them to him in the mail. In 1872 Hans Braconnier had increasing discomfort in his knees, so that Regine had to become the traveling trader for the family. She enjoyed the change and tells visitors, (through the interpreter who plays her role at the Kommern museum), "Working as a peddler, I made money and saw something of the world!"

When any one of these three people entered a farming village to visit it, children probably stared and followed after them. For their parents, it made for a bit of excitement in their long day. For this blog, it adds one more lively view of the colorful Rhineland village life.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

From Moselle to the Port of Le Havre

Covered wagon similar to those used to travel from Moselle to Le Havre
(Roscheiderhof Open Air Museum)

Department of the Moselle

Some time ago, I wrote, with a great deal of help from my sister Marilyn, a blog post about the port of Le Havre. She has an excellent command of the French language and was willing to do some research for me using French sources. That post has proved to be one of the most popular posts I have ever written. For those of us focused on finding out about the lives of our Rhineland, Bavarian, or Swiss emigrant ancestors, Le Havre is obviously a much more important emigration port than the usual genealogy texts or expert speakers at German genealogical conferences recognize. 

My sister, to help me with research for my novel, compiled and translated some other information on Le Havre-related subjects. These articles are in my files but also translated in full on her own blog, "Californie en français." Since you may not have found them there, let me give you a summary of one of them. I think that after I whet your appetite for further details, you will want to read the full article (right column, bottom of column) written by two descendants of an emigrant family from the French 
Department of Moselle in the Lorraine (Lothringen) region of France. It is called "Leaving for America" by Philippe and Giles Houdry. 

Thanks to Europedia, I learned that the Moselle is a department of the Lorraine region, and owes its name to the river of the same name. Moselle has a population of 1,024,000 inhabitants, and is divided into nine administrative districts (Arrondissements in French) for a total of 51 Cantons and 730 municipalities. It borders (clockwise from the North) the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, as well as the French departments of the Bas-Rhin, and Meurthe-et-Moselle. This area, with its combination of residents with French or German ancestry - sometimes both - still today speak a language that is a close cousin of Luxembourgish, especially in the northern part of the Moselle.

The Houdrys write that Pierre BREM and his family emigrated to New York, in the United States of America. These were ancestors of the Houdrys. Pierre and his wife Elisabeth (Boutter) Brem and their children, came from their village of Hargarten-aux-Mines. This zone in the north of Lorraine was German-speaking. The notaries of the region would record their documents in French which was the official language, and they were also required to indicate that said documents had been read in German by both the participants and witnesses.

The Houdry article goes on to spell out the many reasons why so many people, including those from the Moselle, emigrated to America. It is an excellent list. What the Germans called America letters; that is, the letters from friends and relatives already in America, exerted influence in the Moselle as well. America was considered as a country of liberty and of democracy, where the recognition of the individual was based on his competence and not his birth, things which many in the Moselle felt was not true of their homeland.

Pierre BREM left in 1844 to scout the United States, leaving his family in safety at Hargarten-aux-Mines. In 1846, Elisabeth and her two children, Anne Marie and Michel, left from Le Havre to join him. On that occasion that Elisabeth received power of attorney from her husband, sent from New York, to sell their possessions and thereby pay the voyage for the three of them. The sale occurred in Hargarten-aux-Mines, in the family house itself, the 13 March 1846. Piere Brem must have had great confidence in his wife who had a difficult road ahead of her, both in their selling the possessions which were still in the village of Hargarten-aux-Mines and in making the trip to Le Havre with two young children. Not only did she have to sell all of their land and personal property, converting everything into the money to take with her; she also had to obtain two passports; one for permission to leave France for America and another to allow her to move freely from her own Canton to any others she might cross in and out of on her trip to Le Havre. Making arrangements for the trip with some kind of travel company or service also was required.

The majority of immigrants made the voyage in wagons up to the port of embarkation at Le Havre. The Houdry's conjecture is that Pierre in 1844 and Elisabeth and the two children in 1846, would certainly have traveled to the coast by wagon so as not to waste the precious savings scraped together in Lorraine. It is also likely, as is often the case, that they would have joined a convoy of other Lorraine emigrants, which made the trip much safer, especially for a woman with two children and no husband. In addition to the safety factor, it also maintained a familiar environment in foreign surroundings. On bad roads, the convoys moved slowly. For a trip of approximately three weeks, most travelers would have placed canvas or sail-cloth over the arches of the wagons to protect the passengers from bad weather and to more comfortably spend the night. What did the wagon look like? The wagon picture above, taken at the German open-air museum in Roscheid, would be very similar. With more than one such wagon, the travelers would have resembled Hollywood movies about wagon trains headed west.

The wagon trip from Moselle to Le Havre took about 3 weeks. The railroad line Metz-Nancy did not open until 1850, that of Nancy-Paris not until 1852. The line Paris-Le Havre itself was only slightly older; it opened in 1847.

Many of the emigrants, when they reached the port, especially before 1850, were not able to embark right away. In bad weather, the ships were clustered close alongside and prevented from departing because of the direction of the winds. Sometimes it was necessary to wait for the arrival of the ship. The travelers often had to stay one or more weeks in one of the auberges of the city.  The money that Elizabeth carried with her could have easily been depleted by the need to eat, to buy provisions for the long ocean voyage, and to pay for shelter in an auberge/Gasthaus until the day of departure.

The auberges, especially those which were cheapest, gave a foretaste of the steerage section where the emigrants were going to huddle during the roughly one-and-a-half-month length of the crossing.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Biedermeyer Style for Saarburg's Middle Class

The Invention of Simplicity (Public Domaine)

This is an unusual subject for my blog which usually has focused on peasant life. However not every person in Kreis Saarburg was part of the peasantry or lower classes, In Saarburg, the largest city of the Kreis, there were houses designed for the upper and middle classes, like Nikolaus Valdenaire who had both an estate near Konz and a fine home in Saarburg called the Kuno Tower. These upper and middle classes interacted with the lower classes - buying their produce, hiring their children as servants and the adults as workers in the taneries or the bell factory, to name a few. To the people of the surrounding villages, Saarburg was an extraordinary place. This was where people who did not have to struggle just to feed their family lived in houses that seemed like palaces. Here you would find the doctors, the chemists, the government officials, the owners of factories. Their homes would be far different than the little farmhouses most of our own ancestors lived in, but they would also be nothing like the fine interiors of the dwellings of the nobles in cities like Bonn or Cologne. 

In Germany and Austria, the 19th Century saw the development of what is often called the Biedermeier period.  It was the time when the middle class began to grow and gain importance.  These were the years that started with Prussian rule in areas formerly French or independent city states.  It faded after the German revolution of 1848. This Biedermeier period influenced literature, music, and visual arts but especially interior design. The middle class enjoyed this humorous character, Biedermeier, in a period of strict government control. "Papa Biedermeier," a worthy, bourgeois-minded fellow was a humorous character featured in a running series of verses written by a country doctor and a lawyer. Gradually the name Biedermeyer came to represent the period when artists of all kinds, including architects and talented craftsmen, moved toward simplicity and moderation in their work. It was a mood rather than a strict period of time, says an article from Wikipedia. 

A Biedermeier style room for coffee or card playing 

Compared with the Empire furniture style of the nobility before and during the time of Napoleon, the rising middle class chose a new direction. The furniture used a style that emphasized the grain of the wood rather than having elaborate carving and curlicues. Pale woods like pear, birch or cherry woods were preferred over the darker woods like mahogany. 

The comparative emptiness of furniture in this room is also typical of the middle-class Biedermeier style although sometimes there was imitation of the costly techniques that were used for the furniture and floors of the upper class. Expensive inlay work, for instance, could be imitated very easily by using a stencil of the pattern to stain floors or furniture.

This library table's legs have a somewhat extreme curve

The Biedermeyer period can be applied to many fields - literature, music, and visual arts. A library where books could be kept and read by members of a middle class family tended toward the writings of the Biedermeyer writers. Biedermeier designs were simplified forms of the French Empire, Directoire  and some 18th-century English styles, and were often elegant in their utilitarian simplicity. Chairs and sofas show curved lines, frequently graceful, but sometimes exaggerated into swellings and contortions. Light-colored native fruitwoods were once again used in this library, with contrasting bands of black lacquer which often effectively substituted for the costly ebony of Empire pieces. 

Lamp and artwork are 21st century Biedermeier

Biedermeier designs could be quite simple.  At their best, cabinets and other large pieces were handsome and severe in line and surface.

The typical Biedermeier high bedposts are imitated in this modern day design

I am certain that my Kreis Saarburg ancestors never lived in a house furnished in the Biedermeier style.  But since middle class families often had enough money for servants, my 2nd great grandmother or one of her sisters or one of your ancestors could have worked in a Biedermeier dwelling for the time before their marriage, helping them to afford to buy more modestly made chests and cabinets filled with the things needed for their simple dowry.  They would have dusted and polished the Biedermeier curves of the pear wood furniture, the like of which they knew they would never own.

"Biedermeier." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2013.
Freilichtmuseum Roscheider Hof Konz Museum Guide.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Family Table

Hunsruck garden at Roscheider Hof Open Air Museum


Mauseohr Plant


When I decided to write a novel about peasant life in a small village in the Saarburg region, I didn't expect to have trouble describing food. It didn't occur to me that I would have to figure out what might be on the table for each meal of the day and how it was prepared. What did the cupboards, pots and kettles hold? As it turned out, preparing the daily meals was one of the most difficult of daily tasks about which to find information. Recipes were an oral process, passed on from generation to generation.  Although I grew up on a small dairy farm, conditions in the United States in the 1950s bore little similariety to those in 1850 Kreis Saarburg, the year my ancestors lived on their farms. There was meat on our table almost every day, there were recipe books, there were grocery stores, and our garden was just a few steps from the back door.

How different it was for our ancestors. Meat, so much a part of our daily diet was a rarity for the peasant farmer. It was seldom seen when the family sat down to their daily meal. For the Kleinbauer (small farmer) and Taglohner (day worker), there would only be such a luxury on very special holidays such as Christmas and Easter. For the farmer who was a bit better off, meat might be eaten on other holidays or for an important celebration such as a wedding or a reunion of more distant relatives.  Pork or goose was usually served on those occasions - any leftover meat could be chopped and added to dishes that were usually meatless.

Other than holidays and weddings, what was on the table on ordinary days? As one book put it "It was the duty of the married woman to take care of the house, to look after the children, to help with work in the field, to milk the cow and feed the small animals each day. In addition she was responsible for putting three meals a day on the table for the hungry mouths of her family. This could be the most difficult obligation of all, especially because most farms were small, the farmers poor, and crop failures common." How did the Hausfrau manage to feed a hungry, hardworking family?

Even though meat was rarely seen on the table, animals provided food in other ways. Geese might end up in roasting pans at Christmas; but before that happened, they produced eggs for main dishes when cooked, one of the ingredients in a kettle with many other parts or in a dough to be baked, when raw.

Peasant farmers with land of their own would own one or more cows since farmers rarely had horses for field work. They used their cows as draft animals to pull wagons and plows. At the same time, the cows provided valuable food while working the fields. There was milk for the cooking kettle, baking pan and the drinking mug. (Bit of trivia - in Germany mugs used for daily meals had no handles until the late 1800s).  Given their use as draft animals to pull plows and wagons, a cow's milk production would be much more limited than the dairy cows of today's farmer, but even so, milk was one of the most valuable of foods. Cow's milk provided a nutritious drink, cream for baking, or was mixed with vinegar and sugar (honey was the poor man's sugar) and used as a dressing for fresh greens. What was left after a day's use became a homemade cheese.

In the book "Essens-Zeiten" which can be translated as "Of EatingTimes," one hundred years of table scenes are pictured and explained. In the text for one of those pictures I found several paragraphs that summarize the work of a peasant woman who was also responsible for growing, gathering, preserving and preparing the food from the garden as well as knowing how to supplement it with wild greens and berries from the woodlands and fruit from the trees of the village apple orchard or the plum, pear, and peach trees that were part of some farms. The mild climate also meant that grape vines grew easily.

The garden was the place where the farmer's family turned in good times and bad. Field harvest times when the wife's help was needed in the fields was also the time that the produce of the garden was ripening. The children and those older relatives who no longer could labor in the farm fields were still able to work in the garden and teach the younger children how to plant, hoe, weed, and gather produce. Often the elderly grandmother and grandfather, with the help of the children, were responsible for the majority of the garden work.

Contrary to my American perception, the Kreis Saarburg gardens were not always close to the barnhouse. It might be a mile or more walk to care for and gather this food. Getting to and from the garden took time away from the other work that had to be done. Those lucky enough to have their garden on the barnhouse property would place it on the sunny side of the house. A good location was a matter of concern. The first land that a day worker or craftsman would buy, when he earned enough money to own a piece property, was chosen with the understanding that there must be a good place for a garden which would hold plants that could be wintered: cabbage, bush beans, turnips, carrots, onions, leeks, peas, and lentils. Every little corner of the garden was used.  Potatoes were not planted in the garden; they were a field crop, feeding both humans and animals.

The planting and harvesting of root vegetables from the garden saved many families during famine years. In 1790, according to one writer of the time, in Germany the potato was eaten every day in some kind of recipe. Even the poor had their daily potatoes, some with a bit of meat and most without. Steckruben or turnips were another staple, especially in the Eifel region of the Rhineland. In the book "Essens Zeiten which I mentioned above, an elderly resident says "Oh my, turnips, always turnips" for the meals.  Often all the peasants had to sustain them were potatoes or turnips. Soup was made with some flour, water, broth, and salt. Other root vegetables that saw families through harsh winters were beets, and carrots.

Herbs for seasoning and healing plants were common in the gardens. Even though space for growing food was of primary importance, most village families understood that ornamental plants like wallflowers, pansies, larkspur and field roses should be planted for the color and happiness they brought and planted those as well to have something for the soul.

Although it may seem that our ancestors in the Rhineland area had very poor nutrition, they did their best to vary their diets when spring and summer arrived. After a long winter of only root vegetables, it must have been a delight for them to have freshly picked food on the table. There were just-gathered vegetables, greens, and fruit in those summer months. It seems they were also somewhat aware of the health value of uncooked field greens because, as one book told me, they believed the dandelion leaves helped to fight off the fatigue of winter. The best months for gathering dandelion greens were April and May. One picked the dandelion if possible in the outermost edges of meadows, being sure that the heart of the plant was still looking yellowish. The taste of the leaves is somewhat bitter but savory in much the way radicchio is in our own summer salads. The leaves of certain other field plants added additional taste and volume to the spring and summer season's dinner. Another popular field green was the Mauseohrsalad (mouse ear salad), also called field salad.  It is still eaten in Germany today.

As soon as they were able, the children took on a share of the work. The girls learned how to cook at an early age by "doing." Recipe books would have been laughed at and they were far off in the future. These women and girls knew when they had added enough water or stirred the batter long enough to have it "look right."  Most cooks measured with their eyes, not with measuring cups.

Sugar was not readily available to peasant farmers but honey was. When a villager was in possession of a woven basket and some broom flower branches as a cover, he possessed his very own sugar factory. A bee shed could be made by pushing four long stakes into the ground, and a slanted roof covered with Ginster (yellow broom) placed on top; woven straw baskets were used as hives underneath. Broom grows wild all over Kreis Saarburg to a height of 3 to 5 feet and produces numerous long, straight, slender bright green branches, tough and very flexible. The bright yellow fragrant flowers are large, in bloom from April to July, attracting the bees.

Some Popular Recipes for the Tables of Kreis Saarburg 
(The dialect recipe's name comes first; then the more common German name)

I found these recipes in the book "Die Hunsrücker Küche" by Christiane Becker who inherited them from her grandmother. The book uses many dialect words in the instructions so I have done my best to give you an idea of the dish, at least listing the ingredients in popular recipes of the Hunsrück and Saar Valley of Kreis Saarburg.

Dibbelabbes or Schales (potato dish) This is a traditional dish of potatoes and onions in both the Saarland and the Rhineland. Dibbelabbes made of 4 lbs of potato, two or three eggs, salt, pepper, a tablespoon of flour, 3-4 onions and bacon striped with fat. Nadia Hassani (in her cookbook "Spoonfuls of Germany") has this piece of information on the origin of this interesting dish: "...a potato dish known as Dibbelabbes in Saarland is known as Schales or Scholet in the Rhineland Palatinate. Its origin she says, goes back to the Jewish Sabbath dish Cholent, a stew that was prepared on a Friday and remained on the stove during the Sabbath, when Jewish religious law forbids food preparation."  This was a recipe that held well and could also be taken to the field for a noon lunch.

Löwenzahn Salat (Dandelion Salad) was made using some sour milk, 2 hard boiled eggs, one small onion, one bunch of chives, 6 tablespoons of vinegar, 3 of cooking oil, and be sprinkled with salt, pepper and grated garlic.

Mauseohr salat (Mouse ear field salad, )  Field greens, often those shaped like mouse ears with a dressing of sour cream, salt, pepper, one onion, a bunch of chive, six tablespoons of vinegar and 3 tablespons of oil.

Kappessupp or Kohlsuppe (cabbage soup) The first ingredient was a legume, like peas or beans or lentils, cooked for one and a half hours and then set aside. Then green cabbage was cut in small strips and cooked in meat broth with peeled potatoes. Meat was added only for a special day or if the work of the day was to be very strenuous. The mixtures of the legumes and cabbage together in soup was a typical midday meal.

Rappsupp (No translation from dialect found) This soup could be made quickly and could be found on the table when the women of the house were helping with the harvest or on a busy washday. Vegetable or meat broth was cooked with finely grated raw potatoes and cream or egg yolk. Rapp is one of the dialect words no dictionary or Google translator could define.

Käsjer, Quark or Handkäse (homemade cheese)  The cows' milk could be used as a light cream, skimmed for the rest of the liquid, and used to make butter, a sauce for the fresh greens or an whipped cream for desserts. The rest of the milk, minus the cream that had been skimmed could be used to made hand cheese or Quark by separating the thickening milk from the whey. Both were used to feed the family. Quark, when finished, is a soft cheese that tastes like a mix of cream cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream. Since it's very mild, it takes on the flavors of the other ingredients you use it with and can be either sweet or savory.  The Molke or whey was a drink full of vitamins and minerals and could be compared to drinking buttermilk.

Leckschmier, Zwetschgenmus or Latwerge (plum or pear preserves)
.  I needed some translation help for this Hunsrück and Saar favorite   One recipe in English on the web called for 5 kg plums or pears; 1 kg sugar; cinnamon; anis; pounded cloves; and a little ginger.  The washed, pitted fruits are gradually added in a cast-iron pot and boiled together with the spices. It is important that mass with a wooden spoon to stir constantly to the bottom of the pot so that the Leckschmier does not burn. After 4-5 hours of cooking, the mass has become stiff and thick. It is filled in a well pre-heated stone pot after cooling, with a cloth cover and stored in a cool place. On freshly baked bread, thick coated with good butter, Leckschmier tastes especially good.

Einsäuern im Spezialgärtopf was a version of what we know as Sauerkraut.  It was and is common in the United States and recipes abound on the internet so I have not included the ingredients.  Crocks of this long lasting sour cabbage could be found in the barnhouse each winter.

Gefillte Krummbeere or Gefüllte Kartoffeln (Potato Pancakes) One recipe that made its way from the Rhineland to my family's table and is still a favorite is potato pancakes.   My mother never measured anything - I confess I need a recipe to feel secure about the amount of grated potato to be mixed with onion, flour, and egg.   My mother's were always the best.

There are many more recipes in the little cookbook I have been trying to decipher, but I have made a small start at painting a word picture of the family table, and it has been challenging but also enlightening.

If your ancestry is German, do you have a favorite recipe from the family table of yesteryear?

Christiane Becker, Die Hunsrücker Küche, 1992
Jean Morette, Landleben im Jahreslauf, 1983
Freilichtmuseum Roscheider Hof Konz Museum Guide, 2001
"Essens-Zeiten," eifeler Tisch-Szenen aus 100 Jahren 2002


Saturday, May 10, 2014

An Old May Custom - the Maibaum

The Maibaum in Konz, Kreis Saarburg

In choosing a blog post for each month, I want to share some history or custom that is mostly unknown here in the United States. If I have a good amount of time to work on the post, I will start a subject I know is going to take time because of the need to translate, research, etc. At other times, with the deadline ticking away, I choose an easier topic. Is it Murphy's Law that those are the posts that usually are the most difficult. To date, I have mostly been undefeated in maintaining my "once a month" posting, even with surprise obstacles, but this time I have failed. With my intended blog post for the end of April still in disarray, it is clear that "This may take some time," as my computer used to tell me.

This is not the subject I had intended to write about.  Luckily I received my monthly e-mail copy of the "Irscher Newsletter" in the midst of my frustration and found a topic I thought readers might find interesting. The Newsletter is a monthly report from my home village on club meetings, school concerts and any other special festivities. For the first time since I've been receiving it - over 10 years now - this thought struck me. If my great-great grandparents had not emigrated, I might still live in Irsch and some of the old customs, now mostly unknown to me, might be a part of my life, changed somewhat, but still there - as illustrated in the May 2014 Irscher Newsletter.

I began to investigate the custom of the Maibaum or May Tree. 

The Irsch, Kreis Saarburg, Maibaum

 Maibaum, Irsch, Kreis Saarburg, 72 ft high
May Day is still an important celebration in my ancestral village. According to the Irscher Newsletter, this year's Maibäume (May tree) "shone in original splendor." A large tree was cut down and put in place by men of the Volunteer Fire Department.  It is sturdily  braced because Maibäume have the tendency to fall on buildings and parked cars if not well supported (as articles in the Trier Volksfreund newpaper told me).  

The Irsch tree was approximately 22 meters (72 feet) high, one of the highest Maibaum in Irsch in recent years. When the tree trunk was in place, it was graced with a decorated wreath which had been trimmed with flowers and bands of colorful ribbons by the school children of the village. On May 1, as part of the Maibaum celebration, the children of the Irsch daycare center sang and danced around the tree to welcome spring together with their families and many other villagers.

The Newsletter elaborated no further but usually the May 1 festivities are followed by partaking of good food and, of course, a lot of Maibowle (May Punch) and Maiwein (May Wine)"

But there is another very old May Day tradition in the Rhineland.  May was and still is a time of courtship and romance. This also was not reported in the Irscher Newsletter. It really is not quite appropriate for newsletter articles as you'll understand as you read on.

The Origins of the Maibaum Celebration

The Maibaum custom was originally part of an old tradition called Mailehenbrauch. This was a form of village matchmaking dating back to the 17th century. It involved "loaning" the unmarried young women of the village to the bachelors for a certain period," folklorist Alois Döring says. "All of the unmarried young women in the village were auctioned off to the unmarried young men and each pair became a May couple," Döring continues. "Whoever paid the highest price was the May King and he had the corresponding May Queen."

But there were very specific rules attached. Each May groom was required to put up a tree decorated with colorful ribbons for his May bride as part of this custom. And this tradition is still observed in many Rhineland villages until today, possibly in Irsch too.

The Maibaum Customs Today

For young, unmarried men, the tradition of the romantic Maibaum has shifted somewhat more toward the fun of an excursion into the woods. This being ecologically conscious Germany, there are often special lots which grow young birch trees for this purpose. A young tree can be purchased and chopped down while enjoying some good Maibock (May Bock) beer with friends who are engaged in the same activity. In some rural regions of the Rhineland the girl still finds a Maibaum in her yard or on her doorstep. And pity the girl whose yard is unadorned. No young woman in Irsch would want that item of news printed in the village newsletter.

I found an article by a freelance writer, living in the Rhineland who did interviews with today's young women about the continuation of the old Maibaum custom and their reactions to it.

"When the girls look out the next morning, many ask themselves: who brought it?" That's how it was for 30-year-old Anke Baldus, when she got her first May tree 15 years ago. "You first had to have a huge girlfriends meeting," she says. "Then it was off to the village to ask people: who was at what May celebration. Who saw whom and could have transported a May tree like that?"  Anke has again received a Maibaum that year - from her husband.

Imagine - it’s early morning on the first day of May and a young woman peeks out from her front door. There it is! She sees what she’s been hoping for. Tied to a light pole outside her home is a tall, skinny birch tree with crepe paper chains and a heart with her name on it hung from its branches. 

To me it resembles the anxiety of "Prom" time in the United States. Will I be asked to the prom, wonders the US girl. Will I have a Maibaum outside my house on May 1 is the worry of the Rhineland girl.

One young woman's wish came true
As one writer said, "In other parts of the world, women might long for jewelry or flowers from their admirers. In the Rhineland, girls dream of waking up to a decorated birch tree on the first of May."

Bavaria's Maypole

Bavaria also celebrates May 1, erecting a maypole and placing it in the city square.  Some are constrcted very much like the Maibaum; others are much more ornate.  There is celebrating with dancing, singing, and drinking a specially brewed beer.  

Part of this whole tradition is that one village tries to steal the maypole from the neighbours. If they succeed with the theft, the safe return of the maypole is up for negotiation with ransoms involving copious quantities of beer and food. Some "Burschenvereine" (translates to something like "young guys' club") have specialized in stealing the maypoles that are most closely watched by the strongest security. Maypole stealing is governed by a pretty strict code of conduct: sawing or damaging the maypole in any way is absolutely frowned upon as is a non-payment of the ransom.   

Since I have ancestors from Bavaria as well as the Rhineland, where would I choose to celebrate May 1 next year?  Either would be fun, but the Rhineland customs have stolen my heart; whereas the Bavarian Maypole might itself be stolen.  Sorry Bavaria, the Maibaum comes with romance as well as celebration and will be there on May 2.

Karin Christensen, Of Maypoles and May Bock

Monday, March 31, 2014

Revolution, the Valdenaires, and My Great-Great Grandparents

Kunoturm Dwelling of Nikolaus Valdenaire
Estate Buildings Once Owed by the Valdenaires

Question 1: Would the owners of great manors fight for the right of peasant farmers to have a voice in creating a Prussian Constitution that would give them a voice in government?  Answer: At least two of the well-to-do manor owners did exactly that during the German Revolution of 1848.  They were Nikolaus and Victor Valdenaire, the owners of a "Hof" near Konz and a mansion in Saarburg.

Question 2: Was my great-great grandfather, Johann Meier, one of those peasant farmers taking part in the German Revolution?  Answer: While I can't prove that Johann fought to gain more rights for peasants under Prussian rule,  I have an indication that he did.  There must be some reason political wrongs make my blood boil.


Nikolaus Valdenaire was a French soldier in Napoleon's army who bought the estate which had originally belonged to the land and estate holdings of St. Mathias Catholic Church in Trier.  Valdenaire came from the Vosges in France.  At the age of 17 he served as a soldier of the French revolutionary army, and after Napoleon conquered the Catholic-Church-ruled territory in the Rhineland, he chose to live in the area of Trier, which at this time had been declared a part of France.  In 1801 Nikolaus married into the Schmitt family from Trier and fathered four children, three girls and one son, Viktor.  He became prosperous and attained an expropriated monastery and its lands. He also purchased, along with the Schmitt family, the Roscheider Hof at Konz.  However Nikolaus himself chose to live in the Kunoturm property which was attached to the remains of the city wall in Saarburg.

Trier and all the Rhineland were added to the Prussian empire after Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo.  Nicholas Valdenaire had been shaped as a teenager by the ideals of the French Revolution. Under the Prussian rule, he led the registry office for the cantons Merzig, Saarburg and Konz even though he was often in conflict with the authoritarian structures of the Prussian state. In 1833 he was elected to the fourth Rhenish Provincial Parliament.  It was merely advisory to the Crown and had no decision-making powers.  There was no room for liberty or equality in the rules set down by the Prussian Emperor and his ministers.

In his role as a member of this Provincial Parliament, Nikolaus Valdenaire made a bold move on the occasion of the visit of the Prussian Crown Prince to Saarburg in 1836.  He presented the Crown Prince with a signed petition for the Emperor.  It had treasonous requests as Valdenaire knew.  The petition asked that when wine makers and farmers could not sell their crops, their taxes be prorated accordingly.  There was a request that municipal officials be elected directly by the municipalities as before, and that the customs declaration offices should not spend several hours closed during the day, but remain open every hour of the peasants' working day. Farmers should be allowed to plow all their land to the edge of the ditch along the road and plant there rather than being kept two feet away so that the Prussian warders could take that land as their own.

In order to increase the number of signatories to the petition and to give it more weight, Valdenaire sent a messenger to the surrounding farmers with the petition, thus reaching about 160 farmers and winemakers who signed it.  Since peasant farmers were not allowed the right of petition, this was perhaps more daring than the petition itself.

This petition was personally delivered by Nikolaus Valdenaire on July 10, 1836 to the Crown Prince, who was staying with the Baron von Warsberg who lived in Saarburg. It was accepted by the Crown Prince but not answered.  Instead, one year later Nikolaus  was charged with seditious activities.  At his trial he was sentenced to six months in prison.   He appealed the sentence and was allowed a new trial.  A year later he was completely acquitted but had to bear the investigation costs of both court decisions.

Viktor, the son of Nikolaus, attended the Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium in Trier, and received his diploma there as did his friend, Karl Marx.   He studied law at the University in Bonn for awhile, but did not finish his degree.  Instead he went back to take over the running of the Roscheider Hof estate, which also became a refuge for other like-minded liberals.

While most owners of large estates objected to giving rights to peasants, the  Valdenaires attempted to change the way laws were created in the Prussian empire.  They wanted to see all the  citizens of Prussia, including the peasant farmers and craftsmen, governed by a constitution created with the input of elected representatives of all the citizenry.

Because of their liberal views, the Valdenaires displayed great daring in the German revolution of 1848.  By the year 1848 the discontent over the poor conditions of the German citizens and peasants, along with the desire for justice and human rights reform for all, was at the flash point in the Rhineland.  Demonstrations against the current Prussian system of governance broke out in Cologne, Trier, and even Saarburg as a result not only of the many dissatisfactions with Prussian laws and taxation, but also at the news in February that in neighboring France, people had begun a revolt against the current king and his reactionary prime minister in order to force Louise Phillipe from his throne.  This was the match that set the revolutionary fire blazing along Germany's western border, and it spread like wildfire right up to the doors of the palace in Berlin.

When demonstrations and fighting spread to Austria and forced the Austrian Emperor to rid the country of the hated minister Metternich, Berlin's ministers saw danger ahead.  The Prussian emperor, Frederick Wilhelm, feared the uprisings against him that had now come to the northern cities and his own Berlin. He made the decision to grant his subjects the right to elect representatives to a National Assembly that would create a new constitution.  He assured the rebels that this would give them a chance to have the constitutional parliament which would bring more liberty and equality to all Prussian citizens, even the peasants.  An election for the representatives to the new National Assembly created great excitement.  Voting took place on May 1, 1848 and all tax-paying citizens, including peasants, were eligible to vote.

Both Valdenaires were selected as electors for this Prussian National Assembly in Berlin.  But from May 2 to 3, 1848, both became involved in the uprising in Trier where barricades were erected and fighting against the military took place. Nicholas Valdenaire, who was chosen by popular vote as an elector for the Prussian National Assembly could not perform his offices.  As of 8 May when the electors came together to elect the deputies to the Prussian National Assembly, he was already wanted by the police and had fled across the border.

Viktor Valdenaire had also fled across the Prussian border to escape prosecution.  Unlike his father, Viktor assumed it would be safe to return when the Prussian National Assembly had its first meeting.  His status as a deputy would give him what we might call "diplomatic immunity."  However, he was arrested on May 10 and charged with trying to overthrow the lawful government; a crime which might bring the death penalty for treason.  He was jailed in Trier for two months; but during the indictment process, his crime was reduced to rebellion. The arrest process was only a pretext of the powerful to keep the lead revolutionaries from participating in the National Assembly, and many other electors were treated in the same manner.

While Viktor Valdenaire was shut up in prison, the National Assembly went into session.  Members were enraged, especially after reading a newspaper article in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung by Karl Marx about the actual reason for Viktor Valdenaire's arrest.  The National Assembly deputies insisted that detainees must attend Assembly meetings as a member of the Assembly and went even one step further. They introduced and voted on the immunity law still in effect in Germany today. It ensured every deputy's protection from prosecution as long as he holds that office.

Victor Valdenaire was released from the Trier jail late on the evening of July 23, 1848, and he returned to Roscheider Hof. Three days later, the citizens of Trier organized a folk festival for him. In his speech he stressed that he considered it his duty to travel to Berlin, because even though some of his fellow sufferers were languishing in prison, he wanted to stand up for their freedom and fight for the principle of popular sovereignty.  He was present when the National Assembly met again on August 8 and 9, 1848 but he soon grew frustrated at the lack of progress being made.  As the meetings of the Assembly went on with ever greater amounts of time between each one, he turned over his position as deputy to the man who had been elected to serve as his alternate.

The Prussian Emperor and his ministers used many delaying tactics over and over, and they also schemed to divide the moderates and liberals of the National Assembly. The revolutionary groups could not hold together.  By late in 1849, the German Revolution, begun with much promise, had changed from a raging battle to a flickering spark which could not catch fire again.

The bad end of the Revolution and all hope of a change of circumstances took away Viktor Valdenaire's enthusiastic interest in politics. With the death of his father from the terrible cholera epidemic that overtook the Saarburg area in July of 1849, he sought to sell the increasingly dilapidated Roscheider Hof.  He finally succeeded in 1864 and spent the rest of his life in Trier where he ran the family factory.

As you see, the years 1848 and 1849 were filled with turbulence.  Many of the people who lived in Kreis Saarburg  were caught up in the chaotic times.  As the revolution played out in 1848 and 1849, my ancestor Johann Meier was in his early twenties, and very likely he was at the barricades in Trier or with the farmers who showed their daring by wrecking government toll stations and cutting trees in the imperial forest.  At the same time, he was seeking my great-great grandmother's hand in marriage.   It was an inopportune time for courtship by a young rebel and their marriage was forbidden by his beloved Magdalena's father (or so the family story goes).   The two young people did marry when Magdalena ran away from home to do it, and 12 years later Johann and Magdalena had the daring to emigrate to a new land where they could find the civil freedoms that eluded them when the German Revolution of 1848 failed.  I believe they were both, in their own way, as much revolutionaries as the Valdenaires.

Where were your German ancestors in 1848?


Rudolf Müller, Geschichte der Stadt Saarburg im 19. and 20. Jahrhunder" in "Saarburg; Geschichte einer Stadt," 1991
The Revolution of 1848. 
"Popular Culture and the Public Sphere in the Rhineland 1800-1850."  James M. Brophy
"Valdenaire" in German version of Wikipedia
Serrig; "Landschaft,  Geschichte & Geschichten." Klaus Hammächer, 2002
Sheehan, James, "German History 1770-1866: The Oxford History of Modern Europe," 1994

Saar-Obermosel Touristik E. V.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Emigrants Setting Sail: Questions and Answers

City and Port of Antwerp Belgium

Steamship Leaves Le Havre (ebay postcard)
Ever since I wrote blog posts about the trip to America from the Port of Le Havre in France, I have gotten related questions. One reader asked how long it would have taken his ancestor to reach New York after setting sail from New York. Another reader wondered how an immigrant ancestor might have gotten from Kreis Saarburg to the port at Antwerp. There was a question about what conditions German immigrants encountered if they arrived in New York before the immigrant station at Castle Garden was created. 

Why not answer some of those questions from letters that immigrants sent back home to family and friends. I have chosen to take excerpts from a few of those letters which touched on the questions I had received. Who better qualified to write about their experiences than the individuals who made the trip to the New World. 

Two of the letter writers traveled by sailing ship in the 1840s when Antwerp was the most convenient port of departure for emigrants from Kreis Saarburg and the Rhineland.   Many other letters from this time period must have been similar.

Letter 1 

Excerpts from the first letter were written by Michael Rodenkirch, a German emigrant and one of the first settlers in the Village of St. Michaels, Wisconsin. The unincorporated community of Saint Michaels is located partially in the town of Kewaskum in Washington County Wisconsin. You can read the full text at: 

"State of West Konsin 
December 26, 1846 

Dearest Mother, All Sisters and Brothers, Brothers and Sisters-in-law, relatives and Acquantances: 
Sincere Greetings to you All! 

Thanks to God we are all well and hope the same of you. I do hope that by now you have received my letter of Oct. 22, telling you where we have finally landed. Should you have received this letter, I hope that news from you is on the way. I will tell you again briefly about our trip... 

Emigrants to America generally pay half fare from Cochem to Coblenz, 10 silver Groschen; from Coblenz to Coeln, 20 silver Groschen; from Coeln to Antwerp by railway, two dollars per adult person, older than 10 or 12 years, children below that age pay half fare, and babies under one year travel free. From Antwerp to New York adults pay 80 francs while minors pay 70 francs... 

Should you plan to undertake the trip to America, make sure that you are on time at the depot or dock, as neither ships nor train will wait a minute for you - they are gone like a shot. Whoever makes the trip will be impressed with the omnipotence of God. It is still impossible for me to describe our voyage adequately. We were enroute 75 days. Back home we always thought that England was far, far away, but after five days of travel we were nearing the English coast and after 10 days we were alongside Scotland and Ireland; after that we were soon out in the open sea. This shows the speed of our ship. On the ocean we were for 55 days. High waves often dashed our ship. The slant of our ship often made it impossible to stand without hanging onto something. At times gusts of wind almost threatened to overturn our ship, but like a floating egg, it would always right itself. The last ten days we sailed along the American shores and then entered the world famous, beautiful New York harbor. We remained in New York for a day... 

For your sea voyage make your own "zweiback" and take along sufficient oatmeal and wheat flour. If you can obtain potatoes, use them for your vegetable. Also carry along ham, butter, brandy, spices, coffee, sugar, and whatever else you might like to eat on your trip across the sea, for on the sea your money will not buy you anything. If you plan on traveling through the woods here, bring several pairs of boots and shoes and durable clothes; also bring waffle iron and cake pan... 

From New York you should acquire passage on steamship to Albany. From Albany to Buffalo you may travel by "Ralter," perhaps ferry or railway. From Buffalo you travel again by steamboat to "Milwaukee in West Konsin." Trip from New York to Albany costs 4 shilling, or 20 silver groschen; from Albany to Buffalo costs 5-6 dollars, from Buffalo to Wisconsin by steamship costs 6 dollars. At each place "veradkirdiert," [register or be recorded?] anew and do not trust every German thieving trickster approaching you as exchange agent; these people are usually bad characters... 

We had made arrangement for passage to Chicago, however, we went ashore at Milwaukee on Lake Michigan, 80 miles above Chicago. We live now 40 miles northeast of Milwaukee in Town 12, Range 19, Section 13. We are all well satisfied here, have good land, and none molest us... 

The trip across the ocean took 52 days; despite storm and high waves, thanks to God, all went well. The trip through America to Milwaukee took us 18 days. Whoever makes this trip had better take good care of his money. With us there were people from Brohl on the Maihfeld who were robbed of 2,200 dollars in Albany. Their plight was great as they could only travel a short distance... 

I greet you a hundred thousand times and remain. 

Your sincere brother, 
Michael Rodenkirch" 

Letter 2 

This letter was transcribed verbatim by historian Josef Mergen, a dedicated researcher on emigration from the Rhineland to the United States. The source is the book 
 Copies are in German and are available on interlibrary loan at public and university libraries.  

Milwaukee, Wisconsin 1846 
Dear Cousins, Brothers, Sister-in-law! 

Because we are so far from one another, so that we may no longer talk with one another, I have decided to report my words to you in written fashion and to describe my journey, my present situation, the land, the crops, how house and homes are built, to the best of my ability. 

I will tell you about the pleasant, as well as the unpleasant, exactly as I have experienced them. 

We departed from Antwerp on the 21st of May (1846) and went as far as Vlissignen (Netherlands). Here we anchored and made a brief pause. From this point on, we could no longer anchor due to the depth of water....dear God, what an incredible amount of water! Here one sees nothing but sky and water, it appears as if the entire world were water. 

On the 30th of May, we had a beautiful day. We caught a shark and I had ever so much fun. But my fun was soon found an end. From the 1st to the 4th of June, we had storms. The ship began to roll; all chests had to be tightly bound; pots rolled from one corner to another, beds fell together, one couldn't walk or even stand. The incredble waves threatened to overwhelm us. Then we were all sick. This lasted until the 14th of June. Then we were again revived. Your brother Joseph was perfectly healthy. He had to take care of us and cook. 

On the 1st of July (the 40th day of our ocean journey) we first saw the American land. The joy that I felt then, I will never be able to describe to you. At about 9:00, a ship came to get us and by 12:00, we were in New York. As I left the ship, I wanted to walk on land. I felt as if the earth moved, I mean America, swung (he still had sea legs) 

Now we have passed one station of suffering (by that, I mean the difficulties of the ocean journey), which I will never be able to fully describe to you. 

We were now in New York, a big, beautiful city which encompasses more industry than did all of Prussia.

On the 21st (of July) we left New York by steamship. On the 3rd (of August) we arrived in Albany. There we got into a train and rode until Buffalo. There we waited one day. we again left via steamboat and journeyed over Lake Erie and Lake Michigan until we arrived in Milwaukee. On the 16th we arrived in Milwaukee. We had achieved our goal...

Johann Schroeder, Milwaukee
Territorium Wisconsin, N.A

There are three reasons that I chose the last two letters.  1) The emigrant in each case was young and single, 2) the voyages to America took place by steamship rather than sailing ship, and 3) The true ocean travel of each emigrant's journey was out of the port at Le Havre, but Le Havre was reached by an unusual circuitous route.  In one case, the New York Passenger List for the ship probably stated that all passengers left Europe from the port of Hamburg but did not mention a stop in Le Havre.  Did this steamship pick up additional passengers there? If so, were those people listed as starting their journey in Hamburg?

Letter 3

Barbara Klinger was a 20 year old country girl who wanted to go to New York and find work as a domestic servant.  In letters exchanged between Barbara's father in Wuerttenberg and his son-in-law, Franz Schano who lived in New York and was married to Barbara's sister, the young woman's trip was carefully arranged.  Packing details and travel options were discussed in an exchange of letters.  In one of the letters, Franz Schano told Barbara's father that there was a choice of a ticket - with food provided or a passenger bringing food themselves.  He did not know which would be more economical and left it up to Barbara's father to decide.  It was decided that Barbara would bring her own food.  Barbara's sister instructed her to fill two potato sacks with enough food for a "simmen" which was about the measurement of two bushel baskets. The brother-in-law in New York arranged for Barbara to get her passage and sent her a ticket document and 15 gulden which would pay for extra fees she would encounter as she traveled.  She was to give the ticket document to the travel agent in Mannheim.  In return she would receive three travel tickets, the first was for the steamship from Mannheim to Rotterdam, the second from Rotterdam to Havre, and the third from Havre to New York.  As complicated as the land travel was, Barbara had no difficulties.  Safely in the home of her sister, she wrote the following: 

New York
July 16, 1851

Dear parents and brothers and sisters,

I want to let you know what kind of journey I had to New York.  On the 18th we boarded a sailing ship, from Havre to New York.  I was at sea for 26 days on the ship, there were 725 persons with the sailors and we only had a storm once.  But it was nothing compared to the voyage Mari had, the ship had 3 decks and one cellar completely under water, the people slept in the 2 lower ones and in the two higher ones there are two kitchens, two toilets, two stalls, and another stall for cows, there was one cow and in the back there is another small room, where the mates and the 3 cooks who cook for the sailors they were blacks, one had his wife along, she was a black too, and the ship was named Wilhelm Tell, it is one of the biggest ships that go between Havre and New Jork and even when the wind was strong it can't throw it around like the little one, it also rolls more, such a big ship on the ocean is like a nutshell swimming in the lake at Korb.

Letter 4

Wilhelm Buerkert was a teenager of 16 when he left his apprenticeship in his home village of Waldenburg in Wuerttemberg.   Both of his parents were dead but his father had been relatively well to do.  Now, with only a stepmother and a guardian, he seems to have been at odds with his stepfamily and he was permitted to emigrate to America.  It seems that the money for a ticket and some additional cash were given to him.  His youth comes across clearly in his rambling first letter home.  The excerpts I chose are a very small part of what he wrote.

New York, 
IX 29, 1875
Dear mother, grandparents, sisters, and honorable guardian,
Praise be to the Lord, etc., that is the first hymn that we can strike up, for you can count yourself lucky to have arrived here safely, especially when you hear that at the same time our ship left, on the same water, no less than 3 ships sank from running into one another in the fog.

So, let us turn our attention to the journey. In Heilbronn there was a one-hour stop, then straight on to Heidelberg. Here there was time to see the main sights. Then on, after refreshing yourself, to Frankfurt. Here after getting all your things at Mr. Treschof's, the emigration agent's, which cost a lot of money as well, you were taken to an inn, "zum goldenen Adler" (Golden Eagle). Oh, to hell with that food and those beds, bedbug covers, not featherbeds, just a miserable mattress with torn sheets, and awfully expensive...

In Frankfurt we left on a Sunday at 8 o'clock in the morning and arrived the next morning at 3 o'clock at a station where we had to spend the night sleeping on the benches in the waiting room, until the train left at 6 o'clock the next morning...

We were in Hamburg in 2 hours time. We were brought by coach to our inn to the Gasthaus zum suddeutschen Hof (South German Guesthouse). Here we spent 2 nights...

On Wednesday the 15th of September...we got on a nice small steamship. In two hours we were out of the Elbe...we were met by a ship like you can't imagine, with 2 big smokestacks...The next morning everyone was already seasick. For on the open sea the ship rolls terribly. It goes as fast as an express train...

On the 17th of September we arrived in the French city of Havre. In this port there was a 24-hour stop. We were allowed to get off. We looked around this really lovely, large and luxurious city. On Sept. 18th at 10 o'clock in the morning, we departed. But thenout on the Atlantic Ocean the ship really started to roll and the waves went clear up to the helmsman...

The last few days we had such a storm that you couldn't stand up or lie down. The trunks we had with us were tied down. The last night we had fog. On the 27th of Sept., or on the Monday, you couldn't see anything at all for 2 nights, the ship went very slowly. The steamwhistles were blown a lot. All at once at 9 o'clock they called out excitedly, Hurray, the pilot. He was coming toward us in a small boat. He had to guide us through the reefs off shore and in through the straits. It was a chief helmsman--almost like a ship's officer. At 4 in the morning we heard land-land. And that is a sight, oh splendid. We were in Stett-Neuland (Staten Island). Here the anchor was cast...

(Wilhelm Buerkert did not sign his name to the letter but ended it with "Your thankful son, grandson and brother.--Greetings, too, to Gustav

These last two letters were taken from a 1991 book entitled "News from the Land of Freedom: German Immigrants Write Home" edited by Walter D. Kamphoefner, Wolfgang Helbich, and Ulrike Sommer and translated by Susan Carter Vogel.

To the best of my knowledge, none of my immigrant ancestors wrote home, but I still dream that someday, somewhere in a German archive or attic, there will be letters like these to people still living in the villages of Kreis Saarburg, and I will find them!

"News from the Land of Freedom: German Immigrants Write Home" edited by Walter D. Kamphoefner, Wolfgang Helbich, and Ulrike Sommer and translated by Susan Carter Vogel, Cornell University Press, 1988, 1991

Mergen, Josef, "Die Amerika-Auswanderung aus dem Kreise Saarburg" (The American Emigration from the County of Saarburg).  Part of the book, Die Amerika-Auswanderung aus dem Regierungsbezirk Trier / 2. Die Amerika-Auswanderung aus dem Kreise Saarburg.  Metzdorf, 1952