Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Time to be Thankful

St. Gervasius and Protasius Church in Irsch

There is always more to learn and to share with you.  I haven't done much of that during this past year. The reason my blog has been so inactive was my resolution to finish the book I am writing in 2016.  The end of 2016 is approaching quickly.  But there will not be any information about that until my December blog post.

Because of the holiday we celebrated today, Thanksgiving, I want to show a similar German custom that I had observed in Irsch and participated in when I rented an apartment in Saarburg.  I never thought there might be a historic explanation of either.  The German customs I took no notice of are a part of a celebration called Erntedankfest.

I would never have known there was more to the picture above if I had not read an article from the very useful "German Language Blog."  So I am thankful that "Erntedankfest German Thanksgiving" enlightened me to the historical aspects. The following comes directly from that blog post:

"First, the breakdown of the word. ‘Ernte’ means harvest, while ‘Dank’ comes from ‘Danke’, meaning thank you, and ‘Fest’ is German for festival or celebration. The word Erntedankfest therefore translates to ‘Harvest thank festival’. So Erntedankfest is a harvest festival where you express thanks for the food you have received throughout the year!"
"If you live in the USA, this will sound very similar to Thanksgiving. In the USA, Thanksgiving has become a secular holiday centred around food and family get-togethers – but in Germany it is still a rather religious occasion, centred around church services and giving thanks for the land-grown vegetation – the maize, corn, fruit and vegetables – that have fed everyone for another year."
"Erntedankfest is usually celebrated on the first Sunday in October, though this date can vary from region to region."
Photo by jeurgen-tesch on 
"Typically, the day includes a church service, a procession, the presenting of an Erntekrone (harvest crown), then food, drink and music, and an evening torchlight procession through the town. Church altars are decorated with wreaths, flowers and fruit, and Blasmusik (music played with brass/wind instruments) is played at these services and during the processions."

Closeup of the Entdenkfest altar in Irsch 
"Some towns and cities hold farmers’ markets selling fresh produce, and bring along their tractors or horses for the local people to see. It is basically a celebration of the land and of all things agricultural! There are also often lots of activities for kids at these Erntedankfest celebrations, so they are well worth getting involved with if you happen to be in Germany around late September/early October."
When I attended the "Golden Autumn" in Saarburg in 2010, and when I saw the mosaic made of vegetable materials in the church at Irsch, that was a piece of Germany's traditional Thanksiving, not just a an autumn entertainment or an interesting mosaic.  It was a traditional way of giving thanks to God for the bounty of the earth.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Family History Surprises

Once my 2nd great grandparent's farmhouse, (left front)
This is what it looked like at the end of WWII

As you may have noticed - at least I hope someone did - that I have not written a blog post for quite a long time.  It's time to explain.  A sciatica attack made sitting, difficult.   I just could not sit at a computer and capture ideas.

While I was recuperating, I got a communication that reminded me, once again, of the close bonds and relationships among people who lived in small villages like Irsch.  Many of us, who do not know each other and who are widely scattered all over the US or the world, could trace our roots to a small town in Germany and find big surprises.  (This might be an interesting idea for a genealogy television program.)

Here are three of my surprises.  Each one delighted me.


A comment came from a reader who preferred to be anonymous so I won't quote it exactly.  But this person said that my ancestors, Johann and Magdalena Meier, sailed on the same ship, the Rattler, as her great grandfather, Jacob Fisch and his parent; and all settled in St. John, Calumet County, Wisconsin.  That was not a surprise to me.  But then she listed other surnames on her family tree.  One of those surnames, Probst, and their dwelling place in Calumet County, Wisconsin, matched another of my ancestors' names although my great grandfather John Probst had no relationship to Johann and Magdalena Meier.  The connection between the Meier and the Probst surnames came together when my mother said "I do" to my dad.  I didn't expect a comment about the Bavarian side of my family tree from a reader of my blog posts about the Rhineland.

The Meier House as it looks today


When I decided to write a novel about my Rhineland ancestors,  Ewald Meyer of Irsch, Germany was a wonderful helper in my search for information about the customs and history of Irsch and other small villages in the area.  After a long search I finally learned the location of my Meier ancestors' home and property in Irsch in the years before they emigrated to America.

Herr Meyer went to that location and took photos of the building as it exists today.  He also learned that it was remodeled by a Herr Britten, another previous owner and again by Alfons Fisch.   Herr Meyer, as always, took an extra step.  He contacted Herr Fisch and explained my interest in the old Meier property.  To my surprise, the architectural plans for remodeling the Meier house still existed.  I have copies of them.

And one final surprise.  Herr Alfons Fisch is a direct descendant of Jacob and Magdalena Fisch who sailed to New York with Johann and Magdalena Rauls on the ship Rattler.  Herr Fisch has his residence right across the street from the former Meier property that now also belongs to him.


 Coincidence in Village of Irsch

Several years ago, I got an interesting e-mail about one of my blog posts, not from a family historian but because of a picture I had taken in Irsch and used in that post.  The couple who saw it wrote to me because it was the house of the husband's grandmother who still was living in that house.  They asked how I had come to know their "Oma Tilly."  Actually, I didn't know who lived in that house.  I was taking pictures to illustrate houses built wall to wall, and this was an excellent example.

We continued our e-mailing for awhile.  When the Oma (grandma) Tilly, whose maiden name was Weber, learned that my ancestors had immigrated to Wisconsin from Irsch, she asked, via her grandson, if any of my ancestors had the surname "Weber."  Yes, my 3rd great grandmother from Irsch was a Weber.  However Weber is a very common name, and I didn't know if there was any link between us.  That didn't faze Oma Tilly.  She said, "If they were Webers and they came from Irsch, we are related."  Her grandson and his wife got into the spirit and from that time on considered me their relative.  They even invited me to their 25th wedding anniversary anniversary celebration.  I was delighted to be asked and wish I could have gone.

Oma Tilly, age 93, and Bernie, her grandson
Are we really related?  I hope so.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Walking with the Immigrant Ancestors

The New York Times, 1861

The most popular posts I have written have been about the German emigrants’ travel from their home city or village to the Atlantic Port of Le Havre or their letters about the trip to people back in Europe. I may have said before that the Le Havre passenger list roll is one of the most sought after documents for the descendants of French, German, and Swiss immigrants. It is almost totally accepted that the Le Havre passenger lists have been destroyed but somehow the word hasn't gotten out to a lot of genealogical seekers.

Many of the comments or e-mails I’ve received from genealogical searchers who were looking for the actual Le Havre lists do thank me for painting a word picture of the struggles that confronted an emigrant family on their way to the port of Le Havre. It made them so much more aware that their immigrant ancestors were real people facing great difficulties even after they made their decision to leave their homes for an unknown land.

But what about the journey once the immigrant families' feet touched the earth of what was to be their new country.

I was looking through my genealogical files a few days ago when I found some notes that I made not too long after I started writing the Meier-Rauls family history. On the front page of the New York Times I had found what month and day their ship, the Rattler, had arrived in the Port of New York. The group of people from Irsch, including my ancestors, took their first steps on American soil at the Castle Garden receiving station, the place where the City of New York made a concerted effort to help immigrants feel welcome in their new country. To me, that date was a major event - 9 May 1861.   That arrival determined I would be born an American citizen instead of a dweller in one of the villages on the Sigfreid Line during World War II.

I wanted to see what other newsworthy events had happened on May 9, 1861 in addition to the arrival of the ancestors.  My 2nd great grandparents and the other passengers, most of them Germans, disembarked from a ship that had been sailing for 32 days right at the beginning of the Civil War in America.  On May 9, some southern states were still deciding whether to secede from the Union. Did my Ancestors know of that when they came ashore? Whether or not they did, they could not have missed seeing a great many soldiers on the streets of New York.  There were signs posted at Castle Garden, written in German, that offered money to young German men who were willing to enlist in the Union Army.

I read the pages of the New York Times for May 9 and 10, 1861. Here are a few things that the New York Times believed were worthy of a story, happenings which may or may not have attracted the attention of my ancestors and the other immigrants from Irsch as they walked out of Castle Garden and on to the sidewalks of New York. I can imagine them seeing sights that made them wonder if there were more difficulties ahead than they had anticipated, difficulties that would keep them from their final destinations in Ohio, Pennsylvania,Wisconsin or any other states, especially southern states like Texas.

Men and women were standing on street corners, collecting money for the men who were about to be placed in harm's way by the Civil War. The New York Times warned in that morning's edition of the newspaper that the majority of these people were swindlers. However, maybe the new arrivals  thought that their new country had many beggars, contrary to what they had been told about the wealth in America.

Volunteers for the Union Army, perhaps in uniform or perhaps in their ordinary clothes, marched along the sidewalk. Those men could have been the Wisconsin volunteers who, the Time says, arrived in New York that very day. Wisconsin was the state all of the Irsch immigrants had as their destination. Did the two groups, one at their destination as soldiers, the other on their way to be farmers in the state the soldiers had just left, meet along those very streets?  Did they talk to these former countrymen?

There were boxes containing 3,600 military garments that had been made by the famous Brooks Brothers New York store on the corner of Grand and Broadway. They consisted of coats, jackets, and pantaloons.*  These had been carefully folded, packed for delivery and were being loaded onto wagons and sent off that morning. The Times does not say where they were being taken. Did the immigrant group from Trier peer at the wagons, wagons that were probably very different than those they used in their former villages. Did they wonder what was in all of those boxes?

On May 10, the New York Times editorial called for three-year volunteers to be trained, especially new arrivals from a number of specific places; men who were "thoroughly drilled who have seen action in Schleswig Holstein, in Baden, in Italy, in Hungary and in the Crimea. The laws of their country required the most constant drill. They are hardy and vigorous men." There were immigrants from Baden on the Ship Rattler.

Prussia also had universal conscription. From what I've found in my research, many men from Prussia were probably not as desirable as U.S. soldiers.   Since the Prussians considered many of them too short to wear the uniform of the Prussian emperor, Prussian peasant farmers were freed from military service if they were shorter than 5' 2".

To have your ancestors come alive. check the day they arrived in the United States in 1846 or 1873 or some other year.  If you can find a local newspaper from the day of their arrival; or a story on the web from a major newspaper on the day those ancestors made their way along the streets of New York or New Orleans, or Montreal Canada.  Walk with them for awhile. You will learn a lot.

*Historical men's close-fitting breeches fastened below the calf or at the foot.

New York Times, May 9 and 10
Engels, Friedrich, The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party