What would it be like to spend typical days, from morning to night, with German ancestors who lived in the mid 1800s? How did they think and act, these people from whom we descended, and what would it be like to listen in on their conversations and even their thoughts and dreams long before they came to America?
That's what I wondered almost from the first moment I found genealogical and cultural history sources in Germany. Writing House of Johann brought my ancestors and their neighbors alive for me, and I hope for everyone who reads their story.
1) To make it easier to find the details that often got lost in my rather poor filing system as I started the novel about the life of my peasant farmer ancestors who lived in the villages of Oberzerf and Irsch in Kreis Saarburg in the Rhineland.
2) To share my knowledge of Kreis Saarburg farming culture and about the historical period peasant farmers lived in. I knew how much trouble and how many years it had taken me to learn German and then collect difficult-to-find information. Others might not be able to find this information, especially those things written in German (most of them), nor would they have the opportunity to make several European trips. I didn't want what I had worked hard to find to be lost to anyone with a desire to learn the same thing.
I had begun my research with the idea of looking for novels, memoirs, or biographies in English. When I came up blank, I resigned myself to the idea of finding literature written in German, even though the amount of German I was learning was pretty limited. Surprise! Searching in bookstores in Germany turned up very little. It was not the language. Peasant farmers or craftsmen just weren't important enough to be written about, Although Germany lost thousands of these people to immigration from ports like Le Havre in France in the 1800s and although one in four people in the U.S. have some German blood, no one ever thought them important enough to write about. They themselves were working for a better life. There was no time to both bring in the flax crop and then write a memoir before bedtime.
It was the locally published village histories that had the kind of facts I was looking for. And it was the people in those villages who had bought a copy who were willing to loan them to me or knew where I could buy them. Eventually I had a faily good pile of books and a description of the Rhineland culture and customs of the 1800s.
After 11 years of research, much of which I have shared on this blog, I have just published my novel, HOUSE OF JOHANN on January 16 of this year. The picture above is a copy of the book cover as it appears on Amazon. Here is a short description from the back cover:
The year is 1827. Johann Rauls, a land-owning farmer lives with his family in the small village of Oberzerf in Germany’s Rhineland. Johann and his wife Maria are preparing for their best Christmas in several years. Even in an age of frequent childhood deaths, all of their six children are healthy, happy, and awaiting an exciting Christmas season which will be followed in three or four weeks by the birth of a new brother or sister. There is much to look forward to and be grateful for.
No one is prepared for a threatening event on the eve of Christmas. It pushes away all thoughts of the holiday celebration, and serves as a precursor to another tragedy that will bring a long period of grief and regret to all of their lives. This carefully researched historical novel of an actual Rhineland family imparts both their times of happiness and pain as almost 20 years pass. It also paints a picture of the class to which they belong, the peasant farmers who carried much of the weight of supporting their homeland on their shoulders, but whose absorbing life stories with their importance to history are almost never told.
If you have enjoyed my blog posts, I think you will enjoy the story of the early years of the Johann Rauls family in the novel "HOUSE OF JOHANN." If you choose to read this book, it may help you understand just how human and interesting the people on your own family group sheets probably are and how much uncertainty and struggle was contained in their everyday lives.
SOURCES: For any readers whose ancestors came from the area near France, Luxembourg, or Germany near the Saar and Mosel (Moselle in France) and are interested in some of the locally published resources I used, this is the list. Some may be out of print but still available at local tourist offices in the larger cities or in the possession of the mayor in the villages. However, they will be in German:
*Croon, Maria. DIE DORFSTRASSE; EINE BUNTE HEIMATCHRONIK, 2 vols., .Saarbrücker Druckerei und Verlag, 1990.
*SAARBURG; GESCHICHTE EINER STADT, Stadt Saarburg, 5510 Saarburg, 1991.
*Mayer, Ewald. IRSCH/SAAR; Geschichte eines Dorfes, Gemeinde Irsch, 2002
*Hammächer, Claus et al. SERRIG; LANDSCHAFT GESCHICHTE UND GESCHICHTEN, Gemeinde Serrig und der Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Landesgeschichte und Volkskunde des Trierer Raumes, 2002
Many of the peasant farmers of the villages of Oberzerf and Irsch in Kreis Saarburg emigrated through the Port of Le Havre in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, including two of my ancestors. They settled in the village of St. John, Calumet County Wisconsin.