Meier-Rauls, Part I

Historical Novel of Magdalena Rauls
and her family in 1800s
JOHANN MEIER, 1825-1896                         

My blog posts are focused on the villages of ancestors of the Rhineland: the ceremonies and customs, the historical happenings that shaped the present and future events.

Instead, this page is the place where I do my best to keep track of the family story of Johann Meier and Magdalena Rauls from their births until the time they stepped aboard the ship that would take them to America.  The next two pages which will appear in the near future will continue their story

Since this page is mostly for my use, it is not carefully edited for readability and may be confusing, but the dates, names and places are all correct to the best of my ability.

Johann Meier,  Early Years

Johann Meier was born on Monday, October 19, 1825. His baptism, on that same day, was recorded in the Taufenbuch (baptismal register) of Irsch, a small village in the Landkreis of Saarburg near Trier, Germany on October, 1825. Johann Weber (his maternal grandfather) and Magdalena Steffes (his paternal grandmother) of Irsch were his godparents. His parents were Mathias Maier, a farmer in the village and Maria Margaretha Weber. They had been married for just nine months when Johann was born.

Johann's paternal grandparents were Michael Meier and Magdalena Meier, born Steffes. Johann Weber and Margaretha Britten were his maternal grandparents

Several younger brothers and sisters became part of the Meier family after Johann was born. Anna Meier, was born and baptized on February 26, 1829. Her godparents were Michael Maier and Anna Marx of Irsch. *Mathias Maier was born on December 11, 1830 with Mathias Klein and Appolonia Weber as his baptismal sponsors (died 18 Jan.1831) Michael Maier was born on August 31 of 1832. His godparents were Michael Wagener and Susanna Wettstein of Irsch.  *Peter Maier was born October 3, 1834. His Taufpatin and Patin were Peter Maier and Margaretha Klein. was not a fortunate name for the boys in this family.  He died 24 Apr. 1838.  The second Mathias was born 24 July 1837.  Sadly, he too died early, at the age of 11 on 29 Aug. 1848.

Young Johann undoubtedly went to school in the schoolhouse on the Irsch/Biest border. There were so many children enrolled in the Irsch parish school, newly built in 1828, that by 1833 a second teacher was hired. The principal subjects were writing, arithmetic, and Bible instructions.

Irsch had become a part of Prussia after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 and there was finally peace in the Saar region. In spite of the peace that had finally come to the Rhineland, there was another killer. Sicknesses such as typhus and scarlet fever were prevalent during the 1830's, and many children died from diphtheria. Perhaps one of these illnesses was the cause of the deaths, in 1831 and 1838, of little Mathias Maier at the age of one and of Peter Maier at age three. Many children of the poorer farmers, known as Kleinbauern, died before they reached the age of ten. The mid-twenties were bad harvest years in Kreis Saarburg. The poorer people ate mostly bread made of potatoes. Some stole wood and poached in order to survive.

In 1844, the "Holy Robe" of Christ was displayed in the Cathedral in Trier. The robe, thought to be the seamless garment which Christ wore on the day of his crucifixion, supposedly was given to the Bishop of Trier by the Mother of the Emperor Constantine. It was rarely displayed to the public, and the event brought a great number of pilgrims through the Saar villages as they made their way to Trier. Perhaps the Maiers also were able to see this object of great religious devotion; Johann was nineteen, Magdalena Rauls, who would become Johann's wife, was 17, so both old enough to join one of the many pilgrimages organized by the priests in village parishes.  Perhaps they met.

Peter and Michael Meier, Johann’s uncles must have lived with Johann’s parents during his youth. The barnhouse was on the main road between Saarburg, the capital of the Landkreis, only a stone's throw from the Catholic Church of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius. In 1847, his youngest uncle, Peter, married a widow from Freudenberg, Catharine Jacobi Hild. She had lost a young husband and child almost immediately after they had begun their family. Freudenberg is on the west side of the Saar and it is not known how Peter came to meet this young widow or why they had a dispensation to marry during the Advent season, which was not usually allowed. Peter then lived at Freudenberg for the rest of his life. Johann’s Uncle Michael never married. His father Mathias, his uncle Michael, along with Johann and his brother Michael, probably worked the family farm land together even after Johann too was old enough to marry. In 1849, Johann at age 23, did marry Magdalena Rauls of Oberzerf.

Magdalena Rauls and Her Family - Early Years

Magdalena Rauls was the daughter of Johann Rauls, a farmer, and his wife Maria born Kautenberger. Magdalena was a Christmas baby, born December 25, 1827. Since a child was always named after the godparent who was of the same sex, and since the Rauls family was larger than the average, little Magdalena (probably called Lenchen - little Lena) was the second living Magdalena in her family. Her godparents were Mathias Sehr and Magdalena Merz Rauls. Lena was the youngest of eleven children. Her mother died in 1833 when Lena was not quite six years old.

The Oberzerf Church records show that the Rauls family had lived in this tiny Rheinland village for at least four generations. My own grandmother's story, that Magdalena was French and ran away from home to avoid marriage to a more affluent man she didn't love, seems to be without much foundation. However, Magdalena was married in Irsch, her husband's parish, which could mean she had indeed run away, but only from Oberzerf. Whether the Rauls family of earlier centuries had ever lived in France isn't known, since church or civil records cannot be found, but her great grandfather had a large estate and may have benefited from a land grant or significant land purchase during what was known as "the time of the French" during Napoleon's rule of this part of Germany.

On April 21, 1834, six months after her mother’s death, the elder Magdalena wed Johann Rauls, the son of Peter Rauls and Catharine Muller. The two were first cousins and their marriage required a special dispensation.

Lenchen probably went to the school in Zerf, about three-quarters of a mile away from Oberzerf. The school population increased significantly by the 1830s and a second teacher, Nickolau Trapp was hired for the upper grades. Thus Magdalena was one of his pupils. The church in Oberzerf was actually a chapel dedicated to St Wendalinus, the parish church in Zerf had St. Sebastian as its patron.

In 1839 when Lenchen was 12, her sister Anna Maria married Nicholas Marx, a young farmer, in the church at Hentern about five mile away, and the two lived in the smaller village of Paschel nearby. 

In the 1840's, one bad harvest year followed after another but marriages in the Rauls family do not seem to have been affected by it. By the end of the 1840's, all of the Rauls children were married . On January 27, 1842 Mathias (Mattes) Rauls married Elizabeth Meyer of Oberzerf, the daughter of Nicholas Meyer and Lucia Elz.  Elizabeth's father is listed as a farmer and "Gutsbesitzer, Kalfertshaus," and he remarried at the end of the 1842.

Elizabeth Rauls, was the next member of the family to marry.  She became the second wife of Nikolaus Berk of Heddert.  They were married in the Catholic church of Schillingen on October 20, 1842

Mathias (Thais) Rauls married Maria Wagner in Oberzerf on January 20, 1848.  Both are listed as farmers because Maria's father had died in August of 1840.  She was the only child of the family of five who survived to adulthood, and she took over the running of the farm.

Nikolaus Berk died in 1846 leaving Elizabeth Rauls Birk a widow.  Three years later on January 23, 1849 she married Michael Willems, who also came from Heddert.

Less than a month later, on Wednesday, February 14, 1849 Magdalena Rauls married Johann Rauls in the church in Irsch.  They were young to be able to afford to marry.  Johann was 24 and Magdalena had been 22 for only a month and a half.

The Married Life of Johann and Magdalena in Irsch

There is a family story that Johann was a sailor. In the 1800's, according to "Der Hochwald Ort Zerf am Fusse des Hunsrucks," some young men did try to find work in lean times by becoming "helpers" on the boats that sailed the Saar and Mosel rivers. Johann's farm work may have been supplemented by periods of time when he too worked as one of the Halfen.

By the time the couple's first child was born in 1850, Johann's occupation was listed as "farmer" in the parish Baptismal register. A son named Mathias was born on Friday, May 24, 1850 at 7 p.m. and baptized in the Catholic Church the next day. His godparents were his grandfather, Mathias Meyer of Irsch and Magdalena Rauls "born Rauls" of Zerf, the oldest sister of Magdalena Rauls Meier.

Six months later, the infant Mathias’ future wife, Elizabeth Hauser, the oldest daughter of Michael Hauser and Magdalena Schawel of Irsch was born at 10 in the evening on Saturday, December 7, 1850. Michael Hauser, the father, was a newcommer to the village of Irsch. He had been born in Serrig, a village a few miles to the south of Irsch along the Saar River, but at the time he married, he was settled in Irsch and all of his children were born there.

Maria Margaretha Meier, Johann’s mother, was 60 years old when she died at one o'clock in the afternoon on January 27, 1851, Her first grandchild was just seven months old. Maria Margaretha was buried in the cemetery in Irsch on January 30, 1851 and it is likely that Magdalena, Johann's wife, took over all the household chores for her husband and her father-in-law and grandmother-in-law even before Maria Margaretha's death.

There are not many descriptions of the way that people lived in the village of Irsch. However, in neighboring Zerf and Oberzerf where Magdalena grew up and which were only a few miles away, the living conditions in the last half of the 1800's were described like this in the book, "Der Hochwaldort Zerf am Fusse des Hunsrucks" by Edgar Christoffel:

"Most houses were damp...because they had only partial cellars. They were built of quarry stone, one or two stories tall, and had straw roofs. Only the public buildings, such as the mayor's house, the school, and the church had sloping tile roofs. Inside, the house was very simply furnished and rooms other than the kitchen and the 'good room' called the Stube were seldom heated...[There was] an open fireplace where a large log burned. On an iron pole hung the big kettle. Meat was smoked in the open chimney...

Meat could only be kept by smoking it; when meat was eaten during the day, it was smoked and served with sauerkraut. The poorer people seldom had meat on the table. They had buckwheat dumplings with milk. More well off people might have bacon as well. In the evenings fried potatoes with sour milk were frequently eaten.
In the winter evenings, the women busied themselves spinning flax, hemp, and wool. The men smoked their clay pipes... The village streets had a slightly convex, bumpy surface, so that the horses often slipped off the road. In the dark, the men of the village sometimes did the same. Since the streets had no drainage, the water flowed in the gutters when it rained; and since the gutters lay right in front of the houses, the people had to make a huge jump to get across them or lay a plank over them. The waste water and sewage was dumped too...and there was a very unpleasant odor on some streets in the summer. Toilets were little houses with a small cut-out heart on the door. They stood near the manure pile or cesspool. Water came from village wells, although a few people had wells of their own."
When he was an old man, Johann and Magdalena's oldest son Mathias told his own grandchildren a tale of going into village orchard to steal some apples. In his version, the Kaiser came when he heard the noise and looked for Mathias who was hiding but not found. More likely, young Math had been taking apples from the trees on government land.   A descendant of families who have lived in Irsch for generations, says that her father used to talk about “Kaiser apples.” There were several varieties of apple named after a Kaiser. In the past there was hardly an orchard without a "Kaiser Wilhelm" or a "Kaiser Alexander" apple tree. Therefore these two types of apples probably became known just as "Kaiser" or "Kaiserapfel". The orchard there would have been guarded by a forester hired to keep out apple poachers like young Mathias.

According to historian J. Bellot, the first half of the nineteenth century was a time when economic conditions in Germany were very bad. Wages were miserably poor and prices were rising. Factories were replacing the handworkers, and before 1850 there was already heavy migration out of the Trier and Saarburg Districts. Many chose to find a place where they could have land of their own and to be free from high taxes, especially the Klassensteuer, The Trier district also had high church assessments from 1857 onward. By 1840 the government in Trier was beginning to worry about the massive immigration from areas like Merzig and St. Wendel because not only were the dayworkers leaving but also established farmers who had capital.

Magdalena Steffes Maier, Johann’s grandmother, lived on in Irsch for 21 years after her husband died 8 November 1832. Most likely she as well as her sons Mathias and Michael lived with Johann and Magdalena Meier until her death on December 26, 1853 at the age of 76. On that day she had received the "Sacrament of the Dying," according to the church records of Irsch.

The Johann and Magdalena's second child, Anna, was born on May 2, 1852 in Irsch. She was named after her godmother, Anna Meier of Irsch (probably Johann Meier’s only sister). Her godfather was Peter Rauls of Oberzerf.  The third child, Anna Maria Meier was born in Irsch on January 18, 1855. Her godparents were Michael Meier of Irsch and Anna Maria Marx (born Rauls) who lived at Paschel. (This was Magdalena Meier's sister who would give birth to twins, Johanneta and Susanna, a little over five months later on May 31, 1855).

There was a bad harvest in the area that year, so bad that it still affected the villagers the following year. Poverty was widespread, especially for those who did day work or tried to survive through crafts and trades. Residents of Irsch began to leave the village to attempt a better life in America.

Michael Maier, Johann’s brother, was only 24 when he applied for emigration papers on 11 September 1856, saying he wanted to better his life in a new country by joining his sister who had already been there for a year, and that he planned to learn the tailor trade. This sister could only have been Anna Meier, who would have been 27 in 1856 and who disappeared from the parish records of Irsch without any clue.

Perhaps Michael also came in contact with one of the agents who at that time were going through Germany, seeking settlers for Wisconsin. By 1852, a rail line from Forbach (near Saarbrucken) to Havre had been constructed. Now immigrants could travel the Saar River to Saarbrucken and then travel by rail to the port of Le Havre rather than taking a ship from Antwerp. (Mergen, Die Auswanderungen aus den ehemals preussichen Teilen des Saarlandes im 19. Jahrhundert).

Mathias and Elizabeth Meyer Rauls, Magdalena's brother and sister-in-law were the next of the relatives to leave. The couple had at least five children during the time they lived in Oberzerf. Sometime in the early 1850’s, Elizabeth Meyer’s brother, Nikolaus, three years younger than she, left Oberzerf for the new world. By 1855 he had settled in Berry Township in Dane County Wisconsin and had married Margaretha Schneider, who had emigrated to the US on January 5, 1852 (From web site of Bev Ophoven Ewing). By 1857 Mathias and Elizabeth Rauls also emigrated to Dane County.

By 1859, Johann and Magdalena had five children. Little Johann Meier the jounger was born in Irsch at 8 p.m. in the evening on October 17, 1857. His godparents were Johann Marx of Paschel and Margaretha Meier of Irsch. Son Michael was born on November 25, 1859. He was the last Meier child to be born in the Rheinland. His godparents were Michael Feilen of Irsch (Maria Feilen, a single young serving maid, was on the Rattler in 1861; she had an older brother, Michael) and Maria Rauls Wagner of Oberzerf.

Just four days before Michael’s birth, Magdalena’s father, Johann Rauls, had died in Oberzerf. On the day Michael was born, her brother Peter, age 45 and unmarried, also died in Oberzerf.

The losses and changes in John and Magdalena’s lives continued. On February 7, 1860, their five-year-old daughter Anna Maria Meier died. Another entry in the death register was soon to come. On April 18, 1860, Johann’s father Mathias died at the age of 65. Now Johann and Magdalena had many less reasons to stay in Irsch, just as the “America fever” swept the village and more and more people in Irsch began planning to leave the homeland in an effort to better their lives.

The cargo barges went up and down the Saar pulled by horses and a driver who went beside the horse to keep him on the tow path.  They were to have competition when the railroad from Trier to Saarbrucken was finished in May of 1860. This would make the emigration through the port of Le.Havre, France much easier for people in the Kreis Saarburg.

On May 25, 1860, the railroad line connecting Trier with Saarbrucken was officially opened and on the 26th, the Prince-Regent Wilhelm of Prussia rode with his entourage from Saarbrucken toward the city of Trier. The dignitaries riding with him included Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, Duke Ernst von Oldenburg who was the Prefect of Metz, and the Governor of Luxemburg. As the train of 20 cars made its way through the small villages on the eastern side of the Saar River, there was band music played by the local musicians of most of the nearby villages. All of the residents of those villages knew that France and its ports were finally easily available by rail. Hammaecher, Klaus, Serrig: Landschaft, Geschichte and Geschichten, Saarburger Satz and Druck GmbH, Saarburg, 2002)

The way of life that Johann and Magdalena had known was changing: it was the beginning of the end of the Meier family's life in Germany.

Just a few months after Johann and Magdalena left Irsch forever, the stone bridge across the Saar was completed. Before that, anyone coming from Irsch would have to take the ferry to get from Beurig to Saarburg, directly across the river.


  1. I really appreciated and enjoyed your history. My father's ancestors, Lilligs, Koltes and Palms came from that area and emigrated to Dane County WI sometime between 1850 and 1855. I've been trying to research what events drove them all to leave their homeland forever, at that time.

  2. My mother's family came from this area also and settled in Sheboygan and Fond Du Lac counties. I enjoyed reading your history.r

  3. Thank you for taking the time to write your comment, Margaret. It is nice to hear that you enjoyed the history. Many of the people who left Oberzerf for the Town of Berry in Dane County did move again to Fond du Lac County. I have not discovered what drew them north.

  4. Theresa Rauls10:22 PM

    Thank you for this post. It is a bit confusing, due to the names being used so often by the families. But this has helped my husband understand a bit more about his family. His 2X great grandfather was Mathais Rauls (Mattes). He and Elizabeth has 3 more children after arriving in Wisconsin. I believe she passed away after 1870, because Mathais remarried a widow Magdalena (Nicious) Fell and they had 2 children together, the youngest being Friedrich Rauls born June 7, 1877 he is my husband's great grandfather. I can't wait to show your blog post to my mother and father-in-law.

  5. Hello Theresa,
    I am so very happy to hear from you and to meet, via the blog, another distant cousin. I have found one Rauls who still lives in one of the family houses built in 1848 in Oberzerf. Another lives in New Mexico and is also a descendant of Elizabeth and Mattes. He had his DNA analyzed and it tells us that the original Rauls name came through Spain, then France, and into Germany. Kind of cool to know that, I think. So glad you wrote.