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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated the day after his car trip to Burg Rheinstein as he drives back along the left side of the Rhine.

18 September 1912 ~ Coblenz, Germany

Front: The Kaiser Wilhelm monument in Coblenz.

Front: The Kaiser Wilhelm monument in Coblenz.

Back: No time to write!

Back: No time to write!

The postcard reads:

Habe diese Karte auf dem Denkmal gekauft Hatte keine Zeit zu schreiben schr…. (or) Schwörie (?) in Bad Ems.  Ferdinand

Translation:

Bought this card at the memorial. Had no time to write. Schwörie in Bad Ems.  Ferdinand

There is slight confusion over Ferdinand’s handwriting on this card. My cousin was not sure about the word after schreiben (write) but I think it may be the elusive friend referred to as Schwörie. This would make sense if the message is he had no time to write at the memorial where he bought the card and he’s telling his friends that he is now in Bad Ems, quite close to Coblenz, with Schwörie?

If you’ve never heard of the town of Coblenz, that’s because the spelling was changed in 1926 to Koblenz. Situated where the rivers Rhine and Mosel meet is the monument to Kaiser Wilhelm, who, as we’ve learned from several of the monuments visited by Ferdinand thus far, was celebrated for the unification of Germany in 1871. The monument was built in 1897. The equestrian statue of Wilhelm was designed by a sculptor named Emil Hundreiser who was a student of Rudolf Siemering whose work we’ve met earlier in Ferdinand’s trip.

The quote on the monument read:”Nimmer wird das Reich zerstöret, wenn ihr einig seid und treu” (Never will the Empire be destroyed, so long as you are united and loyal). In 1945, an American artillery shell hit the monument and its remains were removed shortly thereafter. However, in 1993 – nearly one hundred years after the initial statue – a replica was inaugurated. It still represented German unity – only this time as a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of East and West Germany.

Part 10 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated the same day of his trip to Niederwald, but he has a lot more to say…

16 September 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: Burg Rheinstein

Front: Burg Rheinstein

Back: Ferdinand is "cruising" the Rhine by car

Back: Ferdinand is “cruising” the Rhine by car

The postcard reads:

Liebe Freunde bin gestern mit dem Auto von Offenbach den Rhein runter nach Rüdesheim u. Fahre Morgen nach Koblenz an dem linken Rhein Ufer da ist sehr vieles zu Sehen werde Euch eine Karte schicken Schwörie last fragen wan ich zurück fahre bin noch nicht gewiß wach denke Oktober 26 Graf WalderSee habe noch nicht fest gemacht. Euch Alle zu denken. Grüße Ferdinand. Grüße an Julius und Herman

Translation:

Dear friends, Yesterday I took the car from Offenbach along the Rhine to Rüdesheim. Tomorrow, I’ll drive to Koblenz alongside the left bank of the Rhine. There is a lot to see. I will send you a card. Schwörie asks when I will drive back. I am not sure yet but think October 26. Have not fully planned. Count Waldersee. Thinking of you all, Ferdinand. Best wishes to Julius & Herman

Ferdinand sends a much longer message than his last postcard, but given that it’s the same exact day he can be forgiven for his brevity last time!  He is once again taking a car for day trips from Offenbach, which is located just outside of Frankfurt. In 1912, I doubt that cars were common. How refreshing a car trip along the Rhine would be without hundreds of other cars doing the same!

He writes again of “Schwörie” who is apparently a mutual friend. He mentions possibly returning home on the Graf Waldersee on October 26.  Will he? Stay tuned… Also, in this postcard he sends his greetings to Laura’s (half)brothers, Julius and Herman Goetz, so he likely knew them as well. No mention of her brother who is my great-grandfather though!

Map of some towns along the Rhine river.

Map of some towns along the Rhine river.

Today’s trip takes Ferdinand to one of the marvelous castles along the Rhine, Burg Rheinstein. Amazingly, the castle was constructed in the early 1300’s. However, after the Nine Years’ War in the late 1600’s, the castle was left in ruins. It was rebuilt from 1825-1844 thanks to Prince Frederick of Prussia. Although it is privately owned, it is open to the public for tours. It is rather impressive even if it’s not the original (then again, would I really want to walk around in a 700-year-old-castle that’s perched on the side of a cliff?)  I hope to visit it on my next trip to the Rhineland.

Photo of the Burg Rheinstein gardens taken in 2009 by gogoninja https://www.flickr.com/photos/gogoninja/3782060210

Photo of the Burg Rheinstein gardens taken in 2009 by gogoninja https://www.flickr.com/photos/gogoninja/3782060210

Part 8 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated a whole week after his trip to Frankfurt. It’s also his shortest message to date…

16 September 1912 ~ Niederwald, Germany

Front: The Nationaldenkmal near Rüdesheim

Front: The Nationaldenkmal near Rüdesheim

Back: Ferdinand keeps it short!

Back: Ferdinand keeps it short!

The postcard reads:

Herzliche Grüße von Eurem Freund Ferdinand

Translation:

Warmest greetings from your friend Ferdinand

We’ve all done it…sent a perfunctory postcard with only the words “thinking of you” or “wish you were here” or even “warmest greetings from your friend.” But it’s definitely the thought that counts, and given that Ferdinand has written to his friends every step of the way so far, he can be forgiven for the rather brief message on the card that’s featured this week.

This postcard features the Nationaldenkmal in Niederwald which commemorates the foundation of the German Empire and the unification of Germany in 1871. The monument was sculpted from 1877 to 1883 and reads (in German, of course): “In memory of the unanimous victorious uprising of the German People and of the reinstitution of the German Empire 1870-1871.”

Part 8 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated the day after his road trip to Loreleifelsen. He continues to make day trips from Offenbach – this time he’s off to Frankfurt to see a monument similar to one back in Philly…

9 September 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: The Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt a. Main

Front: The Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt a. Main

Back: The bad weather continues...

Back: The bad weather continues…

The postcard reads:

Offenbach Sep.9.12 Freund Max und Lary, den mir sehr werthen Brief von 28. Aug habe ich erhalten und freude mich sehr, und sehe darauß daß es Euch Gut geth. mir geht es auch ganz Gut nur haben wir so schlechtes Wetter immer Regen wir hatten so weit kaum 6 Tage SonnenSchein mein Kopfweh ist auch besser. Schwörie hatte mir von Konstanz geschrieben, Es grüßt Euch alle herzlich Ferdinand

Translation:

Offenbach Sep.9.12  Friend Max and Lary, I have received the precious letter from August 28 with much joy and see that you are doing well. I am also well but we only have bad weather, always rain. So far, we have barely had six days of sunshine. My headache is also better. Schwörie wrote to me from Konstanz. My best wishes to you all, Ferdinand

A few comments on the message before discussing the monument on the postcard. First, this is the first time we hear that the communication is two-way – he’s receiving letters from his friends! Second, the weather sounds a lot like my last trip to Germany…I think it’s a universal trait of human nature to whine about unpleasant weather while on vacation. Only six days of sunshine? Poor Ferdinand, he’s been there for a month! Finally, Schwörie must be a nickname or name of a friend…the name comes up in a few of Ferdinand’s postcards and must be part of their group of friends.

My research on the image on the card has given me a lot of information though! The card features a photo of the Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt, a massive monument built in honor of Otto von Bismarck. The monument was created by German sculptor Rudolf Siemering who made quite a few monuments throughout Germany. It appears that this particular one, however, no longer exists – it was melted down during World War 2. But at the time of Ferdinand’s visit, it was relatively new. Wikipedia claims it was erected in 1908; however, Siemering died in 1905 so I’m not sure if that is correct or if it didn’t get put in place until years after he created it.

Public domain image of Siemering's Washington Monument in Philadelphia

Public domain image of Siemering’s Washington Monument in Philadelphia

In reading about Rudolf Siemering’s life, I found a very interesting parallel. Ferdinand didn’t have to travel back to Germany to view one of his monuments to a great man – because there was one in his new home in Philadelphia. In 1879-1880, an international competition was held for a Philadelphia monument to George Washington. Siemering submitted the winning design, and he completed it in 1897. President William McKinley presided at the dedication ceremony. The original location of the monument, which is where it stood at the time of Ferdinand’s arrival in Philadelphia as well as his trip back home, was in Fairmount Park. But it was moved in 1928 to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum and it still sits there today. Last summer I actually used it as a “meet me” point for some friends, and as I waited I admired the sculpture without knowing any of its history. I’d love to know how it was moved in 1928 – it is massive. At the top is the statue of Washington on his horse. The pedestal shows an allegorical America and two German-Americans from history, Peter Muhlenberg and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. The bottom area has figures of native Americans, large animals native to America, and four famous American rivers – the Delaware, Hudson, Potomac, and Mississippi.

Was Ferdinand familiar with the Washington monument in Philadelphia? And did he know that the sculptor was the same as the Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt? Both equestrian monuments are dedicated to great leaders. Bismarck unified Germany into one nation in 1871 from thirty different kingdoms, city-states, and principalities and during his 19-year reign as chancellor he kept Germany out of military conflict. Washington unified the thirteen colonies against Great Britain and became the father of America (and also kept America out of the conflict between France and Britain). Both leaders are so respected in their own countries that there are monuments dedicated to these two men all over their home countries. Oddly enough, I found statues of them in other countries as well, but I couldn’t find a Washington monument in Germany or a Bismarck monument in the United States.

Part 7 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and  Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). On last week’s card, dated 28 August 1912, Ferdinand was on his way to Munich. But the next card in the collection is over a week later! Either Ferdinand was too busy to send a postcard (highly unlikely!) or perhaps Laura gave the card to her brother who had lived in Munich for a while. Or it was simply lost over time. Unfortunately we don’t have details about Ferdinand’s time in between, but now it’s September and he’s been back in Germany for almost a month!

8 September 1912 ~ St. Goar, Germany

Front: Loreleifelsen a. Rhein

Front: Loreleifelsen a. Rhein

Back: Cruising alone the Rhine river - in a car! Who got to ride "shotgun"?

Back: Cruising alone the Rhine river – in a car! Who got to ride “shotgun”?

The postcard reads:

 Liebe Freunde haben heute eine Auto Tur gemacht nach hier von Offenbach. sehr schön. mit Bruder Karl und Frau wir fahren jeden Tag wo anders hin. Es grüßt Euch alle herzlich Ferdinand

Translation:

Dear friends, Today I did a car trip to here from Offenbach. Very beautiful. With brother Karl and wife we drive somewhere else nearly every day. With best wishes, Ferdinand

Ferdinand is cruising along the Rhine this week, only in a car, not a boat. The last card I posted had a car shown on the front which led me to research car makes and models in existence in 1912. I wasn’t able to identify it, but now Ferdinand remarks that he’s off on a car trip with his brother, Karl Müller, and Karl’s wife. I wonder what kind of car they had and how common that was (or wasn’t) at the time. I would assume that a car-owner at the time would be on the wealthier edge of society.

The road trip he shares with his friends back home is to Loreleifelsen. The Lorelei (or Loreley) is a large rock on the bank of the Rhine River near St. Goarshausen. Maybe “large” is an understatement – it soars about 400 feet above the river along what’s known as the Rhine Gorge that runs between the towns of Koblenz and Bingen. The name come from a word in the Rhine dialect that means “murmuring” and a Celtic word for “rock” – the Lorelei is the murmuring rock with the strange sound coming from the currents, a small waterfall, and an echo effect off of the rock!

Of course, given the nature of the rather unusual natural phenomenon, many myths attempt to tell the true story. One story attributes the murmuring sound to dwarves living in caves nearby. An 1801 poem speaks of a woman named Lore Lay who is sentenced to a nunnery for an act of betrayal. On the way to her punishment, she asked to stop at the rock for one last view of the Rhine. But from the top she leapt to her death…and the rock has echoed her name ever since.

In 1824 poet Heinrich Heine built upon that theme with a beautiful female atop the rock bewitching sailors with her singing and causing them to crash. Whether or not a siren-like female was to blame, this part of the gorge is quite dangerous and ships have crashed in the area – most recently a big tanker full of sulphuric acid in 2011.

It may be just a big rock along the river, but it sure is beautiful. And one thing’s for sure – it’s as big a tourist attraction today as it was in 1912 for Ferdinand and his family.

Part 6 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and  Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). About two weeks into his trip, Ferdinand is settled in Offenbach and taking day trips from there. Today he’s off to Nürnberg, about 135 miles away so he’s likely stopping there on his way to Munich.

28 August 1912 ~ Nürnberg, Germany

Front: The Bratwurstglöcklein in Nürnberg

Front: The Bratwurstglöcklein in Nürnberg

Back: Ferdinand makes the best of bad weather

Back: Ferdinand makes the best of bad weather

The postcard reads:

 Nürnberg 28.8.12  Es Grüßt Euch Herzlich aus Nürnberg, Euer Freund Ferdinand. morgen den 29ten Reise ich nach München Es war bis jetzt nichts als Regen und Kalt Näheres Mündlich nochmals die beste Gesundheit zu Allen

Translation:

Nürnberg 28.8.12  Sending you greetings from Nuremburg, your friend Ferdinand. Tomorrow, the 29th I travel to Munich. Until now it was only rainy and cold. More orally. Again, best wishes to all.

Ferdinand once again mentions traveling to Munich and he’s more than halfway there from his original location of Offenbach. But the weather! Some things never change – when you’re on vacation and it’s rainy and cold, you just have to complain about the weather. In fact, this is reminiscent of one of my own trips to Germany in 2006 where I had a string of cold and rainy days in late March.

So what’s a traveler to do when it’s cold and rainy? Whether it’s 1912 or 2006, the answer is the same – you find someplace warm inside and have something to eat!  And when one is in Nürnberg, there is only one meal to have – bratwurst! You can find all kinds of wurst all over Germany, but the first documented evidence of the sausage comes from the city of Nürnberg – all the way back to the year 1313! Six hundred years later, the weary traveler Ferdinand stops by the city to enjoy the same treat.

The bratwurst that’s particular to Nürnberg is a small sausage more akin to what Americans would consider to be breakfast sausage. It’s a pork sausage seasoned with marjoram that gives it a distinct taste and is usually accompanied with sauerkraut or potatoes.

Memorial plaque for the chapel and restaurant that was next to it

Memorial plaque for the chapel and restaurant that was next to it

The particular restaurant that Ferdinand stopped in – assuming the postcard photo represents the actual place he went – is called the Bratwurstglöcklein. It was attached to the Moritz chapel (note the stained glass window to the right in the postcard) and was renowned for its freshly made sausages. In 1944, the chapel and restaurant were destroyed in air raids, but there is a restaurant on the spot today bearing the name (not so for the chapel).

I tried my best to identify the automobile in the lower right of the postcard, but I didn’t have any luck. I did not think there were quite so many car manufacturers in the 1911-12 time period! After going through images of various German, French, Italian, and British possibilities, I decided to let someone who is much more informed about antique cars find the image here and leave a comment identifying it.

Sources:

Part 5 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and  Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). About two weeks into his trip, Ferdinand is settled in Offenbach and taking day trips from there. Last week’s postcard was dated 21 August 1912, and he said he would “go to Munich next week”…but for now he’s off to Aschaffenburg, which is about 20 miles southeast of Offenbach.

27 August 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: The Steigerwald brewery in Aschaffenburg

Front: The Steigerwald brewery in Aschaffenburg

Back: Ferdinand stops in a historic brewery and drinks to his friends in the U.S.

Back: Ferdinand stops in a historic brewery and drinks to his friends in the U.S.

The postcard reads:

Offenbach a/m 12.8.27. Lieber Max und Lary, Wir waren am letzten Sonntag in Aschaffenburg und haben sehr gutes Bier getrunken und habe zwei Liter mehr getrunken auf Euer wohl eine kleine Brauerei. Historisches Gebäude vom 16. Jahrhundert war auf den Bildern. Es Grüßt Euch alle. Ferdinand

Translation:

Offenbach a/m 12.8.27. Dear Max and Lary, We were in Aschaffenburg last Sunday and drank very good beer. Drank two liters more to you (translator note: literally “to your health”). A small brewery, historical building from the 16th century was on the picture. Greetings to you all, Ferdinand

There is some confusion as to the postcard’s date. It looks like Ferdinand wrote 2-8.27 and the stamp is removed that would have revealed the postmark date. However, based on the dates and locations on other cards, it would appear that this is the 27th of August during his 1912 trip. He writes of the visit to Aschaffenburg “last Sunday” – in 1912, August 27 was a Tuesday, so the date of his visit to Aschaffenburg was August 25.

The address on the back of the postcard reads: “Steigerwald’sche Brauerei von Wilhelm Singer, sum Schlappeseppel. Schlossgasse 28, Telefon 525. Spezialität ff. Lagerbiere.”

schlappeseppelWhen on a trip to Germany, who among us does not stop in a historic brewery? I’m amused that Ferdinand drinks two liters extra as a special toast to his friends…was this the 1912 version of a drunk dial/text/email? Because after a few liters who wouldn’t brag about enjoying their vacation? “Hey, guys, guess what I’m doing?…but I drank to your health!”

Ferdinand stops at the historic Steigerwald Brewery in Aschaffenburg known for “Schlappeseppel” and specializing in lager. To be historic in Germany, your history has to go way, way back. In the case of the Steigerwald, the legend of the brewery’s origins goes back to the 17th century. The story goes that when Sweden invaded the city back in 1631, the beer barrels were empty. A soldier named Joseph Lögler knew something about brewing beer, and he had good reason to make himself useful since he injured his leg in battle and was going lame. The nickname for Joseph in German is Sepp and Seppel would mean “little Joseph”. The word schlappe means setback or defeat, so little Joe with the limp became Schlappe-Seppel. But he was apparently really good at brewing beer, and he stayed behind long after the King of Sweden left town.

And so the Schlappeseppel beer was born…and lived on through the centuries. In 1866, Josef Steigerwald took over the brewery. It changed hands again in 1899 to a man named Konrad Vogel. When he died in 1910, his wife Anna continued to run the brewery with her second husband, Wilhelm Singer. From what I could gather on the internet, the brewery today is still operated by the Vogel descendants.

The town of Aschaffenburg was severely damaged by Allied bombing during World War 2. If the brewery was destroyed, however, it was rebuilt and still stands today. If I go visit one day, I hope to drink a liter or two to Ferdinand. Prost!

Photo taken of Schlossgasse 28 in Aschaffenburg on 20 August 2012 by Lutz Hartmann -  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AB_Schlossgasse_28_Brauerei_Schlappeseppel.JPG

Photo taken of Schlossgasse 28 in Aschaffenburg on 20 August 2012 by Lutz Hartmann -
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AB_Schlossgasse_28_Brauerei_Schlappeseppel.JPG

Sources:

Part 4 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. So far, he arrived in Hamburg and stopped to see the lovely view nearby in Blankenese. Now he heads to Offenbach, which will be his “home base” for much of his trip.

21 August 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: Zeppelin "Schwaben"

Front: Zeppelin “Schwaben”

Back: Ferdinand is having a good time so far.

Back: Ferdinand is having a good time so far.

The postcard reads:

Offenbach 21.8.12. Liebe Freunde ich amusiere mich sehr Gut hier und werde nächste Woche nach München fahren und werde von dort Euch schreiben Ich hoffe es Geht Euch Alle Gut und Grüßt Euch beide recht Herzlich. Ferdinand

Translation:

Offenbach 21.8.12. Dear friends, I am enjoying myself and will go to Munich next week and write to you from there. I hope you are all well. Greetings to you both. Ferdinand

This is a very interesting card! The caption on the front of it reads: Erster offizieller Postflug des Zeppelin-Luftschiffs “Schwaben” unter der “Reichs” Postflagge (Abwerfen der Post mittelst Fallschirm) which means “First official postal flight of the Zeppelin airship ‘Schwaben’ under the ‘Empire’ postal flag (dropping the mail by means of parachute)”.

The zeppelin, or airship, on the postcard, called the Schwaben, was built in 1911 for passenger service and is considered to be the first passenger-carrying airship that was commercially successful. It was 460 feet long, but the cabin only held 20 passengers and a crew of 13. It began passenger flights in July of 1911 and made 218 flights in the next year.

Advertisement in the  Darmstadt Tageblatt on Monday, June 10, 1912

Advertisement in the Darmstadt Tageblatt on Monday, June 10, 1912

But the Schwaben is significant for another reason that’s noted on the card – it was the zeppelin that first carried mail – in other words – the first air mail via zeppelin! Its maiden air mail flight was from June 10-23 in 1912 when the airship went between Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Mainz, Offenbach, and Worms. But the story gets even better – it wasn’t just air mail that the zeppelin carried during that trip – it was postcards.

The Hessen Royal Family created a home for mothers and children, and as a charity fund-raising event Postkartenwoche (Postcard Week) would have mail delivered by air from both the Schwaben and a propeller biplane called the Gelber Hund. The Schwaben carried the bulk of the mail and was piloted by the most famous airship captain at the time, Dr. Hugo Eckener. Funds were raised for the charity from the sale of special airmail postcards and stamps and admission to the parade grounds to watch the mail drops and pickups.

To put this in perspective, the distance between Frankfurt and Darmstadt is about 20 miles. It took the Schwaben about 13 minutes to make the trip.  Theoretically, that’s even quicker than a trip on the autobahn by car today, which according to Google should take about 34 minutes. Considering that the entire concept of flight began less than ten years before, this event in 1912 was huge by today’s standards. Crowds showed up to see the airship make the delivery, and there was a party atmosphere that included food, military bands, and an appearance by the Duke and Duchess. It was reported that 460,700 postcards were transported (between the airplane and zeppelin) and 35,000 marks was raised for the charity.

Shortly after Postcard Week, on June 28, 1912, the Schwaben was destroyed while landing. Strong winds and a buildup of static electricity caused a fire that destroyed the airship; over 30 people were injured in the accident.

Back to Ferdinand… On 21 August 1912, it was just weeks after the Schwaben came to its demise after over a year in the spotlight as a successful airship. While he didn’t have this postcard carried by the airship or mailed during the famous postcard week, I imagine it was one of the very last postcards of the airship still available for sale. Later on Ferdinand’s grand tour, airships will again be the subject of his greetings to friends in Philadelphia.

Sources:

Part 3 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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'The Slav Epic' cycle No.15: The Printing of the Bible of Kralice in Ivančice (1914) by Alfons Maria Mucha which commemorates the first printing of the New Testament in the Czech language.

‘The Slav Epic’ cycle No.15: The Printing of the Bible of Kralice in Ivančice (1914) by Alfons Maria Mucha which commemorates the first printing of the New Testament in the Czech language.

The theme for Week 2 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “King” and my ancestor is my 7th great-grandfather, Václav Jirsak (also spelled Jirsák). He was not a king, but his story is connected with kingship in various ways. First, the town of his birth is Králova Lhota in southern Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic) – the very name of his birthplace, Králova, means “king”, and is so named because the land apparently was once owned by the Bohemian kings. But his personal story also involves leaving his Bohemian homeland due to the policies of its kings (and queen) against religious tolerance. Finally, his exile to a new country takes place because of another king’s invitation for persecuted Bohemians to settle a new land.

My ancestor’s story begins in Bohemia. The traditional land called “Bohemia” makes up about two-thirds of what is the Czech Republic today. But it was once a kingdom in the Holy Roman Empire. From 1526, the kingdom was ruled by the Habsburg monarchy. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 was meant to solve religious disputes – princes were allowed to determine the religion of their subjects. The Hapsburg kings did not initially force their Catholic religion on Bohemia, which was mostly Protestant. But struggles over which religion would rule the land, so to speak, continued. The Thirty Years war was not only political, but also religious, and it was the battle between the Catholics and Protestants that influenced my ancestor’s personal story.

Queen Maria Theresa desired that her subjects share her Catholic faith as did Charles VII Albert, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia.  It became a crime against the state to be Protestant. Many Bohemians, my ancestors included, subscribed to the Protestant reforms of Jan Hus who believed that the Scriptures should be available in the language of the people, communion should be available under both forms, and the clergy should not have political power. But under Hapsburg rule, these teachings were forbidden. Although it was a crime, the faith continued to be passed down in private.

Václav’s Story

Birth Record of Vaclav Jirsak

Birth Record of Vaclav Jirsak

Václav Jirsak was born in 1715 to Jan Jirsak and Alžbĕta Chmelařová in Králova Lhota. The family was Protestant, and two years before Václav’s birth Jan was found to possess banned books of a religious nature and he was forced to confess to the Catholic faith.  In order to gain freedom of religion, widower Jan and his adult sons, Václav and Jan, decided to leave their homeland at the earliest opportunity. That opportunity came thanks to another king, Frederick II, King of Prussia.

In 1742 Frederick offered Czech refugees the chance to move to Silesia, now under Prussian rule. The Czechs were offered land and monetary support. That year the three Jirsak men emigrated to several colonies near what is Bralin, Poland today. Due to father Jan’s age, life in the new land was too difficult, and eventually he returned to Bohemia to live with his daughter, Dorota, and her husband, Jiří Zounar. Jan died there in 1751, but his sons remained in the new land.

Václav took on a leadership role in these new colonies. In 1749, at the age of 34, he helped to found the colony of Groß Friedrichstabor (today this town is Tabor Wielki in Poland), and by 1759, he was an “elder” at Klein Friedrichstabor in Groß Wartenberg (today this town is Tabor Mały in Poland). Václav was a farmer in this new community, and with his wife Kateřina had four daughters (Anna Marie, Marie, Alžbĕta and Anna) and three sons (Jan, Václav and Jiří).

The families that settled in these colonies are collectively known as the Česká exulantská – the Czech exulanti or exiles. They were able to maintain their religious beliefs (the evangelical church of the Czech Brethren) free of persecution. They also maintained their Czech language despite living under the rule of Prussia and later Russia.

Václav died in 1793 at the age of 77. His son and grandson, both named Jan Jirsak like Václav’s father, would continue the family’s migration through Prussia to Russian-ruled Poland in search of better opportunities for their families. In 1802, both men were among the founders of a new Czech settlement in Zelów, Poland. After another two generations, my ancestors would continue the migration farther east to the town of Żyrardów, and the next generation came to the United States. Other descendents of Václav Jirsak eventually made it back to Bohemia in the Czech Republic after World War II – nearly two hundred years after one brave man and his sons decided to move in search of religious freedom.

Note on name spellings: Václav is Czech but the name can also be listed as Wenceslaus, Wacław (Polish), or Wentzel (German). The surname Jirsak is also spelled Jirsák, Jersak, or Girsak. The feminine ending for Jirsak is Jirsaková.

Migration trail of my Bohemian exile Family Jirsak

Migration trail of my Bohemian exile Family Jirsak

Just the Facts

  • Name: Václav Jirsak
  • Ahnentafel: #888 (my 7th great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Jan Jirsak (1681-1751) and Alžbĕta Chmelařová (1694-1725)
  • Born: 04 Sep 1715 in Králova Lhota, Bohemia (Czech Republic)
  • Siblings: Anna (1711-?),Dorota (1712-?), Václav (1714-1714), Jiřík (1718-1719), Alžběta (1720-?), Jan (1722-1796), Lukáš (1724-1725)
  • Married: Kateřina (1723-1785)
  • Children: Jan (1746-1821), Anna Marie (1747-1780), Václav (1751-1788), Jiří (1753-?), Marie (1754-?), Alžběta (1758-1787), Anna (1760-1792)
  • Died: 03 May 1793 in Czermin (Poland)
  • My Line of Descent: Václav Jirsak-> Jan Jirsak-> Jan Jirsak->Anna Jirsaková Jelineková->Anna Karolina Jelinková Smetana-> Alžbĕta/Elżbieta Smetana Miller-> Elżbieta/Elizabeth Miller Pater-> Henry Pater-> mother-> me

Sources

52ancestors-2015

 

  Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition – Week 2: King

 

 

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Continuing with the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… N is for Napoleon! Napoleon may have been a dictator, but he did a few other things as well – one thing in particular that may even have an impact on your family history research today. In 1804 he instituted the Civil Code, which is now known as the Napoleonic Code. It was adopted throughout many of the lands he conquered, and it remained in effect after his death. The Civil Code granted many things we take for granted today such as freedom of religion and equality. Of course, it stated other things that we wouldn’t necessarily be happy with today like patriarchal power – in other words, husbands rule the household. But genealogically speaking, we have Napoleon and his code to thank for civil registration of vital events such as births, marriages, and deaths. The Roman Catholic church had been keeping records prior to this – in some places for centuries – but the Civil Code made the record-keeping a state function.

The Code spelled out exactly what must be recorded in the vital records, and the information required was more than what was customarily kept in church record books. For example, a religious baptismal record would likely indicate the child’s name, date of birth, date of baptism, parents’ names, godparents’ names, and the location. Napoleonic birth records required the exact time of birth as well as the full names, ages, residences, and professions of the parents and witnesses. Napoleonic marriage records are rather detailed and include the ages, residences, and professions of the bride and groom, their parents, and the witnesses. I don’t think the Napoleonic death records are as detailed as those for birth and marriage because it lacks the cause of death and the birthplace of the deceased. But, the Civil Code required that these events be registered within the community whereas prior to this it was merely a religious function.

The Civil Code was adopted in countries occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars and became the basis of law in Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Romania, and parts of Germany. I gave an example of a Napoleonic birth record in the Baptism of Jozef Piontkowski. Learn more about translating Polish vital records in the Napoleonic format at this link.

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…H is for History. Researching your family history isn’t just about the history of your family, but it’s about how your family fit into the history of the world. Genealogy puts a face on history – the faces of your ancestors. When we learn about a particular time period, we wonder how our ancestors were affected by the events. And just maybe we can learn something from our family’s past.  After all, what’s past is prologue, right?

While researching my family, I’ve learned a lot of interesting historical facts that I never knew before. Some of these events are not well known and would have held little interest to me, but knowing my own ancestors were a part of it makes it more significant and meaningful. I’ve learned about Haller’s Armythe Polish Army in France during World War I led by General Haller. Over 25,000 Polish immigrants to the United States and Canada volunteered to serve and fight for their homeland’s independence including my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, who had been in the U.S. for ten years.

I also learned about Häuserchronik - house histories published in Germany that present  a centuries-old city directory loaded with extra-special information such as marriages and occupations. It was great to learn the name of the hometown of my Bavarian immigrants, but knowing that several generations of my family lived in the same house for over a hundred years makes the town’s history more personal.

So many other Historical events took on a more personal connection through my research, whether it was the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Holocaust, an obscure battle in the War of Austrian Succession, or the saint who once played in my own backyard. History is all around us! Take the time to learn all about the time periods, places, and events during which your family lived.

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Józef Pater's prisoner photo. Source: Office for Information on Former Prisoners, The State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau

Who was Józef Pater?  I came upon Józef by accident while searching for my 2nd great-grandfather of the same name. I discovered that this particular Józef was my ancestor’s nephew, his brother Marcin’s son. What I learned with that search result was a forgotten story of a family – my family – who perished in the Holocaust.

If Józef’s cousins in the United States knew of his fate, it never reached the ears of their descendents. Most of what I learned about my courageous cousin came from sources written in Polish, but even those sources were limited and hard to find. The few facts I was able to piece together paint an interesting portrait of the man.  Who was Józef Pater?  He was an artist, a decorated soldier, a government employee, and a leader in the Polish Resistance.  He was a son, brother, husband, and father. He was Catholic, and he was Polish. He died at Auschwitz. Who was Józef Pater?  He was my cousin.

Józef Pater was born on 31 July 1897 in Żyrardów, Błoński powiat, Warszawske gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire. He was the son of Marcin and Paulina (nee Dreksler) Pater, both 37 years old. The family moved to Częstochowa by the time Józef was in middle school. Beginning in 1914, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow to study painting.

As a teenager – as early as age 15 – Józef Pater became involved in politics by joining the Polish Socialist Party – Revolutionary Faction (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna – Frakcja Rewolucyjna), or PPS. The PPS was a pro-Polish independence party founded in 1892 that sought ideals such as equal rights for all citizens (regardless of race, nationality, religion and gender), a universal right to vote, freedom of speech, assembly, and press, and basic labor laws such as minimum wage, an 8-hour workday, and a ban on child labor. The “Revolutionary Faction” developed in 1906 under the leadership of Józef Piłsudski and the primary goal was to restore a democratic, independent Poland.

In November 1914, at the age of 17, Józef Pater served in the Polish Legions, a Polish armed force created in August of that year also by Józef Piłsudski.  The Legions became an independent unit within the Austro-Hungarian Army.  Józef Pater’s service began in the 1st Squadron of the 1st Lancer regiment in the First Brigade led by Piłsudski.  In July 1916, Pater was in the 6th Infantry regiment.  During these years, the Polish Legions, many of whom like Józef were citizens of Russia, took part in many battles with the Imperial Russian Army.

A short biographical sketch of Józef Pater that I found in Słownik biograficzny konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944 indicates that beginning in November 1916, he worked in boards of recruitment in Siedlce and Łuków. However, it is highly likely that Pater was part of the Polish Legions that were involved in the so-called Oath Crisis.  When the Central Powers created the Kingdom of Poland on 05 November 1916, it was essentially a “puppet state” of Germany and not independent at all. In July 1917, the Central Powers demanded that the soldiers of the Polish Legions swear allegiance and obedience to Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany.  Based on the example of their leader, Piłsudski, the majority of the soldiers of the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the Legions declined to make the oath. The soldiers who were citizens of Austria-Hungary were sent to the Italian front as part of the Austro-Hungarian Army, and the soldiers from the rest of occupied Poland were sent to prisoner of war camps.  Since Pater is listed later in life as a member of the Association of Former Political Prisoners of the former Revolutionary Faction, it is assumed that he was one of the young soldiers interred for refusing to take the oath.  Later, in 1932, he was the president of the Kutno branch of the Association of Former Ideological Prisoners.

On 04 October 1917, the 20-year-old Józef Pater married Helena Feliksa Palige in All Saints Church (Wszystkich Świętych) in Warsaw.

Signatures on the marriage record of Jozef Pater and Helena Palige.

From November 1918 to November 1920, Józef Pater served as a volunteer in the Polish Army. At some point he must have continued his studies at the Academy, for he was awarded a diploma in 1921 as an artist-painter.  Pater rejoined the army in November 1924 and served there as non-commissioned officer in 4th air regiment.  He retired from military service on 31 December 1929.

While I have little more than dates and assignments about Pater’s time in the military, I found one fact that speaks volumes: he was decorated four times with Cross of Valour and also with the Cross of Independence with Swords.  The Cross of Valour is a Polish military decoration created in 1920 for one who has demonstrated deeds of valor and courage on the field of battle.  Józef received the decoration the maximum amount allowed – four times.  It is unknown if he received the commendation for his actions with the Legions in World War I, or if it was for any actions during the Polish-Soviet War from 1920 – 1923.  The Cross of Independence is one of Poland’s highest military decorations.  There are three classes, and the Cross of Independence with Swords is the rarest of the three.  Developed in 1930, it was awarded to those who laid foundations for the independence of Poland before or during World War I. Józef Pater received this honor in 1931.

Józef Pater may have been a painter, but I’m not sure he ever painted for a living because following his busy military career he began to work as a clerk for the government.  From 1930 to 1933 he worked in the towns of Toruń, Kutno, and Grodzisk Mazowiecki, and from January 1934 to June 1935 he worked as a clerk in the Broadcasting Agency of the Polish Radio in Warsaw. In 1935, Józef Pater became town councilor in Grodzisk Mazowiecki and he still held this position when Poland was invaded by Germany in September 1939.

The invasion by Germany was far more than a military occupation.  According to Poland’s Holocaust by Tadeusz Piotrowski, the Germans attempted to remove Polish culture and way of life through closing the banks, devaluing the currency, confiscating possessions, destroying libraries, forbidding the teaching of Polish history, and banning Polish music.  Himmler would announce on 15 March 1940:

“All Polish specialists will be exploited in our military-industrial complex.  Later, all Poles will disappear from this world. It is imperative that the great German nation considers the elimination of all Polish people as its chief task.” (Piotrowski, 23)

Within a month of Poland’s invasion (by one source, another says a few months later), Józef Pater became the chief commanding officer (listed in narratives as having the rank of “Major”) of a Polish Resistance group called the Gwardia Obrony Narodowej (National Defense Guard) or GON.  In April 1940, the GON was joined with the Związek Czyny Zbrojnego (Association of Arms) or ZCZ.  This group joined with several other Resistance groups in October 1940 to establish the Konfederacja Narodu, or National Confederation – the main Polish underground organization throughout the war. The National Confederation organized a single armed force for the good of the Polish nation.

Józef Pater became one of the many leaders of the underground.  From January 1941, he was in charge of police and security issues for the movement.  Most participants in the Resistance movement were known to each other only by code names.  Józef Pater used the names of “Inżynier” – in English, “Engineer” – as well as the name “Orlot,” which does not have a direct English translation but is a fighting eagle.

The symbol of the Polish Underground is the flag of the Armia Krajowa; the symbol on the flag is a combination of letters "P" and "W" for Polska Walcząca or Fighting Poland.

The role of the Polish Underground during the German occupation was twofold.  First, they were to do everything possible to make the lives of the German military as miserable as possible.  That meant sabotage, disruption of supply lines or communication, theft, damage to equipment, and similar acts. In addition to acts of destruction, the Resistance movement also sought to keep hope alive for the Polish people. Since the only authorized press was German, the Underground published and disseminated accurate information about the war to the Poles as well as getting the message out of the country. In addition, the Underground movement’s message fostered a sense of fierce pride among the Poles and offered hope that their culture and nation would survive.

On 15 February 1941, Józef Pater – and presumably his wife, Helena – were arrested in Grodzisk Mazowiecki and sent to Pawiak Prison in Warsaw.  Pawiak was used by the German Gestapo for interrogations, usually brutal in nature, as well as for executions.  It is estimated that at least 100,000 Catholics and Jews were sent to Pawiak – approximately 37,000 were executed there, and 60,000 were sent to various concentration camps.

In a book called Meldunek z Pawiaka I was able to learn about Józef’s character as well as the bravery of those involved in the underground movement.  Franciszek Julian Znamirowski, commander of the ZCZ, became friends with Józef Pater in 1940 as co-conspirators when their two resistance organizations joined forces.  Znamirowski survived the war and described Pater in a letter to author Zygmunt Śliwicki in 1970:

“The man was courageous, generous, friendly, a great patriot, the soul of a painter, and devoted to his family.  He downplayed the danger.  He lived in Grodzisk Mazowiecki with his family. He had a radio and listened to messages, sending them in a secret letter. At this he was caught, and we lost him. When I learned about the arrest and his confinement in the Pawiak, without much thinking I decided to move out and help him escape.”

It was rumored that Pater had typhus and was in the prison hospital, so Znamirowski obtained fake documents that identified him as a doctor of infectious diseases.  Znamirowski told the guards that he was Pater’s family doctor, and he bribed them with money for entry to the prison.  He described Pater as being very surprised to see him.  Contrary to the rumor, he was not sick at all.  He was wearing pajamas, and the two retreated to the bathroom to talk without fear of wiretaps.  They talked “freely about everything” for an hour.

Znamirowski explained that he was there to help Pater escape – he believed it was possible.  However, Józef’s wife, Helena, was also imprisoned there.  Józef feared that if he escaped without her, there would be reprisals and she would suffer even more.  He asked Znamirowski if he could return with enough money to buy their way out of the prison with the guards.

Znamirowski recalled in 1970:  “He [Pater] asked urgently for help by buying him out, and it was a lot of money.  We were not able to collect the cash.  He was being interrogated, but he did not incriminate anybody. He held out heroically. He authorized me to take over the organization and manage it in accordance with his ideas.”  It was the last time Znamirowski ever saw him.

On 17 April 1942 Józef Pater was transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oświęcim.  He was registered as Polish political prisoner and received the number 31225.  He died there on 24 June.

Józef’s wife, Helena Palige Pater, was presumably arrested at the same time and also sent to Pawiak.  On 22 September 1941, she was transported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp and was killed (date unknown). Ravensbrück, located in northern Germany, was known as the women’s concentration camp.

Józef’s older brother, Bronisław (born 06 September 1890), was also involved with the Resistance. On 17 January 1943 he was sent to Majdanek concentration camp and was killed (date unknown).

One source (Za Murami Pawiaka) reports that there were two sons of Józef and Helena that were also killed in the camps.  Another book, Słownik biograficzny konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944, reports that one son, also named Bronisław (born 1920), was killed at Majdanek; however, there is conflicting information because there were two men named Bronisław Pater, one the brother and one the son of Józef. One of these two was transported to Majdanek on 17 January 1943 and never returned.  They may have both died at that particular camp, but I lack the appropriate evidence to say for sure.

Reports differ widely on the number of deaths in the country of Poland at the hands of the Nazi regime. The commonly accepted number is six million Poles – both Catholics and Jews – died, which was roughly 17% of the total population of Poland before the war. It is estimated that of the six million Polish deaths, three million were Jewish and three million were Catholic. As the Jewish population of Poland was much smaller, Germany killed about 85% of Poland’s Jewish population and about 10% of Poland’s Catholic population.

Józef, Bronisław, Helena, Bronisław.  Their names were forgotten in my family.  May we never forget them again.

###

The brothers Józef and Bronisław Pater are first cousins of my great-grandfather, Louis (Ludwik) Pater and his brothers (Wacław, Stefan) and sisters (Franciszka, Ewa, Wiktoria).  Louis’ father, also Józef Pater, is Józef’s uncle and a brother to his father, Marcin Pater.  My ancestor Józef immigrated to America in 1905.  His nephews would have been 15 and 7 years old at that time.  My great-grandfather Louis did not leave Poland until August, 1907, and he was living with his adult sister, Franciszka.  Given that Franciszka married Paweł Niedzinski (Nieginski) in Częstochowa in June, 1906, it is likely that both branches of the Pater family left Żyrardów and were living in Częstochowa together.  Louis/Ludwik was nearly 14 years old when he left Poland; cousin Józef was 10 and Bronisław was 17.

This post has literally been a couple of years in the making.  I had help with some initial research by footnoteMaven, and I would not have known much without some translations by Maciej Róg.  I was further assisted with both research and translations by Matthew Bielawa .  Their help is greatly appreciated!

Source: Ilustrowany Przewodniak Po Polsce Podziemnej, 1939-1945

Sources used for this post:

Vital Records:

Parafia Matki Bożej Pocieszenia (Żyrardów, Błoński, Warszawske, Vistula Land, Russian Empire), “Akta urodzeń, małżeństw, zgonów 1897 [Records of Births, Marriages, Deaths 1897],” page 160, entry 637, Józef Pater, 31 Jul 1897; digital images from Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych, http://metryki.genealodzy.pl,  Archiwum Państwowe m. st. Warszawy, Oddział w Grodzisku Maz. (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/metryka.php?zs=1265d&sy=134&kt=1&skan=0635-0638.jpg)

Parafia Wszystkich Świętych (Warszawa, Warszawaske, Regency Kingdom of Poland), “Akta małżeństw 1917 [Records of Marriages 1917],” page 67, entry 133, Józef Pater and Helena Feliksa Palige, 04 Oct 1917; digital images from Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych, http://metryki.genealodzy.pl, Księgi metrykalne parafii rzymskokatolickiej Wszystkich Świętych w Warszawie (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/metryka.php?zs=9264d&sy=341&kt=1&skan=133.jpg)

Death record 12625/1942, Józef Pater, 24 June 1942. Biuro informacji o byłych więźniach, Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau (Office for Information on Former Prisoners, The State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau)

Books:

Dębski, Jerzy and State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Death Books from Auschwitz: Remnants. München : K.G. Saur, 1995.

Kunert, Andrzej Krysztof.  Ilustrowany Przewodniak Po Polsce Podziemnej, 1939-1945. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1996.

Kunert, Andrzej Krysztof. Słownik Biograficzny Konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944.  Warszawa: Instytut Wydawniczy PAX, 1987.

Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles under German Occupation 1939-1944. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.

Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2004.

Piotrowski, Tadeusz.  Poland’s Holocaust. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc., 1998.

Wanat, Leon. Za Murami Pawiaka. Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1972.

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How is Josef Bergmeister related to “my” Josef Bergmeister?

Our story began when I discovered a reference to a Josef Bergmeister who died fighting for Germany in World War I.  This Josef was from Puch, the hometown of my great-grandfather of the same name.  The town is very small, so I assumed they were related.  Thanks to Ancestry’s release of the Bavarian World War I Personnel Rosters, I learned more about Josef, including when he was born, his parents’ names, and how he died in 1916.  In fact, I learned about many other Bergmeister men, too.  Although the indexing is not yet complete (see the main search page for more details), there are thirteen Bergmeister men listed.  Of these, eight are directly related to my great-grandfather – including Josef whose name was inscribed on the memorial in Puch.  With the help of my cousin Armin Bergmeister, I’ve assembled the following tree showing the names of the Bergmeister men up until the World War I timeframe. Click on the image to enlarge.

The soldier Josef and my great-grandfather Josef are first cousins once removed.  Josef’s own first cousin, Anton, also died in the war just weeks before him.  With their deaths, the Bergmeister family in the town of Puch ended.  Other Bergmeister relatives had moved to other towns in Bavaria as well as the United States, but nearly three hundred years of the Bergmeister family in Puch came to an abrupt end.  Both Josef and Anton were second cousins to my grandmother and her three brothers that were born in the United States (and their German-born sister).

My great-grandfather also lost two of his second cousins in the war, Sigmund and Hermann.  Two of his third cousins (Andreas and Magnus) fought as well as his third cousin’s son, Anton, and his 5th cousin Ignatz.

I chose to focus on the soldier Josef for this story, but each of the soldier’s stories – as gleaned from the rosters – is worth remembering.  Unfortunately, we have no photograph of Josef, but thanks to my cousin Armin I can share a photograph of one of these Bergmeister soldiers, Sigmund – Armin’s grandfather.  Sigmund died on 15 August 1916 at the age of 31, leaving behind one child.   His brother Hermann died less  than two years later at the age of 24, leaving behind two children.

Lieutenant Sigmund Bergmeister, 1885-1916

There are many men named Josef on the Bergmeister family tree.  I am currently familiar with cousins from three distinct lines of descent: 1) my own family’s descent through Josef (son of Josef, son of Jakob, son of Josef), 2) the line descended from Johann (son of Castulus, son of Jakob, son of Josef), and 3) the line descended from the soldier Sigmund (son of Sebastian, son of Simon, son of Josef).  In my own American line, the name Joseph Bergmeister was passed on and is currently owned by a handsome young man, my second cousin once removed.  He is the sixth straight Joseph/Josef Bergmeister – and would have been the 8th straight if it weren’t for his 4th great-grandfather, Jakob.  There is also a current Josef Bergmeister in Germany, my 3rd cousin once removed and a very charitable host along with his brother Hans and their wives.  They are both descended from the Castulus line. (See a photo of Castulus as well as my Josef on The Bergmeister Family page!)

So, one mystery was solved.  Thanks to the Bavarian military rosters, I now know more about Josef Bergmeister, the previously unknown soldier, as well as many other Bergmeister cousins my great-grandfather left behind when he came to America.

But wait!  Now there’s a new mystery…how are we all related to the other five men named Bergmeister listed in the personnel rosters?  We already have a hint that the “other” Philadelphia Bergmeister family is originally from the town of Hoerdt and is related to at least one of these men.  As to how far back we have to go to connect the two, and who the other four men are, those are mysteries still waiting to be solved!

Need help figuring out relationships and what “removed” cousins are?  See The Family Relationship Chart

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What happened at the battle that cost Josef his life?  How were his American cousins affected by the same war?

In Part 3 we read Josef Bergmeister’s service record and discovered that he died as a result of injuries sustained during the battle of Fleury-Thiaumont in July, 1916.  Today’s post will discuss this battle in more detail.

The town names of Fleury and Thiaumont may not be familiar, but surely everyone has heard of the Battle of Verdun, the bloodiest and perhaps the longest battle in history.  The Battle of Verdun was a series of battles from 21 February – 19 December 1916 between the German and French armies on the Western Front.  The numbers alone paint a picture of what happened there.  In the end, an estimated 250,000 men were killed, and another 500,000 were wounded.  Approximately 40 million artillery shells were used by both sides during the fight.  The battlefield itself was not very large – just a long and narrow piece of land.

During the Battle of Verdun, the town of Fleury changed hands between the German and the French sixteen times.  The town was completely destroyed and is uninhabited today.  To the German army, the small town was the gateway to Verdun, which in turn would lead directly to Paris.  During the month of June, 1916, the Germans fought hard to move into the town.  By the end of June, it was reported that it was unbearably hot.

On 23 June, the Germans launched a chemical attack with 110,000 grenades of poisonous gas.  Although many French soldiers died from the chemical attack, their gas masks withstood the gas better than the Germans had expected.  But the chemical gas, constant bombardment from artillery, and the oppressive heat were all affecting the troops; both sides described the terrible stench from corpses rotting in the heat.  Josef Bergmeister’s first cousin, Anton Bergmeister, from the 10th Infantry Regiment, was killed here on 24 June at the age of 19.

By mid-July, the Germans were in control of Fleury, but there were many small attacks in the area in an effort to gain high ground and some fortifications.  On 12 July, the French received orders to regain Fleury.  A fierce battle was fought from 15-19 July in which each side attempted to gain more ground.

A photo of Bavarian soldiers in the trenches at Fleury used with permission from The Soldier's Burden, http://www.kaiserscross.com/40047/124001.html.

Josef Bergmeister’s brigade (8th Company, 11th Bav. Infantry Regiment, 12th Bav. Brigade, 6th Bavarian Division) has missed the fighting in this area and had been fighting in St. Mihiel.  His regiment went into the front lines on 17-18 July and suffered such losses that a telegraph was sent to immediately send 500 replacement troops.  Did Josef know that his cousin Anton was killed at Thiaumont just weeks earlier?

Josef was injured by an artillery shell on 18 July in his arm and leg.  After being transferred to a hospital, he died on 01 August.  His comrades and his enemies continued the fight, and with each battle the area around Fleury and Thiaumont is captured and re-captured over and over with little meaning to the overall war effort.  Thousands lay dead on the battlefield.

Josef’s entire division left Verdun on 5 August, and by early September they were fighting another well-known and long series of battles: the Somme.  The division again endured considerable losses.  The Battle of Verdun continued through December 1916.  The final statistics show French casualties at Verdun as 371,000, including 60,000 killed, 101,000 missing and 210,000 wounded. Total German casualties are recorded as 337,000 men. The statistics also confirm that at least 70% of the Verdun casualties on both sides were the result of artillery fire.  Men like Josef Bergmeister that were taken from the battlefield to hospitals were given burials in cemeteries, but it is estimated that 100,000 men remain on the battlefield today – buried where they fell.

The site The Soldier’s Burden offers a detailed glimpse into the lives of the soldiers on all “sides” of the war and gives testament to their struggles and losses.  On a page recounting the battle in which Josef Bergmeister died, another Bavarian soldier, Hans Heiß of the Bavarian Leib Regiment, describes the battle.  I have reprinted most of the description with permission here:

A red streak in the starry night, then another, then another. They burst into red stars. Are they fireworks? A game? No, they are serious, deadly serious. Whizzing over Fleury and Douaumont. The Frenchies had noticed that we were being relieved and had called up an artillery barrage. A barrage meant hell!

Run Comrades, run for your lives!

There is the railway embankment… a ghostly area, keep running. The first salvo comes screaming in… flames, smoke… keep running… move forward. Into the hollow ground beyond… here hell opened up! Whizzing, Howling, gurgling the shells come in. Black earth, smoke and flames shoot up into the air. A wall of death.

Panting, the breath is stilted. Jumping from shell hole to shell hole… through! then FORWARD! Keep running!

Up the embankment, stumbling, falling. The heart beating in the throat…falling, getting up, continuing. Foam on the lips… up there, the large shell crater… get into it! Once there you can get your breath back. Almost there, there where they are all headed for.

Whizz, bang! Flame and smoke… right in the heavy shell hole! Don’t go in, pass it by!

Here they crawl forward, blood stained and blackened by smoke “Kamerad! Kamerad! For God’s sake… help me!” “And me!” “And me!”

Cannot, have to get forward into position… don’t listen, don’t look! Go past! Move… faster!

…. There! There! It is terrible, someone is burning. He tosses his burning backpack away but his uniform is burning. Ha, ha, ha! Laughing, laughing at the sky…he has gone mad.

Burying the head in the sand. See nothing, Hear nothing, think nothing!  Think nothing!

Then it was over and we could move forward.

It will be four days in the front line now. Four endless, terrible, desperate days. And four terrible nights. And if we survive… the same road through hell back again.

Two men pass carrying in a wounded man wrapped in a shelter half.  A whizz and a bang. Flame and smoke, all three men are swept away, the medics and wounded man ripped apart, gone forever. No! No! No further! Throw it all away, the backpack, rifle, gasmask… and now run! Run! Run far away.. far away from this hell…

Fleury today. The depressions remain from the artillery fire. Photo courtesy of Chris Boonzaier.

New York Times headline, December 31, 1918.

Meanwhile, in the United States German immigrants were far from the battlefield, but life was difficult in other ways.  The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.  Germans living in the U.S. were warned to obey the law and surrender any weapons, explosives, or radios.  Any who did not comply were arrested.  Any non-naturalized German that was believed to be aiding the enemy were arrested and interred.  By December, 1917, all male Germans in cities with populations over 5,000 had to report to either the post office or police station to register; the same rules applied to female Germans the following May.

Most of these records no longer exist, but I did once see the list of Philadelphia “enemy alien registrations” (now missing).  In it were the names and addresses of my great-grandparents, Josef (now known as Joseph) and Marie Bergmeister, and their 20-year-old German-born daughter, Marie.  My great-grandfather had not yet declared his intent to become a citizen of the United States, but he had lived in the country since 1900.  Their four American-born children were safe from the registration requirements.

The Joseph Bergmeister living in America, despite being considered an “enemy alien” required to register with the authorities, was also required to register for the selective service act.  On 12 September 1918, he registered for military service with the U.S. draft board in Philadelphia, PA, but he was never called into service by the U.S. military.  Joseph’s brother Ignatz also registered with the draft board in Elizabeth, NJ on the same day.

Joseph Bergmeister's WWI draft card. Note that the German-born "Joseph" still signs his name Josef!

My relatives left no diaries or letters to reveal what they thought about these regulations, or about the war with their homeland, or if they knew the fate of their cousins in Germany or even kept in touch after immigration.  One can only wonder what it felt like to suddenly be considered “the enemy” in the country you called home for so many years.

In Part 5, the final post in this series on the Bavarian Military Rosters, we will discover how closely the two Josef Bergmeister’s are related and see how many Bergmeister men were involved in the war fighting for Germany.

Sources:

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No matter where your ancestors were from, chances are that they endured tumultuous events such as famines, epidemics, and wars.  In researching my Bavarian ancestors, I’ve tried to immerse myself in the history of their towns and villages to try to understand the customs, beliefs, and society in which they lived.  If you dig deep enough, you’ll uncover many interesting events that took place during the lives of your ancestors. There aren’t any records that allow me to fully understand how these events impacted my ancestors in particular, but learning about these historical events helps to imagine what their lives were like.

Maria Theresa in 1759 (SOURCE: Wikipedia public domain image)

Maria Theresa in 1759 (SOURCE: Wikipedia public domain image)

The town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm has a long history dating back to the 12th century.  Like most areas of Europe, Pfaffenhofen has witnessed many disasters over the years.   In the middle of the 18th Century, a war raged throughout Europe called the War of Austrian Succession.  Although it is largely forgotten in history books, it could almost be called the first world war since it involved almost all of the powers of Europe. While war is often considered to be a man’s game, this one all started because of a woman – Maria Theresa of Austria.  Her father, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, died without a male heir.  Charles hoped to enable Maria Theresa to take his place by persuading the various German states to agree to her succession in 1713 with the Pragmatic Sanction.

After the death of Charles in 1740, King Frederick II of Prussia protested her reign by invading  Silesia.  Thus began a long war that was a competition among various courts for a male heir with the genealogical claim to the throne to take precedence over Maria Theresa’s rule.  Frederick joined forces with France, Spain, Bavaria, and Saxony, while Austria garnered support from several other European forces.

The Bavarian army fought with French forces in both Silesia and Bohemia over the next few years.  This war had several campaigns fought in several countries.  Throughout, both Austria and Prussia gained allies and lost allies with some countries even switching sides.  But the war continued, and the succession issue remained unresolved although several claimed the throne.

By 1742, the war came much closer to home for my ancestors living in Pfaffenhofen.  By this time, the Bavarian army was still aligned with the French, and Austria had turned to Hungary for support.  The capital of Bavaria, Munich – only 33 miles south of Pfaffenhofen – fell to the Austro-Hungarian army on February 13, 1742.  Four days later, Pfaffenhofen and all of the surrounding towns located in the area between the Inn and Lech rivers were under Austrian control.

An Austrian Pandur

An Austrian Pandur

Some of the Austro-Hungarian forces were Croat mercenary soldiers called the Pandurs.  Pandur forces swept through the Bavarian countryside.  The Pandurs’ tactics would be known as guerrilla warfare today.  They were also known for their lack of discipline in which plunder was more important than their military orders.  Histories of Pfaffenhofen do not record all of the details of this invasion, but one notes the “wild hordes of terror” as the Pandurs occupied the area and resorted to robbery, murder, and fire.

All throughout this war, the simple townsfolk of Pfaffenhofen and the local farmers were expected to pay increased taxes to support the armies.  If anyone refused to pay, they were arrested.

By the end of 1742, the forces shifted and Pfaffenhofen was no longer occupied by enemy forces.  The following year, Bavaria was again invaded in May and occupied through October.  But the year of the war that is most remembered in Pfaffenhofen is 1745.  By April 12, 1745, the two armies again amassed just outside of the city.

The Franco-Bavarian army was led by General François de Ségur with about 7,000 forces.  However, Ségur was unaware that his Bavarian and Hessian reinforcements under General Törring had retreated several miles away, and he was caught off guard when the Austro-Hungarian forces arrived.  The Austro-Hungarian army was led by General Karl Josef Batthyány and consisted of 10,000 Austrian and Hungarian forces.  Batthyány  was aware of Ségur’s isolation, and attacked Pfaffenhofen on the morning of April 15, 1745.

Like most medieval cities, Pfaffenhofen was a walled town with four gates to get in or out of town.  The Austrian army, consisting of infantry, cavalry, and artillery units, broke through the town wall and fighting ensued on the streets of the town with the Croat Pandurs engaging in house-to-house combat.  The French army defending the townspeople took on heavy casualties, and 300 French soldiers were captured by the enemy.

Outnumbered, Ségur was forced to withdrawn or else his army would have been completed encircled.   Some of Ségur’s Palatinate forces panicked, and in their retreat the fierce Pandurs and Hussar cavalry attacked the retreating troops.  The French forces hastily retreated with their heavy equipment getting stuck in the muddy fields outside of Pfaffenhofen; when the horses were cut free, they fled as well.  Ségur’s retreating army was literally chased by the Batthyány’s forces until that evening when the Austrians gave up pursuit.

Red line shows Austrian forces; Blue shows Franco-Bavarian forces

Red line shows Austrian forces; Blue shows Franco-Bavarian forces

Austria, with about 800 casualties, was the clear “winner” of the battle, while the Franco-Bavarian forces lost 2,400.  As a result of the defeat, Bavaria’s leader Maximilian III Joseph gave up the war that his father had begun.  He made peace with Maria Theresa through the Treaty of Füssen on April 22, 1745.  Oh, and Törring, the guy who left Ségur outnumbered?  He was fired.  The peace treaty took Bavaria officially out of the War of Austrian Succession, leaving Austria with only three other fronts to fight in Silesia, Italy, and the Netherlands.  In the end, after years of bloodshed, Maria Theresa’s claim to the throne did prevail when her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, became Emperor on September 13, 1745.

The battle definitely had an impact on the townspeople of Pfaffenhofen.  One can only assume that they were all inside the walls of the town when the attack occurred.  The only place of refuge nearby would have been the monastery at Scheyern, where it was reported that the monks only escaped the looting of the Pandurs because a wounded Austrian officer being tended by the monks would not allow it.  Two brave priests left the walls of the monastery to administer last rites to soldiers dying in the fields.

Most of the accounts of the battle were in German, and I relied on poor translations from online translators.  I was able to get the general idea that the invading Army left the town a mess.  Some of the town’s court records seem to indicate that residents petitioned the town for assistance after their homes were looted and severely damaged.  One resident, Georg Gerhauser, reported that he, his wife, and their eight children could not even attend church services on Good Friday because they lacked the appropriate clothing after Austrian soldiers looted their home.  Food was also scarce in the days following the battle.

This battle must have been quite terrifying to the farmers and merchants of the area.  The battle took place on the day of the calendar that happened to be Holy Thursday in the Roman Catholic Church calendar that year.  This is the feast prior to the day Christ died when Catholics remember His Last Supper and the gift of the Eucharist.  As a special feast, this likely would have been a religious holiday in the town in which everyone would have attended Mass – but I doubt their plans went as scheduled that fateful day.

At this time I have several ancestors living in Pfaffenhofen.  Bernhard Eggerer, my 5th great-grandfather, was born in 1721 and would have been about to turn 24 at the time of the battle.  Did he fight in the army?  Did he defend his town as a simple shoemaker?  I don’t know, but he did survive this event.  He would marry 17 years later and have 8 children before dying in 1778 at the age of 57.

Other ancestors residing in Pfaffenhofen in 1745 include Matthias Kaillinger, a glassmaker, Michael Paur, a carpenter, and possibly Phillip Nigg, a mason.  I have not found Philip’s birth record yet, but he marries in town eight years after the battle.  One thing is certain – after all of the street fighting and looting, the skills of all three gentlemen would have been put to good use after the battle ended!  I also had my Bergmeister ancestor, Johann Paul Bergmeister, living in the nearby town of Puch and running the grain mill.  With all of the havoc in the fields, one can only wonder the impact on the family’s business as a result.

In reviewing my ancestral records, I do not appear to have any deaths on that day, so my families were safe after the fighting ended.  Now that I have learned about this event, I want to review the death records to see if any soldier or civilian deaths are recorded in the church books. It is apparent in these few accounts I uncovered that although the battle itself was relatively short in duration, the town took a long time to recover from it.

[Written for the 77th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Disasters Our Ancestors Lived Through]

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71st Carnival of Genealogy

Welcome to the 71st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy!  The topic for today was Local History! As genealogists, we are used to tracing our ancestors and the history of the places they lived. But not all of us live where our ancestors did – do we take the time to see the history all around us? Well, based on the response – yes, we do take the time!  Come and read some fascinating entries on what proved to be an interesting topic.  In the twenty-five submissions presented here, you will read about some amazing historical places, events, and people located in sixteen U.S. states and two Canadian provinces!

Carol Wilkerson presents MacArthur Left But Volckmann Remained posted at iPentimento | Genealogy and History. Even though Russell Volckmann was a WWII hero, Carol’s husband was never taught about him in any of his schooling.

Kiril Kundurazieff presents Hunting Down the Honeymoon Hotel: A Genealogical Adventure posted at Musings of a Mad Macedonian. This picture filled Detective Tale is about a, um, Honeymoon Hotel, on the Boardwalk in Newport Beach, Ca., a hotel with a history going back to 1904. With just a receipt with no address, or city, for the hotel, Kiril used his investigative skills to find the place, which was where his parents spent their honeymoon in 1958. $43 for a 6 day stay.  You can’t buy a Love Nest for that much money today, hee, hee!

Elyse Doerflinger presents A California Port Town – COG posted at Elyse’s Genealogy Blog. Elyse wrote about San Pedro, California – the port town right next to the Los Angeles Harbor.

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino presents My Hometown: Methuen, Massachusetts posted at Acadian Ancestral Home. My Hometown: Methuen, Massachusetts provides an insight to local history as well as the history of America. As an Acadian researcher it also tells about the Acadian families exiled to Methuen in the winter of 1755-56 when exiled from Nova Scotia by British Governor Charles Lawrence.

Elizabeth Powell Crowe presents Wordless Wednesday/Carnival of Genealogy 71st Edition posted at Crowe’s Nest by Elizabeth Powell Crowe.  Huntsville, Alabama (where Elizabeth was born) recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of its founding at the Big Spring.

Earline Bradt presents COG Local History – “The Tomato Capital of Canada”, Leamington, Ontario posted at Ancestral Notes. Though close to one of the first areas to be revealed after the last ice age, and 40 miles away from one of the earliest explored areas of the New World, Leamington, in Essex County, Ontario was one of the last to be settled.

Leah Kleylein presents Random Notes: COG – Historic King of Prussia Inn posted at Random Notes. Leah offers a short history of the King of Prussia Inn, located in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

Evelyn Yvonne Theriault presents Kahnawa:ke – Home of the Haudenosaunee « A Canadian Family posted at A Canadian Family. Evelyn lives on land that rightly belongs to the Mohawk of Kahnawake.

Linda Hughes Hiser presents Carnival of Genealogy–George Ornan Willet posted at Flipside. Linda writes: “What a great topic! I found out that the street where I live was named for my town’s first mayor.”

Denise Olson presents Living History posted at Moultrie Creek. Denise’s family research turns up centuries-old ties to her home town.

John Newmark presents July 2, 1917 – East St. Louis posted at TransylvanianDutch. 92 years ago one of the bloodiest race riots in our nation’s history occurred three miles from the office building in which John works today.

Ruby Coleman presents Rails Then and Now in Nebraska posted at Nebraska Roots and Ramblings. The railroad coming through Nebraska was instrumental in the history of the nation as well as locally. North Platte, Nebraska as a terminal had a colorful history that is to this day of historical interest.

Cheri L. Hopkins presents “GERONIMO”, High Flying War Dog of the 507th ! posted at THOSE OLD MEMORIES. Geronimo, the WWII CANINE paratrooper of the 507th, was a favorite figure in the history of Alliance Nebraska. This a short story tribute to this awesome soldier.

Midge Frazel presents Williams LATHAM posted at Granite in My Blood. Gravestones and their resting places in greater Bridgewater MA owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Williams Latham, local author and historian.

Kris P presents Carnival time! Peabody, MA « From the seed to the branches posted at From the seed to the branches. Read about a “proud Southern girl” who winds up on the North shore of Massachusetts.

Amanda presents The Erie Canal posted at A Tale of Two Ancestors.  Amanda connects her current location, Syracuse, NY, with the home of her ancestors in Buffalo, NY.

Sheri Fenley presents San Joaquin County Local History – A Sack of Flour posted at The Educated Genealogist.  Read about San Joaquin County and the famous sack of flour!

Randy Seaver presents A Victorian House in San Diego – turned into a box posted at Genea-Musings. Randy’s favorite house in San Diego has a history, but it’s hidden beneath the exterior paint and stucco.

Bill West presents West in New England: LOCAL HISTORY – THE NORTH ABINGTON RIOT posted at West in New England. One August day in 1893 all heck broke loose in North Abington Center and became the North Abington Riot!

Cherie presents 71st Carnival of Genealogy: Local History posted at Still Digging for Roots.  Cherie recently discovered a local hero of the Spanish-American War.

Julie Cahill Tarr presents David Davis (1815-1886) posted at The Graveyard Rabbit of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. Bloomington, Illinois is rich with history. There are many places and people of interest, but this post focuses on one gentleman, David Davis.

Greta Koehl presents Tinner Hill: Desegregation, Graveyards, and My Fireplace posted at Greta’s Genealogy Bog. What could desegregation, graveyards, and my fireplace possibly have in common? They all have a connection to Tinner Hill. Greta feels very privileged to live within walking distance of this community and thinks you will find its history as fascinating as she does.

Jasia presents Brief History of Saint Joseph, Michigan posted at Creative Gene. Jasia’s new home town is Saint Joseph, Michigan. It’s a wonderful resort town on the shores of Lake Michigan. Come read about it’s history and see some fabulous vintage postcards of days gone by!

footnoteMaven presents From the Flames My Home posted at footnoteMaven.  fM’s home was built as the result of the careless act of John E. Back, June 6, 1889.  But she writes, “Perhaps he did us all a favor.”

And finally, Donna Pointkouski presents Shadows of History in My Backyard posted here at What’s Past is Prologue.  Donna wonders if the history of her new town in New Jersey could compete with her hometown of Philadelphia, PA.  It can! Read about the shadows of history she discovered right in her backyard.

This concludes this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.  I hope you enjoyed learning about each other’s hometowns and their fascinating histories, people, and places as much as I did.

Now it is time for the next Call for Submissions! The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be: Mothers! Mother’s Day is right around the corner and this is the perfect time to honor your mother, grandmother, godmother, step mother, den mother, aunt, neighbor, or friend who happens to be a mother. If you’ve written about your own mother for the COG before, consider writing about another mom on your family tree. Let’s make all our moms famous! The deadline for submissions is May 15th and next edition will be hosted at Creative Gene.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy using the carnival submission form. Please use a descriptive phrase in the title of any articles you plan to submit and/or write a brief description/introduction to your articles in the “comment” box of the blogcarnival submission form. This will give readers an idea of what you’ve written about and hopefully interest them in clicking on your link. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Thanks for the COG poster, fM!

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I was born and raised in Philadelphia, one of the most historic cities in the U.S.  Even so, my neighborhood was far removed from the main historic sites like the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ house, or Independence Hall.  So far removed that the neighborhood is usually called the Far Northeast.  As the name implies, it is to the far northeast of the city bordering Bucks County, Pennsylvania and it was not fully incorporated into the city limits until 1854.

Since this area of the city was mostly “settled” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, we never knew that it even had a history.  But local streams had exotic Indian names like Neshaminy and Poquessing so we could only imagine what that history may have been.  I eventually learned that the area was once the land of the Lenape. The Lenape land became farm land for English and Swedish settlers, then summer homes for Philadelphia’s wealthy elite, then the sprawling middle class pseudo-suburb that it remains today.  Within all of those various uses for the land lies a rich history.  A saint played in my backyard.  A Founding Father was born just a few miles away. William Penn’s surveyor, who planned the city of Philadelphia, chose this area to live.  And perhaps most exciting of all, George Washington’s army camped a mile away on their way to Yorktown and marched down what is now called Frankford Avenue.

When the time came to purchase a home, I decided to leave my old neighborhood and I set my sights on “East Philadelphia” – otherwise known as New Jersey.  I used to drive through the area of Palmyra and Riverton, and I liked the old houses and charming vibe.  But could these sleepy towns compete with Philadelphia’s history?  I soon learned that history is all around us – sometimes even in our own backyard.

Palmyra, my new hometown, was only officially formed in 1894.  But the history of the land itself was as fascinating as my old neighborhood’s history!  Originally this area was also the land of the Lenape and served as a vast hunting area for the community.  In 1689, the first settlers showed up – the Swedes – and it became the northern portion of New Sweden.

About three generations later, descendants of one of those first Swedish settlers, Elias Toy, built a stone farmhouse in 1761.  That house, slightly modified in the ensuing years, still serves as a residence — about 100 yards from my backyard!  It is the oldest house in Palmyra and the surrounding area.  The view of it from my backyard  is blocked by trees, but here’s a view from the road on its other side.

The Toy-Morgan House, Palmyra, NJ, originally built in 1761.
The Toy-Morgan House, Palmyra, NJ, originally built in 1761.

The Toy family had about 300 acres of farmland and orchards, and most of this area forms the town of Palmyra today, most notably my own property and street!  According to Life on the Delaware: A History of Palmyra, “legend has it that Benjamin Franklin paused here more than once while on his voyages to visit his son.”  The house remained in the possession of the Toy family until 1848, when it was sold to the Morgan’s – another family that had lived in the area for many generations. He  expanded the size of the house in 1853 to its present form. You can read more about the house in a recent article or see a rather historic drawing of the house that looks remarkably like today’s photo.

This is the view from the Toy-Morgan House looking north at the Delaware River
This is the view from the Toy-Morgan House looking north at the Delaware River. That’s an abandoned Philadelphia factory to the left on the other side.

The area surrounding this house changed over the years.  In the 1830s the railroad tracks were laid and the Camden & Amboy Railroad made the area more town-like than farmland.  Then it was referred to as “Texas” – and perhaps there was a bit of a wild west feel with horses and farms.  But in 1849, the name Palmyra first appears on a map of Burlington County, reportedly christened by another Toy family descendant.

What I find interesting about the Palmyra, Riverton, and Cinnaminson area in New Jersey is that you can still see remnants of several eras of the area’s history – the shadows of history left behind.  These shadows create some remarkable juxtapositions.  For example, the Toy-Morgan house reminds us of the early settlers, but its view of the river is now partially blocked by condominiums. The local produce market, Hunter’s Farm in Cinnaminson, has a sign announcing “Settled 1760″, but there is a Wal-mart and a highway about a mile down the road.  In Riverton and in some sections of Palmyra, there are brightly colored Victorian houses that have been gracing the streets for 150 years with newer homes mixed in between.  The new “light rail” uses the old railroad tracks from the 1830’s.  Along the river, some of the magnificent summer mansions of wealthy Philadelphians mingle with newer, more modest, modern homes.  And, though the median income for the town was $51,000  according to the 2000 census, it’s the home of a car dearlership where you can buy a Bentley or an Aston-Martin.  If you look beyond the new and the modern, you’ll see a fragment or a shadow of  history from one time period or another.

I have taken great pride in researching the places my ancestors lived and worked.  Some of the town histories from Poland and Bavaria go back to the middle ages!  Back when their hometowns were established, mine was wilderness whose history remains hidden. Who would have thought there could be so much history in my own backyard?

Spring beckons as the sun sets over the Delaware River in Palmyra, NJ.
Spring beckons as the sun sets over the Delaware River in Palmyra.

[Written for the 71st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Local History.]

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To the Nines!

2 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 9

Nearly everyone is familiar with the phrase “dressed to the nines”, which means dressed up fancily or fashionably.  But why to the nines?  Why not dressed to the eights or sevens?

No one really knows where the phrase “to the nines” originated.  Some think that the earliest reference is a poem by Robert Burns in 1791 called Poem on Pastoral Poetry in which he notes that “Thou paints auld Nature to the nines.”  Did Burns invent the phrase?  Other theories link the phrase to the nine muses of classical mythology or the Nine Worthies of the Middle ages.  Or, perhaps being “to the nines” is close to being perfect on a scale of one to ten.  Whatever the origin, the phrase has become a part of the English language to mean superlative, or to the highest degree.  Therefore, in honor of the new year of 2009, I offer a salute “to the Nines” – the years of history ending in 9!

It takes 9 months to be born, cats have 9 lives, there are 9 choirs of angels, and there’s even a “Love Potion No. 9″!  In honor of 2009, I plan on taking a look at those other years ending in 9 throughout history – or at least throughout the history of my ancestors.  Beginning with the earliest period that I’ve traced my family history to, I’ll look back on certain decades in history and significant events that occurred in “9” years –  both in terms of world history as well as my family’s history.  I’ll skim along through decades in the beginning, but once I reach the twentieth century I’ll take a closer look at the decades that made up my grandparents and parents lives.  My first “9 Year” was 1969, but since I was only two years old, I can’t say it made a big impression on me.  But 1979, 1989, and 1999 did make an impression, and I will write a memoir-style post about the impact of those specific years on my life.

Welcome to 2009, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading my “To the Nines” series over the next several months!

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When Times Change

The other day I learned of the death of an old friend – the VCR.  A news report told me that VHS tapes are no longer being produced.  While that does not come as a complete surprise, it still shocked me.  Why? Because it means that I am getting old.  When inventions of your childhood are replaced by newer, better inventions and you start to reminisce about the “good old days”, you’ve become a relic yourself!

SYSTEM, Video Home.  Died 27 December 2008 after a long period of declining health. Mr. System, called VHS by his friends, was the son of the late Mr. & Mrs. Betamax.  He was thirty-two years old and was predeceased by his spouse, VHS-C.  VHS is survived by children, DVD and HD-DVD, and grandchildren Tivo and Blue-Ray.

Several years ago my parents began to reminisce about their childhoods.  After listening to them wax poetic about the ice chest, ice deliveries, wood burning stoves, gas lamplighters, horse-drawn wagons, radio programs, and incoming phone calls to the store down the street, I jokingly asked, “What century were you guys born in?”  I knew they were born in the 1930s, but the things they remembered seem so far removed from my own life that surely they were kidding.  But then my mother posed an interesting response: “Look at all the changes that have happened just in your lifetime and you’ll see what we mean!”

She was right, of course – mothers always are, and it suddenly dawned on me that the future was now.  When I was in the second grade, the phone company (or rather, The phone company since there was only one back then) sponsored a fun contest – design the phone of the future. For kids reading this today, realize that phones had cords back then.  I’m even old enough to know what a rotary phone is – and to have actually used one!  So, we all designed fabulous phones that were more akin to science fiction than to reality.  One of the most popular designs was a phone to go in your car…just imagine!  A phone in your car!  Others tried to imagine a way to know who was calling.  My design was a “video phone” where you could actually see the person you were talking to on a little screen.  We all had fun with that contest, but I don’t think any of us imagined that most of our dream phones would be a reality by the time we were 30.  They became reality, and then some.  Cell phones, caller ID, VoIP? My first cell phone was barely worthy of being labeled a “mobile” phone – it was a ten pound clunky box with the receiver attached by a cord.  Today’s cell phones are smaller than we ever thought possible, and they do things that would simply astound my grandparents, like take photos and play movies.

There have been many other inventions since my youth.  The ATM is an amazing concept – really, kids, you used to have to go inside of a bank during working hours to get some money. Over the years I’ve said good-bye to vinyl and cassettes and I’ve embraced CDs and MP3s.  Digital photography took longer to gain a hold on me, but now I can’t go back to my once-beloved film.  But the VCR and its VHS tapes was simply one of the most magical inventions of my youth.  When the Betamax appeared, I begged my parents for one.  I loved television, and the thought of being able to watch my favorites whenever I wanted to was intoxicating.  But, the price tag was much too high – similar to today’s “flat screen” tvs – and it was out of the question.

We finally got a VCR in 1985, rather late to the party.  Amazingly, that same machine still works after hundreds of hours of recording and many more of playback.  While I prefer my movies on DVD now for quality, I continue to use a VCR to tape tv shows I want to watch later.  But apparently not for much longer…

Is this how my parents felt when record albums went away? Or how my grandparents felt when that last horse-drawn delivery cart came down the street?

I can’t even begin to imagine what devices will be part of my nieces and nephews lives 30-40 years from now.  All I know is that, back when I was their age, if you would have shown me a DVD player that you could hold on your lap in the back seat of the car, I’d have been dumbstruck.  You see, back in the “good” old days, all we had for entertainment on car rides was looking out the window, conversation, and fighting with siblings.  Well, at least they still have that…

Which generation is living the good days?  All of us! What do inventions have to do with genealogy? While reminiscing about them won’t help you find any ancestral names, realizing we are all a part of history is important – even “historical” things we take for granted like telephones and televisions.

Good-bye, VHS.  I will miss you.  But, all things must pass.  And, in time, we’re all replaced by the next generation!

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A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

Today we commemorate December 7, 1941, the date which has lived in infamy.  My family was not directly affected by the attack on Pearl Harbor; we had no relatives in the military , and my parents were young children.  However, as an American, all were affected by the attack, including those of us that were not born yet, for it set events in motion that changed the world and made history.

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, HI

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, HI

I have had two unique opportunities to visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  My visits were unique because they were a bit outside of an ordinary tourist’s experience.  My first visit was in February, 1999 with a group of U.S. Army chaplains.  The site was closed to just our group, and since they were all chaplains of various faiths, we said a brief, multi-denominational prayer for the souls of the more than one thousand men entombed beneath the memorial, as well as the many other men, women, and children who died that day.  To stand on that spot in total silence while surrounded by men who were in service to both God and country, all offering up a prayer for the dead, was inspiring. The impact of that day and the horror of the sinking ships is felt in full force on that site. Sometimes sights, smells, or sounds will cause us to remember an event.  For me, whenever I hear the sound of a lanyard clanging against a flagpole, I remember this day, because that was the only sound as we prayed and remembered in silence.

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My second visit to Pearl Harbor was in December, 2002.  I was there with a group of government employees, and there were so many of us in the group that we had a VIP visit to the memorial.  We stood silently to remember.  A few days later, we had the great honor of being at the 61st memorial ceremony on December 7, 2002.  The speaker for the ceremony was John William Finn, who received the Medal of Honor for his heroism on that fateful day.  But Mr. Finn, still vigorous at the age of 92 (now 99), insisted that he wasn’t there to talk about “me, me, me or I, I, I” – he was there, he said, “to remember my shipmates” as the heroes of that day.  What a privilege to have heard Mr. Finn recount his experiences.

President Roosevelt’s famous “infamy” speech (SOURCE: HyperWar) concludes with these words before he asks Congress to declare war on Japan:

But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.

Today, let us remember the 2,350 who died that day, which included 68 civilians and 1,177 sailors stationed on the Arizona. Let us also remember the men whose lives were changed by this day as they were inspired to fight for America!

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