Sunday, May 31, 2009

Battlefields, Castles and Medieval Towns

Today was the only overcast day so far, dark clouds and a few drops of rain. We were heading up north of Osnabrueck to have our tour of the Varus battlefield in Kalkriese, but first stop was in a town called Rahden, to visit a Museum Hof. This reminded me of a smaller version of the Living History Museum in Detmold. There were having a craftsman day with blacksmith’s and bakers etc. and they had a museum showing costumes and linen items. Linen weaving was a major trade in this area of Germany. We walked through an actual farm house. This was a fantastic example of what a typical farmhouse would have been like centuries ago. The majority of the building is a barn and the living area in the back. An open fireplace, with sausages being smoked overhead and small eating area off to the side. A couple of bedrooms complete the living quarters and you can actually get a feel for how a farm family would have lived in the 1700 & 1800’s.

Kitchen area


Then it started to really rain, so we headed on hoping for the weather to clear. 2009 is the 2000th anniversary of when the German tribesman, Arminius aka Hermann the German, defeated 3 Roman legions led by the Roman general Varus. An English military man stationed in Germany helped to discover the exact location of the battle in the late 80’s and 90’s. (20th century that is) Now there is a museum and we took a tour of the battlefield with an English speaking guide and saw where they found different artifacts from the Romans. It was so interesting; here is a great video on You Tube explaining the history of this battle. I recommend you watch it. Some of our pictures from the field and museum are below also.

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The different standards of the Roman troops ------Me on the embankment defense line.
Walking with our Guide ------------------------The marsh ground that got the Romans!
Walking with our guide through the Forest. ---------- Roman coins found in the field

Monday – Another research day at Bielefeld Archives. Found that my ancestor with the house in Bockhorst, was born in Dissen and found records for him, his father and his father. Good day.

Tuesday – left for Würzburg today. I am going to do a little advance preparation for my September group. When we got there in the afternoon, found the town square to be really crowded, soon found out that the President of Bavaria and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel were there to give some political speeches. Couldn’t understand what they were talking about but the crowd seemed to like them. Kind of fun, like if you showed up somewhere and there was a U.S. President. Lots of security.

For the rest of the week we visited sites in Würzburg and surrounding area. We took a boat ride from Würzburg for about an hour to Veitshochheim, the summer residence castle for the Prince Bishops in days gone by. More beautiful gardens and of course another impressive building. These guys really lived it up.

Cruising Down the River ------------------------ The Prince Bishop Palace

The Garden

Another day we toured the Residence Palace in Würzburg. This was the residence of the Prince Bishop and home to members of his court and government officials. This building is amazing, done in Baroque architecture and has one of the only fully intact ceiling frescoes that was done in one piece. Unfortunately, this building was damaged in WWII, as was much of Würzburg, but they have redone it magnificently. The fresco was not damaged.

The Residence Palace in Würzburg and Garden

We also WALKED up to the fortress which sits way, way, up the hill on the other side of the river. Fortress Marienberg (German: Festung Marienberg) is a prominent landmark on the Main river in Würzburg, Germany. The mighty Fortress Marienberg is the symbol of Würzburg and served as a home of the prince-bishops for nearly five centuries. It has been a fort since ancient times. After Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden conquered the area in 1631, the castle was reconstructed in the Baroque style. Today, it is a park and museum. It was worth the walk and they give English guided tours but also, for those of you going on the September tour, there is a bus that goes up there!

Last but not least, we visited Rothenburg ob der Tauber. A well known tourist city, but it is certainly well worth the visit. It is fantastic, a medieval walled city that is incredibly charming. You can wander the cobble stoned streets for hours, take a break from shopping at one of the numerous outside cafes, make sure to walk the wall and look out over the unspoiled countryside. They also have some museums worth a visit. It was a great day and all in all a wonderful trip. Can’t wait to go back and enjoy them all again.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

For anyone interested in a heritage tour to visit your ancestral homeland please contact me at:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ancestor Homes, Monuments & Castles

Friday, went back to Hoyel to look at church books for a few things we still needed and got to spend about an hour and a half there before the church secretary had to leave. We then went to the town to take some pictures of the church (Hoyel church), which is about from the 1200`s. Really amazing. We walked around town some and took some other pictures of the town for some of my clients who have ancestors from here.

Then we drove a few miles to visit in my hometown of Bockhorst again. I have been lucky enough to have been to this town a couple times, it is a small village but very picturesque, and the Evangelisch church there dates back to the 1200`s also. They think at one time it may have been a monastery. The church is famous for its crucifix with Christ wearing a “triumphal crown” rather than the crown of thorns. The original old crucifix is now on display in Münster. We met the town historian who we had contacted a couple days before to see if he could help locate the old farmhouse for another line of my family that I had been researching in the Archives. The old church entries had given the house number for them. Believe it or not, the old farm house from 1809 (newly built in 1809) was still there and remodeled some and being lived in. This is in the line of f half-timbered homes that ring the church. We walked around the back of the lane and there in beautiful script were my ancestors names on their new house!! I can not believe I have been to this town 2 times and walked past this house (the other side mind you) and have not seen this name. Needless to say I was thrilled. The historian also took us to see an original farm building for the in-laws of this family. Good day for research finds.

My ancestors home built in 1809

Names etched on house.

Saturday spent with more site-seeing. First stop the Kaiser Wilhelm Denkmal (monument) in Porta Westphalica. Beautiful scenery with rolling hills and there up one of the hills was the monument. Very impressive. We climbed the hill and looked out over miles of scenery dotted with villages.

Then we headed to a town called Bückeburg to see the Bückeburg Schloss (castle). This is my idea of what a castle should be. It still is privately owned and the current resident is Prince Alexander, House of Schaumburg-Lippe. I guess to help pay the bills, they recently have revived a court custom with a horse riding school. From 1609 to 1787, Bückeburg, like many Europeon courts, had its own School of Equitation dedicated to the art of Baroque riding. The Dance of the Horses was considered an art form in itself, comparable to music or poetry. It was incredible. Gorgeous grounds, which we walked and walked, beautiful gardens and you can do tours through the castle but we were a little late for that. Next time, I am doing that for sure. I think this will have to be a day trip for the Northwest tour. They also have a perfectly cute pink and white kitchen, the old Schloss kitchen, where you can get delicious kaffee und kuchen. The castle gate enters directly out to the town of Bückeburg market place, which is another incredible town, nice town square, big Rathaus and church. I love to meander through these cobblestone streets, stop for a glass of wine or beer at outside cafes and just absorb the history all around. Every day gets better and better.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Church Books, Hometowns and Old Towns

Wednesday is a work day. I did not have a full tour for this May trip (it really is fun, you should have come), but I was meeting some people who came on their own. We had set up meetings in their hometowns for them or I was doing some research for them. First stop was meeting a cousin of another member of my German research group from home. We met Herr Horst early in Herford and proceeded to go over family lines and compare notes. Nice man, English good and he is looking forward to helping with information for his American cousins. Next stop was meeting some folks in Hoyel and working on church books. In some towns the church books are still kept in the parish office instead of having sent them to a regional Archive. My friend made some calls and we were able to view (and touch) church books back to 1700’s or earlier. I am amazed at what kind of paper they used, as it is not crumbly or falling apart after hundreds of years. In some years the writing is very beautiful and you can pick out the name you are looking for easily. It seems like the further back in years you get the more they tried to conserve the paper and they have crowded many entries onto the page. Anyway, it is extremely helpful to have someone who can read old German script with you. We were very successful and found my client’s ancestral name and went back quite a few generations. They were thrilled, plus we then walked over to the church and took pictures. This church dates back to the 1100 or 1200’s. Amazing. We left them to converse with some town folks who will give them a ride back to the train station and we headed to another appointment for client research in Neuenkirchen. We met with a local historian who has access to the church books, which are again kept in the church office. This turned out to be really fun too as we found the names we were looking for and since in this cabinet were kept baptism, marriage, death and even some family register books, dating back to the 1700’s we were able to get quite a lot of information. I think they will be very pleased. It seems like folks stayed in some of these villages for several generations but when you go back you find in a marriage record that one of them came from the neighbouring village, so then this means you must get to that village or find where the records for this town are kept. Sometimes in Archives as I mentioned before. So we did the best we could and then took some photos of the town for them. We did take photos of the church but this church was fairly new, 1800’s, as the old one burned, so it was not the one the ancestors would have attended but at least it is still on the same spot. Really long day, but very successful.

This is the "cabinet" with church books dating back to the 1700's!

Herr Voss transcribing an entry from a church book.

File drawers also filled with family cards in Neuenkirchen, Germany.

Next day, I did more sightseeing, research for a Northwest trip. We visited a very old town, in the heart of Lippe county, between the hills of the Teutoburg Forest and the River Weser, you will find Lemgo, one of Germany’s most architecturally pretty towns. The Renaissance town, which is over 800 years old, was founded in 1190 by Bernard 2nd of Lippe. We took a pleasant stroll through the streets with many artfully decorated half-timbered houses, shops and of course outside café’s. One of the things I am interested in discovering in Lemgo is a visit to their “Hexenbürgermeisterhaus”, a historical museum which has a exhibition on the period of the Lemgo witch hunts. There are over 200 “witch trial” files in the Town Archive but hopefully we can get a walking tour of the witch hunts and local history.

Right outside of Lemgo is the Schloss Brake, (Castle Brake), it houses a nice museum and old water mill. I didn't get into the castle for a tour, but that will be a must do on the next tour.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Before I get to that, I want to fill you in on my first couple days here in Germany. Not the mundane things, like flight over, train rides or jet lag but my first site seeing day, which was last Saturday. I was invited to visit a meeting of the Osnabrück Genealogical Society, held where else, outskirts of Osnabrück. Luckily, the St. Louis Genealogical Society, of which I am a member has a "partnership" so to speak with the Osnabrück Society and over the past several years I have made some contacts from this group who help me with research and my tours. So many people from this area of Germany came to Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, that they are interested in making contacts with their U.S. relatives too.

The topic of the lecture for this meeting was ´Totengedenkzetteln aus der Zeit ab Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts" or Death (obituary) cards from mid 1900's. Several ladies from the Society have been collecting Catholic obituary cards from the area of Oldenburg, Münsterland and Osnabrück and created an index and CD with more information on it. Perhaps you would find a relative´s name here and you could contact them (the creators of the CD, not your dead relative) for more information. Here is the website:

Of course the lecture was in German, which I understood very little of, but unlike our meetings, theirs includes kaffee und kuchen. (coffee & cake) Ummm, very good. I also met with a few people after the meeting who are interested in getting help from the U.S. on tracking down some of their immigrant descendants, which I am sure some of my German research groups will be happy to help me with.

I then was able to spend several hours in their library, looking at church books and other assorted indexes and papers they have available. I had come over with not only my own family puzzles to find, but other research questions from friends, clients and fellow group members. It is hard to keep track of all the names and places I am searching for but I was able to find some things and rule out others. I know it is not the best possible scenario when you don' t find the name but I guess you have to count the negative as a source checked and move on. Here are a couple photos of their library.

All Church Books from the Area.

For those of you on my next tour take note of the green jacket!!

Before I go on with my activities, I want to tell you what a perfect time of year the first couple weeks of May are to visit here. The weather has been great, sunny for the most part and not too hot or not too cold, just right for walking and site-seeing. Plus everything is blooming, flowers are everywhere and most all the homes have gorgeous displays in their yards, or gartens as they say. The most impressive thing is the fields of yellow flowers that are like a patchwork quilt of color. The yellow flowers are rapeseed and the oil from this flower is used for biodiesel fuel and also a cooking oil, but the first couple weeks of May the fields are alive with this color. I can' stop oohing and ahhing. I had to stop a couple times for pictures.

Sunday was a perfect day, weather wise and ended up perfect too. First stop was to West Kilver to an old farmstead that now has a restaurant in a barn, and a breakfast buffet set up for Sunday breakfast, it was delicious. We then drove through the countryside, me admiring all these fields of yellow, and I had to stop again to take a picture of a sign that I know are ancestral home towns of friends back home. It doesn't show up well on here but some of the towns were:

Bünde, Bieren, Lübbecke, Böringhausen, Pr. Oldendorf, and Holzhausen. We were on our way to Minden but first stopped in towns along the way to see old churches and farm homes.

One place we stopped was in Bad Holzhausen (used to be just Holzhausen) which is part of Pr.Oldendorf to see a typical land lord's house and "wasser mühle" water mill. The grounds were beautiful and the house is now open for tourists.

Onward to Minden, where we were going to pick up a boat ride on a canal of the Weser River. This was very interesting, the river runs south to north and they built this canal from east to west using water from the river. The boats then cross over the river on a bridge, it was quite a sight to see a boat on a bridge!!

What a day, cruising down the river (or canal) for an hour or so, these boats also have refreshments, so being in Germany, we had a beer! The weather was perfect, blue skies and a leisurely pace, was heavenly but on to the next stop of the day. The boats let you off at Südhemmern, where we walked a few blocks to the windmill!. Now we get to the topic of this blog, Windmills in Germany. I didn’t know this but the northwest of Germany has a “Westfälische Mühlenstrasse” or Westfalen Windmill Road. There are windmills dotted all across the region and they have bike paths and bier gartens set up around a lot of them. This day the yellow fields were ablaze as we made our way to the windmill, as you can see by this picture.

We went in the windmill and climbed to the top to see a view of the countryside that was breathtaking, then down to the tables and the music and time for our kaffee and kuchen. I really like this custom of cake and coffee in the afternoon; we had the best butter kuchen I’ve ever tasted. Maybe it was the atmosphere but it sure tasted scrumptious to me. We stayed for about an hour and then headed down the road for our last adventure of the day. A ride back to Minden by steam train!! It was an old fashioned train from probably the early 1900’s and it steamed and blew its whistle and off we went. It was really fun, passing through the fields and imaging what a journey on one of these trains would have been like. About a half hour later we were back in Minden and our day of leisurely transport was over and we headed home but it was a day full of great scenery and great memories.

Next day was spent at the Archives in Bielefeld, which surprisingly was next door to the hotel my tour group stayed in last May. The Archives in Bielefeld have the church records for all of Westfalen (excluding Lippe). We had made an appointment, as there are only about 5 or 6 micro-fiche readers there. You ask the person at the desk for the towns you are interested in and he will give you a small box with the microfiche in it. Baptisms, marriages and death records, the death records are especially helpful at times as it may say where they were originally born. This helps if you have looked for your person’s baptism and can’t find it in the town you thought, it is probably because he/she was born in a different village. I did not have any luck with the one gr-gr-grandmother I am looking for but found some other family information and got to print some death records which took me back a couple more generations. Good work. We also ran into a person at the Archives who is the cousin of one of my fellow German Special Interest group members and he took us on a tour (hike) up to the Castle of Sparrenburg. Quite a walk but worth it, here is some info about the Castle.
After this, took my treasures of family information home to the hotel and tried to sort out what I have found and what I still needed. Hope I get a chance to get back to the Archives.

Tuesday I was heading to the Archives in Detmold, to get the information from the emigrant papers my elusive gr-gr-granndmother had left. I had found her name in one of the Westfalen Auswanderer (emigration) books at the St. Louis library and we had found the number of the entry etc. at the Bielefeld Archives and had emailed ahead to have them pull this record for me. But before we drove to Detmold, we stopped to do a little advance scouting for a place for my next group to stay in a little spa town called Bad Salzuflen. Wow, what a “cute” little town. My German friend is so tired of me saying cute but it really was. Bad Salzuflen is a traditional spa and resort town situated near the Teutonburger Wald (forest). It is famous for its health giving salt water springs, has air and water just like being at the sea. In the center of town there is a “Gradierwerk”, which I will have to show you a picture of, kind of hard to describe. The brine water from underground is trickled over the wooden columns filled with blackthorn bundles, which in former times helped concentrate the salt content, now it serves as an enormous open air inhalation facility and you get a salted, sea-breeze from it. Just like being at the sea, you also can enter a passage way through this Gradierwerk which takes you to the brine mist chamber where you can inhale deeply the fresh sea air. Here you can relax, listen to soft music and look at a starful sky that continuously changes color.

There is a lively, historic Old Town, which will impress you with its sumptuous patrician houses and beautifully decorated half-timbered houses. You can wander down picturesque lanes or perhaps take a ride on the Paulinchen Bahn, a small train that takes you through the town. There is many shops to browse in, and outside café’s to linger in plus an incredibly, gorgeous park to stroll through. All in all, this is the place I’ve picked for home base on the next Northwest tour.

On to Detmold to the Archives, this too, we have made arrangements ahead of time to have them pull the document needed. I am not sure if every one who works at the Archive can speak English and I am lucky to have someone with me who can, plus be able to read the old German. I guess I would suggest if you are planning on visiting an Archive on your own you should also perhaps hire a local researcher to assist you. Luckily, we got the emigrant paper and found her name and a town (different than the one she said she was from on her marriage record in the States) but the next village within spitting distance. So the search for church records continues. Another successful day.