Sunday, December 12, 2010

Unterknausen, Germany

Today I am excited to have a "guest" blogger on my site. Jean Funk was on our last trip to Bavaria in Sept. 2010 and she has a great story about her trip to her German hometown. Thanks Jean!!

I always knew that my Grandfather had been born in Unterknausen, Germany, but I knew nothing further. My mother and her sisters told me that my grandfather was an orphan and had been raised in a Catholic orphanage and had been sponsored by his uncle Michael to come to the United States. He worked for his uncle’s bakery, selling bread from a horse-drawn carriage on the streets of Chicago.

One of my aunts had a beer stein that had information regarding the years he served in the Army in Germany from 1900-1903. It told the name of his cavalry unit in Ulm.
It took me long time to find him on the passenger lists, but I did find him coming to the United States with his uncle Michael and a neighbor young lady from the same time, who Michael also sponsored. It turned out that that young lady married my Grandfather’s brother in Chicago.
One of my aunt’s had my Grandfather’s naturalization record, which said that he came from Ellwangen.

In January of 2010 I went to the Mormon Library in Salt Lake City. This was my first attempt at reading the old German script (with a lot of help from friends and volunteers). I was able to find my Grandfather’s brother’s birth and christening in the IGI. It showed that he was born in 1875. After that, the records were not appearing for the family in the IGI index. I later found out this was because of the privacy laws. The information I received told me the family went to the church in Jagsztell, Wuerrtemberg. I was able to find the microfilms from the church and was able to put three generations of the family together. I found out the name of my great grandmother and found out that she had four illegitimate children, three boys and a girl. One of the boys and the girl died quite young. I was also able to find my great grandmother’s siblings and her parents.

With this information, I felt somewhat prepared to take a trip to Germany to see what I could find. Friends from my genealogy group took the trip through Family Tree Tours previously and had wonderful luck in locating “family” and ancestral homes.

In September, my husband and I took the trip to the Franconia area of Germany. Arrangements were made ahead of time through one of the tour guides in Germany. He made arrangements for me to meet with a mayor from a nearby town. That town had published a book of the area, and I was able to get a copy of the civic records in that book, which was sent to me before my trip. It also turned out that the mayor’s wife is a descendant of my great grandmother’s sister. Arrangements were made for him to meet us at the train station near Unterknausen and spend the day with us. What a day he had planned!

First, I got to meet the grandson of the third sister who had owned the family home. He is living in the house. This house was built in 1834 and purchased by my great great grandfather in 1850. He raised six children in that house. They had one other boy, who died shortly after birth.

The house was purchased by the youngest sister and her fiancée in 1887 just prior to her first marriage. After her husband died, the house reverted back to her. When she remarried, her husband became the owner of the home.

I was given several civic records, which included copies of the original family registers, a wedding contract for my great great grandparents, and a contract when my great grandfather purchased the house.

Oh, the thrill of actually being in the house. As you can see from the aerial photo below, this is a large home, which had the original stable on the first floor on the right side of the house. The house is in extremely good shape and is still being used by my new “cousin.” We were welcomed into the home and invited to have coffee and coffee cake. I was also given pictures of Uncle Michael and his family (the one who sponsored my grandfather to come to Chicago). I had never seen a picture of him, and he could have passed for my Grandfather’s twin. There was no doubt they were from the same family. He was shown with his wife and children. I knew two of his daughters in the picture. I had met them as a young girl, when they were in their 70s.

We were also invited to the mayor’s home for a dinner meal at one o’clock in the afternoon. I can’t think of a greater honor than being invited into someone’s home.
We were treated so nicely, and I was thrilled to have met some new family members. The feeling was so surreal. I tried to explain to my new cousins that my heart was so full, and I really couldn’t come up with the words to describe how wonderful it was to find the family home.
I was so thrilled that the mayor spoke very good English, because my German is not good, and the cousin in the family home speaks no English at all, although his sons do. Before we left to go back to our hotel, the mayor got a call, and my cousin wanted us to come back to the house. Of course there was more food! My cousin wanted to introduce me to his youngest son who is 16 years old. It was nice to meet him and find he does speak English. He promised he would translate for his father , if I wrote a letter. The mayor handed me two books as gifts. They both cover the history and photos of the area.

This was probably one of the most memorable trips I will ever take!

Jean F.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

More German Christmas Traditions

On the evening of December 5th, St. Nicholas Day, German children leave their shoes or boots outside the front door. That night, Santa Claus, Nikolaus, visits and fills them with chocolates, oranges and nuts if they’ve been good. His servant, Knecht Ruprech, leaves bundles of twigs in the shoes if the children have been naughty and are listed in his ‘black book’.

In some parts of the country, it’s believed the Christ Child sends a messenger on Christmas Eve, das Christkind, an angel in a white robe and crown, bearing gifts. There is also a figure called der Weihnachtsmann, Christmas Eve Man, who looks like Santa Claus and also brings presents.
It’s traditional for parents to lock up a room before Christmas. In earlier times on Christmas Eve, they would wake their children at midnight and take them into the room, where the children were delighted to find the tree lit up with presents waiting for them underneath it. There were also fruit, nuts, marzipan, chocolate and biscuits to eat. In some homes, this event was made even more magical by ringing a bell as a signal for the children to enter the room. Carols were sung, the Christmas story was read and the children opened their presents.

Nowadays, most German families attend mass at 4:00 p.m. and then return home at 6:00 p.m. to eat, read the Christmas story and then open their presents.

Friday, December 3, 2010

German Traditions & Holiday Customs

The month of December is here and people all over the world practice their traditions handed down over centuries. I thought I would tell you about a few from Germany, one of our favorite places to visit.

The Legend of St. Barbara

The traditional feast day of Saint Barbara is December 4th, and this date plays a key role in the interesting custom that bears the name of this virgin martyr. According to legend, Barbara lived in Asia Minor in what is today Turkey. Her father was the pagan emperor Dioscorus, a suspicious, untrusting fellow who persecuted Christians and kept his daughter a virgin by locking her up in a tower whenever he was away.

One day upon returning home, Dioscorus noticed that the tower where he kept his daughter under lock and key now had three windows instead of two. Puzzled, he asked her why she had added a window in his absence. Barbara then made the mistake of confessing that she had become a Christian, and the three windows represented the trinity of her new faith. Incensed, her father demanded that she renounce this heresy. After some time had passed and she still stubbornly refused to deny her new religion, her father commanded that she be tortured and beheaded. The legend further says that immediately following this gruesome event, Dioscorus was struck dead by lightning (which may explain why St. Barbara is often invoked during thunderstorms).

Another important element of the Barbara-Legende concerns her imprisonment, and led (so they say) to the Christmas custom that bears her name. Depressed and alone in her cell, Barbara found a dried up cherry tree branch, which she moistened daily with a few drops from her drinking water. She was greatly consoled by the beautiful cherry blossoms that appeared just days before her impending execution.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Irish Research & Heritage Tour July 9-19, 2011

$1750.00 pp dbl
$200.00 sgl supplement

A dazzlingly green emerald sparkling in the Atlantic, Ireland is surrounded by tumultuous oceans and guarded by great sea cliffs. Over the years thousands of emigrants left this beautiful island to faraway destinations. Perhaps you are descended from these brave emigrants and you want to return “home” to learn what their life was like and why they left. Join us for our journey back to our Irish homeland.

We start off by spending several days in Dublin, accessing records from the National Archives and the National Library of Ireland. The National Archives has a free genealogy service, to advise visitors on their family research, where to go and how to use relevant records. Optional sight seeing in Dublin will be suggested for those who don’t want to research. We also will spend a lively evening at the Abbey Theater for dinner and an Irish show.

We then travel down through the lush countryside to our next stop of Kilkenny. Kilkenny is home to a Castle and the Rothe House. Rothe House is the Family History Centre for Kilkenny city and county. In addition to possessing a detailed computerized genealogical database at Rothe House, they also employ a genealogist who will assist you in researching your family tree, tracing your ancestors from Kilkenny city and county. From this home base we also will visit the Dunbrody Emigrant Ship in New Ross. Dunbrody was a 19th Century three masted sailing ship that brought many emigrants from Ireland to North America during and after the Great Famine. You will explore the ship, fitted out exactly as it would be for a voyage. You will encounter actors, playing the role of emigrants, in their cramped quarters with their meager possessions, fleeing as they are a worse catastrophe. They will tell you their harrowing stories of being forced to emigrate. A member of the crew will tell you the story of other voyages and all about life on board a sailing ship. Here, also, you have the opportunity to access a huge database of emigrants who sailed from Ireland in the nineteenth century. Back in Kilkenny we have a fun evening at the Kyteler Inn.

The next two days find us in the Blarney/Cork area. On our way we stop to see The Rock of Cashel (also known as Cashel of the Kings) in County Tipperary which is home to the ruins of a great Celtic cathedral. We stay near the Blarney Woolen Mills shops for those who want to bring home souvenirs and we also will spend some time at the Cobh Museum along the southern coast of Ireland. The harbor and the town has been the last sight of Ireland for many thousands of emigrants. Over 40 thousand men, women and young girls were transported to Australia from here and millions more left during the famine years for the new world. It was the main transatlantic departure point from Ireland up until the late 1950s.

It was the last port of call for the R.M.S. Titanic on her ill-fated maiden voyage, where she took onboard mail and 123 passengers who were emigrating to the U.S.A. Also from Blarney, we will take a day trip in the charming port town of Kinsale, where we have a guided walking tour.

Then it is time to head up north as we make our way to our hotel near Shannon. On our journey north, our coach driver will entertain us with stories and maybe songs of Ireland and we will make a stop in the picturesque village of Adare, with its quaint thatched roofed houses, medieval monasteries and ruins.

Our last day will find us stepping back in time to see how our ancestors lived at the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park where 19th century life is vividly recreated. Set on 26 acres, the impressive park features over 30 buildings in a ‘living’ village and rural setting. Meet and chat with the Bean an Ti (Woman of the House) and various street characters including the Policeman and Schoolteacher who give the site its sparkle during the summer months. Enjoy the tastes, scents, sights and sounds of this enchanting place as you stroll from house to house or around the charming village complete with school, post office, doctors house, hardware shop, printers and of course the pub! Tonight is our farewell dinner, where we share a toast to our wonderful time in Enchanting Ireland.

There will be free days for you to visit your hometowns, due to our using a motor coach there may be additional transportation costs for you to get to your hometown.

Trip Includes:

9 nights Hotel
Daily Irish Breakfast & 7 dinners (1 at Abbey Theater which
Includes Irish Music show)
Ground Transportation by 16 seat Motor Coach
Research Help at National Archives in Dublin
Tour of Kilkenny Castle
Tour of Dunbrody Emigrant Ship
Entrance Fees to Cobh Heritage Museum
Entrance Fees to Bunratty Castle & Folkpark
Email: or for more information or Reservation Form

Sunday, November 21, 2010

New York City - Washington DC Tour 2011

I usually am talking about trips I have already been on but I thought I would tell you of some of the upcoming trips for 2011. Perhaps you would want to join us, or know someone who would be interested. We are planning on travelling April 15-22, 2011 to attend a genealogy conference at the National Archives on April 20 -21 but we will spend some time in NYC before this. Here are some links for you to get a jump start on preparing for the trip!

Very interesting article here, and a great research resource for those of German descent

Hopefully, we will be able to see these files at the National Archives in DC

New York City-Washington DC Tour
April 15- 22, 2011
$1299.00 pp dbl

This time we explore our ancestor's experience here in the U.S. What did it look like and feel like to arrive at Ellis Island? Of course a lot of our ancestors arrived before Ellis Island but we will learn of all these scenarios on a private tour with a retired National Park ranger, who will explain in great detail our immigrant ancestor’s arrival in the United States. We also will stop to view the Statue of Liberty, who has welcomed so many to the land of freedom.

We take a neighborhood walking tour and learn what you might have seen and experienced negotiating the streets of the Lower East Side a hundred years ago. Explore the day-to-day challenges and opportunities immigrants might have faced as you visit sites where they worshipped, studied, conducted commerce, and debated politics. Then later we tour the Tenement Museum, a look into how thousands of immigrants lived in New York City through different centuries. Also in NYC we step way back in time and visit a museum located in a Revolutionary War time period tavern. Fraunces Tavern was built in 1719 as an elegant residence and purchased in 1762 by tavern-keeper Samuel Fraunces. The tavern played a significant role in pre-Revolutionary War activities and later housed early U.S. government offices of the Departments of War, Treasury and Foreign Affairs (today’s State Department). It is best known as the site where General George Washington bade farewell to the officers of the Continental Army on December 4th, 1783.
Then we will take the train to Washington, D.C. where for the next few days we will have all the research material available at the National Archives at our disposal. I am excited to tell you that we will have a special lecture by Dr. John P. Colletta, a very entertaining speaker who will give us an overview of how genealogists should use the Archives and stories of immigrant experiences.
The next couple days we have time for private research. On Wednesday & Thursday of this week the Archives will have their 6th Annual Genealogy Fair. You can attend classes and visit vendors or still spend time with your own private research. For a look at what kinds of material is available at the National Archives see this site.

We also will explore the beauty of our Capital city at night by taking an Evening Monument Tour.

Tour Includes:

A Family Tree Tours guide traveling with you for the duration of your trip
Accommodations with private bath: three nights in NYC (Newark, NJ)
4 nights in Washington, DC
All continental breakfasts when specified and often times full breakfasts.
Meals noted including welcome gathering, midweek and farewell dinners.
All expert local guides, naturalists and specialists on itinerary outline
Historical walking tour in NYC
Guided Tour of Ellis Island with retired National Park Guide
Guided Tour of NYC’s Tenement Museum
Museum visit and entrance fees to Fraunces Tavern Museum in NYC
Amtrak Train from NYC to Washington DC
Lecture by Noted Historian, Dr. John P. Colletta
2 day Genealogy Conference at National Archives in Washington, DC
Nighttime Monument Tour in Washington, DC
All hotel taxes and government fees
Gratuities as applicable for meals as specified
We meet in Newark at hotel,
if you have any questions or interest in this trip.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Monday - last day to sight-see and we are off to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. One of the best known medieval towns in Germany and one of the cutest, although full of tourists. It is a must see. No schedule today, just a chance to roam the town, walk the wall that surrounds the city and of course pop in the Christmas store. I think everyone enjoyed the day.


Sunday – Back in Time to Visit the Romans –

We traveled south today to visit a town on the German Limes Road called Weissenburg. The German Limes (pronounced Leemas) Road was the line that traveled up through southern Germany turning to make its way along the Rhine and even further and further north that the Romans had frontier outposts on. It truly was a Roman Empire. It was a beautiful sunny day and Weissenburg of course was another walled city. I am guessing here but I think most of these medieval towns were walled. The neat thing about this town though was it still has 36 of its original towers, that is unusual. It also is different because it has such a rich wealth of Roman artifacts from the time the Romans occupied this area 2000 years ago. We met our guide at the Roman museum; who spoke English but explained they don’t get that many English tours. I love when we find places that are not overrun with tourists. The museum’s first floor had an example of what the Roman fort and village would have looked like. At one time there could have been up to 45K people living there. The fort would have contained the well (in the center of the fort to be most protected) the granaries and stables for the horses and of course the soldiers. The outside would have been merchants, farmers, women etc. On the 2nd floor they were proud to show us their treasures. In 1977 a local man was digging in his garden to plant asparagus and hit something metal. It was a box of Roman artifacts. Apparently the soldiers were called away t o a more important hot spot, the Mid-East !! and they buried statues of their gods and other things. They were still in good condition, only a couple needed refurbishing. They have quite a collection of statues about 2 ft high of Apolla, Venus, Mercury, Hercules and more. They were something to see. Plus they also had some ?, I forgot what they called them, but they were 100% silver and were gifts to the gods for favors received. The incredible detail and craftsmanship on these statues and things were amazing, especially as they were 2000 years old.

We then walked over to the Fort, a field where they found the foundations of the roman fort. In the 1990's the town and the State of Bavaria decided to re-build one of the entrance gates so you can visualize how the fort would have looked. We learned that there would have only been one gate facing the frontier, this is to not make it easy for enemies to enter the fort. On the rear side there would have been more gates. Our guide was really fascinating, she knew many details and our 1.5 hour tour turned into 3. Roman soldiers would have been conscripted at 17 years old and were required to serve for 25 years at which this time they would get their discharge papers (albeit more like a discharge stone) which we saw one of in the museum. With old age being around 50 something, these guys didn't get much retirement. But they were eligible to get some land for their service.

We next went to the excavation of a huge Roman Bath. That was incredible. 2000 year old floors showing how they were built with small stacks of bricks holding up the floor but which would have allowed heated air to circulate underneath and create the warm sauna effect. There would have been a small room next to the sauna room where a slave would work the fires to keep this heated air flowing into the room. The live expectancy of this slave working in the heat room would only be 10 years. This bath was a large one and they had a small scale replica of what it would have looked like, it was something. Women would have come in the morning, they could have manicure, pedicures, hair styling and their make up done, then of course a sauna and bath. Then the water would be changed in the afternoon for the men to have their turn. Sounds pretty modern to me, I sure was wishing for a foot massage there but all the history was just unbelievable - 2000 year old history.

After the tour(which had been long) we were hungry and headed back to the Alt Stadt (old city) but on Sundays in Germany most stores are closed and restaurants are open 12-2. Remember this if you miss lunch time, and then re-open again for dinner. But the Germans love their ice cream and there were lots of Eis Cafe's open, where believe it or not we got some Bruschetta. I walked the main street, lots of great architecture and traditional German store fronts. This town is certainly worth a day trip if you are in the area of Southern Germany.

Hometown Vists and Bad Wimpfen

Saturday was another free day for folks to go out and visit hometowns. After all our chicks had flown the coop Matthias and I took the train to a town we wanted to visit for a possible stop on a Christmas Market tour. It is called Bad Wimpfen and is home to something called the Blue Tower. Of course it is another little walled city and has remnants of its walls and gates. It was another favorite of mine, it passes the “cute” test. We walked up from the train station and explored all the alleyways and side streets taking pictures and findng little shops a and bakeries etc. So many people miss the heartbeat of these towns because they don’t take the time to really explore the village by walking it. I know it is hard for some people but Europe is a place that requires a lot of walking, so it is best to prepare months in advance by waling a little each day and building up the stamina. It is so worth it. On our walk we came across a wedding party assembled in the town square, the couple was in the Rathaus which was across the plaza from the church. Marriages in Germany are required to be preformed first in the Rathaus (city hall) and then if you want a church wedding you go there. As we were standing there waiting for them to come out the church bells started chiming and we heard the clip clop of a horse and carriage making its way down a narrow, cobblestoned alleyway. Sounded like we were back a couple hundred years. The carriage made its way to the front of the Rathaus to pick up the newly married couple. I was hoping to see the bride and groom in the carriage but all it contained was 2 pesky little boys (little brothers or nephews perhaps). We waited but they didn’t come out so we went on with our exploring. We did consider being wedding crashers, think they would have noticed? But on our walk we walked up the hill to a beautiful park overlooking the river. Bad Wimpfen is built high on a bluff over the Neckar river it was a glorious day with beautiful blue skies, white puffy clouds and a great view. It was still a little chilly though so after sitting for awhile we started walking again. Besides getting hungry. So because of our exploring we came across a great restaurant high on the hill which had a wonderful terrace looking out of the river and valley, you could see for miles and miles and even though it was a little cool this view and place was too good to pass up. Lunch with a view. Took lots of pictures. After lunch we of course visited several churches in town, found some shops and deemed it a great place for a day trip and a possible stop on a Christmas market tour. Anyone interested?

Back home to hear how things went with the group. Sounds like another successful day! Meeting cousins, visiting churches, getting pictures of ancestral homes from the time the emigrant left, learning new information and eating, eating, eating. Good day for all!

Friday – Bamberg

We head a little north today to the UNESCO town of Bamberg. This is the town with the city hall (Rathaus) in the middle of the river. According to one story I heard this town was the Residence of a Prince Bishop and the church owned and ruled the territory. Most of the churches and religious were on the west side of the river and the merchants and businesses on the east. Neither side wanted to give up land for the Rathaus so it was built on a bridge in the middle of the river! There are other stories so I am not sure what is the real reason but whatever the reason it is beautiful and interesting. It is a must see in this city also known as the Rome of Germany because it is built on 7 hills. I believe that because the last time I was here I walked all the hills. Lots of beautiful churches, breweries, shops and things to see. We started off our day with a trolley car tour of the city. This is one of those hop on/hop off but gives you an overview of the whole city without walking it completely. Would have been ok if the driver/guide would have told us in English what we were looking at like I had booked but we got very little in English, oh well, a nice ride around the city. These things happen. Afterwards we walked a ways down a hill to make our way to the oldest Brewery in Bamberg, the Klosterbrau. We were to eat lunch there. This was a working brewery that had been a monastery brewing starting in 1533. We had a great lunch and then walked up to the Cathedral and Old courtyard for our tour of this and the Bishop’s residence Palace. We had a great guide and the tour lasted for several hours! We learned a lot. In the old courtyard there was a guillotine set up that I didn’t remember from when I was here in the spring. We found out that it was a movie prop. There recently had been a Hollywood film filmed here, 3 Musketeers in 3D with Orlando Bloom. So if you see that movie know that part of it was filmed in Bamberg. Since I have been coming to Germany a lot lately and am learning all kinds of history I should have known before, I find that the “Church” wielded a lot of power, they were the ruling class and these towns that were home to Prince Bishops were powerful indeed. Interesting information and makes you think! Anyway, we then toured the Residence Palace this Prince Bishop lived in. WOW. But one more little explanation if I have this correct. It seems that already ruling nobility would be appointed bishops etc. (I don’t know if these positions were for favors or what, I need to read up some more, but they already were people in power). Well to say the place was magnificent is an understatement. Of course a grand ballroom or reception hall and numerous bedrooms and other public rooms. Interesting thing I found in most rooms was the large ceramic heaters in the corners. You would think they would have fireplaces but I think those were considered too messy. These heaters were up against a wall and tended to by servants in the next room. The opening in the wall would allow them to keep something burning in the heater which radiated out into the room. Although the heaters were large I would imagine with the size of the room and high ceilings it would still be a little chilly.
Also this place had beautiful wood floors. During a renovation they found a floor with 27 different types of wood inlays. It truly was a magnificent place.

After this tour which stretched into a long time, we had to make our way to see the Rathaus and painted bridge. We did (see pictures) and then shopped for a very short while and made our way home to our own Princess Castle hotel.

Regensburg and Hometowns

Thursday – Finally the day to head out to hometowns. We had folks going out in all directions and we are hoping they have an awesome day. Matthias and I head down to Regensburg to meet up with our Bavarian researcher friend, Marianne Sutter, who is meeting us at the catholic church archives in Regensburg to help me with my Bavarian ancestors. Marianne had done some work for me a few years ago in conjunction with a colleague of hers who has a collection of newspapers from the 19th century which lists emigrants leaving the country and if your person is mentioned there is a good chance the hometown is also indicated. That is how I found the town after many years of searching “just Bavaria”. So with Marianne and Matthias’s help I am back to late 1600’s on this family. We also walked around this beautiful city with remnants of a Roman wall, a historic stone bridge and we climbed the clock tower on the bridge for a fantastic view down the River Danube. Only from above with a beautiful blue sky does the Danube look blue.

Tonight we find out how the hometown visits went. Sounds like everything went great and everyone had a wonderful time. Some folks got to see the school, house and church their ancestor went to. They met an older lady from the town who had a picture of school children from the time period so they know their gr-grandfather is on there somewhere. Others were fed and fed and fed, 4 times at different people's homes in their hometown. They received books on the town history, and photos and visited a cousin's house. Another lady met a whole bunch of cousins and was overloaded with gifts of wine and beer and other souvenirs of the town. All in all it was a very successful day!