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.