Sunday, July 3, 2011

How They Lived & How They Left

Today we visit a “Freilichtmuseum”, an open air living history museum. These open air museums are scattered throughout Germany and give a good representation of how people lived in a certain region of Germany. We visited the one in Detmold, representing the Northern Westphalia area. One of the largest museums it has over 100 houses and farms.

We visited far
m homes typical for this area where the house and barn were in the same building. The large building would house the animals in the front and the living quarters in the back. The “kitchen” so to speak contained the open fire pit; without a chimney the smoke would rise to smoke the sausage and meat hung above the fire. Plus it would permeate the room. Without many windows, smoke in the air, and the smell of animals, I don't imagine life was too easy.

These larger farmhouses were home to the farm landlord or overseer. Most of our ancesto
rs who decided to emigrate would have been from the landless classes, the tenants (Heurerlinge), day laborers. They would have lived in smaller cottages. Interesting thing I found out on this trip though was through one of our tour members, she had traced her line back to the 1600-1700; s and found many family farms. Due to inheritance laws lots of the emigrants were sons who would not inherit the farm, so throughout the generations they would have become the Heuerlinge and eventually they emigrated. So if you want to find the farmhouse you need to trace back as far as you can. Of course, everyone's story is different but this is a goal to go back as far as you can.

(I have a few books left for sale by a local historian from this NW area who explains the farm system, the reasons for emigration, the voyage and how they made it to Bremerhaven or a port city and then the settlements in the U.S. There are lots of names of emigrants from the town and area around Venne, Germany. If you have an interest in this book let me know. It is called “Venne in America”).

In more explanation of a comment above, due to inheritance laws common during the 19th century, where in this area of Germany the youngest son inherited the farm. The other sons only had the opportunity to work for their brothers or as a day laborer at someone else's farm. Through in some marriage requirements (they might have to prove they were healthy, able to work, owned a cow and were able to lease a cottage) and you can see how the pull from America and other places helped stir emigration fever.

See video from Freilitchtmuseum.

Emigration – Bremerhaven

So we saw how our ancestors lived at the Freilichmuseum and learned a little about an occupation they may have h
ad (cigar-making) at the Tabak Museum, then we had a very interesting lecture from the head archivist from the County Herford Archives about emigration. This archivist showed us one of the 13 volumes of Emigrant Books containing “permission to emigrate” papers they have collected over the years. They have worked hard to index these and great news for us these indexes will be put online later this year. This is great news because without an index it would be very hard to find these papers on your own. The papers are usually kept in an Archive or the local courts filed by year and then maybe by month and if you knew this much then you would have to look through all the papers for that month (plus reading old German script) to find your ancestor's name.

After the decision to emigrate was made, a whole list of preparations had to be made. First, one had to get an emigration permit from the authorities’ at the government office. The emigrants who were tenants sold whatever they had of household goods, which was minimal. Those from the small cottage farms sold their house and land.

In addition to the cost of the ship passage, there were other expenses with which they had to contend with. The travel cost to Bremen or the port city was needed, meals and accommodations there until a ship was ready to depart, plus necessary travel accessories such as a mattress, pillow, blanket, and eating utensils. Imagine this journey with 4 or 5 children in tow; you thought a family car trip was bad.

We will have this video of the Lecture as a Webinar in the near future. Check back at our website or on Face book to get the date. It is an interesting talk on the emigration process. Also there is more detail on the whole emigration process in the book I mentioned earlier, “Venne in America”.

Next post HOW THEY LEFT, our visit to

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