Samstag, 1. März 2014

Beware of the Bogeyman

In Westphalian death records, you often find "Kinderschreck" or "Kinderschrecken" given a as the cause of death. I tried to find a proper English translation ("children's fright" would be a very direct one), and the best one I could come up with is the classic "bogeyman".

When small children died, you'll often read that they suffered from "Krämpfe" ("seizures") or "Kinderschrecken". Both diagnoses are not very specific. When a child had convulsions, at least you could tell that something was wrong, even if the little one hadn't learned to speak yet. But there were always children who died without any obvious reasons. Compared to today's ICUs, medical knowledge was still underdeveloped, plus there was no social security system that made sure sure everyone had the financial means to afford a doctor's fees (many families were happry if they were able to pay the midwife) - if a doctor was available at all. Remember, this was (and still is) a pretty rural area.

So you can imagine that the cause of death remained undetermined often enough. Of course, they could have written "undetermined", but I guess it's in the human nature that you want an explanation when your loved ones die unexpectedly. "Undetermined" is unsatisfactory. 

And that's where the Bogeyman comes in...

Freitag, 10. Januar 2014

The Boy Who Seemed Dead

On September 10, 1854, a baby boy called Hermann Heinrich Obertubbesing was born at his parents' house in Rotingdorf No. 9, which belongs to the church district of Werther. His parents were Hermann Heinrich Stieghorst gen. Obertubbesing (here it is again, the Westphalian naming pattern) and his wife Anne Marie née Stock.

In the church records, I found the following remark:

"3. child, appeared to be dead" ("3. Kind wurde scheintod geboren" - take a look at the right column).

At some point, they must have realized that Hermann Heinrich was indeed alive, as he was immediately baptized by the midwife ("Hebamme") Aufderheide. His own father stepped in as his godfather.

I can hardly imagine what these parents went through that day. Not only a strenous birth, but also the knowledge that their son had been stillborn. Then, suddenly, the realization that the little one they had thought dead was alive, nevertheless. The faint hope that he would survive in spite of this difficult beginning.

No, he did not make it. Hermann Heinrich Obertubbesing died four days later, on September 14, 1854, and was buried another four days later.

A little bit more than a year passed until Anne Marie Obertubbesind was due to deliver a child again. On November 27, 1855, she gave birth to a daughter. This time there was no doubt - the child was stillborn.

Dienstag, 31. Dezember 2013

Another year (almost) gone...

... and adding to our family's history. Are you as bewildered as I am that 2013 has passed so fast?

I promise I'll stop neglecting this blog in 2014. If you have any topics you'd like to know more about, let me know!

I wish you all a happy new year and good luck for your research in 2014!

Sonntag, 1. Dezember 2013

December's Mental Leap

Especially when I read church records dating from the month of December from the 18th century or earlier, I always have to remind myself to be careful or I'd be in danger to mix up the dates.

Today is the first Advent sunday of this year's holiday season. We'll light the first candle on the advent wreath today, and this is really a sign for me that I'd better get started with my christmas preps.

In earlier times, Advent meant even more than this: It was the beginning of the new church (or liturgical) year.

As a result, children that were baptized in December were recorded as being baptized in the new year's records. This is because the liturgical year differs from the Gregorian calendar which was (and still is) used in a secular way. For example: If Anna Ilsabein Tubbesing was born December 2, 1757, and baptized three days later, you'll find her baptism entry at the beginning of the church records for the year 1758. Usually, the minister would mention that indeed she had been born in 1757, but sometimes he simply wouldn't bother and you need to make that mental leap yourself.

I really had to get used to this. And you really don't want your sources to get mixed up, do you?

Later on, from about 1800, the ministers started the new year's records with the first child baptized in January. This made it really easier... for them as well as for us!

Samstag, 9. November 2013

Remember, remember... the 9th of November

What a day in our country's history!

In 1918, the Kaiser abdicated, and Germany was proclaimed a republic. 

In 1938, the discrimination of Jews in Nazi Germany turned into open violence. During the "Kristallnacht" (the "crystal night"), Jewish shops were destroyed and many synagogues were burnt down or at least seriously damaged. Many were killed, over 30 000 Jews were arrested. Though the name "Kristallnacht" may be a euphemism, I am one of those who still prefer it to the word "pogrom", because "pogrom" sounds too impersonal to me when you think of what happened.

1989, the Wall came down. Finally. Peacefully.

When you take a look at German media these days, you'll realize that the event most covered in articles and TV magazines is the Kristallnacht. 1918 is almost forgotten, or so it seems, and at least the adults still remember 1989.

In my hometown, Werther, there had been a pretty active Jewish community since the 1700s. The synagogue was built about 1840 in the backyard of house no. 21, which had been bought in 1820 by Salomon Marcus Grewe from my ancestors, Wilhelm Pott gen. Törner and Elisabeth née Esser. For a long time, this site was know as "Törnersches Haus" ("Törner's House"). I have no idea why Wilhelm and Elisabeth sold it.  Their seven children had been born there between 1800 and 1816, and there were also children from Wilhelm's first marriage. Wilhelm and Elisabeth moved to Wallenbrück and died there in 1825 and 1845, respectively. Wilhelm was a carpenter or cabinetmaker.

The Werther synagogue was severely damaged in 1938, but if I get it right not until November 10. Werther is quite rural, and it seems like it took a day more to have the pogrom organized. What I need to mention here is that as it seems, SA men were brought in from other places to do their "work". Apparently, this was a common practice so the SA men wouldn't be recognized by their next door neighbors. The only reason why the synagogue wasn't set on fire was because it was right in the middle of town - and right next to the pharmacy. What was left of the building was torn down after WWII. It couldn't be saved.

This was the time my grandparents and many of my greatgrandparents were still alive. Most of them lived in Werther or Halle. I have no idea what they were up to Nazi Germany. What did they know? What did they think? Were they in favor of Hitler or did they find him disgusting? 

I'd  like to find out, but it's difficult. My parents can't tell me; they are too young. My mom was born after the end of WWII, and my father just a few years earlier. All the others are gone.

This is still something I need to work on. Am I afraid of what I'm going to find? No, I'm not. What I'm interested in is the history of my family. I want to know what happened, no matter if good or bad. I'm not here to judge, but to tell what happened. 

Samstag, 19. Oktober 2013

Did they fight the Battle of the Nations?

Exactly 200 years ago, on October 19, 1813, it was a crucial day for Europe's future: the last day of the Battle of Leipzig, also known as the "Battle of the Nations". It was
"fought by the coalition armies of RussiaPrussiaAustria and Sweden against the French army of Napoleon IEmperor of the French, at LeipzigSaxony. Napoleon's army also contained Polish and Italian troops as well as Germans from the Confederation of the Rhine. The battle marked the culmination of the autumn campaign of 1813 during the German campaign and involved over 600,000 soldiers, making it the largest battle in Europe prior to World War I".
(source: Wikipedia.)

About 100 000 men were killed or wounded.

I really don't like to imagine what it was really like. The cries, the smell of blood. The firing of cannons.

The first word that comes to my mind is "hell".

So, why am I posting this?

The answer is simple: I wonder if anyone from my family took part in it. At least I know that none of my ancestors in a direct line were killed there. But that doesn't mean they didn't fight.

Those who did were probably born between 1780 and 1795, more or less. Marrying after 1813-5 though having reached the appropriate age years ago and the absence of children might be hints, but of course no proof.

Seems I still have a lot of work to do. I'll let you know when I find out.

What I know is that during this period, the fact that France had expanded its territories had a great impact on my family. This time is still known as the "Franzosenzeit", the "French Times" here. The towns of Halle and Werther, where many of my ancestors lived, were in fact divided. One part was French, being ruled by Napoleon, the other part belonged to the "Kingdom of Westphalia", ruled by Napoleon's brother Jerome.

I'll let you know more about this soon!

Samstag, 10. August 2013

At least three acts of... what?

I just stumbled across an entry in the Werther church records that really leaves me thinking.

It's August 1755, and a little baby girl, Catrina Ilsabein Hülsiek, has just been born to the farmer Johan Henrich Hülsiek and his wife Catrina Ilsabein née Lohmann. At first sight, it appears as the usual baptism entry, if it wasn't for the note the reverend left:
"This child's mother has been insane for several years. This is the third child she gave birth to during her delirium." 

This gives me the creeps. Honestly.

Right now, I can only imagine the life this woman had to lead, and I'm deeply sorry for her.

And, disturbing as it may be, I guess we can't even be sure that the kids' father was really her husband. It might as well have been someone else who lived in the house or nearby.

I guess I'd like to know more about this family. Add another item to my to-do list...