Life and Death in the 1800s

(Content warning-tragic deaths)

Theresa Gerling Heisler

Theresa (Gerling) Heisler 1886, the year of her marriage.

Continuing with my study of ancestors, I want to talk about the family of my great grandmother, my dad’s mother’s mother, Maria Theresia (called Theresa) Gerling. Earlier, I spoke of her marriage to Thomas Heisler in 1886 in St. Thomas, Missouri. Her parents were Heinrich (Henry) Gerling and Sibella Agnes Hahn. They were both born in what is now part of Germany, but came to Missouri before they met and married. They were devout Catholics.

Heinrich Gerling was born 18 April 1824, in Osterath, in the Lower Rhine region (in German, Niederrhine).  Osterath is now part of the town of Meerbusch, west across the Rhine River from the city of Dusseldorf.  His parents were Gerhard Gerling and his first wife Anna Christina Wilms (or Wilmes), who were married Oct 23, 1821 in Osterath. They had three children: Wilhelm (1822), Heinrich (1824), and Maria Catharina (1830).

When Heinrich was five, his 7 year old brother died.  When he was nine, his mother died, and some months later, on 22 Oct 1833, his father married Maria Christina Kronen (b. 1800-1805?). Heinrich’s sister also died the next year, but three more children were born to Gerhard and Christina: Joseph Herman (1834), Ludovicus (1836), and Michael (1839).  I am moved by how many children died at such a young age, in the stories of these families of the 1800s. This was also true for the Heisler family during a similar time frame.

Gerhard Gerling was identified as a “hotelmeister/hotel master” in Osterath.  In any case, they decided to leave, apparently along with several other families from their town. I found a great story of another family from Osterath who came over on the same ship at the same time.  They left from Havre, on the ship Edmund Perkins, and arrived in New Orleans on November 7, 1840.  They came with their children, Heinrich, who was 16 1/2, Herman, 6, Ludwig, 4, & Michael, 1.  One source said they were “early Niederrhine settlers in the Loose Creek area.” Another source said, “They were the second group of settlers that arrived in the St. Thomas area.”

Perhaps they started in Loose Creek, but they did end up in St. Thomas, where both Gerhard and Christina eventually died (Gerhard about 1852 and Christina 1885-6) and were buried.  Heinrich, it is said, had red hair! He married Agnes Hahn October 21, 1851, at St. Joseph Church in Westphalia, MO, but all their children were born in St. Thomas.  (All of these small rural towns are within 30 miles of each other.)

Agnes was born in July of 1833, but I don’t have much more information about where in Germany it was, or when she came to Missouri.  Her parents were Mathias Hahn (1778) and Margaret Durst (1788) and they remained in Germany, but her brother Philip also came to Missouri. It might be most likely that she was also from the Rhineland/Westphalia region, since people tended to congregate with those from similar regions.

Agnes apparently had an earlier marriage to a John Peter Loethen, but he must have died quite soon, since she was only 18 when she married Heinrich (26). She and Heinrich had nine children together, three of whom had died in childhood, when another tragedy struck, just a few months after baby Theresa was born. We have a letter from Heinrich’s second cousin Heinrich Koersches to family in Germany, loosely translated:

May 24 1868

I received your letter on April 20th. I’m so late in answering your letter because on the following Sunday an accident happened to Heinrich Gerling when we had divine service. In the afternoon after the divine service he wanted to mount his horse. Having one foot in the stirrup, he went to swing his other foot over the saddle. As he did so the horse jumped and threw him off so that his right leg hit on a tree stump that was cut about one foot above the ground and broke his shin, so that the bone could be seen from the outside. There lives in St. Thomas a German physician who was close to the church where the accident happened. They carried Gerling to a house where the bone was set. In the evening eight men took him to his home. There they had to put cold water and compresses on the leg every five minutes. The leg wound didn’t bleed.

Heinrich was a big, thick and heavy man. The compresses and water were put on as long as the doctor ordered it to be done. The doctor came on horseback every day. One day Heinrich would complain of backache, on another he would complain of chest pains. He had to cough up what looked like pus. He asked the doctor for medicine. The chest pains were increasing. The doctor ordered more medicine. On the ninth day it got so bad that the doctor said that he did not think that Heinrich would live another 48 hours. Then they asked for the priest to give him the Last Sacraments. Heinrich lived until the 15 of May.

Heinrich’s accident happened on April 26, 1868.  The following year, the 35 year old widow Agnes married his cousin Heinrich Koersches. They had four more children together, two of whom died in infancy. Then two more of her children died of illness in 1872, leaving only six of 13 to survive to adulthood.  Heinrich Koersches died at the age of 45 sometime after 1877.  I wonder how Agnes carried all of the grief she must have felt from so many deaths, and whether she found a balance to appreciate the joyous moments of life.

I also wonder what life was like for her daughter Theresa Gerling, my great-grandmother? Her father died when she was just a baby, and her step-father died when she was still a young girl. She never knew her grandparents, though her step-grandmother was alive until she was about 17. She married just before her 18th birthday, and had twelve children of her own, my grandmother the sixth of those twelve.  Perhaps the strength and sternness of my grandmother was somehow the inheritance of the grief and survival of those who came before?

Great-great grandmother Agnes herself died on Sept 14, 1901, at the age of 68. I want to close with this photo of Agnes from the 1890s.

Agnes Hahn Gerling-g-g-grandmother

Agnes Hahn Gerling Koersches

Note: There seem to be even more ads lately attached by WordPress to my posts. So sorry about that. I don’t have any choice about what ads are posted.

 

What Does It Mean for Me to Be Austrian?

So I come round to the question, What does it mean for me to be of 1/4 Austrian heritage? All of my ancestor research has been linked to my quest to understand the colonization process, and how my family fits into that long history. How might I be connected to my Austrian ancestors, and how were they connected to the land where they lived?  What might I learn from them? I have had very mixed and often troubled feelings during this particular search.

John Hochreiter Baby in Linz

Johann Hochreiter as a baby, in Linz

Linz, the city where my grandfather Hochreiter was born in 1884 and lived until 1910, was also the home of Adolf Hitler for several years, from 1898 to 1907. It is not a connection I feel good about. Wikipedia noted, “Like many Austrian Germans, Hitler began to develop German nationalist ideas from a young age.[34] He expressed loyalty only to Germany, despising the declining Habsburg Monarchy and its rule over an ethnically variegated empire.[35][36]”  Learning the history of Austria’s connection and disconnection from other Germanic states, (see my last post) helps me to understand this somewhat, but the outcome was terrifying.

I was glad to read that in 1996, Linz became the first city in Austria to deal intensively with its own Nazi past.  There was widespread research by the municipal archives, and the culture of remembrance extended to the construction of monuments for the victims of National Socialism. But of course all of these events, including both World Wars, were after my own ancestor had emigrated to North America.

In my family, we didn’t really learn anything about Austria when we were growing up. As far as I can tell, there were no cultural aspects that were carried forward to us, except that, ironically and randomly, the only classical music album in our house was Johann Strauss’s Vienna Waltzes, including “The Blue Danube.”

In fact, it is the Danube River (German Donau) which has called most strongly to my heart, of all that I have learned about Austria.  (Not insignificantly, the Danube also flows through the city of Ulm where the Swabian line of my ancestors is located.) The Danube begins in the Black Forest and flows through southern Germany and through Austria, and then on to the Black Sea. The Danube valley in Austria is north of the Alps, and one of the most fertile and populous regions of Austria. This river is at the center of all its history and culture, and was the major East-West transport on the continent of Europe.

Linked to its location on the Danube, the Linz area was settled continuously, from the late Stone Age Neolithic period, in 4000 BCE. They have also found early Bronze Age urn sites and burial sites from the Hallstatt-period. In the first century AD, the Romans constructed a wood-and-earth fort to secure the important Danube river crossing to control traffic and for military reasons. They named it Lentia. In the second century it was expanded into a stone fort. It was part of the Roman frontier called the limes.

The official history site for the city of Linz notes there were many Goth invasions during the second century and that by the end of the 4th century A.D., the indigenous population is thought to have withdrawn to the easily defensible district of Martinsfeld in reaction to the advance of peoples from the East and West.

Upper Austria on the Danube seems to have been a crossroads of many peoples–who knows whether our ancient ancestors were part of the Roman colonizer settlements, or were the “Barbarian” hordes on the other side of the river? Or some combination of the peoples from “the East and the West”? In my personal DNA analysis, there seem to be fragments (less than 2%) of Italian and Eastern European ancestry–maybe they met along the Danube river in Austria.

So much is up to conjecture and imagination, except that it is clear they were of the so-called “lower” classes. Maybe my very ancient ancestors lived along the river, and then later migrated north to clear the forests and farm. Maybe they were a part of the Peasant Uprisings in 1626, or one of the 62 known uprisings in Upper Austria between 1356 and 1849. Maybe they were not. Day laborers. Weavers. Farmers. But in any case, around 1884, they left their rural connection to land and became urban city dwellers, and thus also came my grandfather to the cities of Ottawa, Ontario, and then to Detroit, Michigan. So much is lost in the translation. But I am glad to make the acquaintance of the great river Danube.

LINSVM_AVSTRIAE_Anno_1594.jpeg

Linz in the year 1594.

linz-on-the-danube-austria-640

Linz on the Danube, date ?1889

Austrian Questions

In searching to understand my Austrian heritage, I was able to find a few further generations of the Hochreiter family who lived in the Mühlviertel. This region consists of the four Upper Austrian districts that lie north of the river Danube: Rohrbach, Urfahr-Umgebung (where my ancestors were from), Freistadt and Perg. The parts of the state capital Linz that lie north of the Danube also belong to the Mühlviertel.

My grandfather Johann’s father, as I have said, was also named Johann Hochreiter. Johann, Sr. was the son of Michael Hochreiter (who would be my great-great-grandfather), born in 1832 in Waldschlag (now Oberneukirchen) and Theresia Foisner (my great-great-grandmother) who was born in 1828. She had an earlier marriage to Joseph Waldhör in 1851, at age 23. (Joseph was born in Unterwaldschlag, also Oberneukirchen). They had two sons, and then later Theresia married Michael Hochreither in Oberneukirchen on 13th of July 7, 1856, when she was age 28 and Michael was 24. They had four sons: Johann, Franz, Joseph, and Matthias, all of whom lived to marry and have children. (The records I have don’t indicate if there were any other children who did not survive.)

I also found each of their parents listed: Theresia’s parents were Michael Foisner and Cäcilia Pichler. Michael’s parents were Philipp Hochreiter (who came from Bad Leonfelden) and Theresia Rammerstorfer.

One of the ways I try to learn about my ancestors is simply to look up their towns on Google Maps. Bad Leonfelden is about 12-13 kilometers northeast of Oberneukirchen, and 28 kilometers north of Linz.  When I zoomed into Bad Leonfelden, a few businesses appeared with “Hochreiter” in the name. So that’s cool. Bad means “bath” in German, and there are spa mud baths in the town. It is only 6 kilometers south of the border with the Czech Republic.Oberneukirchen

A Wikipedia listing for Oberneukirchen said that settlement and then village life probably started in the area in the 12th century.  Around the year 1500 agriculture and the weaving industry served as the main source of income. Very important was the trade in flax and linen, and also in wood, wine and salt. So it is possible that my ancestors lived there a very long time.  In the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the area was occupied several times, and in 1809 there were major fires that destroyed many buildings in Oberneukirchen.

But what did it mean to be Austrian? After learning about the Swabian roots of some other Germanic ancestors, I wondered what kind of “Germanic” the Austrians might be. I found out the question has many historical complications. Some sources indicate that the Austrians and Bavarians were essentially the same culturally and linguistically. Austria is just to the east of Bavaria. But when Germany was nationalizing from smaller kingdoms and duchies and so on, Austria was a rival to Prussia, and there were also fierce Protestant/Catholic rivalries.  According to Leif Jerram, (Senior Lecturer in History, University of Manchester, UK) on Quora.com,

Historically, Bavaria and Austria were much more similar. At the time of the formation of the modern state of Germany in the 1860s-70s, Bavarian politicians very much wanted Austria inside the new nation – they shared Roman Catholicism. Further, at that time, Bavaria tended to be more liberal and tolerant than the rest of the new state of Germany, and they wished to be able to preserve that. The Prussian elites who forced the unification of Germany, however (through warfare and blackmail), wanted to ensure that a) Catholics would be in a minority in the new nation, and b) that Prussian aristocratic elites would not face any competition for political power. If Austria were included, then many more Catholics would be included in the new state, and the might of the Austrian empire (such as it was – let’s say its wealth and prestige) would mean Prussian aristocratic landholders would have to make many compromises. So, Austria was excluded from the new state, and Catholics were vigorously persecuted as a minority for the first 20-or-so years of its foundation.

The history of the place seems incredibly complex, (but that seems true of most places I’ve tried to learn about in Europe.) A decisive moment for these developments was the Austro-Prussian War, in the summer of 1866.  Each side had ally states who were part of the loosely bound German Confederation, but the Prussians won that seven week war, and shaped the resulting eventual German Empire to the exclusion of Austria. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was then established in 1867 in the aftermath, as a constitutional monarchy (with Austria and Hungary as equal partners) that lasted until 1918.

So my grandfather’s parents and grandparents would have lived through these and other–often violent–transitions, but who knows how much or how little they were involved or effected by them personally in their small rural villages.  All of this helps me to understand just a little of the complex relationship between Austria and Germany in the World Wars of the twentieth century, (though my grandfather and all of my other Germanic ancestors) were gone from Europe by then. In each of those conflicts, there were some people who wanted Austria to be part of a wider Germany, and in the resulting peace treaties, that was explicitly forbidden. No wonder I find it all very confusing.

 

Johann Hochreiter

John Hochreiter at 31

John Hochreiter at 31

My most recent ancestor immigrant to this continent was my grandfather, John Hochreiter. He was born “Johann” on June 1, 1884 in Linz, Austria, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, Johann Hochreiter (senior), born 1857, was a day-laborer originally from the village of Waldschlag, (now part of the town of Oberneukirchen), in the northern part of Upper Austria, an area called Mühlviertel. From the information I can gather, the next few generations of ancestors were from that area as well. His mother was born Anna Bartl, about 1851, daughter of the weaver Michael Bartl and his wife Katharina.

I turned to etymology for some clues this time. The name “Hochreiter” originally meant those persons who made higher-lying surfaces arable, who cleared forested areas for farms. “Wald schlag might mean “Forest Strike”, and “Ober neu kirchen” is “Upper New Churches.” According to Wikipedia, settlement and then village life probably started in the area of ​​the municipality Oberneukirchen in the 12th century. The spread and colonization of the forest clearing areas and the religious care of the settlers soon made a chapel or church building required.  One last etymology: “Mühlviertel” translates “Mill Quarter.” The Oberneukirchen economy was centered around agriculture and weaving for several centuries.

However, Johann and Anna did not stay in this rural area, the place of their families. For some reason, I would guess related to work, they moved about 25 kilometers south to the city of Linz where Johann was a day-laborer. It was in the city that their children were born—they had at least five sons, Johann (junior) in 1884, Georg in 1885, Franz in 1888, Franz Joseph in 1892, and Julius in 1895. (I seem to remember hearing stories that my grandfather was the oldest of several brothers—even eight, but that number might be a error.) They later also died in the city of Linz, in 1933 and 1930.

My mom told of a story that my grandfather as a young man had carried bread on his back to deliver it, or another story was that he delivered beer by horse-drawn cart. But in any case, at some point he became a waiter, and remained so until his retirement many years later. He left Linz in his twenties, somewhere about 1910 or 11, with a group of buddies, working as waiters in hotels as they traveled, going first to France, and then England. Finally they took the ship called “Lake Manitoba” and landed in Quebec, Canada on June 16, 1912. Then, he worked as a waiter at the new, and very grand, Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It was there he met my grandmother, Yvonne Tremblay, who worked as a chamber maid.

In late 1915, John emigrated once again, traveling via Windsor to Detroit, Michigan. By this point, Canada had entered the first World War, and he was registered as an “enemy alien.” I wonder if that contributed to his decision to come to the United States, which was still a neutral country. (According to that registration, in 1915 at 31 he was 5’3”, weighed 125 pounds, and had dark hair, and wore glasses.) He soon sent for Yvonne, and they were married in Detroit on January 14, 1916. She was just 18.

John & Yvonne Hochreiter 1916

John and Yvonne in Detroit 1916

They stayed in Detroit, and he worked as a room service waiter at the Hotel Statler (which had been completed earlier in 1915), until he retired (at 70) after my grandmother died in l954.

When I have wondered about why he left Austria, I haven’t found clear answers. It was a few years before war would break out there, so I don’t think it was about that. It seems perhaps he and his friends were looking for adventure, and they’d found a way to do it even without many financial resources.  As waiters, they could work wherever they could find hotel jobs.  I was impressed that these men continued to be friends years later in Detroit. My grandfather was a quiet man, and he died when I was only 13, so I never felt that I knew him very well.

Ironically, even though my siblings and I are of 25% Austrian ancestry, and our grandfather was the most recent immigrant of our heritage, I found it difficult to find a sense of connection to that culture and place. It has bewildered me as I have continued to explore the region in Austria from which he came. I’ll write more in a future post.

Loving the Body

Thinking of this post again today…

Finding Our Way Home

Sassy and Billy bath

Today is a day when I chose to stop my plans and just love my body and follow what it needed.  My teachers were our cats Billie and Sassy who were having a cuddle and a nap in the sun on the bed, washing each other’s faces.  I lay down next to them, and took a few photos with my phone.  Sometimes, even in this desperately wounded world, we must honor the demands of our bodies, first of all.  This I what I am learning about illness or whatever it is that has taken hold of my body.  My own tendency is to want to figure it out and fix it. But some things can’t be easily figured or fixed.  And so we are faced with other choices.

When my partner Margy and first I got to know each other, she had been dealing with chronic illness for a long…

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The Swabian Alb

As I researched my Swabian roots, I realized that one eighth of my ancestral heritage is most likely tied to that place. One aspect of the decolonization process is for those of us with non-native ancestry to explore our roots in other places across the globe, places in which our ancestors might hold their own Indigeneity.  I found myself strangely moved yesterday as I watched Youtube videos about Swabia. See here is the thing:  before this week, I had never even heard of Swabia.  This is the forgetting that comes over so many families through several generations in the United States.

We begin to amalgamate, and make reference to a vague Germanic ancestry. But the more I learn, the more I realize that each of my various family lines came from distinct cultures and landscapes that are now considered “German.”  I want to record some things about that Swabian culture and place–nothing that can’t be found in Wikipedia and other online sources–but new to me. (Most of this is just copy and paste or mildly edited from public domain sources.)

Germany was slowly becoming unified over the 18th and 19th centuries (mostly after my ancestors had emigrated.)  This process was politically dominated by the northern Kingdom of Prussia, and therefore “Weimar Classicism” became the expression of German national “high culture.” As a consequence, southern Germany and by extension both the Swabians and the Bavarians came to be seen as deviations from a generic standard German, and a number of clichés or stereotypes developed about them.

These portrayed the Swabians as stingy, overly serious, or prudish petty bourgeois simpletons, for example as reflected in “The Seven Swabians” story published by the Brothers Grimm. On the positive side, however, the same stereotypes may be expressed in portraying the Swabians as frugal, clever, entrepreneurial and hard-working. Realistically, they lived on a land with thin soil and difficult access to water, so likely they had to be frugal and hard-working to survive.

The Swabian Alb (or Swabian Jura) occupies the region bounded by the Danube River in the southeast and the upper Neckar River in the northwest. In the southwest it rises to the higher mountains of the Black Forest. The highest mountain of the region is the Lemberg (1,015 m.). The area’s profile resembles a high plateau, which slowly falls away to the southeast. The northwestern edge is a steep escarpment covered with forests, while the top is flat or gently rolling.

The geology of the Swabian Alb is mostly limestone, which formed the seabed during the Jurassic period. The sea receded 50 million years ago. Since limestone is soluble in water, rain seeps through cracks everywhere and forms subterranean rivers which flow through a large system of caves until they emerge. Thus there are hardly any rivers, lakes or other forms of surface water on the plateau.

Many different types of beautiful caves can be found there, from dry dripstone caves to caves that can only be entered by boat. Sometimes the discharge of the water from subterranean rivers can be spectacular, too, for example, the Blautopf, (“Blue Bowl”) a source for a tributary of the Danube.Blue Pot

Also because of the porous limestone, the Danube nearly disappears near Immendingen only to reappear several kilometers further down. Most of the water lost by the Danube resurfaces in the Aachtopf, a spring for a tributary to the Rhine.

Much of the Swabian Alb consists of gentle to moderate hills often covered with forest or cleared for small-scale agriculture. The traditional landscape was grass fields with juniper bushes. Today this has become a comparatively rare sight. However, in certain places it is protected by the government (the province of Baden-Württemberg.) The soil is not very fertile, the humus is often as thin as 10 cm (4 in). Many small limestone pebbles are found on the surface.

Fossils can be found everywhere in the Swabian Alb. In a number of caves (including Vogelherd, Hohlenstein-Stadel, Geißenklösterle and Hohle Fels), all just a few kilometers apart, some of the oldest signs of human artifacts were found. Best known are: a mammoth, a horse head, a water bird, and two statues of a lion man all more than 30,000 years old. The oldest known musical instruments have been found here, too: flutes made from the bones of swans and griffon vultures, some 35,000 years old, and a flute carved from the tusk of a mammoth dating from the Ice Age, around 37,000 years ago. Perhaps most astounding is the oldest representation found so far of the human body, the Venus of Hohle Fels.648px-VenusHohlefels2

This Goddess figure, carved from mammoth ivory, and likely worn as a pendant, was found in caves that my very ancient ancestors may have frequented. Of course, people moved around between those ancient times and more recent times, the Celts and the Gauls intermarried with Germanic tribes, but some of the ancestors of the Swabians may have been present even then.

So as I think about my place on this earth, this is one of my places!