Thursday, October 18, 2018

Horsch-ing Around Kraichgau, Germany

The house my Horst (Horsch) ancestors lived in 250 years ago

My mother was born a Horst, descendent of immigrant Jakob Horst who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1767 on the ship Minerva. As with so many other surnames of Swiss and German heritage, there are many variations; Horsch, Hürsch, Hursch, Horst, Hürst and Hurst. My immigrant ancestor’s family was Horst in Switzerland, Horsch in Germany, and returned to Horst in the USA.

Jakob Horst (Horsch) was born in 1734 in Mauer, in the Kraichgau region of Germany. Like so many other Anabaptists, Jakob’s grandfather, also named Jakob, moved from Switzerland to Germany during severe persecution of the Swiss government in the 17th century. There were two great regions of Anabaptist migration to Germany—one to the Palatinate (see my ancestor Valentine Klemmer) which is west of the Rhine River, and the other to Kraichgau, located east of the Rhine River near Heidelberg and south of the Neckar River.
Heidelberg on the Neckar River

Several years ago, I visited some friends in the town of Bammental, Germany, directly in the Kraichgau region of Germany. Little did I know, that over the hill and around the bend, only three miles from where I was, lay the town of Mauer and the “Hof” where my ancestor Jakob Horsch lived and farmed with his family.

During my year in Switzerland, I was asked to give a presentation about my Swiss heritage, and I came across an article by Clarke Hess on “‘Poor’ Jacob Horst, 1767 Immigrant.” This was a meticulously researched article on my ancestor, including information on his family origins in Switzerland.  When I looked up “Mauer” on Google Maps, I discovered that it was right next to Bammental, where I had visited only a few months earlier. I could have kicked myself for not knowing this before my visit. I hoped I would have a chance to return to visit my friend and the village of my ancestors.

The image of the "Horsthof" I had from
the Hess article to search Google Earth

The image of the Horsthof I found on
Google Earth before I went

The chance came in September 2018. In the meantime, I tried to find the exact location of the “Horsthof.” In the article on “Poor Jacob Horst,” there was an image taken of this Hof. I contacted the Hess to get a more precise location. He didn’t have an exact address, only that it was “close to the cemetery” in Mauer. I scoured Google Earth all around the cemetery to try to locate the place before going there. Hess helped me by forwarding some better images from a more recent visit of his. I found what I thought looked like the buildings of the Hof and took a screen shot. I sent this to Hess, and he confirmed that he thought this was indeed the Hof in question. Armed with this information, I headed to visit my friends in Bammental. 

The morning of my visit to Mauer was bright and sunny. My host and I arrived at the cemetery in under 10 minutes, passing an Aldi’s store on the way. Hard to imagine my ancestor rumbling along this stretch of road on a horse or in a horse-drawn carriage. The cemetery was on a hill at the north edge of town. It didn’t take long to identify the Hof that I had captured an image of from Google Earth. We scrambled down the stairs from the cemetery to the street.

The entrance showing the name of the Baron and
the new use of the former Horsthof

The Horst Hof, which had been owned by the German Baron Göler von Ravensburg for several centuries, probably including the time my ancestor lived there, was now totally renovated and turned into a retirement community with a nursing home. The family of my ancestor was poor and were tenant farmers on this property. 

I could hardly wait to talk to someone about my relationship to the Hof. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as I had planned. The only people with whom I came in contact were very protective of the patients housed in the former barn of my ancestor and weren’t interested in my family history from 250 years ago. My host explained to me that German law is very protective of the privacy of individuals. I wrote more about this “misadventure” in a blog.

The land around Mauer where my Horst relatives farmed.
At least I was able to smell the air, and soak in the atmosphere of my ancestors who lived in Mauer. I was filled with awe to see an actual place attached to my history. 

In the meantime, my host explained to me that there were still many Mennonites in Germany named Horsch. Most of them had moved farther east to Bavaria. In fact, one established a farm implement company in Schwandorf, Bavaria, with branches in many parts of the world, including the USA. I decided to see if any of the Horsches had connections to my family from Mauer.

South German Mennonite Fall Conference attendees
During my stay in Germany, I was able to attend a church-wide Fall Conference of the South German Mennonite Church. I asked my hosts to introduce me to any Horsch present. The first one was the son of the founder of the farm implement company and the current CEO. He was thin of average height and immaculately dressed with a winsome smile and slicked-back, black hair. He looked like a Horst cousin of mine (well, sorta!) and seemed to be making connections with numerous people at the convention. When I asked him if he knew of any family connection to Mauer, he immediately said that there were none. However, he did introduce me to another Horsch at the conference who he thought might know.

I approached the second Horsch, an elderly gentleman who looked just like my grandfather Horst (just kidding!). He was short and stocky, with a thick batch of gray hair on the sides and balding on the top. He wore thick-framed black glasses. Once again, he said that he didn’t know, but that his son was interested in this and might have some information for me. He gave me his phone number.

The next day I called the number I was given, and was able to talk to Johannes Horsch, who was on his tractor at the time doing chores around his farm. Being on the phone, I couldn’t see if he resembled any Horst relative of mine, but we exchanged email addresses for future reference. He was the friendliest of the Horsch contacts, and I am hoping he can make a connection with a Horsch family with ties to Mauer.

Horsch-ing around Kraichgau for a few days, and then visiting the Palatinate, two of the main areas of Swiss Anabaptist migrations for another few days, was an eventful and fun-filled week. The highlight of the week was attending the South German Mennonite Conference and making many new and former connections beyond my ancestors. Since most of them, like me, have connections in Switzerland, I’m probably related to few of them.

The Horschhof as it appears today

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Where Did My Valentine Go?

Typical village construction in the Palatinate
In September 1717, along with 362 others from the Palatinate in Germany, Valentine Clemmer arrived in Philadelphia. They came in three ships. Valentine brought his son Henrich with him along with a grandson Valentine Hunsicker. I am a descendant of Valentine and his son Henrich. There is a Clemmer book about Henrich and his increase, so we know lots about what happened after they arrived in the USA, but where did they come from in Europe? We only know part of the story.

This part we know. Valentine was born in Affoltern am Albis in Switzerland on May 12, 1655. He married Barbara Bär from nearby Ottenbach, both in the Swiss Canton of Zürich.  Barbara was born on September 11, 1659, and they were married on February 26, 1677.  

From 1678 to 1717, when he emigrated to the USA, there are no more records of Valentine in Switzerland. It is presumed that he, like many other Anabaptists, moved to the Palatinate in Germany, but we can find no trace of his presence there. Where did my Valentine go?

Valentine’s brother, Hans Jakob Klemmer, moved to Friedelsheim just west of Mannheim across the Rhine River in the German Palatinate. We have a reference to his daughter, Catherine Klemmer Hunsiker, being born on October 8, 1678 in the same Palatinate town of Friedelsheim. She and her husband, Samuel Hunsiker, are reported to have died sometime before 1717 in Friedelsheim.

With this evidence, it would seem that Valentine would have gone to Friedelsheim where he already had a brother and a daughter living. However, in searching available documents and speaking with historians from both secular and Mennonite archives, no trace of him can be found in Germany, let alone in Friedelsheim. Where did my Valentine go?

We know that he lived in Germany, and that he was even a minister there. We know many of his friends who sailed with him to the USA. We even know where most of them lived in Germany. But we can’t find a trace of Valentine. How do we know that Valentine lived in Germany? In a letter to the Dutch Mennonites responding to their inquiry about the health of the Mennonite immigrant community in Pennsylvania, a group of Mennonite leaders state that their spirits were bolstered by the recent arrival of several ministers from Germany. Among those mentioned was Valentine Klemmer. So, he must have settled somewhere in Germany. But where did my Valentine go?

Wherever he moved to in Germany, he must have buried his wife Barbara, because he came to Pennsylvania as a widower. We assume that he didn’t leave any discernable records in Germany because he was an Anabaptist; they didn’t baptize their infants, and records of births and deaths were kept by the state churches, in the case of Friedelsheim, the Reformed Church. Yet we have lots of references to other Mennonite/Anabaptists from that time and that region. Where did my Valentine go?
Vineyard from the Palatinate

The Henrich Klemmer whom the genealogy book is about, would have been born in Germany. He was born in 1700, well after 1678, the date of Valentine’s supposed emigration from Switzerland. But there is no record of his birth there either. Where did my Valentine go?

With the sketchy information I had, I traveled to the Palatinate in September 2018. I visited Friedelsheim for the third time. The first time I visited, I had two siblings with me, and we mistakenly thought that our Henrich ancestor was Johann Heinrich, whose birth was registered with the Reformed Church, because he and his father, Hans Jakob, were reformed. As it turns out, this Heinrich, who emigrated to the USA in 1730 on the ship Alexander and Ann, is my Henrich’s first cousin. At least I know that I had relatives in Friedelsheim, if not my Valentine or Henrich. Where did my Valentine go?

My historian friend from Friedelsheim
During my second visit to Friedelsheim, we met with an historian who produced numerous Klemmer names from the village around the time of my ancestors. We also met with the pastor of the Mennonite Church in Friedelsheim which has records of Mennonite members from there and all the surrounding villages since 1665. I saw so many typical Euro-Mennonite names on the list that it made my head spin. Still no Valentine or Henrich. Where did my Valentine go?

On my recent trip, I stayed with a friend from Erpolzheim, a few miles from Friedelsheim, whose family had been Mennonite in the region since 1759. He introduced me to another historian from Friedelsheim who wrote a booklet on the emigres from Friedelsheim during the great wave of German emigres in the 18th Century. On the list was my ancestor’s nephew, Johan Heinrich, but no Valentine or his son Henrich. I left him with a list of questions about my ancestors, with dates and other information that I knew. Where did my Valentine go?

I also discovered a Mennonite Research Institute (Mennonitische Forschungsstelle) in Weierhof and gave them similar questions. Their first response was, even though Valentine was a pastor, that they had no information on a Mennonite Klemmer. I gave them further data and am awaiting their answer. Where did my Valentine go?

My quest for finding my ancestors has developed into somewhat of an obsession. I have become an expert on the Palatinate, both through reading about it and traveling through it. It is a beautiful area, with vineyards and vegetable farming everywhere. My host on this last trip is a retired vintner and apple farmer. I attended a “Wurstfest” in Bad Dürkheim near Friedelsheim which featured German sausages and wine. The villages are quaint, and homes are packed together on narrow streets, but the fields are flat and wide.

Reformed Church in Friedelsheim
I spoke with the Sexton at the Reformed church in Friedelsheim, telling him about my relationship to his town. He said, “we have the best land, the best wine, and the most beautiful women. Why would anyone want to leave?” Then he lowered his head pensively and said, “Times were tough after numerous wars, our land passed between the French and the Germans, each new ruler either for or against religious reforms. There was lots of persecution.”

I suppose Valentine experienced similar oppression in both Switzerland and Germany. There must have been some pretty dire circumstances to make such an incredible journey with his children and a grandson when he was already 62 years old.

We know that he left Switzerland and eventually landed in Pennsylvania. But between the years 1678 and 1717, where did my Valentine go?

I hope to find out.