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
















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