Finding the Fass in Dorfprozelten

It’s all been about the Germans for the past week as I unravel mysterious old documents or hunt through the newspapers. I still haven’t located the departure of my George Kunkel even though I’ve found quite a lot of his compatriots. I’m sure he’s there somewhere but I may have to trawl through page after page, which could get a bit tedious, not to mention hard on the eyes.

A postcard for Das Goldene Fass, owned by the Happ then Kunkel families. By the time of this photo  it was in other hands,  however I doubt much changed over the years.

I’ve known a little bit about his family’s business in Dorfprozelten am Main, thanks to the wonderful village histories[i] and the generosity of the local historian[ii].  The family owned and ran an inn or Guesthouse in the village for over 100 years. It was called Das Goldene Fass or The Golden Barrel. It seemed that it was indeed a lucrative business given the taxes they were paying: 800 gulden in 1818[iii].

Given this background George Kunkel was atypical among his emigrating peers many of whom were day labourers or in poor-paying jobs. It seems likely, given some of his occupations in Australia, that he shared his older half-brother’s trade as a Metzger (butcher). Family anecdote that he left to avoid military service seemed quite possible, as did the anecdote that he jumped ship given that Dorfprozelten is on the River Main, where a dominant industry is the barges up and down the river. One possibility is that George Kunkel left Bavaria when his older half-brother Jakob August Ulrich inherited/took over the Fass guesthouse circa 1853 when his father died.

My research in the German newspapers last week overturned all my prior thinking on this family, and therefore also on George’s reasons for emigrating. References are not particularly easy to find but I was very pleased with my discoveries.

The first was finding George’s father’s name, Adam Kunkel in the Intelligenzblatt von Unterfranken und Aschaffenburg’s Allgemeines Register, page 34 (Public Register) for the year 1846. Among the approx 2400 names is this one:  Kunkel, Adam Liquidation, 338, 4619, b.

Plainly the business was on shaky ground and on the verge of bankruptcy, or perhaps it was just Adam himself who was in financial difficulty –much would depend on his legal standing in relation to the guesthouse. The Fass had actually belonged to his wife’s family, the Happs through the previous century so how Catherine felt about all this we’ll never know.  I’m sure the numbers after the entry have some significance but as yet I don’t know what they are.

A few years later, on 26 April 1849, he appears in the Aschaffenburger Zeintung…. with this notice. This time the link to the guesthouse is clearer.

My literal translation is confusing but my best guess is that this was some form of creditor’s meeting in neighbouring Klingenberg. Patching words together to make sense of it is hazardous but for now this is my best guess. Notice: On Saturday 12 May at 11am Adam Kunkel, married of Dorfprozelten, belonging to the Guesthouse Fass with Amgriff (surrounds?) in 3 to 4 years interest eked out (??), interested parties are invited to attend in the parish rooms, a public auction in the said place….(Sorry but I just can’t figure this out accurately –feel free to enlighten me!).

The next entry is again in the Intelligenzblatte von Unterfranken und Achaffenburg for the year 1852, page 32[iv]. Once again there were many other entries. Adam’s reads as follows:  Kunkel, Adam zu Dorfprozelten, Gasthaus Versteigerung, 2 20 b, 31 427 b. My understanding is that this says Adam Kunkel, auction of Guesthouse. It’s pretty clear that the business remained in financial difficulties.

It’s around this time that Adam’s step-son Jakob Ulrich marries Elisabeth Firmbach and takes over the Fass. It’s also within the timeframe I estimate for George Kunkel’s departure. In 1848 Europe had been in the throes of revolution and Bavaria was part of this unrest, largely due to the people’s dissatisfaction with the King’s mistress Lola Montez. There were also moves to German unification. Whether these political factors affected the viability of the Fass Guesthouse is of course unknown, but it’s not illogical to think that during periods of economic and political instability people don’t tend to travel or holiday elsewhere.

Only a year after the last notice in 1852, Adam Kunkel died, aged only 55. I don’t have his cause of death but it makes me think I should follow this up.

Jakob Ulrich managed the inn until 1868 when suddenly the remaining family fell ill. Jakob died in June, son Karl in July, his wife Elisabeth in August, and finally his mother Catherine Kunkel nee Happ and later Ulrich, in October 1868. Before her death Catherine would see her family’s inheritance auctioned off as advertised in this notice. The guesthouse was taken over by an August Ulrich, possibly a cousin of Jakob’s. The surviving children of Jakob and Elisabeth progressively emigrated to the United States, settling in New York state.

What does it all mean? This advertisement post-dates the death of Jakob Ulrich and the sale of the family guesthouse.

Some of these newspaper references were easy enough to find, others required rather odd search terms. It’s possible there’s more still to find, but these gems have certainly reframed my family’s story in Bavaria.

Concurrent with this research I was reading The Lieutenant by Australian author, Kate Grenville (kindly sent to me by a friend). It’s an excellent book, by the way, but this section (page 152) spoke to me in the context of my German research and the limitations of my high-school German:

“But language was more than a list of words, more than a collection of fragments all jumbled together like a box of nuts and bolts. Language was a machine. To make it work, each part has to be understood in relation to all the other parts.”

ENDNOTES

[i] The most useful of these is Dorfprozelten am Main Teil II, Veh, G. Benedict Press 2002.

[ii] Those gifts didn’t drop easily from the tree but took multiple letters and visits to obtain, so do persevere with your challenging European ancestors.

[iii] Veh, G. Op cit page 192.

[iv] Grenville, K. The Lieutenant. Canongate Books, 2010, page 152.

Australia Day 2011 meme: the importance of church records and archives to my early documents.

Shelley from http://twigsofyore.blogspot.com/ has invited us to submit an Australia Day post on our blogs. She suggests that we “Find the earliest piece of documentation you have about an ancestor in Australia. If you don’t have an Australian ancestor, then choose the earliest piece of documentation you have for a relative in Australia”

On Wednesday 26 January 2011 post your answers to these questions:

  1. What is the document?
  2. Do you remember the research process that lead you to it? How and where did you find it?
  3. Tell us the story(ies) of the document. You may like to consider the nature of the document, the people mentioned, the place and the time. Be as long or short, broad or narrow in your story telling as you like!

The earliest Australian documents I have for many of my ancestors is their shipping documents: the extended Kent family on the General Hewitt into Moreton Bay in 1854 or two lines of my families arriving on the Fortune into Moreton Bay in 1855: the Gavin family along with another ancestor, William Partridge on the same ship, even though they had differing views of the success of the voyage.

But these documents posed no real challenge so I opted for ones that were a little later but were absolutely pivotal to my family history research. [It didn’t help that these ancestors don’t appear anywhere in the shipping records and have defied all my attempts over 20+ years.]

Like pretty much everyone else I started out buying the marriage certificates of my first Australian couples. In particular the one I was most curious about was George Kunkel’s marriage to Mary O’Brien. The certificate duly arrived, probably helpfully collected from the Registry by my daughters on their way home from school. You might well imagine I had visions of every section of our wonderful certificates comprehensively completed and sending me back to my ancestors’  “Old Country” to locate further branches of their families.

My early-research illusions were quickly shattered when the certificate revealed the following:

THE OFFICIAL MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE

When & where married: 26 September 1857 at Ipswich
Name & Surname: George Hatheas Kunkel Mary O’Brien
Condition: Bachelor Spinster
Birthplace: - -
Profession: Servant Housemaid
Age: - -
Usual place of residence Ipswich Ipswich
Parents-Father’s name and surname, mother’s name and maiden surname
Father’s rank or profession

George had signed and Mary made her mark. The witnesses were stated to be Carl Blomai and Sarah O’Brien. Officiating Minister was Wm McGinly. (Qld Birth certificate 140/81 of 1857 registered in the Colony of NSW)

I could have wept….so many blanks just where I needed them and an additional puzzle because I knew nothing about Sarah O’Brien. Somehow I concluded George & Mary were married in the Catholic Church Ipswich (because I knew they were Catholic, and I suppose I’d read that Wm McGinly was actually Father William McGinty, parish priest of Ipswich. In those days in the late 1980s I was allowed to look at the parish registers (no longer possible) but still there were blanks.

Sometime later I was talking to an experienced researcher at the Genealogical Society of Queensland who told me there were actually two registers at St Mary’s Ipswich, as they’d discovered when GSQ was indexing the records. I needed to go back there and ask for the second one. This wasn’t quite as straight-forward as it sounds, because I needed to get time off work, drive to Ipswich, and then get the staff to find the correct book.

However, when the register was finally delivered to my table, all the trouble was worth it. There, in faded writing, was so much I hadn’t known and which had been omitted from the certificate!

THE PARISH REGISTER from St Mary’s Catholic Church, Ipswich (not quite in this format but easier to see how the gaps are filled)

When & where married: 26 September 1857 at the Catholic Church Ipswich
Name & Surname: George Mathias (not Hatheas) Kunkel Mary O’Brien
Condition: Bachelor Spinster
Birthplace: Dorfprozelten, Germany -
Profession: Servant Housemaid
Age: 23 -
Usual place of residence Ipswich Ipswich
Parents-Father’s name and surname, mother’s name and maiden surname Adam KunkelCatherine Happ
Father’s rank or profession Innkeeper

You can imagine my excitement! I figured that if an Irish priest had bothered to write down a difficult name like Dorfprozelten it had to be correct. I’d earlier tried buying almost every one of George & Mary’s children’s birth certificates and he’d persistently said he came from “Bavaria” and nothing else, except for one time when he put Aschaffenburg, again, who knows why. Research into that had turned up blank prior to finding this marriage register.

Armed with the correct information I was eventually able to confirm (after multiple visits and letters) that George had been baptised Georg Mathias Kunkel in Dorfprozelten Bavaria, to parents Adam Kunkel and Catherine Happ. Technically it was Catherine who was the innkeeper as the inn had been in her family for generations. Adam came from another part of Bavaria, but that’s a story for another day.

There’s another interesting fact about this marriage: that of a German immigrant to an Irish woman. I’d been confidently told by the German expert at GSQ that there were no Bavarians and no German Catholics in Queensland. Wrong on both counts as my research, and other’s, has clearly demonstrated. So a tip for those with German ancestry: if you find a marriage in the Catholic church, there’s a good (but not inevitable) chance that they were actually Catholic, not Lutheran, which is why they sometimes married Irish men or women who shared their faith.

Still there were all those blank spaces against poor Mary’s name: did George not know this detail? was the register filled out when she wasn’t there? Actually to give him credit George did well, my best estimate is that he’d arrived in Australia c1855 and could plainly speak enough English to get by. Mary’s death certificate gave me the name of her parents but not her birth place, other than County Clare. Mary O’Brien from County Clare is like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack.

It was oral history that solved the final puzzle of this couple’s ancestry. One of their youngest surviving grandchildren, Anne Kunkel, told me in the late 1980s that Mary had arrived with her sisters Bridget & Kate (actually Kate came later). She knew that Bridget had married a man named Widdup and lived in NSW. Luckily it was such an unusual name as I was also able to get her death certificate. This confirmed that her place of birth was Broadford, Co Clare, although that document had mistakenly put down her parents as Michael & Bridget not Michael & Catherine. Although the parish registers for Kilseily (Broadford) post-date the birth of Mary and Bridget, the fantastic oral history known by Anne Kunkel and other O’Brien descendants in Sydney gave such a good triangulation of data that Mary’s background could be confirmed.

But wait, we still have the mystery of the witnesses for whom I searched for many years. Carl Blomai looked more like Carl Mosrins per his signature on the church document but eventually turned out to be Carl Wörner as deciphered by the Dorprozelten local historian (thanks Georg!). Sarah O’Brien was the daughter of Daniel and Winifred O’Brien who came from Tipperary to Ipswich, Queensland. I still can’t find any family connection between these O’Briens and mine but as Broadford is in East Clare it’s quite possible, and the families do continue to witness each other’s church events for a long time.  I still haven’t managed to get to the bottom of the puzzle of these inter-connecting families.

Which just goes to show, quite often one document is just not enough to tie up the ends, but persistence, oral history, and multiple records can solve the problem if you’re lucky.