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.

C19th Emigrants from Dorfprozelten to “America” Part 1

Yesterday I was out on the back deck nearly all day chasing research rabbits down the hole. Today I’m driven inside by the pounding rain –the first of the season. Woo Hoo! (writing this and posting have taken me into yet another day and now it’s just HUMID!).

Translation: If you would like to read this post in a different language you can click here.

It’s been ages since I’ve put my nose to the research grindstone and yesterday involved some new learning as I ventured into the US records properly for the first time. I’ve been dabbling from time to time trying to find my 2x great grandfather’s brother, Philip Joseph Kunkel born 1840, but without conclusive success. Yesterday’s sleuthing started with Chris Paton’s blog alert on the release of New York Naturalisations.

A little background

George Mathias Kunkel’s mother was Eva Catharina (Catherine) Happ, whose family had lived in the village of Dorfprozeltenon the River Main, Bavaria and owned an inn, Das Goldene Fass, there for at least 100 years. Her first marriage was to a man called Georg Jakob Ulrich from nearby Stadtprozelten. They had surviving children Maria Ludovika (died aged 23), Josefa Gertrud (married Haun), Jacobina, Karl (died aged 22) and Jacob August. Three other children had died in infancy as was quite common in the village at the time. Georg Ulrich died quite young, aged only 34, leaving Catharina a widow, again not uncommon.

A postcard of Das Goldene Fass mid-20thC. Kindly provided to me by Georg Veh, local historian.

Das Goldene Fass before its demolition for a bank. Image kindly provided by Georg Veh.

Unusually Catharina did not remarry quickly (a few months later was typical), perhaps because she had more economic autonomy through being the owner of the inn.

Her second marriage was to Adam Kunkel from a village called Laufach in the Spessart Forest region. Their surviving children were Georg Mathias (my ancestor, b 1834) and his brother Philip Josef (b 1840). It’s perhaps worth noting that in this part of Bavaria (very Catholic), baptism typically occurred on the same day as births unless the birth was late in the day.

The Laufach church and a historical Bavarian display. P Cass 2003.

The family story in Australia has always been that one son came here and one (or two) went to “America”. As Philip Joseph Kunkel disappears from the Dorfprozelten church records I’ve assumed (yes, I know!) that he’s the one I’m searching for…far easier today, in theory, than it was in the pre-internet era.

Catharina’s eldest son, Jacob August Ulrich, inherited the family’s inn, Das Goldenes Fass, while my ancestor, Georg Mathias, emigrated to Australia. Jacob married Elisabeth Firmbach circa 1851 (perhaps the impetus for George to migrate?). Thanks to the local history and the generous local historian, Georg Veh, I know their children were Josephine, Georg Jacob (died in infancy), Maria Augusta, a child (of whom more later), Bertha, Ernestine Veronika, Georg Jacob and Karl (died in infancy).

Of these I knew that Bertha had emigrated c1881 to the US where she married a Dorfprozelten man, William Kuhn. Brother Georg Jacob followed her c1882 and married an “Englishwoman”.

Tragedy struck this family in a big way in 1868 when, within months, four of the family died from lung disease (Lungensucht), perhaps TB? Jacob died on 19 June, son Karl on 1 July, Jacob’s wife Elisabeth on 20 August, and his mother Catharina on 15 October. What a terrible time for the remaining family as they lost one loved one after another.

Yesterday’s research revealed a new discovery: Jacob and Elisabeth’s eldest daughter had also emigrated, circa 1873, only five years after her parents’ death. What became of the surviving four children, two still under ten, is unknown, presumably they were cared for by other family members, aunts or uncles since their Kunkel/Happ/Ulrich grandparents were also dead.

What happened to the Happ family’s inn? After Jacob August’s death it was taken over by August Ulrich, possibly Catharina and Georg Ulrich’s youngest son, though the birth dates don’t gel. In 1930 the family sold the inn and for the first time in two hundred years it moved out of the Happ descendancy.

I am greatly indebted to Georg Veh and the other local researchers in Dorfprozelten for the background to this story. If you have Dorfprozelten heritage please leave a comment so I can give you the details on ordering their excellent local histories.

This post looked like being two much to digest unless split into two parts so Part 2 is for the American discoveries.

Next post: Across the Pond: the American connection.