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.
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.
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.”
[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.