Part 1 - Mecklenburg "the old country"
My Mom's Great Grandfather, Friedrich David Julius Hermann, who went by the name David, came to America and settled in Dane County, Wisconsin in the summer of 1862. I did not know of him prior to starting my family research and I don't think my mom did either. His story is a typical immigrant saga and he arrived around the same time as a number of my northern European ancestors.
What makes David's story interesting is that a good deal of information is available about him and his family, including some information about the generations that preceded him. This is due, in large part, to the research by other family members. There names are Gary and Ron Goth and they performed extensive research on the Goth family. The Goth family also came to Dane County, Wisconsin in the early 1860s. It turns out that there were two marriages between the Hermann and Goth families in Wisconsin. The researchers, Ron and Gary, descended from one of those marriages and I descended from the other.
Both the Hermann and Goth families came from Mecklenburg, which at the time was a small Duchy on the Baltic Sea to the west and north of Prussia. The Hermann family lived near the sea while the Goth family was farther inland. It is unclear if the families new each other prior to coming to America. It is possible, but seems unlikely. The Hermann name has a number of spelling variations even within this family. It has been spelled with one or two r's and n's (Herman, Herrmann or Hermann) in various records and census data.
|Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1856. The Goth|
and Hermann families came from the northeast area of Mecklenburg.
The Hermann ancestors can be generally characterized as poor peasants. Until 1820, feudalism was still alive and well in Mecklenburg so it may be that earlier generations of the Hermann's were Serfs, essentially working under a Lord or Count. David's family has been traced back another four generations, beginning with Friederich Hermann. He was born about 1695 in Mecklenburg and his death date is not known. On November 12, 1717, Friedrich was married to Trinn (Kathrine) Schacht at Stromkendorf, Mecklenburg. She was born on April 28, 1695 at Stromkendorf but her death date in not known. Trinn's parents were Pagel Schacht and Ann Greth Geiste. Friedrich and Trinn reportedly had five children including: Marie (24.07.1718 - ?), Trinn Marie Agnet (19.03.1720 - ?), Hinrich (16.08.1722 - ?), Pagel Olrich (12.06.1725 - ?),and Ann Greth Dortie (18.09.1728 - ?). The children were all born at Stromkendorf.
On January 11, 1754, Hinrich, the third child of Friederich and Trinn, married Marie Liese Holst at Wodorf, Mecklenburg. She was born on August 8, 1725 in Robertsdorf, Mecklenburg. Her death date and parents' names are not known. Hinrich and Marie had a least two children including: Jochim Christian Hinrich(09.12.1755 - 20.12.1818) and Christoffer Friederich (15.08.1758 - ?). There may have been more, but these are the only ones that have been uncovered. Both children were born in Heidekaten, Mecklenburg.
On April 21, 1780, Jochim Christian Hinrich Hermann, the oldest son of Hinrich and Marie, married Anna Agneta Holst. She was born about 1761 at Wodorf to unknown parents. Records indicate that they had 11 children including: Joachim Heinrich (24.01.1781 - ?), Magdalena Margreta (06.09.1782 - ?), Anna Elisabeth (23.06.1784 - ?), Hans Jacob (26.06.1786 - ?), Catharina Dorothea (11.09.1788 - ?), Jochim Friederich (08.08.1790 - ?), Infant Boy (31.12.1792 - 31.12.1792), Friedrich Christian Jacob (27.03.1794 - 11-06-1864), Jochim Christian Hinrich (07.12.1796 - ?) and Christina Sophia Dorothea (17.09.1800 - ?). Most, if not all, of the children were born in Heidekaten. Jochim Christian Hinrich and his wife Marie where noted to be "poor cottagers." Today, Heidekaten is a very small burg, really just a cluster of houses about one mile from the sea in northwest Mecklenburg.
|A flat agricultural plain defines the area of Mecklenburg where the Hermann|
family originated. On this map you can see Heidekaten and Wodorf.
|The Plains of Mecklenburg near Stromkendorf with the Baltic Sea in the background|
On October 19, 1860, Friedrich David Julius Hermann, the youngest child of Friedrich Christian Jacob and Magdalene Maria Gafke, married Anna Maria Elisabeth Rohde. She was born on May 23, 1841 in Madsow, Mecklenburg and was the daughter of Johann Friedrich Rohde and Christina Dorothea Elisabeth Steinhagen. Anna's father was born in Gagzow, Mecklenburg on July 14, 1802. His father, also named Johann Friedrich, was noted as a "herdsman" and it is unlikely that either father or son ever owned any land.
By any measure, Mecklenburg was a very small German State (sometimes split into two Duchies). It was ruled by a Duke or Grand Duke from the 12th century until the collapse of the German monarchies at the end of World War I. It is interesting to note that at its demise in 1918, the House of Mecklenburg was the oldest ruling princely dynasty in Germany, having its origins with the Slavic tribes of the region. Germans migrated into the area in the middle ages and eventually their language and customs became the norm. There are, however, many towns and place-names that still show their Slavic roots. Mecklenburg was mostly agricultural, poorer than the average German state and considered somewhat backward. It was noted to have poor soil and therefore low agricultural yields. The rulers could be harsh, corrupt and often mismanaged state affairs. A famous Mecklenburg writer named Fritz Reuter remarked that everything happened one hundred years later in his home province. Bismark had made a similar comment.
At one time, the Dukes of Mecklenburg made a hereditary claim to the crown of Sweden and then later to Norway. They were never powerful enough to exert those claims, yet, somehow Mecklenburg managed to remain independent of its more powerful neighbor, Prussia. They generally seemed to maintain good relations with both their neighbor and also with Russia. This may be due to the fact that there were many marriages between the various royal families and also the Slavic origins of the Mecklenburg Princes.
European conflicts also found their way into Mecklenburg. As an example, Russian, Prussian and French troops all passed through Mecklenburg during Napoleon's reign and each wreaked havoc with the land and people. In 1820, serfdom was abolished in the Duchy but that did not immediately improve the lives of most ordinary people. In fact, many suffered, now having to fend for themselves for the first time in their history. Mecklenburg was noted to have one of the highest percentages of emigration of any of the German states. After living in grinding poverty with little freedom and few opportunities, many saw immigration as a new chance on life. In one year, 1857, over one percent of the population left the country. By 1900, almost one third of the people born in Mecklenburg were living outside the state. From the website "Understanding Your Ancestors and other sources."
As 1862 approached, Frederick David Julius Hermann, known simply as David, was married to Anna and had an infant daughter. Shortly after their marriage, Anna's father had died and her mother, Christina, was noted as working as a servant. Although David's father owned some property, as the youngest child, David had little hope of any inheritance. So the stage was set for the family to leave their homeland for a new life in America. It is unclear why they chose Wisconsin as their destination but they may have known others who were heading in that same direction. Both the Town of Middleton and the Town of Verona in Dane County, Wisconsin would see a number of immigrants from Mecklenburg.
On May 15th, a Thursday, in 1862, David, Anna, daughter Henrietta and mother-in-law, Christina, would board the Ship John Bertram at the Port of Hamburg and set sail on a 41 day journey. The ship's Master was Th. J. Knudgass. On the voyage were 383 passengers, merchandise and a grew of about 24. With the Civil War raging, they would arrive at the Port of New York on Tuesday, June 24th.
Named after a prominent Salem, Massachusetts sea captain, the ship was built in east Boston and Launched in 1850. 190 feet long, 37 feet wide with three masts, the John Bertram was an “extreme clipper” built for fast trans-ocean passenger and cargo traffic. The ship made a few voyages from Boston to San Francisco and one to Asia before being sold to a Hamburg Line. From 1855 to 1871 she sailed mainly from Hamburg or Antwerp to New York. Her last years were spent primarily shipping lumber from Quebec to London. In bad weather, in 1883, she had to be abandoned at sea.
|Oil Painting of the John Bertram from 1850|
The actual details of David and Anna's journey are not known but keep in mind that they probably spoke little English, had few belongings and little money. The preparation for the voyage was no small task. They would used what little money they may have accumulated to pay for the voyage. They would have packed lightly and sold any remaining personal property. Prior to disembarking, they would need to secure permission, from the government, to leave and had to go through extensive physical examinations. All of the preparations paled in comparison to the actual voyage. By 1860 this was still an extremely difficult means of travel with cramped quarters, poor sanitation, inadequate food, the possibility of disease and sickness (not to mention sea-sickness). In rough weather, they would be locked below deck and although by this time, most would survive a trans-Atlantic journey, it was still not unusual for some to die during the voyage. Upon arrival they most likely ended up at Castle Garden on the tip of Manhattan and the predecessor to Ellis Island. After that, they made their way west. It is likely they went by boat up the Hudson River and then via the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes. From there, they would make passage on a great lakes steamer to Milwaukee and then travel overland the rest of the way. It would be safe to say that the whole journey took them at least 60 days, maybe longer. When they finally arrived in Wisconsin, the hard journey was over but the real work was just starting - carving out a life for themselves in a strange land.
Part 2, A Life in Wisconsin can be found here . . .