Week 4: #52Ancestors – Invitation to Dinner
By Eilene Lyon
“Which of your ancestors would you like to invite to dinner?” asked Amy Johnson Crow. I’d like to turn that around and be the one invited to dinner by my ancestors. Specifically, the Springers in Heidelsheim, Germany, in 1853.
That would be the year before they emigrated to the United States. Of course, this magical invitation to a dinner in Germany in the 19th century would also impart to me the gift of fluent German, something I do not currently possess. Though I did manage to drum a smattering of the language into my head prior to our trip there in 2014, it’s all faded away now – danke.
A street in Heidelsheim
I would want to know the reasons behind their decision to come to America. We generally look to larger macro-economic and political events in the countries our ancestors came from, but certainly there was more to the story. Why didn’t they leave in 1848, when political upheaval across Europe was at its height?
I would also like a better understanding of their religious affiliation. The Springer family births, marriages, and deaths are found in Catholic records for Heidelsheim. But in America, the family attended the Lutheran Church and are buried in a Lutheran Cemetery. Were they forced to assimilate in the Catholic Church in Germany? Or did they prefer the Lutheran Church in America, because the local congregation held services in their native tongue?
Mostly, though, I just want to know what their daily life was like: what did they eat, were they farmers or tradesmen, were they involved with civic matters, with whom did they associate, what sort of things did they celebrate and how?
Food. Especially the food. My DNA reveals that I am roughly 79% German, despite my centuries of family history in America. And I LOVE German food. I love Germany, in fact. I’ve been there twice now and hope to return many more times.
I had the pleasure of visiting Heidelsheim, now a suburb of Bruchsal, near Karlsruhe. And no, I can’t properly pronounce any of those names. When I tried it out, no one had a clue what I was saying.
We had to get on a local commuter train in Bruchsal to get to Heidelsheim and despite our general success with understanding the transportation system, we never could figure out how to pay our fare on this local line. So we took our chances. I’m sure a foreigner pleading ignorance in such an out-of-the-way place for a tourist would be granted some slack.
(By the way, Bruchsal has some wonderful things to see if you’re a tourist).
Naturally, we got off at the wrong stop and had to get back on the next train. Having no place to leave our luggage, we rolled our suitcases all over the village. I tried asking some high school girls at the train stop if there was a place to stay in town. They mostly stared at us and giggled, but eventually one of them was able to communicate to me that we would have to go back to Bruchsal. So we did that, found a room, then returned to Heidelsheim to explore a bit more.
In trying to find family graves, I learned that cemeteries in Europe aren’t necessarily like in America. Graves are essentially leased and I think they stack the coffins. Only the current leaseholder can place a stone on the grave. So, looking for your ancestors’ burial is probably a waste of time.
A 20th-century Springer grave in Bruchsal
But we did enjoy exploring the old part of the village. A young girl was the only local who took particular notice of us and she showed us a plaque on the outside of her apartment building. There was actually a walking tour designed to showcase the historic locations in town.
Once we returned home, I did a little more digging on the internet and learned that the large stone church in town had an odd history. It is currently a protestant church, but was originally Catholic. During part of its history, it was used by both denominations simultaneously. It was not in use by anyone when we were there, awaiting some restoration work.
I also learned that the town hosts an “Imperial City” festival in odd numbered years. When I return, I want to go there for the festival. It looks like a lot of fun! Maybe not quite the same as dining with my ancestors, but a nice, realistic substitute.
Feature photo: Charles Springer, seated on left, emigrated to America from Heidelsheim, Germany, when he was 22, along with his mother, sister, and two other Springers (relationship unknown). He married Margaret Delle (seated, center), of Kastel Mainz, Germany, in Wisconsin in 1861. They had many children and eventually moved to Codington County, South Dakota. Charles and Margaret are my 3rd great-grandparents.