Thursday, March 24, 2016

Where We Come From: Woggersin, Germany and the Boeckenhauer Family's Journey

John (b.6.13.1823) and Sophia (b.12.21.1819)  Boeckenhauer seem to have come from several places in Germany. From Lukas, to Langen, but there was never any proof that tied them to a certain place. Not having found much access or having much finesse locating and deciphering German Documents yet, I still really didn't know where in Germany they had come from.
       Which made me excited when I found their ship manifest leaving from Hamburg, and the information THEY themselves gave as where they were from was "Woggersin, Mecklenburg".

By Heinz Kippnick; drawn by T. Rystau (de:Benutzer:Ollemarkeagle)This vector image was created with Inkscape.
  Woggersin Coat of Arms

We have our starting point. 

      So, from what I've been able to find, Woggersin is a small village in the "county" of Neverin in the district of Mecklenburgische Seenplatte, in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the country of Germany. 

I'll break it down with maps.

There's Germany. ------------>
She's divided into states.
That yellow state on the top right,
That's Mecklenburg-Vorpommern,
with much of it's northern border boasting
coastline on the Baltic Sea.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is historically a marriage of Mecklenburg and part of the Prussian province of Western Pomerania. 
       The State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern seems absolutely beautiful, and you can explore it here.

Now let's go inside it's sometimes referred to....
Below is a map of its districts ....

The district of Mecklenburgische Seenplatte is circled in Blue. Inside that district, outlined in red, is the "county" Neverin. and it is inside Neverin,where we find our little municipality of Woggersin, that yellow speck I made near where Neverin splits into two portions.

      Historically speaking, Woggersin is a very old town, with its first mention in written history in the year 1346, and archaeological finds as far back as 8,000 B.C.
   I can't say what it was like in the late 1860's when John and Sophia left, but I gather it was a small community, as today, its population hovers only around 500 people. This is a huge jump from it's population in 1990, which rested at 90 people.

If you take a trip to the official Woggersin Website you can find a wonderful view of the town from above, plus, much more information!

Woggersin from above, courtesy of its municipal website 

 Definitely a small German town, but remarkably, its landscape resembles any farm town here in Illinois and Wisconsin, which I'm sure had a little something to do with why our ancestors chose to settle in these places. :) 

The following photos belong to Ronny Krüger, a kind person who gave me permission to use his own photos of Woggersin found on Panoramio to share with you all to give you a glimpse into Woggersin as it is today.

The Church in Woggersin

 I know what you're thinking.... It looks like Wisconsin, Right?!?
Okay, well, that's what I was thinking. 
And it does.

 Leaving Woggersin

The passage to America had to begin somewhere, triggered by something. Typically economic reasons. John Boeckenhauer was a coach driver, and I can't imagine it was easy finding in employment there at the time.  This was a similar story for many, and it triggered mass emigration from Germany to America during the 1800's. There was an influx of German and Irish immigrants to America in the 1860's, and our Boeckenhauers were a part of this massive movement.

An Ad from the Shipping line the Boeckenhauer family took to America

 If  John Boeckenhauer  saw the advertisement, no one can say, but he and his family crossed the land, 136 miles if it's a straight shot. But a straight shot it wasn't. Just to the east of Woggersin laid difficult terrain they would have to go around, instead of pass through.The journey was likely many more miles. Today, taking a similar route they most likely took, whether to the north or to the south, in a car would take 3-4 hours. They were also traveling in October.With 3 small children. I can't imagine the trek was easy. But, they made it, and on October 25, 1865, My great great grandmother, Sophie Boeckenhauer,(b.6.20.1860) just  5 years, old boarded a ship named Bavaria, of the  Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaf shipping line and left the port of Hamburg with her Parents and her two brothers for America.

The SS Bavaria

The ship was an 8 year old ocean liner of both sail and steam. Their accommodations on the ship were in steerage. The In-between deck, The conditions in steerage were rough and cramped. The deck normally had an average height of 6-8 feet, and wooden bunks, one for each family, ran along both sides of the deck, often two high. The link here shows a typical cross section of what that steerage deck looked like. Conditions were known for being cramped, uncomfortable and often described as atrocious, crowded and smelling awful. 

    From the  U.S. Immigration and Migration Reference Library, 2004 "From U.S. History in Context" I found a passage that gave a mighty clear representation of what emigrating was like at the time for our Boeckenhauers:
"Although political turbulence and religious repression in Europe triggered small waves of German migration to the United States, most historians note that the mass migrations were mainly motivated by the desire for economic opportunity and prosperity. For many years rural Germans had lived on small family farms. As the German states faced industrialization (the change from a farm-based economy to an economic system based on the manufacturing of goods and distribution of services on an organized and mass-produced basis), the old way of rural life was quickly disappearing. Many were forced to move into cities and learn new skills. Yet, with unemployment in Germany rising, the cities did not always hold much hope. Among those who emigrated, some had few options left in Germany and sought more opportunity. Steady migrations were ongoing starting in the early nineteenth century.
It was a dangerous and difficult trip across the Atlantic. Germans began the journey by making their way to a port city. During the high peaks of emigration there was a steady flow of traffic on the roads to the ports made up of families pushing carts loaded with their belongings. In Germany, most emigrants left from Bremerhaven or Hamburg. Some made their way to Britain in the early eighteenth century, hoping to find passage to North America from there. Others went to Rotterdam, Holland, or Le Havre, France, and sought a ship there. They were often robbed or swindled when they arrived in ports.
The conditions on the sailing ships that took the German immigrants across the Atlantic were terrible. Many people could not afford to purchase a first- or second-class ticket, and so they traveled in steerage, in the lower decks of the ship that were designed to carry cargo. Aside from being miserably overcrowded, the accommodations often lacked clean drinking water and adequate toilet and washing facilities. Rats, head lice, and bedbugs were common, and infectious diseases spread quickly. In the years after, steamships would shorten the voyage and regulations on ships would correct some of the worst abuses of travelers. Even so, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many immigrants faced misery and even death to get to the United States. Despite the hard trip, for over a century Germans immigrated by the hundreds of thousands to the United States."

      YIKES. After traveling such a distance to even get to the port of Hamburg they still had one heck of a trip to endure before they even reached America, where, when they got there, would still not be able to find respite until they reached a little town of Elk Grove, Il. A journey a family took with 3 small children, in less than desirable conditions over 4,362 miles. To make a new start in hopes of a better life. WOW. Just... wow.

So there, in Elk Grove, Illinois, over 4,000 miles later, John Boeckenhauer the Coach Driver became a farmer, and lived a long life with his wife, both of them passing away at the ripe old age of 87. Thanks to the courage of John and Sophie taking such a chance, they hopefully were able to fulfill the wishes they had for themselves and their children, as Americans.

Sophia Boeckenhauer
       His daughter, Sophia, a little 5 year old girl at the time of the voyage, grew up a German-American on a farm in Illinois. She went on to have 9 children, including my great grandfather, Henry Wille (b.12.23.1889) and lived the life of a farmer's wife until the age of 96, her husband, Fritz, living until the age of 91. 

     I wonder how it happened that they ended up in Elk Grove Village. I wonder what contacts were made, what rumors of land they may have heard that lead them there. I suppose I will never know, but whatever it was, it was there in that village they lived long and industrious lives, bringing with them those good "Prussian Virtues" from their homeland that undoubtedly made them successful here, in America.

Friday, March 11, 2016

William Henry Burmester's Obituary

I found this today while going through the will and probate records of my 2nd great grandfather, William Henry Burmester,  and the title of his obituary just about took my breath away! Boy, thinking about what a reward that must have been with the Blessed Assurance he most certainly carried with him!

  "William H. Burmester Summoned to Reward"

Hallelujah, Right!?

 "He was genial and courtly in manner, and his word was as good as his bond."

It was a wonderfully written and refreshing obituary to read. Pondering all the things I had read, I realized in that moment so much about my legendary Great Grandmother, Ida Burmester Wille suddenly made so, SO much more sense! 

 William's daughter, Ida Burmester (b. 6.23.1893) was by all accounts a kind, humble, generous, faithful, loving and hard working woman. She passed when I was small, but what I hear most often when we speak of her is "I wish you could have known her like we knew her. She was such a wonderful woman."
After reading William's obituary, it seems the apple did not fall far from the tree with my great grandma, and many of the attributes her own family knew her for could also be found in her father. 
 Now, not to leave her dear mother, Alvina, good woman, of course. But a good GERMAN woman, if you catch my drift. : )  From accounts, and candid photos, she seemed "All work and no play". Like I said... German. Whatever her personality,based on William's description in his obit, I do know it wasn't the likeness shared between William and his daughter, Ida. 
The Burmester Women (My g-grandmother Ida, Aunt Emma, gg-granmother Alvina, and Aunt Mart)

Ida enjoying her great grandchildren

   I can't mention Ida's similarities to her father without mentioning Ida's sister (another daughter of William's) Emma Burmester (b.4.28.1886) who carried on this loving kindness and generosity along the family line. Though Emma never married, she too, cared for all those around her. She took loving care of her mother, Alvina, until her death, and when the depression hit hard, Emma would share her paycheck with her sister Ida, and her family of  10, to help make sure they could make ends meet.

Aunt Emma Burmester, Daughter of William H. Burmester
  It would seem to me that William had set a fine example to those around him. A good and Godly man who lived a life that was loved, and honored. A life that left a great legacy for his children ( All 13 or so!) to draw from.
 Definitely a few more people in my tree I wish 
I could have known personally. <3

 I look forward to going through the rest of the records to see what I find!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Where We Come From: Intro

 Where We Come From

    I want to do a little series of posts here about the origins of our immigrants. Both my husband's and mine. I want us to have a little more knowledge of the land from where we came; The land our grandparents' considered their "native" home. I think this is an important aspect of finding your roots, and one I would like to explore.

     See, the thing about America is that, unless you are Native, You could have come from ANYWHERE in the world. Absolutely anywhere, and relatively recently in history. This is an attribute I find to be very unique and special to the roots of our nation. And even more impressive to me, is that we, cultures from all over the world, HAD to find a way to live together despite our differences. To maintain who they were and become American all at the same time. This sort of journey has about as many routes as there are as many families. Each one of us has a story of how it happened. How it worked, or how it didn't.
   When combining both My husband's and my own families' journeys, for just two people, we have pretty far reaching roots. (as you can see from the graphic I made above, there are a lot of flags represented there.)  I wanted to take a look at the places we came from. So through a couple installments, I hope to give myself, my family and especially my children a better idea of what life was like before their grandparents braved the Atlantic (or the Rio Grande!) to start a new life in an unfamiliar land. And perhaps you, dear reader, who may have stumbled upon these posts and have similar backgrounds, will walk away with a little more knowledge of your ancestor's Native Home, that they no doubt carried with them the rest of their lives.

    I'll be looking back through Northern Sweden, Several areas of Germany, a couple areas of Italy, Greece, a few areas of Norway, possibly Finland, and of course Mexico. Maybe if I am ambitious I can get back to Spain but really, we all know why Spaniards left Spain for Mexico, right? No sense beating a dead horse on that one... And the Irish... I don't know too many specifics on what little, highly diluted Irish we do have so maybe that's something I can develop later on

So I hope you'll keep up with me on these journeys ahead and check back periodically as I compile research and find a way to weave it all together. I look forward to digging into this, and I hope you do too!


Sunday, March 6, 2016


   Finding photos to add to faces is one of the more exciting parts for me, when it comes to my research. I am ALWAYS excited to see family photos.

I've had a little fun lately coming across some photos that have shown the always intriguing power of genetics. 

Sometimes, I open a file that was sent to me and my mouth drops, because my brain thinks it sees someone I already know looking at me from back in time! It's exciting when that happens.

  Last week my cousin sent me a photo in a text, and at first glance I thought it was me. She captioned it "Fornelbow 2.0?"
  ** Backstory.... our great grandmother, Esther wasn't always a woman of many words but when she didn't like something, she let you know with en elbow jab. She was famous for them. Or, possibly, infamous. That (in)famous elbow..... Before she had passed she had remarried a wonderful man, Axel Fornell, and thus became "Esther Fornell". One night, on a drive home from our annual craft fair, they were telling a story of my Uncle who had to sit in the back seat with her once. Anytime he said something she didn't like, most likely some jokes he was cracking... BAM, a curiously strong elderly elbow jab in the ribs. Any time you did something she didn't want, BAM, that sneaky elbow would getcha! 
And in that moment, in a pure stroke of genius, I married the two words, and her infamous elbow jab became forever after, lovingly known as.... The Fornelbow.**

So, this picture, my kids thought it was me. My friends thought it was me. It wasn't me. It was My great grandmother. I took a side by side and posted it. A lot of people thought IT WAS ME. I showed my daughter the photo and asked, "Who is that?" She said, "That's you. How did you do that to the photo? How did you make it that brown color? Can you do that with one of mine?" 
    Now, we aren't identical by any means...but, You can tell it's her genes that came through in me. 
I made a quick snapshot to do a side by side. I wish I had a better comparison, but I think the whole point still comes through with this one. ;)

Me, in my early 30's, and Esther Eugenia Stenman (b. 2.25.1901) in her late teens.

  I more recently came across a photo of  My 3rd great grandfather Joachim Sæther, (b. 6.30.1835) and was able to compare him to a photo from our family that I had confirmed by another person was indeed his daughter, Emma Ingeborg Sæther.(b. 3.19.1866). A great resemblance with their dark set eyes, and nose. But it passed on even farther to my great grandfather, Emma's son, Helge Jonsson   (b. 11.13.1897) I put them side by side, with a younger photo of Helge on the left, and an older one of him on the right. It was fun to compare the resemblances!

L-->R: Young Helge Jonsson, Joachim Sæther, Emme Ingeborg (Sæther) Jonsson, and older Helge Jonsson  
Three generations in one photo, side by side. Father, Daughter, Grandson. How Fascinating!

The next was one we never saw coming. We knew my maternal grandma looked like her dad. I had seen photos, and she definitely favored her dad over her mom. But when a cousin I found online sent me a photo of  my 2nd great grandmother, I thought.... WOW. This genetics thing just hit a whole new level! Haha! 

On the right, Ida Smith
b. 9.5.1856

On the left, Ida's 
Mary Jane Smith

Crazy, right? 

I think I find it so fascinating, because it's literally a visual reminder that our ancestors live on through us. The thought itself is a beautiful one and a reminder to stay connected to our past. But when you see the face of someone you've never seen before, who lived 150 years before you were born and you can recognize yourself or your parents in them, everything feels brought to life. These aren't just names, dates and places added to a long list of more names, dates and places. These were lives lived. These are people. These are YOUR people. Their contribution to who you are isn't always just entered as data on a website or written in a file or passed on in a story. Sometimes it's right there, looking you in the  mirror and you never even realized it. Kind of amazing, right?

     I love seeing the resemblances to past generations. If you can find them in your own roots, please feel free to post a link in the comments, because I'd love to stop by and take a look.

- Dani