Saturday, July 28, 2012

Finding The Past

The idea behind this vacation was two-fold: I would get to see the places my ancestors are from and my wife would get to visit battlefields and other such "exciting" stuff. There would be castles, wine and chocolate. What's not to love (other than the battlefields and other such "exciting" stuff)?

We flew into Frankfurt on Monday the 16th. We had reserved a Ford Focus, but got upgraded to a small tank. Why we would want such a car in the last of tiny roads and tinier parking place is beyond me. But I am not experienced at driving a stick (I can do it, but I am not super comfortable with it), so this was apparently our only option.

We stayed that night at a place in Griesheim and got up first thing Tuesday morning to head to Herrlisheim, Rohrwiller and Sessenheim. Herrlisheim is the city my family originates from in the Alsace, though they moved from there to Rohrwiller and then Sessenheim before immigrating to the U.S. Herrlisheim was nearly completely (about 80%) destroyed in World War II, so there wasn't a lot old to see there, though I did find one interesting memorial crucifix on the edge of town heading toward Offendorf dating from 1775 for a Johannes Schohn and his wife Catherine Hermann.

In Sessenheim, I got to see the church where my family worshiped before they immigrated to the U.S. I couldn't go inside that day because weirdly, BOTH the Catholic and Protestant Churches in town were having funerals at the exact same time. I guess even in a small town, you had to choose between whose funeral you would attend. Makes me wonder if there is a Hatfields and McCoys thing going on.

The first picture is of the Catholic church. The second shows the domed Lutheran church from the Catholic not a lot of distance between those two funerals...

With all of this visiting the places my ancestors were from, much of this trip has resulted in some interesting issues of identity for me. My mom was mostly Indian, with a bit of German tossed in to make it interesting. My dad, as far as I have always believed, was 100% German. My last name too was 100% German. Or so I thought.

My granddad had always been clear that his family came from the Alsace. But the language he grew up speaking was German, the foods he cooked were German. He said he was German.

The Alsace, of course, is in France. But the area has a complicated history, going back and forth from Germany to France. The people there now consider themselves French. My relatives there consider themselves Alsacian and French. Not German.

Turns out, my last name is not German. It is Alsacian. And while the Alsacian language, food and culture are Germanic, they do not consider themselves to be German.

I am still a good bit German. Like I said, my mother had German ancestry. And my dad's father's mother was Bavarian. My dad's mother, near as I can tell from her genealogy, was also German. But at this point, who knows?

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