I spent a few days in Germany as part of a business trip, and had the opportunity to spend some time learning about Zillhausen in Albstadt: the place my German ancestors lived. It was Good Friday, so I had the day off and I had an economical rental car that enabled me to scoot around to my heart’s content.
I stayed in a Bed and Breakfast owned by the Fire Chief of Pfeffingen, Michael Adam. He was a generous and friendly host and we became fast friends. The style of the home was common to many others, and I assume that Johann Martin Herre (1816 – 1884, entire life in Zillhausen) and his wife Justine Margarethe Eppeler (1817 -1893, entire life in Zillhausen) lived in a place built in a similar style, though possibly not quite so large. I simply don’t know. But I have learned the dates and places and the names of my German roots.
This chart from Ancestry.com shows that my grandmother, Clara Frances King, is the daughter of Charles Franklin King and Anna Herre. Going up you can see Johannes Herre and Gottlebina Bizer, my Great-Great Grandparents, and each of their parents. This is my German line.
My father, Charles King Roushar’s mother’s mother is Anna Herre. While I’m not certain in what city or town she was born, the records show that she was born in Germany. As both her parents Johannes Herre and Gottlebina Bizer or Bitzer have records showing they were from Zillhausen, this is where I focused my trip to find out about the place they called home. Because I don’t have much vacation time to use, I worked Monday through Thursday, then used my vacation on Good Friday for exploration. I was delighted with the beautiful way my Bed and Breakfast host preserved the original architecture of the home and the rooms. I felt like I was living in the era when Anna, Johann and Justine lived, and I enjoyed the feeling.
My hope in coming to Zillhausen was to see the place where my forefathers lived, and do some research. As I expected the places that held birth, marriage and death records to be closed for the Easter weekend, I hoped to search the cemeteries for grave markers of my people. In this, I was frustrated because apparently the final resting places in Germany are not so final. I learned that cemetery plots are leased, and must be renewed every 20 years. So after a couple generations, most families can no longer afford the real estate, so the remains are disinterred and the sites are reused as other people’s not-so-final resting places.
The Prussian royal family made this area their home back in the days when my German ancestors lived here. Zillhausen is just a few miles, as the crow flies, from Burg Hohenzollern, the ancestral home of the Prussian royal family. The Friedrich the Greats and Kaiser Wilhelms made this place their home. The castle is built at the top of a mountain. To one side of the castle is the fertile valley, and to the other, the hill country in which Albstadt is nestled area is not far east of the Black Forest and the French border just beyond it. It is situated about halfway between Stuttgart, Germany and Zurich, Switzerland.
Albstadt incorporates several villages including Pfeffingen, Tailingen, Onstmettingen, Ebingen, Truchtelfingen, Margrethausen, Lautlingen and Burgfelden. Zillhausen is just north of Burgfelden and just west of Pfeffingen. (Stories of towns combined into Albstadt city as told in hpmelle.de).
My host, Michael explained to me that the area is on a fault-line and has the highest risk (3 on a scale of 0 to 3) of earthquakes. He said that the last big one was in 1978 and they are expecting another big one in the next ten years. Michael’s home (above) was built in 1812, and because of the wooden tongue and groove construction, it has survived all the tremors since then while many other homes have not. The Hohenzollern Castle, about ten kilometers as the crow flies, has survived for centuries.
I spent a lot of time driving through the German countryside, and I got a continual sense of industry and productivity. The hillsides were bursting with flowering trees, many fruit-bearing, the valleys were all cultivated and verdant, and the cities and villages bustling with industry and commerce. This was a stark contrast to what Ann and I saw when we took the Trans-Siberian rail from Moscow to Mongolia. All along that route we saw decay and disrepair, and much evident poverty. Here, art and sculpture were very common, but not nearly as ubiquitous as in Paris, for example. The industriousness and architecture stood out to me here.
I have always wanted to be an artist, and I have enjoyed painting, sculpture and jewelry-making. I must have inherited that DNA from my French side. I hold a patent and consider myself an industrious guy, and I am seeing a strong strain of this in my German heritage. Johannes Herre, and Gottlebina Bizer bequeathed me something, and this may be it.
I felt a constant need to share what I was experiencing with my wife, Ann, so I’m determined to come back soon with her to visit Albstadt again. I guess this blog is one way for me to share my experiences with others, especially those interested in family history. As soon as I can, I plan to find a time when my son, Steven, who speaks Czech, can accompany me to the Czech Republic to explore my father’s line in Teleci and Oldris, Bohemia. Some well-known modern linguists come from the Czech Republic so maybe I inherited some of my interest in language from that line.
I am getting ready to do a research project with Temple University on the relationship between genetics and the characteristics we acquire from our families: Genotype to Phenotype mapping. Following the family back through the generations and geographies is an important part of that work. I hope you find it as appealing and interesting as I do.