Did They Come Alone?

It’s hard to imagine the conditions our ancestors faced in Europe and even harder to imagine what finally happened in their lives to ultimately get them to commit to leaving their homes and families.  I’m sure there had to be the promise of opportunity, but this was a much heavier decision than “Applebees, Red Lobster or Olive Garden”. When they finally did make the commitment, did the whole family come? Individuals? Extended families? How did they decide who stayed? Was it a lack of funds that forced some to stay?

I’ve known for a couple years that my 2nd great grandparents, Fritz & Dora Rathkamp arrived in the US in 1868.  Tonight I finally found the passenger list. They arrived in New York on the ship New York on August 17, 1868. They, along with their daughter Johanna, were three of 637 passengers. The Statue of Liberty wouldn’t be commissioned for another 18 years.

Two years ago, I would have looked at the passenger list and only recognized them.  Today though I recognize some other names as well as some other towns near their village of Oeftinghausen in Germany.  The villages of Wesenstedt and  Schwaforden are also represented.  Other surnames include Wetenkamp, Hulsemann, Meyer, Halbemeyer, Finke and Windhorst.  Wetenkamp is a name I’ve seen repeatedly.  In fact, Christian Wetenkamp eventually married Johanna Rathkamp.  That’s a story for another post (hint: juicy story).

There are a couple things that interest me about this list.  First, the oldest traveler in their group is 35.  Second, it seems everybody on this list ended up farming in Minnesota except for Fritz Rathkamp.  He remained in Milwaukee his entire life.  My theory is that there was a lot of opportunity for a carpenter in the rapidly growing town of Milwaukee.  Was this the plan all along?  I see the attraction from both perspectives.  Fritz was trained as a carpenter in Germany, but his occupation was listed as “Heurling” or hired farm hand.  The last thing he probably wanted to do was work on another farm.  For the others, the thought of going to Minnesota and homesteading 160 acres was  probably also attractive.


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Todd, you left a comment about the New Fane cemetery post on my blog, The Intense Inane, at the end of May and I haven’t gotten back to you about it. I just now found the link to your blog. I’d be interested to hear what you can tell me about that cemetery. I’m fairly certain my ancestors were attending that church before it was built. My wife and I will be in Milwaukee over Christmas visiting my 88 year old mother-in-law.

  2. Hi Craig, thanks for your comment. I revisited your blog and it looks like you’ve visited the church/ cemetery. I don’t think I can tell you much more about it other than a few anecdotes. My Brockhaus ancestors were one of the founding families of the church. In fact, the online history of the church mentions that my GGG Grandfather’s son Karl was chosen to build the church because of his training as a stone mason in Germany.

    My GGG Grandfather owned the farm across the road from the church. The house/ property are still in great shape and you can see similar building techniques in the house.

    One other thing…

    If you have some time, you may want to visit the Fond du Lac library. They have the St. John’s history book and I’ve found a TON of information in this book. Baptisms, marriages and deaths are listed, so you may be able to find some of your family information.

    If you don’t have time to go, let me know and the next time I’m in Fond du Lac, I’d be happy to look up some information for you.

    Todd

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