A Day With Herr Britannica

I met Friedhelm Wessels via email about three years ago while I was trying to locate my Rathkamp ancestors.  I’m glad I did.  At that time, I knew my ancestors came to Milwaukee in 1868 and I had a very rough idea of the location they may have been from in Germany, but that was it.  I was at a dead end.

Friedhelm has not only helped me find my ancestors, but has also given me a real understanding of the world they lived in.  Korey and I were very lucky to be able to stay with Friedhelm for two nights and tap into his vast knowledge during our day with him.  Later in the week, we would meet some other people who knew Herr Wessels and everybody seemed to have the same great respect for him.  Thank you Friedhelm for all your help and friendship.

Our morning started out in the church at Bassum.  Coming from Wisconsin where “old” is maybe 150 years, it’s hard to imagine this church’s origins began over 1150 years ago.  There are about 50 of my ancestors (that I know of) who were baptized or married in this church.

Friedhelm told us that during one of Napoleon’s conquests, he used the adjacent Abbey as temporary housing for his officers.  Napoleon also tore the pews out of the church and used the church as stables for his horses.  My third great grandfather, Dietrich Heinrich Hülsemann was baptized in this church in 1808, during the time of Napoleon’s reign.  That kind of thing can really get your imagination going.


Later in the day, we visited the church in Neukirchen where my great great grandparents were married in 1861.  The church was locked, but that didn’t stop Friedhelm.  He asked some locals where the caretaker lived and we drove over there to get the keys.  This church was much smaller and simpler, but still very old.  Most of the artwork was probably done in the 1500’s, but one panel in particular was definitely of Saxon origin.  Before leaving the church, we climbed up into the steeple…where we got to see first hand what happens when you have bats in your belfry.


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