Niedersachsen Social Studies

Wednesday afternoon we ventured over to the Museumdorf Cloppenburg to continue our history lesson.  The museum simulates a 16th to 19th century Niedersachsen village.  The buildings on display have been dismantled from various locations around Niedersachsen and have been meticulously restored and rebuilt on-site.  I think both Korey and I got more out of this museum than the Deutsche Auswander Haus, probably because it showed us a better perspective relative to the living conditions our ancestors experienced.


There is a Bäckerei on site, and it was here that we got a taste of Schwarzbrot, the bread of our ancestors.  It was explained to us that white bread has a shelf life of 2-3 days, but that Schwarzbrot could stay on the shelf for 10-14 days.  This bread is extremely coarse and we saw murals of bakers mixing the dough with their feet, in a fashion similar to mashing grapes.


In the feudal system my ancestors lived in, each village had a few classes of citizens and their houses reflected their status within the system.  While the size and quality of the house may have varied, the general design and layout was almost always the same. In the back of the house was the “Diele”, stalls for the horses and cows.  Yes, they were in the house.  This large room often included a very small room with a bed which provided living quarters for the “Heurling” or what we would call the “hired hand”.


The next room was a large room with a stone hearth and a stone floor where the cooking took place over the fire.  Because the fire was almost always burning, meat or sausage was often hung well above the hearth where it would be smoked and cured.


Finally in the back of the house would be the living quarters which often included a more formal dining area.  No space was wasted and the kids slept in bunks recessed into the walls.  Behind the house were meticulously cared for flower and vegetable gardens.


That evening we had dinner at the Sander residence and then drove with Friedhelm to his house in Gross Ringmar where we stayed for two nights.  Korey was tired and fell asleep early, but Friedhelm and I stayed up until 2:00am talking about genealogy and history.  Friedhelm is a walking encyclopedia and an incredible genealogist.  By this time I was starting to feel a little more comfortable with my German and learned a lot from him, as I suspected I would.  What I hadn’t really anticipated was that during our short time together, we became good friends.  Thank you Ernst-Dieter and Friedhelm for your hospitality and for your friendship.

I don’t know what Ernst-Dieter and Friedhelm were looking at, but obviously the dumb American missed it!  Oh, by the way…Ernst-Dieter…if you see this, I think you have one piece of wood that’s just a little out of place.


Chased by Druids

We started Wednesday by visiting the Kleinenkneter Steine and the Pestruper Burial Grounds at Wildeshausen.  The burial grounds are situated on a heath moor and are visible as far as the eye can see.  The Kleinenkneter Steine is basically one of Germany’s versions of Stonehenge, on a smaller scale.  As I understand, these burials took place 5,000 years ago.  Korey had the guts to wiggle into the cave and took some pictures.  As he came out of the cave, the skies opened up and it began to pour.  We felt like we were being chased by Druids as we ran back to the car.


Germany, Day Three

On our third day in Germany, we visited the Deutsches Auswander Haus (German Emigration Museum) in Bremerhaven, then traveled to Bremen to see the old part of the city.  I wish we would have had more time in Bremen because it’s a very cool city with a very unique history.  My camera’s battery was dead, so I had to use my phone to take these photos.

On the way to Bremerhaven, we got to experience the Autobahn.  It’s every bit as cool as we had heard.  Ernst-Dieter was our tour guide that day and he was able to get his company issued VW van up to about 140 MPH.  Even at that speed, there were other cars zipping right past us.


Auf Wiedersehen Deutschland!

What a great trip.  A perfect week with the only exception being the debacle in the Hotlanta airport.  Das Flughof ist ein Klosterfock!

We met some incredible people, ate some awesome food, drank some delicious beer, and saw some really remarkable things.  It’ll take me a while to organize my thoughts and pictures, but I’ll start throwing some things up this week.  Special thanks to Ernst-Dieter Sander and his family, Friedhelm Wessels, Stefan Hildebrandt, Marion Rathkamp, the Timmerman Family and Anje Rathkamp for their hospitality.

In the meantime, enjoy these photos of the two new-aged Saxons taking over Niedersachsen.

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Deutschland, Tag Zwei

Today has been a fun day.  We slept in pretty late and then took the tour bus through Hamburg.  Getting on a bus is a story in itself, but I’ll spare the details.  Let it be said that our mono-linguistic paralysis puts us at a slight disadvantage.

Here are the pictures:



[singlepic id=51 w=320 h=240 float=left]Over the last 2 years or so I have devoted this website to relaying stories of my ancestors and preserving these stories for my kids.  But the fondest memories I have are those my kids themselves have provided over the years.  26 years ago tomorrow, my journey as a father began with the blessing of my daughter Elizabeth Nathalia Rathkamp.  Betsie was the first girl to join our branch of the Rathkamp family in 68 years, my grandfather’s sister Anne having been born in 1916.

Even in the darkest depths of Alzheimer’s, my “Granny Pat” was thrilled with Betsie’s birth and couldn’t believe the curse of the Rathkamp hooligans had ended.[singlepic id=50 w=320 h=240 float=right]

I have watched with pride as Betsie has grown to be a very remarkable woman.  Even though it would please my ego to take credit for the way she has turned out, the truth is that she is what makes Betsie the way she is.  She is sensitive, yet incredibly strong.  She is open-minded, but is also very firm in her beliefs.  She is mature for her age, but doesn’t take herself too seriously and is rarely seen without her infectious smile.  She is very goal and career oriented, and her clients are as loyal to her as she is to them.

This past year, she took a major step in her life by buying her own home.  She had been looking at condos in the ‘burbs and had even been close to closing on one.  But in the end, she found a house that suited her personality to a tee in the city.  Recently, she has been volunteering her time with Madacc in Milwaukee.  She has much of herself to give, and these animals will all want to go home with her.

Betsie, I’m so proud of you.  Have a very Happy Birthday.



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Kissin’ Kuzzins?

[singlepic id=46 w=320 h=240 float=left]I’ve been spending time working on my set of 3rd great grandparents, stemming from my paternal grandmother, Alice (Waege) Rathkamp.  Lately I’ve been on a bit of a roll, discovering some of their home towns in what was then Pomerania and now is part of Poland.  Originally, this post was going to be about the really interesting fact that not only did each of these four families live within a 20 mile radius of each other in Dodge and Fond du Lac Counties of Wisconsin, but also that is seems they may have originated from within a 20 mile radius in Kreis Naugard, Pomerania.  To make this discovery, some of the information I used was known, some of it was “guessed” by using the database on Kartenmeister.  This website allows you to enter surnames of ancestors from Pommern, with the results showing the former German name and the current Polish name for the village of origin.  I then plugged the Polish name for each village into Google Maps to discover the close proximity of the villages possibly inhabited my Wege, Justmann, Leitzke, Brockhaus, Gehrke, Wesenberg, and Viergutz ancestors.

[singlepic id=47 w=320 h=240 float=right]However, I was missing the surname of my 3rd great grandmother, Louise, married to Johann G. Leitzke.  So I then went to the beta FamilySearch database where I made a somewhat shocking discovery.  There is marriage information for Louise Leitzke, a daughter of Johann and Louise.  It turns out Louise’s maiden name is also Wege.  Her birthdate is December 1823, making it entirely possible that she is Friedrich Wege’s sister.  If that’s true, it means my 2nd great grandparents, William Wege and Wilhelmine Leitzke were 1st cousins.  I need to find the parents of Friedrich and Louise to confirm this.

Just goes to show you should keep your friends close and your relatives even closer.

Working Sideways

[singlepic id=45 w=320 h=240 float=left]Last night was a good night for genealogy in the Rathkamp house.  My third great grandparents, August and Henriette (Viergutz) Wesenberg were the first of my ancestors to emigrate to America.  They arrived in New York on August 10, 1846.  I’ve never put a lot of time into this branch of my family, so last night I thought I’d dive in.  Sometimes when you hit a brick wall, it helps to research sideways, and this worked for me last night.  I suspected the Wesenbergs came from Pomerania, and this was verified as their port of departure was shown to be Stettin, now a city of 406,000 in Poland.

[singlepic id=44 w=320 h=240 float=right]When you’re researching your ancestors, you often have a tendency to look at a document fixated only on your ancestors names.  I’ve learned over time that there are often clues surrounding those names.  The name Zastrow kept popping up next to or near the Wesenberg name.  Charles Zastrow and his family are listed on the passenger list just above the Wesenbergs.  The 1860 US Census showed the Zastrows, again just above the Wesenbergs.  I then searched the US Bureau of Land Management’s website and found the documents showing that Carl Zastrow and August Wesenberg both purchased land in Herman, Dodge County, Wisconsin Territory on February 2, 1848.  August bought 40 acres and Carl, 200.  These documents show the exact locations of each of these plots, so I used that information and plugged it into the virtual plat map on Dodge County’s website.

[singlepic id=43 w=320 h=240 float=left]I knew I had something here, so I searched for Carl Zastrow and found a tree showing his birthplace as Pflugarde, Pommerania.  I then searched Google for Zastrow and Pflugard and found the real gem I was after:  A page on Google Books showing a list of Old Lutherans who had fled Pommern seeking religious freedom.  Sure enough, August and Henriette are shown just below Carl.  Their name here is spelled Wasenberg, but also shown is their home town:  Wismar, now Wyszomierz, Poland.  Wismar is only a mile or two from Pflugarde.

Here’s another interesting thing about this last list.  Many of the names on this list are familiar names.  I’ve worked with with or have known people having the last names of Gennrich, Roehl, Eggert, Hammel, Goetsch and Pankow.

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