Field Work IV

It always takes longer as planed. Last week I had travelled into the heart of the Middle Franconian darkness. Over snowy roads I reached a tiny village where the aborigines have a 4×4 in front of the house. And they carry chain saws. Not to let them strangers “have it”, but to cut up the trees that collapse under the heavy wet snow and fall onto the mentioned roads.
The rectory or vicarage is empty. A secretary comes by once a week for three hours and keeps things going. She uses one room on the ground floor, badly equipped – the computer is museum worthy, the furniture found somewhere, she did not even have a book of receipt forms. I saw her some weeks ago in her real bureau and know that she is an able and competent person who can manage any parish.
In the middle of saied room sits a heavy safe, old style, no nonsensical tin box but a damn safe that says: You can bomb the house, I will survive. Stored inside are the holy cups and the books. She sat me in an adjacent room with the doors open. To my surprise the heating worked and the house was dry – nothing is worse than humid damp cold, but nothing of that here. After half an hour or so the room became even warm. The light was bad, only a small lamp somewhere on the ceiling. The windows are pretty small and high up in the wall. I was allowed to use my camera (without flash) and the results were mostly good, while some pictures were blurred because of the longer exposure time. After two hours the battery gave in, I had used it nearly nonstop.
A very successful search. The excellent registers helped a lot and in this session I came through the 19th century nearly completely. I had as starting point the name of my constituent’s forefather or better foremother. She gave birth to a boy 1870 in another parish, her third child; she is called “resident” of the village I visited. So I have her name, which is pretty unique, and the idea that she might be born between 1840 and 1830. In fact she’s born 1842. I found her first two children born here, her older sisters, her mother Mary and her mother’s father John. And with this John we reach the 18th century, he’s born around 1790, marries around 1812 and his first daughter, Mary, is born 1815 – but I had no time to copy these entries, I know that they are there, exist – I only could have a fast glance at them. The books in this village reach back before the big war of 1618-1648 into the late 16th century, a real exception here in this area. If the family is not immigrated at some point I could have a chance to follow them through time.
They had a pretty hard time in the 19th century. John’s wife, Mary’s mother, died in the early 1830s. I have no idea how many additional children they had, but I suspect at least two or three more. So John quickly marries again – and promptly dies himself roughly a year after his first wife. His daughter with the second wife is born (legally) only two months after his death (filia posthuma), but only becomes nine months old. Then, two months later, his second wife dies too. Within roughly two years the 19-year-old Mary looses her mother, her father, her stepsister and her stepmother. She does not marry throughout her life, works on farms as Dienstmagd, maid, and lives together with the father of her children, who works as Knecht, farm labourer. Her second daughter will follow this model with the only difference, that she will life longer (Mary dies in her fifties) and that she will be married finally in her late fifties or sixties.
It is remarkable that they all die of lung diseases, pneumonia or tuberculosis.
Marriage is only allowed by the authorities when a certain amount of money, a property or possessions are verified. From the state’s point of view: People should have enough economical safety to make their living and carry the cost of their offspring. If they don’t, the community has to spent money. So we do not allow them to marry, and thus safe money. It’s nonsense of course. Mary, and later her daughter, life in relations similar to marriages and have children. And they are not the only ones. So the village society accepted this. The down side is that illegal children in those days do not have the full civil rights. This is important in the case of inheritance for example. The religious authority looks down its nose on these spurii and spuriae, and the parson dutifully registers Mary’s second daughter as Zweites Hurenkind, second whore child.
On my next visit I will see the graveyard and visit the church. The village looks very idyllic, but idyll is only lack of knowledge. I am sure someone saied that before.

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19 thoughts on “Field Work IV

  1. How interesting. I once had occasion to browse through my village’s church burial book and it was sad to see how many children died very young in the past. Few of them have marked graves, I expect they either had wooden crosses or nothing at all. Then the deaths abruptly stopped – I can’t remember the date, but over two or three years. I suppose it was when vaccinations for diseases such as diphtheria came in.

    You’d say ‘natives’, not ‘aborigines’, which is specifically for indigenous Australians, if you will excuse me mentioning it.

  2. Of course I excuse, dear Z ! Thank you for the tip – the Franconian was speaking: In Franconian slang and semi-English the word “aborigine” is used for people living in rural areas (Rhoen, Frankenwald, ganz Oberfranken). A good German term is “Erdentsprossener”, a bit poetical maybe, meaning “one who is grown out of the soil” – with all the rootish and radical connotations. Franconians my age having a conversation may indeed use the word aborigine with a small smile. City dwellers of course.
    You mention a very interesting observation about the stop of death. Last year I read the books in another part of Middle Franconia and there I saw – similar to what I told about this family – that in the 1830s the death rate increased sharply. And in this area mainly lung diseases where given as causes of death too. I have no idea what happened: bad wheather, cold winters, bad nutrition? A combination? I have the impression that the rate of mortality only in the second half of the 19th century dropped. A look in the literature should help.

  3. It is almost unbelievable to me that you are able to see books that old and go back to a time that the U.S. was just starting out. The fact that you could go back and follow that family blows my mind. I know when my grandparents came to Ellis Island but that was an easy search. You are remarkable and so is your work. If I don’t get a chance later, Merry Christmas Mago.

  4. She had to be, Wanda

    Maybe the season has to do with it, XL. But I think it’s generally so that these souls are a bit alife, or come back a bit when one deals with their lifes. As long as they take it as what it is, a friendly visit in the name of a relative, and do not consider it to be an intrusive act and feel the need to defend themselves, I am pretty well with them.

    That should be the next step, Joyce, second half of the 18th century. I am just lucky to have found a village where the books survived.

  5. Sometimes I feel that I am reading a complex novel when I read your posts… they always make me feel that there is something intense going on behind the words. There is often the description of your working conditions and then your research. It’s like you are cataloguing your own movements whilst reading scant recollections of strangers. I find the way you describe it all, fascinating.
    Have a warm and Merry Christmas, Mr Mags.
    Sxxx

  6. I spent a fascinating afternoon at Somerset House researching the Flange family tree. In fact the information that I uncovered is of such important historical interest that my next project was to piece together 15 volumes of non-fiction in retracing the Flanges from the 1700s to the present day, The Flange Saga is out now in all good bookshops.

  7. I heared about female flanges, large flange hub shells, flange wedges, blind flanges and even coupling flanges – absolutely fascinating. The German part of the family is called Flansch-Bördel. Are the Flanges related to the Bodkins?

  8. Fascinating. Your research is always interesting to read. I enjoy cemetaries. They are a living history (excuse the pun.) “Living” because they still exist for us to honor/visit. I am always struck and saddened by the number of children who are buried with their parents, many at a young age.
    I look forward to part two.

  9. The next part will come up sometime mid-January, Boxer. After the 6th the office of the community is working on a regular schedule again, and I will grab the next possible date. My visit lasted just three hours there, and only because she allowed me to use the camera I could collect an astounding bulk of data. In the last minutes I could only look at the marriage entry of John – I just wanted to be sure that it is really there. I could not read it properly, because then I’d know where John originates from.

  10. I read a great poem recently that described an idyll beautifully while at the same time managing to show its harsh realities. Wish I could remember its title and author.

    Do hope the second whore child had as good a life as could be expected. Imagine being called that! Very much looking forward to the next installment. Season’s greetings to you, dear.

  11. The second whore child, Eryl Shields, is the Barbara mentioned here. Her sister is noted in the church book as “in Unehren empfangen”, “received in Dishonour”.
    I thank you for the greetings and sent my best wishes to you: Merry Christmas, Eryl!

    Aw, you are curious, Roses … good!

    Thank You, MJ – the world would be a bitter place without them Minxes … (and an Urban Dicktionary!)

    Hello and welcome, Pearl, thank you for your first comment here. I think I saw you on Leah’s and Eryl’s blog. I’ll drop by at your place asap.
    And research can come to an end here very fast – just a bomb 1945 or a fire 1830, and that’s it. And people moved – the romantic idea of people sitting on the soil for generations (stabilitas loci) – is just this, an idea.

    If she commes from Franconia, Roses.

    Frohe Weihnachten, Herr XL !

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