So we sent everyone out via train to visit their hometowns last Wednesday and usually we have to wait until they come back in the evening (or next day) until we find out how their day went, but this time Matthias and I were taking one couple to visit their hometowns too. We headed first to Holte where we were met by the local town historian and a member of the Osnabrueck Genealogy society. We visited first the 800+ year old church, which was beautiful. The wooden cross above the altar was a “triumphal cross” from about 1200, which means it has the symbols of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John at the four cross points. This wooden cross was only found in the 1970’s up in the attic under some junk, the Christ figure had been hanging in the church but since the year 2000, the cross and body of Christ was restored and placed again above the alter. Amazing. Before we left they rung the 600 year old bell for us.
After the church we climbed (and I mean climbed) a hill to visit one of the most beautiful, peaceful cemeteries I have ever seen. German cemeteries are something to see but this one high up on the hill was really something. Of course you won’t find old gravestones there but that is a story for another time. We learned how villagers from the surrounding area would have walked up and down this hill to get to church, probably several miles each way. Needless to say, I would imagine they would have been in shape!
Then after lunch we were off to visit old farmsteads. At lunch the historian had given Ray & Ann (tour members whose hometown we were in) a map of the village from 1786 which showed the farmhouse numbers and where they were located. Then off to visit the houses. We went to the first where an older lady who lived on the land the house had been standing, invited us in for cake and coffee and she showed us some pictures of the old farm house. Her husband was a cousin to the last descendants who lived in Ray’s farmhouse and when they died he got the farm. The house went into disrepair until a couple bought it and moved it stick by stick and built a new home from it. We also went there and they allowed us to see the outside which would have looked how it did previously.
What was really cool about this day (well many things were) but the day before when we visited the Detmold freilichtmuseum we learned about the farm system for this area of Germany, which described how the small farmers would have been subject to a landlord and they would have had to pay rent/taxes with their time and crops to the landlord. So when we were visiting in the countryside around Holte, one of the ladies who had joined us took us to her parents farm, her delightful parents in their 90’s had bought the farmstead their family had leased for many years and renovated it This would have been a small farmer’s house and you could see how these farms were scattered around a few kilometers from each other. She then took us down the road some to show us what had been the landlord’s house. Down a long, tree lined lane and surrounded by a water moat was where the nobleman would have lived and who owned the surrounding countryside and all the small farmers worked the land for him. We saw the history we had heard about the day before. Of course the landlord’s house is not owned by a landlord any more, just a rich family I would suspect.
All in all, a great day and we learned a lot and really helped Ray picture how his ancestor would have lived.
I wanted to do a trip diary day by day but I should know by now that this is not possible, days too busy and long to blog. So this is a recap of our recent group trip to the Northwest area of Germany. I am in a beautiful hotel in OstFriesland (scouting for a future trip) and my group of 16 are on their way home, but we will go back to our first couple days.
First day upon arrival, after taking a couple hours to rest we had a very interesting lecture by an author who lived nearby Dusseldorf who has written a children’s book called “In der Neue Welt”, a story of an immigrant family who leaves Germany in the 19th century and through the years establishes a life and home in Nebraska. As the farm prospers throughout the years and generations pass, the Nebraska family wonders about where they came from and they make they journey home just as their ancestors did many years ago. It was so appropriate for our group as it was exactly the journey we were on, looking for our ancestors home. The book will be out in English next spring and would be a great gift for grandchildren perhaps to show them how your family may have come to America.
Another highlight of the first couple days was our visit to the Landes Archiv in Detmold. We were given a lecture of how the Archive system in Germany works, what type of things are available in various archives and then because of my German partner’s help, (he had called ahead with the town and family names of our group’s ancestors to see if there was anything available in the Archive for them) we were successful. There was information for a few people and needless to say they were ecstatic. Death records and farm records and Land records for much searched and new found ancestors brought some to tears. Even for the rest of us it was a little overwhelming to watch the excitement as they looked at centuries old documents. Only another genealogist can appreciate how much this means, which is why it is fun to go on a trip with fellow researchers.
Then we packed up all our new found goodies and went to the Detmold Freilichtmuseum to see how our ancestors would have lived. A great tour guide showed us farmhouses and told us of how they lived and used the house and land and made life in the 1700 and 1800’s come alive again.
So the first few days were very informative and set the stage for what was ahead, visiting ancestral hometowns.
Finally, our Television debut on German TV! Last September on our small group tour to the Rhineland area we were joined by a German TV crew after a journalist had contacted me asking if we would allow them to follow us around. We said yes and they were with the group for a couple days but mainly followed one of our tour members on her visits to her ancestral hometowns. Of course hours of video apparently ended up on the cutting room floor, and we had to wait until it ran on TV (which was today in Germany) before I could share the clip. It is over dubbed with German but you should get the story. Congrats to our star: Sherry and it brings back great memories of a fantastic trip.
On our Rhineland trip this year (2013) we visited and toured the Evangelische Archivestelle Boppard (the Evangelish Church Archives in Boppard) This depository has microfilms and many books for the Protestant church records in the Rhineland, we were shown their collection of Familienbuchs and were taken down into the stacks where we were shown some of the original church books. A couple of our tour members were able to find some entries for their families, which was exciting. We were joined by a very interesting local historian from Boppard, Dr. F (we will keep his name private) who has written many Familienbuch’s over the last 30 years or so. I asked him if he would take a little time and tell us what all is involved in putting together these books and we had a wonderful impromptu lecture on the subject which was fascinating.
Here is some of what I learned from this:
There are 3 different names these books can be called, a Familienbook (family book), a Burger book (citizen book) or Ortssippenbuch (inhabitants of a place book). Of course the first and foremost important things for these books are records from the churches. Without church books you can do nothing.
The two major religions of Germany, Catholic and Lutheran’s records mostly began in the 16th century, about 1570 but these records are sketchy and not too many have survived the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) so books usually start in mid-1600’s. Sometimes you may find a couple of Familienbuch’s for the same town, this could be because one book was written for the Catholic Church families and the other for the Lutheran church. (If the town has more than one denomination in town.) We were shown 3 books for the same town, which was the Catholic, Evangelish and the Evangelisch Reformed church records. Also you may find that the books contain records for surrounding villages if this was the parish that a village was part of. (I suggest you use the books by Kevan Hansen “Map Guides of Parish Registers” available in the States. These books help tell you what parish your village belonged to. They also will tell you what microfilm to order from the LDS library in Salt Lake to find your people’s church records).
Dr. F has worked on Familienbuchs for the past 30 years. He usually starts by recording the marriages. He then works on Baptisms, matching all children to the correct parents. Of course sometimes the marriage or a baptism of current inhabitants took place in another village, the birthplace town is sometimes mentioned and sometimes not. Death records are a lot harder as sometimes a person’s name may not be mentioned, such as: Wilhelm Mueller’s infant son died today, age about two. The wife of Johann Schmidt died today at age 50. And then there is the problem of recorded ages. He told us that for some reason he has found that people’s ages recorded at death are a lot of times much older than what they really were! If you follow the name of the person who died and you see he was born in 1750 and died in 1815 he should be 65 but they may say he was 80. We asked why that happened and he doesn’t really know but it can be very hard to make sure you have the correct person.
Then there is the matter of Civil Records. This area of the Rhine (left side of the Rhine) Napoleon started Civil Registration in 1798. These records are usually good, written in French and sometimes using a different calendar) but a lot of church records stopped at this time, so there could be a gap in church records of 10 years or so when Civil registration was in vogue. Dr. F. uses these records of course too.
Dr. F also told us that he starts his books not with the oldest books but the ones from the mid-18th century because of surnames. The early records may not have surnames listed or names are spelled differently. (This led to a very interesting discussion of how surnames came about – too much for me to record here). He also told us that he also uses other sources too, records from the State or City Archives, so that he can tell more than just names and dates of each person, he likes to include occupations, where they lived, taxes they paid and more details of anything he can find. Wouldn’t you like to get one of his books for your family? In regards to taxes, we also sidetracked into why they liked being listed as the top 5 or 10 highest tax payers (this involved politics, voting and more interesting facts).
So, there is a lot of work put into these books and of course they are only as good as the author, which he also reminded us that if you have found a book for your town or see that there is a microfilm made for the book be sure to check the first couple pages to see what sources the author used to write the book. Perhaps it is only the Catholic Church records and you think it is the whole town. Dr. F. said he has heard that sometimes the first couple pages were not filmed by the LDS so on the microfilm it may not tell you what records were used. Just make note of that.
These books are not required to be written by anyone and they are only taken on as a project if there is a willing local historian, author or genealogy society that will work on it. There are a few places to check to see if your town has a book, a couple places that I know are:
Online heritage books
Germany Town Genealogies and Parish Register Inventories on the Internet
Also check the St. Louis County Library Headquarters Special Collections, they have a wonderful collection of German Ortssippenbuch’s.
Tues 17th – Today we head to the ancient city of Trier, famous for its ‘”Porta Nigra” the Black Gate from when the Romans ruled here. We are getting our folks used to the train and it seems like we meet new friends on and off the train!
We met our Toga Tour guide and even though it was a little drizzly we followed him through the streets and listened to what live was like during “his time” inTrier. We learned why this was an important city to the Romans and how things eventually declined. He showed us several coins which demonstrated with their weight and size how things declined. Towards the end of their empire coins were very small and light as a feather. The Porta Nigra gate survived due to the fact that after the Romans left the gate was big enough to use as a church which is what they did. He also showed us the holes chipped in the gate that people did to get to the iron rods used to support it.
We visited Trier Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church that dates back to Roman times and is home to the Holy Tunic a garment with a recorded history back to the 12th century, in Catholic tradition said to be the robe Jesus was wearing when he died. It is exhibited only every few decades, at irregular intervals. Then on to the huge Constantine Basilica, a basilica in the original Roman sense, it was the 67m (219.82 ft) long throne hall of Roman Emperor Constantine; it is today used as a Protestant church.
After the tour we needed something warm to drink, and went in the closest pub. I ordered my Hot Chocolate and Baileys and then went to the restroom. Regular place and everything was going fine until the lights went off!!! Those Germans and their energy conservation I guess but I mean completely pitch black and as I made my way out of the little cubby I had no idea of how to get out. I felt along the walls and kept ending up back in the stall, the only door I could find. After 5 minutes or so I was starting to get scared. I did not have my cell phone with me, which has a flashlight on it or even the glow of the screen, nothing. I finally found the paper towel dispenser which gave off a very short red glow when dispensing a towel and I must have hit that a dozen times. So now I am thinking do I start yelling and embarrass myself or what? This bathroom was in the cellar so I wondered if anyone would hear me and of course no one in my group apparently was missing me! Finally I called out a couple times and made my way around the walls again and found the exit door! What an experience, I will never think of Trier again without remembering this frightening experience. Hahahahaha
Wed. 18th – Free day where many folks went out to their hometowns. I always am on alert waiting for a phone call saying that someone got lost but everyone did fine and got home with lots of good stories of what happened in their towns. One of our ladies had the TV crew with her so we are anxious to see how that goes. Several people spent time researching, walking through the villages, meeting cousins and even walking through ancestor’s houses. I am hoping to get some of them to write a guest blog for us so we can hear about their experiences. One lady has her own blog and she has updated it about her trip so you may want to read this. http://kimwolterman.blogspot.de/
Thurs 19th – Another free day for people to go to hometowns. Matthias and I rode with a couple ladies who were free to take them to visit the castle in Cochem on the Moselle and then we went to Koblenz to see if we could visit in the Archives and also for me to see the Deutsches Ecke (German corner) where the two rivers Moselle & Rhine meet. We took another cable car up to the fortress on the hill (we are getting brave on these height things) and get a better shot of the rivers. We had a good day and then when people came home in the evening the TV crew wanted to do one last interview thing with the group so we did, exciting to hear everyone’s story.
Pictures: the Fortress in Koblenz, the vies of the two Rivers and some weird guard. haha
Tomorrow we leave for our next home base: Speyer. Before we leave a couple shots of the view from my Hotel room overlooking the Rhine.
Since I am away for parts of September and October I will write about our trips in lieu of a newsletter which will return end of October.
What a whirlwind we have been on, just now having time to put a few notes down about our trip so far.
Day 1 – Seems like a long time ago but just about two weeks ago we met our group at the Frankfurt airport for out trip to the Rhineland area. On our first day settling in to our hotel overlooking the Rhine, we got acquainted, had dinner and went to bed early. Jet lag!
Day 2 – But the next day what better way to appreciate this land where our ancestors came from than to cruise along the Rhine. We boarded our boat early for our 4 hour cruise “up” the Rhine to Rüdesheim. The day was a little overcast but eventually the sun came out. I try every sun dance and voodoo spell I
know for good weather. It is a nice relaxing second day as all you have to do is sit, take pictures, eat & drink and watch the castles go by.
We landed in Rüdesheim, which is filled with tourists but a place you should visit at least once. We made our way through the winding Drosselgasse street, which is filled with
tons of little wineries and restaurants. Very picturesque.
Then everybody went their own way to shop or whatever and Matthias and I,facing down our fear of heights, took the cable car up the mountain (small hill) to the statue of Germania, which overlooks the Rhine river. Great views of the river and the vineyards that climb the hills along the banks.
Day 3 – Boppard town tour, Evangelisch Archives & Historical lecture.
Another drizzly day but we headed out for our town tour this morning. Boppard is a marvelous town along the Rhine, not too big and more than enough to do, sit along the River at one of the numerous outdoor cafe’s on the Rhine
promenade, a main street with shops for those inclined and lots of history to see dating back to Roman times. Even the remains of a Roman wall.
We have a wonderful English lady who has lived in Germany for many years give us our tour and she was great, even with the added distraction of our TV crew! Did I tell you we were being filmed by a German TV company?
A journalist doing a story on Americans coming back to find their roots had contacted me a few weeks before we left and ended up following us around for a couple days, mainly a few group things and then they went with one of our tour members to her hometowns with her. Being on TV is not easy, they make you do things over and over sometimes, but we are anxious to see the finished product even though we will be dubbed in with German!!!
Then on to the Evangelisch church Archives, which of course contains the microfilms of church books and lots of Ortssippenbuch (family register books) and other information interesting to our kinds of people. Again, another fascinating tour as we get to go down into the stacks and are shown the original church books among other documents. A couple people found some of their family’s records. Exciting! Then we were joined by a
delightful gentleman who lives in Boppard who has written many Familienbuch’s for many of the surrounding villages. He gave us an impromptu lecture on how he goes about writing these detailed books. It was really insightful and I will write more on this later.
To finish off this long day, we were met at the hotel by a Professor from the University of Mainz who gave us a lecture on life in the Palatinate in the 17th & 18th centuries. Also lots of great information which I will write more about too.
So, I am tired again just reading all the stuff we did but it was so much fun!
Bis später! (until later)
One thing I would like to suggest if you visit Germany is to definly try to squeeze in a cruise up or down the Rhine River, even if it is just a day trip like we do so often. There is no better vantage point than from the middle of the River and it is the perfect 2nd day in Germany activity. Nothing to do but sit, relax, have a beer and watch the scenery go by, terraced vineyards and castles galore. We will be going up (south) the Rhine on our upcoming Rhineland trip in a few weeks, from Boppard to Rudesheim and on this last trip we just did we went down (north) the Rhine from Rudesheim to Boppard. It was such a nice day, one of the few cooler days we had, and after arriving in Rudesheim for some quick shopping and a quick drink we boarded the boat and sat and relaxed and enjoyed the scenery and each other. Perfect day.
Our next day was visit to their second hometown which was in France, a little south of Strasbourg in a town called Plobsheim. Since we were travelling into France this time too and it was a small group we decided to rent a van for this part. My trusty, organized partner Matthias came down for the weekend to drive a van full of ladies to France… hahahaha, our only order was we couldn’t talk to him while driving.
It wasn’t a long drive from our home base town now in the Black Forest and we were to meet our contacts at the city hall in Plobsheim. We pulled into the parking lot and here was a contingent of people smiling and waving and we knew we had the right place. The President of the local heritage society was just fantastic!! He had a whole program scheduled for us. We first went in with the group to a meeting room that had tables set with American and French flags and the local Alsatian treats of Kugelhof cake and Alsatian pretzels. The President started off with a welcoming speech in French that a lovely, young girl student translated for us into English. We enjoyed a few minutes here before it was time to take a tour of the town aboard the local transport of a long covered wagon pulled by two horses. So cute. We all piled in with our new French friends and we plodded along the cobblestone streets through the old part of this incredibly picturesque village to stop at three different places our tour members family had lived during his life in Plobsheim. This village is near the River Giessen and we were told that sometimes when the river rose people would disassemble their timber frame homes and move them someplace else. Or at least this is what I understood from the translations, seems like a lot of work but I guess they did it.
So after our leisurely ride through town to see the ancestor’s homes, the horses stopped at a local restaurant that had a huge table set up for us out in their bier garten. It was absolutely fantastic, the table was again decorated with American and French flags and even the little menu holders were ceramic American flags. The menu included appetizers of mini “flammkuchen” this is another dish which originated in Alsace but is found in southern Germany too. They are like pizza but with a cream sauce, bacon and onion is the most famous. They are delicious. Then we were presented with a incredibly large plate of Alsatian choucrote (sauerkraut) and all kinds of sausages and ham. WOW… very good though. Then to top it off we had an ice cream cake. What a meal, it was superb.
The horse and carriage was back for us and off we go to our next adventure, a ride down the Giessen river aboard flat bottomed fisherman boats. Since one of the ancestors had been a fisherman, this was a great experience. So we board the two boats and spend the next hour leisurely paddling down the river. Some folks were bothered by mosquitos but I did not get one bite. Guess I am not sweet enough or it could have been the sweat!! Haha. But it was so cool, even temperature wise a bit, gliding along under the canopy of the trees along the river, and it was so quiet, only the sound of nature. We had a river man who guided the boat through the water while standing with a long pole, kind of like a gondola ride in Venice. Then the most fantastic thing happened, as we ended our ride we floated to the docking area with a lovely flower bedecked bridge in front of us and there were at least 40 people, all cousins of our clients, standing and waving from the bridge. Really unbelievable, we’ve found cousins before but never this many. So they mingled and met on the bridge and we finally made our way back to the city hall meeting room, where we now were met with even more people and we had a big party. Wine and pretzels and kugelhof and kids running around and the President of the Society had made a large pedigree chart on the wall with pictures and all the cousins were interested in how they fit in and it was just something incredibly special. More speeches were made and one of the American sisters gave a very emotional thank you speech and we were all a little teary. What a great day. So we mingled for at least 1.5 hours and when we finally said we have to leave and loaded ourselves into the van and then the topper of the day happened, all these people came pouring out of the building into the parking lot waving the little American flags and saying goodbye to us. This was a fantastic hometown experience.
Time has flown by on our latest trip and we were busy from morning to night. I just did a private tour with some sisters (and their niece) from Pittsburgh, PA to visit their ancestral hometowns in Germany and France.
Our first hometown was Flieden, Germany, which is in Hessen near Fulda, Germany. We arrived by train and were met by the local researcher, the former mayor (who bears the family name) and a local school teacher who helped with the translations.
They whisked us away in 3 cars to the nearby village of Rückers, where our first stop was at a local restaurant where we were met by about 6 or 7 people who were cousins. Much hugging and talking and picture taking ensued. We enjoyed a beer or two before taking a walk to the church (Assumption of Mary), we visited and took pictures and then walked on to the cemetery. As you may or may not know, cemeteries in Germany only contain newer graves, perhaps 30 or 40 years old. There is no enough room for centuries of graves so families rent the grave space and not quite sure what happens but you certainly won’t find graves or stones from 100 years ago. But German graveyards are usually always beautiful, live flowers are planted on the plot and you usually always find someone in the cemetery tending to the graves. The former mayor told us that this cemetery was revamped in the past decades so that all the stones are about the same height and on many stones there is a carved picture of perhaps what the occupation of the interred was (like a shepherd or woodworker etc) or sometimes what they liked to do, one showed the Alps because the person liked to hike in the Alps. It was really a beautiful, restful place. (sorry my pictures of this are lost??)
We then walked back to the restaurant where the “cousins” had waited for us and we had a wonderful meal of salads and schnitzel and of course some dessert. Then over to Flieden to visit the church there. This was the church of St. Goar, the oldest part of the church from around the 13th century.
The priest arrived and gave us a little history of the church and one of the ladies asked if the priest would give us a blessing (the women were Catholic) and so we knelt down and Father blessed us using a relic (bone of St Goar!) First time this happened,
Later we walked over to the Rathaus (city hall) and were met and welcomed by the very young mayor. He gave the ladies some info on Flieden in a nice little stamped bag. He also told us the following story about why the symbol of Flieden says ” Kingdom of Flieden”
Folklore says that back in the day when Germans were fighting against Napoleon (the 19th century short-statured, feisty French emperor) a general asked where his recruits were from. Unlike modern day Germany where Saxony, Prussia, and Westphalia are all united under one flag — each was its own kingdom. One man said he was from the Kingdom of Hannover, another Kingdom of Prussia and then a young lad yelled he was from the Kingdom of Flieden, not knowing whose kingdom the town belonged since the borders were always changing. Afterwards the town forever became known as Königreich Flieden. Although, today it technically belongs to the federal state of Hesse — and no part of Germany is a kingdom.
Last but not least we visited Flieden’s heimat museum (historical society museum). It seems the school teacher who was one of the translators was the President of the historical society. He gave us a tour and it was nice but the weather was so hot we were kind of drained by this time. All in all, first hometown day was GREAT!
The Wandering Years
On my recent trip to Germany, I caught a news story on TV that was of interest to me (although my understanding of spoken German is very limited) and perhaps to others with German heritage. The story was about a traveling craftsman and his wanderbuch. This gentleman was an apprentice bricklayer, and told of his adventures on his journey of 3 years and 1 day. He was in his “uniform” that apparently is centuries old and according to the rules he can only carry his sleeping bag, some tools, a few special clothes and travel around to master his craft. He is allowed to ask for free food (by asking in a special poem form) and by asking other master’s, like bakers or butchers. He also will ask for work and a place to stay. All these jobs must be recorded in his wanderbuch and stamped by the master he worked for.
So a little background on the Journeyman and Wanderbuch.
Since the late Middle Ages, craftsman experience a period of wandering after completion of their apprenticeship. They may only go wandering if they have passed the journeyman’s examination and are unmarried, childless and debt free. They are labeled as strangers or foreigners since they must leave their home and travel, never coming back within 30 miles of their hometown for 3 years and 1 day.
The rules are defined by the guild of their craft including the length of time they wander, what they may carry (a gnarled wooden stick, a black wide brimmed hat and a waistcoat and jacket and trousers that designate your trade. (different for carpenters, blacksmith, bricklayers etc.)
The wandering years served to get to know their craft and new techniques and generally to collect life experience. They would have to wander throughout their country and even into other countries to learn from other masters and to hone their skills before coming home to start a career.
Throughout this journey they would carry their “Wanderbuch”.
The book made it possible for the person in search of work to move from city to town. However, he had to meet certain requirements for it. At each place where the workers are staying longer than two days, he was obliged to report to the authorities and show his Wanderbuch for inspection. The book was then given a short entry and a stamp of authority. A stay
over two days was also banned him unless he could not find work locally. The Wanderbuch also expressly forbid under threat of “prison-punishment” begging and “aimless wanderings.” Also, any change to the book by the owner, such erasures or strikeouts, was found to be a forgery which also was punishable.
To enable the authorities a clear identification of the holder, Wanderbuch includes detailed information about his appearance. Passport photos did not yet exist, so stature and facial features are therefore given exactly.
Example: Johann Gottfried Dannenberg is “5 foot 7.5 inch” tall, of medium build and has gray eyes. Hair, beard and eyebrows are blonde. His face is oval, round the forehead, the nose “strong,” the mouth “mediocre”. A special feature is noted that he had “the right index finger a scar.”
Despite adverse circumstances, travelers have above all, the freedom. The wander years are also an opportunity to think about life and pursue philosophical questions. In journeyman evenings, however serene atmosphere comes down to what is partly due to the whim of drinking companions. After all the impressions and experiences many find it difficult to return to everyday life. As one Journeymen said: “It’s hard to leave from home, but infinitely more difficult to come back.”
The month has flown by again and I don’t know about where you are but we are having a hard time getting spring to arrive. It is warm today and the trees have popped and birds are singing so I hope we here in the Midwest have at least a few days of spring weather. (We usually go from cold to 90 degrees)
But spring does bring its share of weather, rains and winds and it can bring about natural disasters. We have swollen rivers here and flooding and today I have a guest blogger from the HistoricNaturalDisasters.com, website. These guys are Ohio history buffs and the story is a good example of how our ancestor’s environment would have affected their lives and perhaps will tell you why they did some of the things they did. Check out their site and see if you can help identify any photos.
Speaking of Ohio, I just returned from the Ohio State Conference in Cincinnati and would like to welcome all the folks I met there. It was a great conference.
David Chambers and the Great Dayton Flood
By Jeff Satterly and Robert Muhlhauser
The week of March 21st through March 26th marks the anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters ever to hit the United States. It was during this week 100 years ago, in the year 1913, that a system of ravaging storms swept across the American Midwest and parts of New England. The storms brought with them high-speed winds and torrential rains, causing tornadoes and massive flooding. By the time the storms had passed through the area, they had caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage. The week of storming killed hundreds of people and left thousands more homeless.
Oversaturated watersheds like the Greater Miami in Ohio swelled with rain water, and their runoff filled the streams and rivers of the Midwest to overflowing. The intense pressure of the rising waters broke through dams, bridges and levees as if they were twigs. The raging flood waters swallowed entire towns and cities.
The Great Dayton Flood of 1913 brought about countless personal stories of heroism, tragedy and loss, but one story that stands out as particularly powerful is the story of the Chambers family. Two of David Chambers’ grandchildren related the stirring but tragic tale of their grandfather’s heroism to 1913flood.com. These women’s story tells of a 24-year-old father of three, a young man whose valiant actions in the wake of the Great Flood saved numerous lives.
The Chambers lived in North Dayton, in a home that was elevated about the level of the flood waters. When David saw the widespread damage the flood had caused to the city, he selflessly chose to leave the safety of his home, climbing into the family’s 16-person boat and rowing it out into the flood waters. David delivered supplies to victims all over the Riverdale area, and managed to save the lives of more than 150 Dayton residents. Tragically, David’s heroism ended up costing him his own life. When a stray log struck the side of his boat, David was tossed overboard, where he ultimately died in the flood waters. The death of her husband left David’s wife, Stella, on her own to raise three daughters, all of whom were under the age of seven. During a period of financial instability, Stella was forced to place the girls in an orphanage. In the end, however, the girls were reunited with their mother. David was buried in the flood section of Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery.
(photo 134 W. Fourth Dayton, Ohio 1913)
The Great Dayton Flood finally came to an end on the 26th of March. By the time the flood was over, the city of Dayton had suffered widespread and significant damage, and the city’s population had been hit with numerous deaths and displacements. 14 square miles of the city were now covered with a blanket of water, and some 20,000 homes had been completely destroyed. In all, the flood ended up costing the city of Dayton nearly $100 million worth of damage, a sizable sum which would amount to a whooping $2 billion in today’s dollars. More than 360 people had been killed in the flood, and an estimated 65,000 people were left homeless. It took the city more than a year to completely clean up the damage, and it was over a decade before Dayton’s economy returned to the levels it enjoyed before the flood hit.
(photo 134 W. Fourth today)
Thanks so much to Kathy Wurth for letting us share a piece of this historical project on Family Tree Tours blog. We’re humbled by the interest in this project, and we really hope you enjoyed this snippet of history!
We’d also like to thank some of the great archives and archivists who have done so much to work to help preserve the amazing history of the 1913 flood, including the Dayton Metro Library and historian Trudy Bell . The amount of history compiled at these two websites is truly amazing. Lastly, thanks to Jason from www.insurancetown.com, who lent us some of the resources we used to help prepare content for the web and publish our blog, and inspired our Mapping History Contest.
Don’t forget to check out Historical Disasters.com for more images, and for information on our Mapping History Contest to help us figure out the locations pictured in historic photos from 1913 and you could win $100!
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