The following is excerpted from an eMail I sent home to family from Germany. I will use this page as a temporary one while I process the new information and images. I have removed some names and personal information for privacy reasons. Here also are some links to the first church records I processed: Gustav Adam Römhild and his parents.
My Adventures in Thüringen
I thought I would begin commenting on my trip so far while the memories are still fresh, or indeed while I still have them at all. After a weekend in Nürnberg getting over jet lag and spending time with family, I drove the two hours north to Grossbreitenbach in Thüringen, where Great-great Grandfather Gustav Römhild was born and from which in 1854 at the age of 14 he left for America. (He was one of my Mother's paternal Great-Grandparents.) The story of how I found him there is worth telling but relatively technical in terms of methods. Suffice it to say I am rather proud of the accomplishment, and I consider my wonderful experience here a reward for my effort.
Grossbreitenbach sits in a large forest region known as the Thüringen Wald. It was in a tiny Kingdom called Schwartzberg-Sondershausen that (along with a quite a few similarly small Principalities and Kingdoms) remained independent until relatively recently in German History. After the Second World War it became part of East Germany. The surrounding area is hilly and forested and reminds me of driving around the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. I saw more industry than agriculture, but the area is full of hiking and skiing trails and is considered a vacation and recreation area. Grossbreitenbach has a very large commercial glass-making factory, a Siemens electronics plant, and some remnants of its historic porcelain industry. There is a massive bridge and tunnel construction project nearby that must also be adding jobs to its economy. Nevertheless, there were a number of vacant stores in the village.
No doubt the post-war period in the DDR has colored the social and financial institutions of Grossbreitenbach in ways that I do not know. Nevertheless, I was received graciously and helpfully by everyone I encountered. It helped that they knew I was a native son, and that I was able to speak some German. Unlike my travels in Bavaria, no one I dealt with spoke any meaningful English: Russian has been the second language for a while. In fact it is a good thing my visit was delayed for a few years, allowing me to learn some German and to learn to read some of the old German script of the church books by myself. Otherwise I cannot imagine the trip would have been successful.
The visit began with what I consider to be a miracle– something I have only dreamed of. I had written to the church in Grossbreitenbach to confirm that they had the original church books and to arrange that the office would expect me. They obviously did. The first thing the office genealogist greeted me with as I walked in the door was a photograph of Gustave Römhild.
Download High Resolution Image (1.7 MB)
At first I could not understand what I was seeing. The name was correct, but the image was that of a grown man, not a 14-year-old boy. I learned the volume in which the photo was bound along with others was the result of a celebratory effort by a teacher to assemble images of the graduates of his school who emigrated to America. I can tell you that I was particularly moved by the experience. This was a man of whom I had not even a name 6 years ago. Now I have his image! (It occurs to me as I write this that additional information may have been collected about the former students. More work ahead.) I was fascinated by this confirmation of continuing interactions between immigrants and the old country. [For any family member who requests it, I will send the full resolution copy of the restored image or a printed copy.]
I can't say that things got any worse over the next two days. The church genealogist had begun to assemble a family tree before I got there, and we spent the next three hours rummaging through the books identifying Gustav's siblings and tracing his grandfathers backwards into the 1700s. Time ran out but I was able to return the next day and search for other Römhild records of the 1800s. I took many photos, a rarely given privilege. It will take a while to read and abstract them all. They are however, beautiful and carefully written documents so the job is easier than usual. On initial review, I found most of the important records of our direct ancestors and many of their Römhild contemporaries and relations. The knowledge has already paid off. Now I need to weave the basic facts into a story that gives insight into what it was like to live in those times.
There were many Römhilds in Grossbreitenbach in the middle 1800s. Earlier, using an available Mormon microfilm, I found 40 Römhild marriages in a 60 year period from 1825 to 1874. What I needed this trip was the earlier records. What I found is that there were many fewer Römhilds before 1800 and after 1860. This makes me think that a pioneer Römhild appeared at sometime in the 1700s, and that some socioeconomic events occurred later that caused the family lines to disappear, much as happened to the Ecker millers of Unterreichenbach in the Black Forrest.
As I explored the village, people identified a handful of individuals who knew of a Römhild ancestor. I would be surprised if that did not happen. Three shared their family trees with me. Based on what I had learned, one was a cousin, and the others will probably turn out to be. A special surprise awaited me though.
Before I left the USA, I looked in he German phone book for Römhilds. There were only handful, and those two in the immediate area were businesses. Nonetheless, I got a nice reply from one Römhild. He showed up at the church and invited me to lunch at his home the next day. (Reh– or local roe deer, Türingen potato balls, red cabbage, wine, and desert: not bad!) My host's family were millers in the next village, but he thought the families were very different. I suspected otherwise– small town, many years?? At my request, his wife trotted out available family documents, some marked with unsettling swastikas of the official offices of the time. I was able to prove on the spot that we were indeed cousins. We share my GGGG Grandfather Johann Heinrich, born 1788. Although the couple were friendly before, and we are hardly related more than a random man on the street: I now have a new friend. We left with a hug and promises to stay in touch. It will be fun to work with all these new contacts who appreciate what I am doing,
I took a bunch of photos and video of the town and surrounding area that I will prepare for you later. This is enough for now.
Here are some pages with my first efforts to present the old church records. If you can recognize some of the words I cannot, let me know.
1840 Birth of Gustav Adam Römhild, my GG Grandfather.
1812 Birth of Johann Adam Nicol Römhild, Gustav's father and my GGG Grandfather.
1817 Birth of Wilhelmine Henriette Regine Forckel, Gustav's mother and my GGG Grandmother.
1839 Marriage of Johann Adam and Wilhelmine, Gustav's parents.