Saturday, May 31, 2014

Our German Ancestors

It was 9th grade at Ridgeview Junior High when I got an assignment in English to write a paper on my ancestors.   I was fortunate that all my grandparents were living and I could ask each of them about their parents and grandparents.  What I got was names and some anecdotal information.  Of all the papers I’ve written through school – including all the way through graduate school – that little 9th grade English paper is the only one I’ve ever kept.  Yep! Still have it.  Obviously you can see where my priorities have been for the last 40 some odd years. 

As simplistic as the information was, it proved to be extremely helpful, especially in tracking down some lines of the family that I had little connection with as a youngster.  In particular, my Grandpa Al Metzner’s mother’s family – the Reiters and Schoppmanns of Fort Wayne, Indiana. 

Lizzie Reiter Metzner, ca. 1920
The Reiter side of the family begins with Grandpa Al’s mother, Lisetta “Lizzie” Reiter (1874-1958).  She was a Midwest girl – born and bred in Indiana.  Her parents were Conrad Reiter and Sophie Schoppmann.  Conrad and his parents were the immigrants on the Reiter side.  Sophie’s parents and two sets of grandparents were the immigrants on the Schoppmann side.  

Both of the families came from the area of Westphalia in northwest Germany and arrived in America in the mid-1840s.  We don’t know why they decided to come to America but I suspect it was to find better opportunities.  The website ic.galegroup. com explains it quite well …

  • Although political turbulence and religious repression in Europe triggered small waves of German migration to the United States, most historians note that the mass migrations were mainly motivated by the desire for economic opportunity and prosperity. For many years rural Germans had lived on small family farms. As the German states faced industrialization, the old way of rural life was quickly disappearing. Many were forced to move into cities and learn new skills. Yet, with unemployment in Germany rising, the cities did not always hold much hope. Among those who emigrated, some had few options left in Germany and sought more opportunity. Steady migrations were ongoing starting in the early nineteenth century. 

The Reiter/Schoppmann family came from the area in Westfalen (Westphalia) circled in white.

For anyone who has moved away from home, you know how tough it can be.  There is uncertainty, fear, and loneliness, but also some excitement about what may lie ahead.  But when I think about these migrations of our ancestors – leaving their home, their family, their friends – I think it must have been gut-wrenching.  They didn’t have the instant communication we have today and for many it could take months to hear from a loved one back home; and, in most cases families would never see each other again.  Based on that factor alone, taking the leap to emigrate seems to have been a very brave thing to do.  I do, however, find one comfort in the fact that, for most 19th century immigrants to America, they came in family groups or with friends. So, perhaps, not such a lonely prospect after all.
That is almost certainly what happened with our Reiter/Schoppmann and extended families. Several family groups came in the mid-1840s and all settled in a small are of Adams County, Indiana. 

Lizzie Reiter’s ancestors came over in 2-4 groups.  I say 2-4 because I have only found the passenger records for two groups.  The others came at different times--together or separately we don't know since I’ve yet to find their passenger records.

Here are the immigration facts that we know:

On 19 Oct. 1844, a small group of people arrived at the Port of New York on the passenger ship Charleston.  All were destined for “Washington.”       I am almost certain that meant Washington Township in Adams County, Indiana.  The group included two brothers, Henry and Dietrich Schoppmann; Dietrich’s future wife Sophie Hakemeyer; and two others who may have been family friends – Friedrich Meyer and Karoline Emme. Dietrich Schoppmann and Sophie Hakemeyer (Hockemeier) [circled in green above] were the grandparents of our Lizzie Reiter. 

    Henry Schoppmann 26 [male] Butcher New York Washington
     Dietrich ditto           22 [male]  Farmer  Prussia      ditto 
     Sophia Hakemeyer  23 female  Farmgirl Westphalen  ditto

What is interesting about this record is that it appears to indicate that Henry Schoppman was already living in America when he arrived on this particular passage. The record identifies him as a butcher in New York City. That tells me he immigrated at an earlier date then went back to Germany, perhaps to encourage and bring others back with him.
At some point, Henry and Dietrich Schoppmann’s parents (circled in orange above) and siblings also emigrated to America, as did Sophie Hockemeier’s parents and siblings (circled in navy blue), but the records of those journeys have also not been found.

The other family that has been found is circled in red – the Reiters.  This family immigrated to the U.S. and landed at the Port of Baltimore on 2 August 1845 -- father Friedrich, mother Elisabeth (Lizzetta), and seven children. The youngest, Conrad (Lizzie Reiter’s father), was just three years old.  Conrad’s younger brother, Johann Herman, was born 14 days after they arrived.  One can only imagine the discomfort of that 2-month voyage for a very pregnant Lizzetta.  

    Friedr. Reyter [from Selenfeld]  [farmer]  [destination Baltimore] age 46
      Elisab.  same as above                                                                     age 44
      Louise   same                                                                                   age 22
      Fried.     same                                                                                   age 20
      Wilh      same                                                                                   age 18
      Diedr     same                                                                                   age 15
      Sophie   same                                                                                   age 12
      Heinr.    same                                                                                   age   8
      Conr.     same                                                                                   age   3
The Reiter family settled in Adams County, Indiana by 1848 as evidenced by Friedrich Reiter’s 1848 Naturalization document.  It states:

I Frederick Reiter an alien, do make the following report of myself, to wit I am a native of the Canton of Windheim in Prussia born on the 2nd day of January AD 1797.  I emigrated from the port of Bremen on the 2nd day of June AD 1845 and arrived at the Port of Baltimore in the United States of America, on the 2nd day of August AD 1845 and [one] my allegiance to Frederick William 4th King of Prussia and I reporte my sons and daughters as follows to wit Wilhelmina aged now 19 years, Diederick aged now about 18 years, Sophia aged 15 years, Henry aged 12 years, Conrad aged 7 years who came with me to the United States and who were then less than Eighteen years of age. And I do solemnly swear that it is bona fide my intention to become a citizen of the United States of America and of the state of Indiana, and I renounce and abjune forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign power potentate state and sovereignty whatever and [forhand____] to Frederick William Fourth King of Prussia.                        Signed Friderick Reider     Sworn to and subscribed before me the 28th day of November 1848, Samuel L. Rugg Clk 

And with that, our Reiter family became citizens of their new country. There is lots more to come...stayed tuned!