On Jan. 23, 1943, my uncle, Frank Ebner Gartz, (photo in uniform, above) reported to the draft board in Chicago to start his training for WWII. So began the correspondence between him and family & friends, comprising almost 300 letters going both ways. I’m posting many of these World War II letters, each on or near the 70th anniversary of its writing. To start with his induction, click HERE.

This blog began in Nov., 2010, when I posted a century-old love note from Josef Gärtz, my paternal grandfather, to Lisi (Elisabetha) Ebner, my paternal grandmother, and follows their bold decision to strike out for America.

My mom and dad were writers too, recording their lives in diaries and letters from the 1920s-the 1990s. Historical, sweet, joyful, and sad, all that life promises-- and takes away--are recorded here as it happened. It's an ongoing saga of the 20th century. To start at the very beginning, please click HERE.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Road from Alsace

Renate, Neppendorf Lutheran Church
secretary and keeper of genealogical
What's in a Name? 

I had no inkling our  family surname had ever been anything other than Gärtz. But then we visited my grandfather's home town church, the Evangelische Kirche Neppendorf, and met Renate, church secretary and Neppendorfer genealogy and history-maven supreme. She handed us a two-page document chronicling the highlights of Gärtz family history in Neppendorf, researched by an earlier church pastor. For the first time, we learned about our family's German roots in Alsace, and that our Ur-immigrant's name was not Gärtz, but Gerz or Görz.

From Germany to Transylvania

Our family history document stated:
“All the residents of Neppendorf with the family name Gerz [this included Gärtz] originated with Michael Gerz/Görz, (1771-1856) [see correction below]* who came from Gerstheim on the Rhein [River] in Elsass (Alsace) in the French section of Niederrhein (lower Rhine)."

*[8/22/2011 UPDATE: as I researched the family history further, I found out these dates were off. This "Johannes Michael Görtz" was actually born 10/10/1769 and brought to Siebenbürgen by his father in May, 1770. Details to come in a future post.

My guess is that the spelling changed because the names sound so similar in German, they were simply recorded as heard. Eventually, after various iterations, the family became Gärtz.

Gerstheim is about 14 miles (22.4 km) south of Strasbourg.
From there the first Michael Gerz/Görz (1771-1856)
emigrated to Neppendorf in Siebenbürgen/Transylvania

Alsace (Elsaß in German)

We know that Alsace has been fought over by the Germans and French for centuries, so that part “in the French section” stood out. Did Michael leave because of trouble with the French? The French Revolution of 1789 affected Alsace when the French Revolutionary Army of the Rhine was victorious over Prussian/Austrian forces opposed to the new Republic, and tens of thousands (probably mostly ethnic Germans) fled east. Perhaps Michael was among them. We can’t be certain, but the timing makes it a tempting conclusion.

We had also learned that the first Germans to emigrate to Transylvania back in the 12th century came from the area around Luxembourg, and other environs along the Mosel (German spelling) (Moselle) River (a tributary of  the Rhein River), all in the vicinity of my ancestor's hometown of Gerstheim. The original Michael Gerz may have known he’d find people of a similar mindset in Neppendorf. He also had a transportable skill. He was a “Zimmermeister,” or “master carpenter,” like my grandfather, Josef.

Church as History

Not all churches have this level of detail available to family searchers seeking information on their ancestors, but it was a treasure trove for us, and I’d encourage anyone serious about family history to seek out a church your ancestors attended in the old country. No telling what you’ll find.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I learned the approximate date that the original Gärtz/Gerz/Görz had left Germany. By waiting until the 18th century to emigrate, even if under circumstances of war, my ancestors had missed living in Transylvania under the reign of one of the region's cruelest rulers -- the man from whom the Dracula legend most likely originated. Dracul, aka, Vlad the Impaler -- up next Travel Tuesday. Then back to Josef's  Neppendorf church as it spills more of its secrets.

Friday,  2/11, Lisi receives Josef's January 29th letter, including the comments from Eva Beer, the wife of the Neppendorfer who helped him in Cleveland. How would you react if you were Lisi? 


Unknown said...

I enjoy your retrospective "caring" for your ancestors in your relief that they timed their migration to Transylvania to avoid the reign of Vlad the Impaler. Smart like you!

Michelle Goodrum said...

Very interesting post. I've got ancestors from the Alsace region as well so I enjoy reading about what others find.