Thursday, June 21, 2007

Victoria = Herzog

June 13, 2007 (Recap of the Day)

Awoke at 8:20 a.m. We obviously needed sleep. Our hotel room has a window on the hallway but not to the outdoors so we could not gauge the time by sunrise. Got ready and was surprised that clouds covered the sky and it had rained earlier today. Headed across the street to McDonalds for large coffees. Good stuff, just want I needed

We drove a few feet to I-70 and headed east. Rain dripped on the windshield. Ashley asked, “Is this ok?” as we passed the Oz Museum billboard. Yes, we are in Kansas, and I said, “It is ok.”

Three or so exits later we were on Hwy 255 south to Victoria. The entire drive totaled about 10-15 minutes. Victoria is actually the combination of two towns. It started as Herzog, Kansas founded by Germans from Russia. Victoria, which was south of 10th Street, was started by George Grant, an Englishman. Ultimately the two towns combined into one Victoria, Kansas. Herzog was a name I could not pass up and Ashley and I had to visit.

We drove past the St. Fidelis cemetery and headed south to the Cathedral of the Plains. The church was built in 1903 and was absolutely gorgeous. Not the scale of Holy Name Church in my hometown, but a wonderfully intimate beauty for a smaller, farming community. We were mesmerized by the joy of the place. We lit candles. My prayer was for all of my ancestors. I hope I can do them justice with the stories I tell, that I can authentically tell their stories. Ashley lit a candle, too, and we took pictures of each other.

We photographed the outside and the downpour started. We made it into the car before being soaked. We drove down the street to the St. Fidelis gift shop. We listened to the end of Second Summer of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants while we waited for the rain to let up. Once inside the gift shop, we met two women who were very helpful. I told them my Herzog tale and they were very welcoming. The gift shop was small but we found wonderful gifts for everyone. I was so happy to have tangible memories from Herzog.

As we drove to the business district, we saw the statue of the Germans from Russia that was duplicated for the AHSGR headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska. I see this statue daily on my home web page and almost drove past it! Ashley braved the rain and photographed it since she had the best view.

The rain pours down faster and faster as we head off to Main Street. The town has beautiful old sandstone buildings, but is fairly desolate. I spot the post office as we drive the remainder of Main Street, then turn around to go to the post office. The rain truly pounds the car as we drive up to the mailbox outside the building. We wait for a few minutes, and then I decided I should write the new postcards to Mom and Joan. Once written, I scurry out of the car and into the post office.

Two men were chatting at the desk. One was the postmaster; the other was Ken of an excavating company. It was his pickup truck parked outside. I bought the postcard stamps and accepted the postmaster’s suggestion of buying some forever stamps. The postmaster answered many of my questions about Herzog. He told me about Grant and the founding of Herzog. He grew up on a farm and did not have electricity until the 60’s. His father sold his horse team in the early 60’s to buy a washing machine for the family.

He discussed wind power. I asked how people made a living now. Many farm but they also commute to Hays for jobs. Even as a young boy, many people farmed and went to Topeka for work. They would walk, hitch rides or get there however they could. Then on weekends, they worked in the fields.

I talked with them for at least fifteen minutes. I love the pace of this town. While Ashley was waiting in the car, she had written a postcard to Becky while she waited. We headed north on Hwy 255 and stopped to photograph the St. Fidelis Cemetery entrance. It was raining too hard to venture outside now. So, onto I-70 west and back to Hays. The rain pounded the windshield but it was a comforting drive.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Asher, we aren't in Kansas Anymore

I have just returned home from a delightful trip to Hays, Kansas where I attended the AHSGR (American Historial Society of Germans from Russia) Annual Convention. Most people would not consider this trip a vacation, however it was to me. Now as I reflect back on my week, I will add updates to my blog over the next few day so I can share this great experience. When I return to work tomorrow, I know many will ask me about my time away, but how do I describe watching the multi-colored grasses of Kansas bend and lift as the wind surrounds it? The beautiful hues of the fields and meadows? How can I explain that the villages around Hays and the entire geography transported me back over 200 years to the German Russian villages where my ancestors lived on the Volga River? How can I convey the demeanor, courtesies and politeness of everyone in Hays? I was so impressed with workers at McDonalds who handled their jobs with pride and a true sense or purpose. Their desire to serve and their happiness with their jobs should be cloned for everyone. I believe the industriousness, the willingness to work, and sense of happiness without climbing the corporate ladder can be directly attributed to German Russian heritage. To be valuable in whatever way possible and enjoy life without every whim of material pleasure has lasting appeal.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pivotal Moment

Since my return from Sheboygan, Wisconsin in April, German Russian research has dominated my free time. Genealogy is much like a mystery which individual researchers attempt to solve one clue at a time. Now book research has flowed into oral research since my mother returned a week ago from California. I was delighted when she finally opened her Mother's day gift of three photos of her mother and grandparents. These were the photos I received from my cousin, Charlotte, and my mother never knew these photos existed. The framed memories inspired more talk about our family. Our conversation continued where it left off three months ago regarding many of the unanswered questions we have, in particular, the Herzog and Reimer family stories. As the youngest daughter of Sophie and Fred Herzog, my mother is the last link to their legacy and to my grandmother Dina Herrmann Thalheimer Bauer. So, conversation now outweighs written historical research.

In Wisconsin, I learned how Oshkosh played an important role in many German Russian voyages to America. The Paine Lumber company offered immigrants free housing when they worked in the lumber mill. The lumber mill needed willing workers to replace strikers in the 1890's. Research on passenger lists for my grandparents Johannes and Klimentina Thalheimer indicate their final destination as Oshkosh, Wisconsin where Johannes's brother Nicol Thalheimer lived on High Street. I believe my grandparents arrived in Oshkosh, but we also know that one son was born in Maywood, Illinois, another in Racine, Wisconsin and they also worked on farms in California. Despite searching Oshkosh City Directory lists from 1910 through 1918, I could not find a match for Nicol Thalheimer on High Street or any other Oshkosh address.

Yet, in our basic every day routines we encounter the most fascinating and pivotal moments. The moment erupts into our lives and slowly we understand its impact. While reading my email, I discovered the subject line "Thalheimer Family." My curiosity was peaked. I opened the email despite not recognizing the email address. After years of trying to figure out what happened to Johannes and his family in Marienthal, this email changed everything.

The woman who sent this email wrote, "My grandparents are Nicolas and Pauline Thalheimer from Marienthal. Is there any possibility that we are related?"

I immediately replied and in subsequent emails, I have uncovered that her great-grandparents' names match the my great-grandparents' names. Her mother was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Unless records prove otherwise, I believe I have found a cousin.
Our schedules are busy this week, however next week we will completely compare our genealogies.

Does this potential second cousin know anything about my grandfather's disappearance over 80 years ago? Did my grandfather return to Russia or move in with his brother somewhere in America? A pertetual mystery may well be resolved in the next few weeks.