The Kirsch family is German. My mother knew they spoke German. She heard them. They stopped speaking German during WWI and WWII when speaking German meant inviting trouble. The Kirsch family had never been anything but German.
So now, they’re suddenly…French???
My head is spinning.
This causes me to close my eyes and shake my head slowly to see if when I open my eyes, this dream has dissipated yet.
Nope, they’re still there, with records in French.
At least that key word is there, record! But French?
Is this really my Kirsch family?
How did this happen?
The Baguette Trail
I thought those were rye breadcrumbs I was following, but these turned out to be baguette crusts.
I’ve already written two articles about Andreas Kirsch of Fussgoenheim, Germany – and not intentionally, mind you. I wrote the first article, thinking I had sorted the Kirsch family correctly, only to discover that I hadn’t, so in the second article Andreas acquired a new set of parents.
Andreas’s correct father was Elias Kirsch who I’m trying desperately to write an article about. He’s resisting. Like, you know, this French thing.
Why is this family so unruly?
Elias’s birth record has already been documented. I had a date for his death from a German cousin decades ago, but I could not find Elias’s actual death record anyplace. It clearly existed someplace, because no one remembers an exact date more than 200 years later. But where was that missing record?
Andreas’s son, Philip Jacob Kirsch, was born on August 8, 1806 based on calculations from his death date inscribed on his tombstone in Indiana, here in the US. Many different pieces of evidence during his lifetime point to his Germanness.
When I wrote Philip Jacob’s article, I had hoped to find a birth/baptism record in Germany, given that I knew he had been born in the little village of Fussgoenheim, but that record was not found.
About the Fussgoenheim Church Records
Unfortunately, the Fussgoenheim church records are in sorry shape, fragmentary at best.
Fussgoenheim records include the following:
- Baptisms: 1726-1798 and 1816-1839
- Marriages: 1727-1768 and 1816-1839
- Deaths: 1733-1775 and 1816-1839
Those books are not complete, with pages missing and significant water damage. In the words of Tom, my cousin and trusty German retired genealogist, “these are some of the worst German records content-wise I’ve ever perused,” followed by, “your gang is never easy.”
Isn’t that the truth! Tom is always so elegantly understated:)
Fortunately, we were able to find at least some records for each person, so we haven’t skipped a generation completely.
Here’s what I have for these three generations of Kirsch men along with what’s missing.
|Gen #||Name||Birth Record||Marriage Record||Death Record||Comment|
|#1||Elias Kirsch||Yes – 1733 Fussgoenheim||No – married to Susanna Elisabetha Koob||No – date of May 2, 1804 provided by German relative||He was married before the birth of his first child recorded in 1763|
|#2||Andreas Kirsch||Yes – 1774 Fussgoenheim||No – married to Margaretha Elisabetha Koehler||1819 – yes, Fussgoenheim||Would have been married about 1795 before birth of child in 1796|
|#3||Philip Jacob Kirsch||No, but born in 1806||Yes, Mutterstadt, to Katharina Barbara Lemmert||Yes, died in US||Birth date calculated from death date on tombstone|
We know Andreas Kirsch was married to Margaretha Elisabeth Koehler from their children’s birth and baptismal records, the same way we know the identity of Andreas’s mother.
Sure enough, we find Andreas’s death record in 1819, in Fussgoenheim, in German, just like we expect. He was born and died there, so surely his son, Philip Jacob was born there as well.
It’s nice that we have 1819 taken care of, but what about that missing 1804 death record for his father, Elias Kirsch? If Andreas was born and died in Fussgoenheim, it’s likely that his father died there too.
The Source of the 1804 Record?
Since the Fussgoenheim records are absent for 1804, I couldn’t help but wonder where my German cousin who still lived in the region found that 1804 date. It wasn’t just an approximation, but an actual day, month and year. Those detailed dates, even if wrong, generally came from a specific source.
I searched in my records and filing cabinets and found nothing. And I mean I deep searched, like deep cleaning your house. Still, nothing.
Driving Me Batty
That missing 1804 source was driving me batty. I KNEW I had seen something, but what, where and when. I didn’t just make that death date up and it did not magically appear in my computer from the death-date-fairy one night while I slept.
Two days later, I found notes attached to a letter sent from that German cousin, Marliese in 2002 indicating that she had obtained at least some information from a retired cousin, Walter Schnebel in Fussgoenheim who was working on some related surnames. Walter, according to Marliese was a neighbor boy when she grew up in Fussgoenheim and his grandmother was a Koob. Hmmm, I wonder if Walter is still living…
Additionally, Marliese mentioned that a man named Friedrich Kirsch was writing a book but that he couldn’t help her. Another cousin, Hazel, mentioned in another letter in passing that she thought that Friedrich lived in California. I’d surely love to know who Friedrich is and if he finished that book.
Finally, my curiosity was satisfied – I knew why I recorded that date, but I still didn’t know the source, meaning where Marliese found it. I was trying to decide what to do with that date when I decided to search one more time online. New records do become available occasionally.
I searched at Ancestry for any Kirsch who died in 1804 and found a record not in Fussgoenheim, but in the Ludwigshafen records for Ruchheim. That’s odd.
I decided to take a look.
What? This can’t be right. These are French records. My French is rusty, but this definitely French.
Here’s the record. Tom wasn’t able to translate every word, but the gist is as follows:
Date of the Act: 16 Pluviose in 12th year of the French Republic or 6 February 1804.
Death Act No. 36
The 16th day of the month of Pluviose in the year 12 of the Republic, the Death Act of Elias KIRSCH…..the 15th Pluviose in the morning between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. at the age of 71 years son of the late Michael KIRSCH and Margaretha his rightful? wife from the declaration made by Andreas KIRSCH, ? and farmer here……and Kristoph Braun…farmer …..
Klingenburger, mayor and civil registrar. Mayor’s signature as well as signatures of Christoph Braun and Andreas Kirsch.
I can’t believe that Tom can read this at all, especially in a third foreign language. He’s amazing! Even after he translated the contents, I had to ask him which signature was Andreas Kirsch’s.
How cool is this! What was surely a sad day for Andreas as he signed his father, Elias’s death record is a boon for me today because I now have Andreas’ signature. Something very personal left by him 215 years ago at a turning point in his life.
But French? How is a death record for a German man in Germany written in French? Can this be right?
Is this the correct Elias and Andreas Kirsch?
Finding this record triggered a very vague memory from about 30 years ago.
When Elke, my translator at that time, was translating records from this family group – we found a page of script in the Lutheran Reformed church book, I believe from Mutterstadt, a neighboring village.
That cover page didn’t resemble the format of any of the other pages, and it may have been in the front of the book.
At that time, I was copying the pages from the Family History Center and sending them snail mail to Elke, about 20 pages at a time or so.
She would then read and translate any records with my family surnames in them, generally printing the translation by hand and attaching her translated page to the copied page I had sent her. Then she would return the entire packet with a letter which was like a Christmas gift with every arrival.
I don’t remember if Elke actually translated that cover page, or if she told me what it said when we were talking on the phone, but I remember that she thought it was interesting. The essence of what I remember about that church-book entry was jaw dropping at the time.
The old handwritten letter, in German script of course, addressed to no one in particular and everyone in the future said that the people (residents, parishioners) had crossed over the Rhine “once again” and were scattered. The few people left behind had been admonished to seek comfort where they could and to have their children baptized and their dead buried, even by the Catholics, if they could find any, because that was better in the eyes of God than nothing. Then, the letter said that, God willing, they would one day return to their village and farms and take their church book home with them to rebuild – not knowing if there would be anything left at all.
From this, I understood that the church book went with the minister, in his possession, and was not left behind in the church. Clearly, that book was significant to the minister as well as the church members – probably representing one thing preserved from the past and hope for the future. It may have been the only item from their village that survived. Invading armies were brutal and burned almost everything, leveling the landscape.
The words “once again” peaked my curiosity. Looking at the history of this region, the Rhine River acted as a road, bringing trade, but also foreign armies. Warfare was a fact of life.
In other records that Elke translated, I did notice some German, then French, then German again – but at that time, it didn’t really affect me, or at least I didn’t think it did.
I figured it was like any people living close to a border. Many people are multi-lingual. All of Europe is close to a border, so I didn’t think much more about it.
The real reason was much more alarming.
In essence, the left (west) bank of the Rhine was controlled by France from 1792 to 1815. During this time, the French introduced the concept of Civil Registration, as opposed to the church records being defacto civil records.
Given that Elias died in 1804, he had been caught up in the middle of the French/German drama and occupation in his elder years. Clearly, he hadn’t left, because he died on the French side of the Rhine, which is why his death record is in French.
This also explains why so many church records from the late 1700s to 1816 are missing as well. Not to mention that any church books taken across the Rhine may have never found their way back home.
The French record keepers did us the “favor” of translating the names from German names to French names. For example, Philip Jacob became Philippe Jacques. Johannes became Joan in French and other similar changes.
In other words, those records could have been hiding right there in plain sight – but I never paid any attention because the name and associated record was French, not German and the location wasn’t Fussgoenheim. I had no idea that the French had imposed a different type of civil registration and redistricted governmental administration in a more typical French manner. Ludwigshafen’s administrative district included Ruchheim which includes Fussgoenheim records.
Understanding the history of the region where our ancestors lived is so important to understanding the lives of our ancestors – and their records.
Hmmm, if Elias’ death record was in these “misplaced” records, which other missing records might we find here as well?
Philip Jacob Was Born Philipp(e) Jacques
Once I began searching differently and thinking in French, I found a treasure trove of records.
As you can see, there are lots of Kirsch records in Ruchheim.
On August 8, 1806, we find Philip Jacob masquerading as Philipp Jacques Kirsch born to Andre, which is really Andreas and Marguerithe Elisabethe who is really Margaretha Elisabetha. It seems odd to see those German names under the influence of the French – like kids playing dressup.
Of course, the Germans were probably very displeased by this turn of events and their new French names just rubbed salt in the wound. I’m sure they couldn’t wait until they could shed their new Frenchness like so many dirty clothes.
The Ruchheim records do include Fussgoenheim, so this Philipp Jacques in Ludwigshafen/Ruchheim is actually Philip Jacob from Fussgoenheim.
In his birth record, Fussgoenheim is even underlined in red in the original book.
Here’s the translation, again, courtesy of Tom:
The year 1806, the 8th of August at 10 A.m. came before me the mayor and civil registrar of the community of Fussgonheim, mayor of Sougheim? and declared: Andre KIRSCH, laborer, age 35 years, resident of the said Fussgonheim and presented an infant of the male sex born today at 3 a.m. of the said Marguerithe Elisabethe KOEHLER, his wife and given the names of Philippe Jacques (Philip Jacob). The declaration was made in the presence of Francois Joel, laborer, age 26 and Andre Stein, Jr., 28, both residents of Fussgonheim, who signed the document below and it was read alound.
Andreas Stein, Junger
Glory be, Philip Jacob Kirsch was actually born as Philippe Jacques. That’s one secret he never told!
I love the detail included in this record. We don’t have godparents listed like we did in church records, but we know that Philippe Jacques was born at 3AM. The ages of other people involved are provided too, which may help other genealogists, although Andreas’s age is only approximate. He was actually 32 at that time.
The missing marriage records weren’t found. The mother’s birth surnames were provided through the children’s baptisms, so we filled in those blanks another way.
However, discovering two of four missing records is wonderful.
Just when I thought I’d already been surprised by every trick move possible! I don’t quite know how to prepare for unexpected events like when your rye bread crumbs transform into baguettes. One thing is for sure, my ancestors never fail to disappoint.
I sometimes wonder if the ancestors are having a boring day, sitting on some clouds together in the hereafter, and plotting.
“Hmmm, what curve ball haven’t we thrown her yet?”
“I’ve got it – let’s just change languages to something different, for no apparent reason.”
“Yeah, that’s it. Great idea!”
“Watch this…hold my beer!”
“Don’t make me come up there…”