I surely wish we knew more about Margretha Koch. We’re fortunate to have a few tidbits.
The first and only record for Margretha directly is her marriage to Johann Georg “Jerg” Kirsch in Dürkheim on September 9, 1650. Given the customs of the time, she was probably 20 or 21 years old.
My friend, Tom, translates:
On the same day (9 Sept 1650) Hans Georg Kirsch and Margretha, legitimate dau of M Steffan Koch, former pastor in Fussgonheim.
By inference, this tells us that Margretha grew up entirely during the Thirty Years’ War which started in 1618, a few years before she was likely was born. By 1622, all of the remaining population in the Palatinate that hadn’t been killed or died as a result of the initial onslaught of the war had left the countryside with what little they had left, but not by choice.
The entire population became exiles with nothing more than they could carry, as shown by this painting, seeking shelter someplace, anyplace as a simple matter of survival. The cities swelled, then one by one, they fell either in battle or by siege.
This drawing of Casale Monferrato in 1630 shows the soldiers waiting. During a siege, the attacking soldiers simply surrounded a city and waited as the pinned-in residents starved and died. No food could get in, and they couldn’t escape without surrender.
During the siege of Prague in 1648, the soldiers waited until the residents were weak from hunger and thirst, then attacked.
Life in Exile
Humans have amazing resiliency. Margretha was probably born between 1625 and 1630. Only three Palatinate cities withstood the ravages of war and weren’t burned to the ground. Dürkheim, now Bad Dürkheim, was one of those, and that’s where Margretha would have been born to refugee parents. The first wave of attack in 1618 burned most of the Palatinate, so by the time Margretha entered the world, they were likely settled in Durkheim and had been for some time.
I wonder if the family lived in a communal home, crammed to the gills with other families in the same dire situation. Dürkheim was a walled city, which afforded protection, but also prevented expansion to accommodate masses of refugees.
Margretha’s parents would have worried night and day about where their next meal was coming from and simply if they would survive to the next day and the next week. Since the fields had been burned by the advancing army, there were no crops nor animals. The grim reaper arrived as starvation. Estimates range as high as 60% of the population died, someplace from 4.5 to 8 million in a political-religious war with the French Catholics attempting to eradicate German Protestantism.
Note the devastated landscape in this 1647 painting of marauding soldiers.
Surviving a year might have seemed impossible, but one year poured into the next while the war was constantly fought around them – for 30 long years – one after the other.
Somehow, miraculously, Margretha survived.
Margretha, growing up had never known anything else. However and wherever they lived in Dürkheim – it was “normal” to her.
The church was always the center of a German town, but in Margretha’s case, even moreso. Margretha and her family probably lived within sight of the church. Dürkheim wasn’t exactly a large city and her father would have wanted to be near the church. After all – it was their cherished religion for which they were willing to sacrifice their lives.
We know that Margretha’s father, Steffan Koch, was a Protestant minister in Fussgoenheim before the war, so their home would likely have been filled with prayer and they would have attended church every Sunday in the nearby St. Johannis Church, today known as the Castle Church.
The Latin School Margretha would have attended was located just across the churchyard, which, at that time would have been filled with wooden crosses. This church had already been in use by then for hundreds of years, so graves were probably already being reused.
It’s certain that Margretha would have buried her parents here, unless of course by some miracle, they returned with Margretha and Jerg to Fussgoenheim sometime around 1660. There wouldn’t have been much if anything to return to.
The French burned everything more than 40 years earlier. The ONLY reason Jerg Kirsch with his young family would have left Dürkheim at that point was for opportunity – and that came their way when, somehow, they became co-lessees of the Jostens estate. I must say, given that this was a lease from a religious body, I have to wonder if Steffan Koch was somehow involved with those arrangements.
We have no reason to doubt that Margretha was Jerg’s only wife, although it’s certainly possible that she died and he remarried.
The end of the war and the move to Fussogoenheim was neither immediate nor uneventful. The archivist in neighboring Schauernheim tells us that people didn’t begin to return immediately after the war. A few brave souls began returning about 1650 and even then, only a handful in each village.
Another War, Another Evacuation
After settling in Fussgoenheim in 1660 or so, the family had to hurriedly evacuate again in 1674 when France again annexed the Palatinate to the Rhine, declaring War on this region and in 1688, the French king instructed his soldiers that “the Palatinate should be made a desert.” They did their best. War had returned with a vengeance, along with starvation, with warfare not subsiding until 1697.
By the time they moved to Fussgoenheim, Jerg and Margretha would have had several small mouths to feed. By the time they left again, their youngest children, if they survived, could have been marriage age.
They remained in Dürkheim the second time until after 1695 when their son, Wilhelm, married. If Margretha was still living, she likely returned to Fussgoenheim with her sons by 1701 when Adam was noted as Mayor.
We know, based on records from the mid-1700s in Fussgoenheim that Jerg had 7 children, which of course, means Margretha did too:
- Johann Jacob Kirsch born about 1655, died before 1623 and married Maria Catharina, surname unknown. They had 6 known children beginning in about 1695 through about 1710.
- Daniel Kirsch born about 1660, died before 1723. Nothing more known.
- Johannes Kirsch, born about 1665, died November 15, 1738 in Ellerstadt, single.
- Andreas Kirsch, born about 1666, died April 21, 1734, single or at least no children in Fussgoenheim. Lived in Oggersheim and Ellerstadt.
- Johann Michael Kirsch, the Judge, born about 1661, died January 1, 1743, married Anna Margaretha Spanier, and had 6 children beginning in about 1700.
- Johann Wilhelm Kirsch born about 1670, died before 1723, and married Anna Maria Boerstler in Durkheim in 1695. They had 4 known children beginning in about 1700 through 1718. A daughter, born about 1718 was named Anna Margaretha, likely for her grandmother.
- Johann Adam Kirsch, born between 1650 and 1677, died before 1740, married a Greulich female, then Anna Maria Koob. He had 5 children, beginning about 1700 and continuing until about 1716.
Notice that there are no females listed. It’s possible they had no daughters, or we were unable to identify them through later death and baptismal records of other Fussgoenheim village residents. Many times women’s birth surnames were not recorded.
Let’s hope that Margretha had the opportunity to enjoy at least some of her grandchildren.
What Happened to Margretha?
We don’t have any idea when Margretha died, but we do know that by 1695 when Johann Wilhelm married, she was either deceased or a widow. Johann Wilhelm’s marriage record in the church states that Jerg is deceased.
Given that Margretha’s sons that we are aware of moved back to either Fussgoenheim or that region, if she were living at the time her son was married in 1695, she may well have returned to Fussgoenheim with her adult children.
By 1701 when we know that Adam was living in Fussgoenheim, Margretha would have been between 70 and 80 years old, so it’s certainly possible that she is buried in the graveyard outside the beautiful church in Dürkheim, She could also have been buried in Fussgoenheim if she died while the family lived there between 1660 and 1674, or if she returned to Fussgoenheim after 1697 with her children.
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