Johann Georg Lenz, known as Jerg, was born on February 21, 1674 in the beautiful wine-region village of Beutelsbach, Germany to Hans Lenz and Barbara Sing.
Martin Goll, the local historian has kindly documented the various families Beutelsbach, here.
Martin, through a German to English automatic translator, provides the following information about Johann Georg Lenz:
Can read and write. Has always stayed with his parents. Has had to be sent to the field 5 times, and has had to endure a few months each time. He was unlucky several times while breaking stones, when stones fell on his body and back.
Cause of death: Old age
Let’s look at what each one of those statements tells us about Johann Georg Lenz, known as Jerg in the village.
If he can read and write, that tells us that Jerg went to school which would likely have been associated with the local church.
“He has always stayed with his parents,” would suggest that he never married, but that isn’t the case. I do wonder if this means that Jerg always lived in his parents’ homeplace, both before and after their deaths. Or perhaps it means stayed in the local village.
Martin Goll located and documented the Hans Lenz home in Beutelsbach. Whether or not Jerg lived here as an adult, he assuredly was raised here.
Homes of the farmers and vinedressers were located in the village, and the men walked up to the vineyards on the hillsides every day.
These vineyards had been long established when Jerg worked those vines, beneath the ever-watchful sentry-like ruins of the castle, here. Today, those same vineyards line the hillsides surrounding Beutelsbach, creating artistic flowing designs.
I wonder about the commentary, “sent to the field 5 times.” Based on mandatory military service required for males, I would suspect that’s what this is referencing – not the literal fields where he went to work daily, probably from the time he was a small child, toddling along beside his father and the other village men as they manicured the vines.
1674, the year Jerg was born was after the Thirty Years’ War which had ended in 1648, although peace, such as it was, was short-lived in Germany.
Jerg’s younger brother served in the military at various times, including 1705, and it’s likely Jerg did as well.
Jerg’s occupation is given as that of a Weingärtner, the same as his father and generations of his descendants to follow.
A weingartner is a vine tender in the vineyards, literally a vine gardener or wine grower.
Given his occupation, passed down for generations, it’s unlikely that Jerg would be “breaking stones” in the vineyards, which had already been established for centuries by this time, so I suspect that his wounds from breaking stones would have occurred during his time “in the field” in military service, or perhaps elsewhere.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Hockensmith.
This ancient building in Beutelsbach assuredly stood when Jerg lived there and shows squared stones used for the first story. Those would have had to be gathered or quarried, and cut and chiseled to shape.
I feel Jerg’s pain though. Having suffered a back injury in my 20s, I can vouch for the fact that while you may heal somewhat, your back is never the same again and you never recover completely. It reminds you exactly who is in charge every single day.
Chronic pain at some level was probably just a fact of Jerg’s life. At least the vineyards were beautiful and peaceful, even if you did have to climb up to them. Beutelsbach is in the valley along the river.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Hockensmith.
Blog reader, Sharon, attended college in Beutelsbach when Stanford rented part of an estate, now the Hotel Landgut Burg, high above Beutelsbach. She returned for a reunion, and was kind enough to share her photos with me and allow me to share them with you.
As steep as this hillside is, I hope Jerg tended the lower regions or rode in the cart or on the wagon.
You can see more photos of Beutelsbach, here.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Hockensmith.
This photo was taken by Sharon from the top of one of those hillside vineyard rows. I can’t help but wonder if any of those vines were tended by Jerg. Probably not, given that grapevines appear to live 100-120 years at the top end – but hey – maybe these vines are the descendants of those earlier vines just like I’m Jerg’s descendant.
You can see the incredibly beautiful vineyards above Beutelsbach, with wildflowers planted between the rows, here. They will take your breath away.
Germany, located in a strategically important location with the Rhine River at its east border, and also bordering France, was anything but a peaceful location.
Wurttemberg, located mostly east of the Rhine except where it bordered the Rhine on its south was positioned in the center of Europe which is on the way to and from almost everyplace. A crossroads that almost every army seemed to tromp through, if not attack. Some of the most chronic offenders were the French although they certainly didn’t have a monopoly on attacking the area that is today modern Germany.
In 1688, 1703 and 1707, the French entered the Duchy of Wurttemberg and inflicted brutalities and suffering upon the inhabitants.
Jerg was born in 1674, so in 1688, he would have only been 14 years old, not old enough to serve in a war.
However, in 1703, he would have been 29, and 33 in 1707, a prime age to defend Wurttemberg.
It’s likely then that he would have been called into the military “field” and was breaking boulders when injured.
I would think for a back injury to be significant enough to warrant a legacy, the injury would have had to be substantial.
Yet, he died of old age, at age 84. His back didn’t kill him, although it may have felt like it was trying.
Little Ice Age
All of Europe suffered during the 1690s from failed harvests due to a Little Ice Age in which growing seasons were significantly shortened. The result was smaller harvests, less food, and in some locations, starvation, and depopulation.
Massive eruptions of volcanoes in Iceland in 1693 followed by two different volcanoes in Indonesia in 1693 and 1695 likely caused or contributed to these crop failures which continued to some extent through 1699.
One of the worst famines in the seventeenth century occurred in this part of Europe due to the failed harvest of 1693. Millions of people in France, Germany, and surrounding countries were killed. The effect of the Little Ice Age on Swiss farms was severe. Due to the cooler climate, snow covered the ground deep into spring. A parasite, known as Fusarium nivale, which thrives under snow cover, devastated crops. Additionally, due to the increased number of days of snow cover, the stocks of hay for the animals ran out so livestock was fed on straw and pine branches. Many cows had to be slaughtered.
This time of famine also led to economic strife, which in turn led to aggressive behavior of countries towards each other in an attempt to obtain scarce commodities.
Johann George Lenz Marries
People will be people, no matter what. In the midst of the famine and food shortage, Johann Georg Lenz got married.
On January 9, 1698, in the Grossheppach church book, we discover the entry for the marriage of Sybilla Mullers and Hanss Jerg Lentz, short for Johann Georg Lenz/Lentz, of course.
My friend and cousin, Tom, translates:
1st Sunday after Epiphany in the local church was proclaimed, Hanss Jerg Lentz, legitimate son of Hanss Lentz, citizen in Beutelsbach and Sibylla, surviving, legitimate daughter of the late Hanss Rudolph Muller, citizen and smith here; were married in Beutelsbach on the 2nd of February (1698).
This entry says they were married the week before in a church in another village? It’s not like Beutelsbach was far away either – just a mile and a half and a thirty-minute walk. If someone was hoping to “live in sin” in one village claiming they had been married in the other – rest assured that everyone would have known in BOTH villages.
Typically, a marriage was only recorded in the church books where the marriage occurred, by that minister.
Interestingly, this marriage seems to have been recorded in both churches, the home church of both the bride and groom, a week apart, something I haven’t seen before. I can’t help but wonder why.
Beutelsbach record, below, also translated by Tom:
The Purification (of Mary) (February 2nd), (married):
Hanss Georg Lentrz, legitimate son of Hanss Lentz, ciitizen and vinedresser from here and Sibilla, legitimate, surviving daughter of the late Johann Rudolph Müller, former smith from Hoppach (Grossheppach).
Why was this marriage recorded in both churches? Maybe to give genealogists twice the opportunity to find it some 322 years later😊.
The timing of the marriage in terms of the “Little Ice Age” may explain, at least in part, why the newly-married couple might well simply have joined his parents in their home. Houses couldn’t just be built willy-nilly either, so the “best” solution for everyone was likely to combine households.
However, that might not have been the only reason.
Jerg’s Mother Dies
1686 was a terrible year. The preceding ones hadn’t been much better.
Jerg’s parents, Hans and Barbara were married in January 1669, and like normal, their first child followed a few months later, a month before their first Christmas as a married couple. What a joyous Christmas that must have been.
Their next two children were born in 1671 and 1672, and both died within two days of each other in July 1678, at 6 and 7 years of age. I can only imagine their parents’ heartbreak. Something was probably contagious in the village and there was likely much more death too. It may not be a coincidence that while the plague was smoldering throughout Europe during this time, 1679 would see a massive outbreak.
Of course, right now I can certainly identify with that.
Johann George, Jerg, was their first son, born in 1674, followed by Daniel in 1675.
Elisabetha was born in 1677, and nothing else is known so it’s presumed that she must have died.
Anna Maria was born in December of 1678, 5 months after her sisters died, followed by Johann Jacob in 1680 and Philipp in 1681.
Additionally, Martin born in 1683 died 17 days later.
In April 1684, Jerg’s maternal grandparents both died. That’s 6 deaths if you’re counting, in less than a decade.
Finally, there was Barbara Lenz who was born on July 2nd, 1686. This must have been a difficult delivery, because Barbara, the baby’s mother, died 8 days later, on July 10th. The baby, Barbara, died 17 days after her mother.
Barbara’s daughters who died in 1678 had died on July 11th and 13th. This entire family must have dreaded every July which was probably remembered as a month of death.
Jerg was 12 years old when his mother died. At that time, he had 4 younger siblings ranging in age from 11 years on down to 20 months.
What were they to do?
You can see a drawing of the church in Beutelsbach in 1883 with the adjacent cemetery, here. The description reads, “View over the fortified cemetery to the church with its half-timbered house.”
Sharon’s photo shows that same area today – and it’s almost exactly the same except the stream is now a street. Jerg would have walked up those steps many, many times.
Jerg might have vague memories of burying his sisters two days apart in 1678, when he was 4 years old.
He might have remembered burying his sister, Elisabetha, depending on when she died.
Jerg would have remembered burying his younger brother, Martin when he was 9 years old in 1684.
Jerg would have remembered burying both of his maternal grandparents in this same cemetery,11 days apart, in April of 1684 when he was 10 years old. His mother must have been horribly distraught. I wonder if whatever took them is the same thing that took both daughters two days apart in 1678.
In July of 1686, with the birth of Barbara, Jerg’s mother must have suffered terribly. Who knows what went wrong, but something very clearly did. Barbara died 8 days after giving birth and followed her parents into the cemetery just 27 months later.
Then, 17 days later, yet another funeral for the baby named after her mother.
Whatever happened during that birth, it likely affected both mother and child. In a German village, had the child been alright, a wetnurse could certainly have been found.
In addition to Jerg having suffered an incredible amount of grief in his short 12 years, his father, Hans, would have been grief-stricken too.
Worse yet, how was Hans supposed to go and work in the fields without a wife to care for the household and children? He did have a daughter who was 17, but she couldn’t keep house and take care of all those children herself. She needed to attend school and prepare for her own married life.
Life After 1686
I’d wager that Hans and his children banded together as best they could, with the help of their relatives who, of course, were their neighbors in this village – at least for the next 13 months until Jerg’s father did what any sane German man did under those circumstances. He remarried to a widow.
Jerg gained a step-mother and perhaps step-siblings. His step-mother would go on to “mother” him for 17 years, 5 years longer than his biological mother had been able to do.
When Jerg married Sybilla Muller in 1698, a few days before his 24th birthday, there would have still been three of his siblings living at home. His oldest sister had married 5 years earlier.
Daniel, at 22, would have been quite valuable as a hand in the vineyards where his “stupid eyes,” probably meaning crossed eyes or eyes that don’t look the same direction at the same time wouldn’t have prevented him from working with the vines. Daniel was unable to learn to read. Jerg’s father was in his mid-50s by then, and probably couldn’t work as hard as he used to. He was likely very grateful for both Jerg and Daniel.
Anna Maria who at age 20 was being courted by suitors, or at least one suitor, would marry later that year.
Johann Jakob at 18 and Philipp at 17 would have worked shoulder by shoulder with their father and their brothers, Jerg and Daniel, in the vineyards. All 4 boys spent their life as vinedressers and vintners. Neither of these younger brothers would marry until 1716 and 1717, although Daniel married in 1702.
Daniel, according to Martin Goll, spent most of his life with his parents too, except for a year that he spent working on field walls in Bittenfeld, 10 miles up the road.
It’s this note about Daniel that might, indeed, shed light upon why his brother, Jerg, was breaking stones, if not due to serving in the military. Field walls. While the fields today above Beutelsbach don’t appear to have walls, some fields did and do have walls. In some locations, hillsides had to be reinforced and on others, vines grew up walls.
We won’t ever know what Jerg was doing when he injured his back so severely, or why those stones fell on him, but we do know that he managed to work throughout his life in spite of his disability, dying on April 7, 1758 in Beutelsbach, beneath his much-loved vineyards, as an 84 year-old man.
He joined both his first and second wife, along with his parents and all but one of his siblings, Daniel, in the cemetery – although Daniel followed just 7 months later. Six of his own children awaited him there as well. Jerg only outlived two of his children and his third wife.
Life was harsh, hard and often devastating. Very hard. While our current pandemic is a once-in-a-hundred-years event – the plague festered, ebbed and emerged continuously in Europe. Losing children today to death is the exception rather than the rule, while for them, losing half their children to death before adulthood was “normal.” Death, warfare, and often hunger was their nearly constant companion.
Yet, somehow, Jerg mustered his strength and courage to survive all of those challenges.
It makes me feel good to know that my ancestor overcame a chronic back issue too, one severe enough to be recorded for posterity, becoming part of his legacy. Jerg gives me hope and inspiration to persevere. If Jerg can do this, before the days of physical therapy, hot baths, ice packs, and Tylenol while laboring long hours in the vineyard – so can I.
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