Catharina or Katharina Gockeler was born in Schnait, Germany on October 9, 1612, to Hans Gockeler and his wife, Katharina, whose surname is unknown.
(Update – her parents were Wolff Gockeler and wife, Barbara, not Hans and Katherina. See the Wolff Gockeler article.)
For some time, Katharina’s surname was recorded as Lenz. She did marry a Lenz man, but in a small German village, it certainly wouldn’t be unheard of for the bride’s surname to be the same since families had resided in that area for generations. Martin Goll, the local historian, discovered that her surname was Gockeler, not Lenz, and provided me with updated information. A HUGE thank you to Martin for this and all of his other research which he has generously shared.
Katharina’s parents and godparents stood beside the minister at the baptismal font before the alter in St. Wendelin Church as baby Katharina was baptized.
Hans Lenz, the baker, would have been attending church that day too. He lived where the red star is located, just a few feet away, across the market square from the church in Schnait.
Hans Lenz had a son, also named Hans Lenz, who was born on January 24, 1602. Hans the younger would have been ten years old at the time and was likely attending church with his parents. During Katharina’s baptism, he was probably squirming and fidgeting in that hard wooden pew, the way 10-year-old boys do, not very patiently waiting for church to be over.
I wonder if Hans remembered being present at Katharina‘s baptism. If Hans was a normal boy, he was probably either annoyed at having to stay late for the baptism, or distracted by a bug, leaf, or some such. However, 23 years later, Hans Lenz would marry that baby girl.
A lot would happen during that 23 years, though.
Schnait, shown here in 1685, was a beautiful, quaint, village, nestled between hills, just a block or two in either direction.
Most residents were vinedressers, tending the vineyards on the rolling hillsides outside town, except for the obligatory butcher, baker, and candlestick maker in every village, plus the minister, of course.
The Gockelers had family in neighboring Beutelsbach, as did most families in Schnait, according to early records. Prior to 1570, Schnait was too small to have its own church, so the families in Schnait worshipped in Beutelsbach and were quite intertwined.
The War Begins
In 1618, the 30 Years‘ War changed everyone‘s life – causing terror for the next three decades. Nothing would ever be the same.
Of course, when the war began, no one knew how long it would last, or if Schnait and this part of Germany would be directly involved.
Katherina would have been six years old. Perhaps her parents tried, at least at first, to shield her from what was going on so she wouldn’t be afraid. Soon enough, though, everyone knew. And everyone was afraid.
Unfortunately, the war came to their doorstep and barged into their homes as an unwelcome guest. Catholic and Protestant Princes faced off against one another, their armies battling for decades on German soil. Wurttemberg was a central battlefield of the war, with its population declining by 57% during that time.
Starvation, illness, displacement, and the actual war itself, of course – all took a terrible toll.
In 1626, a plague swept through the region, fueled by military conditions, battles, troop movements, and the behavior of the soldiers. Plague and illness were rampant in the camps, and the soldiers moved from place to place, marching across the countryside, again and again.
Celebrations and rituals of normalcy would have been most welcome.
It’s likely that, a few years later, Katharina attended the wedding of Hans Lenz the younger when he married the Schnait church minister’s daughter, Agnes Eyb, about 1627. The girls certainly knew each other, even though Agnes was older than Katharina by 11 years. Perhaps Katharina looked up to Agnes as the Reverend’s daughter. They had known each other all of their lives and may have been related in one way or another, or many.
At 13, Katharina may have sat during weddings imagining herself as the beautiful blushing bride, one day marrying the love of her life.
God willing, and the war didn’t interfere, one day, it would be her turn.
The war, and thoughts of the war, permeated everything. Even a young girl’s daydreams.
That damned war.
Hans Lenz, the baker, and his bride settled up the road in Beutelsbach, while Katherina continued to live in Schnait with her parents.
Infant mortality hovered around 50% during normal times when a war was not taking place, but lack of food, marauding soldiers, pillaging, burning, and the destruction of homes and sometimes entire villages caused the infant mortality rate to rise steeply.
The war dragged on, with soldiers coming and going, taking whatever they wanted, and laying waste to wide swaths of the countryside. Everyone was in danger, all of the time, no matter which side the soldiers were on.
Pressure began to build leading up to the horrific Battle of Nordlingen, arguably the most important battle of the war, fought in September of 1634 not far from Beutelsbach, involving 58,000 soldiers.
Someplace between 12,000 and 16,000 were killed, mostly Protestants, with another 4,000 Protestant soldiers taken captive. How does anyone even begin to bury that many bodies?
The Protestant troops lost that battle, soundly beaten, routed, defeated, making the situation infinitely worse for the German Protestant towns, now occupied by angry, emboldened Catholic soldiers in direct, daily conflict with villagers.
What could possibly go wrong in that pressure-cooker?
By 1634, soldiers were quartered in Beutelsbach. After the Battle of Nordlingen, citizens and village authorities alike were reduced to either begging or bribing soldiers NOT to burn their homes – meaning that in most cases, the pitiful residents had literally nothing of any value left, and no food. Soldiers on both sides took everything.
Until that time, because Hans was a baker and vintner, his property was probably spared because the soldiers enjoyed eating and drinking. Armies run on their stomachs. In other words, Hans was useful to them, but after Nordlingen, that wouldn’t matter anymore.
On December 6, 1634, three months after Nordlingen fell, the anger boiled over, and their greatest fear was realized.
Beutelsbach was torched by the soldiers. Anyone who resisted was brutally killed.
Katharina would have watched from Schnait, a mile or so away, as flames rose up and licked the sky. Black smoke billowed over the landscape, for hours, and pretty much everything, save the walled and fortified church, was consumed.
Residents in both locations were cousins probably hundreds of ways. In other words, there wasn’t anyone you weren’t related to, and often, closely.
There was nothing they could do in Schnait while Beutelsbach burned, except to gather as safely as possible, probably in the church, pray, and prepare to shelter any survivors.
God, let there be survivors.
The Schnait minister’s sister was Hans Lenz’s wife, Agnes, living in Beutelsbach.
Agnes was severely burned and was brought to her brother’s home in Schnait. Three days, later, on November 9th, she died and was buried in the Schnait churchyard the following day after her brother preached her funeral. Her brother scribed an agonizing entry in the church “Book of the Dead“ about his “dear sister“ who was burned in the great fire set by the soldiers. His grief-stricken entry is how we know what happened, and when Beutelsbach burned.
Agnes left behind her husband, Hans, and probably young children, if any survived.
Agnes and Hans had been married about seven years, so she would have given birth to at least 3 or 4 children in Beutelsbach, where they lived, although Beutelsbach church records don’t exist for this timeframe.
It’s likely that Hans and Agnes’s children either died as babies, children, or during that horrific fire.
It’s also possible that one of their children outlived Agnes. Martin Goll believes that Georg Lenz (1627-1663), who became a barber-surgeon in Beutelsbach was their child.
If that’s the case, then when Katharina Gockler married the widower, Hans Lenz, sometime about 1635, she would have raised her friend, Agnes’s child or perhaps children as well.
Katharina Marries Hans
As Katharina sat in the church watching Hans and Agnes exchange wedding vows when she was 13 years old, never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined for one minute that SHE would one day marry Hans.
In fact, if Katharina were dreaming about someone as her eventual groom, it would have been some cute boy closer to her age, sitting a pew or two over, thinking about frogs, not a man a decade older at 23.
Yet, it would come to be. Rising from the ashes.
A few months after the fire, sometime about 1635, Katharina Gockler married the widower, Hans Lenz. Again, we have no church records.
Given the circumstances when they began their married life, they did surprisingly well. The war was in its 17th year, give or take, and must have seemed “normal” in a terrible way. They had known nothing else as adults, and war had been a fact of life for most of Katharina’s lifetime – since she was six years old.
Katharina moved to Beutelsbach, where Hans was the baker and vintner, and, as a team, they started over.
Martin believes that a good portion of Hans Lenz‘s wealth came in some way from his wife, Katherina. During his lifetime, Hans built a new house at Siftstrasse 17, pictured above, which still stands today. Additionally, he had at least eight vineyards with just under one hectare, or about 2.5 acres. Most families made do with about one-tenth of that, or a quarter-acre vineyard.
We know that Katharina had four children, based on either records after the war or their church death records as adults, where her name is spelled both Catharina and Katharina. We have no records of children who were born and died during the war, except inferences by silent, vacant spaces in the too-large gap years between births of known children, all of whom were born and died in Beutelsbach. If they died elsewhere after the war, we have no record of them.
- If Hans and Katherina were married about 1635, they would have had about five children, every 18 months to two years, before having the first child who lived. How soul-crushing for Katharina. I wonder if she dreaded each pregnancy, fearing the death of yet another baby.
Finally, finally, a son was born and survived. Katharina must have been ecstatic and held her breath daily, praying for the best, but fearing the worst.
- Hans Lenz, my ancestor, also a baker who became a vintner, was born in 1645, during the war, and died on January 22, 1725. He married Barbara Sing in 1669 in Beutelsbach and had 11 children, 6 of which survived to adulthood. Barbara was living for the births of her first six grandchildren, which must have brought her immense joy.
- Daughter, Katharina Lenz was born on October 26, 1646, and died on October 13, 1689, outliving her mother. She was described as “simple“ in the church records. After her parents’ deaths, she lived with her brother, Hans, who utilized her share of their inheritance to care for her.
- Another child would have been born in 1648, the year the war finally ended.
- Maria Lenz was born on January 5, 1650, and died a week later. Another small wooden cross in the churchyard.
- Another child was probably born in 1652.
- A daughter, born on March 9, 1654, was also named Maria. She died in 1677 at the age of 23. Martin Goll found no spouse or children for her.
By 1654, Katharina would have been 42. Her childbearing years were over.
Only one of her children would live to reproduce. Lucky for me!
After the War
After the war ended in 1648, Katharina and Hans did quite well for themselves. By the time Hans died 19 years later, in 1667, he had accumulated a significant legacy to leave to his children and grandchildren – a total of 5 houses, ten vineyards, and over 15,000 liters of wine in his cellars. No, that’s not a typo.
Katharina died in Beutelsbach on October 25, 1677, outliving Hans by two months shy of a decade.
Given that her daughter, Maria, died in the same year, although we don’t have a date, I wonder if the plague or pestilence, as epidemics were then known, savaged Beutelsbach once again. Katharina’s granddaughter was born on July 27, 1677, and we have no further entry. I wonder if she died as well. Two additional grandchildren, ages 6 and 7, died two days apart in July of 1678.
This war was with an unseen organism, a germ of some description. One they couldn’t see and probably didn’t know how to fight.
Katharina would have been laid to rest just a few feet from their home in Beutelsbach, probably in the churchyard following her funeral service inside, near her husband and children. Hopefully, it was a beautiful fall day.
Early graves always surrounded the church, but this 1825 map shows that a second cemetery was in use by then, a block or so away from the church and where Katharina Gockeler lived for more than 40 years.
The Beutelsbach church cemetery had been in use since at least 1321 and probably since about 1080, when we know the collegiate church was formed. Given the early date, many regular and plague burials existed in the churchyard. Were graves being reused in Europe at that time, or would villagers have been unwilling or superstitious about digging up plague or smallpox victims, perhaps?
Was the new cemetery utilized because the old one was full, or maybe there were just too many people to bury at one time at some point – like possibly the 1634 fire?
Red stars mark the churchyard, the home where Hans and Katharina lived, and the cemetery. Martin Goll’s red border shows the properties owned by Hans Lenz at his death that were inherited by his son, Hans.
The individual “farms“ and garden plots adjacent to homes are marked with tiny trees, so it’s easy to miss the subtle crosses in the cemetery if you don’t look closely. It appears that today, the cemetery is expanded as needed where those trees used to stand.
As you can see on the map above, the cemetery on the 1825 map is still in use. It’s unknown exactly where Katharina rests, in that cemetery or the churchyard, but we‘re within a few feet, either way.
I can’t help but look at those two burial locations, and in my mind’s eye, view bits of my DNA dotting the landscape, like twinkling stars, if the DNA of those ancestors that I carry today could fluoresce.
Part of me is there with them, and I carry part of them in me today.
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