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Unterensingen, Germany to Pennsylvania: The life of Matthias Kemmner

This is the english translation of Von Unterensingen nach Pennsylvania: Das Leben von Matthias Kemmner.


Matthias Kemmner was born in Unterensingen on June 12, 1827. His parents Matthäus and Katharina Kemmner were farmers in the village, which at that time still belonged to the Kingdom of Württemberg. Matthias' parents Matthäus and Katharina were my great-great-great-great-grandparents, but since I descend from Matthias' brother, Matthias is my great-great-great-great-uncle.

Matthias' parents Matthäus and Katharina were my great-great-great-great-grandparents.

Matthias was born at 5 p.m. on Tuesday evening, June 12th. On the same day, Johanna Spyri was born in Switzerland, who later invented the well-known children's novel character Heidi. Although the novel takes place on the Swiss alps and in the city of Frankfurt am Main, one can perhaps imagine life at that time a little better by comparing it with Heid.

The day after his birth, on June 13, 1827, Matthias was baptized by Pastor Dorn in the name of Matthäus, but later he called himself Matthias or Matthew. His godparents were Jacob Mayer and Maria Magdalena Gähr, who is described as the single daughter of Gottlieb Gähr. Unfortunately I can not find a connection to a Jacob Mayer because both Matthias mother and his father had Mayer in their family. Maria Magdalena was the cousin of Matthias' mother Katharina.

Matthias and his godmother Maria Magdalena Gähr are marked dark. All independent family members with the name Mayer are marked in light gray.

Unfortunately, I don't know much about his childhood - even my grandfather, who told me so much about the past, was only born about 100 years later. Matthias was the fifth of a total of eleven children. With his name Matthew, he received the name of his brother, who had died a year earlier of cramps at the age of four. Matthias also experienced the death of at least two of his siblings during his childhood. These were certainly sad family events, but unfortunately the death of children or siblings was part of everyday life at the time. Between 1830 and 1860, child mortality was 20-30% (Quelle). So three deaths were completely normal in eleven children. In 1992 the newspaper Zeit reported on child mortality in the 19th century: "What was the life of a newborn worth? In the family of his mother, Oskar Maria Graf writes, 'you didn't ... make a big fuss. Every year one was born. If it died, it was a pity, if it stayed alive, it was good. ' The newborn did not even have its own individuality at first - when it died, another got its name" (Quelle). It was the same with Matthias, who lived in a time that can hardly be imagined today.


Matthias certainly attended the local school for a few years and was then confirmed on April 18, 1841 in the Evangelical Church in Unterensingen.


In the county description of Nürtingen from 1848, Matthias was 21 years old this year, the then residents of Unterensingen are described as follows: "The inhabitants, well-educated and strong people, are described as hard-working and very moderate. The enjoyment of brandy is less general here than in so many other places. The economic circumstances are among the better in the county; there are some wealthy property owners, but also about thirty poor families" (Quelle).

When Matthias was born, the village of Unterensingen was part of the Kingdom of Württemberg (source: Unterensingen, Geiger Verlag, 1984).

When Matthias was 21, his father died of abdominal pain in 1849. The mother Katharina now had to take care of the farm work independently. The youngest daughter was just ten years old, luckily Matthias and his older siblings were probably able to help with the work.


Five years later and after the supposedly failed revolution in 1848/49, 26-year-old Matthias left for America. Today we can only speculate for what reasons Matthias emigrated, but the German population grew strongly at the beginning of the 19th century: “Although an industrialization process was beginning to emerge, the majority of the workforce was still working in agriculture. The enormous increase in population led to a literally overpopulation in some regions of Germany (...) In the countryside, the increase in population was accompanied by the decline of small farmers. In addition to a series of failed harvests, the reason for this is the large fragmentation of the acreage due to the so called real-division in the west and southwest of Germany. Given the lower yields in agriculture, the food situation for the population deteriorated. The biggest food crises in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s were caused by weather-related crop failures in all parts of Germany. Famine broke out in some areas” (Quelle).

Matthias boarded the sailing ship William Tell in Le Havre, France on May 21, 1854, which had only been built four years earlier. Even then, Le Havre was easy to reach by train. Coming from Württemberg, Matthias first had to change trains in Cologne and then in Paris. In the 19th century, many emigrants preferred to depart from Le Havre instead of Hamburg or Bremen, because they cut the route through the North Sea and the English Channel and thus also saved up to two weeks travel time (Quelle).


The William Tell sailing ship sailed on Boyd & Hincken's second line between New York and Le Havre from 1850 to 1961 and then burned out after a tragic accident in the New York harbor. The average sailing time of the William Tell to America was 36 days, the fastest crossing took 25 days, the longest took 60 days. Matthias reached Castle Garden together with 617 other emigrants on June 27, 1854 and entered New York. The passage took him 37 days under certainly very poor hygienic conditions.

The sailing ships that were used for emigration at the time were actually cargo ships that transported textiles, tobacco, grain, salt or iron goods. At that time, only provisional bunk beds were often set up for the transport of people. The passengers had to live, sleep and eat in a confined space. There were hardly any toilets, least of all washrooms. People washed themselves, if at all, with sea water (Quelle).


The travelers often had to bring their own food, there was not enough and often only spoiled goods on board, after all there was no cooling on the weeklong crossing. If the food ran out before the end of the trip, since you didn't know exactly how long you were traveling, the emigrants had to stay hungry (Quelle).


In addition to the cramped conditions, the weather conditions also made life difficult for the passengers: stormy weather made many passengers seasick - at that time the storms could not be avoided by electronic warning, nor were the ships equipped with stabilizers. The hot sun in summer, heavy rain and cold in autumn and winter made the crossing a torture (Quelle).


All of this led to very poor hygienic conditions. Diseases spread quickly among passengers: “Due to overloaded ships and the lack of space to store essential food, insufficient hygiene and, in some cases, spoiled food, it was not possible to ensure the survival of the emigrants, who were also physically and mentally stressed. Typical sickness was fever, vomiting and headache, but in the worst case this could lead to swelling, lesser goat (lack of vitamins), cancer and mouth rot ” (Quelle). It is therefore surprising that only two people died on the crossing from May 21 to June 27 (Quelle).


There is little information about the individual trips, but I found the following comment: "Packet ship WILLIAM TELL, Funk, master, arrived at New York on 27 June 1854, from Havre 21 May, with merchandise and 618 passengers, to Boyd & Hincken. '11th [instant], lat 42 35, lon 51, saw a large iceberg'“ (Quelle).

The crossing of the atlantic cost about 30-50 thaler around 1850. That corresponded to about one year's wages for a teacher (Quelle), so Matthias, as a farmer, must have saved a long time to finance the trip.


A family book from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, contains the following information about Matthias: „Coming to America when he was twenty seven years of age, he landed at New York and then went to Philadelphia, later settling at Tamaqua, Pa., where he was married. He was a butcher, and followed his trade there for a short time, then buying the farm in West Penn township“ (Quelle).


Unfortunately I couldn't find out exactly where Matthias' Farm was. However, his son Lewis later took over the farm, on whose death certificate the place of residence is Reynolds Road. On Google Maps you can see some farms on this street.

The village of Tamaqua in 1843 (source: Day, Sherman, Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania, George W. Gorton, Publisher, Philadelphia, 1843).

Between 1856 and 1859 he met the widow Fredericka Gebhard in Tamaqua, who was five years younger than him. She and her first husband Christopher Walter were also from Württemberg and already had four children (Quelle). Unfortunately, I haven't found out exactly where Fredericka and Christopher came from.


Matthias and Fredericka probably married at the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tamaqua or the Zion’s Stone Church in West Penn township and had a son named William in 1859.


Matthias is listed in the 1860 Census as a 33 year old farmer from Württemberg. His farm had a value of $ 800, his other assets, consisting of, for example, cash, animals, jewelry or furniture (Quelle) Matthias stated at $ 450. Nowadays the farm would have been worth almost $ 25,000 and his other assets would have been $ 14,000 (Quelle). At that time Matthias lived with the 28 year old Fredericka and the children Christi (10), Rose (8), Mary (5) and Emma (4) from Fredericka's first marriage and their son William (1)(Quelle).

In 1861 Matthias and Fredericka had a second son named Matthew.


The American Civil War was now in full swing. In June 1863, all men between the ages of 20 and 45 had to register for duty. The men were divided into three classes: Class I included all men between 20 and 35 and all unmarried men between 36 and 44 years. The second group included all married men between the ages of 36 and 44, including Matthias. The third group consisted of volunteers (Quelle). Since no further military documents on Matthias can be found, I assume that he was not in military service. The volunteers and people in the first group, i.e. young and unmarried men, were probably sufficient to meet the need for soldiers.


At the beginning of July of the same year, the terrible battle of Gettysburg took place in Gettysburg, just 200 kilometers from the family's home, in which almost 6,000 soldiers died and around 40,000 more were wounded (Quelle). The civil war must have been a terrible time for the family, although their home was spared.


A year later, the civil war was not over yet, the third son Lewis was born. After the war ended in 1865, taxes were raised in June. As a butcher in West Penn township, Matthias had to pay $ 4.17 tax.


Matthias' fourth son John was born in the summer of 1866. 1869 followed their first daughter Elizabeth, which was called Lizzie.


Matthias then appears in the 1870 census record as a 43-year-old laborer. His property, his farm, was now $ 600 and his personal fortune was worth $ 150. He lived with his wife Fredericka and the children Mary (16), Emma (14), William (11), Matthew (9), Lewis (6), John (4) and Elizabeth (1). Fredericka is reported to be a housewife, the children were all at home. Mary, Emma, William and Matthew attended school, but only the two oldest could read. None of the children reportedly could write (Quelle).

In the following years three more children were born: In 1872 Matthias and Fredericka had a second daughter named Anni. Daniel was born in 1873, who unfortunately died as a child. The third daughter Kate was born in 1875.


On June 7, 1880 Matthias and his family were again questioned for a census. The 52-year-old farmer Matthias claims to live with his wife Fredericka and their children Lewis (16), John (13), Lizzia (12), Annie (8) and Kate (5). The sons Lewis and John already worked as farmers. Lewis was the only son to attend school in 1880. The 12 year old daughter Lizzie was already working as a maid.

Unfortunately, Fredericka passed away a year later at the age of 49 (Quelle). I couldn't find out what Fredericka had died of. But suddenly Matthias not only had to take care of his family financially, he also had to take care of the 11 children all by himself. The daughters Kate and Annie were just five and nine years old. The time was certainly not easy for Matthias.


What Matthias experienced in the following years can only be guessed. In the family book from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania it is written: "He carried on general farming until his death, and attended market at Tamaqua“ (Quelle). Unfortunately, the 1890 census is largely burned, so that no information can be found here. From 1890 to 1893 Matthias Name was on the list of participants in the communion of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tamaqua, where there was also a Mrs. Matthias Kemmner occasionally mentioned - so he may have found a new life partner after the death of his first wife.

The local family book also reveals that Matthias often went to church: „Mr. Kemner was a Democrat and interested in local politics. He was an active member of Zion's Lutheran Church in West Penn township, and he and his wife are buried there“ (Quelle).


Matthias died on February 18, 1899 at the age of 71 and was buried in the Zions Stone Church Cemetery in New Ringgold.

On March 6, 1899, an administrative letter was created that allowed the eldest son William to manage his father's estate. William has also been published in several newspapers as the estate administrator.


Since Matthias had so many children who also had many children, there are many descendants of Matthias in and around Tamaqua in Pennsylvania. I am now in contact with a great-great-great-grandson of Matthias, who is also called Matthew. And who knows, maybe we'll meet sometime when I am going to visit the area where Matthias lived.

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