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Growing up in the Midwest I had always known my family was of German ancestry. However it never occurred to me how much of my hometown was made up of people of the same background until I thought about the last names of the kids I went to school with. Boettner, Schmidt, Fraunhoffer, Nieman, Schneider, are just a few that came to mind.
I have always been interested in the family records and in history. I am officially the keeper of the records. Before we left home I had started to do serious research into my family history. I had spent a great deal of time on the phone with my folks announcing the wonderful things I had discovered and generally driving my siblings crazy with my signal-mindedness. I wanted to find out as much as I could before we left so that I could go to these places, visit the cemeteries and perhaps get records first hand. So while I worked on planning the trip I also stayed up late at night plowing through online records. I knew that my family came from Darmstadt, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Kleinich. Just before leaving I printed off my records from the computer and put them aside to pack. I didn't realize I had left them in California until halfway through Australia.
Originally we were not going into Germany until this spring but with our change of plans for New Year it became very important to me to have those records in hand. My sister, who is the temporary keeper of all things ancestral, handwrote out the information I needed and my other sister faxed them to us while we were in Crest. Days before leaving for Paris I finally had the information in hand and I was ready to go.
Frankfurt, Darmstadt and Kleinich are all within day trip distance of Bonn. A cousin on my father's side had already done most of the Nigh research back to the early 1600s and I was very excited to go to my oldest known "ancestral town" of Kleinich. Our name has changed over the years from NEU to NYE to NIGH and this side has been in America since about 1760, so I didn't expect to find any reference to any Neu's still in Kleinich. I wanted to go just to say I had been there.
On December 28th, the afternoon we left it was bleak and threatening to snow or rain or both. We got a later start than we had hoped and we weren't really sure how to get to the town since it isn't on any of our maps. Not a great start. We had gone online, found a Website of someone who had recently been there that gave us a map and the towns in the surrounding area which helped. So we packed a lunch, gave the boys their Game boys and with Russell navigating made our way down the Mosel River Valley to Kleinich in search of the past. The boys were very patient even though they don't really understand why we are looking for dead relatives.
The area is very beautiful and for the most part wine country with the vineyards climbing up the steep hillsides as far as the eye can see. Even in winter it is breathtaking. There are small towns all along the Mosel River and the road twisted and turned. Our first goal was just to get to the town without getting horribly lost. The second was to locate the old cemetery, if there was one.
Russell's navigation was flawless and after multiple stops to take pictures of town directional signs we came over a rise and there it was.
I had expected a small town but was very surprised at just how small it is. The main road went into and out of town in less than one kilometer with a couple of side roads off of that. There were a few homes and no businesses that we could see through the rain. There didn't seem to be an Office of Records. As it was past lunchtime and pouring rain we ate our peanut butter sandwiches in the parking lot of an important looking building that could have been a church, but with no sign of a cross or hours of worship it was hard to tell. Since we had driven so far we decided to make the best of things and go just up the road to Oberkleinich. Not much there, either. The return back through Kleinich proved fruitful however as we did see a cemetery. True it was the new, not old cemetery but still I was excited. We parked the car, left the boys inside with their Game Boys and trooped off into the cold and rain. I was completely surprised to find headstones with my old family name on them. I really never thought any family would still be about after so many centuries. We found nine Neu headstones.
Gail, possibly with a distant relative
Kleinch is also right next to the town of Beuren. I had no idea they were close. This was exciting because back in about 1610 Hans Neu of Kleinich married Margaretha Bartges of Beuren. Their son Eberhard married a Beuren girl too, by the name of Anna Weber. These people all seem more real and more "alive" now that I have seen the area where they are from.
We never did find an old cemetery but that's okay. I have been to Kleinich and Beuren. It strikes me that when these Neu's left the area they probably never thought any of their descendants would ever return, the idea of such easy travel was beyond their imagination and here I was standing in the cemetery. We had come full circle.
Visiting Kleinich and Beuren
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