Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Going to the West

This blog was created to allow me to write at greater depth about the tidbits of family lore and family history that I have collected from family members and my own research. The title of the blog is taken from a traditional American folk song, Going to the West. I'm partial to the Bill Staines recording, from his album of the same name. The song speaks to the determination of our ancestors to take a risk and seek opportunity in a new land.

In this fair land, I cannot stay,
Here labor is in vain
I'll leave the mountains of my birth
to seek the fertile plains,
I'm going to the West.

But it also speaks poignantly to the family, friends, neighbors, and possibly even loved ones who were left behind. I try to imagine my great-great-grandfather Michael, a young man of 19, deciding to leave the comfort and certainty of village life in Nanzweiler to undertake a risky trip to America. Life in Nanzweiler, while comfortable, did not offer him much of a future. His father was a linen weaver, not a farmer, so he could not look forward to inheriting his father’s claim to land. And the linen weaving trade was facing extinction, challenged by the cotton mills fed by imports of American cotton. The ships that brought the cotton from New York into Le Havre also offered cheap passage back to America, using passengers as paying ballast for the return trip.

You say you will not go with me,
You turn your eyes away from me,
You say you will not follow me,
No matter what I say,
I'm going to the West.

Did Michael leave someone special behind? I do not know, but I have no reason to believe he did.  But he did leave his family and friends behind, knowing he might never see them again. There is no evidence he travelled back to Germany, and no letters from home survive. The one contact with home that has surfaced is a baptism entry in the St. Mary’s Church (Sandusky) records for his first born child, Elizabeth. Her godmother and namesake was an Elizabeth Velten (spelled Felten in the record). I puzzled over this and concluded this must be Michael’s sister on a visit from Germany. I have not found a passenger record or any evidence she remained beyond that visit.

It's many years since we first met,
And you became my bride,
Now I must journey far away,
Without you by my side.

I'll leave you here in the land you love,
Mid scenes so bright and fair,
Where fragrant blossoms are a'bloomin',
And music fills the air.

Michael left his home and family on Germany for Ohio in 1848, and eventually met and married Katherine Miller. Her family in Huron, Ohio became his family, and they soon created their own family. The Miller clan, including sons-in-law, moved to the Reedtown area in Seneca County around 1863. In 1867, Reed Assumption church was established. The Veltens lived there in that tight knit farming community with their family, the Millers and the Daniels, for almost twenty years, raising their children and farming their land.

Then the bug bit Michael again.  The newspapers reported cheap railroad land was available in southwest Missouri, and Michael apparently was seduced by the opportunity. If not for him, then for his children, since land in Ohio was now relatively expensive. So he sold his land to his son-in-law Andrew and moved west again, leaving behind Katherine’s family, their friends and neighbors. Fortunately, Katherine was willing to join him in his westward trek. While we can puzzle and marvel at this, I can still imagine the angst created by leaving family and travelling to unknown lands. It’s all part of the American experience, and I will be writing more on this.

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