Let's take a look at Ludwig and Margarete, my father's great grandparents. Don't they look serious? Yes, of course, having your picture taken was serious and momentous. I wonder what was the occasion. Maybe they were just showing off their status.
The book in her hands is a small collection of poetry and sentiments, one for each day of the year. It's downstairs on my bookshelves somewhere. Someone long ago used it as flower press, whenever I open it, small trembling bits of disintegrating flora flutter to the ground.
My grandmother always and with pride mentioned that Margarete was from a mill estate on one of the meandering Franconian rivers. I found this picture of her childhood home on wikipedia:
My father tells me that as a child he used to cycle there with his friends during the summer, to watch the water mill and look for tadpoles. After the war, it was a hotel for a while, with a popular beer garden. Today, the big house is a retirement home.
When Margarete lived there as a child, the online census data of the kingdom of Bavaria also lists 13 cattle on the property. My grandmother always mentioned Margarete's father, the old W, the big mill owner and butcher. In Franconia, you do show off your wealthy relatives. It's all part of who you are.
But doesn't Margarete look exhausted, and much older than her husband (who was in fact seven years her senior). Between 1859 and 1874, she gave birth to nine children, six boys and three girls and lost two of them during the typhoid fever epidemic of 1872.
Ernst Friedrich, her fourth son, ran away from home when was 17 yrs old and according to my grandmother's handwritten records, he emigrated to the US that year. I think I found him, a tin smith, a painter, a carpenter, working first in New York and later for the railroad in California. Shipping records list him arriving in 1887, as 'Norwegian' albeit with German as his native language, his father and mother living in Bavaria. The last census records tell me that in 1930, aged 60, he lived as a lodger, single, in employment, in Los Angeles. If it is indeed him.
I have no record of Margarete's death but judging from that photograph, she probably did not live to a ripe old age.
Ludwig, who looks slightly pompous here, certainly well fed, comes from a long line of prosperous metalworkers, blacksmiths, locksmiths, you name it. The oldest record of the family business that I have found dates back to 1562 and Daniel, Ludwig's eight-times-grand-father, registered as a blacksmith at the same address where my father's cousin are living now. Ludwig died when he was 64 years old, which was well above the average life expectancy at the time. (His oldest son, Karl, inherited the family firm, where my grandmother, Karl's oldest daughter, sharpened her business skills during WWI.)
Ludwig was well off. And Margarete must have been a good catch. I wonder, did they fall in love? Or was it all a shrewd bit of matchmaking? I suspect the latter. We are in Franconia, after all.