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LoE's diary last month included this inspiring nugget:

But, every so often, you come across someone who jumps right off the page. Their lives may not have been easy, but from the distance of time across the decades and centuries, one is inspired to fill in parts of the story between the dots.
When I read those words I immediately thought of the family BFF and I were researching (mentioned in my previous open thread): Jacob Holstein and his wife Elisabeth. They moved from Southwest Germany (around Stuttgart) up to Northern Germany (at the time, part of Denmark) then on to the Lower Volga River region in Russia. This was back in the 1760's, so there are no oral or written memories of this couple. But there are just enough dots to piece together their story.

Unlike American immigration which was (for the most part) an open-ended, centuries long process, Jacob and Elisabeth were part of a relatively small number of European emigrants who participated in very limited migration opportunities.

What I know of their story after a word from our sponsor...


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Jacob Holstein

In April 1738, Maria Eva (Speckmaier) Holstein gave birth to a baby boy in Schützingen,​ Württemberg,​ Germany. Schützingen is a small town about 25 miles northwest of Stuttgart. Eva's husband, Hannß Jörg, was a stonemason and bricklayer. They named their boy Johann Jacob - their third child to bear this name and as they say: the third time's a charm. The first two did not survive childhood.

Jacob Holstein's baptismal record
Jacob had two older brothers, Matthaeus and Johann Georg. He also had an older sister, Maria Margaretha. In the following years, two more brothers were born: Johann Heinrich and Johann Friedrich.

In addition to the two deceased brothers named Jacob, he had a sister he never knew, Maria Catharina, who lived from 1727 to 1734.

Like his two older brothers before him, Jacob grew up to learn his father's trade. At the age of 20, his father died, leaving Eva with Heinrich (age 14) and Friedrich (age 12) still to raise. According to an inventory done of his father's assets and debts at the time of his death, the Holstein family was left with a garden in poor condition and few possessions including tattered clothes, a songbook, bad rifles, a sword without a sheath, and a handful of tools. The children slept on bare straw and had to use their clothing for blankets since what bedding they did have was so worn out as to be useless.

One year after Jacob's father's death, King Frederick V of Denmark was making another attempt to settle the swampy heathlands area of Schleswig-Holstein. This area was difficult to farm, but Denmark had been trying to cultivate and settle the area since 1723. It was in 1759 that King Frederick V tried once again. This time he added to the enticements: 20 year exemption from duties and taxes; property rights (through a lifelong lease of the land that could be renewed by their children); and freedom from being forced to provide food and shelter for troops.

In 1761, in an effort to make sure they had enough colonists to cultivate all the land, they even offered to provide travel money and a daily allowance until the colonists are able to start harvesting.

With little opportunity at home, these enticements convinced Jacob to leave his family and attempt to strike it out on his own in Denmark. One thing that should be noted is that Jacob's sister had already left for America by this time. That inventory had mentioned she was in Pennsylvania. It's possible that he may have followed her to America if not for the lure provided by Denmark.

Settlers gathered at regional launching points and traveled northward as a group. Jacob is listed on the initial transport list as being a servant to Rosina Ernstin (with 4 children) and her mother Sabina Margaretha Amullerin when they arrived in Hamburg (about 400 miles away) on June 24th, 1761.

On July 14th, Jacob left with a group (apparently free of his servitude) to Flensburg - another 100 miles north. On July 20th, after arriving in Flensburg, Jacob was sworn in as a citizen of Denmark

One month later, on August 19th, he married Elisabeth Barbara Weidmann in Handewitt, Schleswig-Holstein.

Elisabeth Barbara Weidmann

Elisabeth was born in March 1742 to Judith Schoch in Mühlhausen (now a part of Vaihingen an der Enz), Württemberg, Germany. This town is only about 6 miles southeast of Jacob's home.

Elisabeth's baptismal record initially only contained her mother's name. At a later date, her father, Fridrich Widmann (a soldier), returned home and confirmed Elisabeth as his daughter. At this time, the baptismal record was edited to give Elisabeth her father's surname.

How Elisabeth ended up in Schleswig is still a mystery, as is whether she knew Jacob prior to arriving. She has not been found on any of the immigration documents until after her marriage. She was 19 when she married Jacob; presumably at the Handewitt church shown below.

Church in Handewitt, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

Jacob and Elisabeth in Schleswig-Holstein

The Danish goverment provided better benefits to families and married couples. So it is entirely likely that Jacob and Elisabeth met for the first time in Flensburg. Both being single, they could have married simply out of necessity as was often the case.

Jacob and Elisabeth were assigned one of the nine plots in the new colony named Christiansheide (coded F8 - as in the 8th colony in the Flensburg area). The government not only named the colonies, but had names for each farm plot as well. Jacob was given the "Berners Hof" plot (labeled F8/8 in this map). Is it just me, or does it seem awfully small compared to the others? I can't help but think Jacob got screwed!

Farm Plots 1 - 9 of Christiansheide Colony (F8)
Over the next two years, the government periodically checked in on the colonists. During these check-ins, they were given winter heating wood and food.

After a couple years, the colonization project was proving to be more expensive (and less successful) than the king had anticipated. Subsequently, this meant ending the flow of new colonists and cutting off funds for the existing ones. Those families who weren't successful at farming their land were summarily dismissed.

Not being a farmer by trade probably put Jacob at a huge disadvantage. Not only was he trying to learn a new trade, but he had to do it on land that was not conducive to farming. As a consequence, in June 1763, Jacob was reviewed one last time where he was officially dismissed from their farm and home for inadequate performance. The record of their final review noted the family consisted of a husband and wife - no children yet.

There's one more leg of their journey which I will cover in another diary. If I try to include it here, I'll feel like I have to rush through it. Besides, this way I can volunteer for the next available Open Thread spot and not have to worry about thinking of a subject. One thing I can promise: It will have lots of pictures!

So join me next month (if Jan 4th is still available - sign me up!) for the story of Jacob and Elisabeth's second attempt at making a new life for themselves in a challenging and far more distant land.

One quick question for the floor. As noted in the story, Hannß had left behind a sword. Anyone know what the significance of this might be in the mid-1700's? Was having a sword common among the working class in those days or does it suggest he (or one of his forebears) was a soldier at some point in time?

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