Christofel Volckerth, later known as Christopher Folkerth, arrived in Philadelphia in 1754 as I explained in Blog Post #6. He left his family back in Bruchhausen, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany, as discussed in Blog Post #9. The details of the German family (and earlier in Switzerland) were provided by two German cousins, Manfred Fuchs and Egbert Risch, in a series of communications and later confirmed by collaborator Sharon Kolebar who found ‘familienbuchs’, during a visit to Salt Lake City.
The records provided by our German cousins showed the following locations;
Christopher Folkerth, born as Christofel Volckert(h)
Hieronymus Volckert, his father, also born here
Henrich Volckert and Anna Maria, Christopher’s paternal grandparents, died here
Rudolph Volkert, Christopher’s GGF died here
Anna Maria Löscher, Christopher’s mother, born here
Maria Katharina Hassler, Christopher’s grandmother, born here
Rudolph Volkert m Anna Margaretha Bickel 7 Aug 1696 at Leimen Reformed Church. She was his second wife.
These places are all just a few miles to the south/southwest of Heidelberg. Bruchhausen survives in modern times as little more than a crossroads as it has been administratively absorbed by the much larger Sandhausen.
Pat and I traveled thru Europe in 2012, spending about 30 days. We planned the trip to include Heidelberg so I could walk in the footsteps of my ancestors … figuratively, at least. Our hotel was in the ‘old town’; immediately facing the beautiful old bridge across the Neckar River. The Heidelberg Castle was just up the hill behind old town, overlooking the University, churches, picturesque lanes with shops, a large number of taverns and at least one Starbucks.
We could not have been in a better location, nor could we have been there at a better time; during the European Soccer (aka Football) championships. There seemed to be soccer games on TV in all the bars and the streets were filled with young people in the jerseys of their teams. The energy in the place was astonishing. The whooping and hollering went on late into the night after these old people had retired. It was wonderful!
We did all the tourist stuff; wandering the lanes and browsing in the shops. I took pictures of everything in sight as it was all so amazing to my 21st Century Texas eyes. That old bridge is lovely and the views of the bridge with the castle in the background stick in my mind.
The castle was not as formidable as it appeared. It was conquered more than once during the wars that ravaged this area; not just the 30 Years’ War but both before and after. Heidelberg was a center of the movement to reform the (Catholic) church and paid the price by being conquered alternately by Reform and by Catholic armies. I think the guide at the castle told me that the major damage to the west end of the castle had been done by the French (Catholic) army, of Louis XIV, I believe. Seems the French threatened to burn the city unless the castle surrendered. Then, after occupying the castle, the French detonated the ammunition storage room, heavily damaging the castle. The part that remains is worth seeing.
We set aside one afternoon for a visit to the presumed Folkerth homelands in suburban Heidelberg. I did not try to locate the actual places my ancestors lived, but instead visited the modern locations of the churches in each village. I did some map work on the iPhone and discovered that the Leimen Church was about a block from a transit line. So we hopped a streetcar in old town and rode into the center of modern Heidelberg. There we transferred to another streetcar to Leimen, about 5 or 6 miles due south. I watched our progress by following the little dot on the iPhone map until it was clear we should get off at the next stop … and there was a steeple, over in the next block; Leimen Evangelical (known in the US as Reformed) Church.
We wandered toward the steeple, following a lane that seemed to be named for a previous Pastor. The city of Leimen is crowding in on the
church to my Texas eyes. But we found this to be true at all the churches we visited; they were not exactly central city locations but there was not the (wide open?) space I’m accustomed to seeing around a suburban church. The Leimen church was lovely, with carefully tended grounds. The bulletin board seems to show a flurry of activity. However, we were there in the middle of the day and the middle of the week and nobody was around. Toward the rear of the grounds was an older church building; we searched for a plaque that would explain how old it was but did not find anything. The building had a new roof but the exterior stone was plenty old … could this old building be the church where my ancestor married his 2nd wife more than 300 years ago? I will always wonder.
After exploring the Leimen church grounds we went back to the shopping area along the transit line and found a taxicab stand with a young man in an idle cab, smoking and listening to the radio. We explained that we wanted to hire him for a while to visit two churches. In English, of course, with an occasional German word thrown in. His English was better than our German but even at that he did not fully understand what we had in mind. Nevertheless, he was willing to give it a try.
So we were off; first to the St Ilgen church. The map shows the center of St Ilgen to be one or two miles from where we were in Leimen but there did not seem to be a direct route; we went left and then right and left again, weaving thru the Heidelberg suburbs. This cab ride was not the same as our amusement park thrill-ride experience in Rome, here the other drivers were disciplined and our guy did not race at breakneck speed down the narrow streets … but I’m still glad he was driving and not me.
The Evangelical Church of the Trinity in St Ilgen was even more lovely than the Leimen church and appeared to be larger. A man was updating
the crowded bulletin board as we arrived and we talked briefly with him, explaining our quest and inquiring about the location of the Bruchhausen / Sandhausen church. He seemed to know about that church and talked animatedly with the driver … so after a picture or two we were off to the third church.
In Sandhausen we found a church that was the largest of the three, set immediately adjacent to the street with a parking lot at one side. This
looked like a downtown church in the United States, big and imposing. The village has come a long way in 300 years. I was running out of steam by this time, so we took some pictures, declared victory and jumped back in the taxi for the return to Leimen and our streetcar rides back to the hotel.
We both needed coffee when we returned to Leimen so we ventured into a shop near the streetcar stop to inquire if there was any place nearby for coffee. No nearby coffeeshop. But the simple act of inquiring led to a conversation about who we were and why we were there with the lady running the store. She was excited about our quest and was trying to think of anyone with a name similar to Volckert when the streetcar arrived. We hurried off to catch the trolley, only to find her rushing a few steps behind us, waving a phone book! She INSISTED we take the telephone directory and look thru it to see if we had living relatives. How very thoughtful of her! This made the day a success even though the book had no Volckerts listed …
This was fun. I hope the churches we found actually have a heritage that stretches back to the 1700s and 1600s and I hope my ancestors are included. But in any case it was good to wander in the Heidelberg suburbs where I could imagine I was trailing my ancestors.
ps The Sandhausen church plaque seems to say the musical bells were cast in Canada and presented to the church in 2000 by Theodor J Frei, a former resident of Sandhausen. We did not hear the bells during the short time we were there. Pity.