Farms in Haverbeck

June 22, 2009

Our last day in Germany (we’re heading to the Netherlands tomorrow) was spent searching for the actual family farmhouses.  Marilyn had some information from the internet indicating where there were farms that were owned by Frekings in the 1600s.  I was skeptical, I will admit, because it is hard to believe that a farm might stay in the family for, what, 400 years?  However, if farming is your life, you hand the farm down to your children (or, under old primogeniture rules, to your first-born son), and the next generation continues to farm that land. So, maybe.

First we tried on our own to find the farms, using the printouts. We had an appointment with Stephen Honcomp for 5:00 p.m. He’d promised to find more information for us by then.  We saw some farms, but couldn’t really determine which one(s) might have been in the Freking family. We knew that the records indicate that Haverbeck was likely to be the area where our grandfather, Ferdinand Freking, lived before he left for America at age 19.

We decided to take a side trip to Dummersee, a lake southeast of Haverbeck, because we had some time to kill.  The lake was beautiful and we took the opportunity to enjoy a cappucino.

When we connected with Stephen, we piled into a small coach and he took us back to the streets we’d just visited, but this time he had more information AND he speaks German.

We found an old farmhouse, and the woman who answered introduced herself as Maria Freking nee Fusting. We knew right away that she was family, because we recognized her maiden name. She is very old, maybe as much as 90 (we didn’t ask). Her son, Werner, is still farming – he was out feeding the livestock. The main house is clearly one that does double duty – the first half we could see seems like a barn but then the windows in second half, past the front door, are hung with pretty white lace curtains.

Maria invited us in, but Stephen made our apologies as we needed to keep moving on our tour.

When we returned to the coach, we found Maria in our family tree. She married an eighth generation Raimond Freking, son of Joseph Ahrling Freking. Raimond’s great- grandfather Herman Heinrich was the brother of our great grandfather.

This was really success.  But we still wanted to get closer to our own grandfather’s home.

Two more properties on Stephen’s list yielded no more living relatives, but we may well have found the farmhouse where our grandfather lived before he emigrated to America.  The people living there now are from Poland, so the language barrier prevented us from speaking with them.  Also, Stephen says, they came to work the farm but are not the owners.

We also found a photograph of the farmhouse we think is where our grandfather would have lived. Comparing the two – the photo in the book with the real thing – we think it’s probably right.  The book is in German and the building seems changed.  Is it the same?  It’s hard to say.

What we do now have that we didn’t have before, for sure, is a photograph of our great-grandfather.  He seems stern, but that was also the fashion for photography, I think.

The farm where the Poles live now

The photo in the book, History of Haverbeck, is from another angle. Also, few trees and bushes obscure the older photo.

We are leaving tomorrow. We’d like to think we’ve found what we were seeking. Maybe we have. We’ll talk on the train.  We’ll need to translate the history in the books we bought.  There’s still work to do to be certain.  On the other hand, we now have a first hand look at the place where our ancestors were raised.

Maybe that’s enough.

Heinrich Arnold (Carl) Freking - Our Great Grandfather

Heinrich Arnold (Carl) Freking - Our Great Grandfather



June 22, 2009

We visited Peter Freking and his family in Esterwegen yesterday, and we believe he is a cousin. Marilyn had written to 10 or more Frekings, hoping to get a response. Peter was the only one who replied. He didn’t respond to her second inquiry, and she had wondered about that. But when she called him upon our arrival, he was quite pleased to hear from her.

Laura said at the end of the day that he is a cousin whether the records confirm the relationship or not!  They were so warm and gracious to us, welcoming us into their home and hearts and family, it hardly matters whether the grandfathers were in fact brothers.

The Ancestry Detail

We do believe, however, that Peter’s great-grandfather Heinrich Clemens was our great-grandfather’s, Heinrich Arnold’s (Carl), brother. We knew about Ferdinand Freking, the Ferdinand that was Peter’s grandfather. It was Peter’s grandfather’s plot that we saw at the cemetery in Steinfeld. I showed Peter the photos I took, as he was wondering whether the grave planting was in decent condition. Through the magic of digital photography, I could show him that the grave looks wonderful.

Peter remembered his great aunt Elizabeth, and we had record of our great-great uncle having a sister named Elizabeth.  The Ferdinand we have was actually named Franz Ferdinand and we have the last name of his wife-Klopphaken. That last name was quite familiar to Peter and his family, as it is the name of the farm they all visit.  So, we think we have the right family!

Peter is adopted, as are his twin siblings. Thus it isn’t blood that ties us together, but family ties are strong, we think. We took notes of family dates – birth, marriages, spouses’ names.  Not the kind of detail you would normally share with strangers visiting from a foreign land, but by then our strange quest had become almost reasonable.

Our Visit

Peter’s daughter Carmen was visiting for the weekend, and she speaks fluent English, so she was able to help us with thorough communication. We told them the story of meeting the family on Freking Weg in Damme, and Peter decided that we are very brave.  He compared us to the usual travelers, with 60 or more folks all piled on a bus, going from place to place in safety, not worrying about following directions from Googlemaps into totally unknown territory. He likened us to the pioneers!

Carmen’s 2 1/2 year old daughter Jordan was there, too, and what a cutie! We were charmed, of course, and delighted to be in a real German household. (Not that the house where we are staying isn’t real, but it is so historic and gorgeous that it doesn’t seem exactly normal.)

As we talked, we shared mimosas, to celebrate our visit. (We had driven for many hours – first on Saturday and then again on Sunday – so we felt we had a lot to celebrate!) Then we sat down for coffee and cake. The town had been celebrating that day, so Annette had picked up an array of fancy cake for our visit. The tray of choices was quite amazing.

They invited us to join them for a dinner out, but we were facing a long drive home and didn’t want to try it in the dark, so we regretfully declined. After printing out a new set of driving directions (not wanting to rely on reading the ones we had backwards), we left.  Hugs all around and “Visit us in the wine country” and “Come to Washington D.C.”

And then…

I backed out the driveway and right into the tree in the middle of the road! Actually, I didn’t hit the tree but the sign in front of the tree. And I was going so slowly that there was no damage at all to the car, and the sign was just bent over.  It did more damage to my confidence than anything else.  Who puts a tree in the middle of the road!?  Peter said it is very useful for slowing down the young drivers.  It slowed me down.

We took only 90 minutes to return home, miraculously, after taking 3 hours to drive up to Peter and Annette’s house.  Why?  We don’t know.


June 17, 2009

The second town we visited on Tuesday yielded the clearest sign of our Freking ancestors.  The street sign boldly declares the name Freking, and the people who live on that street are all Frekings. We buzzed the street twice, enjoying the rural setting and scheming for future communcation with our Freking cousins.  They don’t speak English, Marilyn knows through prior contacts.

The farms along Frekingweg are devoted to laying hens. We also saw a few horses. Marilyn spoke to a young man at the Rathouse (city hall), who invited us to return on the weekend for the annual town party. So we know where we’ll be on Saturday!  Drinking dark beer and trying to understand Freking cousintalk.

There is a local custom, both in Steinfeld and in Damme, that is very odd to our eyes: life-sized statues of Christian saints and crucifixes in shrines in front of homes. There is one across from the Freking Weg street sign. Many of the beautiful homes in Steinfeld had these shrines in front.