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.


It seems to us that everybody in Northern Germany is wealthy, judging from the houses and the gardens.  The flowerbeds all seem to be lovingly tended, without weeds, and with freshly turned dark rich soil. The houses are all quite substantial, with brick facades and amazing roof lines. Many of the houses have messages inscribed on the wood cross trim, in German of course.

Spargle Gala

June 20, 2009

We arrived in northern Germany in the midst of spargle season, and you can’t miss it if you eat out. Restaurants have a special menu insert called variously “Spargle Gala” and “Spargleplattes”.  Signs along the road talk of spargle.  So, what it it?  Asparagus.

The first night we ate out, at a Ratskellar in Damme right next to the RatHaus, we all had spargle in some form.  By the way, we love the word. We may never call it asparagus again.

I ordered from the Spargle Gala menu, having a melange of green spargle, chicken, and onions in a very nice light creamy sauce.  Marilyn and Laura each chose a schnitzel (sp?) so they also ordered a side of white spargle (the kitchen was featuring white spargle).  The plate of spargle was huge, but that might have been because it was for both of them.

The schnitzel was quite good. Marilyn’s was pork with ham inside. Laura’s was best, in my opinion – another pork but this time stuffed with cheese.

I haven’t brought my camera to dinnner, so – sorry – no spargle photos.


June 20, 2009

The styles of fences in northern Germany are different from what I’ve seen before. Many are quite rustic, requiring little true lumber.

The End of the Day

June 19, 2009

When we returned we needed to go to the store to get some groceries and Jo Ann was tired of driving and wanted to stay at the house and work on the blog.  Marilyn is included on the rental car as a driver so she said she would drive to the store.  I went with her – we wouldn’t let her go alone.  She hadn’t driven a stick shift in many years and we didn’t really know where we were going.  But we knew it wasn’t far and we were in for the adventure.  We had 20 minutes to get to the store before it closed.  It took a few tries to get out of the driveway but by then she had the feel for the clutch and was good.  Then we headed out.  We drove as we had remembered going before and found a store called Lytel which is a large chain of grocery stores.  It was 10 minutes to closing and we made it into the store.  We found everything but paper towels (I don’t think they use them here because  I’ve looked in any number of stores for them) and then had to buy a bag to carry the groceries home because you’re supposed to bring your own bags.  And after smiling and nodding at  a comment from the clerk that must have been “Hurry up we’re closing ” we found the gin and the beer and headed for check out!  We returned the cart to get our Euro coin back and loaded the car.  We retraced our tracks and found our way back to the house and settled in to have our dry martinis (without ice) and liverworst with pumpernicle.  Since we had had apple strudle and coffee late in the afternoon at the Farm Museum, we were satisfied with that for dinner. 

 Now we are watching CNN World (in English) and will be going to bed soon.   It’s late and we need to get rested for whatever will happen tomorrow.  I think we are supposed to be trying to contact Peter Freking and find out if he is really a cousin or not!

After a fine lunch in Vechta, we drove to Cloppenburg where there is an open-air museum of typical farm buildings and equipment from the early days. It was uncanny how those farmhouses resembled the one we’re staying in.  While the “old house” belonging to the Runde family is quite large, it is dwarfed by the farmhouse we toured at the museum.  Still, the structure is clearly in the same fashion.

The windmills were impressive. One of them is mounted on a wheel to allow the manager of the mill to turn the entire structure to catch the wind.

The roofs, walls, and fences continue to fascinate me. See the thatch roofs and woven walls, some of which are quite open to the air while others are tight-woven and covered with a kind of “stucco.”

The animals (cows for the wealthy, pigs for those less fortunate) were kept in pens along the sides of the large central room. The big double doors would permit entry for animals and carts and equipment, as well as people.

The fireplace is where the cooking was done.

The Freking families we have  been studying from 1600 to 1850 can be expected to have lived in similar settings. The photo we found of a Freking farmhouse certainly resembles the ones we saw at the museum. We found that the Frekings were hired workers or merchants for many years, but then managed to purchase a farmhouse. We have more to learn about their living conditions, but now we can imagine it from what we’ve seen.

This morning was our trip to Vechta to look through the archives of both Steinfeld and Damme (which includes Haverbeck).  Last night Marilyn spoke to Ewald Boldman, brother-in-law of Karl Runde, our host.  Ewald has done a lot of ancestry research, so he knows the ropes.  Luckily, he is retired AND very interested, so he agreed to accompany us.  He arrived this morning just after 7:00 a.m. for our drive to Vechta.DSC_0301

Ewald was a great help, first to get us to the right town, then the building. When we arrived and signed in, we received a brief orientation to the books and computer images from a pleasant English-speaking man. Then we hit the books.

We worked for more than three hours, found a LOT of Frekings (not all of them part of our direct line of ancestry), and saw pictures of houses and kids that are connected to the Freking family. We filled in some dates for some early ancestors.  Though we did get more information about the other Ferdinand, we’re still not certain the Peter Freking we’ll be talking to this weekend is who we think he is.  We’ll be able to ask him some questions, however, that might help identify him.

We didn’t find out if Paula Meyer-Freking is a relative, unfortunately.

Some of the records are written in script, which Ewald was able to read for us. It was odd how strange those names looked when written in German handwriting!

We went to lunch pretty satisfied but aware that this work takes a lot of time. We may return on Monday, or we may hope that Stephen Honkomp in Steinfeld finds enough that we can avoid further archive diving.

Walking before Touring

June 18, 2009

We’ve been doing a lot of walking every day, but it’s not the kind of cardio workout that I’d hoped to keep up with. Today was the first day I dragged myself away from the house with the idea of walking for exercise.  It was great to get back to it, though I damaged my right toe on our first day and it’s still rather sore.  Nevertheless, it was a good walk.  The neighborhood has many more houses than I’d thought at first, but it is largely fields with various crops. The photos here will show mostly the crops, but some other neighborhood sights as well.

I’ve been surprised at some of the fences I see, so I’ve taken photos of many of them. Above you can see two unusual designs.

Help at the RatHaus

June 18, 2009

Stephen Honkomp, the man who has been the source of a lot of information about our ancestry on the web, works at the RatHaus in Steinfeld, and we finally got to see him this afternoon. He was a great help with the history of Steinfeld. We bought a big book about the town’s history from him. He called the archives (the number wouldn’t work for Marilyn earlier in the day) and made sure that they would be ready for us in the morning. He told us about the cemetery and assured us that there are Frekings there.