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Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

For as long as I could remember my family always celebrated Christmas Eve the same way. After the Christmas Eve service at church, the family would head over to my grandmother’s house–or that of one of her siblings. There was a progressive meal so after awhile we would move on to another house. I remember three houses and three courses, but eventually, I think it became two houses. Nobody does it any longer as my grandmother’s generation is all gone now.

While there were always a lot of delicious Christmas desserts (Grandma, in particular, was a wonderful baker), the main course–the one that couldn’t be avoided missed–was the oyster stew. Year after year, I watched the women stirring the pot of oyster-studded milk, but do you think I ever thought to ask where this tradition came from? Well, maybe I did, but I never got an answer. Maybe nobody knew.

What I should have specifically asked Grandma is “did your mom make the oyster stew on Christmas Eve, too?” But I didn’t.

Suddenly this year I wondered where oyster stew came from. It seemed so out of the ordinary, and my family’s holiday eating habits were not out of the ordinary at all. Turkey or ham, casseroles, cole slaw, jello dishes, cookies–“All-American” food.

I thought about how Grandma’s whole family participated in this tradition. Nobody ever said, “Hey, let’s make clam chowder instead.” Or meatballs. Or tamales. Nobody said, “Let’s try this new recipe.” Nope. Oyster stew.

I wondered if the recipe and the tradition had been passed down in the family. If so, they would have gotten it from Grandma’s mother, Clara Waldeck Mulder. And if it went back still further, it would have come from her mother, Alwine Noffke Waldeck, who might have been born, as her brother August was, in the little Pomeranian town Schwetzkow. Schwetzkow is about 12-15 miles from the Baltic Sea. Alwine was an adult with children when she immigrated her, so she would have brought her traditions with her.

To try to get to the origins, I researched the subject through my friend Ms. Google. One of the most popular articles right now is this one: Oyster Stew on Christmas. This writer argues that the origin lies with the Pilgrims who were “oyster crazy.” She says that when the Irish Catholics came in the 19th century, they latched onto the oyster stew because it closely resembled the traditional Irish ling stew and ling (a type of fish) was not available in the United States. Hmm, my oyster-stew-slurping family are definitely not DAR and not Irish and not Catholic. I couldn’t imagine anybody choosing a tradition of oyster stew just for the heck of it.

At least one article said that Germans couldn’t get oysters because the water is too cold, but then why does Russia get oysters from the Baltic? All in all, the research was very sparse about the Baltic, other than the problems with invasion of foreign species and pollution. Another issue is that in the 19th century, oysters were inexpensive and could be eaten by people without means. Canned oysters have also been readily available in the winter.

I posed my question on both my personal Facebook page and on the Prussian Genealogy group on Facebook. Interesting to see the difference in responses. On my personal page, where I am friends with people who come from a wide variety of backgrounds, only two people (besides family) had heard of the tradition. They both ate oyster stew on Christmas Eve with their Swedish in-laws. This didn’t deter me because Sweden and Pomerania were on opposite sides of the Baltic, and part of Pomerania was even Swedish for some time!

I wrote to my friend, the Swedish writer Catharina Lind, and asked her. She said that there have “never been oysters either in the Baltic Sea or the Bottnian sea, the east coast of Sweden. The salinity level is too low for oysters and the water is too cold. There are oysters in the Nordic sea, but very few, so oysters have never really been part of any Swedish tradition. There are no oyster dishes in Scandinavian (Sweden, Norway, Finland) Christmas traditions. Though a lot of fish, mostly herring and whitefish, and in modern times also salmon. We traditionally eat plenty of pork.” Catharina went on to speculate that perhaps the Swedish Christmas soup made with porcini and oyster mushrooms could have evolved over time to mean fishy oysters instead of mushrooms.

So I thought it was all over.

But then, on the Prussian Facebook Group, where everyone has Prussian, if not only Pomeranian roots, people began to chime in–lots of people have said that their Midwestern Prussian relatives always served oyster stew on Christmas Eve.

Then somebody found the recipe for several German Christmas soups printed in German–and oyster stew is one of them!

OYSTER SOUP RECIPE

Recipe in English

Servings: 4

24 pcs oysters (including juice)

40 g of butter

3/4 cup whole milk (hot)

sweet paprika

salt

pepper

For oyster soup, cook the thrown oysters in the hot butter with oyster juice. When the oyster margins begin to ripen, add the milk, season with salt and pepper and heat. Serve the oyster soup in soup bowls sprinkled with sweet paprika (if desired).


None of this research leads to a definitive answer about the origin of my family’s tradition. Clearly, a lot of ethnicities in the United States have claimed oyster stew. If you’ve ever eaten it, you might wonder why anybody would want to claim it. The only time I liked it was when my husband joined the family and “sneaked” wine and spices into the dish. Now it’s been years since I’ve eaten oyster stew, and I don’t miss the taste, but I do miss everybody who was there at the time.

I wonder if anybody in my family still serves oyster stew!

Catharina’s Christmas books are available here. I also recommend her beautiful book, “Fly Wings, Fly High!” It’s a lyrical memoir about the magpie family she shares her yard with and her own struggles with heart disease.

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After reading the tragic story of August and discovering that maybe, just maybe, he was born in Schwetzkow, Pommern (Pomerania), Prussia, I decided to do a little more digging.

I started with the family reunion notes. The Waldeck-Noffke family held regular family reunions, had officers, and kept notes. Imagine people doing that today!

The junction of the two families was the marriage between Gottfried Waldeck and Alwine Noffke, both of Prussia, my great-great-grandparents.

At the beginning of the notes is an attempt to sum up the “pioneers” of the family in the United States.

The first person who immigrated–or as I think of him, the canary in the coal mine–was August himself, the man who I wrote about last week, Alwine’s older brother. He was born in 1841 or 1842 and left Schwetzkow in 1869 at age 28.

INFO FROM PASSENGER LIST

August Noffke

Male

Age 28

Tischler (carpenter)

DOB abt 1841

Residence: Schwetzkov, Prussia (Germany)

Departure Date: 7 May 1869

Port of Departure: Hamburg

Port of Arrival: Hull (New York via Liverpool)

Ship: Roland

Captain: Paulsen

Shipping clerk: Louis Scharlach & Co.

Shipping line: H. J. Perlbach & Co.

Ship Type: Dampfschiff (steamboat)

Ship flag: Deutschland

Accomodation: ohne Angabe (without indication)

Volume: 373-71, VIII B 1 Band 015

Household members: August Noffke, age 28

Hull might be a port for “transmigrants” in England. I wish I knew what “Hull (New York via Liverpool)” really means.

The family notes say that his “parents and family” followed him “in about three years.”

The notes also say that August first went to Chicago, then resided in Caledonia township (Kent County, Michigan) with his parents, before returning to settle in Chicago. Also written is that the family doesn’t know when the pioneers (being August and his parents) died. So he was written off to Chicago.

There are records for an August Noffke in Chicago, but then there are quite a few August Noffkes. It apparently was not a rare name.

The Grand Rapids city directories show August living in Grand Rapids in 1872 (and throughout the 1880s), marrying Maria Mueller (Mary) of Big Rapids, Michigan, on 2 November 1875, and having children subsequently, all in Grand Rapids.

The passenger list shows that August was a tischler, which means carpenter. The article in the paper at the time of his death mentioned that he was a cabinet maker.

I do wonder why he left Prussia at age 28. Wouldn’t he have been married already? Why wait until that age?

More questions than answers, as usual!

Apparently, August was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Grand Rapids. I’ve requested a photo of his headstone through Findagrave. Amberly at The Genealogy Girl suggested I look for the divorce filing since the newspaper article indicated that he had tried to file for divorce and then had stopped because of the children. I am awaiting news from the Western Michigan University archives on that matter.

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Two years ago I posted about Grandma’s uncle Fred Waldeck and his wife Caroline Meir (Meier). Fred was terribly injured in a streetcar accident. Because of severe brain damage, he had to live out the rest of his life at the State Hospital in Kalamazoo. He lived there for over 53 years.

Before the accident, the young couple had had one child, Edward. He also was involved in an accident when he was fourteen years old–when a man hit his bicycle in a hit-and-run!

Here are two posts about Fred, Caroline, and Edward.

The Waldeck Search Begins to Yield a Few Answers

Waldeck Family Research

I had never seen a photograph of Caroline or Ed, although I do have the one photograph of Fred with his family of origin. Fred is the man standing on the left, behind his father. The mother is Alwine, the younger sister of August Noffke. The little girl seated is my great-grandmother, Clara.

Recently, I made contact with a man named Roy through Ancestry.com who is related to Caroline Meir Waldeck. He rescued some negatives of the Meir family that his father was going to throw away and had them made into photographs.

 

Caroline Meir Waldeck, Wilhelmina Draheim Meir, and Louise Meir Schulz (Caroline’s sister)

Both Roy and I would like to know if Edward Waldeck is in the group shots. Edward August Gottfried Waldeck (1897-1971) was my first cousin, 2x removed.

Here is one of the young men so you can focus on them. Roy has names for the ones on each end, and thinks he knows who the second from left is.

Could the third from left be Edward?

Here he is with a young woman, maybe his future wife or wife Cora van Strien? Does he show resemblance to Caroline and/or to Fred? If you know who these people are, please let us know.

So wonderful that Roy saved the negatives and thus the images of the Meir family!

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Right now I am corresponding with several new people from the Noffke branch of the family, as well as from my dad’s family. The Noffkes are connected with the Waldecks and Kuschs and possibly immigrated from East Prussia. I’ve also got a really busy two months ahead of me, so I can’t share all the information or move very quickly on any of the leads I have.

I’ve met another roadblock, though, in learning the name of the town these people actually came from. I tried to get the death certificates of all the Waldeck kids. By kids I mean my great-grandmother and her siblings. I found Godfrey’s. He is the only one I actually knew. His certificate says he was born in Germany. No help there.

I really wanted to find Fred’s because he is the one who was catastrophically injured in a streetcar and wagon accident and had to live out his life at the State Hospital in Kalamazoo. At first, I thought his certificate was lost, but then I found it under the name Walback, rather than Waldeck. Sadly, it gives the time he lived at the psychiatric hospital. 53 years, 11 months, 1 day. They don’t even know his last name, but they knew how long he was there to a day. Since he died on January 22, 1953. That would mean that he was injured before February 21, 1899. Imagine living in that institution for almost 54 years!

Of course, Fred’s death certificate also says he was born in Germany. No other origin info. For “citizen of what country?” they typed in “Unknown.”

 

On the 1900 census, his wife Caroline was found living with a farm couple out in the country, working as their servant. Their son Edward (the boy who was hit by the car when he was a young teen) would have been a toddler and probably was living in Grand Rapids with his maternal grandmother while his mother sent money to them. What a tragedy for that young family.

Several Waldeck siblings died while still in Europe, apparently as babies or children. But that leaves my great-grandmother Clara, her sisters Ada and Annie, and brother August. I haven’t been able to find any of their death certificates yet! A lot of the databases only go until 1952 in Kent County, and Clara died in 1953, the same year as Fred. August died during WWI, but I can find no information about him. If I can find these death certificates, maybe, just maybe, somebody will have something more definitive on there for origin than “Germany.”

Apparently, the State Hospital (Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital) had several buildings on their campus. Maybe Fred lived in this building, called Edwards, which housed male residents. This photo belongs to the Kalamazoo Public Library and can be found with others on their site. Click through the photo to enter.

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