Leaving Schönecken

Oldest photograph of Schönecken (ca. 1880–1890)In a recent series of posts about the deep history of Schönecken, Germany, I covered the human history and prehistory of the area from when Neanderthals roamed the area in the Middle Paleolithic (roughly 200,000–40,000 years ago) until the European Potato Failure of 1845–1846 caused famine across the continent. You can review that history here: Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

Now that we know what was happening and when in Schönecken’s history, let’s review my Franz Gores’ decision to emigrate from the land where his forebears had lived for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Franz Gores was born on June 2, 1826, in the Schönecken area to Nicholas Gores (1800–1867) and Susanna (Wallerius) Gores (1799–?). The Gores, like everyone in Schönecken, were Catholic, and they had young Franz baptized at the church in Wetteldorf the day after he was born, on June 3, 1826.

Before we go any further into Franz’s life, let’s take a look at the lives of his parents: Nicholas Gores and Susanna Wallerius, who were both born at the very end of the 18th century in Schönecken. Continue reading

The Gores’ homeland, part 1

Oldest photograph of Schönecken (ca. 1880–1890)When I was a 10-year-old boy, I watched the TV miniseries Roots with my family. I was amazed that Alex Haley could trace his family back to his ancestor Kunta Kinte and to Kunta’s ancestral homeland in the Gambia.

During those eight evenings from January 23–30, 1977, a fire was ignited within my imagination that has only intensified since then. I wanted to discover who my ancestors were, and where my family’s homelands were. I wanted to someday feel the type of connection to a place that eludes many Americans whose ancestors migrated here from elsewhere long ago—I wanted to know the place(s) that my ancestors had lived in for hundreds or even thousands of years.

What does it mean to be connected to a place? How much of the history of a place where your ancestors lived for generations is truly the history of your ancestors? It may be fun to claim Celtic or Etruscan ancestry as your own if your family is from Brittany or central Italy, for instance, but how likely are those claims? Only by learning about the deep history of a place can we answer that question. Continue reading

Who was Margretha (Wolf) Gores?

There are brick walls (ancestors whose own ancestry resists all attempts at discovery) who will probably always be brick walls. These individuals often lived in times and places where record-keeping was sparse or non-existent, or were trying to run away from their past or reinvent themselves, or had descendants who purposefully or accidentally destroyed evidence of the ancestor’s life, or had other circumstances that make it understandable why we may never learn about their ancestry.

And then there are brick walls who have no reason being brick walls. These individuals lived lives that were relatively well documented, they were not trying to hide their past, they had/have descendants who cherish their memories, and they’re only a couple/few generations removed from living descendants. My third-great-grandmother Margretha (“Marg”, “Maggie”) Gores is just such a brick wall. She’s one of my most enduring brick walls and she’s certainly the closest to me in time. For my Prettyman cousins reading this, Margretha was Judge F.E. Gores’ mother.

Continue reading

Francis Gores (1826–1899)

Prussia_1854_thaler_Sincona_4-04335At the age of 27, in the spring of 1854, my 3rd-great-grandfather, Francis “Frank” Gores (born Franciscus Gores), left his native homeland in the Kingdom of Prussia (or Königreich Preußen) with two of his siblings—Johann, aged 29, and Maria, aged 25. Francis was noted to be a farmer, and his brother Johann was recorded as being a butcher. They were leaving Schönecken, a small market town in Rhenish Prussia (in what is now the Rhineland-Palatinate on the western edge of Germany), home to the Gores family for many generations prior to them.

The village of Schönecken is located in the valley of the Nims river, which meanders through the hilly landscape of the Rhineland-Palatinate. The 400-million-year-old sandstone bedrock that forms the hills produces rich soils for agriculture. The population today is essentially the same as it was in 1854—about 1500 people.

I do not yet know why the three siblings decided to give up their lives in Europe and head to the United States, but one contributing factor may have been the famine that struck much of Europe due to repeated crop failures that began in 1846–1847, most notably potato rot. Land prices were also rising at a pace that exceeded the profitability of farming the land; if a farmer sold his land, however, he could easily afford to relocate his entire family to the United States.

Continue reading