Category: Fassbender

Letters to Germany

At the turn of the century, (yikes!) I spent a lot of time in the Kaukauna Public Library snooping on the lives of the Fassbenders living a century ago. As I moved through the years scanning the Kaukauna Times, a weekly newspaper, I not only followed the lives of my Hollandtown ancestors, but would often print items that were about Outagamie County that interested me. It’s always about the background information to flesh out the two dimensional look at the people I am researching.

Kaukauna Times, 20 Apr 1917
Kaukauna Times, 20 Apr 1917

This past weekend I spent some time filing. Paper filing, electronic filing, it all needs to be done. While going through a file of paper, I found this item. The paper was dated April 20, 1917. What caught my eye, then, and now, was the headline: “No More Mail to Germany. Letters From United States to Germany Have Been Stopped.” No letters would be received or delivered until this “unpleasantness is over.” I can only imagine the fear, sadness, even heartbreak over this news. Although my Germany ancestors had been in this country for many decades by this time, they still had family and friends back in their homeland. Letters brought news of births, deaths, moves, and even the occasional plea for financial help. The sense of loss, and being cut off had to be acute. There was no longer any way to learn how family was faring during this awful war. How long would it be before the “president and the kaiser are again in a mood to shake hands?”

Germany formally surrendered on November 11, 1918, and the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war, was not signed until June 28, 1919. Over two years would go by with no news from home, or any way to get news to family. I wonder if the letters put into the “dead letter office” were ever delivered.

We live in such an age of instant news through 24 hour television, the internet, and telephones, both land line and cell, that allow us to keep in touch, with each other, and with what is going on in the world. Imagine waiting over two years for news from home.

A Story Too Late

As a genealogist you get used to discovering stories about family long after they are gone. Most of the time it is enough to just know the story, to fill in voids in the family history. But every once in a while, you discover a story that you wish, oh you wish, that you had known before it was too late. This is one such story.

The St. Francis Schut is a Hollandtown tradition that dates back to 1849. It was originally held on the “Schut Grounds” near St. Francis on the second Sunday in August. As the Schut grounds are located so close to the road that leads into Hollandtown, the event has been moved to a clay shooting range, and the original grounds left as a historic spot. The Schut in a nutshell is you have the “bird” that has been placed on a high pole, and the participants/shooters take turns shooting directly at the bird till the last piece is shot down, and the King is crowned. Then everyone heads to Van Abels for dinner. Don’t yell, I said it was a nutshell version.

Fassbender_Bernard_1920-06-17_Kaukauna-Times
The Kaukauna Times, dated 17 Jun 1920

In 1920 the Schut was held June, and as happened every year, it was a popular event, cars and other “machines” lined the road. My father-in-law, Butch, was seven years old that summer and was playing with friends alongside the road. We know from newspaper articles that Henry was a frequent participant in the Schut, so it is likely that the whole family was at the Schut grounds enjoying a Sunday with friends and neighbors. According to this newspaper report, Albert Haas came down the road at a “high rate of speed” and as he moved through the pathway left by the parked cars “swerv[ed] sharply narrowly missing three youngsters and in the consequence struck Bernard.” The article states that no bones were broken, and no internal injuries, but he was badly bruised.

Oh how I wish that I had found this in time to ask him about it. So many questions unanswered. Did the family know Albert Haas? Did he take responsibility for his actions? Granted Butch and his friends probably should not have been playing near the road, but Albert should have known to slow down when passing the Schut, and I find it hard to believe that other people were not standing in or near the road. But mostly I wonder how he felt, how long did it take for him to recover, were there any lasting effects from the accident.