Circles. In order to share this circle, I need to provide a bit of my family’s German history. Specifically my maternal grandfather’s. It all centers around a small village in the northern District of Lippe Germany: Varenholtz. When we visited Varenholtz in 1998, we found a landmark never mentioned in any of the oral (where
most of our information came from) or written (which was not abundant) history of our family: Schloss (Castle) Varenholz.
This castle was the seat of the knights de turns, (of Varenholtz, under Heinrich the Lion (1323). Built to its current size in 1596 by Simon VI, the son of a staunch Catholic Count, who ruled the region and fiercely resisted the Protestant movements in the area. When the elder Count died, the care of Simon VI, his son, was left to count Phillip of Hessen. Although the Count gave strict orders that his son be educated in the Catholic faith, Phillip did not adhere to this request and Simon was educated as a Lutheran, and later studied “at a reformed school in Strasbourg” where he became a follower of John Calvin (1503 – 1564). It was in this way that the area was a mix of Lutheran and Calvinistic influence.
Circles: Regetmeir to Righmeier
My maternal great great grand-father, Frederic Rightmeier, immigrated to the United States in 1864 at the age of 14. (I say immigrated, but in reality he and his brother were stowaways on a ship to New York. It is said they jumped ship in New York harbor and swam ashore , but that is another story). The reason for this desperate trip is that my ancestors were tenant farmers for the local land owner. He was a descendant of Simon VI.
The usual arrangements were , they worked a portion of the land for a place to live, food and some small share of the crops they grew. During the time of my ancestors there was a long-term drought and the land was simply not producing. In addition, the political and religious climate was unsettled. In other words the feudal system was breaking down, and the life they knew did not appear sustainable. Word of the opportunities in America sparked by desperation, drove the young Frederic and his brother August to make the voyage.
- never learned to read or write.
- never went to school.
- lived seven years with a German family in Iowa during which he earned his freedom and became a naturalized US citizen.
- spoke primarily German even after he came to the US.
- become a land-owner by homesteading in northern Kansas a status he could never have achieved in his native Germany. It was a hard life. It was full of risks, heartache and even some disappointment but the land he worked was his.
- was rich. Little did he know he not only took a leap of faith for himself, but for those who would come after.