This weekend I will be joining my mother, her brother and members of three of the seven branches of my maternal grandfather’s siblings for a family picnic near Boise Idaho. Sometime in the 40s or 50s three of my grandfather’s six siblings moved from Kansas to this area so I only knew them by name. A large reunion of the Rightmeier clan in Kansas in 2005 and the advent of Facebook reinstated relationships geography had eroded.
This picnic gathering has me thinking about this branch of my family tree’s German roots. It centers around a small village in the northern District of Lippe Germany: Varenholtz.
When my husband and I had an opportunity to visit Varenholtz in 1998, we found a landmark never mentioned in any of the family stories: Schloss (Castle) Varenholz. The castle location was the seat of a family of Knights , under Heinrich the Lion. 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 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 Lippe became a mix of Lutheran and Calvinistic influence.
Regetmeir to Rightmeier
My maternal great great grand-father, Frederic Regetmeier, immigrated to the United States in 1864 at the age of 14. During this period, a long-term drought, along with political and religious unrest made living conditions in Lippe quite desperate. In other words the feudal system was breaking down.
The life they knew was disappearing. Word of the opportunities in America sparked by desperation, drove young Frederic and his brother August to make the voyage. In reality the brothers were stowaways on a ship to New York. It is said they jumped ship in New York harbor and swam ashore.
- 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,
- became a naturalized US citizen with his surname anglicized to Rightmeier,
- 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. A life full of risks, heartache and disappointment but the land he worked was his. He and his family were free. His son went to grammar school, his grand-son, my grandfather graduated high school. They all were farmers but owned land.