Page Two
The Vollkommers

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     In the Bruenn village history, it is reported that during this two hundred-plus year period, “17 marriages and 117 births are recorded for the Mueller family in the parish book at Pfarrweisach. One was accustomed to hear the Mueller family spoken of in Bruenn as a dynasty.” As we shall see below at least two of those marriages with Mueller women, and as many as a dozen births, involved men named Vollkommer. But the Mueller clan also figures in an episode of what I call ‘The Baron’s Tale,’ the wishful strand of nobility that so many American families of northern European origin are convinced clings somewhere, way back when, to an obscure branch of their family tree.
     Characteristically, the Baron’s Tale is passed along within a given family’s oral tradition, but is seldom documented. Such is the case with the Muellers of Bruenn. One account of the Mueller link to aristocracy was handed down by word of mouth among members of another Bruenn family connected to this “dynasty” through marriage, by a certain Christian Schneider. According to Herr Schneider, the original Mueller, which is to say the‘miller’ who first operated the mill in Frickendorf, a village one kilometer from Brunn and today linked to it administratively, was the son of an imperial knight named Raunecker, whose estate was only a kilometer’s distance from these villages in another direction, and is today a ruin and local historical site of some importance. Over the decades, various Rauneckers were landlords in Bruenn as well, but apparently the latter scions of this baronet, which dated from the thirteenth century, did not retain the aristocratic pedigree. Schneider claimed this noble lineage in what the author of the Bruenn history characterized as “this fantastic story” on the strength of the fact that his grandmother’s maiden name was Mueller! I guess the joke is that the name Mueller is only slightly less common in German than Smith in English.

     Few countries have faced greater destruction and loss of life from warfare than Germany during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Frankenland - Franconia - was not the most devastated region by any means, but its population, during one period in particular, roughly 1630 to 1634, was severely ravaged and depleted both by sword and plague. During these years, the area surrounding Bruenn was under continuous occupation, and unceasingly pillaged by both armies. The forces of the Catholic League, under Field Marshall Tilly, were encamped nearby in Koenigsberg, while the Swedish King, Gustavus Adolphus, himself an ardent Lutheran who had appropriated the cause of north German Protestant Princes with imperial ambitions of his own, was in virtual control of all Franconia to the west and south through his occupation of Wuerzburg.
     Despite the polarization of the combatants along denominational lines, the Thirty Years War was not really about religion. Underlying this apparent causus belli, at least among the elites, was the age old contest of power politics. The authority of the many petit princes was in decline. A majority of them had embraced Protestantism, not from strictly spiritual motives, but to defend their aristocratic privileges and absolute control over their own subjects against the rising tide of monarchic domination openly and increasingly coveted by the Hapsburg Emperor in Vienna, a Catholic, and by the other crowned heads of Europe of whichever faith. This historical trend toward centralization would eventually lead by way of absolute monarchy to the creation of the modern nation state, and was understandably premised on a necessity to reduce both the number and the power of the tiny- often factious - independent estates and ecclesiastical dependencies.
     For the peasantry, the vast majority of whom were rurals tied to the land and dependent upon subsistence agriculture for their livelihood, spirituality, if not always religion, was an issue of very deep concern. Those whose lot was difficult in this world, quite reasonably took solace in their hope of a just reward for their faith and suffering in the life to come. Yet, their path to salvation, as far as religious practice was concerned, was no longer always a matter of choice. Since the Religious Peace of Augsburg in 1555, it was the religion of the ruler within the German lands which, in principle, determined the religion of his subjects. Although, this compromise, which arose from the success of the Reformation, was limited to Lutherans and Catholics, and only tangentially extended to Calvinists in cases where a given ruler of some stature had stubbornly embraced this particular confession; the so-called sectarians, like Anabaptists and Mennonites, continued to be persecuted and suppressed.
     If a particular individual or family had serious scruples about the practice of one denomination over another, they were often permitted to relocate to another realm where their confessional affiliation was in favor. Or they were allowed to follow their consciences privately in their own homes, often at the cost of certain economic or social penalties. Neither of these arrangements seems to have been required of the residents of Bruenn or its neighboring villages. Typically, one village would be Evangelical, which is to say Lutheran, and the next Catholic in an almost checkerboard sequence. Bruenn itself was an interesting exception to this pattern, because, owing to the distribution of land tenures among aristocrats of both confessions, Catholic families had long resided there among a majority of their Protestant neighbors.
     In the 1620s, the Bishop of Wuerzburg accelerated his efforts at ‘counter-reformation’ throughout the duchy with a “violent” repression of his Protestant subjects, expelling their ministers, confiscating their property, and appropriating some forty of their parish churches. Nevertheless, many peasants who adhered to Luther’s reform remained under the protection of their baronial lords, whose estates contained private Evangelical chapels which put them beyond the authority of the Prince Bishop, and where their subjects were free to attend regular services. But before Gustavus Adolphus had established his military supremacy throughout the Prince Bishop’s territory, even this practice was not without its peril, as when in 1628, “many Evangelical churchgoers from Bruenn and other villages on the way to the Protestant church in nearby Altenstein [one of the baronial seats], were arrested by the authorities from Ebern.” What their fate was, the village chronicle does not report.9

     With the cessation of hostilities, only nine or the pre-war total of thirty families had survived the ordeal in Bruenn, which seems to have enjoyed good fortune in simply continuing to exist at all. Many of its neighboring villages lay in ashes, and without a single inhabitant. One brief descriptive account of life in Bruenn, circa 1650, records that “the fields had become completely overgrown, and the vineyards were inhabited only by wolves.” Gradually, normal family life resumed, and people moved back into the area, repairing damaged dwellings and building new ones. Among Bruenn’s survivors, as already noted, were the Muellers, resident in the village since 1621, and thus experiencing there the decades of the war’s worst depredations. It would be another century before the first Vollkommer would come to settle in Bruenn, and only by then had the population of the all the German lands finally been restored to pre-war levels before the horrifying toll of slaughter and epidemic had wiped out as many as seventeen million victims, mostly non-combatants.10

     The family name Vollkommer is first recorded in Bruenn in 1748.11 Six years later, in 1754, we discover that a Joseph Vollkommer’s name appears in the church book at Pfarrweisach, in the listing of his marriage to Anna Maria Mueller of Bruenn, who, unless there was another girl of this same name from a slightly earlier period whose birth was overlooked in the parish register, was born in 1741, making her only thirteen years old at the time of her marriage12. It is in this church document where we learn that Joseph - and perhaps other members of his family - had originally come to Bruenn from the village of Autenhausen, roughly fifteen kilometers to the northeast. We also learn the names of the newlywed’s parents, Johann and Margarethe Vollkommer, and Joseph and Margarethe Mueller, while the sponsors are Johan Adam Mueller, also of Bruenn, and Balthezar Leidner, also of Autenhausen.13
     These intra-village migrations, typically within a radius of fifty or so kilometers, had been a standing practice throughout Europe for centuries. On average, in times of peace, thirty percent of a given local population would migrate one or more times over the course of a lifetime; as we have seen wartime would have an even greater impact on population upheavals and transfers. Marriage, not atypically, was a motive for leaving one’s hometown for both single men and women. And while we don’t know if Joseph was of this category, or if he moved to Bruenn with other members of his family as the time gap between 1748-54 might suggest, we do know that marriage partners were frequently sought from neighboring villages to avoid conflict with taboos against incest, which extended to several degrees of kinship beyond one’s immediate nuclear family.14
     On learning of the Autenhausen connection, I was subsequently able to make contact with descendants of the Vollkommers still living there today, Herr and Frau Joseph Vollkommer, and their son Christof. It is through Christof, an engineer working in nearby Coburg, that we have some account of the Vollkommers before their name appears in Bruenn. Christof writes:
     “In the year 1675, the cloister of Tambach about seven kilometers away to which Autenhausen was attached administratively during this period, conducted a census. There was no Vollkommer listed. The following year, 1676, the local chronicle records the arrival of a Vollkommer from Grosseibstadt, neat Bad Koenigshofen [roughly thirty kilometers west of Autenhausen]. On a list of all the buildings in Autenhausen from that time, I was able to find that on March 17, 1688, number 18 was conveyed to Hans Klaus Vollkommer after his marriage to Anna Margarethe Kessler. Now I can say that this was the original Vollkommer house in Autenhausen, and it was located on exactly the same spot as the house I occupy today!”
     The task remains to trace the Vollkommer name back to Grosseibstadt, and perhaps beyond. And also to clear up another mystery concerning the exact spelling of the name, which in one Autenhausen record Christof discovered was given as “Folkmarer.” Christof comments that, “in my opinion it is only a spelling mistake, because due to the regional accent in Autenhausen, both names sound similar in pronunciation. I cannot really believe that the right name was Folkmarer till Hans Klaus came to Autenhausen and changed into Vollkommer because of the regional accent. But we have to also look for “Folkmarer” when we go to look for Vollkommers in Grosseibstadt.”
     And go there I did, in the company of Gerd Vollkommer; during my November 2002 visit to Bruenn and its surroundings. We made a cursory swing through Grosseibstadt, including a stop at the local church graveyard, and failed to turn up the name in either spelling. Furthermore, neither the Vollkommer nor Folkmarer names are known today in the town according to a woman we interviewed there, a long time resident of the village, who was tending the grave of a relative. Then, on the final night of my visit, Christof Vollkommer braved a raw and rainy night, and drove down from Autenhausen to Ebern to provide me with a copy of the Heimatbuch von Autenhausen [henceforth Autenhausen History].
     Like every Heimatbuch I have seen in Germany - and every town and village seems to have its story formally constructed and preserved in a local history - the Autenhausen History is a fascinating document. The historical introduction is particularly well done, and one gets a true sense of how the shifting migrations of the early tribes came to settle these lands and create the Franconian type of the early Middle Ages from a synthesis of many peoples. There are many accounts as well of how the Autenhausen peasants fared during the catastrophic wars and territorial upheavals that beset the region throughout its history. The names of many Vollkommers are threaded through those sections of the text that record which families lived in which houses, and to whom each dwelling passed through inheritance or trade over the years. But, in the absence of birth records at the very least, in which we locate the listing of a Joseph for, say, circa 1725-35, born to a couple named Johan and Margarethe, I failed to determine the exact linkage between the Vollkommers of Autenhausen and those of Bruenn. That such a link exists cannot be doubted, but the concrete evidence on which that link can be established remains to be found.

     Thus, the way back temporarily halted, it is time to move our narrative forward from 1754, and record what little we know of the young Vollkommer couple in Bruenn whose marriage is referred to above. My own search of the Pfarrweisach parish records, housed in the diocesan archives in Wuerzburg, turned up the following list of children born to this Joseph and Anna Maria nee Mueller:
     Andreas - June 10, 1755
     Anna Maria - March 20, 1758
     Johan Vitus - September 21, 1759
     If there were other offspring born to this union, I did not find them in the parish records.15 It would appear that most of the Vollkommer descendants in the United States are from Andreas’ (1755)16 line, while there are as yet a number of Vollkommers still living in the vicinity of Bruenn, specifically in Unterpreppach and Ebern, most notably Gerhard (Gerd) Vollkommer, with whom I have been in contact now for a number of years. And Gerd Vollkommer’s line is descended from Andreas’ brother, Johan Vitus, known as Veit [pronounced Fight in German]. The fate of the mother’s namesake, Anna Maria, is unknown, at least to me; this is often the case with a female line, since it can easily disappear into the genealogy of her husband, and is therefore difficult to trace using her maiden name as the point of origin. There is one additional line I know of stemming from Andreas that remained in Bruenn, and continues to be represented there today through the female line by a family named Hild.
     Given the limited time and skills I could apply to the laborious task of archival research, an activity further complicated by the difficulty in deciphering records that, while sometimes in Latin, were more likely to be written in Gothic scripted German by as many scribes as there are writing styles, I devoted most of my efforts to scanning birth, baptismal and marriage microfiche files. Only in a few instances was I able to investigate death or burial records. As for other kinds of records on taxes, probate, housing, migrations and so on, which might have provided more specific or personal detail on the Vollkommers, or on their collateral kinfolk, in-laws, or other intimates they chose as sponsors for their weddings or as godparents, these were not kept by the local parish. Such records exist in other archives, state and local, and, when accessible, are even more difficult to locate.
     Thus it is for Joseph Vollkommer of Autenhausen and his bride, Anna Maria Mueller, who married in Bruenn in 1754, that I cannot offer a single additional detail to illuminate their personal lives. The chronology of the Bruenn History, itself based almost exclusively on communal records and related documentary sources, does highlight certain occurrences in Bruenn that testify to the growth, stability and certainly the lifestyle of the villagers in general oven the span of years that, presumably, Joseph and Anna Maria and their immediate descendants were living there and raising their families prior to migration.17

     There were twenty individual residences in Bruenn in 1750, housing 75 family members. This count does not include the community buildings: the village hall, a small and compact structure built of stone, complete with clock tower and chime, the Forge, the Sheppard’s House, the Brewery, and the Hirtenhaus - the Gooseherd’s House, which doubled as the Armenhaus or Poor House. Apparently the position of gooseherd was a sinecure provided to a given villager who was down on his or her luck. There was also a Schreinershaus for the master joiner and his family, but whether or not this structure was included in the communal properties or simply so named because it was where the carpenter resided, the history does not make clear.
     In any event, Bruenn’s first Inn was opened in the Schreinershaus in 1755. A public inn was a feature common to these small villages, and not only offered shelter for travelers, but provided a common room for the locals, who met there to drink their beer, play or dance to music, and to hold their village festivals and family celebrations, such as wedding or baptismal parties. Having a common space where neighbors could gather for leisure was of utmost importance to the social health of the commune. Likewise, given that our peasant ancestors mostly traveled their local rounds by foot, unless hauling freight, like fodder or cordwood, with their teams of oxen, it was important to have a shelter where a visiting tinker or livestock trader, or a master mason on loan from a neighboring village, and hired for repairs or new construction, could spend the night in safety and relative comfort, especially in the winter when daylight for travel was at a premium.
     The houses in Bruenn were built in the traditional style of Frankish architecture, with living quarters joined internally to animal stalls, cellars and storage barns, connected always at the right corner of their dwellings though a maze of halls and stairways. In contrast with the large and well lit outbuildings of these same farms today, the Bruenn historian describes the Scheunen - the barns - of those olden times, as niedigen, dunklen, unfreundlicher - low, dark, dreary.
     Every family stored food stocks and fodder in its own barn, but there were also two larger structures in the village where the feudal payments in-kind for rents, taxes and dues were warehoused. Each year, following the harvesting timetables of the various crops, the Prince Bishop’s lackey, living in nearby Ebern, and the stewards of the local proprietor knights, would supervise in Bruenn the collection and storage of their patron’s tithes. One can easily imagine how such a practice was unpopular with the toilers who had grown these crops, especially during years when the harvest was disappointing.
     The Vollkommers and their neighbors were subsistence farmers, or in today’s idiom, they lived on what were the equivalents of family farms. Neighbor cooperated with neighbor in a variety of tasks at sowing and harvest times, but other specialized activities were distributed to designated villagers, like the sheppard, the gooseherd, and the village smith, who, for their services, were paid both in coin and kind. At a somewhat latter date (1841) than that pertaining to the immediate chronology, but by way of example, the gooseherd - named Kuni Baehr - would pay a token rent for her lodgings in the Armenhaus, then charge her neighbors a fixed rate per annum, six kreutzer and two pounds of bread for the care of a mature goose or gander, two kreutzer and one pound of bread for a younger bird. The night-watchman received both a measure of corn [barley] from each family and cash, pro-rated according to their relative prosperity; in the case recorded, the five wealthiest families, one of which would have likely been a Vollkommer, paid the watchman 48 kreutzer each, while the three poorest families (which may have included a Saal, a family that would in later years be joined in marriage to a Vollkommer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn), paid him 48 kreutzer collectively.18
     There were other resources the citizens of Bruenn shared in common, like pastures and meadows, orchards and vineyards, ponds and woodlots. For the most part, however, they tended to their own fields and gardens, which not only produced their daily diet and animal feed, but the occasional cash crop as well. They grew Roggen, rye for bread; Gerste, barley for beer; Rueben, turnips, Kartoffeln, potatoes, and Roterueben, sugar beets for root crops; Klee, clover and Hafer, oats for fodder.
     Besides farming, Bruenners were much engaged in cattle breeding, initially because the land itself was poor. Roughly twenty four acres were required to support an average family, twice the amount sufficient in more fertile areas of rural Germany. Bruenners would eventually turn this limitation to their advantage. Advances in agriculture, like the introduction of root crops for fodder and the fertilization of fields with manure, extended the growing season and increased productivity. The old three field system - with one field always lying fallow - could gradually be eliminated, and valuable pasture lands could be turned to the production of both cash crops, like grains, or root crops for people food or fodder that would store efficiently and winter over, and make it possible to introduce stall feeding on a larger scale.

     Cottage industry, known technically as proto-industrialization, arose in Germany during the late 1700s and grew exponentially as an engine of emergent capitalism until roughly 1850, when true industrialization in the form of factory-scale production shifted the economic balance from the countryside to the cities. I can only provide a very general sketch of the presence of cottage industry in Bruenn during the years the Vollkommers lived there, and almost no evidence of the impact of such extra-agricultural activities on the villagers’ economic welfare. As noted, given the poor quality of the soil, ten hectares, or twenty four acres, was the minimal holding on which a family could be assured of its subsistence. Those whose arable acreage fell below this minimum had to find alternative means to make ends meet.

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