Page Three
The Vollkommers

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     I was informed by Dr. Harm-Hinrich Brandt, professor of history at Wuerzburg University, that cottage industry in the area surrounding Bruenn took the form of cotton and linen weaving and basket making - those large panniers used for storing or transporting grains. The Bauren might in their individual family units produce a marketable product, but they seldom controlled the source of raw materials or the networks of distribution. Raw cotton, the professor suggested, would have come from one of the large ports of entry on the Atlantic, like Rotterdam or Hamburg. Another non-farming activity Bruenners might have been engaged in was local quarrying, observed Dr. Wolfram Berninger, a physician and lifelong resident of Pfarrweisach. Dr. Berninger, an amateur historian, describes village industry as “a simple, unorganized division of labor” whose output was more than likely bought and marketed by a local nobleman, like Baron Rothenhan.
     The Bruenners did put out a number of products collectively, and, as noted, engaged in various forms of communal husbandry around the pasturing and herding of animals. Some portion of the pasturing land was held or used in common, and perhaps also strips of low lying meadows suitable for growing flax or hemp for both cottage production and domestic consumption of linen or, when combined with wool, for homespun. The village appointed a Field and Woodlot Warden who supervised both haymaking and woodlot management, and received a share of the yield for his labors. From at least the mid-seventeenth century, Bruenners held the necessary licenses for brewing beer, and for distilling schnaps, or brantwein as they called it, a kind of brandy made from fruit or grapes from their village orchards and vineyards. Both these products provided income for the village coffers, and could be used by individuals for barter or cash exchange.

     And so, it is probable that Joseph and Anna Maria Vollkommer lived their life spans in this cycle of planting and harvesting, supplemented by husbandry and cattle trading, a hard scrabble existence from what I’ve learned - one source noting that travelers in contiguous Bavaria during the late 18th century “were apparently continuously pestered by hordes of beggars.” Hard times were leavened by the many feast days - well over one hundred a year, including Sundays - and other festivities that typically followed the church or agricultural calendars. Of particular local significance was the Patrozinium on the 8th of July, in honor of the martyr Kilian, namesake of Pfarrweisach parish and patron saint of all Frankenland. And the Kirschweih each November 11th, a village fair scheduled for a time when the farm folk would be less busy. New Year’s celebrations were apparently such a potential occasion for collective rowdiness, that a village regulation forbade the shooting of firearms or loud music after 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, with violators subject to fines of one gulden each.19

     Of the lives of Joseph and Anna Maria’s children, we know that Andreas and Veit were both married in Bruenn, the elder brother in 1776 to Barbara Mueller, and the younger to Eva Hoffmann at a date I have not been able to determine.20 And we suspect strongly that from Andreas comes the principal line of Vollkommer descendants who migrated to the United States and from Veit the principal line still bearing the Vollkommer name, and continuing to live today in the vicinity of Bruenn.
     Throughout the period of which I am writing, the late seventeen and early eighteen hundreds, the Vollkommer clan possessed several properties in Bruenn. House numbers were assigned for the first time in 1788, and one Vollkommer residence, most likely initially occupied by Joseph and Anna Maria nee Mueller and their extended families, and probably inherited by Andreas as the eldest son, combined sites 4 and 5. At some point, number 8 came into the possession of Veit Vollkommer, perhaps by purchase or through a marriage alliance. While Andreas’ name appears only once in the Bruenn village history, he and his wife, Barbara Mueller, left a very visible trail in the church archives through their children, whose names and birth dates I reproduce here:
     *Margarethe - May 19, 1777
     *Due Gemelle (twins) - Dec. 31, 1779
     *Eva Barbara - December 4, 1780
     *Sigismund - April 4, 1787
     *Barbara - March 4, 1790
     *Georgius - May 21, 1796
     *Anonymous - May 7, 1800
     *Josephus Carolus - February 25, 1802.21

     Of these offspring, I am only certain of the survival of Sigismund, Georg, and Carl Joseph (as he later came to be known); it seems, as noted, the twins and the unnamed child died at or near birth, while the first Barbara most likely did not survive childhood, since a second daughter received that name a decade later.22 One scholar explains that, “the generally negative pattern of parent-child relationships is clearly reflected in the custom of naming children. It was frequently common for each child born to receive the name of its immediate predecessor of the same sex, if this child had previously died. Indeed the process was continuously repeated until the name was finally retained within the family through the survival of a particular infant.”23
     This custom of repeating names, as anyone familiar with the Vollkommer genealogy knows full and frustratingly well, was preserved and replicated by the early members of this family who migrated to the United States. It seems clear, moreover, that this so-called “negative pattern of parent-child relationships” must be properly understood in the context of the very high rate of infant mortality afflicting humanity until modern times, which in 18th century Germany still approached one fatality out of every two to three births brought to term; no wonder parents were so well defended against premature attachments to their babies. As for the female line stemming from Andreas and Barbara Mueller, we must again assume that the lives of any surviving daughters were typically absorbed into the shadows of the reigning patriarchy.

     As for the progeny of Veit and Eva Hoffmann, I was able to plot their line with somewhat less success:
     *Vitus [Veit] - January 12, 1784
     *Georgio Philippus - February 4, 1787
     *Catharina - May 4, 1789
     *Johannes Georgius - February 19, 179224
     Veit senior will make one or two more appearances in our narrative, but the fates of his children, with the exception of Johan Georg, are lost to this particular history.25

     A new era of warfare would interrupt the century and a half of peace experienced by Bruenners since the end of the Thirty Years War, though it would take seven years for the ripple effect of the French Revolution in 1789, and Napoleon’s subsequent campaign to conquer Europe, to finally reach our ancestral backwater. Sigismund Vollkommer was therefore already nine years old in 1796 when the French general, Lefebvre, marched his bedraggled and undernourished citizen army through Bruenn en route to nearby Losbergsgereuth on the other side of Ebern, to set up a large encampment and staging area. One truly wonders how such a sight would have been viewed by this youngster, and in what way, if at all, the experience shaped his decision forty years later to leave Bruenn for New York.
     In lieu of any specific insight on this question, I can only offer a thin sketch of a war that would rage throughout Europe for two decades, with the French continually rearranging the map of the continent in the face of various coalitions of opposition by rival states, Austria and Prussia in particular. Throughout the German Empire itself, often a principal battlefield for the struggles, all resistance fell before the French advances. The configuration of the political landscape, especially in the middle and southern German speaking lands, changed repeatedly as Napoleon made and dissolved alliances, or placed this or that sibling or confederate upon a newly minted throne or dukedom.
     Franconia itself, including the bishopric of Wuerzburg, the ruling dominion in which our ancestors lived, underwent political and territorial transformations on four occasions. The Duchy of Wuerzburg gave way briefly to the Kingdom of Franconia which in turn yielded the Grand Duchy of Wuerzburg, and finally, all Lower Franconia was absorbed into, first Austria, and then, the newly created Kingdom of Bavaria. Ever since, the region of Germany from which the Vollkommer’s emigrated has remained a part of Bavaria, a fact we see confirmed frequently in many records we possess on this side of the Atlantic of their arrivals, births, baptisms, marriages, enfranchisements, military service, burials and deaths.
     Independently of the ravages of warfare during those periods when foreign troops were physically present in the vicinity of Bruenn, these repeated administrative upheavals provoked by both the reforming and the imperial zeal of the French expansion would have had minimal impact on the Bauren of Bruenn. These changes were essentially of a political nature, and there were no institutional outlets for folk like the Vollkommers to participate in the national political life of their times. Despite the fact that feudalism in the occupied territories was abolished, and the peasants, in principal, were emancipated by Napoleon in 1808, such representative governmental bodies as existed only marginally included the estate of the peasantry. At the same time, the bureaucratic impact of permutations in the ruling structure may have provided a considerable annoyance to the toiling classes, who required licenses or permissions for many day to day social and commercial transactions - everything from the sale of a cow to permission to marry. With each change in government came requirements for a different trail of official paperwork with the appropriate stamp or seal, not only a source of frustration to the peasants, but undoubtedly, a burdensome and unwelcome extra expense.
     While our Vollkommer ancestors and their neighbors were endlessly expropriated during those times when French or other foreign troops roamed their villages and foraged their fields and larders, no actual battles were fought in the surrounding region during the course of the war, in which case their lot would have been considerably worse. In 1796, the presence of the French was short lived, and only cost the Bruenners several wagon loads of hay and oats, which they were required to deliver to the military storage facilities in nearby Losbergsgereuth. But after a interval of several years, beginning in 1805, French and rival Austrian troop movements and encampments would again dominate the local scene, and, this time, not recede until the end of hostilities.
     Young Sigismund was eighteen by this time, and vulnerable to forced enlistment by unscrupulous military recruiters, the dominant French in particular, who were raising regiments of native youths in every land they conquered, although in the case of the Wuerzburg duchy, large regiments were not fully mobilized until near the war’s end when Napoleon required an enormous army for the invasion of Russia. The Bruenn history records the name of only one young resident who served with Napoleon’s army, Pankcraz Sauer, who went to Russia, and came back to tell about it, living out his days in Bruenn until 1868 as the village smithy. There is no record of any Vollkommer man being pressed into French service as potential cannon fodder. But the chronicle does mention that, as early as 1805, Veit Vollkommer and three other Bruenn men transported wagon loads of fodder to Bamberg, driven by their teams of oxen, and that they were compensated for their time and loses by the village treasury.
     Dr. Berninger, in his paper on “The French War,” tells of the many hardships and depredations suffered by the inhabitants. “The French left the people nothing,” he writes, recounting several chilling episodes of women being violated, houses ransacked and burnt to the ground, animals slaughtered wholesale, and of the many times when villages were forced to flee to the woods and live there for weeks at a time. But Bruenn again, as in the Thirty Years War, seems to have escaped the worst of the horrors, blessed by its location somewhat off the beaten track, and by what the village chronicler describes as its “terrible roads.” And still, as late as 1812, troops found their way to Bruenn, when, on the 18th of March of that year, sixty infantry troops were quartered there, and a day later, another forty-three man from a cavalry unit along with one first lieutenant, and forty-four horses.
     Toward the end of the war, we can trace some movement on the part of the Vollkommers. Sigismund, who had married in Bruenn in 1807 at age nineteen, in the midst of the French occupation, would move with his wife to a neighboring village called Gueckelhirn soon after the birth of their first child, Georg, in 1808.26 There, over the next decade, most of their children were born, and later they would return to Bruenn. As to his reasons for this transfer we can only speculate. Much of what we know about this young couple comes from their marriage record, which states that Sigismund’s wife, Margarethe Becht (or Pecht), born in 1783, was four years his senior. She was the daughter of a Schultheis, or headman, from the village of Hofstetten, approximately eight kilometers south of Bruenn.27 The village headman at that time was appointed by the authority, not by his neighbors, though it is probable that he would have enjoyed their confidence, his role being that of a classic mediator between the ruler and the ruled. In addition to whatever social skills he might possess, the Schultheis was generally a successful householder, someone who managed his own resources well and, within the limits of his economy, prospered. He was, to use the somewhat crude formulation often provided by history, a “rich peasant.”
     It is possible, therefore, that Margarethe’s dowry, while in no way opulent, was a bit larger than the average. Given the better-than-middling size of the holding possessed by Vollkommers in Bruenn - the property attached to House #8 alone comprised of over 31 hectares (roughly 75 acres), half of which Sigismund would eventually inherit - it is possible that he was mature for his age, and considered a good match for Margarethe, a spouse who could make sound use of whatever capital his wife brought with her to the union. Also, there does seem to be a pattern from what I’ve read in other sources and family records in parallel German societies, whereby younger men marry slightly older women, often widows, which was not the case with Margarethe, for the material advantages that may accompany such an arrangement. Various opposing presuppositions are equally plausible: that Margarethe’s dowry, owing to the destructiveness of the war, was severely diminished, and this possibility is somehow related to the fact that she married, not in her home village of Hofstetten, but in Bruenn, the village of her future husband.
     One may sort though such alternatives explanations ad infinitum, but in the end this is just an exercise in guessing, more or less informed, depending on this or that context. But I did learn several facts germane to this speculation about Sigismund’s early mobility during my return to Germany in November 2002. The village Gueckelhirn, like Bruenn, was attached to the Pfarrweisach parish for purposes of recording the births, marriages and deaths of its citizens. Gueckelhirn, once with its own church or chapel and astride a well-traveled road, is a sleepy place today, five or six houses and one good sized farm. In Sigismund’s day, this farm had been the country estate - or Hofgut - of a baronial family whose principal residence was in a fairly large town nearby called Burgpreppach. The name Burg - Preppach denotes a ‘Castle by the River Preppach,’ and indeed the large stone manor there, still in the possession of this same family von Deuster’sche - as is the farm in Gueckelhirn28 - remains an elegant and dominant feature of the townscape.

     Circa 1810, all the tenants of Gueckelhirn hamlet “belonged” to this baron, and perhaps Sigismund Vollkommer, who I now imagine to have been a somewhat dynamic character, was taken into the baron’s service to act as his attendant in some position of responsibility. It certainly seems there would have been much work to accomplish on an estate of this sort, whose routine had been disrupted, if not brought to ruin, by the conditions of war. My other theory about Sigismund is that he was more than marginally involved in the husbandry, that is cattle raising, end of local agriculture, and, when we recall that his uncle Veit was cited in the village history as having used his own team of oxen to carry feed to the French magazine in Bamberg, it seems plausible to imagine that much of the family’s land in Bruenn was planted in fodder crops. And, as noted earlier, the breeding and trade of cattle had by this era evolved into a significant sector of the regional economy; the Christian peasants raised the cattle, and the Jewish townsmen, quite well represented proportionally throughout the area, including in Pfarrweisach, bought the beasts and carried them to market.29
     Based on my analysis of the birth records, it appears that Sigismund and Margarethe and their family lived in Gueckelhirn from roughly 1809/10 to1818/20. After which, they appear to have returned to Bruenn, where their last two sons were born, the last of whom, some sixteen years before their decision to migrate to America.
The list of births presented here, all sons (which would help explain why the name Vollkommer is so well preserved on both sides of the Atlantic), is culled from two sources. These are signaled by the postscripts = representing the Wuerzburg diocesan archives (along with their microfiche reference numbers), and # for the Pfarrweisach church registry. In several cases, records of the child’s birth are clearly present in both sources, as is the place of birth, which I have also listed here.
     *Georgius - October 21, 1808 - Bruenn = [A6-1-35] #
     *Andreas - July 14, 1810 - Gueckelhirn = [A6-1-51] #
     *Georg - 1811 - Gueckelhirn #
     *Johan Michael - 1814 - Gueckelhirn #
     *Johan - 1815 - Gueckelhirn #
     *Joseph - March 4, 1817 - Gueckelhirn = [A6-2-145] #
     *Peter - August 16, 1820 - Bruenn = [A6-2-191] #
     *Matheus - June 12, 1823 - Bruenn = [A6-2-229] #
     Of the eight sons born to Sigismund and Margarethe, only two apparently did not survive infancy, Johan Michael and Matheus. But there remain a fair number of inconsistencies and mysteries to clear up concerning the surviving sons, not least the presence of two sons named George. The problem stems from a lapse in methodology on my part while examining the archival records in Wuerzburg owing to my inexperience in performing this kind of research, and to the fact that I was under time and travel restraints. Given these factors, I was mostly concerned with the narrow pursuit of my own family’s line through Joseph (1817). It was through the record of his second marriage to Katarina Saal - my maternal great, great grandmother - at Most Holy Trinity Church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1850 that I had discovered the family’s Bruenn connection in the first place. Then, in finding Joseph’s birth record in Wuerzburg, I learned that he was born, not in Bruenn, but approximately ten kilometers to the north in Gueckelhirn (a rather infelicitous word in German, incidentally, which translates into English as “cocks brains").
     In Wuerzburg, I visually examined all the birth records marked above with =, paying particular attention to the column where the parents’ names were written, thus verifying these were children born to Sigismund and Margarethe, and to the presence of the name Bruenn somewhere on the document. And I recorded their names, dates of birth, and microfiche references in my notebook. When it came time to order copies of the records, however, I requested those which had a linear relationship to my own line, the marriage record of Joseph and Anna Maria (1754), the birth of Andreas (1855), his marriage to Barbara Mueller (1877), Sigismund’s birth (1887), and finally Joseph’s birth in 1817. It was only on a subsequent and closer examination of this latter document - which, owing to its old German script literally has to be deciphered letter by letter - did I discover that Joseph was not born in Bruenn. And it was only during this last trip in November 2002, that I discovered that Gueckelhirn, like Bruenn, belonged to Sankt Kilian’s parish in Pfarrweisach, from whose church registry I was then able to record the names of those sons I had missed in Wuerzburg.

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