Saturday, May 26, 2018

Putting the Sad Facts Together

I have known little of my great-great-grandfather Klaas F. Reimer #3719 (1812-1874). He was born and died in Russia and not much seems to have come down about him in our families. But I have gleaned some facts about him.

1. He married his first wife Katharina Friesen in 1836, and they had thirteen children, including my great-grandfather Heinrich F. Reimer.

2. His first wife Katharina died in 1864, and he remarried to Maria Bartel (1843-1921) four months later. A quick remarriage was common at the time, especially since he had young children in the household. He was 52 years old, and she was 22, so there was a big age difference. Such an age difference was relatively rare, but he was wealthy, so it wasn't too unusual.

3. Klaas F. Reimer died in 1874, apparently as they were preparing to emigrate to America. The rest of the family postponed the trip and left in 1875 for Jansen, Nebraska.

4. In the 1880 census in Jansen, Nebraska, the widowed second wife Maria was living with her married step-daughter and unmarried stepson. But none of her four children, who ranged in age from 6 to 14 years old, were living with her. And in the census it was recorded that she could not read or write. You might think that she couldn't read or write English, but all the other Mennonites on that page were recorded as being able to read and write, so it must have been that she couldn't read or write at all.  When I found this census several years ago, I concluded that something was badly wrong, but I didn't know what.

5. My grandmother, Margaretha H. Reimer #321744 (1895-1993) told my mom that both her maternal grandmother Katharina Barkman and paternal step-grandmother Maria (Bartel) Reimer had lived with them when she was a child. She said that the two grandmothers would argue so fiercely that her father Heinrich F. Reimer had to come in from the field to settle things between them. I haven't found a census where both of them were living in the Heinrich Reimer household, but I don't doubt the story.

For a long time, this was all I knew. But then I found a couple more facts in the Abraham F. Reimer diary, who was the brother of my great-great-grandfather Klaas F. Reimer. They must have been quite close because the two of them visited each other frequently, even though Abraham lived in Borosenko colony in Russia and Klaas lived in Molotschna. But now I have found a couple more facts in Abraham's diary.

6.  Brother Klaas started living in Heubuden in Borosenko colony in October 1871, according to Abraham's diary. Abraham didn't explain why, and it puzzled me. Klaas was wealthy and only 59, so it seemed unlikely that he would have retired from farming so young. And if he had retired, surely he would have continued living with his family in Tiege, Molotschna, instead of moving to another colony without them.

7. Then in July 1872, Abraham recorded, "Brother Klaas Reimer from Heubuden was here for faspa. He was sad and complained about the ways of his wife. He denounced [absagt] the church."

8. Then I noticed in Grandma that there was a gap in children being born at this time. In the 6 years ending in November 1871, 5 children had been born. So they were having children frequently. But then a gap of nearly two years between children, until August 1873, during this very time, before the next child was born. In fact, he was already living separately by October 1871, and their fifth child was born in November 1871. While a gap of two years is quite normal in most families, it coincided with a time when they were living separately and not getting along.

What to conclude? My guess is that Maria Bartel, the second wife, was intellectually limited since she couldn't read or write or take care of her small children in 1880. And she seems to have been difficult to get along with, based on what my grandmother said, although perhaps one shouldn't read too much into the fact that two elderly grandmothers couldn't get along when living in the same household. And it clearly affected my great-great-grandfather Klaas F. Reimer so much that he moved away and lived separately for a while. Was he also responsible? Again, we don't know the details at this remove, but I think it's fair to say that both spouses are usually at least a little bit responsible when a marriage goes bad. And it's pretty awful that he had moved out of the family about a month before his child was born, regardless of how bad the circumstances were. But then it seems that they reconciled because they had one more child born to their marriage in August 1873.

It's a sad story, and we'll never know all the details. But we're all human and make mistakes and have difficult relationships at times. It helps me to understand my great-great-grandfather Klaas F. Reimer better. And it helps me understand the family that his son, my great-grandfather Heinrich F. Reimer, grew up in.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Mixing High German and Low German

My main genealogy project right now is translating Abraham F. Reimer's #3945 (1808-1892) diary. Like most Mennonites from the late-1700s to the mid-1900s, he wrote in High German but spoke Low German. Low German and High German are distinct languages, not dialects of each other; so he really spoke one language and wrote another one. But there are times when his spoken language, Low German, crept into his written language, High German.

The Text.
This mixture of languages can complicate translation since sometimes I'm not sure which language an odd word comes from. Here are a couple examples from his diary entry for 16 April 1871:

Abraham F. Reimer (1808-1892) diary, Steinbach, Borosenko Colony, South Russia, 1870-1874, Mennonite Heritage Centre Archive, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Kleine Gemeinde collection, vol. 5907, item 3, p.32.
Here is the transcription:
16. F.[reitag] Des margens so 6 grad warm, des Tages so 14 grad war oft dünkel etwas geregent da haben wir das Ertoflen setzen nach zu hause und Egden ganz verichtet auch hat Tövs des Säen und Pflügen verichtet.

And the translation:
16. Fri. Morning 6 degrees [46° F.], day 14 degrees [64° F.]. Often cloudy, rained a little. Set out potatoes at the house and completely finished harrowing. Toews finished plowing and sowing.

'Let's look at the words that I highlighted. First potatoes. Reimer uses the word Ertoflen, which is neither High nor Low German. The standard High German word for potato is Kartoffel, which comes from the Italian word tartufalo and means roughly "land truffle." (A good source for German etymologies is the translation of Friedrich Kluge's etymological dictionary into English that can be found at this link.The standard Low German word is Ieedschock. The first part of the word means "earth" and is related to the Dutch aarde, High German Erde, and English earth. (I don't know what "schock" means - maybe someone can tell me in a comment.) This is a case where the Low German word is more closely related to English and Dutch than to High German.

So Abraham Reimer has combined the Low German Ieed and the High German tofflen and come with Ertoflen. It took me a while and looking through dictionaries to figure what he was setting out.

The second word is harrow. The High German verb "to harrow" is eggen, and the Low German is äajden. According to Kluge's etymological dictionary, this is a case where High German borrowed a word from Low German. Abraham Reimer used the word Egden, which is the way he spelled the Low German word since Low-German speakers pronounce the letter g with an English y sound. Again it took a bit of searching in dictionaries to find the right word and to realize that Reimer's Egden was just a variant spelling of äajden.

The moral is that it can take a bit of searching and imagination to figure out some words, especially if you are not fluent in both High and Low German, as I unfortunately am not.

BTW, my favorite German dictionaries are
Reverso  Easy to use, gives suggestions if you don't spell exactly right, easy-to-follow layout of definitions, gives translations of phrases in context.
LEO Not laid out very clearly, but it has more words and definitions, you have to spell the word correctly to find anything, but it does give you a list of suggestions once you type in three letters, which can be really handy.
Koehler-Zacharias Plautdietsch Lexicon By far the most comprehensive dictionary of Low German. Both Low German-English and English-Low German. Spelling is a problem with any Low German dictionary, and he uses something similar to High German spelling, which makes the dictionary easier to use.
Kjenn Jie Noch Plautdietsch is a decent alternative, but it doesn't contain nearly as many words and goes much further toward a phonetic spelling, which can be hard to use.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Grandma Tip - What Are Ref Numbers for?

You may have noticed that there are "Ref Numbers" in the download or CD version of the Grandma database in the Event/Fact field. They are also shown at the beginning of the search results list in the online version of Grandma so that you can see exactly which names were searched.

A bit of background - Mennonites have used a small set of names (both surnames and first names) over the centuries, but they have spelled them differently. For example, Johann, Johan, Hans, John, Johnny, Jehaun, etc. are really variations of the same name. As are Friesen, Frisen, Freesen, Friese, etc. When it searching, it would be nice to search all of them instead of having to do each one individually. The Grandma committee created a list of codes for both surnames and first names. So if you want to search for Johann Friesen, you can check the list and find that Johann is "jn" and Friesen is "075."

When you search online, the database automatically uses the search codes, as long as the box "Return all known spelling variations" is checked, which it is by default. But in the download/CD, you need to do it manually. If you click on Find F3, you can enter a search code instead of a specific spelling of a name or a Grandma number. So to find all the Johann Friesens, regardless of how their names are actually spelled, enter "/075jn." The forward slash tells the program to search the Ref Number field.

There are two advantages to using the search codes and the Ref Number. First, you'll get all the spelling variations without the time-consuming process of searching every variation manually or using wildcards to speed things up. And search codes are MUCH faster than searching by name. It can take 2-3 minutes to search for a common name that has more than a thousand entries, but with search codes it only takes 10-20 seconds for the biggest searches.

It is important, however, to add a Ref Number, whenever you add a new person to the database, or your new people won't come up in searches.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Transcription of Yesterday's Diary Entry

Here's transcription from the diary entry that I posted yesterday.

27. M. Des Margs wol 18 grad warm. Des Tages so 24 grad wa: war ich in Nicopol auf den Markt
war ich auch in Apoteck waren das al vor 11 Tage reife Arbusen und Milonen gewesen.
Da hat es viele Stelen geregnet, auch in Rosefelt, und vor über 3 Wochen al Gurcke.

And now for a literal translation:

27. Monday. In the morning will 18 degrees warm. In the day about 24 degrees warm. Was I in Nikopol' on the fair.
Was I also in pharmacy. Was the for 11 days ripe watermelons and muskmelons was.
Also had is many places rained, also in Rosenfeld. And for over 3 weeks had cucumber.

And now for the polished translation:

27. Mon. Morning 18 degrees [72° F.], day 24 degrees [86° F.]. I was in Nikopol’ for the fair [Markt]. I also went to the pharmacy. Have had ripe watermelons and muskmelons for eleven days. Rained in many places, including in Rosenfeld. And had cucumbers for more than three weeks. 

Here are some comments on the translation:

a) He doesn't spell out morning and also spells it like it would be pronounced in Low German - at least the way I have heard my parents pronounce it - "maryens."
 b) To me wol seems like he's saying wollen, i.e. the temperature will be 18 degrees, but that doesn't make sense, so I dropped that word in the polished translation.
c) He abbreviates warm as wa:. He shortens lots of words.
d) I chose to translate Markt as "fair" instead of "market" because I don't think he would go to Nikopol' just for the daily or weekly market.  Most likely it was the annual fair, but I don't know for sure, so I put the original German word "Markt" in brackets so that readers could judge for themselves.
e) Apotheke is misspelled.
f) Arbus is a Low German word borrowed from Russian and not in standard German dictionaries.
g) Melone is misspelled. I chose to translate it "muskmelon" instead of "canteloupe" because Wikipedia says that muskmelon is the more general word in English, and I understood the German word Melone also to be general.
h) Stelle is misspelled, but he always spells it Stele, so I've gotten used to it.
i) The village of Rosenfeld is misspelled.
j) He frequently uses the particle or abbreviation al, and I can't figure out what that means.
k) I'm not sure who has had cucumbers for three weeks - the sellers in the fair in Nikopol', the people of Rosenfeld, or in his own garden, so I tried to leave it ambiguous.

My German, especially grammar, is at a fairly basic level; so feel free to comment if you see mistakes.

Many Lessons from One Diary Entry

I've been translating the diary of my great-great-great uncle Abraham F. Reimer #3945 (1808-1892).  He was a member of the Kleine Gemeinde and lived in Steinbach village, Borosenko colony, South Russia, in the late 1860s and early 1870s.  He kept a diary that is still extant for 1870-1874, and he wrote many interesting observations of daily life.  I ran across an entry for 27 July 1870, that illustrated several such points. 

Here is a snippet of the original text:
Abraham F. Reimer (1808-1892) diary, Steinbach, Borosenko Colony, South Russia, 1870-1874, Mennonite Heritage Centre Archive, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Kleine Gemeinde collection, vol. 5907, item 4, p. 14.
And the translation for the day:

27. Mon. Morning 18 degrees [72° F.], day 24 degrees [86° F.]. I was in Nikopol’ for the fair. I also went to the pharmacy. Have had ripe watermelons and muskmelons for eleven days. Rained in many places, including in Rosenfeld. And cucumbers for more than three weeks.

Reimer was a careful observer of the weather, so he recorded the morning and daytime temperatures everyday, although he used an old European system, the Reaumur temperature scale, which had a freezing point of 0° and a boiling point of 80°.  I have added the Fahrenheit equivalent in brackets so that Americans could make sense of the temperatures (sorry, Canadians and Europeans). 

Next he describes going to the fair or market (Markt in German) in Nikopol', which was the nearest city and about 23 miles (36 kilometers) to the southeast. Reimer enjoyed adventure and having different experiences, so I'm sure the fair was a great experience for him.  The fair would have been much different than our county fairs in rural North America - it was a periodic gathering of merchants, traders, sellers, street performers, and riffraff of all types where goods were sold from far and near.

Reimer was particularly interested in the crops, so he notes that they had had watermelons and muskmelons available for eleven days already and cucumbers for three weeks.  The word he is uses for watermelon is not the standard German word, which is Wassermelone. Instead, he uses the Plautdietsch word, borrowed from Russian, of Arbus, which comes from the Russian word arbuz. This can make it difficult to translate because sometimes I have to look in a Low German dictionary to find words that are not in the dictionary of High German.

He also misspells the German word for muskmelon, which is Melone, and spells it Milone instead. In fact, his spelling throughout the diary is rather suspect.

I also stumbled across a picture in the Wikipedia article about Nikopol' of the Bazaar Square in Nikopol' in the early 1900s.  I can imagine it filled traders, stalls, carts, and thousands of customers jostling and pushing and bargaining to get the best deals.  The market probably looked something like this in 1870 when Abraham Reimer visited it on that warm July day.