The twist has to do with inheritance. Our Thelers did not own their land. But they had a right to rent their land and then hand down that right to the youngest son. But what happens when you have just daughters or your youngest son dies without a son of his own?
I soon learned from my German Genealogy 101 that my Theler name was not a surname that gets passed down from all of the males in the line as you find in most of our western cultures. Theler is the farm name of # 12 Hedemer Buchholz. And if a daughter inherits the farm then her husband must relinquish his own name and take on that of the farm.
I corresponded with our tour guide Carol Saint-Clair for several months before our trip to Europe last May. In one of her email messages Carol recommended that I pick up a copy of a book called “Ann Angel’s Freedom,” an historical novel co-authored by Katharina Gerlach and Anke Waldmann. The book is based on all of the research Anke did on her own family’s farm east of Osnabrück and takes place at the end of the 18th century and the first few years of the 19th century.
I learned a lot about the rules of inheritance from this book as well as other government restrictions that along with local beliefs and traditions complicated the lives of those who lived in farming communities in this part of Germany. There’s even a little murder mystery woven into the theme. The story takes place in and near a village called Schledehausen which is west of Hedem and south of Hunteburg and just east of the city of Osnabrück. The book is available on Amazon and there is even a Kindle version. Click here to read more reviews or even purchase your own copy.
The 1971 LDS Report on the Theler family focuses on a person named Christian Ludewig Theler and his family and we spent the bulk of Friday morning, May 25, 2012 touring the key sites in Christian’s life. After visiting Alswede where Christian was baptized and Hedemer Buchholz where Christian was born we traveled on to four other places that contributed to the other major significant events in Christian’s life and the lives of his family. One of these places, Dielingen, is in Westphalia and the church there is in the same circle as Alswede. Dielingen is on the extreme northeast corner of Westphalia and is surrounded on three sides by Lower Saxony where we found the other three places: Stemshorn, Meyerhofen and Hunteburg.
Christian was the second of three sons. Since his younger brother Franz was going to inherit the farm, Christian had two options: (1) stay on the farm and work as a farmhand for his brother and most likely never marry or (2) move away to find a job on another farm. He chose the latter and one day during the period (1806-1815) when the Kingdom of Westphalia belonged to France he moved to Meyerhofen where he met Anna Marie Dinckelmann from Stemshorn. The two were married in 1813 and they worshiped in Dielingen where their first children were baptized. In 1815 a Protestant church was built in Hunteburg which is a tad closer to Meyerhofen than Dielingen and so the Theler children born between 1815 and 1825 were baptized there.
Hunteburg changed hands often during the early 1800s. Prior to 1803 Hunteburg was part of the bishopric of Osnabrück. In 1803 it became part of the principality of Osnabrück. In 1806 Prussia took over only to be followed by the French kingdom of Westphalia in 1807. It was part of the French Empire in 1811 but after Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1814 the Congress of Vienna decreed that it become part of the new kingdom of Hanover. That same Congress gave all of Westphalia to Prussia. So Hunteburg and Dielingen were in two different countries prior to 1806 and after 1815 but in the same country between those years. And now those same borders are in place to separate the modern states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia.
Governmental regulations regarding religion and inheritance began to change under Prussian rule in Westphalia and Hanoverian rule in Osnabrück and the local economies began to nosedive. Germany had its own potato famine in the mid 1800s and the linen industry could not compete with cotton from the American South. Also, many young Westphalian farmers were not too keen on serving three years in the Prussian army. These and similar forces brought forth a large exodus of German farmers and their families. Some went to other places in Europe or to South Africa and some crossed the Atlantic to New York and Baltimore where they either stayed in the big cities on the coast or pushed inward to join other German communities in St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cincinnati. Christian’s son Carl made his way to Cincinnati in the 1830s.
Oh, about the twist: Christian’s mother was a Theler. His father’s name was Johann Christoph Levermann who changed his name to Theler when he married Christian’s mother. We are so used to tracing our family history (and our DNA) through the male surname but I am definitely not doing that here. I have traced the farm name back 300 years, not the surname. To follow the DNA I would have to break off the Thelers at Christian and then follow the Levermann line. This was not a rare occurrence when a daughter inherited a farm and it happened twice to our Thelers in the 1700s. Christian Theler’s own mother Louise Marlene Theler was the daughter of Gerhard Henrich Moorfeldt and Catharina Agnese Theler. So we have to go back two generations of the female line in order to find another male, Christian’s great grandfather, the one and only Christopher Tailers Von dem Buchholtze! Wait a minute. I don’t think he was a Theler either! I detect a pattern here! Maybe if I follow the Leverman and/or Moorfeldt lines I will eventually get back to my Thelers! I’ll save that work for a rainy day.
Next posting: we visit St Marienkirche, the Evangelical-Lutheran church in Dielingen.