Roots

In October 1855, a man by the name of Johann Leonhard Hambrecht travelled from his home village of Kupferzell – in Germany’s Baden-Württemberg – to Öhringen. It wasn’t a long journey, the distance covered around 30km. Here he made an application to emigrate to the ‘new world’ and was granted passage as a full-fare paying passenger on a ship to Australia.

Johann’s application was made very shortly after that of a woman called Louise Friederike Ruckweid. Louise came from Ottmarsheim, forty kilometres from Kupferzell, and made her application in Marbach some time in September. Like Johann, Louise applied to emigrate as a full-fare paying passenger.

Neither Johann nor Louise appear on any passenger lists from ships that departed from Hamburg, if indeed that was the port from which they departed – it is as likely they travelled, as many emigrating Southern Germans did, to La Havre in France, and sailed from there. Furthermore, there is nothing to say, concretely, that Johann and Louise travelled on the same ship. Their dates of application, however, make it highly likely that they did and if this was the case, it was also then highly likely they met en route from Germany to Australia.

At some point around 1856-57, Johann Leonhard and Louise Friederike arrived in Queensland, possibly via Sydney, possibly via Brisbane. Records that were probably lost in floods that occurred in Queensland in the 1800s could account for there being scant detail of when, how and from where Johann and Louisa actually arrived in Australia.  Whether or not their relationship started before they got on the ship (the distance between their villages makes it possible but unlikely) on the ship, or just after they disembarked, Louise and Johann were married in Brisbane soon after arriving in Australia. And very soon after marrying, their first son, Wilhelm was born in 1857.

Johann Leonhard was the first German immigrant with the surname Hambrecht to arrive in Australia and he was my Great Great Great Grandfather. Nearly 150 years after he left what is now Baden-Wüttermberg, Germany’s south-western state and travelled to Australia, through various twists and turns, I am living but two hours away, in the neighbouring state of Bavaria. And today SG and I crossed the state border and went to visit the birth place and original home town of my ancestor who took himself and his family name* to Australia.

So, Kupferzell. It’s really, really small. Less than 6,000 people (so, a fifth the size of Weiden’s centre). Johann may well have been one of ten, 150 years ago. We drove through the entire village, unwittingly, while looking for a park, and SG had to turn the car around, just past the sign letting us know we were leaving Kupferzell. There isn’t much to see, really; a few sweet buildings, a Catholic church, an Evangelische church (of which Johann was a member) and evidence of a quiet village that seems to be quite fond of gardening. But it was rather special – really special – to walk through the village that, all those years ago, Johann left.  We did find the house of the last Hambrecht living in Kupferzell, an elderly man who is a distant relative, but decided against calling in unannounced. But who knows, maybe I’ll write him a letter.

The Catholic church
The Lutheran church

The tiny village’s first and second World War memorials.

*The name Hambrecht was changed in the late 1920s, by my Great Grandmother, due to anti-German sentiment post World War I.

All my information comes from my Pa, who has been tirelessly researching this part of our family’s history for years.

26 Replies to “Roots”

  1. Wow what a lovely story! We have a TV series here called “Who do you think you are?” and it takes celebrities or public figures through a search into their ancestry.
    There’s often something dramatic like some transatlantic journey where the person then gets to travel and pays a visit to a distant relative who knows some extra details and explains over a cup of tea and photo albums…this reads like something enchanted. So glad to know you had this opportunity!

    1. Yessss, I know that show, it reveals all sorts of things! Entertained similar romantic notions when we were outside the house of the remaining Hambrecht, but I think in real life, there wouldn’t have been a cup of tea, probably just a ‘I really can’t help you’ and polite wave-goodbye-door-close.

      1. Yes, better to see if there is a response to a letter than to risk ending a lovely day with a door closed in your face. Nothing quite like that to spoil the romance – wouldn’t have made for quite as enchanting a post either! But who knows…? 😉

  2. That was a pleasure to read. What a wonderful story. I think the story of your great-etc. grandparents would make a great basis for a novel. And I love the idea of you writing a letter to the last Hambrecht in that village.

    1. Do you know what, the more I think about it, the more I think I should! Just to see what (if anything) he knows. As for a novel … you have a point … historical fiction, a whole new genre I have never tried haha.

  3. Love the story and I can empathise…my George Kunkel’s departure from Bavaria is invisible as is his arrival in Australia. You may already know this, but the single men and women from Germany weren’t eligible for govt subsidies and many signed work contracts before they left as there were recruiting agents visiting the areas looking theoretically at least, for vinedressers. Some ended up as shepherds in the back blocks of Qld. There are indices for some but agreed, none for Hambrecht. However there is a Gottlieb Ruckweid arriving on the Helene in 1852 (might be worth checking out). I would definitely write to the sole survivor and also try the town hall to see if there is a local historian who can help you. Also check out the parish records while you’re close by. Happy ancestor hunting!

    1. Ahhh interesting. My Pa has contacted the remaining Hambrecht in Kupferzell before and sort of hit a wall. His daughter responded and her grandfather is also a descendant of Friederich Hambrecht (Johann’s Dad) but that is all that was turned up. Unfortunately we don’t know Johann’s actual birth date, either, but I might find that in the records of the Lutheran church?

  4. Wow- it must have been so surreal walking around the town where your great-great-great grandfather grew up knowing that if he hadnt decided to leave that small village, you might have been born and raised in that area as well [you know, provided that greatx3 grandma serendipitously also remained haha] I’m a second generation Korean-american so visiting my parents’ old stomping grounds didn’t feel quite as awe inspiring as your walk through Kupferzell- slightly jealous, gotta say. haha

    Came across your site in my search for blogs about foreigners living in Germany 🙂 I’m due to join my husband near Essen soon, which was apparently the area you lived in before- so I’m very much looking forward to going through your posts chronicling your time in the Rhineland region! A fortuitous find your blog is turning out to be for me indeed~

    1. Ahhhh, yes, I was not far from Essen. I have never actually BEEN to Essen, but I do have an expat friend living there and I believe he enjoys it. NRW is a beautiful state with plenty of lovely towns and cities in it. Münster, where I lived, is just stupidly pretty, do try and get there. Good luck with the move and I hope you love living here, it is certainly a lovely life!

  5. I notice you say there’s a Catholic church and an Evangelical church -I would check with both, and since you presumably speak German you could ring in advance for an appointment. Don’t discount the possibility of him being Catholic -it was more common than is popularly thought. It’s interesting but I’ve often had the feeling that I’m being “blocked” when I go to my ancestor’s home town….others have been welcomed with open arms. My bloke’s family was better off though. Hence the suggestion to ask at the Town Hall if there’s a local historian who may work better as a gateway into the community. Feel free to email me if you want any further tips.

    1. I might just email you! He was definitely Lutheran, they both were. My Pa also mentioned a sort of ‘displeasure’ when he pressed for more information, from one ‘source’. Perhaps it just isn’t as interesting to them.

    1. Haha I think Dad was jealous and Pa was happy that one of us finally got to get back there. Might have to drag a couple of family members over there when they come to visit Bavaria.

  6. Gorgeous place! How funny that you’ve come full-circle from Germany to Australia and back to Germany. I am jealous how far back you’ve been able to trace your history. I’ve managed to trace my husband’s back to the late 1500s because they’ve stayed in just about the same place the last 400 years, but my line seems to disappear about 1900. Just can’t break the wall!

  7. I remember you telling me that somewhere down the line you were German, and although you did not look the part, I actually could not SEE it. Now I am happy to have put my curiosity to rest, thanks to this great post.

  8. that’s curious, i found your article “What i know about Germans” in uberlin-blog and made it to somehow to your blog. which is actually great. it’s a surprising coincidence that your ancestors coming from Kupferzell what is so close to my home town Öhringen. that actually has a special relationship with Down Under since the Socceroos has chosen it as home base for the 2006 soccer world cup.
    would be great to hear from you anyway

    1. Isn’t that funny! Obviously the Australian – BW connection is a strong one. So your home town is where my ancestor went and applied for passage to Australia, all those years ago. It is a small, small world!

Comments are closed.