Theron Odlaugs Report
In 1978 my mother completed a Bohnsack family history. Most of her work concentrated on the descendants of her great grandfather Johann (John) Bohnsack in the United Stated after his emigration with his wife and children from Germany in 1854. Although my mother had additional information from her cousin Walter Bohnsack on John's ancestors in Germany, I wanted to know more about them and where they lived. The story in our family was that the Bohnsacks were "blue-bloods", that is of a higher class in Germany.
In the fall of 1997 as a result of an Internet search for Bohnsacks I was able to make contact with a Siegfried Bohnsack of Güstrow, Mecklenburg, Germany who was retired Professor. It turns out that Siegfried's hobby was genealogy and he has researched the Bohnsack history in great detail. I visited Siegfried and his wife in October 1998 and was able to visit a number of villages where our ancestors lived and worked. A large part of the information that follows was provided by Siegfried and I am most grateful to him for his generosity:
October 1998 Visit to Mecklenburg, Germany
As a result of my year long Internet correspondence with Siegfried I decided, at his invitation, to arrange to visit Siegfried and take him up on his offer to drive to the villages of my Bohnsack ancestors. In October I was scheduled to take my annual business trip to Japan. It turns out it was less expensive to fly around the world then to fly round trip Chicago to Japan. Therefore I arranged to fly from Osaka to Hamburg via Frankfurt. I arrived in Hamburg on a Thursday night and after a poor nights sleep I took a train to meet Siegfried and his wife Christa in Wismar, Germany.
I arrived in Wismar mid-day Friday and they were both there to greet me at the train station. I took an immediate liking to them as we walked into the city center and to the Alt Scwede for lunch. Siegfried ordered this lunch for us of Schweinebauch with Rotkohl (red cabbage) which he said was a Mecklenburger specialty. I must say after a week of Sushi et al it was mighty tasty!
From Wismar we drove northeast to the villages of Kägsdorf and Rerik (Alt Gaarz). First we stopped at the the church in Rerik. Part of the original church is from the 12th century. In this church our Johann Bohnsack was baptized. The church is very close to the sea shore and Rerik today is a sea-side resort.
From the church we went into the village Kägsdorf. Here Siegfried showed me one of the Manor homes (which had been converted to a restaurant), where the farm day laborers would have to report for work each day (6 days of the week). We sure Johann was one of those workers. Nearby was one of the few remaining cottages (Katen) where these farm laborers would live. Siegfried thought that our Bohnsacks probably lived in a similar cottage during their years in Kägsdorf.
As we left Kägsdorf and drove to Steffenshagen, Siegfried told me how hard is was for our people to work and live under such conditions. He thought they had few opportunities to walk on the nearby beach. It is easy to understand how the chance to own ones own land in America would have been so attractive to Johann Bohnsack.
Steffenshagen is the church in which Johann Bohnsack’s grandparents were married and where his father Christopher was baptized. It is just south of Vorderbollhagen where they lived. We did not go to Vorderbollhagen as Siegfried said that all the old farmhouses had been taken down in the DDR (the former Communist East Germany) time to make room for Socialist style apartment buildings. Construction on this church was started in 1273 and the altar is from the 16th century. The baptismal font is one of the oldest in northern Germany and is believed to be older then the church itself.
Leaving we headed farther southeast to the outside of Bad Doberan to Althof. In Althof Siegfried had arranged for a Frau Wissman to show the chapel where he thought Johann and Anna may have been married. We also visited the ruins of an old monastery that had been abandoned in the late 16th century. We were sure as we strolled among the ruins that Johann and Anna’s walked in the same area over 150 years ago. Frau Wissmann really surprised us as we walked into the chapel as the had prepared the church as if for a wedding. There were bouquets of grains and candles burning along the center aisle and throughout the church. Nearby was the Herrenhaus now converted into apartments.
After leaving Althof we went to nearby Retschow where Johann's wife Anna Heincke was born. Here there were a number of the traditional Mecklenburg farm buildings . The roofs are made from thatch and at the corner of the roofs are decorated with horses heads-typical for this region of Mecklenburg.
As it was getting late in the day we continued south to the city of Güstrow where Siegfried and Christa lived. They took me to my hotel and we agreed to meet again in the morning.
The next day Siegfried drove me to Parkentin (where most likely John and Anna were married) and there we found the retired pastor of the Parkentin church. He lived right next door to the church and was happy to give us the key so we could visit the inside of the church. It was great fun to be able to explore on our own.
Returning to Güstrow we went to Siegfried and Christa apartment where Christa so so nice to prepare dinner for us. On Sunday afternoon after visiting the daughter of Siegfried and her family, I returned via the train to Hamburg.
The next morning I flew via London to Chicago knowing that I had two new Bohnsacks friends in Güstrow, Germany and also with a deeper appreciation for our Bohnsack ancestors and their life in Germany.