Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for leading many of us genealogy bloggers into this 52 Ancestors Challenge. There’s a weekly update on her blog, No Story Too Small, linking to these ancestor stories alphabetically by surname. I'm uncovering more details of our ancestors’ lives as I write this series, as well as enjoying other writers’ interesting family stories.
In this week’s 52 Ancestors Challenge I’m reaching back as far as I can for now in our Niehaus family. The name originally in German was Niehues and the family origins are in the village of Riesenbeck, Westphalia (geographical location: Steinfurt, Munster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, Europe; geographical coordinates: 52° 16' 0" North, 7° 38' 0" East).
Currently, my most distant ancestor in this family is my paternal second great grandfather, Josef Niehues. His estimated birthdate is 1804, based on his marriage record. The relationship chart posted here outlines my daughter’s direct line ancestry to Josef. So, here you go cousins, insert yourself, your parents and grandparents. There are so many of us who can follow this line back!
But what’s the story anyway? What do we know about Josef Niehues at this point? That marriage record I mentioned is an important piece. Josef married Maria Anna Beerman on October 10, 1843 in St. Kalixtus Catholic Church in Riesenbeck at the age of 39. The record shows that he was a “kotter”, small farmer, and that he lived in Lage, a village south of Riesenbeck. The culture and economy of those times lets us speculate that Josef didn’t marry until he was 39 because he hadn’t been able to establish himself financially. Because of the limited land and lack of opportunities, it was common in the early 19th century that a man would take years to build his economic status before he would marry so that he could support a family . He could also have waited until he inherited some land at his father’s retirement or death. Being a kotter, Josef would have owned only a small amount of farm land. He could also have worked for another more wealthy person with more land in order to make ends meet, or had some other trade.
The photos I’ve posted here are of the church in Riesenbeck where Josef’s family attended Mass, baptized children and married. St. Kalixtus Catholic Church stands today. The records of St. Kalixtus are rich with Niehues and Beerman family. Those records were microfilmed and are available from the Family History Library. The mining of those records is ongoing and I expect more family history details to keep surfacing. These photos are from Wikipedia and from the Panoramio page of Dirk Schoppmeier. Mr. Schoppmeier has also posted several photos of Riesenbeck and the surrounding area that are super.
In my research online at the Understanding Your Ancestors website, I found a helpful article on marriage customs and laws in the first half of the nineteenth century, when Josef would have been a young man. The article is republished from The Palatine Immigrant - Parish Records: Using German Parish Marriage Records, by Leslie Albrecht Huber. Here are two excerpts that give background on what may have been the circumstances for Josef in the early 1800s:
“Around the beginning of the nineteenth century, state governments got involved with the marriage decision. Concerned by the rapid population growth, many states passed laws creating restrictions and making marriage more difficult. The hope was that these laws would decrease marriage and thus slow the population growth. By the 1860s, many rulers recognized that the legal restrictions were ineffective. The laws had brought increases in illegitimacy but did little to slow birth rates. Most of the barriers were removed.” Source: James J. Sheehan, German History, 1770-1866 (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1994), p. 785)
“The reasons for these late ages at first marriage were usually financial. Young people had to find some way to establish themselves independently – a process that took time. Children of landowning peasants sometimes waited until their parents retired and they received their inheritance. Yet, children of landowning farmers, particularly women, generally married earlier than the children of landless laborers. This second group spent these extra years working on other farms, carefully saving their resources in preparation of beginning their own households.” Source: Regina Schulte, “Peasants and Farmers’ Maids: Female Farm Servants at the End of the Nineteenth Century,” in The German Peasantry: Conflict and Community in Rural Society from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century, Richard J. Evans and W.R Lee, editors (St. Martin’s Press: New York, 1986), 167.
Eventually Josef was able to come to the point he could provide for his family, one way or another. Josef and Maria had three sons, Heinrich Josef, Heinrich August and Bernhard Josef, born 1848, 1850 and 1860, respectively. The family came to maturity by the 1880s. It was time for these young men to also establish themselves as Josef had done. It’s not clear yet when Josef and Maria died. However, if they were living, the decisions made by two of their sons around 1880 and 1885 must have been tremendously hard on them. The oldest and the youngest sons emigrated to America between 1880 and 1886. Joseph Niehaus (Heinrich Josef Niehues) followed his brother Bernhard to Indianapolis….and so the story continues to this day.
But let’s not stray away from Josef Niehues’s story in Germany. The village of Lage where Josef lived and farmed at the time of his marriage in 1843 is a part of the town of Riesenbeck. Today these two villages where the Niehaus life took place are both unified into the city of Horstel. Hörstel is a town in the district of Steinfurt, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. In modern days, Riesenbeck is known for hosting international equestrian events. The Dortmund-Ems Canal runs through Riesenbeck, transporting the products of the area to the sea. When looking at a current map of the Riesenbeck area there are still many farms dotting the landscape. Josef’s small farm had to be a part of this land. (Here’s a link to the Google map showing Riesenbeck.)
Researchers in our family have visited descendants of Josef’s son Heinrich August who remained in Riesenbeck. I wrote in another post about the family history by Charles Niehaus in 1955. Other cousins who have visited those descendants in more recent years have also shared generously of their experiences. All of us who learned something of the Niehaus history from our parents, aunts, uncles and cousins are carrying it forward. My Josef Niehues story has puzzles to solve yet. But I’m seeing the tremendous
potential. I’ll keep piecing together his life until we know him better.
I’m happy to hear of any details you may have to add to this family history. Thanks so much for visiting Indiana Ties!
Here are links to other related stories you may want to browse:
Niehaus Family Descendant Reports
Joseph Niehaus Family in 1900 Census
Niehaus Cousins Celebrating a Reunion
Citing the St. Kalixtus Catholic Church marriage record: "Deutschland, Heiraten 1558-1929," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NDC8-7XX : accessed 30 Apr 2014), Joseph Niehues and Maria Anna Beermann, 10 Oct 1843; citing ; FHL microfilm 841522.
Copyright © 2014 Nancy Niehaus Hurley