While Josef makes his way across the Atlantic to America in early January, 1911, I thought I’d use his “travel time” to fill you all in on some details of this family archaeologist’s dig. First–a little more about the unreadable letters, diaries and documents.
Box 14 became the repository with this label: “Joseph and Elisabeth Gartz, Correspondence and Memorabilia.” (We used the Americanized spellings of their names.
My older brother, Paul, gets the credit for the letters’ continued existence. Both my younger brother, Bill, and I could have been persuaded to toss them. Paul wanted to keep everything that could be remotely related to family. We sighed. “No one will ever be able to read them!” I declared.
Now I’m the only sibling that has even passable German language skills. (For lack of a better idea, I chose German as my college major. Within a year, I got the payoff for that impulsive decision: I spent my senior year studying at the University of Munich, which fixed the language into the deep recesses of my brain, even when surface knowledge was forgotten).
In 1994, after almost a quarter century hiatus from German, raising two young children, acting as executor for my Mom’s estate, and with a newly gutted and renovated house that required serious attention, I looked at those letters and prayed for dispensation. I was certain I could never endure the agony (with my creaky and diminished language skills) or the time (see above) of translating the undoubtedly mundane details from the lives of people of whom I had no knowledge. Were they even relatives? Oh…and then there’s the ILLEGIBLE part.
Just to give you a sense of what I’m talking about, here’s a little book my grandmother kept, copyrighted 1881.The title: ABC Buch und Leseübungen für Schule und Haus: (Book and Reading Practice for School and Home). Its intent was to teach children to recognize both printed and handwritten letters of the alphabet in late 19th Century German. It shows the physical style of writing my grandparents, their friends, and relatives would have learned. This little book shows the handwriting used in the letters.