What’s in a Name?
I had no inkling our family surname had ever been anything other than Gärtz. But then we visited my grandfather’s home town church, the Evangelische Kirche Neppendorf, and met Renate, church secretary and Neppendorfer genealogy and history-maven supreme. She handed us a two-page document chronicling the highlights of Gärtz family history in Neppendorf, researched by an earlier church pastor. For the first time, we learned about our family’s German roots in Alsace, and that our Ur-immigrant’s name was not Gärtz, but Gerz or Görz.
From Germany to Transylvania
Our family history document stated:
*[8/22/2011 UPDATE: as I researched the family history further, I found out these dates were off. This “Johannes Michael Görtz” was actually born 10/10/1769 and brought to Siebenbürgen by his father in May, 1770. Details to come in a future post.
My guess is that the spelling changed because the names sound so similar in German, they were simply recorded as heard. Eventually, after various iterations, the family became Gärtz.
Alsace (Elsaß in German)
We know that Alsace has been fought over by the Germans and French for centuries, so that part “in the French section” stood out. Did Michael leave because of trouble with the French? The French Revolution of 1789 affected Alsace when the French Revolutionary Army of the Rhine was victorious over Prussian/Austrian forces opposed to the new Republic, and tens of thousands (probably mostly ethnic Germans) fled east. Perhaps Michael was among them. We can’t be certain, but the timing makes it a tempting conclusion.
We had also learned that the first Germans to emigrate to Transylvania back in the 12th century came from the area around Luxembourg, and other environs along the Mosel (German spelling) (Moselle) River (a tributary of the Rhein River), all in the vicinity of my ancestor’s hometown of Gerstheim. The original Michael Gerz may have known he’d find people of a similar mindset in Neppendorf. He also had a transportable skill. He was a “Zimmermeister,” or “master carpenter,” like my grandfather, Josef.
Church as History
Not all churches have this level of detail available to family searchers seeking information on their ancestors, but it was a treasure trove for us, and I’d encourage anyone serious about family history to seek out a church your ancestors attended in the old country. No telling what you’ll find.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I learned the approximate date that the original Gärtz/Gerz/Görz had left Germany. By waiting until the 18th century to emigrate, even if under circumstances of war, my ancestors had missed living in Transylvania under the reign of one of the region’s cruelest rulers—the man from whom the Dracula legend most likely originated. Dracul, aka, Vlad the Impaler—up next Travel Tuesday. Then back to Josef’s Neppendorf church as it spills more of its secrets.
Friday, 2/11, Lisi receives Josef’s January 29th letter, including the comments from Eva Beer, the wife of the Neppendorfer who helped him in Cleveland. How would you react if you were Lisi?