Regina Erhardt Fassnacht: From the Blackforest to Buffalo
by Jillaine Smith, September 2000
A slightly elaborated genealogy
Last updated: 24 Feb 2006
Our most documented line to date is that of Regina Erhardt, one of the first of our ancestors to emigrate from Germany to the United States in the late 1840s. Thanks are due to Darcy McCabe, great-great-granddaughter of Regina Erhardt, for documenting Regina's line through the LDS microfilm of German church records.
Regina was born in February 1823 in the small village of Unterreichenbach, just south of Pforzheim along the Nagold River. Darcy documented seven generations before Regina, going back to this oldest set, all born in Unterreichenbach between 1580 and 1600:
- Anastasius Gengenbach (b.~1590s)
- Martin Essich (b ~1595)
- Georg Bohnenberger (b. ~1580)
- Constantin Meinhardt (b. ~1580)
(Georg's & Constantin's children married each other)
- Konrad Gengenbach (b. ~1597)
- Georg Marquardt (b. ~1600)
- Hans Nonnenman (b. ~1620)
(Georg's & Hans' children married each other)
- Christof Bohnenberger (b. ~1580)
- Christman Gengenbach
Growing up in UnterreichenbachThe Nagold River starts in the southern Blackforest and flows north along its eastern edge, through a heavily forested and steep river valley dotted with small resort towns, including Unterreichenbach, Regina's home town. Ultimately, the Nagold ends up in Pforzeim where it empties into the Enz River. The lovely town of Calw (in the center of the map) appears to have been the administrative center of the region (kreis).
Like many families in the Black Forest, Regina's father and grandfathers (and possibly further back), made their living from the river and the forest. Most of the men in her immediate line were "flosser" - raftsman who roped together the logs that the forest produced, and who used the river as a highway to deliver the logs to mills. Today, lumber is still a thriving business in the region, and the flosser tradition is kept alive through annual festivals for which men, dressed in historical costumes, compete on the river with the hand-roped rafts of yesteryear.
Meanwhile, the women were busy in their own industry: raising enough
children to survive disease, reach adulthood, carry the family name and
care for the elders. Regina's line was robust: women lived relatively long
lives in most cases, started giving birth in their late teens, and
continued doing so well into their 40s. We see total number of births
regularly reaching twelve or fifteen, although usually no more than half
of these survived infanthood and less reached adulthood.
Regina herself was the 14th and last child of Jakob Erhardt and Eva Catharina Bohnenberger. Eva was two months shy of 44 when Regina was born. Perhaps so many births took their toll on Eva. She died in the fall of 1832, age 52, a few months before Regina turned 10.
Of Eva's fourteen births, at least six reached adulthood and married (including Regina). Three others reached age 14 (confirmation age), but we don't find marriage or death information for them. Ten-year-old Regina's closest sibling at the time of her mother's death was her sister Barbara, then age 14. It's likely that all her other sisters were married by this time, the next oldest sister being then 22.
The other closest sibling was Regina's brother Johann Georg (he probably went by "Georg"). He was 17 when their mother died, and wouldn't marry until November 1847, about two years before Regina would first be found in Buffalo. The photo to the left was made in Stuttgart and we believe it to be Regina's brother, Georg.
Chances are, Regina was closest to Barbara and Georg at the time of her mother's death. Her father Jakob was 59 and would live until he was 76, dying in Unterreichenbach shortly after his youngest daughter moved to America (the only one of his children to emigrate).
In 1841, when Regina was 17, her sister Barbara married and started to raise a family. It was time for Regina to be on her own, to build her own future. For some reason, Regina did not stay in Unterreichenbach and marry. I wish we knew what caused her to leave, or when exactly she left. I believe she was very close to her brother Georg. We know that many years later, one of his sons emigrated to the U.S. and raised a family not far from Regina in Buffalo. We also know that Georg did not stay in Unterreichenbach but moved after his own marriage in late 1847 to Wurtingen, southeast of Stuttgart. Perhaps after Barbara's marriage in 1841, brother and sister travelled together upriver, perhaps visiting cousins, colleagues and friends of their parents. The Altensteig Ortsippenbuch (town genealogy) records two Bohnenberger siblings living there during this time. And perhaps while Regina and Georg visited Altensteig, they resided or ate at the inn in town called the Stern.
Regina Comes to AltensteigWe have no documented evidence (yet) that Regina actually resided in Altensteig. Family legend claims that she was governess to the Fassnacht family there. The Fassnachts had been in Altensteig several generations, back to the mid 1600s. They were bakers, beer brewers and innkeepers. Perhaps Georg and Regina visited their inn, the Stern (the Star), and there learned that the owner's wife had died in 1839, that the oldest daughter, who'd been caring for the rest of the family, had just married, leaving the senior Fassnacht -- who was not very healthy -- with a set of school-age children to finish raising.
Let's assume that Regina was in Altensteig the year following her sister's marriage-- 1842, at the age of 18. The Fassnacht family had 8 children still living at home, ranging in age from 19 to age 5. And let's assume that this part of family legend is correct and the Regina decided to become their governess and make Altensteig her new home for the time being.
At the time of his father's death in 1844, Johannes Fassnacht was 22 and the oldest son. The siblings still at home were; Elizabeth, 21; Marguerite, 19; Christina Magdalena, 16; Caroline, 15; Christophe Friedrich, 13; Luise, 12; Fredericka, 10; and Karl Michael, 7. Johannes, perhaps with Regina's assistance, was probably trying to run the inn and raise the rest of the family. In the meantime, revolution was brewing throughout what was then called Wuerttemberg. (Germany was not unified as a nation until the 1870s.) The economy was in bad shape.
It's time to get out of Dodge... er... Germany
There is no further (found) record of Johannes in Altensteig past his confirmation at age 14 in 1836. While the town genealogy (Ortsippenbuch) recorded the emigration of several of his younger siblings, the book did not record the fate of Johannes. Why no record for him?
My active imagination, fueled partially by our family legend, thinks some sort of scandal must have been involved. Our family history says that Johannes and Regina ran off together. Civil war was at hand, the economy was falling apart, and here was a young man faced with raising his father's family with a faultering business (the Stern inn). Back in Unterreichenbach, Regina's brother Georg had married on 14 November 1847. With the rest of her siblings starting their own families, emigration probably looked really good to Regina, too. Perhaps she encouraged Johannes to go to the U.S. He was the first in his family to do so. There, they could start a new life together.
Also in 1847, Johannes' sister, Elizabeth, the same age as Regina, became pregnant out of wedlock and gave birth to a son, Karl August Fassnacht, on Christmas Day in 1847 in Stuttgart. A daughter died at birth in January 1849, also in Stuttgart. Why did she go to Stuttgart to have her babies? Did Regina encourage Johannes to help Elizabeth by linking her up with family in Stuttgart, and thus gain the ire of the Altensteig townspeople? Or did Regina play some part in seeing that Elizabeth was banished to Stuttgart, thus gaining the ire of the family and close friends? We do know that Elizabeth ultimately returned to Altensteig, and lived out her days until her death in 1880 at the age of 57. There is no record (found yet) of the fate of her son.
Whatever happened, Johannes and Regina were becoming closer, perhaps a pair in all but marriage. By 1848, Johannes' siblings still at home range in age from 24 to 11. The eldest, Christine Margarethe, is engaged to be married in early 1849. Christine Magdalena is 20 and developing a weaving business that she will take to Christophastal by 1856. Caroline, if she's still living, is 19. Christophe Friedrich is 17 and will apply for emigration in 1852 (probably with his younger brother Karl Michael); Luise is 16 and will actually stick around Altensteig for many years before emigrating to France in 1872 at the age of 50. Does she become the caretaker of the family as they one by one marry off or otherwise leave Altensteig? Frederika is 14 and will ulimately marry and move to Zurich. Karl Michael is the "baby" at age 11 and will follow his brother across the Atlantic when he's only 15.
Johannes, no doubt counseled by Regina, examines his surroundings and his options. We believe that the Johannes Fassnacht who applied for emigration in Horb in or before 1848, is our ancestor. (See Wuerttemberg Emigration Index.) We have not found record of Regina applying for emigration. But off the two of them go, leaving the family behind, and having done something that led to the family and townspeople NOT recording in the town records what happened to them.
UPDATE Feb 2006: Darcy found Regina and Johannes -- along with Johannes' younger brother Christoph -- arriving in New York City on 21 Jun 1849 on the ship, MINESOTA (spelled like that). It came from Liverpool, which means that they went first from Germany to England, then to America.
Shufflin' off to Buffalo
While our family would like to believe that Regina and Johannes married on the ship on the way across the Atlantic, this generations-held theory has been soundly discounted by genealogists. People simply were not married on ships during that time. Shipboard marriages were an invention of the 20th century (or very late 19th). Captains of immigration ships did not conduct weddings. And records subsequently found in Buffalo confirm that Regina and Johannes were married in Buffalo, at St. John's Evangelical & Lutheran Church on 22 July 1849. We assume that they arrived very shortly before that and made marriage a first priority in their new country. Unfortunately, the witnesses at this marriage did not record their names, so we do not have any clues to guide us as to why they chose Buffalo. Nor have we yet found any passenger lists containing their names.
Johannes' two younger brothers ultimately followed him to America in 1852. [UPDATE: Despite what the WEI says, Christoph came over with them in 1849-- he's a witness/sponsor the the baptism of one of their children in 1851-- in Buffalo. Is it possible he returned to Germany to get the youngest sibling-- Karl Michael?] Some of his sisters also left Altensteig, one to marry in Switzerland, another emigrated to France. That Elizabeth did not follow her brother to the U.S. could indicate a falling out between them. Or perhaps she hoped for reconciliation and a future with the father of her bastard son. Regina is the only one of her immediate family to emigrate, but her dear brother's son Georg will join her many years later.
In Buffalo, Johannes fell back on the family business-- beer brewing. He applies for citizenship in May of 1853 and is granted citizenship in May 1855. Looking at Buffalo city directories, Regina and Johannes move every few years as she gives birth to four daughters, one of whom dies as an infant, and later a son, Max, who also appears to have died as an infant:
- 1852: Genesee near Spring
- 1853-54: 239 E. Genesee Street
- 1856-60: Main & Best
- 1863: Mortimer near Genessee
In 1863, the Fassnacht family experienced another downturn. Family legend has it that Johannes had a partner that sold his beer for him, but who pocketed the profits. And apparently it was this set of circumstances that led to Johannes' illness and early death in the hot summer of August 1863. The name Max Roth has been passed down as being involved in this swindle.
Once again on her own
In any case, Regina Erhardt Fassnacht found herself 14 years after coming to the new world, a single mother with her only family being her three daughters, Elizabeth age 11, Minnie age 5, Emma age 3. While Johannes' two brothers emigrated in 1852, the oldest died that same year on board an Erie steamship (perhaps while trying to emigrate further west), and the youngest, Karl Michael (now Charles), headed west for Toledo shortly after he obtained his citizenship in October 1858 at the age of 21.
But Regina was a determined woman. Starting with a push-cart, she began selling fish. Then she obtained a stand at a larger fish market on Washington Street. By 1870, she owns her own home. And ultimately the fishstand became a block-size fishmarket that stayed in the family for many generations, finally closing in 1971, well after 100 years after she started it.
She appears to have been well respected by all her family including the families of the men her daughters married.
She and her daughters lived in a tight German neighborhood. Minnie, Regina's second daughter, married the "boy next door," George Redlein. Emma, the youngest, married Frank Riehl, and also lived nearby. And the eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married Philip Leonard Schmidt, whose brother Heinrich lived down the street with their mother, Elisabetha Betz Schmidt, herself a widow like Regina.
Regina died of apoplexy in 1893, at the age of 70, after suffering from diabetes. She was buried next to her husband at Concordia Cemetery. Two years later, her children bought a large plot at Forest Lawn Cemetery and relocated both Regina and Johannes to their new and current home.
For the "truth" about Regina (i.e., what we really do know about her), please visit her part of my WorldConnect contribution
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