The Old Country

     There was a sizable German community in McLean County when
my great-Grandfather arrived in the 1870's. Most were farmers, 
like their families back home. The church and some businesses 
catered to this German-speaking population, so much so, that my 
American-born Grandfather couldn't speak English until he went 
to school. They came here with little, but worked hard to build 
a life in America. 

     During World war I, there was much distrust of these 
immigrant families, which isolated them. Germans might be 
dangerous. I'm sure my family was torn between wanting to fit in 
and remaining loyal to their heritage. In time, they proved 
themselves with community service, hard work and deep American 
pride. My Grandfather kept this deutschmark in his wallet till 
his death to remind him of where he'd come from. 

     Letters were slow and few, but contact was crucial to these
families so far from their native land. Sometimes the letters 
told of the pain and suffering of the ones left behind. Such is 
the case with the following letter. Thanks to Ted Snediker and 
Heinz Zulauf, who translated the letter for me. Without them, I 
never would have known how this part of my family was connected. 
Below is the translation.

Ellhofen, 18 Mar 1921

My dear relatives!

After long waiting in vain, I want to take up the pen again to 
describe to you, my dear relatives, my fate. My dear mother was 
a sister to your dear mother, my dear aunt. Unfortunately, my 
dear mother is long dead, already 31 years, and my father has now 
been dead for six years. I was born a Hofmann. We are three 
brothers and sisters in the family, two brothers, and I am the 
youngest. I am now 36 years old, and have already experienced much 
grief and misery. I was five years old when I lost my dear mother. 
My father married again, but not in our favor. My brothers were 
already older, and made it through life more easily. My only 
support was my father, and the dear grandmother in Untergruppen-
bach. After the grandmother died, you sent me your picture and 
your address. That was her last wish. I was then working in 
Switzerland and could not go to her funeral. From then on I was 
always with you in spirit. My dear ones!

I got married in 1911 at Heustatt? [here there are two lines 
written upside down: I also have two little boys aged 1 1/2 
years and one month.] I had a good husband, unfortunately the 
horrible war came soon. On 1 April 1915 my dear husband was on 
leave, and brought me and my two little girls back home to 
Ellhofen. On Easter Saturday he had to go back, and on Easter 
Monday he was already dead. That was a hard blow for me. Now I 
was poor and abandoned with two small children. The older one 
was three years old and the little one one year. You can imagine 
how hard it was for me, but the dear God had not abandoned us.
I have married again, to a true comrade of my dear husband's. He 
is also a war invalid. He is a good, hardworking man, a painter. 
But sadly the story goes bad again. He was at home the whole 
winter, and it was necessary to struggle just to survive. The 
hunger is the worst part of it. We have only two rooms and a 
little kitchen, and there are six of us. I am often very unhappy. 
We would have built something else long ago, but there wasn't 
money enough. When one has to struggle just to live, one cannot 
take on the debt for a house.

Now I have told you my story. I would have written long ago, but
unfortunately I didn't have your address any more, but by 
coincidence I have it back.

In the hope that my letter finds you, my beloved ones, healthy 
and happy. We all greet you warmly,

Karolina Meßner, born Hofmann and family

My address is: Eugen Meßner in Ellhofen in Weinsberg, Württemberg

Back to McLean County, Illinois Heritage: