Saturday, May 22, 2010

Westerstede - next the birth place and home of my Great Grandfather Gerd Jansson

Next stop was to visit the birth place and home of my great grandfather Gerd Jansson. The house where he was born and raised is still actually located in Petersfeld which is a town of about 20 houses mostly farms just a couple of miles out of Westerstede. Petersfeld is so small that only people who live in the area would know of it, it has a mailing address of Westerstede. You can use google maps to find the location of this area by looking for “petersfeld, westerstede, germany”. It is interesting to know where your family came from and now I can pin it down to here.

Our family story about Gerd coming to America, as I had heard it, which was passed down through my side of the family was the story of how my Great Grandfather Gerd had before leaving Germany rode his bike around the tree in front of his house 3 times before leaving. Like a bad game of telephone ( ) I knew that there had to be more to the story, after all this was the story that was passed down and survived however some of the details seemed to be missing.

Why did he leave? Why did he ride around the tree before leaving, was he struggling with the choice of whether or not to go? Why 3 times, why not 4, or perhaps 2? But all I had was that he just simply rode around the tree (3 times) then left Germany forever and started our branch of the family tree.

Me and the tree:

Through talking with my relatives a clearer, although still not totally clear, story had survived on their side, however still not without some questions. Perhaps because they were the ones watching him ride around the tree and he perhaps talked less of his own story.

Here is how I will tell the story, with a little embellishment:

Gerd had signed up for military service with two of his good friends. He wanted to go to China, with his friends, to fight in the boxer rebellion,

Perhaps he wanted some adventure; or to visit a far off land or perhaps he was inspired by Kaiser Wilhelm II speech in which the Kaiser promised to leave the Boxers with a lasting lesson: thus making “the name of German remembered in China for a thousand years”. Their actions would serve to suppress the uprising of the Boxers.

Gerd was accepted in the service however the problem was that his friends were not. Now he had a dilemma; he wanted to go with his friends however now he had to go alone. His problem was that he didn’t want to go alone however if he didn’t go he would be a deserter. He must have decided to take his fate into his own hands and instead went to America, to the land of opportunity, instead of off to war alone. By leaving for America he knew that he could never go back to his homeland. This must have been a tough decision for him.

At the start of his journey he circled the tree three times before leaving. He did this to imprint this memory, the last memory of his home and country, knowing that he would never be able to come back. He was able to afford his passage by working his way across the ocean, shoveling coal, and other things. He end up in New York and stayed there 7 years before he went west.

This is the way I will tell it. Feel free to contact me if you would like to update me with other information or correct me on any of my embellishments or my facts as I am just another link in the chain reporting what I have heard (again with some embellishments).

Why three times? Still not sure, could have been to follow a custom where newly married couples go around a tree three times for luck, not sure though.

Udo Jansson, his wife and their daughter in front of the tree: they are also relatives and own the farmhouse, along with the tree. Udo grew field corn on his farm (maze) however now he is retired, earlier than he wished, he has some back problems.

Udo actually told us that there were actually two trees there; kind of a clump, and the one on the right was lost to a lightning strike. He replaced it with a small one as you can see in the picture. The old tree is looking very old so I feel fortunate to have seen it, don’t know how long it has left.

Noah and Melissa, walking three times around the tree, seemed like the thing to do.
House where Gerd was born and raised and the tree, on the right:

Another angle:

Picture of the house and the tree back in the day:

Group photo in front of the house:
Picture down the side road:
Farm fields around the house, probably haven't changed a lot over the last 110 years:
The old school house, next door, now used as a house. This is where our family went to school:
Picture of the farm house from the school:
Udo Jansson:

Udo and his family had a tea and treats ready for us. Thanks! Everyone was nice in opening their homes to us and so kind, it made us feel real welcome:
Swapping stories, David's German was excellent as he helped with translations:
More socializing:

Looking over the family tree:
Thanks again for allowing us to visit

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