My mother's grandparents
|George C. Sees, born July 24, 1865 |
Parents: John and Susan Süß
|Elisabeth Keller Sees, born December 7, 1866|
Parents: Andrew and Elisabeth Keller
For a couple of weeks, the Pondering Pig has been writing about Willa Cather. Cather's O Pioneers and My Antonia describe Nebraska during the days when my four sets of great-grandparents were establishing themselves there. And recently, I've been discussing the Gordon (Nebraska) area with Runaway Imagination. His father's people were from Western Nebraska.
I've been meditating on these things, and as I was putting away some photographs yesterday, my hands fell upon the photos of the little German villages my great-grandparents came from. From thence, the following...
We spent a few days visiting Dellfeld and Nünschweiler, Germany in November of 1990. The two little villages are located across a field and over a hill from each other in Rheinland-Pfalz near Pirmassens and Zweibrucken. Great-grandma Sees was born in Dellfeld and Great-grandpa Sees was born in Nünschweiler.
We were living in Berlin with my husband's job, and we rented a car and drove out into west Germany, almost to France. Keely was five years old, so she has some memories of the trip, and Isaac was about 16 months.
I labeled the photos I took there and wrote six pages about the trip. When I looked at the notes and photos again yesterday, I was surprised how much I had forgotten about our visit there. Those memories would be gone forever if I hadn't written them down. At the time I did all that documentation to share the experience with my mother. Now I find I was writing for myself as well!
Here are a few images from Dellfeld where Elisabeth Keller was born.
|Dellfeld street and countryside||Dellfeld as seen from the cemetery|
|In the Dellfeld cemetery |
Our dead in God, 1856 (poor translation)
|Outskirts of Dellfeld|
And here are some photos from Nünschweiler, the childhood home of George Süß. The name was also spelled "Süss". George americanized it to "Sees" because, he said, no one knew how to pronounce or write his German name.
|Nünschweiler is still a farming village.||Seen from the back of the cemetery|
|A barn in Nünschweiler||Hillside gardens|
I don't know if this old church in Nünschweiler is the one that forever influenced my great-grandmother's opinion of Catholics, but I think it would have been around during her time!
As a young girl, Elisabeth was a maid in a house near (or next to) the convent. She learned that children lived in the convent, and she believed their parents to be priests and nuns. Whether or not this was the case, the purity of the Catholic Church was forever tainted in her eyes.
George and Elisabeth were Lutherans and they converted to Methodism in Gordon, perhaps in one of the tent revival meetings of that day.
George came to America first and worked for a few years building railroads in the American west. My mother always said that he was about to be conscripted into the German army when he made a break for America. Cousin Alta (like my mother, a Sees grandchild) says that George stowed away on a ship, but didn't bring enough food to make it across the ocean. He got so hungry he had to come out, and the captain allowed him to work in return for his board and keep for the rest of the voyage.
After a few years in America, George decided he needed a wife, so he chose a German girl from a village (Dellfeld) just over the hill from the village where he grew up (Nünschweiler). I don't know whether they were acquainted with each other already or if someone made the arrangements. I am also not sure whether Elisabeth traveled to America alone, or if George went to Germany to get her.
America surely held more promise for Elisabeth than Germany did. After her father died suddenly at a young age (from a burst appendix), her mother married a man who was apparently a monster. He raped Elisabeth's twin sister and she died from her injuries, as I understand it. (This was discussed at a Sees cousins' reunion that I attended in about 2000.) I don't know what age the girls were when this happened.
Then Elisabeth's mother died as well. Cousin Alta thinks that she also suffered a burst appendix. At any rate, when Elisabeth decided to go to America and marry George, she was on her own without mother or father, and she was working as a servant in the house I mentioned above.
George and Elisabeth were married in 1889, in Grand Island, Nebraska. During their first year of marriage, they lived with and worked for a cousin of George's near Grand Island. Thereafter, they lived in New Mexico for a while. They also lived near St. Paul, Nebraska, where an infant daughter (Caroline) was buried, before finally homesteading at Gordon with their five children.
My mother said her father, Harry Sees, told a story about the arrival of the Sees family in Gordon. As the train pulled in, her father observed some Indians chasing down a stray dog. When they caught it, they butchered it and cooked it over a fire.
I am not sure where George and Elisabeth homesteaded, but it was near Gordon, Nebraska. The land is now owned by descendants of the oldest daughter, Elva Sees Hix.
George knew some English already when he came to America, and he improved it while working on the railroads. (Alta thinks that George's mother may have been English in nationality. I don't know anything to either prove or disprove this. My mother's family tree papers show that George's mother was Susanna Steffan, but no other information is given -- not even a date of birth or death.)
Elisabeth spoke only German when she came to America, and she didn't learn English until her children went to school. Then she made them teach her each night what they had learned at school that day.
My mother told a story about World War I when anti-German sentiment was running high. A group of unfriendly people gathered outside the George Sees farmhouse one night. (I don't know how many people were in the crowd, but I'll bet most of them had been drinking.) My great-grandfather took his citizenship papers in hand and shook them at the people who dared to threaten his family and farm. This is the part of the story that I remember best, but my brother says that George also let the crowd in his yard know that he and his three strong sons (including my Grandpa Harry) would return in kind any damage that they suffered. The thugs left, and that was the end of it.
Another story my mother told was about George's bother Jakob. He came to visit from Germany but he didn't like it in America so he went back home. Elisabeth told my mother that Jakob set his boots outside his bedroom door, expecting her to clean them, but she ignored them. Elisabeth said Jakob seemed to think he was still in Germany, but she was an American woman!
Elisabeth's influence on my mother was significant because Mama's mother, Violet Eaton Sees, had passed away when Mama was eight years old. When my mother went to high school, she lived in town with George and Elisabeth, who were getting older and needed some help. Mama talked about doing many chores for them, particularly taking care of the chickens and cleaning the henhouse. During the four school years she lived with them, she was tutored in the family stories by her grandparents.
When I learned some German, I recognized the German influence in my mother's speech. I think she picked up the German words and idioms from her grandparents as well as her father.
As World War II approached and Nazi Germany began to flex its muscle, George and Elisabeth blamed power-hungry political and military leaders. They shook their heads and said, "It isn't the people, it isn't the people!" They did not live long enough to know the extremes to which the Nazis would go. George passed away on July 27, 1940, and Elisabeth passed away on August 26, 1940.
George and Elisabeth Sees are buried in the Gordon cemetery, on the south side. I don't know what George died from, but my mother thought Elisabeth may have had undiagnosed leukemia. (Leukemia is the curse of the Sees family).
The last communication that my mother remembered with the German branch of the Süß or Süss family was after World War II. They wrote asking the Sees family at Gordon to send soap and other items that were unavailable in Germany. The items were sent, and that seems to have been the last communication.
I don't believe Great-grandma Elisabeth had much (if any) contact with her family after she left Germany. My mother never mentioned anything about the Kellers.
I was not able to meet any relatives when we visited the ancestral villages, but I did find some tombstones in the Nünschweiler cemeteries bearing the names Süß and Süss. There were several Jakobs. We were told of a Dr. Lora Süss from Dellfeld, but she seemed to be out of town and we were not able to return due to the limits of our schedule.
Later, my mother was contacted by descendants of a cousin of George Sees who had also visited Dellfeld and Nünschweiler doing family research. (This explains why the German lady at the Dellfeld post office told me that I was the second American who had come asking about the Süss family.) I believe the cousin's last name was Stenger, Stanger, or something along that line. (Please correct me, if you know.) Mama wrote down some family tree information and passed it on to them.
And there you have it, kids. I wrote it down for you. It's up to you to save it and pass it on. Just remember that my great-grandparents are your great-great grandparents.
Related post: Dellfeld and Nünschweiler
Please let me know if additions or corrections should be made!