Saturday, October 30, 2010

Back to Germany

Over the years, I have corresponded with a genealogist, Werner Honkomp, who specializes in German emigrants from the former Duchy of Oldenburg in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen). You can click on his website Click on "Genealogy" and then click on the "Collection in English" found in the left-hand menu.

You can learn so much about the living conditions when the Vonderheides chose to come to the United States by exploring this site.

In the 1800s the area around Holdorf, Germany was organized in small "farming communities". Typically, our ancestors married people who lived close by. Our Vonderheide/Kamphake family last lived in the town of Holdorf. By an accident of history, the Duchy of Oldenburg was one of the few "counties" in northwest Germany that were Roman Catholic instead of Lutheran.

I was under the impression that the Vonderheides were relatively "well-off" when they left Germany. Werner burst my bubble by saying, "Get it straight. They were poor." They were "heurleute" -- basically peasants who did not own land and owed much of what they had to a landlord. Werner told me that within a period of about 50 years, 80% of the residents of Holdorf and the surrounding towns left Germany and resettled in the United States. Many settled in Cincinnati and Iowa. Many who wanted to continue farming started a new community in the Minster area of Ohio, a couple of hours north (by car) of Cincinnati.

In Germany the law required that farms be inherited by the first-born son. Thus, younger siblings had little opportunity other than farming the land of an older brother. Plots of available land became smaller with each succeeding generation. In addition, all boys were required to enlist in the army for three years of mandatory service. This combination was more than most parents could bare -- and so they left.

Werner has always told me that the Germans assumed it would take three generations in America for the emigrants to become successful. Imagine my pride when I realized just how successful my g-grandfather, August, was in such a relatively short period of time.


  1. Kathy,I am also related to the Honkomp fanily through the Strathman-Borgerding family. Bill Strathman

  2. Kathy,You can reach me through facebook-william strathman Des Moines Iowa.

    1. William,
      I may have some information. I cannot find you on facebook, I'll try again. You can contact me directly at


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