For whatever reason the German side of my family is a bit more difficult to trace than the rest. I won’t even start getting in to my Koehneke search… (you can read all about that here)
In the case of the Pfeiffer branch, I lucked out. Tucked away for safekeeping at my folks’ house is a framed delicate pencil drawing of an old mill building and its surrounding yard. The back of the frame simply says “Mühle bei Blasbach” and there is no date or identifying information hidden within the drawing itself. It’s in this neat art-deco style frame — but when I first came across it last year, the dust cover on the back was in poor shape and the frame/glass itself was dirty.
My understanding is that it used to hang in my mom’s grandmother’s home (my great-grandmother). It was subsequently shared through the family/generations and ended up with us.
Mom and I made the decision to hit up our local framing gallery, Leedo Art & Framing, to see if they could help us carefully disassemble, clean, and reassemble this treasure. We explained the back story and they quickly agreed to help out. I was especially curious to see if there was any extra information being hidden by the dust cover or the matting in the frame.
They set about removing the dust cover while we were there so I could check it out. You could clearly see how much the piece had aged/changed over the years — the visible parchment used for the drawing was yellowed, while anything hidden by the frame/matting was still a pale-ish color. There was nothing on the back. I scrutinized the front and aside from seeing the rest of the drawing (about an inch was covered by the matting on all sides), there was no other information or distinguishing mark to be found. No date. No artist signature. No dedication. Nothing.
Sometimes genealogical searches turn out that way. There’s always the possibility that you can find some amazing information from a single piece of ephemera… but the opposite is also true. Luckily, in this case, the story isn’t over.
I rushed home with the drawing (carefully protecting it in transit as much as possible) so I could get a hi-res scan of it before having it put back in its frame. From there I could use the infinite powers of my computer to zoom and recolor to see if I had missed anything. Artists can be tricky creatures, you know… 😉
The only thing I managed to accomplish was generating a version that was a crisper, darker drawing, and a less-yellow page behind it. This portion of work didn’t help my search, but it was satisfying seeing the before and after. And before you say anything, I know my “After” isn’t perfect. I wasn’t going for perfection this time around.
So back to the drawing board. … … … ha! get it?
I went back to that one little bit of information that was written on the frame: “Mühle bei Blasbach.” According to Google Translate, this caption says “Mill at Blasbach.” Blasbach must be a town someplace. I decided to follow that thread to see where it would take me.
You can determine from the drawing what the footprint of the building may look like, and what topographical features may be nearby. Thanks again to the omnipotent powers of Google, I found Blasbach on the map. It’s a teeny tiny little village roughly 70 km (43 miles) north of Frankfurt with about 1,000 residents. You go through Wetzlar in order to reach Blasbach from the south. In satellite view I scoured every inch of that village looking for a building that roughly fit the shape of the mill from the drawing. Nothing.
Germany, in general, isn’t too fond of Google Street View… and Blasbach is so tiny that it could have been skipped anyways. So there was no walking around the village virtually to hunt for the mill. General searches for articles, government info, photographs, community announcements/events, ANYTHING came up scant.
I really wanted to know if that mill still stood, and if I could learn anything else from it or from the village. At this point, there was really only one option: GO THERE IN PERSON.
I’ll leave the travel story to a different post (which will be linked here when published). The short version is: YES! It still stands! It’s at the southernmost border of the town, and has been modified over the years. The main building still stands, and the property is now run as a farm instead of as a mill.
My contacts at the nearest genealogical society arranged a time for me to meet with the current owner and check out the property. He was super nice and took us inside to see remnants of the old wooden frame and he showed us what little info he had about the place. His family had taken over the property in the early 1900s, and they didn’t have much information from before that time. Still, it was fascinating to stand in that building.
Those walls witnessed my third great grandfather’s childhood. They most likely witnessed the aftermath of my fourth great grandfather’s first wife’s death… and his new relationship with my fourth great grandmother. I could picture kids running around that property and making their way through the mill — leaving childlike destruction in their wake. I wonder what went on in that home when my third great grandfather was making the decision to leave Germany for the States…
It was simply a surreal experience…. and one I hope to repeat sometime in the not-so-distant-future.