Johannes and Charlotte Fehring
We'll start our story with Johannes and Charlotte Fehring, which is about as far back as we have been able to track our family. Johannes was born in Ossendorf, Germany in 1799. He married Charlotte Dierkes in 1824 and moved to the town of Eissen, about 6 miles away, where Johannes operated a flour-mill.
Johannes apparently was unable to make a reasonable living as a miller and in 1833 he left his native land alone and traveled to the United States. We believe he was attracted by the availability of cheap farm land. Charlotte remained behind, along with their four children.
Shortly after landing in New York, Johannes was taken ill and died. About four months afterward, Charlotte also died in Germany. Following Johannes and Charlotte's deaths, their four children -- Bernadine Josefine, Carl Theodor, August Hubert and Johannes -- were raised by relatives in Germany.
The four children came to the United States with uncles and aunts in the 1850s. We believe they Americanized their names shortly after arriving in the States: Bernadine Josefine became Deina, Carl Theodor became Charles, Johannes became John George. Deina died in New York, unmarried. Charles eventually settled in Wisconsin; August and John George in Illinois.
The story of the Fehrings in the US continues under a separate tab. We have also included a tab for additional information about our German ancestors. Please use the navigation buttons above to page through our history.
As a backdrop to our family history, it is helpful to provide some context. The following is a small extract of a book entitled "Germans in Wisconsin," published by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in 1977.
Until the later part of the nineteenth century there was no such country as "Germany." Instead, hundreds of small administrative units existed, controlled in a feudalistic manner by a hierarchy of princes, grand dukes, dukes, margraves, abbots, electors, barons, and counts. By 1815 these units had been consolidated into some thirty different states, either voluntarily or through the aggression of the more powerful states such as Prussia. But all were mere political arrangements: religion, language, types of agriculture, cultural and architectural traditions, and forms of government differed from region to region.
For centuries the social system of the Germanic regions remained feudalistic and unchanging. Farmers were virtually serfs of their overlords; artisans abided by the ancient regulations of the medieval crafts guilds. So regimented was life that each type of agricultural worker, each type of artisan from each region, province or state could readily be distinguished by his distinctive dress, made of homespun materials and dyed by hand. .
American census takers, of course, lumped them all together as "Germans."
The French Revolution, with its liberating ideals, abolished this rigid system altogether and led to changes which set the state for the eventual migrations. Agricultural reforms, industrialization, the rise of capitalism, a 38 percent increase in the birth rate, a disastrous potato blight and other crop failures in teh period between 1848 and 1853 all conspired to produce an army of dispossessed farmers. Artisans, displaced by factory workers, roamed the countryside in search of employment. To such people America did indeed seem the land of hope and shining promise.
German emigration ot the United States occurred in three major waves. The first, in the years 1845-1855, consisted of 939,149 men, women and children, 97 percent of whom came from southwestern Germany.
Although the flow of emigrants continued, the second wave did not break until 10 years later, when 1,066,333 people reached the United States between 1865 and 1873. Most of these came from northwestern Germany, specifically from the states of Schleswig-Holstein, Ost Friesland, Hanover, Oldenburg and Westphalia, an area of prosperous mid-sized grain farms. (Emphasis added)
Beginning in the 1850s the influx of cheap American wheat had begun to depress the world market to such an extent that by 1865, with the American Civil War over and with a prospect of a continuing decline in grain prices, many owners of moderately sized farms, fearing foreclosure, decided to sell out while they could and depart for America with enough cash to begin anew. In addition, the area's industrial centers were filled with unemployed former agricultural workers anxious to build a new life abroad. "The vast majority of the emigrants," according to one historian, came from the lower-middle economic strata: "people who had a little and had an appetite for more."
It is against this backdrop that the Fehrings came to the United States.
A few additional comments:
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