Finding Family – An Amazing Discovery
I love waking up in the morning, eager to see what adventure life has bought me. Recently, that adventure was a trip to Jasper, Indiana with several members of the Michigan Eckerles. We arrived, in time to catch the end of the annual Strassenfest. Never had I figured I’d spend a weekend in Jasper or that I would find an unknown, long lost (to me at least) branch of the Eckerle clan. My cousin Paula, the genealogist of the family, discovered this enclave of Eckerles last year and paid them a visit.
The sister city of Jasper is Pfaffenweiler, Germany; the Eckerle ancestral home. The last I knew, an Eckerle has lived in the family home there since 1613. My great-grandfather Richard came to America from Pfaffenweiler at the age of fourteen in 1882. The first Eckerle to settle in Jasper came with nine other families in 1813 – sixty-nine years earlier. A son, George was born. He was one of the first generation of American Eckerles.
Times were bad in Germany then. The Napoleonic war was raging, floods ruined crops and famine spread across the land. A clergyman had traveled to Jasper and returned with tales of fertile farm land as far as the eye could see, temperate weather, peace and the promise of a better life. The villagers were convinced.
When their ship neared America it was diverted south, due to a severe storm and made landfall at New Orleans. The journey was so perilous that the voyagers promised to erect a stone cross if only God would deliver them safely.
John George Eckerle, along with his fellow villagers, made his way north to Jasper.
We met our contact at Shoney’s for breakfast on Sunday and afterward, she took us on a tour of the town. She showed us the Eckerle dairy farm, stopped by her brother’s for Eckerle cozies; he owns Eckerle Construction Company. We saw a banner on the side of an RV in support of Nancy Eckerle for city council.
We took pictures and met more Eckerles. We also made a swing outside of town, down a road lined on both sides with tasseled corn. The fields were owned and farmed by Eckerles.
We finished the tour in time to head downtown for the Strassenfest parade. When the float filled with visiting German Eckerles went by I wanted to shout, “Ich bin’s. Es ist Lynn” (It’s me. It’s Lynn), but I settled for cheering and waving.
Our final stop before dinner was at the Dubois County Museum where we saw how our Eckerle ancestors had lived. It was at the museum that we found a wonderful lady who translated great-grandpa’s birth certificate. It was written in old German script. Up until then, Paula and I had been unable to find anyone who could read it.
I went from thinking that there were so few of us – nine at last count in Michigan – to belonging to this large clan on two continents. The Michigan Eckerles, the Jasper Eckerles and the German Eckerles are all part of a whole that converges in Pfaffenweiler.