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When my research first took me across the Atlantic Ocean into Europe, the name of the village Rumbach began appearing with some frequency. And well it should have because Rumbach, Germany is the most prevalent village of origin for our ancestral families. But, where is Rumbach?
Let's begin by first looking at a map of Europe. On the map of Europe on the following page the country borders are as they appear in the year 2000 A.D. We need to remember, however, that throughout history these boundaries have changed many times. As a result villages such as Rumbach were sometimes in France, sometimes in Germany and more frequently in independent states or territories such as German, Bavaria; German Palatine; and German Pfalz, to mention a few. Also there were periods in which villages such as Rumbach fell under the domination of transient Swedish, Spanish, and French armies. But, we will do well to use the map as it exists in the year 2000 A.D. to describe where our ancestors lived. It will also be more convenient for those of us who may visit this area in the future.
As shown by the enlargement of the area in the European map, Rumbach lies on a northern extension of the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. In fact, it was included in the Alsace-Lorraine area on several earlier maps but as the fortunes of war shifted, Rumbach found itself at various times in and out of the Alsace region. It now lies about 6 air-miles north of the current French and German border.
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This entire area beginning from central Germany to near the south of France can be described as being in the foothills of the Alps. Beginning to the south in Switzerland the lands falls more or less gradually in altitude toward the north and west until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean at the coast of France and Belgium. The Alsace-Lorraine region, as is Rumbach and the surrounding villages, are located in these foothills. The Rhine River flowing to the north has cut a huge valley through the foothills as it drains the higher regions of the Alps. On a more micro-scale, however, with the Rhine River to the east of Rumbach and the minor mountain range of the Vosges immediately to the west, it gives the impression of the foothills descending toward the Rhine River.
Located about 40 air-miles to the west from the Rhine River, Rumbach is in a distinctly hilly area. Not too surprisingly, the land features around Rumbach resemble those of southeastern Ohio where many of the Rumbach residents eventually immigrated.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE REGION IN WHICH OUR ANCESTORS LIVED
Much in the lives of our ancestors of the post 1400 A.D. period was driven by historical events. Fortunately, with the Renaissance, we enter a period where relatively good, systematic records were kept. This is particularly true for the church and the aristocracy but less true for the common people. But, many of the events of history had direct impacts on our peasant ancestors and a knowledge of their history is instructional in helping to understand the way they lived. You may wish to follow some of the events on the Time Line and the maps.
It is important to understand that the homeland of our ancestors lies in the path of one of the important overland trade and military routes of the day. Sea and ocean trade routes were extremely hazardous because of pirates and warships of various nations that preyed on the commercial ships. This had forced much of the European trade to use overland routes.
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The area around the Rhine River that includes Rumbach and the several other villages of our ancestors, lies on one of these important overland routes that for centuries connected the lands of Belgium, Saxony and southern Germany with the Rhone River in France and eventually leads to the Mediterranean. The Valleys of the Rhine River which flows to the north and Rhone River which flows south provide natural corridors for this north-to-south trade and military route. At their origin the two river valleys approach each other by less than 100 air-miles. The use and control of this north-south passage exposed the area to a continual flow of many foreign groups over the centuries.
Let's step back a bit into history and see how this came about. As we have seen, the area which includes Alsace and the lands of our German ancestors was first conquered by Julius Caesar in the 1st century and it remained as part of the Roman province of Prima Germania for the next six centuries. Then, the region was conquered by the Alemanni, a Germanic tribe, in the 5th century AD and then by Clovis, king of the Franks, in 496. Over the next 300 years the Franks (French) ruled the area.
In the ninth century, this region became part of the "Carolingian" Empire of Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse). When Charlemagne's grandsons divided his Empire at the Treaty of Verdun of 843, the region was in the middle of Lorraine (Lotharingia), part of a narrow middle strip granted to Lothar. Buffeted on both sides by German and French speaking kingdoms, the new kingdom did not last long. The region that was to become Alsace eventually was absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire. It became part of the duchy of Swabia in the Treaty of Meersen in 870. At about this time France and Germany began to fragment into a number of secular and ecclesiastical lordships. This fragmented situation lasted until the 17th century.
One of the most powerful secular families of Swabia was that of the Staufen or Hohenstaufen. In 1152 a member of this family, Friedrich I Barbarossa, was placed on the German throne. Frederick re-established the monarchy which had become dissipated from a series of power struggles with the Catholic Pope. In 1212 Alsace was organized for the first time as we know it today. It was to be ruled by ministers, a non-noble class of civil servants.
Strassburg which is located about 35 air-miles south of Rumbach, became the most populous and commercially important town in the region. In 1262 it gained the status of a free imperial city and was a stop on the Paris-Vienna-Orient trade route. It was also a key port on the Rhine River route linking southern Germany and Switzerland to the Netherlands, England and Scandinavia.
Around this time, German central power declined while the power of France grew. France began an aggressive policy of expansion, first to the Rhône and Meuse Rivers, and when those borders were reached, aimed for the Rhine. Our early ancestors were spared another war, however, because during the next century, France was militarily shattered by the Hundred Years War with England. After the conclusion of the Hundred Years War, France was again free to pursue its desire to reach the Rhine and in 1444 a French army appeared in Lorraine and Alsace. There it took up winter quarters, demanded the submission of Metz and Strassburg and launched an attack on Basel. Metz and Strassburg are both about 20 to 25 air-miles south of the current France-German border and the French army's presence would undoubtedly have been felt by our earliest ancestors, the Wagner, Reiss and Cuntz families who lived perhaps 30 miles away.
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In 1469, Upper Alsace was sold for money by Duke Sigismund of Habsburg to Charles of Burgundy (French) who also ruled over the Netherlands and Burgundy. At this time our ancestor, Peter Wagner, was the mayor of Rumbach. Peter's father, "The Old" Wagner, appears to have died about 4 years earlier.
Through marriage the German Emperor regained full control of Upper Alsace and the area became the property of the Habsburg family, who were also the hereditary rulers of the Holy Roman Empire.
The high level changes of land ownership had little effect on our ancestors. By the mid-1400s Rumbach was an independent, thriving town of about 500 population. Such changes in ownership were more a matter of whose armies occupied the lands and who collected the taxes.
By the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, Strasbourg was a prosperous community. Its inhabitants accepted Protestantism at an early date (1523). The reformer Martin Bucer was a prominent Protestant reformer in the region. His efforts were countered by the Roman Catholic Habsburgs who tried to eradicate 'heresy' in Upper Alsace. As a result, Alsace was transformed into a mosaic of Catholic and Protestant territories.
Around 1600 the "Little Ice Age" began in Europe. It was the beginning of a period of about 120 years in which the temperature in Europe fell several degrees. During this period crops regularly failed due to the cooler weather. Agricultural production was limited particularly in northern Europe and contributed to famine. We are able to identify many of our ancestral lines who lived in the year 1600. They included the Reiss, Kern, Neuhart, Ostertag, Wagner, Schied, Minicus, Hatzenbuehl, Schneider, Cuntz, Wuerster, Hauswirth, Milchior, Steinmann, Sriesser, and Pfeiffer families.
The year 1618 marked the beginning of the Thirty Years War. Since major parts of this war were fought in our ancestors' homeland, it was particularly difficult time in our family history. In 1639 most of Alsace was again conquered by France. They wanted to prevent Alsace from falling into the hands of the Spanish Habsburgs who had marched into the area to clear a road from the Mediterranean to their possessions in the Netherlands.
In 1646, beset by enemies and to gain a free hand in Hungary, the Habsburgs sold their Sundgau territory (mostly in Upper Alsace) to France, which had already occupied it, for the sum of 1.2 million thalers. When the hostilities of the Thirty Years War finally ceased in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia, most of Alsace went to France with some towns remaining independent.
The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) had been one of the worst periods in the history of Alsace. The land was successively invaded and devastated by many armies including the German Imperials, Swedes, and French. Much of the population (mainly in the countryside) died or fled. In the end, the population was so sparse that the normal life of farming and conducting business could no longer be continued.
To repopulate this devastated land people were invited from other countries. After 1648 and until the mid-18th century, numerous immigrants arrived from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Lorraine, and other areas. Our ancestor, Franz Brubach, who was born about 1650 in the city of Zurich, Switzerland was one of these immigrants. He had already begun his trade as a blacksmith in Zurich when he immigrated to Annweiler, Germany sometime around the year 1670.
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France consolidated her hold on the area with the 1679 Treaty of Nimwegen which brought the towns under her control. In 1681, she occupied Strassburg in an unprovoked action. These territorial changes were reinforced at the 1691 Peace of Rijkswik (Ryswick) which ended the War of the Palatinate (also known as the War of the Grand Alliance or War of the League of Augsburg). Through these actions Alsace was drawn into the orbit of France.
The Bubonic Plague again visited our ancestors in 1694. Both Franz and his wife Susan Brubach became victims of the Black Death and died during the same week.
The year 1789 brought the French Revolution and again the French armies marched across our ancestors homeland. Rather than fight, the county capitulated sparing the population another siege of destruction. However, since the armies of those days lived off the land, their passage was like a swarm of locus that consumed much of the livelihood of our ancestors.
In 1814 and 1815, with the fall of Napoleon, Alsace was again occupied by foreign forces, including over 280,000 soldiers and 90,000 horses in Bas-Rhin alone. At that time our ancestor, Johann Michael Jung, who subsequently immigrated to America, was 13 years old.
Following the fall of Napoleon, the economy of the region deteriorated further due to the reduced use of overland trade routes. These had been switched to newly opened trade routes at Mediterranean and Atlantic seaports. The sea routes had once again been made safe from the pirates that had forced their closing over 4 centuries earlier. At the same time, the population in Europe in general had begun to grow rapidly. In the Alsace region the population grew from 800,000 in 1814 to 914,000 in 1830 and 1,067,000 in 1846. This combination of factors meant hunger, housing shortages and a lack of work; particularly for the young people.
It is not surprising that many thousands of people immigrated to Russia at the invitation of Catharine the Great. Many more took advantage of a new opportunity offered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Empire had recently conquered lands in the East from the Turkish Empire and offered generous terms for colonists in order to consolidate their hold on the lands. Many also began to sail for America, where after 1807 the importation of slaves had been banned and new workers were needed in that expanding economy.
In 1871, as a concession after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1), France gave up Alsace to the newly unified Germany and the history of Alsace becomes that of the Reichsland Elsass-Lothringen or Alsace-Lorraine. Then less than 50 years later, at the conclusion of World War I (1914-1918), Alsace returned to French control. And 25 years later, a similar transfer occurred during the World War II conflict (1939-45) at the end of which the region was again ceded to France.
We can see from this brief history that the homeland of our ancestors suffered almost continual turmoil over the centuries. This chronology of events does not include the repeated visits of the bubonic plague which laid to waste many of the villages and farms. Famine followed many of the outbreaks of the plague exacerbated by the "The Little Ice Age." It seems a wonder that the family tree as we know it now, survived.
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