Below is the text of the paper that I presented at the Northern Great Plains History Conference, on September 28-30, 2000. Professor John Buenker (Dept. of History at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside) and I collaborated on a session that featured our conversation on the subject below. My portion is posted.
I will begin my portion of this conversation autobiographically, by exploring how my experience has shaped my recent interdisciplinary work in immigration history. I was born in April 1950 and spent the first eighteen years of my life in Granville, a tiny northwestern (Sioux County) Iowa town of 350 people. Granville, platted in 1882 when the Chicago and Northwestern Rairoad was laid in that part of the state, began as a farming community populated by descendants of Luxembourger, German, and Irish immigrants who had purchased 80- and 160-acre parcels of land after the original inhabitants, members of the Dakota Indian Nation, had been "removed" from the area in the mid-nineteenth century. My ancestors, who had been day laborers in Luxembourg and northwest Germany, began immigrating to the United States around 1840 and continued until the late 1860s.1 They spoke Low German or Letzebuergesch (the native language of Luxembourgers) as their first languages and English as their second language. Most of my ancestors could not read or write English.
Granville, which was (and is) four blocks long and four blocks wide, has a one-block square Main Street, which used to be anchored by a bar on each corner. Around the turn of the century, my paternal great-grandparents, Matthias and Anna (Linster) Welter, were the proprietors of the Welter Saloon and Pool Hall, where my grandmother, Lillian Welter Bunkers, served drinks and set pins as a girl. My maternal great-grandparents, Theodore and Elizabeth (Simon) Klein, farmed 160 acres two miles south and two miles west of town. Their primary crops were corn and soybeans, and they also raised milk cows, hogs, and chickens. Of their fifteen children, nine survived to adulthood. Their youngest son, Theodore Jr., and his wife, Frances (Kokenge) Klein, took over the farm in the 1920s, when the elder Kleins retired and moved to town. This farm is where my mother, Verna Klein Bunkers, grew up. In June 1949, she married my father, Jerome (Tony) Bunkers, who was the assistant postmaster (and later one of two rural mail carriers) in Granville. Because one of my mother’s brothers took over the family farm upon their parents’ retirement, my family lived in town. I have four younger siblings, a sister and three brothers, born between 1952 and 1963.
Granville has one church, St. Joseph Catholic Church (founded in 1886) and one school, St. Joseph Catholic School. . . . In the year 1886 these sturdy pioneers, about 70 families in number, organized in Granville and built their first church, dedicating it to St. Joseph . . . In December 1888 two Sisters of St. Francis, Sr. M. Rose and Sr. M. Johanna arrived from Dubuque and opened the school with an enrollment of 50 pupils."2 Due to declining enrollments in the early 1960s, the school was consolidated with other small-town Catholic schools into the Spalding Catholic School system. Although I began school in the mid-1950s, it was not until I was eight years old that it dawned on me that there were actually "non-Catholics" in the world. During the pre-Vatican II era, all Catholic church services were conducted in Latin. In my daily religion classes, my classmates and I were urged to pray for the salvation of Communist Russia and the conversion of the Jews. We collected money to send to the Catholic missionaries in Africa. We were told that our goal was to "ransom" pagan babies; whenever my classmates and I had collected $5.00, the money was sent off to ransom a pagan baby, whom our class then "adopted" and gave a name such as "Clark Kent" or "Linda Lee." When I became a teenager in the mid-1960s, Mass and other religious services (which continued to be the centerpiece of community life) began to be offered in "the vernacular," English. The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, who taught me every day, shortened their veils and habits (eventually trading them entirely for secular clothing) and returned from their religious names to their birth names (for instance, Sister Mary Alcuin became Sister Miriam). Considerable numbers of nuns and priests began to leave their religious orders to return to the secular world.
In May 1968, just after the assassination of Martin Luther King and just before the assassination of Robert Kennedy, I completed high school. That September, I moved to Ames, Iowa, where I lived for six years, attending Iowa State University and completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English. In 1975, I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where I lived for six years while completing my doctorate in English. In 1980, I accepted a teaching position in the Department of English at Mankato (now Minnesota) State University, where I am now in my twentieth year of work.
This much of my past revealed, I will continue this (ad)venture with the kind of Augustinian confession that lies at the heart of much autobiographical work: I am not a trained historian, and for that reason I am not thoroughly acquainted with traditional historical modes of inquiry nor especially adept in using them. In addition, because I am a literary scholar, I have been schooled in that methodology. During the late 1970s, when I was training as a scholar of American literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, primary emphasis was placed on close textual analysis based on the formalist premises of detachment and objectivity. At the same time feminist, new historicist, and post-structuralist theories were rapidly changing the nature of literary analysis and influencing my research methodology and strategies. Now, twenty years later, I find that I have "self-retrained" not only as a literary theorist but also as a non-traditional practitioner of immigration history who still emphasizes close textual analysis but who also acknowledges that detachment and objectivity are neither possible nor desirable in my work.
Self-reflexivity, that is, a self-conscious exploration of the values and pre-suppositions that underlie and shape my methodology and results, has become increasingly central to my research and writing. So has an exploration of intersections between my interests in autobiography and immigration history, especially as they are reflected in the interdisciplinary nature of my research and writing as well as my inter-cultural heritage. These elements are embodied in my book, In Search of Susanna (University of Iowa Press, 1996), which diverse readers have viewed as a work of creative non-fiction, autobiography, genealogy, and/or social history. I believe that the book represents a confluence of the above, just as my ongoing research and writing do.3
Because my work is interdisciplinary and non-traditional, it cannot be easily categorized, nor would I like it to be. The same is true of my essay writing. In fact, this essay is not a formal one in the strictest sense of the word. Rather, it is a "journal-essay" that represents an interweaving of ideas and theories, reflections and speculations, based upon my own experience and observations as well as on the writings of others whose works inform the position from which I currently approach the intersection of autobiography and immigration history. Issues of memory and imagination, reconstruction and re-invention of the past, implications of the past for the present and future, privacy vs. telling of family secrets, the role of dreams and memories in memoir writing, real time vs. virtual time, versions of the truth, fluidity of identity, self-consciousness in narrative, the role of lies and confession in memoir writing--all of these pertinent issues in theory of autobiography are interwoven in a work of life writing. But how are all of these issues pertinent to the study of immigration history?
During the past decade, historians have called for an altered conceptual framework for immigration historiography, one characterized by a clearer focus upon the ways in which socially produced structures of meaning are expressed in and shaped by language, behavior, metaphors, and institutions. For instance, in Making Their Own America: Assimilation Theory and the German Peasant Pioneer (Berg Publishers, 1990), Kathleen Neils Conzen explores the cultural factors surrounding German immigration to Stearns County, Minnesota. She argues that the descendants of these immigrants "have not only preserved distinctive rural communities and cultures; they have also retained their commitment to a rural way of life to a greater extent than almost any other ancestry group–particularly Anglo-Americans–among today’s rural farm population" (5). Does Conzen’s observation still hold true in the year 2000, especially in light of the current corporatization of family farms, with hundreds of feed lots and immense hog confinement operations dotting (and polluting) the Midwestern rural landscape? And when she did her study of Stearns County, more than a decade ago, did Conzen realize that she was conflating a number of distinct groups (including the Low Germans of Meire Grove as well as the Luxembourgers of Luxemburg and St. Cloud) under the heading "German"? I cannot answer either question definitively; however, I cite Conzen’s fascinating study as one illustration of recent work in immigration historiography, work that has its strengths and weaknesses.
For twenty years, I have gathered and synthesized genealogical, historical, and cultural information; just as important, I have re-established emotional connections and ties of the heart to my ancestral homelands. Whenever I am visiting present-day cousins in Luxembourg or Germany, I am conscious of my ability to be in places to which many of my immigrant ancestors might have longed to return but could not. As the result of the inter-cultural ties that I have created through formal study and informal conversation, I am keenly aware of the intersections between Europe and the United States, past and present, history and autobiography.
The emergence of the World Wide Web has contributed greatly to my research efforts. The blurring of the boundary line separating "scholarly" from "popular" research, necessitated by the emergence of the Web, requires researchers to reflect upon broader issues of historiography, interpretation, methodology, and perspective. Doing research on the World Wide Web presents new challenges to studying immigration history not only because such research requires a willingness on the researcher's part to cross disciplinary lines but also because such research requires a willingness to cross cultural boundaries (virtual and real) as one surfs from regional to national to international web sites, conversing daily with other "surfers" around the world who share one's research interests. Doing online research involves a willingness to "stretch the envelope" (to mix current metaphors) by expanding one's definition of "research" to include work done by using e-mail, listservs, and web sites. It means doing research in non-linear ways and working inductively rather than deductively. For researchers learning to use the World Wide Web, it also means learning a new kind of critical thinking skill, namely, the ability to evaluate the validity and reliability of individual web sites. A new body of literature, available both in hard copy and online, offers online learners instruction in the basics.4
Over a year and a half, I have focused my research efforts on "surfing the web" for useful information on aspects of German immigration history. And I have found that the phrase "German immigration history" is a gross over-simplification of the complexities of the project on which I have embarked.5 When I speak of "German immigration history," I am not speaking generically; visions of liederhosen do not dance through my head, and I know that a drive over to New Ulm for Oktoberfest will not satisfy my need to learn from whence my German ancestors came. They were not from the Black Forest area; they were not German-Bohemian or German-Russian; they were not among the "Forty-Eighters," and they did not speak, read, or write High German. In Letters of a German American Farmer: Jurnjakob Swehn Travels to America (University of Iowa Press, 2000), edited by Johannes Gillhoff, translator Richard Trost introduces the text by defining the ways in which language influenced many immigrants’ experience: "The Low German spoken by Gillhoff’s Jurnjakob is more its own language rather than a dialect. It is the Anglo-Saxon German that went to England in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. When these Low German immigrants arrived in America and heard English, they couldn’t believe that anyone should speak such bad Low German! To their ears, English was a familiar language that somehow wasn’t being pronounced correctly . . . Language remained a conundrum for these Plattdeutsch immigrants. They finally couldn’t speak either good High German or good English. They invented a new Missingisch. And in the end they had an enormous complex over it all. Somehow, somewhere, someone had interpreted Low German as the bottom rung of the social ladder. Being Low German was synonymous with being low class. In reality, however, Low German is chiefly a geographical designation. In contract to Martin Luther’s Middle-High German, which refers to the dialects of Germany’s east-west midsection, Low German is the language of the northern lowlands, of the North Sea and Baltic coasts. It is true Anglo-Saxon German" (xiv-xv).
My Bunker ancestors came from the small villages of northwestern Germany. They were Catholics who worked as day laborers and spoke Low German. My great-great-grandfather, Herman Theodore Buenker, left the Duchy of Oldenburg in the late 1830s or early 1840s. After his arrival in the United States, he traveled to Cincinnati (whether up the Mississippi from New Orleans or westward from Baltimore or New York is still to be determined). In Cincinnati, he became a member of St. Mary’s, one of the earliest Catholic parishes in the city. There he married Elizabeth Niegengert Heitmeyer, another immigrant who was a young widow.6 Soon after the birth of their first son, Elizabeth and H. Theodore Buenker moved further westward, to Guttenberg and New Vienna, Iowa, not far from Dubuque, where small groups of German and Luxembourger immigrants began to arrive in the mid-to-late 1840s. Eventually, around 1890, along with two of their four sons, they crossed the state to its northwest corner and began farming outside the small towns of Remsen (in Plymouth County) and Granville (in Sioux County), where I spent my formative years.
Following a circuitous route, I have traced my Buenker ancestral lines back to the villages of Steinfeld, Damme, Lohne, Dinklage, and Emsburen, located in northwest Germany, not far from Lingen and Oldenburg.8 First, I gathered data from parish and county records, inscriptions in the family bible, plat books, and tombstone inscriptions. After reading one of John D. Buenker's books, I began wondering about the similarities in our surnames. On a whim, I wrote to him, asking if by chance he had any relatives in New Vienna, Iowa, where my Bunkers ancestors had once lived. John replied promptly, telling me about his Buenker ancestry, and we soon became determined to join forces to trace the Buenker/Bunker/Bunkers lineage.
Slowly, I began gathering additional data on Bunkers ancestors. Based on a statement in my great-grandfather Henry Bunkers' obituary that his family had come from Linden, Hannover, Germany, I began my internet search by visiting "Cyndi's List," a comprehensive list of 40,000 genealogy sites on the internet. There I found the URL for the Hannover mailing list ( ), where I posted my first query. Soon, I received this reply from a researcher named Werner Honkomp:
Mr. Honkomp recommended that I consult Walter Tenfelde's book, Auswanderungen und Auswanderer aus dem ahemaligen Kreise Lingen nach Nortamerika (Lingen: Heimatverein Lingen, 1998). On page 97 of the Tenfelde book, I found listings for five individuals named Buenker (Bunker) who had emigrated from Emsburen in the mid-1800s. One of these five was Anna Buenker Koelker, the sister of my great-great-grandfather Herman Theodore Bunker (Buenker), who arrived in Cincinnati in the early 1840s, then went west to New Vienna, Iowa, after his 1845 marriage to Elizabeth (Niegengert) Heitmeyer and the birth of their first son, Herman, in 1846.7
Next I joined the Oldenburg mailing list ( where I read an advertisement from Jens Mueller-Koppe, a German historian who does genealogical research in civil and church archives. I hired him to begin searching the records in the Osnabruck Catholic Diocesan archives as well as the Vechta civil archives. It did not take long to get results. On 30 March 1999, I received this e-mail messaage from Jens Muller-Koppe:
Hermann Theodor`s parents were
Johann Bernard Bünker
bap. 10.10.1780 Emsbüren
+ 15.01.1828 Elbergen
oo 24.01.1809 Elbergen
Susanne Adelheid Mensen
bap. 24.02.1778 Lohne (parish Schepsdorf)
+ 04.03.1853 Elbergen
Hermann Theodor had one brother and two sisters:
Gesina Adelheid Bünker bap. 17.05.1810
Anna Marie Bünker bap. 09.08.1812
Gerhard Hermann Bünker bap. 15.12.1817
Best greetings from Germany,
HISTORICAL RESEARCH SERVICES
Encouraged by this find, I visited the Bunker Family Association World Wide Web site > and e-mailed Gil Bunker (), who coordinates the association. He explained that the Bunker Family Association was interested in expanding its borders beyond three main branches of the English Bunkers (the Dover branch from Durham, New Hampshire; the Charlestown Branch of Bunker Hill, Massachusetts; and the Topsfield Branch from Nantucket, Massachusetts) to include other non-English-based Bunker families. Gil Bunker also told me about a theory that the Bunker surname had originated in Ireland and from there had spread not only to England but also to the Netherlands, France, and Germany. He posted my query online as well as in The Bunker Banner, the quarterly newsletter of the Bunker Family Association.
Most important, he put me in touch with the person who had first mentioned the "Irish Bunker Theory" to him--Michael Buenker of Dinklage, Germany, who was also doing research on the Buenker surname and who, we soon discovered, is descended from the same branch of the family tree as is John Buenker. Shortly after I e-mailed Michael Buenker and told him about Jens Mueller-Koppe’s discoveries, I received this reply:
31 March 1999
Maria & Michael Bünker
Friedrichstr. 2, D-49413 Dinklage Tel. 04443/4603, Fax. 917094
Using e-mail, I began sharing information with an expanding network of individuals researching the Buenker/Bunker/Bunkers surnames in the United States, Canada, France, Ireland, England, and Germany. Gil Bunker invited me to write an article, on the "German connection," based on this data, for the summer 1999 issue of The Bunker Banner. This article brought me into contact with still more interested researchers via the World Wide Web. In fall 1999, I learned of a database, created by German researcher Rolf Suwolto, that draws on civil and church records and contains information on over 30,000 individuals who lived in Emsburen between approximately 1450 and 1875. A number of my Bunker (Buenker) ancestors are listed in this database, including my great-great-grandfather, Herman Theodore Bunkers, who immigrated to the United States in the early 1840s. http://www.lesum.de/juling/emsbur_en.htm (My most recent access to this web site occurred on 24 September 2000.)
Our work continues. Tami Bunkers Dolan, a cousin who lives in Olathe, Kansas, has begun compiling genealogical information on the Bunkers family on her ever-expanding genealogical web site: http://home.gvi.net/~bdolan/ On my own web site, I created a page devoted to Bunkers family origins. (My most recent access to Tami's web site occurred on 24 September 2000.)
A highly satisfying recent development in this ongoing research occurred in June 2000, when my daughter Rachel, my brother Dale, and I traveled to northwest Germany to meet our American cousin, Bob Buenker (the younger brother of John Buenker), and to get to know our German cousin, Michael Buenker, his wife Maria (Hoyng) Bunker, and their family. While in Germany, we visited the ancestral villages of Emsburen, Steinfeld, Lohne, and Dinklage, where I gained a better understanding of the geographical area where our ancestors once were once day laborers. While walking through Cloppenburg, I was especially captivated by the small houses of the day laborers, the "Heuerlinge," tenants who had to pay their rent by cash as well as by temporary labor.9 The day laborer’s house was often built (in smaller form, of course) in the tradition of the "Gulfhaus," a rectangular dwelling that comprised living quarters, cow and pig sheds, and lofts where harvested crops were stored. This is the kind of dwelling in which my Buenker ancestors once lived. I also began to appreciate the economic and historical factors that led to my ancestors’ leaving their homeland in hopes of a better future across the Atlantic Ocean.
Thus, my interest in immigration history is both personal and professional; my methodology is decidedly unconventional and is based on the exploration of emergent methods and perspectives that foster interdisciplinary collaboration and that bridge the gap between the "scholarly" and the "popular." I continue to explore "nontraditional" avenues of research. Because my own home page is now listed on a number of listservs (e.g., Oldenburg and Trier, to name just two) and can easily be found using key words on search engines such as Google or Dogpile, my Bunkers page has been having a lot of "hits," especially in recent months.10 Just a week or so ago, I received an e-mail inquiry from a Marcel Bunkers, who lives in the Netherlands:
Did you know about a "Dutch link " in the family?
I forwarded Marcel’s message to Michael Buenker in Dinklage, Germany. Then I sat back, awaiting more information from Marcel, our cousin from another branch of the ever-growing Bunker/Buenker/Bunkers family tree.
On September 21, 2000, I received this e-mail message:
Dear Michael and Susanne,
I am part of a small population of around 25 people in the
Netherlands with the last name Bunkers. I did some investigation into
my ancestors roots. It seems that they originate from Germany and
went to the Dutch place called 'Dokkum' in the province of
Friesland.(My father told me that there used be an immigration bureau
in that town). The oldest root I found is from a Hermanus Bunkers,
born in Neuenkirche in 1782 and died in Dokkum on 5 July 1862. He was
married to Elisabeth Geerts, born in 1788.
A cousin of my father is a real genealogy freak and he has done more
investigation into the family roots. His information dates back to
the 17 th century.(unfortunately he is not so good with computers)
Early this year I already discovered the Bunkers Family homepage of
Tami Dolan. Both my father's cousin and I did send an E-mail with
information and questions, but never got back a reply.
I will get in contact with my father's cousin and forward more
information to both of you.
Kind regards, Marcel Bunkers
In response to Marcel’s message, I combed my stored e-mail messages and surveyed the four research reports sent to me by Jens Mueller-Koppe. There I located information on a group of the Bunkers family that lived in the village of Neuenkirchen. Meanwhile, Michael Buenker verified that this village, which is close to Bramsche and Osnabrück, is indeed the German village from which Marcel Bunkers’ ancestors had gone to the Netherlands. On 24 September 2000, Marcel Bunkers followed up on his earlier e-mail message:
Dear Suzanne and Michael,
I have forwarded all the mail to the son of my cousin. (by the way
the daughter of my cousin is also called Suzanne)
In the last mail you sent me, I recognised the name Bennecker. I
already knew that this was the last name of our ancestors in Germany.
I am now waiting for the reply of my cousin.
I will keep you both informed.
Some info about my family;
We are with 5:
Marcel Bunkers (38), Hanneke Bunkers (36), Marc Bunkers (7), Iris Bunkers (6)
Jelle Bunkers (4)
We are living in the south of the Netherlands in a place called Best
(close to Eindhoven)
Now I share Michael Buenker’s theory, outlined in his 22 September 2000 e-mail message to Marcel Bunkers and me: "My theory is, that Bunkers came from the area of Bramsche and Osnabrück near Lingen and later they settled in other places. So my ancestors did. They came to Ankum, a place not far away from Neuenkirchen, for about hundred years and then settled in Steinfeld." I look forward to ongoing developments in the Bunker/Buenker/Bunkers research, and I realize that, thanks to the World Wide Web, these developments are likely to occur on a daily basis. Michael Buenker and I are planning another get-together of American and European Bunkers in Dinklage near the end of July 2001, just in time for the village Schuetzenfest, at which Michael and his folksinging group, Stoppelwind, will perform. I expect that we will visit Bob Buenker, his wife Marilyn, and their family in Buschhoven-Swisstal, Germany. We will invite Marcel Bunkers and his family to join us from the Netherlands. And I hope that John and his wife Bev will cross the "big pond" with my brother, mother, daughter, and me to complete the family circle.
1. My maternal ancestors had these origins: The Kleins came from Niederfeulen, Luxembourg. The Simons originated in Schoenholthausen, a small German village near Koblenz. The Kokenges came from Lohne, near Oldenburg, Germany. My paternal ancestors had these origins: the Bunkerses came from Emsburen, a small northwestern German village very near the Dutch border. The Welters came from (as yet undetermined villages in) Luxembourg, and the Linsters came from the village of Hondelange (Hondelingen) in the western part of Luxembourg which became the Belgian Province of Luxembourg after the second partition of Luxembourg occurred in the early 1800s. The Simmerls and Hottuas, like the Kleins, came from Niederfeulen, Luxembourg.
2. According to the booklet, Souvenir of Our Parish: Saint Joseph’s, Granville, Iowa, 1888-1955 (privately printed, 1955), the parish had these origins: "Over 80 years ago, Catholic families, largely from eastern Iowa (New Vienna, Luxemburg) began to settle in southeast Sioux County . . . In the year 1886 these sturdy pioneers, about 70 families in number, organized in Granville and built their first church, dedicating it to St. Joseph . . . In December 1888 two Sisters of St. Francis, Sr. M. Rose and Sr. M. Johanna arrived from Dubuque and opened the school with an enrollment of 50 pupils."
3. My initial intent in writing In Search of Susanna was to create a "how to" work that would describe my efforts to trace family lines and explore family secrets as well as offer suggestions to other writers interested in creating works of family history. Over time, however, as I learned more about immigration history, cross-cultural traditions, and innovations in life writing, this autobiographical writing and critical analysis project began to move beyond its initial framework. This book has become a more complex and less easily definable kind of life writing, a hybrid work that experiments with narrative conventions as it interweaves memory and imagination while crossing historical and cultural boundaries. In short, it has evolved into a work that my editor Albert Stone defines as "allied to other women's stories about roots and uprooting, relationships, ruptures, and the search for a stable self amid the often-fragmented circumstances of family, emigration, church, love, career" (Foreword, x).
4. Janet E. Alexander and Marsha Ann Tate's Web Wisdom: How to Evaluate and Create Information Quality on the Web (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999) introduces critical web evaluation principles, along with theoretical background for evaluation of web sites:
(Last accessed on 20 September 2000). Such web sites offer detailed criteria for assessing issues of purpose, audience, structure, interactivity, and confidentiality.
5. Too often, the phrase, "German immigration," is conflated in much the same way that a phrase like "English Literature" is conflated, the result being that important geographical, linguistic, and cultural differences are elided and a large portion of the population supposedly described by the phrase is rendered invisible. One observes this effect in U.S. census and naturalization records that tend to list emigrants from Luxembourg as German or Dutch. One also observes this effect in studies of emigration from various Germanic states or duchies that erase important differences such as whether the emigrants spoke Low or High German or were Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, etc.
In Letters of a German American Farmer: Jurnjakob Swehn Travels to America (University of Iowa Press, 2000), edited by Johannes Gillhoff, translator Richard Trost introduces the text by defining the ways in which language influenced many immigrants’ experience: "The Low German spoken by Gillhoff’s Jurnjakob is more its own language rather than a dialect. It is the Anglo-Saxon German that went to England in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. When these Low German immigrants arrived in America and heard English, they couldn’t believe that anyone should speak such bad Low German! To their ears, English was a familiar language that somehow wasn’t being pronounced correctly . . . Language remained a conundrum for these Plattdeutsch immigrants. They finally couldn’t speak either good High German or good English. They invented a new Missingisch. And in the end they had an enormous complex over it all. Somehow, somewhere, someone had interpreted Low German as the bottom rung of the social ladder. Being Low German was synonymous with being low class. In reality, however, Low German is chiefly a geographical designation. In contract to Martin Luther’s Middle-High German, which refers to the dialects of Germany’s east-west midsection, Low German is the language of the northern lowlands, of the North Sea and Baltic coasts. It is true Anglo-Saxon German" (xiv-xv).
6. I would like to thank Jeff Herbert, chair of the archives committee in Old St. Mary’s Parish in Cincinnati, for locating information on the 1 June 1845 marriage of H. Theodore Bunkers [listed in parish records as Herman Dietrich Buenker] and Maria Elisabeth Heitmeyer [listed as the widow of Carl Heitmeyer] in the parish records. Mr. Herbert also located the 8 June 1846 baptismal record of Bernard Herman, their first son. In that baptismal record, the parents of Bernard Herman are listed as Herman Dietrich Binker and Maria Elisabeth Niegengert.] Jeff Herbert can be reached at this e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
7. In The German Catholic Immigrant in the United States (1830-1860), a doctoral dissertation completed at the Catholic University of America in 1946, Reverend Emmet H. Rothan notes that "Iowa early attracted German Catholic settlers" (66). He notes that the German colony at New Vienna, Iowa, was "organized in 1843 through the efforts of John Fangmann, an early settler at Minster, Ohio, and several other German immigrants and their families, who were intent upon establishing a Catholic colony in the ‘Far West.’ Upon the advice of Bishop [Mathias] Loras, [who was Bishop of Dubuque from 1837 until 1858], they located at Wilson Grove, later renamed New Vienna. Soon relatives and friends of these settlers came from Germany as well as from the eastern states, and within the year the community numbered seventeen families" (67). According to Sister Mary Gilbert Kelley, the reason for this westward movement was that "these men felt that in Ohio there was no longer opportunity to have their relatives in Westphalia, Oldenburg, and Hanover form a compact settlement with them. They saw in the Territory of Iowa a better opportunity for the temporal advancement of themselves and their posterity and were also inspired by the colonizing zeal of the saintly first Bishop of Dubuque" (Catholic Immigrant Colonization Projects in the United States, 1815-1860, New York: the United States Catholic Historical Society, 1939, 151).
8. Sources important to this aspect of my research include books such as Fred W. Peterson’s Building Community, Keeping the Faith: German Catholic Vernacular Architecture in a Rural Minnesota Parish (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1998). In this book, Peterson studies a group of emigrants from Holdorf, Germany (a village not far from Steinfeld) who left their homeland and traveled to the U.S., settling first in Cincinnati, then moving west to New Vienna, Iowa, and finally going northwest to Meire Grove, Minnesota.
World Wide Web resources have also proved valuable to my ongoing research; for instance, Stephen Homkomp’s web site, "Südolden-burger Auswanderer ab 1845 in Iowa’:
This web site (most recently accessed on 24 September 2000) is based on Mr. Honkomp’s pamphlet, "JAHRBUCH für das Oldenburger Münsterland 1999," which deals with the subject of immigrants in Dyersville and New Vienna who had come from the "Oldenburger Münsterland," particularly the village of Steinfeld. My Kokenge ancestors are among those in this group. Stephan Honkomp can be contacted at email@example.com
Equally useful has been the home page of Old St. Mary’s Parish in Cincinnati, which has provided a wealth of contextual information on my Bunkers ancestors:
http://www.oldstmarys.org/archives/1942history.html (Last accessed on 24 September 2000)
9. A highlight of our time in Germany with Michael Bunker and his family was a visit to Cloppenburg, an open-air rural life museum located south of Oldenburg, Germany. In 1934 construction began on the "museumsdorf" in Cloppenburg, and in 1961 it became a legal foundation of Lower Saxony. After fifty years of work, a total of 52 muildings have been re-erected. The goal of the Cloppenburg Museum is to showcase the traditional crafts and trades of the region and illustrate aspects of domestic, social, and cultural life. As the museum guidebook explains, "All kinds of farmhouses, workshops of rural craftsmen and different types of mills were placed together and arranged according to their age, their region and the social class of their former owners" (Museumsdorf Cloppenburg, Niedersachsisches Freilichtmuseum, 1998, 3).
While walking through Cloppenburg, I was especially captivated by the small houses of the day laborers, the "Heuerlinge," tenants who had to pay their rent by cash as well as by temporary labor. The day laborer’s house was often built (in smaller form, of course) in the tradition of the "Gulfhaus," a rectangular dwelling that comprised living quarters, cow and pig sheds, and lofts where harvested crops were stored. This is the kind of dwelling in which my Buenker ancestors once lived. To see a map of the Emsland area, visit: http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/4018/page2.html
10. Doing online research requires time and perseverence and a willingness to experiment by expanding my research methodology. Perhaps because I have not been trained to use a traditional historian's research methodology, I have found this process exhilarating rather than threatening. To be sure, the lines between the "scholarly" and the "popular" have become increasingly blurred as I have realized that much good scholarly research occurs outside academe. I have found useful information not only on the World Wide Web but also in hard copy. Last winter, while browsing at a local bookstore, I picked up the most recent issue of Everton's Genealogical Helper and read Nancy Hendrickson's article, "Five Steps to Successful Internet Genealogy" (53.6, November-December 1999, 179-182).
Hendrickson, a freelance writer who lives in San Diego and has been tracing her family tree since childhood, cites these essential internet search strategies: 1) be a creative thinker/searcher, searching for places, not people; 2) be aware of internet resources, i.e., online reference works that will help you locate information; 3) be a power user of the USGenWeb and the World GenWeb, networking with other researchers across the globe; 4) use previously published resources, such as GEDCOM files; and 5) use non-genealogy sites (e.g., sources on migration patterns, property laws, biographies, county histories) as peripheral sources (182). As I read Hendrickson's article, I had to chuckle: these five steps are the very ones that I've been learning to use in doing research on the World Wide Web.