The Enigma of Michael’s Half-Brother, Johann Hermann

Lines from the page of manifest that mentions him (he is on first line of 30 passengers on this page). Below him is Michael Gassner headed to the same place, with his last residence the same as Johann.

This was chapter 2 of my booklet, “Unwinding the Mystery of Johann Hermann from the Land of Transylvania to the Shores of Baltimore:
Documenting the Hermann Lineage,” which was an early Father’s Day present in June 2017. I still have a lot of questions about this Johann Hermann fellow, so I thought I’d reprint it here.

Johann Hermann is a figure who has never been talked about in this history. In fact, I have never heard, from what I can remember, of Michael’s brother by name. The Family Bible mentions a man named “John Hermann” as Michael’s father, with his first name Anglicized and obviously being Johann originally. But, this Johann figure is not mentioned although he is part of Hermann family story. Why?

As mentioned in the previous chapter, Michael was going to East Pittsburgh to join his half-brother, with Sara/Jara Wenzel, his cousin (it seems) was going to the same address. As I noted before, they may have planned this trip in advance together and even traveled by train together. This would not be a surprise. Johann was well established in the US by the time Michael and Sara/Jara got there. He had
come over four years before Michael and was born in 1878, making him 10 years older, or age 28 by the time they arrived. [1] On the manifest of the passenger ship which left from Bremen, he is described as a married laborer who can read and write, with his last residence called Neudorf (Neudorf in Deutsch), which is in Western Romania. Like Michael, he also landed in the port of Baltimore, possibly
at Locust Point, but was bound for New Castle, PA. It is no stretch to say that he could have still gone down to East Pittsburgh from 1902 to 1906. This is a possibility. Other aspects are clear: He paid his own passage and had only had $8 on him. Other realities however, are even more fascinating.

Johann was planning to, when he arrived on the Frankfurt steamship, visit a cousin named Andras/Andreas Bruckner, with Andras the Hungarian name for Andrew, who lived in New Castle. [2] There was another man named Michael Gassner whose last residence was also Neudorf and was also going to New Castle, PA, by rail, just as Johann would have done in 1902. As it turns out, Andras was a brother-in-law of Simon Suiker or Sniker, age 32, who last lived in Hungary. In 1905, he traveled to visit Andras, who was living in New Castle, on the Cassel passenger ship which left from Bremen and arrived in Baltimore. Adding to this, there is a man named Andreas/Andras Bruckner who was born in 1905 and applied for US passport in Bucharest in 1923, with his father Andras, who had emigrated from Hungary to the US in 1899. Both had been born in Hoghilag (Halvelagan in German and Holdvilág in Hungarian), Romania. The Andreas born in 1905 later was baptized at the St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Castle on January 28, 1906. While some say that I should look into the records of that church, especially if it was the only Lutheran church in New Castle at the time, this seems to be like falling down the rabbit hole.

Other records on Johann are unclear. There are records of a Johann Hermann marrying in Ohio in November 1906, but there is no proof this is him. [3] There are scattered records of a “John Herman” and “John Hermon.” They relate to a man living in Somerset, PA, in 1910 and in Carnegie, Allegheny, PA, in 1942, with the birth date on a WWII draft card saying March 31, 1878, and that he was born in Austria. These could be Johann, but this cannot be confirmed. Even so, there are other records that point to his inhabitance in New Castle. The New Castle directories provide some information. The city directory in 1902 lists a Felix Herman and John Hermann, laborers, living in New Castle.

John Hermann could be Johann. By 1903, four individuals with the surname of Hermann are living in the same town, on Scioto (Sciota?) street, just like Felix and John in 1902, and three others (Kate, Michael, and Mike), two of which also live on Scioto. [4] John is not listed here, so he may have moved. After all, the 1904 and 1906 directories list no one with the Hermann surname. Other records seem to indicate that he may have not moved until after 1905. These records are other city directories showing that this John Hermann was living with a woman named Sarah (his wife) on Scioto Street in New Castle in 1905, along with others showing that someone with the Hermann surname still lived in the city (not John) 1908-1909, and ten with the Herman surname living there by 1909, but none living there in 1901. This indicates that Johann (or John as his Anglicized name seems to be) would have been the first Hermann to establish their roots in the United States. There are many other sources which could have been consulted, but this still sheds light into the life of Johann. [5] Still, some questions remain about Johann, but this a start in learning more about our collective past.

On the left is from the 1903 directory, on the left is from the 1905 directory.

Notes

[1] Johann Hermann, 1902, “Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948,” database with images, FamilySearch, Immigration, Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, United States, NARA microfilm publications M255, M596, and T844 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL film 1,454,812. Accessed June 2017.

[2] The following paragraph comes from research conducted by maryfamilyresearch, a reddit user who describes themselves as “Native German, Prussia.” It has been summarized and condensed here.

[3] Johann Hermann and Susanna Elsasser, 17 Nov 1906, “Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013,” database with images, FamilySearch, Cuyahoga, Ohio, United States, reference 145 p; county courthouses, Ohio; FHL microfilm 886,219; Johann Hermann and Susanna Elsasser, 17 Nov 1906, “Ohio Marriages, 1800-1958,” database, FamilySearch, citing Cuyahoga County, Ohio, reference 2:3ZPW21J; FHL microfilm 886,219; John Hermon in household of Gabriel Trucsang, Quemahoning, Somerset, Pennsylvania, United States, “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch, enumeration district (ED) ED 156, sheet 13B, family 242, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1420; FHL microfilm 1,375,433; John Herman, 1942, “United States World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942,” database with images, FamilySearch, NARA microfilm publication M1936, M1937, M1939, M1951, M1962, M1964, M1986, M2090, and M2097 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); New Castle Directory, 1902, New Castle Public Library, Image was scanned by Backstage Library Works in Bethlehem, PA, page 269. Accessed June 2017.

[4] New Castle Directory, 1903, New Castle Public Library, Image was scanned by Backstage Library Works in Bethlehem, PA, pages 83 and 272. Accessed June 2017; New Castle Directory, 1904, New Castle Public Library, Image was scanned by Backstage Library Works in Bethlehem, PA; New Castle Directory, 1906, New Castle Public Library, Image was scanned by Backstage Library Works in Bethlehem, PA. Both were accessed in June 2017; New Castle Directory, 1905-1906, New Castle Public Library, Image was scanned by Backstage Library Works in Bethlehem, PA, page 278; New Castle Directory, 1908-1909, New Castle Public Library, Image was scanned by Backstage Library Works in Bethlehem, PA, page 53; New Castle Directory, 1909-1910, New Castle Public Library, Image was scanned by Backstage Library Works in Bethlehem, PA, page 292; New Castle Directory, 1900-1901, New Castle Public Library, Image was scanned by Backstage Library Works in Bethlehem, PA. All accessed in June 2017.

[5] Sources consulted include the New Castle Public Library. Other possible sources are Lawrence County, Pennsylvania Genealogy hosted by family search or the Lawrence County Historical Society, among others.

Introducing my “Unwinding the Mystery of Johann Hermann” booklet

Back in June 2017, I wrote a booklet titled “Unwinding the Mystery of Johann Hermann from the Land of Transylvania to the Shores of Baltimore: Documenting the Hermann Lineage,” preparing it as an early Father’s Day present, dedicating it not only to my dad and my family, but “my ancestors who traveled the seas of doubt to come from Transylvania to the shores of the United States, creating history as they went forward,” adding that “if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today writing this booklet.” It was intended as a supplement which followed a booklet I had prepared for my aunt and dad in December 2016 as a Christmas present, titled “The Hermann/Graf Family History: Tracing Our Roots.” What is printed below is the introduction and part of the conclusion to that booklet. I have learned much since I wrote this, but I still see most of it as valid, so I’m publishing it here. Later posts will provide corrections. This will be the first in a series reprinting the chapters of this booklet. Enjoy!

In the months following the writing of my 74-page family history on the Hermann/Graf family lineage, it seemed like nothing else could be added unless one personally traveled to Romania, looking through German-language records relating to Transylvania. I was wrong. Early last month when I was re-organizing some files in my closet, I came upon the binders which had been organized for the previous family history. Within them were printed out pages of naturalization and immigration documents. Looking through those, I remembered how there was no town named “Yohanisdorf” I could find, only knowing a town named Segesvár or Sighisoara before Michael Hermann left via train to Bremen when he sailed aboard the Karlsruhe to the United States in April 1906.

After examining those files again and doing some of my own research, I made two posts on the genealogy subreddit, asking people for their thoughts. The first was posted on April 11 titled “My great-grandfather was from Hungary…but where in Hungary?” and the second was posted on April 25 titled “The big mystery of Johann Hermann.” Three users replied, with one replying on the second post.
Their suggestions were helpful and have been incorporated into this narrative. After all, having mysteries within the family story leaves the door open to continued genealogy research and opens it for researchers or interested family members in the future.

As the fifth generation which directly descends from Michael Hermann and Marie Wenzel (parents of Michael Hermann), and Johann Graf and Marie Roth (parents of Marie Charlotte Graf), I have the honor to tell more of their story. Nancy and William are the fourth generation, respectfully, which descend from the families previously mentioned.

Now let us continue this journey by building on what has been previously uncovered, while specifically focusing on two individuals: Michael Hermann and Johann Hermann.

Engaging in this investigation of family history is meant to update the previous family history. I could have done even more in-depth research but this uncovers another part of the Hermann family story, the story of immigration from the “old country” to the United States in the early 20th century.

While people in the fourth generation descending from these individuals probably do not know what it is like to immigrate across the Atlantic or to stand on Pier 9 at Baltimore’s Locust Point (which has been demolished since), we can learn their story.

While this narrative helps to expand the existing family history on the Hermann/Graf side, there are other mysteries to be solved. For instance, who “Aunt Catherine,” a person mentioned in the previous family history. Likely this person was related to or part of the Graf family.

This bit of research presented in this booklet provides more information which adds to the existing genealogy of the Hermann family. I look forward to your comments and other thoughts on this history.

Michael Hermann was from Hungary…but where in Hungary?

This was chapter 1 of my booklet, “Unwinding the Mystery of Johann Hermann from the Land of Transylvania to the Shores of Baltimore:
Documenting the Hermann Lineage,” which was an early Father’s Day present in June 2017. While I now know that Michael Hermann was NOT born in Hungary, and his exact place of birth, but I still see this as worth reprinting here.

The Necktar was one of the first ships to arrive at Baltimore’s Pier 9 in 1904. This ship was made by the same company that had created the passenger ship Michael would travel on across the Atlantic and would dock at this same pier. Courtesy of the Maryland State Archives.

The year was 1906. Michael Hermann was a simple farm laborer who had just come of age. On April 2, after a long train ride to Bremen, Germany, Michael boarded the Karlsruhe. Those recording the manifest, who were not immigration officials, described his nationality as “Hungarian” and race as “German” and name as “Michael Herman” which is not far off from Hermann. [1] This distinction would explain why in stories told years later, after the marriage of Lena Franci and Raymond Hermann (the son of Michael), the Hermann side of the family would be called “German” and the Franci side called “Italian.” Technically they were Hungarian, or to be more precise, Transylvanian, but nitpicking isn’t the point here. Instead, it is worth digging more into this record.

When he boarded the ship to the United States, Michael had a ticket to his destination, which was East Pittsburgh. His passage was paid for, and he had no mental health (or other) issues. He may have had only $40 on him at the time. He would arrive in Baltimore, “Charm City” as some call it today, on April 17. Years later, in his Petition for Naturalization and the Declaration of Intention he would say that the ship left on March 13, 1905, and arrived on March 30, 1905, but his dates were mixed up. Perhaps this is because he was applying for citizenship in 1913 and later, once he was more established in the US. By then, coming over on a ship may have seemed like a distant memory. He may have remembered stepping off the boat, perhaps even going into a tavern for a meal, but it soon became a blur, and he didn’t remember the date precisely.

On April 17, Michael was on a journey to East Pittsburgh. But he was there for one simple reason: to visit his half-brother Johann within the same town. Along with them was a woman named Sara (or Jara) Wenzel who was going to join her brother-in-law, which happened to be the same person, Johann. This could indicate that the Wenzel and Hermann families were intertwined, since, Michael’s father had married a woman named Marie Wenzel. So, it is possible that a member of the Wenzel family would have felt secure going to the United States to the home of a cousin. One could also consider the possibility that Sara or Jara and Michael planned this trip together and came over as
friends, since they were on the same ship, but no documentation supports or refutes this possibility. Regardless, Michael likely took the daily Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad to Pittsburgh from Camden station, then within Baltimore’s port area, with a direct ride to Pittsburgh starting at 10 AM. [2]

Some may be asking why this was not mentioned before. After all, in the previous family history, I said that he was a German farm laborer going to Pittsburgh with a possible servant woman named Jara Wenzel traveling with him and a relative named Johann Hermann, guessing it was his father. That supposition was not correct. However, I was right to say that the Hermanns may have been established in Pennsylvania by this point. I’ll explain why that is the case later on.

Once Michael stepped his foot likely on a pier at Baltimore, he was one of many who entered the city in that way. With direct connections to St. Louis and Chicago, and contracts with immigrant passenger lines such as those run by Norddeutscher Lloyd, of which the Karlsruhe was part of, Piers 8 and 9 were run by the B&O railroad at Locust Point. This area played a major role in “receiving the millions of immigrants” coming to the US in the post-Civil War period as former Maryland State Archivist Edward Papenfuse points out. Michael was arriving two years after the B&O inspection center had opened at Locust Point, which was documented in great fanfare in company literature and in
the Baltimore Sun. In later years, thousands would use the port to come to the US, with their final destination as Baltimore. But, by 1913, the pier was seeming worrisome as it was built out of shoddy materials and to replace it, some of Fort McHenry’s land was re-purposed into “a new immigration reception station which included a hospital facility” while the rest of the fort became a public park.

Articles in the Baltimore Sun shed further light on Michael’s journey to the United States. He was not alone on the passenger ship. There were 1,610 in steerage and four in the cabin, with a 6-month baby body dying of enteritis on the journey, and Captain Francke in charge. [3] The twin-screw steamer ship was scheduled to leave the port that Friday, April 20, at 2 PM and sail back to Bremen, one of two ships (the other Gneisenau) sent over to the US bringing immigrants, the latter to New York. Cabin rates ranged from $45 to $50 depending on the cabin selected.

Beyond his journey, the minute he stepped onto Pier 9 of Locust Point, where the Karlsruhe docked, he was leaving behind his homeland in the “Old Country.” His Declaration of Intention says he was born in “St. Ivan, Hungary” and his draft registration card in 1917 says he was born in “Yohanisdorf” with other documents saying he lived (or temporarily stayed) in Segesvár/Sighișoara before he left on a train headed to Bremen. Perhaps he was born in a village named Johannisdorf, two of which are near Sighișoara and in Romania today, with a church also with that name, but on the fringe of Transylvania. [4] There is even a St. Ivan, called Pilisszentiván (Sankt-Iwan in German) which exists but it is within Hungary, not in Romania.

There is one town which has names in Hungarian and Romanian that literally mean Saint John. It is 133 to 145 kilometers by foot from Sighișoara. [5] There likely was a railroad between that city and the city he was born and raised in.

Other records give further clues. The East European Genealogical Society has some answers, although their results should be taken with a grain of salt. [6] They list the “Herman” surname as within three villages in the Galicia province (Mezhirichi, Pischatyntsi, and Radomysl Wielki) and in the Volhynia province (Mezhirichi). It also lists the “Hermann” surname in Gau Warszawa village within the Warszawa province and the Neuborn village within the Volhynia province. From these results, two are of those living within the Russian Empire and three are within the Austro-Hungarian empire with those with the Herman surname. Any of those families could have been those from which Michael’s
parents originated. Narrowing this down would require on-the-ground research.

Other information on Michael is not clear. While there are passenger records for the Karlsruhe assembled by the Bremen archives, they only date back to 1907, one year after Michael was a passenger on that ship which sailed across the Atlantic. [7] The available censuses are no better. An all citizens census in 1869 lists 22 people with the surname of Hermann, two with the surname of Hermann in the assorted census records of Hungary from 1781 to 1850, 11 with the surname of Hermann in the 1848 Jewish Census in Hungary, and one in the Jewish Names in the Property Tax Census in 1828. None of these provide any leads. There are a number of “Genealogical Guides and Handbooks” for those who are Hungarian or Romanian provided by the National Archives. [8] There are also “Maps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire” assembled by the Foundation for Eastern European Family History Studies (FEEFHS) but this is also of no help. But there are other sources which provide
more insight into Michael’s immigration to America.

Gradual immigration of Romanians commenced in 1880 and increased by the turn of the 20th century. [9] Many of these immigrants came from Transylvania, Banat, and Bucovina, which were territories under Austro-Hungarian rule, where “political ethnic and religious persecution” and precarious social and economic conditions had forced them to leave their homes. These immigrants “found employment in the factories, the mines, and on the railroads” and in 1906, the “The American Newspaper,” the organ of the Union and League of Romanian Societies of America was founded. Furthermore, as a result of “ethnic and economic repression,” Romanians emigrated from their homeland to Canada and the US in search of better lives. This short bit provides more background than a number of other varied sources, such as a website dedicated to covering certain Romanian villages, and the Morton Allan directory of steamship arrivals from 1890 to 1930.


Notes

[1] Michael Herman, 1906, Immigration, Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, United States, NARA microfilm publications M255, M596, and T844 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL film 833,019 within Family Search database titled “Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948.” Accessed in April 2017. Specifically see this page of the document; “List of Alien Passengers for the U.S. Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival,” Passenger Lists for vessels arriving at Baltimore, Maryland, 1891-1909, Record Group 85, NARA, NationalArchives, INS, Reel 53, Vol. 205 (Apr. 1, 1906-apr. 30, 1906), p. 474-475.

[2] “Baltimore and Ohio Railroad,” The Sun (1837-1991): 13. Apr 21 1906. ProQuest. Web. 7 June 2017.

[3] “Immigrants Coming,” The Sun (1837-1991): 12. Apr 18 1906. ProQuest. Web. 7 June 2017; “Port Paragraphs,” The Sun (1837-1991): 12. Apr 04 1906. ProQuest. Web. 7 June 2017; “North German Lloyd. Baltimore—Bremen,” The Sun (1837-1991): 5. Apr 13 1906. ProQuest. Web. 7 June 2017; “Activity among Immigrant Ships,” The Sun (1837-1991): 12. Apr 17 1906. ProQuest. Web. 7 June 2017; “To Sail for Bremen Today,” The Sun (1837-1991): 6. Apr 20 1906. ProQuest. Web. 7 June 2017; “North German Lloyd. Baltimore to Bremen Direct,” The Washington Post (1877-1922): 1. Apr 14 1906. ProQuest. Web. 7 June 2017.

[4] “Sajószentiván, Sântioana, Johannisdorf,” Place, Genealogical Gazetteer (GOV), Accessed Jun. 2017; “Vajdaszentiván, Johannisdorf, Voivodeni,” Place, Genealogical Gazetteer (GOV), Accessed Jun. 2017; “Johannisdorf,” Evangelical Church, geographic position estimated, Genealogical Gazetteer (GOV), Accessed Jun. 2017.

[5] “Sajószentiván, Sântioana, Johannisdorf,” Place, The Genealogical Gazetteer (GOV), Accessed Jun. 2017. Distances stayed on maps provided by Google Earth and Google Maps; “European Transportation Maps of the 19th Century” provided no answers on this question, but is a good start.

[6] East European Genealogical Society, “Surname Index for H,” Surname Index, index last updated Mar. 29, 2017. Accessed in June 2017; Result 1, Result 2, Result 3, Result 4, Result 5, Result 6. All courtesy of the East European Genealogical Society’s database. Accessed May 2017.

[7] “The ship ‘ Karlsruhe ‘ run the following passages,” Bremen Passenger Lists: A Project with the Bremen Chamber of Commerce and the Bremen Staatsarchiv, copyright 2003-2009. Search on passengerlists.de. Accessed June 2017; Cyndi’s List, “Eastern Europe » Census,” Cyndi Ingle, CyndisList.com, Accessed June 2017. Lists numerous censuses. It is not worth naming these individuals as they may not be related to the Hermann family.

[8] See Edward R. Brandt, Contents and addresses of Hungarian archives: with supplementary material for research on German ancestors from Hungary (Minneapolis, Minn.: E.R. Brandt, 1993); Emil Lengyel, Americans from Hungary (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1974); Jared H. Suess, Handy guide to Hungarian genealogical records (Logan, Utah (P.O. Box 368, Logan 84321): Everton Publishers, 1980); Steven Béla Várdy, The Hungarian-Americans (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985); Vladimir Wertsman, The Romanians in America and Canada: a guide to information sources (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1980); Vladimir Wertsman, The Romanians in America, 1748-1974: a chronology & factbook (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana Publications, 1975).

[9] “Romanians in America,” from the “History of the ‘United Romanian Society’; Istoria Societatii ‘Unirea Romanilor,’” put online by the Foundation for Eastern European Family History Studies (FEEFHS). Accessed in June 2017; “Concise History of the Romanian People,” from the “History of the ‘United Romanian Society’; Istoria Societatii ‘Unirea Romanilor,’” put online by FEEFHS. Accessed in June 2017; See  “GenealogyRO Group”; “Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands”; and the Morton Allan directory of European passenger steamship arrivals for the years 1890 to 1930 at the Port of New York and for the years 1904 to 1926 at the ports of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore.

Cook like a local: Romania

I thought this article in Olive Magazine was pretty interesting, so I’m reprinting part of it here. I’ll try to come up with some other articles later on this year, if I have time.

The southern reaches of the Carpathian Mountains and the Danube Delta are imposing presences in Romania’s landscape and also in the country’s history. Once within the Ottoman Empire, they mark the intersection of many cultures – notably Slavic to the south and east of the mountains, and the Austro-Hungarian to the north and west – all of which have had an impact on the region’s cuisine. This is why the familiar fragrances of dishes remind visitors that Romanian cooking is part of a collective European heritage.

Eat your way around the country and you will find generous arrangements of small plates for starters, in the Greek or Turkish style, from aubergine and butterbean dips to roast pepper salads, charcuterie and cheeses. Then there are the tangy broths, bors. Maize grows well in the climate, so polenta dominates traditional menus, from breakfast dishes to desserts, while pork is the meat of choice, enjoyed in myriad ways, from simple slanina (lardo) to hearty pork stews served with dumplings and sauerkraut in the German and Hungarian style.

Soured cream is ubiquitous, used not only as a topping to polenta, broths and stews but also as an ingredient in pastries and cakes. Apples, apricots, quince and plums are eaten fresh, or cold-smoked to be added to savoury casseroles, while caraway, paprika, garlic, winter savory and lovage are commonly used. It is in baking and cake-making that the country’s kitchens really excel, though. Here, old Byzantium’s baklavas, cataifs and filo pastries coexist happily with the layered desserts of Vienna and Budapest.

Eating out in Romania isn’t just about food. It is fashionable to enjoy traditional music played by performers in regional costumes alongside a meal at a restaurant – an immersive experience that gives the visitor a taste of the country’s true identity.

Welcome to Decoding my Transylvanian roots!

Elizabeth Kostova, a novelist and fiction writer captures the popular view of Transylvania, especially when she calls it a “land of magical obscurity” and a “fairyland.”

Hello all! Welcome to my new genealogy blog! After creating my new blog that will dig into my Italian roots, I decided to create this blog as well, working to dispel myths about Transylvania, while also showing the connection between my ancestors who settled in the United States and roots in the “old country” of Eastern Europe.

While this region has said to be “strange” and “magical,”or has vampires (i.e. Dracula), it is, in fact, an area on a high plateau, which is 1000-1600 feet above sea level, sitting in central Romania. It is, as a map later in this post will show, has its borders consisting of the Transylvanian Alps (in the South), the Carpathian Mountains (in the East), and is drained by the Muresul River and Danube River tributaries. I don’t see the point in better into the history here, as I will cover that in future posts of this blog! The area, also known as transsilvania in Latin (a variation of which is used for the name of this blog, which also derives from records I have looked at that use the name “transilvania“), Siebenburgen in German, Erdly in Hungarian, and Ardel in Romanian, surrounded on all sides by mountains, has an area of about 21,000 square miles, which is equivalent to about 10.1 million football fields. The mountains surrounding Transylvania means that there are only easy passageway into the interior of this region from the western side, which borders present-day Hungary, making the other borders make the area a huge “natural fortress” as some call it, even though others say it was a “prime area for invasion” in the past. Most of those living there are in agriculture, mining, or cattle-rearing, even though only about 23% of the land is arable, with the rest covered in gardens, meadows, pastures, vineyards (rarely), and soil that is unproductive. It is more than a place to study or a “magical land beyond fiction and myth” as one book calls it.

Instead, while Transylvania is not a country of its own, each part has a unique history, as Rebecca A. Emrich (@RebeccaAEmrich on Twitter), who calls herself a writer, blogger, and mother of an autistic child, writes on her blogThings about Transylvania, Romania.

A map originally shared by Ms. Emrich in 2014, who described this map as giving the “potential traveller some idea of where Transylvania is within Romania, and also what the region’s physical geography looks like, with the Carpathian Mountains ringing it.” She included other maps as well, but this was one of the better ones that was easily discernible, as others are either too specific or the images are too small.

Is it any surprise that there are those out there who have their roots in Transylvania, traveling around the region, visiting towns such as Timisoara, Arad, and Hermannstadt/Sibiu to name a few? This is a region that is broadly misunderstood, at least popularly. With that, perhaps it is no surprise that in my family, the story was they had German roots, with no mention whatsoever of Transylvania or Romania. There is no doubt in my mind that my ancestors, immigrants like Michael Hermann and Marie Graf, spoke German (although other languages are spoken like Hungarian, Ukrainian, and forms of Turkish), they also were part of the culture of Transylvania. This was clearly relegated when this was talked about, only mentioned in places such as the family bible (where their birth places were indicated by one word: TRANSYLVANIA) or official documents like draft cards and naturalization papers. While they were not as openly prideful of that heritage for all I know, that doesn’t mean I should ignore those ancestral roots.

A recent meeting with one of my cousins-in-law this past weekend was part of what sparked me to create this blog. My aim is to delve into my roots in a place that is the “land beyond the forests,” at least that’s what the word Transylvania roughly means. Like any other area, there are many ways to look at the culture and history, and I will try to understand what happened in this region in order to put the lives of ancestors into context.

With that, the blog is off! I look forward to digging into my roots in this important region, which has a “unique cultural history” and is constantly in flux, in its entirety!

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