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Dr. Cynthia Klohr

How I discovered Henry Reuter's parents and ancestors….

Luckily, we had three documents to start with:

1) A copy* of a marriage certificate:

"This is to certify that Mr. H. A. Reuter from Goettingen, and Miss Frederika Klauder from Osthofen, both in Germany, were with their mutual consent lawfully joined together in holy matrimony" …..dated Philadelphia, January 4, 1848.

2) A copy* of a fragment of an employer's recommendation for Reuter, in handwriting, in German:

This seems to have been a document that Reuter carried around with him for a long time because it was folded to pocket-size and very worn.

The original was creased three ways vertically, and horizontally, and along the left vertical fold 1/3 of the document is missing (torn off), but the remainder reads (in translation):
Reuter, who worked with me … 7 ½ years without interruption… during this time his behavior was exemplary, he is a skilled… With this recommendation I wish that he find … which will… prove praiseworthy…" dated Sept. 20, 1845 and signed by Lorenz Foerster, a "Tapezierer" (see below on this occupation).

3) A copy* of an elaborate apprenticeship certificate issued for Heinrich Reuter, born in Goettingen.

This document tells us that Heinrich Reuter, born in Goettingen, was an apprentice to become a "Tapezierer" from 1831 until 1834. An apprenticeship normally lasts 3 years. Then the apprentice must go on "Wanderjahre", which means to travel by foot as far as he can and collect experience in his chosen occupation. Upon return, in 1836, Reuter got his certificate as a "Tapezierer". So this document is dated March 11, 1836, after two years of experience on his own.

* These are copies that my father, Herman Pfeiffer gave me in 1982. They are, as far as I can tell, copies of the originals, not copies of photocopies. This means that my father either had the originals in his possession or had access to them. He died in 1988 and we have been unable to locate the originals. Either he tucked them away carefully, or someone else has them.

Now a note on the occupation of the "Tapezierer": Today this would be translated as "wallpaperer", but at the time it meant much more than that: it included everything we would today consider as "interior decorating" and more, right down to doing the upholstery (particularly leather) themselves. The Tapezierer organized and hung curtains, bedspreads, tablecloths, and rugs, made footstools and upholstered furniture, hung silk and paper wallpaper, etc. It makes sense that Heinrich Reuter would take up this occupation, since it turns out that his family had been in the cloth-making business for generations (wool); but on the other hand it was also the result of unbelievable good fortune, because learning this occupation and practicing it was considered very expensive: the Tapezierer often had to buy all the material in advance and then hope that his clients would like it. Considering his humble financial background, Heinrich Reuter would normally not have been able to learn this trade. But his father, August Wilhelm, seems to have been well-liked. After he died age 46 (Heinrich's mother died when Heinrich was 9), a wealthy man from Goettingen apparently saw to it that Heinrich got trade training. But more on this later….

[Incidentally, the 1880 census for Philadelphia lists Henry Reuter (age 60) as an upholsterer, living with his wife Frederika (55) and two daughters Augusta (22) and Julia (17).(It also lists them as coming from Wuerttemberg, but that is an error, and the ages are not entirely correct, either, but people did not have birth certificates and also did not celebrate birthdays, so older folks sometimes didn't even know themselves exactly how old they were.)]

So I started with these three documents and went looking for Heinrich A. Reuter, born in Goettingen.

Now, it turned out that Reuter was not a common name in Goettingen around 1810 - the few Reuters that lived there were apparently male (distant) cousins from somewhere else. But where? They had come to find work in the city during a time when the trades in small towns were dying out because of increased industrialization in the cities. They came to Goettingen to find work, and as they married and had children, we find the first Reuter babies turning up in Goettingen. Among them there is only one Heinrich: Johann Heinrich August Reuter, born in 1812 to August Wilhelm Reuter and Marie-Elisabeth Graefe (also written Grebe). Marie-Elisabeth was born in Goettingen, but father August Wilhelm was not.

So where did Wilhelm Reuter come from? I had only one clue to follow up on: Johann Heinrich August Reuter's birth record states that his father August Wilhelm Reuter is a camlot maker in the Graetzel factory. Camlot is a sturdy mixture of wool and silk and was used for military uniforms. So I asked a local historian and genealogical researcher, Dr. Sylvia Moehle, to research the Graetzel factory, hoping to find August Wilhelm Reuter on a list of employees or something like that. We discovered that the Graetzel factory was the largest employer in Goettingen for a long time, employing at one time 1000 workers. Since it supplied the military, it was successful in times of war. The factory no longer exists, but it did play an important role as a major site of work for many people of Goettingen during the 1800s. So the history of that factory was once written up and the Graetzel family also kept documents about the factory and handed them over to archives. But the lists of employees they had were from much later (1860 and later). I asked Sylvia Moehle to keep searching through the Graetzel factory documents from the years when August Wilhelm Reuter would have worked there and see if there are any sorts of document that might contain employees' names. She came up with records of court cases that involved Graetzel factory workers. It was a long shot, but I thought, okay, let's see if Reuter was involved in any legal matter… So Sylvia Moehle started scanning documents in search of the name Reuter.

And believe it or not, soon August Wilhelm did turn up, as a foreman at Graetzel's factory, involved in a case concerning a seal on a letter being broken. Reuter had been asked to pick up a letter for someone else and he sent his eleven-year-old son Heinrich to go get it. [So we also see here that as a boy Johann Heinrich August Reuter went by the name Heinrich.] When Heinrich returned with the letter, the seal on it had been broken. His father August Wilhelm immediately noticed that and had his colleagues confirm that the seal had been broken…. Later the letter was brought to the wife of the person it was addressed to… well, to make a long story short: it does look like a curious 11-year-old (Henry Reuter) opened the letter he was supposed to deliver, but at least before the court, his father stuck up for him… So here we have a real episode out of the life of father and son Reuter, just a few years after Henry's mother died. The description of how the letter was delivered and how the wife of the addressee came to Reuter's living quarters (factory housing) to scold the boy give a real impression of what it was all like. And I can imagine August Wilhelm having a serious talk with his son, but protecting him in the public anyway.

But this did still not tell us where Reuter (Henry's father) came from. So Dr. Moehle continued to search through the court cases and she found a case in which August Wilhelm Reuter, the foreman at the Graetzel factory, was summoned to court as a witness. One of his workers had allegedly tried to steal wool from the factory and Reuter testified before court that in the past this man had been trustworthy and not a troublemaker. As a witness, Reuter had to identify himself, so he says:
     "I, August Wilhelm Reuter from Blomberg in Lippe, do…." to tell the truth and so on.

Voila! From Blomberg in Lippe! All of Dr. Moehle's patience and effort paid off… suddenly we knew where August Wilhelm Reuter was from. It is not too far away from Goettingen… and a place known for wool-making. The pieces of the puzzle started falling in place.

So I researched the church books and local archives of Blomberg and what do you know… we found almost the entire family tree of our Reuters in Blomberg going back to around 1650. I found marriage records and contracts and the houses they lived in over the centuries. Blomberg is very small and still entirely picturesque … you can walk through the very streets they lived in and walked, go to the town hall where they did their business and the market place. For generations the Reuters had been wool-makers in small family businesses. I found a handwritten guild book that contains records of when the Reuter sons completed their apprenticeships as wool-makers and were accepted as members of the guild. It was thrilling to hold these original documents in my hands and see their own signatures in ink on paper.

Dr. Moehle has helped unearth most of the data we have on the family in Goettingen (birth records, confirmation records, death records, court records, the job description of a Tapezierer in 1850 and so much more). In Blomberg the archivist Dieter Zoremba has helped me locate the most interesting documents.

Right now we are in the process of transcribing and translating documents. The old German handwriting is very difficult to read, so first we have to get it into readable form and then translate it into English. Many of the terms used are obsolete, so it takes a while to research them and find out what the texts actually say. But we're working on it.


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© by Dr. Sylvia Möhle, 2006 Logo IDEAS (Göttingen, Germany)