OBERKALBACH, HESSEN, GERMANY
Village of My Berthold & Ullrich Ancestors
Johannes Berthold and Eva Ullrich
The first Berthold who arrived in Oberkalbach in the early 1700's was Johann Christoff, son of Michael the schoolteacher in the village of Wallroth, not many miles west of Oberkalbach. Michael had come from Hintersteinau and settled in Wallroth. Johann Christoff married an Oberkalbach girl in 1726 and had 5 children there and then moved his family to Hungary. Johann Christoff had an older brother Henrich, who probably came to visit him in Oberkalbach. Apparently Heinrich fell in love with an Oberkalbach girl, too, and married and settled there. Henrich is my direct ancestor. His descendant, Heinrich Berthold, born in 1850, married Anna Herbert in 1876 and had 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls, the oldest of whom was my grandfather, Johannes.
The first Ullrich recorded in the Oberkalbach christening records, which date back to October 1653, was Henrich Ulrich (note the spelling), son of Hans. He was christened on 5 February 1654. It could be that Hans was a man of some standing in the community, since the pastor of the church, Henrich Appel, was named the godfather of the child, and Hans Schaefer, the mayor, held the child, since the pastor was busy performing the baptismal ordinance.
My grandmother Eva Ullrich's father, Andreas, born in 1840, married Elisabetha Mueller, an Oberkalbach girl, on 19 February 1865. Eva was the 7th of their 9 children, three of whom were boys, of whom the first-born died 17 days before his 3rd birthday. Of the six girls, all except the youngest, who died at 8 months, grew to adulthood. Eva's father was a small farmer. He was not blessed with a lot of sons to help him with his farming, which probably resulted in the girls having to do a lot of the work in the fields with their father.
Eva was a pretty girl. She was referred to as "Schoe Ev" in Oberkalbach dialect. In high German, that translates into "Schoene Eva" and in English to "Lovely Eva". She wore her long hair braided and wrapped around her head like a wreath. Being one of the youngest of the surviving daughters, she probably stayed at home with her mother, helping with the daily chores of cooking, cleaning, and laundry. She was not sent out to other places to work at the age of 14, although that was the tradition in this area, especially with larger families. For a few years, she attended school in the same schoolhouse as Johannes Berthold, her future husband, even though he was almost 5 years her senior. Children in this village attended school until they turned 14.
Johannes Berthold lived just a few houses down the street from Eva. She had to go by his house on the way down the hill to the schoolhouse. In this small town, they must have known each other all their young lives. Perhaps they started courting when she was in her late teens. It seems that Johannes fell in love with Eva and seriously wanted to marry her but his father was not in favor of the marriage and refused to give his permission.
At some point in time, Johannes and his father Heinrich were conversing. Heinrich asked Johannes how things were going. Johannes replied that they weren't going very well - that he had gotten Eva pregnant. Eva had just turned 20. Permission was finally granted and the couple married. They lived in the Berthold house with Johannes' father Heinrich. Johannes' mother, Anna Herbert, had died at age 39 in 1894, when he was only 18 years old. Heinrich was not a pleasant father-in-law to Eva, but there was no other place for the young couple to live. Being the oldest son, Johannes would eventually inherit the house and fields.
Eva was a fertile woman. Children came along every 13 to 18 months. She bore 15 children in 22 years - 7 boys and 8 girls. In order of birth they were: Anna 1901; Gertraude (Gertrud) 1903; Heinrich 1904; Elisabeth (Lisbeth) 1905; Katharina 1907; Eva 1908; Konrad (Kurt) 1910; Johannes (Hannes) 1911; Ludwig 1912; Maria 1914; Elisabeth (Liese) 1915; Margarethe (Gretel) 1916; Baltasar 1919; Andreas 1921; and Johann Heinrich (Hans) 1923.
All the children lived to adulthood except Baltasar, who died at age 3 years and 10 months. Baltasar, who had never walked, had become seriously ill, and a doctor was summoned to the house. When the child saw the doctor, he panicked and began to scream in terror. The doctor gave the boy a shot and within minutes he had a convulsion and died on 22 June 1923. My mother's suspicion was that the cause of death may have been something like spinal meningitis.
When asked why she had so many children, Eva replied that every time grandfather hung his trousers on the bedpost, she ended up pregnant. When my mother, the 5th child, once asked her godmother why it was that her mother had so many children, the godmother replied, "Kind, dass kann ich dir nicht sagen. Kinder, dass sind Gottes' Gaben. Wer sie hat, der soll sie haben. " (Child, I can't explain that. Children are a gift from God. Whoever gets them was meant to have them.)
Having done genealogical research in the church records of this village, I know that there was never before this time a family as large as this one in this place. Eva's life was one of hard work, with no modern conveniences. According to a carving in the wood under the eaves of the house, it had been built in 1727. It was built of wood and had never seen a coat of paint. In this day, we would call in a split-level. It sat perpendicular to the town's main street, the two levels near the road were the cow barn with a hayloft above it. Behind the barn the ground sloped upward, so the living quarters at the back of the house were on the level of the hayloft. These consisted of a kitchen, a bedroom and a living room. A curtained doorway in the living room led to a tiny room, called a "Kammer" (tiny room), large enough to barely accommodate a bed, a night stand and a chest of drawers. This little room was where the father-in-law slept while he was alive. After he died in 1922, Eva and Johannes used this as their bedroom. Meanwhile, they used the main bedroom and kept the smaller children with them in their room.
The outhouse was outside the kitchen door to the side of the house, in one end of the same structure that was the pigpen. One time, when Eva was in the outhouse, she saw a rat. Terrified, she never again entered the outhouse without first banging against the door with a stick to scare away any rat that might be nearby. The air by the outhouse was unpleasantly odoriferous, additionally so because the huge pile of barn-cleanings of straw and cow-do leaned up next to it. And since every house in Oberkalbach had pretty much the same arrangement, this odor lingered in the air everywhere. Living there, one's olefactory nerves probably became accustomed to this. But coming there from a town or city where things were more sanitarily advanced, this was quite a shock to one's system.
As the family grew, which it did very quickly, a small house next door was acquired and attached to the main house with an overhang. This house provided sleeping quarters for the older children, who slept out there 3 to a bed. As the children turned 14 years of age, they were hired out to work at other places. They were then boarded at their places of employment. Each month, Johannes went to the employers to collect his children's wages, which he used to support the family at home. This was the custom until each one turned 21 years of age, at which time they were free to live their own lives.
Johannes was a small farmer, with only a few fields to grow food for the family and hay for his four or five cows. The boys worked in the fields with him until they were of age to be hired out. Eva occasionally had to help in the fields as well as the girls, who also had responsibilities at home helping with the younger children and the household chores. The children all had their chores to do at home, such as cutting and bringing in the firewood, milking the cows, cleaning the barn, sweeping the street and gutters, etc.
Oberkalbach had no entertainment establishments, but there was a restaurant/tavern/inn down the street from the Berthold house. Johannes would occasionally go down there to socialize but Eva stayed home. Her only social life would have been on Sunday if she had time to go to church a short distance down the street, or if she stopped to talk to her neighbors on the way to the baking house to bake her many loaves of bread or to the cemetery to tend the family graves. There was a small store for buying basic items directly across the street from the Berthold house and also a small post office.
The house looked poor and lacked any kind of comfort. The kitchen was bare, with a large wood stove for cooking, which also heated the room. There was a container at one end of the stove in which water was always kept warm. There was a stone sink with a sideboard for food preparation. There was no sign of any kind of decoration to make it homey or pleasant. There was no money for that kind of thing. The family ate in the living room, where the table was in one corner with benches built onto the walls. In fact, benches were built-in all around the whole room. Besides these things, there was no furniture except for a stove for heating and a grandfather clock. There was no comfortable couch or easy chair. The floor was bare worn wood.
Copyright 2000-2008 by Sue Foster. Please contact me at for permission to copy. I would like to know why this information interests you :-)