This branch of the Austrian Hesch family is descended from Johann Hesch and his wife Marya (Schlinz) Hesch, who came to America from Oberschlagles, Bohemia with three sons: Paul, Mathias, and Anton. +++Johann & Marya settled in Buffalo County, Wisconsin but moved to Pierz, Mn in about 1885. .+++Mathias settled in Waumandee, Wisconsin and moved to Pierz in 1911. +++Anton never married but farmed with his dad in Agram Township, where he died in 1911.+++And Paul, my great grandfather, settled five miles away, in Buckman, Minnesota. He died there in 1900.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Flaxen Bohemia?

As far back as we can tell (around 1760), Heschs have always been farmers.  They were serfs for the family who owned the land around Oberschlagles and Neidermuhl, Bohemia.  Once they arrived in America then, farming was natural.  Free land or land to buy! and they could make all kinds of decisions for themselves for a change, not the least of which was what crops to grow.
So, what did they know how to grow from experience?  I assume grains, like wheat and rye, for flour...and probably barley, oats and maybe hops.  Potatoes and sugar beets are mentioned in books from the 1800s, too, but not corn.  When I look at the plat maps from Bohemia, I assume each farmer was told what to grow in those slivers of fields.  
So yesterday, when Su wrote about FLAX growing around Schamers, I was tickled.  It must have been lovely to see stripes of blue and gold and green on the hillsides.  She's deciphering the Schamers municipal chronicles from 1932-38, and while that's late for our folks, the gentleman who wrote this part added some history as well (THANK YOU, Herr Schimeczek!)  
"Dear Marlys,
You just never know where all this family history stuff will lead!  I'm still wading through the Schamers Chronicles but at a slightly increased rate as I can now read Herr Schimeczek's handwriting well enough to type what I see at about a letter every couple of seconds. Understanding what I read is a different matter.  In the most frustrating cases I understand every word but because German syntax is different it is still 'word soup'. 'Der Hund beißt den Mann' means just the same as 'Den Mann beißt der Hund', which it most certainly would not in English!  O.k, that's simple enough, I do understand that one but add a few sub clauses and I'm completely fogged.  Even when Google translate and Herman are performing at their very best there are still words that seem untranslatable because they are dialect or come from a very specialist vocabulary or even spelled (or is it spelt?) wrongly.

 I've now read through the whole list of properties and owners/occupiers and am on to the section on occupations of the residents.  It seems that in the 18th and early 19th  centuries flax growing and processing and linen weaving was very important in Schamers and across the rest of southern Bohemia and northern Austria and my researches suggest that a lot of the processing was done by the women.  

I had already worked out that at the time the chronicles were written the heyday of flax growing had passed because of the increased importation of cotton. One of the flax-drying houses had been converted into the village poor house (Gemeindearmenhaus), and another into the village School.  I was very puzzled by buildings that were called 'Hoarstubn' and which google translate insists on correcting as Haarstubn and translating as 'hair parlour'.  Could a town as small as this support ten hair parlours unless the inhabitants had an obsessional interest in their coiffure?   Surely not! Then I suddenly had enlightenment:  a bundle of flax stems ready for spinning looks exactly like a hank of fine smooth blonde hair!  Hoar/Haarstubn must be the places where the flax was processed.  And so it proved.
Here you will find out about the renovation of a genuine Austrian Haarstube at Krumbach in Lower Austria - o.k not exactly right next door but the general processing principles are much the same everywhere. 
It also gives something of an insight into the social lives of our ancestors because I suspect that nearly every woman  did spinning or weaving.
 A warm room full of women was no doubt something of an attraction to young men and there seems to have been much teasing and horseplay and even licentious behaviour!
Flax processing was extremely laborious and this little clip of film shows you some of what they had to do:
Bonus fact: Woohoo-now you know what hackles were!

Schimeczek notes that a lot of these building were destroyed by fire. Apart from it being an ever-present risk in houses at that time, a roomful of highly flammable flax straw would have increased the risk tremendously. There is a whole section in the Chronicles devoted to village fires but I haven't got that far yet.
What hard lives those women had: all the labour of looking after endless children, feeding, clothing, washing and processing flax all the way from turning the cut straw in the fields, carrying and stacking it, beating, spinning and weaving. Whew!

Love Su. 

(and it takes one addicted researcher to recognize another!)"   ☺


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