Jim's Search for
Roots in Alsace

By James R. Dangel  

    I just returned from Europe recently, this Spring of 1997. I had a wonderful time eating, sampling wine, and meeting cousins. In Alsace I revisited cousins from my 1995 visit with my father, and met new cousins (my father’s father’s cousins and descendants). With my father’s cousin Ronald Versic of Dayton, Ohio, I visited new cousins and a new country of Slovenija (my father’s mother’s cousins and descendants). My Slovenian cousins story is published separately. This trip was prompted by Christmas in Paris with my older daughter, Laura. My younger daughter, Helen, and I visited in France, especially Alsace. After Helen returned to her university, I used a rail pass for two months and I visited other parts of Europe.
Walter Alexis Dangel
(1921- )

Robert Achille Dangel

    When I started the quest for my European roots in 1994, it was to satisfy my curiosity about where my ancestors had lived previously. To me it seems more interesting to visit places where family has lived, and often is still living, than common tourist attractions. It was easy finding my father’s father’s family in Alsace. We knew the exact town of Durlinsdorf. We had photographs and letters and located Durlinsdorf on a map. I did not locate where Grandmother’s family originated until I was visiting a cousin in 1995 in Alsace who had an Austrian ancestor. He had a map of Slovenija that showed the German name of Pettau as well as the newer Slovenian name of Ptuj.
    I really have enjoyed my visits to Alsace. The home of the parents of my grandfather, Robert Achille Dangel. I have been collecting information on the area the family has lived and is still living, the Sundgau. In German, or Alsacien, sund means south and gau means administrative district. The Sundgau is the southernmost part of Alsace, without grapes for wine. It is rural and there are farms and cows. Some cousins work in Basel, the third largest Swiss city, which is closer (and north of where the family lives) than any large French city. Since the French took over, Alsace is just a region, often confused with Lorraine, with which the Germans combined it whenever they won the war. Alsace is now divided into two French Departments. Bas-Rhin is the lower Rhine and Haut-Rhin is the upper Rhine. The Bas-Rhin is northerly and contains more Dangels that other places in France except the Haut-Rhin which is in the south in Alsace. Most Dangels are from Germany in areas adjacent to the Rhine River or to the south of Germany in Switzerland in the area around Zurich. Almost all Dangels that have not migrated are centered on the area where France, Germany, and Switzerland join.
   For those cousins who do not know about Alsace, the culture is a combination of German and French, ethnically, culturally, and food wise. The area has changed hands many times since the Hapsburgs were forced to sell the region to the King of France after the Thirty Years War (over religion) in 1648. It belonged to the diocese of Basel, now Switzerland, until the French Revolution. Even Switzerland was not independent until 1815. Alsacien or Elsasser seems to be the native tongue of many from Alsace, but they definitely consider themselves French. I consider that one-fourth of me to be Alsacien, not French or German, but some of both. However, it would be handier if they spoke English or better yet American English like me! If the English had only won the 100 Year’s War! Since William the Conqueror, from Normandy, took England and his descendants and their Norman French were absorbed into the English language, I can guess about a lot of French words that we have in our language. However, they are never pronounced the same. Unfortunately, at the ancient age of 50, wrapping my tongue around anything besides a wurst is rather difficult. With the corncobs stuck in my ears, I don’t hear too well either!
   After returning to Alsace from visiting cousins in Slovenija, I realized I was being a little childish in expecting others to translate for me (sorry Alain). It is very nice having cousins, daughters (and ex-fiancé Emile), and neighbors speak for me. I am sure it is no easier for my cousins not being able to communicate with me in their own language, than it is for me to not being able to communicate in anything besides English. I used a dictionary in Slovenija when there was no one to translate; so when I returned to Alsace, for the third time on the same trip to Europe, I bought a small French-English dictionary! I am a slow learner! I sometimes used my computer to translate a message for cousins.
   For those of you who do not know how Dad and I originally met our Alsacien cousins: (1) We had addresses and telephone numbers from Jerry Berch and Louis Willig, cousins from California who visited about 30 years ago; (2) Since we did not know how to speak French, we could not just call perfect strangers any easier than writing to them in a language we did not know; (3) We just took the easy way out and walked up to their houses and rang the doorbell; (4) Dad and I showed a little piece of paper with our names, my grandfather Robert Dangel’s name, great-grandfather Alexis Dangel, and great-great-grandfather Ferdinand Dangel; (5) With no great surprise to us (maybe some to our hosts) the Dangels we visited could see that we were Dangels, and we soon established how we were related. My father’s limited German stood up well enough until someone found a person to translate French and English.
Alexis Dangel 

Ferdinand Dangel

    Before we got to Willigs, they found us at one of the Dangels and we soon had Alain Baysang as a Willig translator. He and his father Bernard took us all around the countryside to visit long lost cousins (over a period of days)! Emile Ruetsch materialized at the same time as the Baysangs. Emile has researched the genealogy of family in Alsace, and he showed us the older brother of my great-great-grandfather Ferdinand, and how we were related to Antoine Dangel, the baker, as Dangels. We had already quickly found Antoine’s grandmother was the youngest sister of my father’s grandmother, Josephine Willig Dangel (so we were related as Willig and Dangel). We had already visited Antoine, but he also appeared at the neighbor’s to invite us to his Aunt Alice Dangel Muller’s home. It was quite a day for meeting everyone at once. Seems to me we went over after that visit to Pierre Dangel, and visited Antoine’s uncle, Arthur Dangel. Emile’s grandmother was a Dangel so he was a cousin, too!
   I have been using my French language computer translating program to understand pages I have scanned into my computer. I have a brief history of the Sundgau, two short articles about Durlinsdorf, and two family volumes about Dangel and Juen. The last was written by Emile Ruetsch (who’s grandmother was a Dangel). His and my Dangel are from the Mill of Bendorf, le Moulin de Bendorf, which is located still half way between Durlinsdorf and Bendorf. Emile has retired also, so spends his time being a historian. He has transcribed old documents he has researched on the family wheat mill (water powered of course) from the original old German and old French into modern French, sometimes with an interpretation as well. I have been quite occupied since I returned home with translating what has been written about all my French family areas! My large French-English dictionary has been getting well used, since the computer does not know it all.
   Emile's research on the Moulin de Bendorf, which is on one of my detailed maps, has been quite a gift to me! Perhaps he will do the same research sometime for where our Dangel millers lived previously in Moos, now Mooslargue. There are still Dangels in Mooslargue, though mine were there only four generations. There are still Dangels in Bendorf and Durlinsdorf. Mine lived there for four generations. There are four generations of Dangels living in the United States (and a few fifth generation).
    I have really enjoyed my visits to Alsace even when I have not been able to see all of the cousins I have wanted to. It would be nice to meet everyone and get to know them and them me. I have liked, savored, and relished my short sojourns. There is something very satisfying about being in places where my ancestors lived. I seem drawn to them. Visiting and seeing how my cousins live is very interesting and enjoyable. It helps in understanding the area to see how people live and what they eat and drink. The ancient and modern architectures are interesting and a contrast to what I am accustomed to in the United States.
    I have located only about half as many cousins in Alsace as Slovenija, although there are more first cousins of my grandfather that are still alive. Approximately, there are 21 first cousins of my grandfather, and 129 of their descendants that I know, not counting spouses. In the United States there are 12 in my grandfather’s generation with 75 descendants. I need to visit more of them to get caught up with all of their descendants!
   I am expecting to return to Europe in Spring 1998, with my parents possibly. We are expecting to have a Slovene family reunion, perhaps in May. Possibly we may come in the middle of March, when my daughter Helen expects to be visiting Laura in Paris during her spring break from university. Would the end of March be a good time for any one? Or know of a translator for April or May? Helen has studied French longer than her sister Laura (2 years in high school, i.e. college, and 2 years at university).
   I wish to apologize to those of you I did not get a chance to visit, or have a proper visit, when you were expecting me and had time for doing so. I really wanted to visit many more cousins than I did. It is difficult with people having to work for a living having time! I know, since I did work for many years, and I expect to still work some to be able to afford all the travel and luxuries I seem to require. There are still Dangels and Willigs in France I have not met. If any of you want to meet me, I still want to meet you!
   When I am in Alsace, I need to learn how to call to find out when would be a good time for a visit. Perhaps someone can be found to translate if Helen is not available. I can look up words in the dictionary, as I do frequently in my genealogy quest, but being able to use them is difficult. Hence, I need to know some words to be able to communicate orally, in German, if not French.
   I sure wish I knew Slovene and French. But my ear is not good enough to hear Slovene and French and my tongue does not respond. Perhaps Berlioz could help (a language training product). Both Slovenija and Alsace have been owned or occupied by the Germans or Austrians over the centuries and understand or speak German. I could practice with my father, who speaks some German, learned from his parents. My father seems willing to study oral German. At the rate we are learning German, we are going to need to look for a professional French translator! Anyone know any volunteers or someone we could hire for a week?
   My mother, Margaret Louise Claire Dangel, seems interested in a trip to Europe. Her family has been in the United States for a very long time. Most came in the 1600's before there was a United States. The last was our Fergus ancestor who came from Scotland in 1833, unless new information surfaces on others. Mother’s family is not so easy to find in Europe since they came from everywhere in Great Britain. It has been so many generations since there was contact, and it is not easy to find people with the same names.
   Iam planning on utilizing the data and anecdotes I have been collecting, along with photographs and maps, into a book, or perhaps two. They would not likely be published, just printed on a computer printer, and preferably passed out as a computer disk. The newest version of Family Tree Maker has features for writing books, and it looks like I could customize different versions for each family group. That way no one would have to look through pages and pages of information on someone not related to them.

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James R. Dangel
1504 Sawmill Creek Road
Sitka, Alaska 99835 USA

Phone:    907-747-3348


Hiding my address underneath to avoid getting spam and unsolicited viruses has not worked very well. You will have to type in my email address from the picture file above. Perhaps you will also have to verify that you are a real person and not a robot if you are not in my mailing list. I apologize, but I know of no other good way to limit the junk mail.

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