Jim's Search for
Roots in Alsace
By James R.
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.
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
Walter Alexis Dangel
Robert Achille Dangel
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
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,
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
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.
Click here to see
THE OLD FAMILIES OF
THE SUNDGAU: The Dangel
Click here to see my
Alsacien Picture Album
James R. Dangel
1504 Sawmill Creek Road
Sitka, Alaska 99835 USA
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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