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  • John Adler

News from Germany: The Mysterious Mr. Samstag & the History of the Thomas Adler Line

I received a wonderful note from a distant relative descended from Thomas Adler who still lives in Germany. She relates, "I cannot say how we are both related. I haven't entered all the American Adlers in my family tree yet. If I am not mistaken, Nikolaus Adler is my grandmother's great-uncle (third-degree-removed)."

Who is Mr. Samstag?

She goes on to tell me about a mysterious character named Mr. Samstag, whose passion for researching and archiving family history rivals my own!

"In addition to the church records which you already have, Mr. Samstag's research was based on the early records of Mr. Müller, a vocational school teacher who had already created about 13,000 family index cards (a form of family records similar to library index cards) in the 1920s and 1930s. Mr. Samstag continued to search in land registers, tax lists, military lists, records and lists of dismissals from the association of subjects, museums, all kinds of archives.

"In 2005 there was a 2-volume family book printed in the format DIN-A 5, and in 2012 a larger updated and supplemented edition was created which includes 21,000 families and many references to other family books. All this had to be not only researched, but also entered into the computer. What a job! Besides, it was not paid work. There are many Samstags named in the family book, as there are also many Adlers, and all are somehow related to each other. Viernheim was a small town.

"Mr. Samstag was a very nice and helpful man. He gave me access to his notes on the line of Thomas Adler. He did a wonderful job."

Below is the email she sent me on June 20, 2020...

Background on Thomas Adler

"Good evening Dr. Adler,

"In search of the whereabouts of my great-great-great-uncles Matthias and Nikolaus Adler from Viernheim and their sister Juliana, I finally came to your website, which describes the story of the three siblings. Since I am not a member of, I was particularly surprised and glad to finally learn more about Nikolaus and his siblings.

"Above all, I was very surprised that the young Nikolaus was sent on his own at the age of less than 17, although one might assume that his older brother Matthias was waiting for him.

"I have looked at the many photos on the website and I noticed that the coat of arms of Thomas Adler is not included. If you want, I can send it to you." (See below.)

adler crest coat of arms
Thomas Adler's Coat of Arms (German: "Wappen").

"About Thomas Adler's birthday, I also noticed that the birthday was misjudged. He is referred to in his marriage certificate as "Adolescens," so he must have been young when he married.

"I spoke a few years ago to Mr. Samstag about it. He supposes that Thomas Adler was probably born around 1670, and married Anna Magdalena Schorn (nee Köhler) in 1685. It would be interesting to know why this lady married a man who brought nothing into the marriage. That was very important at the time. When he had come to Viernheim, he had neither fields, nor house, nor money. Not even his profession is mentioned. Anna Magdalena, however, had a great fortune, which certainly not everyone could show after the Thirty Years' War." (My theory about this is below.)

"I have been working on behalf of my emigrated Viernheim ancestors for a long time and am glad that I now know more about Nikolaus Adler and his siblings.

"Nikolaus, Mathias, and Juliana had two cousins (twice-removed) Georg and Nikolaus Adler, who emigrated to Australia in 1862 and landed in New South Wales. They were the only Viernheimers who sailed to Australia before the two world wars."

Thomas' Marriage to Anna Magdalena (Köhler) Schorn

From what we already knew of Thomas in the genealogy documents, he was born circa 1660 (now we know from our relative that this was likely closer to 1670) in an unknown village. He married Anna Magdalena on January 9, 1685, in Viernheim, Hessen, Germany. Here is the translation of the entry in the Marienkirche Kirchebuch (church records), originally written in Latin:

"On January 9 1685 Thomas Adeler [sic] a single man and Magdalena Köhler widow of Michael Schorn were married. Witnesses were Johann Michael Leonard Oppell and Franz Bägel."

This gives us a clue to the possible reason why Anna Magdalena married such a young man with no discernable assets. As a widow who was known to have a great fortune, we could suppose that she had inherited this money from her first husband, Michael Schorn, leaving her free to choose whomever she liked for her second husband.

Thomas' Descendants: Johann, Kaspar, & Mathias

Mr. Samstag did not include any further information about Franz (1725-1785) and Friedrich (1686-1740), but did offer some additional details on Johann (1756-1826) and Kaspar (1794-1878). (Their genealogy documents can be found here.)

Here is more from the email our relative sent me:

"The father of Kaspar, Johann Adler I, was also anything but a rich man. He is described as a day laborer and shepherd. He was looking after others people's sheep, not his own. When he married, his best man was Johann Kempf. The Kempf families have the one or other shepherd among them. But maybe Johann owned a house. The presumption is obvious, because his daughter Anna Maria Adler Bauer, a sister of Kaspar, brought half a house with her when she married. It is not known whether she and her husband moved in, nor who owned the other half. It has been proven that the houses of ordinary farmers were not particularly large and half a house was even smaller. Nor is it mentioned whether farmland belonged to this half-house.

"The husband of Anna Maria Adler was also a day laborer, but is praised (court book 1812) because he proved extraordinary diligence in the "sand melioration" in the Agricultur. In Germany, this refers to cultural-technical measures to increase the value of the land, i.e. to increase its profitability, to simplify its management and protection against damage or destruction. Such measures include, for example, irrigation or drainage etc.

"As for Kaspar Adler, his family and his circumstances, I think this family wasn't exactly rich. He had many children, that means they were difficult to feed at the time, and we do not know whether he owned his own land or not. In the middle of the 19th century there was poverty in many villages, which even the ALLMENDE (fields and wood in the common property of the city for the impoverished citizens) could not compensate. A lot of people had debts and nothing to eat. Kaspar's profession is indicated as farm-worker and farmer. That the eldest son then emigrated suggests that he probably had no inheritance to expect. Mathias will have written home, and on the basis of his descriptions Juliana and Nicholas decided to join him in America. And there also were their cousins who emigrated, children of their aunt Anna Maria Bauer, sister of Kaspar."

As to the family history of Mathias Adler, I wrote to our relative: "On 6 August 1890, Mathias Adler applied for a US Passport, listing his occupation as a farmer and adding, 'About to go abroad temporarily. I intend to return within 2 years.' It would be interesting to know if he returned to Germany to visit his siblings and relatives in Viernheim. His parents were already deceased in 1890. There may be a record of his visit in family records yet to be found in Germany." Our relative replied, "There seems to be no indication in Viernheim that he has returned to his old homeland. There were some people who either came back completely or visited relatives. But this was mostly known everywhere and was also mentioned in the emigrant and family books. Nevertheless, it is of course possible that he visited Viernheim again." Could it be that Mathias went to visit his cousins Georg and Nikolaus in Australia? Even the mysterious Mr. Samstag doesn't have an answer...

And this ends our correspondence to date with our German relative, and gives us a glimpse into previously unknown history of the Adlers in Viernheim.


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