Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Robitzer family tragedy of 1826

The last few days, I've gone back to researching my Robitzer family in Alsace-Lorraine, fleshing out the family trees and downloading records for the various branches of my family from that part of the world. It's a very fruitful record group for me - the records were beautifully kept, preserved, and digitized, and are very easily accessed for free online. Add to that a very accurate family tree created by a distant cousin, and you have a perfect setup for me to learn a lot about this branch of my family very quickly.

While going through the records, I found something I've never seen before - a death epidemic for one extended family all in the same year (well, half-year really, as the deaths occurred in a 4-month period). The town was Uttwiller/Utweiler (depending on if you spoke French or German),which was not a huge town, and they usually registered 10 or fewer deaths per year around this time period. The year 1826 seems to have been a particularly bad year for Uttwiller, as they registered 15 deaths that year. Of those 15, 7 of them were my relatives, and all 7 of them died between July and November that year.

Death register for Uttwiller in 1826

First in July, Anne Catherine Boos, wife of Johann Jacob Robitzer, died at the young age of 49.

Then in August, Anne Catherine Robitzer, a niece of Anne Catherine Boos, died at the age of 4 years.

September saw the death of little Eve Robitzer, the daughter of Anne Catherine Boos's husband's cousin, who was only 4 days old when she passed away.

In October, two of Anne Catherine Boos' sons, 23-year-old Johan and 20-year-old George both died within 4 days of each other.

In November, Anne Catherine Boos' youngest child, 2-year-old Anne Marie Robitzer, passed away. Two and a half weeks after Anne Marie's passing, her 10-year-old cousin (and brother of Anne Catherine Robitzer) Johan Michael Robitzer died.

With so many deaths in so short a time, I wonder if there was some sickness going around. Or maybe, with so many deaths in one extended family, was there some kind of hereditary disease or vulnerability that cost them their lives? Having recently experienced the pain of losing a child, I can't imagine going through that over and over again. The range in ages is pretty widespread - 4 days, 2 years old, 4, 10, 20, 23, and 49. And yet the families stayed in the area for many more generations. So whatever caused these losses, the family stayed put. Maybe they felt they couldn't leave, as it had been home for their family for so long. Maybe they just lacked the means of leaving. Most of the families were farmers, which tends not to be a very lucrative profession. But whatever the case, I'm glad they stuck it out. They kept raising their families and making their livings, leaving records behind for me to find. Family stories, family tragedies like this one, remind me that life has always been hard. But the hard times help you see the good times for the treasures they are, To really appreciate what you have, you need to experiences hard times, even terrible times, once in a while,
or life gets out of focus. Grief and loss have helped me see what really matters most to me, and maybe it did for the Robitzers in 1826 as well.

1 comment:

Joan Bos said...

In the winter of 1855-56 I found 5 elder siblings of my great-grandmother on my father's side died. It must have been an epidemic. My ggm's mother was 43 when my ggm was born. She had one surviving brother reaching the age of 30. My ggm was the only one to reach old age. See my blog post in Dutch: