Thursday, February 24, 2011

Prejudice, Persecution and Acceptance...

 (Or How the News Isn't New and the Power of Forgiveness)

 Several ideas have been percolating in my mind lately.  My search to know more about my ancestors has led me to think more about things I hear in the news and how in many ways history just keeps repeating itself.  So much unrest and strife is brewing around our country among people who have strong feelings about immigration.  At the same time, I heard a sermon on the text of Matthew 5:38-47; wherein the minister talked about the cultural shift that Jesus advocated, urging people to move beyond retaliation of "an eye for an eye" to a a world view that would wish good on one' s enemies and "go an extra mile" when asked to do something even for an adversary.  I thought to myself that is also a timeless concept that still has just as much relevance for our modern world as it did long ago.

Ferdinand Sorg and Anna Mary Bauer's
 wedding day, April 30,1888
   With these thoughts in mind I have been drawn back to the account of my paternal grandmother's ancestors who were settling in the Ozark Mountains.  As German Catholic immigrants, they were the outsiders, their speech and religion being different than the people who had lived in the area for some time.  They would have been very familiar with the anti-immigration sentiment expressed by so many today; they were on the receiving end of it in their era.  But their story also conveys that they must have also been familiar with the idea that sometimes the best way to diffuse a difficult situation is with kindness.
   In 1882 my paternal grandmother's grandfather, Ferdinand Sorg arrived in New York from Billafingen, Germany.  He worked for a time in a railroad car shop in Pennsylvania where he lost two fingers to a circular saw.  Later he found his way to Minnesota where he told stories of working on the train that plowed snow from the tracks.  While in Minnesota he married Anna Mary Bauer in 1888.
John George Baur
   Anna Mary was born in Chicago, the first child of immigrants John George (or Johann Georg) Baur and his wife Rosena Christina Reese.  John George had come from Baden Germany and married Rosena Christina of Hesse, Germany, in Chicago in 1868.  John George was a carpenter who brought his tool box with him when he arrived in America.  It was printed with the name Baur on the side. When their daughter Anna Mary and Ferdinand Sorg began their journey south to warmer weather in search of better game and better opportunities, John George and Rosena Christina accompanied them.
   This is account is taken from The The Sorg Family from Feudal Germany to Modern America, compiled by  Louis and Erma White Sorg in 1984.  They interviewed Dorothy Bauer Jones, the sister to my great great grandmother Anna Mary Bauer Sorg, about her remembrances of moving with her family in a covered wagon from Minnesota to Missouri.
   "In the year 1888, my parents who lived 17 miles from the nearest town, Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, decided to move to a warmer climate. We of course had to travel in a covered wagon. Father placed a hayrack on the wagon and put a solid floor in the rack. Using the hayrack was to have as much room as possible for our family. Our family consisted of father and mother, four sons and three daughters and my oldest sister's husband. My brother-in-law, Ferd Sorg, took over the care of several cows that they had decided to take to furnish milk and butter for the family.  On the way, brother George and Ed (aged 8 and 6 respectively), surprised our parents by breaking out with measles while I developed a case of chicken pox...."
   "We traveled on and eventually arrived at St. Joseph, Missouri, where we stayed about a year. We moved on to the Ozarks in the fall of 1894. People were typical ... of that day and looked with suspicion on the "durn furriners" that moved in from the north and especially so in our case, since we were German Catholics. There were five boys and one girl (myself) of us, two older sisters and one brother were married and did not come with us. The natives must have decided to make us leave. They would lay the rail fences down to let cattle into our crops or pull lower rails out and put rocks or chunks in to let their hogs in on the crops."
Rosena Christina Reese Baur
   "Mother raised turkeys and they would shoot them and they burned a field of clover that was giving hay and feed for our cows and of course abundant milk and butter.  Mother churned 16 pounds a week."
   "One day a neighbor from over the hill came to see mother and told her his wife was in labor and asked her to help.  She went at once and helped to bring the baby but it was either dead at birth or died right afterward. My father made a little casket for it and it was lined and covered with cloth."
   "From then on things began to change. The people became friendly and mother was called on quite often to deliver the newborn. She made no charge for her services and it was free to those she served and pay [was] anything they were able. The people were all so poor, that the question of pay was not important. I have no idea how many mother cared for, and she became known as Grandma Baur."
   I treasure this story.  I am so proud of and humbled by my long ago family members.  They could have retaliated or refused to help their neighbors after the treatment that they received.  But they must have been guided by the "better angels of their nature" and must have been deeply rooted in a code of living that taught them to help someone in need no matter what had come before.  Through compassion and doing the right thing, my ggg-grandparents had a huge impact for good in their community.  Rosena Christina helped the residents not only by caring for the sick and women in labor, but also by showing them that even those who were "different" weren't so different after all.  John George showed them through an act of kindness, using his carpentry talent to fashion a beautiful casket for a family in their time of loss, that their new neighbors were people who felt their pain.
   It was a joyful discovery to find their story.  Researching family history sometimes leads to stories that are difficult or sad or not reflections of the best of what people can be.  That makes this story all the more special to me.  The kindness spread through a community long ago by Rosena Christina and John George Baur is a testament to the fact that "the only peace this world will know, can only come from love."

1 comment:

  1. I think you have some of Rosena carrying on through you!