. . . what might be lurking in your relative’s attic. Growing up, I talked to both of my grandmas on numerous occasions, asking about their grandparents who had immigrated from Germany. Their memories were great. They could recall birth, marriage, and death dates for each person and so many other details. I was ultimately able to verify these with original sources. They also recalled the same data for their deceased husband’s grandparents. They also shared many photographs to bring these people to life. But despite all this information, one elusive item remained a mystery. In what German towns were they born?
My maternal grandmother, Laura (Huber) Bockhold often told me that she didn’t know the name of the town for her paternal grandfather. But she thought it was close to Baden-Baden. Now, I knew from the 1860 census that Lorenz Huber had come from Baden. The census enumerators were given specific instructions. In 1860 they were told, regarding the place of birth, “the specific German State should be given – as Baden, Bavaria, Hanover.” Unfortunately, they were not told to name the town of birth.
A little German history and geography are necessary at this point. Before 1871 there was no country called Germany. Baden was a grand duchy and it was one of the areas that ultimately became part of Germany. Baden-Baden was a town in that area and a popular spa location in the Black Forest. It would be a logical point of reference for Lorenz to describe his place of birth. It’s kind of like when I tell people that I live in Chicago. Really, I live in Inverness, which is a suburb about thirty miles northwest of Chicago. But I digress.
In the fall of 2013, my siblings and I were at my parent’s house helping them move from a place where they had lived for over fifty years. We found a tin cocoa can stuffed full of documents. I pulled them out carefully. I could tell they were very old. One by one I unfolded each document: a receipt for the 1852 taxes Lorenz “Hoover” had paid; his 1854 declaration of intention; a couple of promissory notes dated 1859 and 1898, the latter involving his son, George Huber; a 1915 receipt for home building materials paid by George. And I continued to unfold the best contents: two letters each addressed to Lorenz Huber. One was from his brother, Joseph, who lived in Belleville, Illinois. I did not know he had a brother with that name. But the best letter was written by Michael Doll in 1849, a brother-in-law who was also unknown to me. Most literate Germans wrote the date and town at the top of any letter. Michael was no different. The town: Oberkirch.
The letter was four pages long and held clues to other family members. I discovered that Lorenz had at least three brothers and a sister. I also discovered that his parents were alive at the time the letter was written. It is too large to include here, but here is a section of it:
Now, I know that because a brother-in-law lives in Oberkirch does not mean that Lorenz was born in that town. But it sure was a better clue than any I’d had before! And researching Oberkirch records did lead to Lorenz’s baptism record in Butschbach, which was nearby.
It was a bit unnerving that this had been in my parent’s attic and I had never known. Why didn’t someone tell me about its existence? After reflecting on this, I think I understand why. The most recent document in the box was a receipt dated 1 August 1934 for the tombstone of George Huber, my great grandfather, and Lorenz’s son. After George died, his widow, Frances (Meyer) Huber, went to live with their daughter, Laura Bockhold, my grandma. The tin can would have gone with her. When she passed away ten years later, the can remained in my grandmother’s collection. In her home, it sat as I grilled her for information about family origins. I don’t think she realized what lay in her attic.
When my grandmother passed away, everything was divided among her nine children. By some stroke of luck my mother received the cocoa can. Like mother, like daughter, she put the can in her attic. I suspect she never opened it to look. Or perhaps she opened it and saw papers. Not knowing what specifically to do with them, she put the lid back on. Who knows? But there it sat for another thirty-three years, until that day in 2013 when I was helping to clean out the attic. I sometimes wonder if anyone had opened that can after that day in 1934 when Frances had folded up the receipt for her husband’s tombstone and tucked away that chapter of the family history.
The lesson here is to never give up on home sources. You might think that you have asked the necessary questions. And you probably have. But sometimes people simply do not know what lies in their attic! Do you?
 Catholic Church (Butschbach, Oberkirch, Baden) Baptisms, 1811–1900, p. 23, no. 6, Laurentius Huber; Family History Library microfilm no. 995,795, item 1.