Zaehring Family History

The First Generation
Auguste & Wilhelm Zaehring

The story of the Zaehring’s in America begins sometime in early 1893 with a family’s decision to emigrate. The father was Wilhelm Zähring, born April 22, 1845. Auguste Zähring, the mother, was born on September 25, 1848. They were married about 1872. Their children were Otto, born in 1874, Margaret, born in 1875, Max, born in 1877, Franz, born in 1879, and Ernst, born in 1888. Family members also recount a “Helena” as a sixth child who may have died in childbirth since there is no other known record of her. (The 1900 census indicates five of seven children were living.) There is not much information yet about the family’s roots and movements. Several indications are that the couple was married in Berlin, but the family was residing in Memel, East Prussia (now Kleipeda, Lithuania) prior to emigrating to America. Most family recollections indicate that at least the younger three children were born in Memel. Memel has a long history of German connections. It was originally captured by crusading germanic knights of the Livonian Order who built Memelburg, a wooden castle at the mouth of the Dane River in 1252. When Napoleon captured Berlin in his conquest of Europe, Kaiser Frederick Wilhelm III fled from Berlin to Memel, where his household remained until after Napoleon was effectively defeated outside Moscow.

When Wilhelm and Auguste were born, there was no unified country known as Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm I, through the able and ruthless assistance of Otto von Bismarck, completed the unification of Prussia into one country in 1871. In the mid 1870's, about the time Wilhelm and Auguste were married, an economic depression hit much of Germany, causing much hardship, particularly among shopkeepers and tradesmen. With the name Zähring, Wilhelm’s ancestors– and perhaps himself– originated from the southwestern part of Germany where various cities were built by Zähringers, such as Berne and Freiburg. There are numerous interesting legends surrounding the Zähringers, many fictitiously linking them to Barons and Dukes of the twelfth and thirteenth century. There are, however, family stories that Otto remembered playing at a castle that had his name, so perhaps the family either resided there for a time or paid relatives there an extended visit. In Germany today, “Zähring” (Zaehring) is not an uncommon name. Some family recollections were that Auguste’s maiden name was Reicho (or Reichow), which may be Lithuanian. Her roots may be what led the family to later settle in Memel, but so far there are yet no references to further enlighten us. During this time Prussia had mandatory schooling from age 7 to 14, so the family had at least basic education.

S. S. Columbia manifest
Closeup: Zaehring entries
S. S. Saale manifest
Closeup: Zaehring entries
Two interpretations are possible to another family recollection. One is that Wilhelm took them to “Russia” to obtain work, when in reality they went to Memel which is right on the Russian border. Many workers from Memel went into the Russian forests nearby for timber. The other interpretation is that while the family was in Memel, East Prussia, Wilhelm– either alone or with part or all of the family– went to Russia to pursue work. The steady stream of emigration was reaching a torrent from Russia, Prussia and numerous other European areas. The vast majority of emigrants were leaving a destitute existence, while some were fleeing religious persecution. The Zähring family, being Protestant Lutheran, would not have experienced religious persecution directly, except perhaps in Russia–if they indeed went to Russia. Catholics and Protestants alike were severely discriminated against there, although nowhere near that experienced by the Jews in European Russia.

Whatever the reason to emigrate, the decision resulted in Otto, the oldest son, making his way to Rotterdam where he was able to board the ship S.S. Edam bound for America. He arrived on May 2, 1893 at Ellis Island, New York . Soon afterward, perhaps after receiving word of Otto’s safe arrival, Wilhelm set out with his second son, Max, age 15, from Bremen aboard the S. S. Saale.  They arrived on July 11, 1893 at Ellis Island and began the process of finding work and adequate quarters. Finally, on October 6, 1894, over a year later, Auguste, his wife, their daughter Margaret and their two youngest sons Franz and Ernst arrived at Ellis Island from Hamburg. Emigrants in Hamburg faced delays while they were sheltered in large dormitory-like buildings down by the docks. With a stopover at Southampton, England, they voyaged for nine days aboard the S. S. Columbia,.  The Zähring’s all came third class– otherwise referred to as steerage. (or “Zwischendeck”.) This consisted of large open rooms with numerous beds arranged for the many passengers. (For those interested in ships, Appendix A has a detailed description of the ships on which the original family traveled.) Thus the family was reunited in America.

Next: The Next Generations

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