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Richard Gruetzner… (October 5, 1939. …): Thank you! An excellent and interesting article that adds a few small pieces to the family history p…
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Accounts Written by Gotthilf Birkmann about his Fedor Days

Sunday 05 October 2098 at 4:49 pm

This article appeared in Worthy of Double Honor: The Rev G. Birkmnn, D. D. written by his grandson Ray Martens and published by Concordia University Press.


The four accounts here following were composed and typed by Gotthilf Birkmann to record his experiences in Fedor. The first two, both preserved among papers held by Herbert Birkman, deal with his impressions of the members of his congregation in the 1870's and 1880's, predominantly Wendish in background, either by way of Serbin in the 1850's or directly from Upper Lusatia more recently. The reader will note that his observations are overwhelmingly complimentary and illustrate the love he had for his congregation in Fedor, which he served for forty three years. The third account was provided to me as a copy from papers retained by Paul Birkmann and now in the possession of Gerald Birkmann. It is a rather extensive report of Birkmann's interests and techniques in collecting insects, presumably intended to provide a Dr. Geiser with material for a biographical sketch.

"From the Pioneer Time of an Old Texas Pastor" suggests both its purpose and date in its opening sentence: "to portray memories and impressions" of a time between 1875 and 1890 from the vantage point of the 1920's. Form and content suggest that the writing was intended for publication or some other form of dissemination. Whether or how that may have happened is not known. Maybe this will be its first public appearance. The original is in German, here appended my translation. A copy of the last page of the original is reproduced at the end of this Appendix III (p. 321) to show how badly things can go wrong when you cannot see what you are doing.

The second is a report of Birkmann's personal observations of Wendish people in their Texas surroundings, written in English in the form of a nine-page letter addressed to a Prof. George C. Engerrand, who had solicited information from this seventy-five year old pastor, living in retirement in Giddings. The fact that Engerrand is the author of a book which appeared in 1934 ( The So-Called Wends of Germany and Their Colonies in Texas and in Australia, University of Texas Bulletin No. 3417, published May 1, 1934, and reprinted in 1972) explains the circumstances. (Prof. Engerrand was a member of the anthropology department of the University of Texas at Austin from 1920 until his retirement (and death) in 1961. He had been born in France (1877) and received his undergraduate education there. He held research and teaching positions in Belgium (1898-1907), Mexico (1907-17), and Mississippi (1917-20) prior to his time in Austin. Three articles in the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 32 (1961) commemorate his life and contributions.) It is clear from what is said that the two knew each other, had met in person, and intended to meet again. Rather remarkable is the fact that the account was written on August 26, 1929, two days after the tragic drowning death of Walter Gersch, Freda's husband and his son-in-law. In a second cover letter, dated September 11, 1929, the date on which the material was actually placed in the mail, he explains the timing by saying, "I wrote to occupy my mind," after what in an earlier paragraph he described as "the most grievous experience of my whole long life." That second letter also acknowledges with thanks Engerrand's expression of sympathy, which has to mean that there was some intervening contact.

The text of this account is reproduced here only in part. Two of the original nine pages are missing entirely, destroying the continuity of several sections. Other material either repeats what is otherwise amply documented or covers subject matter not really pertinent to this family history. I have edited only slightly that portion of the original which appears here - to correct spelling, eliminate dittography, add punctuation, and the like - as surely the author would have wished to do in accord with his own explanation: "In reading my pages, please remember that I am unable to revise my writings on account of my poor eyesight."

The third is different in kind, dealing with the joys and challenges of his entomological pursuits, especially the limitations imposed by trying to be self-taught. It is the second installment of reminiscences being shared with the same Dr. Geiser identified earlier in these pages, presumably to provide further information for some anticipated biographical sketch of the kind that Geiser wrote about professional and amateur entomologists in Texas and the Southwest. If the earlier material was in response to a request for information about Birkmann's family background and education, along with his finds as a collector in Texas, then this installment may well be the response to a further request for information about how he informed himself about entomology and other scientific interests, what books he had, to which people he turned for help, and what finally became of his collection. (At least, those are the questions he seems to answer.) Although much of the account is technical, having to do with authors, books, and identification by species, the material also shares more of the personal fondness and satisfaction that Birkmann found in his beloved hobby than does any other source. My long array of notes at the end is not necessary for understanding the message, but it is included (to the extent that my research yielded suitable results) to give the reader a sense of the extent to which Birkmann knew the best available literature in several fields and was in touch with the top echelon of entomologists of his time, a compliment to both the tenacity and the quality of work of this country preacher.

Finally, the fourth item is untitled but clearly identifiable as Gotthilf's (it bears his signature) seven-page overview of the history of the congregation at Trinity, Fedor, presumably prepared for printing and distribution to members and guests of the congregation on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Evidence that this was its intended purpose is twofold. He addresses such people directly, and the typed material has been rather extensively corrected by a hand other than his, which hardly would have been necessary if he were going to deliver the material orally. The bulk of what is written actually deals with the early days much more extensively than with the decades immediately preceding the celebration. Gotthilf was ideally suited to write such an overview not only because he had access to the congregation's minutes and other records, but also because he had been there for forty-one of those years.