This article is a placeholder giving an overview of what we know (and conjecture) about Alois’ birth and early life in the village of Enkering in Bavaria, roughly spanning the years 1827 through 1855. It will be replaced by a fuller narrative when the research is complete.
In southern Germany the river Altmuhl cuts a series of scenic gorges and valleys through the hills of the Frankish Jura, an upland region between the rivers Main and Danube. Flowing east from Eichstatt, capital of the eponymous district in the Oberbayern region of Bavaria, the river and the little towns and villages clinging to its banks are like a silver-blue rosary of earth, water, blacktop and stone. Eleven miles downstream the river passes under the imposing edifice of Arnsberg Castle, and then three miles further on enters Kipfenberg under the stern gaze of another fortress. Here is the geographical center of Bavaria, and a feudal seat whose history extends back to the 900’s.
Both of these castles sit on sites once fortified by the Roman Empire. Between them, on a line roughly southeast to northwest from its origins on the Danube near Weltenburg, ran the limes, the long string of military fortifications with which the Empire attempted to defend the gap between the great natural barriers of the Rhine and the Danube from the ever restless German hordes. In the early 19th century Dr. Anthony Mayer, a pastor from Gelbinsee, described portions of the bank and ditch still visible, along with foundations for watchtowers and beacons. Here, on the hills and in the steep wooded valleys, the Empire fought for it’s life time and time again over centuries of conflict, a battle that it would ultimately lose.
Three or four miles further downstream from Kipfenberg the Altmuhl flows under the high crown of the Schellenburg, a 495m mount of formidable profile. Mayer claims that it was once the site of a Roman camp, and certainly the military advantages of the location are readily apparent. The hill surveys the junction of the Anlauter and Schwarzach rivers with the Altmuhl at the market town of Kinding. Rivers were the highways of the Empire, and the only way into and out of Germany. Controlling the places where they came together was a key military objective for the Romans. From the top of the Schellenburg a viewer can gaze west across the valley of the Anlauter to the ruins of the Rumburg, a 13th century fortress. Between these two edifices lies the tiny village of Enkering.
German documents, but the mother’s name we will have to take on faith for now, since we have been unable to confirm it.
Of Alois’ early life we know nothing at all. We are equally ignorant of the makeup of his family beyond the identity of his father and presumed identity of his mother. We know from some largely untranscribed German letters that he had at least one brother, a man named Franz who apparently remained in Bavaria and wrote to Alois on several occasions. We suspect for various reasons outlined in the Johnstown section of the site that he had at least one other sibling who came to America, and with whom he remained in contact. Beyond that we can say nothing at all until 1843.
In that year Alois’ parents apprenticed him to a master tradesman. The trade to which he was commited was the schreinergewerbes, which translates roughly as carpentry trades, although this is probably too general. The word schreiner alone was used to describe his trade later in life, and seems to usually mean “joiner.” In any case there is no doubt that at the age of 15 he began to learn to be a woodworker. That he embarked on this journey tells us one or two things. It tells us that he was not the son of a farmer, or at least not the eldest son of a farmer. It also tells us that his parents were middle class, and had the resources to secure him a place with a tradesman.
In 1846, after a three-year apprenticeship, Alois took and passed the required examinations and became a journeyman carpenter. He was issued with his Lehrbrief, a stamped official document describing his origins and training and signed by his master. He also received the signal accessory of the life of a mid-19th century journeyman in Germany: his wanderbuch. A sort of journeyman’s passport, the wanderbuch was to be carried from town to town as the young tradesman wandered, on foot, seeking experience with different masters. Both of these documents would have been issued at the regional court (Landsgericht) in Kipfenberg, just four miles upstream from Kinding on the Altmuhl.
For three years, from 1846 to 1849 Alois plied his trade from town to town, garnering some 40 pages of entries in his wanderbuch. Many of the stamps are indecipherable, but others are not. He visited towns such as Regensburg and Passau, and even traveled as far as Frankfurt. The final stamp in his book is from Greding, a town that is interesting for being the birthplace of Josepha Pfaller, the woman he would ultimately marry in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1855. In each town he visited Alois would have been required to present himself to guild representatives at the herberg, the local residence for wandering journeymen. If he was fortunate he would find work at a wage, otherwise he might receive the traditional gift of coin and be sent back on the road.
In 1849 Alois had completed his mandatory three years of wandering and gaining experience, but it is almost certain that he was no closer to attaining entry into his guild as a master. The mid-19th century was a time of wrenching change in the crafts in Europe. The power of the guilds was waning relative to that of the state, which warred with them for control of legions of often-troublesome under-employed journeymen. Industrial means of production were beginning to take hold. For most journeymen in Germany at the time entry into a guild was an unattainable privilege, and they were condemned to continue to wander for work, or to take work at wages in a factory, a decision which would possibly see them ostracized from their trade community.
Alois would not have been ignorant of these conditions, and of his prospects. They would have been an ongoing source of whispered conversation between journeymen everywhere. In 1848 the discontent of artisans and intellectuals over the slow pace of liberalization in central Europe broke out in open revolt and violent street demonstrations. As a young man of his time Alois would naturally have been caught up in and changed by these movements and expressions of discontent. The motivations would have echoed strongly with his own experiences. Like other young men he would also have been paying attention to tales of that place across the ocean, America, to which Germans had been emigrating, and from which they had been reporting back of wild and unregulated opportunity, since the 1700’s.
discharge document shows he spent over three and a half years on active duty with the 3rd Chevaliers Regiment Duke Maxmillian. We know nothing about his mode of service or where he rendered it. His discharge specifically mentions his trade, and it may be that was what they most needed of him. The honorable discharge document was signed by a Graf von Spreti, Oberst.
It is likely that by the time Alois was discharged from the army his plans for emigrating were fully-formed. We can do nothing but conjecture, of course, but given the timing of events a scenario such as this one seems plausible. Some time in 1853 or 1854 Alois became betrothed to Josepha Pfaller, daughter of Joseph and Marianne Pfaller of Greding, a little town four miles up the Schwarzach river from Enkering. He had either become acquainted with the family during his travels, or just as likely had known them all his life. At the same time that the couple were betrothed a plan was made to emmigrate to America and have the ceremony there. For various reasons of regulation it was difficult and expensive for young couples to marry in Bavaria in the 1850’s. It is apparent from later arrival records that the entire Pfaller family determined to embark at the same time, with the whole group bound for Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Although it is probable that the Kingdom of Bavaria was happy to be rid of any journeyman who would consent to leave, there were nonetheless many regulatory barriers between Alois and a pass to exit the kingdom. It was at this time that he gathered together most or all of the German documents that we have on the site. These include the previously mentioned Lehrbrief, wanderbuch, and military discharge. In addition he obtained letters of recommendation from reputable citizens, and the transcript of his school marks. Taking these items to the landsgericht in Kipfenberg, and having satisfied whatever other requirements there were including the payment of at least 15 kreutzer in fees, Alois received his official permission to exit Bavaria on April 23rd, 1855. The pass permitted him to embark at Bremen for Baltimore, which is the same route the Pfaller family followed in June of that same year. We don’t know whether Alois left on the same ship, or a different one. His records have not been found. All we can say with certainty is that in 1855, at the age of 27 years, he made it to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and so we will continue the story there.
Looking for Louis
- The life of Alois Betz
- Enkering, 1827-1855
- Johnstown, 1855-1866
- Cleveland, 1866-1891
- After Alois, 1891-
- German documents
- Stamps and seals
- English documents
- Lena’s home cooking