Both sets of my grandparents emigrated from different parts of Germany during the last decades of the 1800s. They came at different times; my paternal ones came from the area called Mecklenburg; the maternal two came from the Hessian state. All probably used the steerage part of their ship. Their destination was America’s Midwest, the land of opportunity; they probably came through the country by train. The four all settled in northeast Iowa, about 12 miles apart: Grandfather Dohrmann near Tripoli, Iowa; my maternal Grandfather Judas near the small town of Readlyn.
My dad’s father bought 160 acres near Tripoli. He lost his young, first wife through death; she left two small children. A few years later he married a young German lady from Mecklenburg. I recently learned that she was probably sponsored by Grandpa’s neighbor, who helped bring over young German women to become the brides of lonely immigrant men. Five children were born to this new marriage – one was my father. Death came easily in those times – two of the children died early in life.
The 160 acres my Grandfather Dohrmann bought was considered a big place at that time. I grew up on those acres when my parents rented the place after Grandpa and Grandma moved to town, and I knew every nook and cranny of those fields. When my paternal grandparents moved to town, we drifted into The Depression, and an insurance company where my grandparents had borrowed money took over all but 40 acres of the land. We had no idea that times were so difficult for them. My parents bought the remaining 40 acres and lived there until they too moved to town.
Grandfather was a studious man, with a small library of impressive books written in German. He was always reading. He was aloof and couldn’t easily talk to his grandchildren. My grandmother was talkative and friendly, but I had to be careful about what I said and asked – Grandma could cut with the edge of her tongue.
My mother’s parents fared much better. They bought a farm near Readlyn, had a nice house in town when they retired and left their children a sizeable inheritance. I loved my maternal grandmother, she was kind and considerate. Although I was only 4, I remember the night she died – all the family was outside on the lawn while the mortician was in the house. I fell asleep in Grandmother’s flower bed.
For me the difference in the German dialects was both funny and serious at times. My father thought my mother’s Hessian plat-deutch was wrong and his Mecklenburger dialect was right, and he often laughed at her different words. To avoid being laughed at, my sister and I chose Dad’s way of speaking German.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.