On August 11, 1832, there was born to Mr. & Mrs. Michael Bertsche of Erlenkopf, Pirmasens Rhine, Bavaria, Germany, a son, John Bertsche, whose descendants are gathered here today for their first reunion.
John Bertsche was the youngest of three children, a brother, Joseph, died at Halsted Kansas about thirty years ago. A sister, Anna Kinsinger, is resting at East Lynn, Mo. These preceded him to this country, leaving him to take over the old homestead.
Erlenkoph was a hof or farm containing about one hundred acres of land situated on the side of a high hill from which it derived its name. This hill was covered with forest; its peak was the highest elevation of land for miles around. From it on a clear day could be seen the Alps Swartzwald Mountains which were several hundred miles away. In the valley below lay Eppenbron, a small village. The sun did not rise on Erlenkoph until it came over the high peak at ten o'clock.
From Eppenbron Father secured for a very small wage, the help needed to do the farm work. Since nearly all the farm work was done by hand, there were times when as many as twenty men and women were employed at the same time.
In the year 1857 on the 27th day of January, Father was united in marriage to our dear Mother, Katherine Hauter of Ridelberg Alsace- Loraine. Ten children were born to this union. Elizabeth died in infancy.
After the French and German war of 1870, our parents decided to emigrate to America in order that their boys should not be forced to enter military training which was compulsory for every able bodied son of the Kaisers domain.
After selling the farm, Erlenkopf, for the sum of 17,000 marks, which he received in gold coins; he carried it in a leather pouch fastened to a belt around his waist. He gathered his family together and bade farewell to relatives, friends and the Fatherland. With no expectation of ever seeing them again here below, they started on their journey to America, the destination being Hamilton, Ohio. Here resided Uncle Joseph Bertsche who had come to this country earlier.
This journey was not accompanied with the present day comforts and conveniences; the first hardship being a delay of fourteen days at Antwerp Belgium. The ship, The Fatherland, on which passage had been booked was being repaired; finally sail was set on Nov. 19, 1873. When the steamer's whistle sounded one of the younger members of the family interpreted it as the bawling of a cow which had been left behind; this incident brought forth the tears which were ready to come anyway.
A few days out at sea during a severe storm the ship ran into a small fishing boat. The fishermen were heroically rescued by the crew. A very rough voyage followed and with the exception of Mother every member of the family was sea-sick. Fortunately she was able to take care of the rest; Father was able to be up only the last two days of the trip
The food on board ship was very poor. On the last day by way of a special treat rice and syrup was served. After a 19 day voyage they landed at Philadelphia, Pa. On account of a railroad strike difficulties were again encountered. However a non-union crew was orgainzed and a round-about route through Toledo to Hamilton was taken.
Here Father selected a farm and rented it for cash money. Three good women took Mother into their confidence and initiated her into the new ways and methods of this country. Her gratitude to Mrs. Kennel, Mrs. Bauman, and Mrs. Ditch was lasting; she often refered to their kindness. Let us too remember the strangers in our land.
On account of wet weather, the crops for the two successive years were practically a failure, so Father decided to move to the state of Illinois where other friends had located. A farm near Weston was rented, sight unseen. This proved to be a mistake since the house was entirely too small to accomodate so large a family, but they remained one year. Here the youngest daughter, Phoebe, was born. Again the crops failed and the family had to live on the funds brought over from Germany; thus vanished the hopes of purchasing a home. For a year they lived on the John Stalter farm near Gridley. The following year found them on a 160 acre farm rented from H.E. Sieberns. On this place they lived 18 years and began to prosper.
The church home selected was the Stuckey Mennonite, now called the Central Conference. Many descendants are members of it.
One by one the sons and daughters were married and left the old family circle which grew smaller and smaller as the years went by.
In the spring of 1895 Father bought an 80 acre farm near Goodland, Indiana where he and mother and Barbara and Phoebe moved the next spring. Later as Father became too old to work the farm, he sold out and moved to Meadows, Illinois. There in their own cottage they spent their closing days. After suffering three years with tumor of the stomach, Mother passed away Sept. 20, 1907. Father died March 12, 1915 having succumbed to pneumonia. As a result Phoebe found herself alone at the old family table, around which the children had so often gathered in the days gone by. The old home was broken up in the fall of the same year.
Ours was a home with an open Bible; our fondest memories are those of seeing Father and Mother sitting in their old rocking chairs reading the Bible. Church attendance, when conditions permitted, was not a matter of debate but was taken for granted. The last question asked by Father the Sunday morning he passed away was; "Who will go to church this morning?" as the people on their way to church passed by the house, he passed away to be with his Lord.
The living descendants of John Bertsche are as follows: 7 children; 42 grand children; 45 great grand children. Three children, 8 grand children, and one great grand child are deceased.
The eighty five living descendants are located in five different states, namely: Illinois Indiana, Ohio, Kansas and New Jersey and one is in Africa.
Written by Miss Phoebe Bertsche in 1920
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