Do you know the name, the place and the date of birth of the earliest SPEYRER ancestor on record? I could not have answered those questions correctly until I visited Germany last July for the 1000th anniversary of the village of Dörrenbach. It was from there, you will remember, that Konrad Speyrer, (my greatgrandfather) emigrated in the 1840's. What I discovered on my expedition came as a revelation.
But this was not my first trip there. At the end World War II, I began corresponding with relatives in Dörrenbach thanks to an Alsatian classmate in the Seminary who helped with the early letters we exchanged. Later, when I went to Europe for theology in 1949, I was able to become well acquainted with Germany during the long summer vacation from school. With lots of time on my hands, I spent several weeks In Dörrenbach learning the language and getting to know my way around the wartorn countryside.
Up until the time I came home in 1953 to be ordained, I paid no more than a single visit to Dörrenbach other than that initial summer one. Nor did I go back until quite recently. On my way to Rome In 1988 for my visit to the Holy Father which bishops make every five years, I prevailed upon friends from Karlsruhe to drive me there to spend few hours.
The visit I made to Dörrenbach in July 1992 was totally unplanned. That I attended the 1000th Anniversary celebration happened by accident: I learned from John Allan Speyrer that Father Jules Speyrer and a number of people were planning to travel as a group. Since I didn'l care to go alone, I was interested in joining up, but because of previous commitment, I just couldn't fit my schedule to theirs. It was really my two brothers James and Oscar Speyrer who caused me to decide to go, for without their interest and enthusiasm, I would have stayed home. Yet, as things turned out, a series of mishaps on two aborted flights to Frankfurt (one from Orlando, the other, from Atlanta) dissuaded them, despite their intense curiosity, from continuing.
On the third try, it was I who ended up traveling to Germany, and promising, even to my untrained eye. (I have since received confirmation, that the 1992 harvest will rival even their best ones). Vast underground cellars now replace the bunkers of yesterday's Siegfried line where prolonged over time are stored in liquid form the rain, the air, and the sunshine; fruit of the sweat of Dörrenbach's grapegrowers. 1992 was a very good year. Even nature seemed to rejoice and combine with area dwellers in celebrating Dörrenbach's millennial milestone.
Though vineyards may flourish and grapes abound on the hillsides of Dörrenbach, the Speyrer family name today Is carried unfortunatety by fewer than hall a dozen males! bUT fortunately I was able to assure those who wondered about us in America that survival of the Speyrer label in this country is in absolutely no danger.
In Germany, the people most closely related to me have Iost the family name through marriage. Hedwig Lammering, for example, a third cousin to me, and my closest relative there, was a Scheib by birth. It was her mother Rosina who was a Speyrer. Rosina and my father Antoine, both now dead, would have been first cousins. This, after an interval of more than 150 years!
The complete and rather elaborate history which anniversary organizers compiled and published describes the first Speyrer to arrive in Dörrenbach as a man named Balthasar Speyerer. (Note the spelling). Bom in 1546, he came to the village at the age of 19 from Wertheim am Main as Dörrenbach's schoolmaster.
Early records portray Balthasar Speyerer as "a student for the ministry. When needed, he also visits the sick, assists at the celebration of the Lord's Supper and during the week, he conducts an evening preaching service." (Readers should remember that the Protestant Reformation launched by Martin Luther had already reached the town's gates.)
Official village archives offer other fascinating details, (though there are very few), about Balthasar Speyerer's salary, his place of residence and even the number of pupils in his charge.