Monday, March 28, 2016

I have not yet  been able to connect with a relative of the Dittes families corresponded with in the letters in my possession but will spend a portion of Thursday with a Dittes family in Diedelsheim.  We do share a common ancestsor.

I brought along a biography of Albert Einstein for reading on the plane.  My goal was to find out about Ulm, birthplace of him and my grandmother about eight years apart.  His family left there when he was a small boy a few years before my grandmother Anna was born.  Ulm is a medieval city with a grand cathedral I hope to visit on Sunday.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Letters now in order

I have almost finished arranging the many Dittes letters from Germany in order.  Most of them start in 1946 and end in 1951, the hardest years for our German cousins after World War II ended.  

What strikes me at this point is that my Aunt Frances here in Tennesee corresponded with all these people while carrying a full teaching load as a college professor and taking care of an ailing older sister.  She was in her mid 50's at the time and must have been an expert using her time.  Just reading all thee letters takes time.  

Keeping up and sending them desperately needed supplies shows great unselfishness on her part.

We still have a few letters from Friedrich Ditttes to mount.  I hope to complete it soon.  I leave for Germany one week from today.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Dittes letters to share

After World War II ended in 1945 my grandfather's first cousin, Frances Dittes of Madison, Tennessee, made contact with her Dittes relatives in Diedelsheim and started sending them needed supplies.  They were having a hard time buying basic necessities such as food and soap.  They sent her many letters of thanks, telling her what they were going through and thus what war was really like on the home front.  I now have possession of these letters and have mounted them on Google Drive with the help of my son.  We are planning a trip to Diedelsheim the end of this month, and I would like to share them with the Ditttes families there.  Many of the people writing these letters are probably no longer alive, but they are bound to have children and grandchildren interested in them.  

Some of the correspondents are Anna Steiger, Erwin Berner, Richard Schwab and Witrud and Werner Holler.  Those with the last name of Dittes are Christian, Ernestine, Friedrich, Irma, Ernst, Lucie, Margarethe, Ursela and Walter.

Would anyone know of them or their descendants living in Diedelsheim?  Please let me know.   

Frances Dittes grew up in Minnesota, being born around 1890, and distinguished herself as a dietitian professor at Madison College from 1910 to 1960.  Her father left Diedelsheim in the mid-19th century.  One of the letters said he could never return to his childhood home much as he wanted to.  He must have wound up on the wrong side of some kind of a revolution. 

Frances left letters from several cousins.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Knights of Diedelsheim

I'm working my way, slowly, through the history of my Heimesdorf. I wanted to share here what I learn along the way. Considering that I'm only to page 41 and I leave for Germany in six weeks, I doubt I'll be able to finish the book.

My German isn't great, and it's a laborious process, translating page after page--especially since a lot of the vocabulary is covering obscure Medieval terms that I've never seen before.

On page 41 of Diedelsheim, I learn about the village in the 14th and 15th centuries. One of the first things that strike me are the various spellings of the village's name. In 1346, the village shows up on records as "Dydelsheim" (39), and "Dietensheim" (40). I have even found a reference to "Dyttisheim" (41) in the book.

My last name is "Dittes," a strange, Latin-sounding name that comes from this village, although the earliest ancestor I know of spelled his name "Dittiß" and moved to the Kraichgau from a village in the Black Forest, south of there. A pastor in the local church changed the spelling to "Dittes" in the 1770s, and it has stayed that way ever since.

As my dad and I have reviewed letters sent back and forth between an American Dittes and German Ditteses after the war, we have seen speculation that our surname isn't a place name, but a derivation of "son of" a name beginning with D.

Well, I found such a name on this page. Three brothers of Massenbach laid claim to parts of the village in 1334: Peter, Heinrich and Diether von Massenbach. (I'm lucky to know enough German vocabulary to look on a map for Massenbach, not in a dictionary.) These knights managed properties in the area for several decades.

The author, Otto Bickel, has found vassalage records from this era. The record passed from Heinrichh von Massenbach to Count Wilhelm von Katzenelbogen (Count William of the Cat's Elbows) includes;

  • 9.5 measures of wheat (Korn)
  • 9.5 measures of oats (Hafer)
  • 17 hens
  • 5 geese
  • 4.5 pounds of oil
  • 1/2 quarter of salt
  • (I'm not sure what "16 Schilling Heller weniger 4 Heller" would be. Candles? It seems like something to do with light.)

Besides the counts of Katzenelnbogen (still a town with a lovely castle to the north of Diedelsheim), the village also belonged to the bishops of Speyer and the counts of Hesse at various times.

A final feudal record on the page recorded the transfer of the loan on the village from Count Wilhelm von Katzenelnbogen to Hans Triegel von Öwisheim on 24 December 1363. Triegel would later purchase the land outright in 1372.

How did I do? I'll paste an image of the page below. Let me know what I missed.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Do you know Ursula?

When I go to Diedelsheim in March, I want to look up Ursula Dittes or her family.  She wrote her first letter to my Aunt Frances here in Tennessee on June 14, 1947.  Her mother was Lucie Dittes, and she had two younger sisters named Karin and Gisela.  Their father was a prisoner of war in Russia and allowed to send them one postcard a month to let them know he was still alive.  Frances Dittes here in Tennessee sent them basic staples such as soap and blankets, and they were very grateful.

So I would like to make contact with  this family.  I had heard that Ursula later moved to the Hamburg area.  Perhaps Karin or Gisela still live in the Diedelsheim area.    Thanks so much.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Diedelsheim: A Town All Its Own?

Diedelsheim is the name of the village from which the Dittes family originates. My great-grandfather was born there. Records show that our family has lived there since the 16th Century.

But here's the thing about Diedelsheim.

You can't find it on a map.

Here is a map of the area. I have marked the crossroads of the village where Steinzeugstraße meets Schwandorfstraße with a golden star. Other than my marking, there is no sign of the village.

The village is today a small part of the larger town of Bretten, population 29,000. Zoom in on the golden star, and you might find remaining evidence of the village name. The book I'm reading, Diedelsheim: Vom ritterschaftlichen Dorf zum Brettener Stadtteil by Otto Bickel, attempts to trace the history of this particular village. Considering how much of my own family's history is wrapped up in this place, I want to learn all I can--and through this blog, I will share it with you, my reader.

Bickel states that Diedelsheim was founded in the 6th Century, after the Franks, under King Clovis, had defeated the previous occupants, the Alemanni in 496.

While the new rulers of the land are not disputed, Bickel--focused on the people--doesn't know what happened to the Alemanni residents. Were they enslaved, shipped to Grenada (the Islamic kingdom that then ruled much of modern Spain) and sold to the Saracens? Did they stay on as serfs (Hörigen)?

Bickel spends the last part of today's section (pages 31-32) taking on the idea that my Familiendorf has always been a part of Bretten. He drops some hints about evidence he will show in future chapters. He leaves the reader with the distinct sense that Diedelsheim is a unique village.

The Kurpfalz: a map of the lands ruled by the
counts of the Rhineland-Palatinate. This map
shows how dispersed and disconnected
lands were in the Middle Ages.
The town of Bretten can be seen on the map.
He drops two hints. First, he emphasizes that neither Bretten nor the Kurpfalz had the village within their jurisdiction.

The second hint Bickel drops is a reerence to the Count Kechler von Schwandorf (whose name is on one of the main streets of the village). The translated document linked above implies that Diedelsheim may have been a source of conflict between Schwandorf and the counts of the Palatinate.

I'm looking forward to learning more about this village and connecting it to my planned trip to Baden-Württemburg!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Background (Albert Dittes)

I am the grandson of Gotthold Dittes, born in Diedelsheim, Germany, and immigrant to the United States.  He went into the grocery store business on Long Island, New York, sometime after 1905 and became an American success story there.

I am looking forward to going to Diedelsheim in March with my son and two grandsons and have some correspondence I want to take with me.

One of Gotthold's first cousins, Frances Dittes, lived in nearby Madison, Tennessee, and helped some of our Diedelsheim relatives with basic supplies after World War II ended.  Her aid relieved some real suffering, and the Ditteses there wrote her many letters of gratitude.  Through a series of unusual circumstances, I came into possession of these letters two or three years ago.  I want to take them with me to Diedelsheim and should find people there related to those reading them.  My Aunt Frances died many years ago, and some of the correpondents are probably no longer alive, but they are bound to have childrean and grandchildren who would be interested in reading them.

I plan to leave for Germany the day after Easter Sunday, March 28.