Family History, part I

I made it! I’m home! And I am…maybe…ready to start writing about the few short days I spent in Lower Michigan. What an overwhelming and wonderful experience!

You need to know that I went with an Itinerary. In fact, further, you need to know that I’m a pain to travel with because I always get wound up tight about things being “unplanned.” So I made a plan. Mom and Jer made the trip with me, and they were so good about deferring to my Great Agenda. And OH! what an Itinerary it was! I had such high hopes. Unfortunately, my Itinerary was out the door about an hour and a half before I was–yeah, I overslept. Right. Great way to start a trip. Hehe.

Friday began at the St. Lorenz church office in Frankenmuth. In my search for birth and baptism records (trying to confirm some information I’ve known but have not been able to prove thus far), my camera batteries died. Listen, after oversleeping, being seated next to a very self-concerned family of four at the Tiger game, and scorching to a very blistery sunburn that left my face raw, the batteries were about my breaking point. I was ready to head home.

And then it happened. We found it.


Mom had told me many years ago that the Schmitzer name was Americanized, that in its original form, it was spelled with a “u”, or possibly a “ue.” That’s a nice story, of course, but until that moment in the St. Lorenz library, I had never seen evidence of it. What an unimportant revelation, in the whole scheme of things!–except that it blessed my heart. It was a tidbit that I hadn’t come expecting to find; it wasn’t on my Itinerary.

After going through birth and baptism records, we met with a church historian for a tour of St. Lorenz. Let me just offer a shameless plug here: If you are ever looking for an historian in Frankenmuth, Dave Maves is your man. We were very impressed, not only with his wealth of knowledge, but with the flow of information and his character. We could tell he was genuinely interested in the history of the church and community.

The church itself is spectacular. I’ve never been so impressed with a protestant church before. Jeremiah was blown away–and I’ll leave him to share all the interesting tidbits with you. Dave walked us through the stories of each of the stained glass windows, which was so incredible! I remember thinking how very powerful it must be to sit in that church every Sunday with the reminders of your past and your founding all around you. It must be humbling. It’s so sacred!

But if you want to know the best part about the church (and I bet you’ll be surprised), you have to see the organ!

Why am I so in love with this organ? Firstly, just as a musician, it is a gorgeous instrument. But more importantly, my Grandpa Schmitzer played the organ. Now when I was growing up, we had an organ in our church–but it as not an enormous pipe organ like this. So when my mom used to tell me how Grandpa played and how beautiful it was, I really had no idea what she was saying. Let me tell you–after hearing this instrument, I am a convert. It is, perhaps, the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. It will never replace the love I have for the piano, but I am seriously amazed. I wish, more than anything, that I had heard my Grandfather play! My cousin Trisha can tell you a great story about Grandpa and this organ.

We spent Friday afternoon in the St. Lorenz cemetery, searching for graves of our ancestors and finding more than I’d anticipated. There were two really great moments there for me: First, when Jer and Mom began saying, “Bickel–you said we’re related to a Bickel; here’s a Bickel!” And, “Which List did you say we were related to? Was it Johann Adam?” At that point, I realized I’d sucked them into my filthy, wonderful world of genealogy. They weren’t just helping me find Schmitzers anymore.

Second, when I found Johann Michael’s grave.

If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know that I wrote about Johann Michael Schmitzer last year. Even though I know who Mike’s parents and grandparents were, I have felt a strong connection to him and the events of his life. He accomplished so much, sacrificed so much, loved so much. He came to this country as a young man, a teenager, and committed his entire life to his new home. I can only conclude, based on what I know of him, that he didn’t merely come on his parents’ convictions: Johann Michael Schmitzer came to America on a mission. He didn’t leave his heart in Neuendettelsau. What an amazing young man! His grave was the reason I wanted to do this trip–I wanted to touch his grave, see his name for myself.

That’s all I have for tonight.

Pax Christi,


One Veteran I’ll never forget is…

Sunday, November 13, 2011

One Veteran I’ll never forget is…


His name was Mike.

He was born and baptized in a small village in Germany in 1838. At the age of 14, he and his family ventured across sea to a new home, a new world, a new life. They arrived in 1852 aboard Brig Hector and settled in Frankenmuth, a German community in lower Michigan. Though the family had not long called America “home,” Mike and his brothers proved their loyalty to her in their service during the Civil War. Mike’s great-grandson, Alois, wrote the following:

          When the first call for troops came in the fall of 1861, [Mike] and his brother John George joined the 3rd Michigan Cavalry. He served almost three years before he was captured by Southern forces while on scout duty. Johann Michael was tried and convicted of being a spy and sentenced to be shot. The day before his sentence was to be carried out, through some mistake of the Confederate officers, he was exchanged along with other Northern prisoners and spared.

Mike should have died. Mike was supposed to die. It boggles my mind to think about how he survived “by mistake.” Though Mike’s actions proved he was willing to give his life for his new country, he must have breathed a sigh of relief when he was released. And even after such an escapade, after being honorably discharged, Mike re-enlisted.

But really think about that—Mike should have died. The plan was for Mike to die. Before he met his wife, before he had any children (and boy, did he have a lot of children), before anyone except his parents and siblings would have missed him, Mike was supposed to die.

His name was Mike. And though there are many who’ve served in the course of our nation’s history that I’ll never forget, though each soldier has a story of his own that brings a chill to my spine, Mike is special. Mike was supposed to die, and he lived by accident. His name was Mike. His kids probably called him ‘dad.’ His wife probably called him ‘dear.’ My grandpa probably called him ‘grandpa.’

Johann Michael Schmitzer is our immigrant ancestor, my great-great Grandfather, your great-great-great Grandfather, the son of a tailor, a farmer by trade, a German by birth, a Lutheran by faith, a soldier who was sentenced to death, who, by some accident—by some miracle—was released.

If all had gone according to plan that day, there would have been no children (Ernst George Schmitzer); no grandchildren (Herman Carl Schmitzer); no great-grandchildren (Heidi Lynne Schmitzer); no me, no you. More than one man, more than one child or grandchild, more than one family: An entire clan would never have existed.

Do you feel a big sense of purpose in the world right now? I hope you do. I pray you do. So many men and women have given their lives to defend our liberty. For whatever reason, God saw fit to spare Mike that day—sparing you and me, as well.

This is your life, kids. What will you do with it?

All my love,

Aunt Sarah