Saturday, April 13, 2019

WHAT'S THE DEEP BACKGROUND OF YOUR FAMILY NAME? HOW WOULD YOU FIND OUT?



I want to share a few family history research suggestions for you, based on my own sporadic search for "Reeck," my surname.
  • Talk to your elder family members. Maybe they have memories never shared with you: foggy memories of arriving by ship from Asia or Europe, or by foot from Central America. Or by raft or canoe from somewhere?
  • Get out those family papers that may have been lying in a drawer for decades. Handle with care! The paper could be brittle with age.
  • Talk to an expert.
So: what about my sporadic search for the deep background of Reeck? It's been a slow search. Speak with your relatives. I knew from a cousin that my Reeck ancestors three generations back arrived  by ship at Immigration in New York City from Germany. Their village in that then-"Germany" (alias Prussia) was in today's Poland, just east of the Oder river.

Actually, my brother recently visited the Reecks' former village in Poland but regrettably found no evidence, neither past nor present, of any Reecks. Evidently, when the Poles reconquered the area they displaced the remaining Reecks or absorbed them into Polish culture. Friendly young Poles told my brother that the Germans still living in the area were "ethnically cleansed" after WW II. It took me no time at all to conclude that my ancestors made a great decision to leave in the 1870s.

Get out those old family papers if you have some tucked away in storage. If you don't have them, one of your relatives might. They are a treasure. 

Example of suggestion three: ask an expert. Actually, my best clue to deep origins of "Reeck" came from a German linguist, visiting for a scholarly presentation in the 1980s at University of Puget Sound, where I was a faculty member. "Where, in Germany, was the name Reeck prominent?" I asked him. "Do you have any idea?"

He said:  Ja, probably from the area around the bend of the Rhine, where it enters Holland. The name can be found there.

"Oh yes?" I said in surprise. I told him about the great-great grandparents' departure on a ship from a port in northern Germany, not from the Rhenish watershed.

The visitor replied that, in medieval times, the Knights Teutonic needed German-speaking civilians to farm the conquered lands in what's now Northwestern Poland. Your ancestors were probably recruited from the area around the lower Rhine to farm on "free" land in Poland. ("Free" in quotes means fertile farmland from which the Polish inhabitants had been evicted by their Germanic conquerors.)



Erich II, a ruler of the Knights Teutonic
(Not my ancestors. Or are they? What's their last name?)
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

(Did my ancestors struggle in the fields to support this wealth pictured above? No wonder they split for the U.S.)

Since then, I've searched sporadically on-line for the name "Reeck" in Holland and in Belgium. I've found reference to people and places named Reeck all over Northern Germany and specifically in areas around the bend of the Rhine, just as the linguist suggested. Here's a second prize example from Belgium. (You'll see a list of Belgian ambassadors. Scroll down the list to the line "Greece" and find the name of the ambassador.) 

Here's another. "Reek" is the name of a community in southern Holland, near the big bend of the Rhine, just as the German scholar hypothesized.  Maybe this is about where the Knights Teutonic picked up the Reecks (then the von Reeks?) five-or-so-centuries ago. Anyhow, now I have a newly-found destination for a vacation visit: Gemeente REEK.



REEK, The Netherlands
In the public domain via Wikimedia Commons


You, yourself, can go much further into research than I've done. Friends of mine have done so with great success. Online services can help you for a fee.

For me, maybe I'll never find more about the deep background of "Reeck".  It's okay. What I know is enough for me. I'd probably rather visit the Michels in Brienz, Switzerland (my dad's mother's family and birthplace) than get frustrated trying to find Reecks in northwest Poland.

For you, good luck on your search!! A bit of knowledge about your ancestors will give you a better sense of your location in the grand history of peoples on earth. And I do hope the stories of my search will help you on your search.

And oh! I forgot to mention that in Manzanita, OR, Lucy and I walked past a house and read a sign: "The Reek House." I met the owner, introduced myself by last name, and asked him about the name "Reek House."

"Oh, we're Scottish. In Scottish, Reek means 'smoke.' Our fireplace is smoky. We named the house for the smoke." I wonder what Reek or Reeck might mean in other languages. This is how the name game is played. You get the name, you chat with people about the name, and you get more and more confused, confounded or comforted, depending on what you learn.
  

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm happy that you have found out that much about the Reeck name. Becky certainly enjoyed her trip to Brienz a few years ago. I have slowed down considerably about any genealogical research. I guess I have had numerous responsibilities that took my time and also I had most everything I was interested in. Keep up the good work and stay in contact. Sharon