16 March 2012

Where did Dorothea Beringer Schmitt go?

Dorothea Schmitt née Beringer was my great great great great aunt. Her brother Valtin Beringer was my great great great grandfather.

Dorothea was an interesting woman. She was born in 1808 in Mainz to Lorenz and Eva Beringer née Rudolph, and was possibly the eldest child in the family (at least, that's what the evidence suggests at this stage). From a Catholic family, surprisingly (to me) she had three daughters out of wedlock to the same guy - Caspar Schmitt, a shoemaker from Schlangenbad, then married him, and had at least one more child.

In the parish birth records for the three girls it is recorded that Caspar maintained he was the father of the children, though the only parent listed formally was their mother Dorothea. The first daughter, Franziska, was born in 1829, when Dorothea was 21, and her father had been dead for 10 years. I don't know much about social life in a Catholic town (I believe it was illegal to be anything else at the time) in south western Germany but I can't imagine children born out of wedlock would have gone down very well. I can't imagine her mother would have been very pleased - surely there would have been quite a social stigma attached to it. Maybe she managed to get away with it three times because her father wasn't around to lay down the law. Dorothea was 31 by the time she finally got around to marrying Caspar, the father of her children, which I would think was quite old in those days. I think there's more to this story than the parish records show, unfortunately, I doubt there's anyone left who could tell it!

The last child I can find for Dorothea and Caspar was Adam Schmitt (it was he whom my great great grandfather Adam Beringer was named after), born in 1842. There's one more record I can find regarding Dorothea - in 1853 she was involved in a dispute over an inheritance - from Rheingau Genealogie: "Die Vermögensauseinandersetzung über die Erbteile der Dorothea Beringer Ehefrau des Caspar Schmitt zu Schlangenbad und der Eva Rudolph Ehefrau des Jacob Graf zu Rüdesheim und des Nachlasses des Karl Baier zu Niederwalluf". It seems to suggest that her mother may have remarried, and, given the wording of Eva's death record, which says she was widowed by the death of her first husband Lorenz Beringer, this may have been the case. She did die in Schlangenbad though, where Dorothea lived, rather than in Rüdesheim where her alleged second husband came from. Whatever the case, Dorothea's mother died in 1849, so the dispute may have been over an inheritance from her mother's estate.

After 1853 Dorothea and Caspar apparently disappear. I cannot find a record of their deaths in Schlangenbad, where they lived, nor in Rauenthal, which was the closest Catholic parish. So where did they go? I wonder if they emigrated. There's no record of them emigrating to Australia (though no Beringers had emigrated there by this stage), but it was cheaper to go to America at the time anyway. There are Beringers in America, but as for "Schmitt" - there are plenty there but you'd never know if the spelling was correct, there's so many variations. Certainly, if Dorothea had come into some money from an inheritance then that would have made emigration a lot easier. I don't know if they'll ever turn up, but I'll keep looking.

Interestingly, two of Dorothea's daughters had a child each out of wedlock. The apple apparently didn't fall far from the tree.

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