It seems like just yesterday that I was on the Bier trip to the homeland. However, it was actually four months ago! I have some interesting updates to share, most a result of some letters that I sent back to Koclířov. I sent a thank-you to our guide, Pepi, along with some pictures of the Bier family farm, the emigrant Valentine Bier family, and snapshots from the trip. To simplify things, here’s a F.A.Q. summary of recent updates:
How is Pepi doing?
About two months ago, I heard back from Pepi. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see a note slipped into the storm door from the USPS indicating that I needed to sign for a package from the Czech Republic. The package contained some photos of his family and farm, a commemorative book on Koclířov and a note:
“Dear Angela, belatedly, we are thankful for your latter, he came alright. We were wery happy. With love, Pepi from Koclířov with family.”
So, I think he’s doing well. To Pepi’s family, thank you for sharing him with us!
Did you figure out why “Pepi” is his nickname?
You may recall that Pepi’s actual name is Josef, and I wasn’t able to figure out how he acquired this seemingly unrelated nickname, despite asking. My sister, Louise, was telling the amusing story of how Pepi answered my question of how got his nickname with a seeming non sequitur (“How did you get your nickname?” “Well, Josef is a very common name…”). Her colleague explained that Pepi or some variant thereof is a common nickname for Joseph in many countries. Turns out, in Latin, Saint Joseph’s name is always followed by the letters “P.P” for pater putativus (commonly accepted) father of Jesus Christ. A Pepe / Pepi variant as a common nickname for Joseph / Josef is found in many countries.
Didn’t you send some additional materials to Pepi? What happened with those?
Why yes I did, thank you for asking. I sent some basic genealogical information on the Valentine Bier family to be shared with Pepi’s “professor friend” in Berlin. What I gathered through our translator was that this professor friend was interested in the story of displaced Germans following WWII. Well, that professor friend must have shared my information, because about two weeks ago I received an email from a (presumed) relative in Berlin, Stephan Bier. Talk about excitement!
Well how on earth did you read it? You ain’t got no German.
True. Luckily I have a friend and retired professor named John McSweeny who helped me with translation and interpretation of the information that Stephan sent. Those of us interested in learning the story of the Biers out of Ketzelsdorf (Koclířov) owe a debt of gratitude to Professor McSweeny. He not only translated, but provided background materials and recommended reading. You know what they say: you can take the professor out of the research stacks, but you can’t take the research stacks out of the professor. Or something like that.
You’re killing me, Smalls! What did the email say?
Stephan’s original email contained a translated first paragraph with the remainder in German. Here, for your reading pleasure, is the message as translated by Professor McSweeny:
I am Stephan Bier, born in 1936 in Ketzeldorf , House No. 48. [recall, the Valentine Biers were in number 78] Pepi has sent your family document to me in Berlin. BTW, Pepi grew up in House No. 35, which is his family’s home, and which is in the same neighborhood as my parent’s home. Some Ketzeldorfers ended up here in Berlin after several detours. Most of the people were victims of the “wild expulsion” of June 28, 1945. On June 29th we were aimlessly transported under guard by rail from Abstdorf in open coal cars in the direction of what was then central Germany and is now eastern Germany. That was eight weeks after the end of the devastating Second World War. The country was devastated and there was no functioning German administration; chaos reigned!
Thanks to the list of residents of Ketzeldorf in June, 1945, produced by the Czechs, I can see that there were 280 house numbers with about 1600 persons who were all German. In 69 of the house numbers there were 250 people with the name Bier! This level of concentration of the name does not appear anywhere else. My compatriot, Franz Kössler (Born 1931), House No. 60, has looked at the documents a little more closely and has already written a draft for an article in the Schönhengster Newspaper. We hope that it will be published soon. The newspaper is only published monthly in Göppingen.
Under the direction of Dr. Franz Kössler, and with my collaboration, we published a small booklet in 2015 entitled “Memories of Ketzelsdorf in Schönhengstgau” in memory of the expulsion 70 years before. The booklet is probably no longer available. However, I have almost the entire printed version in the computer and so this could be made available electronically if desired.
I am sending you my findings about your family from the Ketzelsdorfer birth register, which you can see on the Internet. I am also attaching two short overviews or summaries that I created for myself.
Best wishes from Berlin,
Wow, that’s amazing! I have so many questions. First, are we related to Stephan Bier? Unclear. I’m sure that somewhere in the past we had a common ancestor. He provided a nice link to a slightly more navigable version of the Zamrsk archive, so that’s a good starting point. It’s still in German though, so this is going to be a long term project. I’ve already replied to Stephan and asked whether he knows the origin of the name “Bier”–famous producer or consumer thereof.
Fair enough. What’s Schönhengstgau? And who’s this Dr. Franz Kössler? Remember how I kept describing the region in which Ketzelsdorf is located as “an area comprised of regions of Bohemia and Moravia where a majority of ethnic Germans lived that’s now in the Czech Republic”? Well, IT HAS A NAME and that’s Schönhengstgau. Of course, this region now only exists historically. Schönhengstgau is roughly translated as “Beautiful Stallion Shire” in English. A “Gau” was an administrative area in Germany roughly equivalent to an English shire. With a new search term in hand, a research community can be discovered.
Enter Dr. Franz Kössler. As Stephan Bier’s letter indicates, he is a fellow displaced Ketzelsdorfer. HIs Wikipedia entry indicates that he has worked professionally in areas including botany, radiation biology, environmental biophysics, musculoskeletal disorders. And his hobby in retirement is Ketzelsdorf specifically and, generally, Schönhengstgau. I presume that this is the “professor friend” that Pepi mentioned.
Hmm, interesting. If I want to learn more, what do I do next? And why are you hogging the information that he says he shared?
Thanks again to Professor McSweeny. He identified a few great options, such as a family research forum, and a dedicated website. Also look at the Wikipedia entry for Schönhengstgau which includes the Schönhengstgau Homeland song. Finally, I’m not nearly so selfish as I seem: here is a link to the two translated chronologies that Stephan Bier provided.
I see that Stephan Bier seems to think that Ketzelsdorf holds the record for Bier concentration. What about Southern Wisconsin? Where are we at? That is a good question. I realize that my family data is not particularly up to date as far as recent generations go. I can identify at least 140 “Biers,” assuming a 50% rate of marital name changing. So, we’ll have to take a roll call. I’m looking for anyone with the last name Bier. In the Vincent V. Bier family (son of Edward, son of Valentine), we have: Thomas Bier, Janice (Cousin) Bier, Angela Bier, Catherine Bier, Louise Bier, Peter Bier, Mary (Schwichtenberg) Bier, Liesl Bier, August Bier, Patrick Bier, James Bier, Tim Bier, Amy Bier, and Kelly Bier. So that’s 14 to start with. Please comment. I guess I have to add “recent family activity” to the ever-expanding list of things to do.
It sure sounds like you’ve got a lot of work to do. Truer words. But at least it’s fun!