I spent several days chasing my personal heritage during a visit to Germany. Robbie Robertson, singer and guitarist for The Band once said, “You don’t stumble upon your heritage. It’s there, just waiting to be explored and shared.” I think that’s just right. I knew for many years that my namesake ancestors as far back as anyone has ever identified lived in a town in Germany called Eschwege and I decided to finally take the time to visit there.
My last name is Holsapple which is an Americanized take on the German name Holzapfel. The genealogists in the family traced our namesake ancestors back as far as a man named Johann Weimar Holzapfel who was born in Eschwege in 1698. Johann was the grandfather of Johann Jakob who was born in 1749 and came to America in 1776, in the midst of the Revolutionary War. In fact, Johann Jakob came to America as a conscript in the Hessian forces (Erbprinz Regiment) that the British contracted to serve their own forces as garrison troops. He was captured by the Americans at the battle of Brooklyn Heights. Following the war, Johann Jakob likely deserted and abandoned the idea of returning to Eschwege — the Americans were offering land to the Hessians who stayed.
During my visit, I set a goal of seeing if I could identify one more generation back. I failed at that — I ended up running out of time before being able to meet with a historian who may have been able to help.
I have to say it was fun to go where nobody asked me how to pronounce my name. The person I talked to in the tourist information center in Eschwege were quite familiar with Holzapfels in the community and that got a snicker out of the Americanized spelling. I had written some of the local Holzapfel businesses before the trip but got no response, so I didn’t try to bug those folks when I was there — there is an old saying about genealogy that it is the practice of confusing the dead and irritating the living.
As I wandered, I found myself imagining my ancestors walking the same spaces, hiking a path, drinking from the same well, having a beer, or an afternoon tea. If they did, I think they may have enjoyed the same kind of things that I have come to enjoy. Some people believe in DNA memory — the idea that experiences of previous generations can be passed down through the DNA to subsequent generations. I don’t know about that, but I can understand the belief.
Our personal heritage can be thought of as our own personal link to the past, and I can attest that visiting the place of ancestors can strengthen one’s feelings of connection. Your heritage doesn’t define you, but I think that understanding it can assist you in understanding who you are.
You may click on any gallery image to see it in a larger format and to open a slideshow viewer that lets you scroll through larger versions of all images.
For more stories about hikes and beers in Germany, CLICK THIS LINK.