Chasing Personal Heritage

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.

Holzapfel brauI 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.

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For more stories about hikes and beers in Germany, CLICK THIS LINK.

4 responses to “Chasing Personal Heritage”

  1. Terry D. Taylor Avatar
    Terry D. Taylor

    Hi, Kevin – I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughtful and informational article. Johann Jakob’s granddaughter, (William’s daughter, Martha Ann) married my great-great grandfather (Thomas Higginbotham), so we are some-kind-of-cousin related. (I loved your “confusing the dead and irritating the living” observation!) Thank you especially for the photos of Eschwege. I live in Nashville, TN. If you’re ever in Middle Tennessee, let me know and we’ll have a beer! There are also some nice hiking trails here. Take care!

    1. Kevin Holsapple Avatar

      Thanks, cousin 🙂 We have friends that live near Loudon so we get that way occasionally. Were your Holzapfel ancestors mostly TN-based? My family branch came to southern IN from TN in the 1800’s if I remember correctly.

      1. Terry D. Taylor Avatar
        Terry D. Taylor

        Hi, Kevin –
        At one point, I thought the Hessians were basically barbarians, but I’ve learned that Johann, before being conscripted, worked as a lawyer, teacher, and set type.

        Most of my Holzapfel ancestors ended up in south-central KY, in and around Clinton County. My wife has relatives in the Knoxville area. It would be cool if our paths crossed at some point.

        Safe travels!

  2. Tyler Holsapple Avatar
    Tyler Holsapple

    I am also a Holsapple, interested in making a similar trip. If you have any recommendations, would love to hear them. Let me know vial my email.

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