Re-writing history

Recently, I had an opportunity to read a beautiful book about the history of a church in the Lake Creek community.  It was very well written, telling the history of the community, of Dutzow, and the people that had lived there, and lived in the community today. Of course, one cannot speak about history of the area, without telling the story of Gottfried Duden and the first German emigrants who settled in the area.

Ironically, just as you are able to read this post because of the technological advances in the world today, so has that same technology advanced research methods. Don’t mistake me though, I would never suggest that one rely strictly on the internet for personal genealogical or historical research. But thanks to Google, we are now able to locate where records are stored, that years ago we never would have imagined, let alone know to look in.

You see though, authors are human too, and no one is infallible.So what if the story is one given by a very well respected author, like Friedrich Muench, about an event that while he wasn’t at, it surely came from someone who was? You would think it a reliable source right? Maybe Muench, didn’t take into consideration that the person sharing the story,Lewis Eversmann, didn’t speak the language – and perhaps made a mistake?  Muench wrote extensively for the Germans, both in the Old World and the New, beginning in 1834, about Missouri and the experiences of life along Lake Creek, west of St. Louis, Missouri.

As co-founder of the Giessen Emigration Society, a group of over 500 created in Germany, that arrived the summer of 1834, Muench was widely read and respected. He and his friend, and brother-in-law Paul Follenius had given careful deliberation before writing and publishing the Statutes of the Society in July of 1833. After much deliberation and discussion with Gottfried Duden, author of Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America, they set off for the United States. Disaster occurred first for Paul Follenius’ group that came in through the port of New Orleans, and the members families decimated with Cholera. When Follenius himself fell ill, and the group thought he would not survive, the coffers were opened and the group scattered.  Muench’s group was detained, and found themselves in horrible circumstances for nearly five weeks in Germany, before arriving in Baltimore.  They hurried as fast as possible to rejoin their group, and caught up with Follenius living with Jacob Haun, whose farm he had purchased.  Haun would move further west that summer, and we will never know if Muench spoke with him about Duden, who had spent much of his time in the U.S. living with him on that same farm.

And since Haun moved on, Eversmann, Duden’s travelling companion from Bonn, who had purchased land with Duden and still lived in the area, most likely related the story of their arrival to Muench. As the way Muench tells the story, Duden and Haun had visited the farm of Nathan Boone, famed American trailblazer Daniel Boone’s son.  After receiving some directions from Boone, Duden and Eversmann, made an error and turned the wrong way, and seeing a light in the darkness, accidently stumbled upon the farm of Jacob Haun. They then decided to purchase land in the area, and settle there to investigate life among the Americans. I myself remember quoting Muench’s story many many years ago.

But as technological and digital advances have opened a whole new world for the researcher, so has the ability to re-write history. But are we re-writing history, or just advancing the information and facts that we can now locate? What if you stumble upon a microfilm record of the U.S. Land Sales, and find that Duden’s original purchase was made in 1819, five years before his arrival, and that Jacob Haun was there when the funds were deposited?  Relying on the legal record of that purchase found at the Missouri State Archives, and the Receipt found in the National Archives, and the fact that Haun was there at the time of that purchase five years prior to Duden’s arrival, I doubt whether their arrival at Haun’s farm in 1824 was purely an accident.  But Duden did speak a little English, while Eversmann did not speak it at all upon their arrival. Probably, Eversmann remembered the introduction to Boone, but did not understand the conversation that followed, thereby not realizing that their arrival at Haun’s farm was not an accident, when he related their journey to Muench.

It is so nice to know that the arrival of Gottfried Duden, whose writings led so many Germans to Missouri and the mid-west was not an accident! That we are not here, simply because of a lantern in the window, and two Germans lost in the woods. So I am not re-writing history, just simply giving an update that modern technology provides has provided us. The Missouri State Archives wonderful collection of records is available online as the Missouri Digital Heritage. There you will find that the U.S. Land Records, Volume 1, Page 12, a glimpse into who was in the St. Louis Land Records office in February of 1819 and with this link an opportunity to re-write history for yourself.

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