Forgotten tales

stories of my family

The Holtorf family of Bramstedt

The following is an undated version of an article posted here previously, but which was inaccurate on a number of counts. The information now contains my understanding of the Holtorf family as of today’s date, 20 September 2014. Such are the joys of family history research. The story changes as new information comes to light and old information is re-interpreted. I should add that the information following is based on various papers in my father’s possession, but none of them is an original source, in the sense of being an official document or historical record. Rather they are notes written by previous researchers from my family, but since none of the documents is signed or dated I am unable to go back to the person(s) who wrote them to ask what their sources were. The only reference to original sources that these notes contain is that they were taken from Lutheran Church records. Such records are not the easiest to access for an English speaking person like me, since they are not online, and they are in old German. This means that to view the original sources requires a visit to the area, a person skilled in reading and translating old German, and, above all, plenty of time. None of these are straightforward. If anyone happens to stumble over this blog and has more information I would love to hear from you.

My grandfather’s grandfather was named Johann Holtorf when he was born in 1828 in what is now the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. When he was 28, in 1856, Johann migrated to the British colony of New South Wales in Australia, where he changed his name to John Holdorf and became naturalised as a British citizen. He married Caroline Fischer, another German migrant (but from southern Germany), and together they settled in Goulburn and had 10 children. At least one of their children (Charles Holdorf, their first born) changed his surname to Holford, and from him came my father’s family.

Johann himself was also one of ten children, five of them his full siblings, and four of them half-siblings. His parents were named Claus Holtorf (1791-1874) and Margarethe Köhnke (1789-1835). His mother died when Johann was 7 and two years later in 1837 his father remarried Elsabe Lentfer, who had four sons.

Bramstedt in the 1800s
Bramstedt, where Claus was born, was a market town in the Danish Duchy of Holstein. At the time of his birth Holstein, though ruled by Denmark, was part of the Holy Roman Empire. It became part of the German Confederation after the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, and then as a result of the Schleswig wars of 1848 and 1864 it became, together with Schleswig, the neighbouring duchy to the north, it passed out of Danish hands completely, and became part of the newly formed nation of Germany. Claus, as far as I know, spoke German, as did the majority of people in Holstein. However, the ruling powers spoke Danish. Whether this was an issue for Claus or not I don’t know. The concept of nationalism was growing through the nineteenth century and no doubt everyone had an opinion about their own identity and where they belonged. But there was no nation of Germany then, so it wasn’t simply a question of “Am I German or am I Danish?” The Holtorfs (who were previously Holtorps) had always lived with this identity – German speaking in the Duchy of Holstein, ruled by Denmark. That this was now being questioned by some people may have had little relevance to them. Their lives were lived at a village level, and the machinations of dukes and princes were perhaps interesting but not their first concern.

Claus Holtorf
Claus, Johann’s father, was a shoe maker and timber warden. He was an only child, and his father was also a shoemaker on a farm. He could trace his ancestry back at least 100 years, and all the ancestors came from the Bramstedt area. The records I have go back to 1688 when Claus’s great grandfather was born in Kampen, Duchy of Holstein, a small village which now barely exists, some 8 or 10 kilometres south of Bramstedt.

As far as I know Claus was born and grew up in Bramstedt, a market town about 40km north of Hamburg. However, his father was apparently born in Bimöhlen, a village a few kilometres to the east of Bramstedt. Johann married in 1817 when he was 26 years old. His first child, according to my records, was born a few months before he was married.

Margarethe Köhnke
Margarethe was Claus’s first wife. She was born in 1789 in Wiemersdorf, where her father was a “small farmer”. Her first child, Anna, named after Claus’s mother, was born in March 1817, when Margarethe was 28 or 29. Margarethe married Claus in late May of the same year.

The next three of Margarethe’s children, Claus, Hans and Wilhelmina (Minna) were born, according to my records, in “Gross Aspe.” I have wondered where this might be. More of this in my next blog article. However, her 5th and 6th children, Johann (my ancestor) and possibly Andreas, were born in Bimöhlen, the same village that their grandfather was born in. The family appears to have moved at least twice, first to “Gross Aspe,” and then to Bimöhlen. Margarethe died in 1835 when her youngest child was just 3 years old. She is said to have died in Aukathe, which I have not been able to locate. There is an area of Bramstedt called Aukamp and I wonder if this is the place.

Elsabe Lentfer
Claus remarried in November 1837, 2 years after Margarethe died. His second wife was Elsabe Lentfer. They married in Bramstedt and the four sons they had together were all born in Bramstedt. So it would seem that the bigger town became the home of the Holtorf family after 1837. I have no other information about Elsabe, but I do know that one of her sons died at or shortly after birth, and another was drowned at the age of seven. A third appears to have died childless at a relatively early age, perhaps in his twenties. Only her third child, Jakob appears to have survived.

What became of the Holtorfs of Bramstedt?
Johann, my ancestor, migrated to Australia when he was 26 years old, in the 1850s, as I have already mentioned. Although I have no details, it would appear that four of the other children also left Germany at different times. Both the girls, Anna and Minna married German men, but may well have moved to England at some stage, though whether they died there I am not certain. Andreas, Johann’s little brother apparently migrated to America. The only one of Elsabe’s sons to survive past his twenties, namely Jakob Holtorf, migrated, like his older half-brother, Johann, to Australia. What became of him I am unsure.

Of the two remaining brothers, Claus (the firstborn son) and Hans, only Hans appears to have had any children. What became of Claus I don’t know, but Hans is said to have remained in the Bramstedt area, where he married and had four children. On his father Claus’s death certificate (1874) Hans and his wife Catharrina Behnk were living in Weddelbrooks Damm, which is just to the west of Bramstedt.

The closest German relatives I have would therefore be descendants of Hans, if there are any.

Bad Bramstedt location

Bad Bramstedt location map


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