Forgotten tales

stories of my family

What became of the Holtorfs of Bramstedt?

Claus Holtorf had 10 children, 6 with his first wife, Margarethe and 4 with his second, Elsabe. Two of Elsabe’s boys did not survive past childhood. What I know of the others comes from two death notices, the first when Claus died in 1874, and the second after Johann’s death in 1898. But there are questions which remain unanswered.

Claus’s death notice (1874) indicates that the two girls, Anna and Minna, both married, were living in Hamburg. They were no longer young women: Anna was 57 and Minna 49 by that year. Johann’s death notice in 1898 shows that by then both of them were living in England, by which time they were respectively 81 and 73. What prompted the two of them to move to England later in life I can only guess at. I am not even sure that they lived in England at that time, but they appear to have been there in any case when their younger brother died in 1898. I suppose it is possible they were just visiting. Whether their respective husbands were still alive then or not I don’t know either, nor if they had any children. But it seems most likely that Anna and Minna, natives of Holstein, Denmark (Germany) died in Victorian England.

Hans, Margarethe’s second son was married with four children in 1874. They lived near Weddelbrook, just to the west of Bramstedt. Johann was in Australia and Andreas had migrated to America. Of Elsabe’ two surviving sons one, Jakob, was in Australia, though he lived in Sydney whereas Johann lived with his family in Goulburn. All but two of the children are therefore accounted for on the 1874 death notice, but neither Claus, Margarethe’s first born, nor Jürgen, Elsabe’s last born, are mentioned. What happened to them is a mystery. It might be assumed that both had died, but I have nothing to confirm that. By 1874 they had both disappeared. What could have happened to them?

German migrant ship 1852

German migrant ship 1852

While trolling the Hamburg passenger records I found an entry for two Holtorfs who were accommodated in the same cabin on a ship, the Rhein, sailing out of Hamburg for New York, in 1852. The two were a Claus and a Jürgen. Could they be the same Claus and Jürgen as those from our Holtorf family in Bramstedt? Annoyingly the ages of the two are not listed in the passenger manifest, so they cannot be matched up by age. Nor is their relationship recorded, which could have also given some clues. Furthermore, their place of birth is recorded as Hohn, Holstein, which doesn’t fit. Hohn is a town some 50 km north of Bramstedt, but is not in Holstein, but Schleswig. This got me wondering. Was the lack of details, along with one slightly misleading fact, an indication that something was amiss? I suppose there could be another two brothers called Claus and Jürgen Holtorf travelling to New York in 1852. But it is certainly an odd coincidence. But how could I put the few facts that I had before me together?

One possible explanation for the few facts that I have available is that Claus, the first born son of the Holtorf family, married, and moved to Hohn during his adult life, where he lived with his wife. If his stepmother Elsabe had died at or soon after Jürgen’s birth, it is quite possible that Claus and his wife “adopted” little Jürgen. Claus was 24 when Jürgen was born, so was old enough to be his father. Supposing Claus’s wife had died sometime after that, Claus would have been left with a young “son” and a heavy heart. The thought of starting a new life may have been very attractive, especially in view of the sadness associated with his native land, not to mention the political instability and economic uncertainty which affected so many. Claus and Jürgen may have travelled together, as father and son, to the New World.

It is hard to know what to make of the fact that in 1874, when Claus was 54 and Jürgen was 30, neither appear on their father’s death notice. Clearly their whereabouts was unknown for those who penned the notice, indicating that they had lost touch. Both may have been dead. Did the sailing ship Rhein even make it to America? I have been unable to find a record of their arrival in New York, and ship wrecks were not unknown in those uncertain days. If they did arrive for some reason they may have chosen not to maintain contact, unlike the rest of the family. Perhaps there was a rift in the family that had contributed to Claus leaving with Jürgen, or maybe Claus simply stopped writing after the two arrived in America. Some people are just not good at keeping in touch.

Whatever the truth, it would seem that only one of the 10 Holtorf children, namely Hans, remained in Germany to carry on the family name. Two of the ten probably died in England, two others in Australia, one definitely in America, though there may have been three there if Claus and Jürgen did indeed make that journey. The other two died in childhood. Hans, the one who remained around Bramstedt, in 1851 married a girl called Catharrina Behnk and together they had four children. Any contemporary Holtorfs related to us must surely be the descendants of Hans and Catharrina.


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