Jacob was my great-great-grandfather. In 1848, Jacob and his twin brother George left their young families in the Black Forest region of Baden Germany and set sail for the “Promised Land” of America. They made their way to the port at Le Havre, France, and went by sail ship to New York City.

There is no written detail of their immigration that I am aware of, and oral history passed down generations is sketchy, but the brothers reportedly made their way from the east coast either via the Erie Canal or over the mountains via the Allegheny Portage Railroad and down the Ohio River to Cincinnati, OH.

Cincinnati riverfront circa 1840-1850.

Cincinnati riverfront circa 1840-1850.

The Cincinnati destination was surely pre-determined because most immigrants had contacts with relatives or members from their German communities who had already made the journey. By the mid-1800s, the northeast was already heavily settled so new immigrants were making their way over the mountains to new territories along the Ohio River where they joined others from their home countries. Moreover, Cincinnati was a progressive, frontier town and a busy port on the Ohio River, which made it an ideal location for the Burger brothers to ply their trade as watchmakers. They would remain working in Cincinnati for seven years until they made enough money to return to Baden, retrieve their families, and make their way back to become permanent citizens of the USA.

I like to think of myself as adventurous relative to pursuing dreams, ideas, and new places. After all, in the mid-1970s I loaded my young family and all belongings in trucks and moved from Indiana to Florida to begin a university graduate degree without the certainty of formal admission; it just seemed like a good idea.

Sail shipBy comparison, Jacob left his wife Theresa, son William, and daughter Anastasia alone in Baden for seven years before he could return with enough money for their retrieval. Then all four survived a 45-day sail-ship journey across the Atlantic during which one-third of those on board were buried at sea after losing their lives to an on-ship out-break of an undefined scourge.

After making and saving more money as a jeweler and watchmaker for another three years, and after the birth of two more daughters, Philomena and Caroline, Jacob pulled up stakes from Cincinnati and steamed further down the Ohio River to join the German farming communities in southern Indiana. His 10-year journey had ended. Land was fairly cheap in Dubois County, Indiana; he could now pursue his dream of becoming a landowner and farmer.

Jacob’s family’s journey was an incredible adventure; it was risky but surely embarked upon with confidence in achieving their dreams of a new life! It was also a profound demonstration of trust, love, and forbearance among all family members, perhaps not so unusual during that time. But was this journey just about adventure and new opportunities? Or was it an escape from mid 19th century conditions in Baden Germany?