Monday, November 16, 2009

european nations stirred and shaken

Well, it’s not quite le chateau de ma mère, but at Oppède in the Luberon region, in Provence, some 30 km east of Avignon, there is a ruined castle that just might have belonged to my mother’s ancestors, as I found out only recently.

My mitochondrial (i.e. purely maternal) blood line goes back to a woman called Catherine Elisabeth Obelode, born 1832 at Steinhagen, near Bielefeld. And that’s as far as it went, until Google came along. Two years ago, during the Xmas holidays, with a computer and not much to do, I systematically googled all the “orphans” in my family tree, and got lucky with Catherine Elisabeth Obelode. A nice and helpful Mr Obelode, who knows everything about every carrier of that name that was ever born (it is a rare name that only arose once, and is linked to a specific farm in the area where my mitochondrial ancestor was born), helped me out with data covering several generations.

Obviously, for every orphan I find the parents for, I create two new ones, and one of the new “last known ancestors”, which I then listed on my website was Anna Maria Dopheide. From the sound of that name I was very sure that it was from the northern German dialect, plattdeutsch. But it appears I was wrong.

Somebody involved with the clan of the Dopheide descendants found my website and managed to link up my ancestor to the data that they have. And I learned that the Dopheide descendants believe that the first carrier of that name in Germany (which, again, is a unique name), a Johann Dopheide showing up around 1535 in the Bielefeld area, was in fact Jean d’Oppède (*ca.1515), son of the baron Jean Maynier d’Oppède (1495-1558) from the town of Oppède in Provence, who was married to Louise de Vintimille. Legend has it that the younger Jean fled after converting to protestantism, while his father was a staunch defender of catholicism and is in fact held responsible for a massacre wiping out an entire protestant village.

Apparently there is no hard evidence that Johann Dopheide and Jean d’Oppède were in fact the same person, but if the story were true, I could add dozens of French ancestors to my family tree (in fact so many that the numbering system would become impractical, so I won’t actually put them in). The male line of the Mayniers alone goes back over several centuries, to a first mention in the 11th century, while the ancestry of Louise de Vintimille goes back to Guido (Guy I)Guerra, comte de Vintimille (954), marquis des Alpes-Maritimes et seigneur de Lunigiana et de Garfagnana (see this Wikipedia entry).

If Johann Dopheide really is an immigrant from France, his arrival is now one of 15 immigration events recorded among my ancestors before 1700. Which is intriguing, as they appeared all very settled and very German between 1700 and 1900, and only by digging deeper into the past did we find that there has been a lot of movement going on, and the idea of separate nations is undermined (more about my migrants). While many fled from persecution (mostly on religious grounds) there have also been positive stimulants, such as the resettlement of areas devastated by the 30-years war with migrants from Switzerland.

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