Grenzach-Wyhlen Germany and the Sudetenland
Wednesday, June 7 2023
Having passed through billowing clouds of smoke blowing down from Canadian wildfires, the sunlight slipping past the window shade this morning was so red that I thought it had only just risen. But it was 7:30am when I got up, which is over an hour later than my usual schedule. The sun never managed to shine with all its glory today; instead it was an orange orb shining through haze. Gretchen crossed the Hudson this evening to have dinner in Rhinebeck with Kate, and she said that everything in the distance seemed to be shrouded in fog.
This evening in the bathtub, I just happened to run a Google search for the obituary of my great grandfather William Deschler, who died in his 60s. I wanted to know if he'd died from some accident like my paternal grandfather or from age-related disease like my three other grandparents. I didn't find his obituary, but I did find his entry on Ancestry.com, which gave me more information about him that I didn't know: that he was born in Switzerland and the name of one of his parents (Frederick). This was the first time I'd ever managed to find ancestry records on my father's side that went back to people who had produced children in Europe. (I'd found records on my mother's mother's side stretching back nearly all the way to the Norman Conquest.) I'd assumed that my father's family had come from parts of Europe that didn't keep records as meticulously as the ones kept in England.
Finding that information led me to do more searches related to my father's family, and I soon found another genealogy site claiming William Deschler was born in Wyhlen, Grenzach-Wyhlen, Lörrach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. But Grenzach-Wyhlen lies close to the point shared by France, Germany, and Switzerland, and it's possible Switzerland controlled Grenzach-Wyhlen in 1844 when William was born. More intriguing than that, FamilySearch.org seemed to have information about William's ancestors stretching back well into the 1700s. As with most people in those times, numerous generations lived out their entire lives in the same area (in this case, Grenzach-Wyhlen).
Doing other searches, I also managed to find some information about the far more mysterious ancestors of my father's father, who died in a house fire when my father was still an infant. For example, my father's father's father, Johannes Mueller, was born on October 11th, 1839, in Coblenz, Rhineland, Prussia, Germany. I also learned the name and birth year of his father, Simon Mueller, born in 1815. After that, the trail goes cold. But this is a lot more information than I was able to find when I was last interested in this stuff, back in the fall of 2019.
Interestingly, when I check my 23AndMe ancestry composition, it doesn't show me having strong genetic links to the Grenzach-Wyhlen area (where William Deschler and his ancestors lived for generations). It does, however, show a strong genetic connection to Rhineland-Palatinate, the land from which my Y chromosome came. 23AndMe says I also have a strong connection to Bavaria even though my father's mother's mother came from the part of what is now the Czech Republic that Hitler referred to as "the Sudetenland." Nearly all of those Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II and likely ended up in nearby Bavaria, which would explain the strong genetic connection to that region.
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