Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Triebwasser Saga

The Beginning

The earliest Triebwassers found in the historical record thus far (circa 1725-76) were farmers. They were Lutheran (Protestant), and spoke Low German (also known as Low Saxon, Old Saxon, Plattdeutsch or Niederdeutsch). We know this as they maintained their language and religion relatively intact as they immigrated to Poland (the region was then part of Prussia), Russia and finally to the United States in search of farming opportunities. The term “low” is in reference to land elevation, so therefore the Triebwasser original point of origin was probably somewhere in North or Northwestern Germany, the region of Germany near the Netherlands, or possibly in the Netherlands itself since. While there have been no records yet found to confirm this, the fact is that Low German was spoken by people from these low-lying regions. There is also DNA evidence to suggest the Triebwasser line descended from the Saxons, who lived in the general area of Lower Saxony, which is a province in Northwestern Germany. For more information on what DNA testing has revealed about Triebwasser ancestry, please see the DNA section below.

The Surname Meaning

Triebwasser literally means ‘motive-water’ or ‘impulse-water’ such as that used to drive a mill wheel or water turbine. In the convention of the origin of German surnames, this could indicate that the very first Triebwasser to use this name occupied a farm with a millstream running through it. There is also some evidence and an oral history to suggest the original name could have been Trübwasser, which means ‘cloudy water’. This is interesting as well since the farmers in these low-lying areas were known for their abilities to drain swampy areas to claim the land for agricultural purposes. Trübwasser is also considered a demeaning surname that was assigned to Jews when they were forced to take on non-Hebrew names in 18th century Europe. The last curious factor about the name stems from the fact that “wasser” is a High German word. Since Triebwassers were Low German speakers, the original name might have been something quite different like “Drijifwater” with Triebwasser being adopted perhaps sometime after 1534 when Martin Luther effectively standardized written German by translating the Bible. By making the Bible accessible to ordinary worshipers, Luther greatly advanced Protestant Reformation in Germany and by 1545 northwestern and northeastern Germany and large portions of southern Germany had become Protestant.

The Prussian-Polish Migration

The German tradition of Anerberecht meant that the first-born son of a farming family inherited the farm intact. Sons born later were forced to take on other vocations or seek out farmland elsewhere. This tradition combined with enticements to German farmers to settle in various regions seems to have kept Triebwassers on the move. The first Triebwasser found on record, George Triebwasser, established a farm in what is now the Polish village of Rosnówko. In the mid-18th century the village was called Rosenhagen, and for a time this area was part of Prussia. As mentioned before, it is not currently known where Triebwassers came from before they arrived here, but facts about the village itself does provide some clues.

The village of Rosenhagen appears to have been established around 1750 and George Triebwasser was likely one of the first if not one of the original founding settlers. Rosenhagen was what was known at the time as a ‘Hollanderien’ or Hollander settlement. Originally a term applied to Dutch immigrant settlements, especially those of the Dutch Mennonites who drained swampy river basins for farming use, it eventually came to signify the manner in which these settlements were governed. While Polish landlords welcomed in the immigrants to open up their swampy estates, the farmers in turn received several key benefits: they had long term leases on their farmland, paid rent in cash, were allowed to keep their language and religion, elected their own village mayors, and were exempted from military service. Paying rent in cash was a special plus that allowed the settlers to effectively pay a fixed price for use of the land, regardless of how productive the land became. Rosenhagen was located in a low area near water and the settlement was laid out as a “Marschufendorf”. This style of settlement meant that farms lined up on one or both sides of the main village road with the farm plots going off at right angles in a long, single field. Combining these factors suggests that this area was settled by farmers experienced in reclaiming and cultivating “low land”. It is no stretch to assume that they probably came from someplace that was also low.

George Triebwasser married _______ and their first son was likely Gottfried (born ) as he inherited the farm. Most if not all the Triebwassers remaining in Europe are descendants of Gottfried, all the way up to another George Triebwasser, who together with his son Alfred? had to finally abandon the family homestead in 1946.

The first George also had at least one other son, who was born in 1776 and was probably the last son: Johann Christian Triebwasser. In 1802, while still in Poland, Johann Christian had a son whom he named after himself. In 1814 he left Poland to immigrate to the part of Russia then known as Bessarabia. These lands were recently acquired as the successful result of war with the Turks. The Czarina of Russia at the time, Catherine the Great (a German princess), was eager to have the land settled before the Turks attempted to regain it and offered German settlers special privileges including reduced taxation, exemption from military service, and the freedom to keep their language and religion. German farming colonies were established, but preparations to receive the settlers were slow and in most cases woefully inadequate. The group of settlers that included Johann Christian and his family did not reach their promised land until 1816; having been quartered with the Moldavians until things were ready. When they finally arrived, they named their colony Paris in honor of a recent Russian victory against Napoleon. Sometime during this period and up to 1824, Johann Christian lost his wife as there is documentation of him re-marrying a widow in that year. He then died in 1831, which was the year of a cholera epidemic, leaving only his only known child and son, also named Johann Christian, to carry on.

This Johann Christian, however, was the patriarch of every Protestant Triebwasser living in U.S. and Canada today. His only two sons (that survived into adulthood) Wilhelm and August, separately immigrated to South Dakota in 1880 and 1881 with their families. They did this as the Russian government rescinded the special privileges that the German-Russian farmers had enjoyed for so many years. Once settled in the South Dakota, subsequent generations then migrated to other places in North America, mainly Canada and the Pacific Northwest.

DNA Evidence

In early 2006, several male Triebwassers from the United States, Germany and Poland submitted genetic material for DNA testing. Before we discuss the results, I would first like to provide some background information that will help in the understanding of what these tests can and cannot tell us in view of current theories. I would also like to provide a disclaimer: I am not by any means an expert in the field of DNA testing or the migration of modern man. The paragraphs below are an amalgam of information collected from the Internet and applied, as best as I was able, to the DNA results from present-day Triebwassers.

First off, the test that was conducted is called a “Y-DNA” test. It examines the DNA “markers” of the Y chromosome. This is significant because the Y chromosome is passed from father to son intact, and therefore shadows the surname lineage. Over the history of modern man, small mutations have occurred to the Y chromosome which have allowed scientists to classify all living persons into groups, which in effect forms the ‘family tree’ of mankind. The scientific term for the branches on this tree is haplogroup and all the Triebwassers tested belong to the same one: R1b. This is the most common haplogroup in men of Western European descent. Scientists theorize that this group rode out the last Ice Age maximum in southern Europe, mainly in what is now Spain and Portugal, and then repopulated northern Europe as the glaciers retreated about 10,000 years ago.

The Y-DNA test can give a general probability as to how recently two men have shared a common ancestor, but unfortunately with no great degree of precision (or resolution) as far as the genealogist is concerned. Triebwassers with a common ancestor within the historical date range where surnames came into use (roughly the last thousand years) will have a very, very high Y-DNA marker match (98-100%). Determining if these Triebwassers are first cousins, fifth cousins or even brothers still requires some kind of paper trail. , there is no way to tell if they are . samples from all over the world and estimating the mutation rates, science has developed a kind of time machine to look back on the rise and migration of modern mankind.

Current theory based on the DNA evidence is that everyone is ultimately related – it just depends how far back in time you go to find the relationship. To begin with the beginning, Modern Man, or the homo sapien species, is thought to have arisen from a single female who lived in Africa 200,000 years ago. This is based on mitochondrial DNA evidence (mtDNA), which is the genetic material passed from mother to daughter. Based on Y-DNA data, scientists estimate that every person alive on Earth today also shares the same common male ancestor, who lived in Africa about 59,000 years ago. About this same time modern man migrated out of Africa to populate the rest of the world. Based on subsequent mutations to the Y and mt DNA, scientists can track the branches of the human family tree as it spread out across the globe.