This article first appeared in German in the journal “Hunrueck Kalendar 2001”.

I am grateful to Doris Wesner and Helga Luedkte for translating it into German from the original English.


Our brain is differentiated enough that by memory and foresight we can deepen the linear dimension of time– its surface, we could say– almost to infinity. Depth thus depends on us. –Christa Wolf[1]


By Gretchen Elsner-Sommer (born Gretsch)

I came to Simmern in the early fall of 1999 to find out more about the women in my ancestry who had married Gretsch men. In the process, I became very interested in Anna Elisabetha Auler (born in Simmern in 1784) who married (Simmern, 1804) my great- great-great grandfather, Casimir Gretsch (born in Monzingen in 1775) and whose union produced no descendants directly related to me. A traditional approach to family history would have ended my interest at this point. The Gretsch family in America is presumed to begin with Casimir Gretsch’s marriage (Simmern, 1815) to my great great great grandmother, Maria Dorothea Wild Gretsch (born in Oberstein in 1788).

However, the Gretsch-Auler union did produce offspring who shared a family life with my ancestors. Anna Elizabetha and Casimir had two daughters who survived infancy, Julianna Catharina (born in Simmern in 1805) and Maria Elise (born in Simmern in 1810). After their mother’s death in 1814, their father remarried and had four more children who lived into adulthood. Catharina Dorothea, born in Simmern in 1816; William, my great-great grandfather, born in Simmern in 1822; Jacob born in Simmern in 1824; and Karl, born in Simmern in 1827. These children did not know their father’s first wife, Anna Elisabetha Auler Gretsch. However, they did know her daughters, their half-sisters Julianna Catharina and Maria Elise. These six children shared a father, Casimir Gretsch, and a mother or stepmother, Maria Dorothea Wild Gretsch. What happened inside these familial relationships, the everyday rituals of their family life and co-residence, has certainly been passed on to me, but in ways that I can only imagine.

I became immensely interested in this forgotten space in history, a space that was occupied by my great-great-great grandmother, Maria Dorothea Wild Gretsh, and her stepdaughters, Julianna Catharina and Maria Elise Gretsch, the daughters of Anna Elisabetha Auler Gretsch, and Maria Dorothea’s own daughter, Catherina Dorothea Gretsch.

The lives and interactions of these five women intrigue me. Although some of them never met, for a short period of time these women were closely bound by their husband and their father, Casimir Gretsch. While records abound for the relationships of fathers and sons, brothers and uncles, the relationships among sisters and daughters and mothers in many cases can only be guessed at. One must search between the lines of recorded documents to see the women and young girls who stand nearby, observe, and build their lives in some relationship to those around them.

* * *

In the early 1960’s, a two-volume set of Schlegel’s German-American Families in the United States, published in New York in 1917[2], was found in my grandparents’ New York house. My father, William Gretsch (born in Brooklyn in 1906), and I both grew up in this house. However, I had never seen the books nor even known of their existence. It was only recently that my sister, Katie, knowing of my interest in family history, passed the cumbersome old texts on to me. In them, I found an article on the origin of the Gretsch family, which begins, “The village of Simmern, which has been the ancestral home of the Gretsch family for several generations, is situated about twenty-six miles southwest of the city of Coblenz, near the Moselle river in Rhenish-Prussia, Germany.”[3]

Although no author is credited, one can read through a complicated allusion inside the text to find its author: “(She) faithfully filled a mother’s place and bestowed a parental affection upon her sister’s child. This child now places this tribute in this work to the memory of a kind and loving mother, Anna Maria Artz.”[4] Knowing that the aforementioned Anna Maria Artz’s sister Rosina had only one child, it becomes clear that Emily Gretsch (born in New York City in 1852), the daughter of Jacob Gretsch (born in Simmern in 1824) and Rosina Maria Artz (born in Trier in 1821), and granddaughter of Casimir and Maria Dorothea Gretsch, was the author. This sentence opens the door to a complicated and often hidden reality. Family history and genealogy are not always found in a straight line between fathers and sons. History also resides in the re-created, unrecorded spaces surrounding mothers, daughters, and sisters. Emily Gretsch’s article suggests a similarly forgotten space in Simmern in the early 1800’s when she concisely states “Julia Auler, the mother of the aforementioned children, died and Casimir Gretsch married (second) Fraulein Dorothea Wild of Oberstein, Rheinish Prussia on the Rhine.”[5]

* * *

It was on my first trip to Simmern that I read an article by Hans Ludwig Becker, “Die Aulersmühle bei Simmern, ein Beitrag zur Familiengeschichte” in the Rhein-Hunsrück Kalender 1991.[6] Although it made no mention of a Gretsch marriage within the Auler family, I noticed that several names that appear in Herr Becker’s article also appear on baptism and marriage certificates within the Gretsch family: Gottfried Auler, Christoph Auler, Lorenz Auler, Jacob Auler.

Could there have been a relationship between these families that had long been forgotten? Had this relationship been established by the Auler woman whom Emily Gretsch’s article only names and Hans Becker’s article omits? With the assistance of Frau Schmitt at the Standesamt in Simmern, I was able to ascertain through city documents of the period that Casimir Gretsch’s first wife was Anna Elisabetha Auler.

Despite Emily Gretsch’s mistaken naming of Anna Elisabetha Auler–Emily calls her Julia–and her misconceived knowledge of the region–Simmern is not a village and Oberstein is not on the Rhine–connections could be made with the help of her article. By placing Emily Gretsch’s article alongside Hans Ludwig Becker’s article and the documents of the Standesamt, names were beginning to fit together to suggest deeper relationships than the official documents alone demonstrate. During my next trip to Simmern, Doris Wesner helped me contact Hans Ludwig Becker. He was kind enough to meet with me and together we looked at his research on the Auler and Kuhn family as well as my own Gretsch roots in Simmern.

One thread that runs through the lives of the Wild, Auler and Gretsch women is the ritual of marriage. The brides can be easily found in documented records, but those who helped them arrange for and assisted them in the rituals left no official traces. The little sisters who might have carried flowers or stood and watched their older sisters wed are not recorded. These unreported names might have been those of mothers, aunts and cousins. One must look through a kaleidoscope of memory, tradition, and practice, to find evidence of their existence around the edges and through the center of these formal family rituals.

From official documents, I discovered that Anna Elisabetha Auler had an older sister Anna Maria who married Nicolas Kuhn in Simmern in 1797 when Anna Elisabetha was only 13 years old. The impact this new brother-in-law, Nicolas Kuhn, would have on Anna Elisabetha’s life and the lives of her children and her future husband ‘s children is verified by the multiple family documents on which his name–Nicolas Kuhn–appears.

1. the birth certificate of Anna Elisabetha Auler and Casimir Gretsch’s first child, Julianna Catharina (born in Simmern in 1805, death unkown);

2. the birth certificate of Anna Elisabetha and Casimir Gretsch’s third child, Maria Elise (born in Simmern in 1810, died in Simmern in 1899);

3. the birth certificate of Anna Elisabetha and Casimir Gretsch’s fifth child, Catharina (born in Simmern in 1813, died in Simmern in 1813);

4. the baptism certificate of Maria Dorothea Wild and Casimir Gretsch’s the third child, Carl (born in Simmern in 1819, died in Simmern in 1820);

5. the wedding certificate of Anna Elisabetha Auler and Casimir Gretsch’s daughter, Maria Elise (in Simmern in 1831.)

The relationship of the Auler sisters, Anna Elisabetha and Anna Maria, left few such easy-to-follow clues. The names of the girls and women who stood by ready to help, who attended the births and prepared the food are not found in these documents.

However, searching through the customs and sisterly attentions which surround the marriage rites we can assume that the young Anna Elisabetha Auler carefully observed the wedding of her older sister, Anna Maria Auler and Nicolas Kuhn and held this wedding in her thoughts as she prepared for her marriage to Casimir Gretsch seven years later in 1804.

A generation later in 1831, the late Anna Elisabetha Auler Gretsch’s daughter, Maria Elise Gretsch, would marry in Simmern and her 15-year-old-half-sister Catherina Dorotherea Gretsch would, in the maze of town life, family influence and ceremony, be watching. Catherina Dorothea would herself marry five years later in Böblingen.

There is no documentation in any of the church and state records of these two little sisters, a generation apart, watching their older sisters wed. However, it is this system of observation and repetition by sisters, cousins, and friends, which solidifies the process of marriage and procreation on which the foundations of record keeping rests. It is the same system which connects the Auler sisters in the late 1700’s, to the Gretsch sisters one generation later. This system also allows for further connections to Emily Gretsch’s article written in New York (1917) and most recently to my own research enhanced by my sister’s handing me the forgotten texts.

City and church documents also verify that Anna Elisabetha Auler Gretsch’s father, brothers and cousins were close to Casimir Gretsch and his family in the early part of the 1800’s even after the death of Anna Elisabetha Auler Gretsh in 1814.

1. Gottfried Auler and Christoff Auler were witnesses at the marriage of Anna Elisabetha Auler and Casimir Gretsch in Simmern in 1804.

2. Lorenz Auler was a witness at the birth of Anna Elisabetha Auler and Casimir Gretsch’s fourth child, Margaretha (born in Simmern in 1810, died in 1812).

3. Casimir Gretsch was a witness at Lorenz Auler’s wedding to Maria Margarthe Goetz in Simmern in May of 1807.

4. Jacob Auler and Lorenz Auler were witnesses at Casimir Gretsch’s wedding to Maria Dorothea Wild in Simmern in 1815.

5. Regina Auler was a witness at the baptism of Maria Dorothea Wild and Casimir Gretsch’s son, my great-great grandfather, William, in 1822.

Viewing these documents together with Emily Gretsch’s and Hans Becker’s articles, holding them up to the light of custom and memory which allows the images of young women and girls to crystallize, we can imagine influential relationships being created by the women who are barely visible in one source alone. From the affection of sisters, through the rites of the marriage ceremony, to the care of young children, Anna Maria Auler, Anna Elisabetha Auler, Maria Dorothea Wild, Julianna Catharina Gretsch, Maria Elise Gretsch, and Catharina Dorothea Gretsch, fabricated a social network with outreaching bases in Oberstein, in Simmern and in Böblingen, a social network much more complicated than the traditional genealogy found in Schlegel’s German-American Families in the United States.


[1] “Reading and Writing,” The Author’s Dimension: Selected Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993), p. .

[2] (New York: The American Historical Society, 1917), pp. 141-46.

[3] Schlegel, p. 141.

[4] Schlegel, p. 143.

[5] Schlegel, p. 141.

[6] Pp. .

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