Review of Finding the Grain

Finding the Grain: Pioneer German Journals and Letters from Dubois County, Indiana. Edited by Norbert Krapf. Revised and Expanded Edition. Max Kade German-American Center & Indiana German Heritage Society Publications, vol. 9. Indianapolis: Indiana University Printing Services, 1996. xxii + 281 pages. $18.00.

In 1977 Norbert Krapf published a book entitled Finding the Grain: Pioneer Journals, Franconian Folktales, Ancestral Poems. This work contained three journals, one letter and a passport, fourteen Franconian folktales in the original German with English translations, and seventeen poems by the editor about his Indiana German heritage. The 1996 edition represents an expansion and revision of only the journal and letter sections of the original work. The other chapters have become three separate works: Beneath the Cherry Sapling: Legends from Franconia (1988); Somewhere in Southern Indiana: Poems of Midwestern Origins (1993); and Blue-Eyed Grass: Poems of Germany (1997). Both the 1977 and the 1996 editions of Finding the Grain were motivated by Krapf s desire to learn about his ancestral heritage and to understand why his family and thousands like it had emigrated from Germany and settled in what he calls "the hilly wilderness of southern Indiana" (xii). The first edition had appeared as part of the Bicentennial celebration in his native Dubois County, Indiana. Krapf's intention is to make the meticulously edited and annotated documents available to the general public and the academic community. However, he considers the book's main audience the people of Dubois County, especially those readers who are curious about their German roots and family history. A great part of this volume's success is due to the match between the book's primary audience and the obscure voices that tell a story that is part of the much larger one of American immigration. The (hi)story of German emigration and the immigrant origins of Krapf's German-Catholic hometown and surrounding communities in southern Indiana is told "from the bottom up, the history of everyday life " (xvi), a phrase he borrows from Wolfgang Helbich. From the journals and letters of these mostly ordinary people, Krapf enables his readers to appreciate the emotional and subjective side of the emigration/immigration experience.

The first chapter contains sixty-six letters of Reverend Joseph Kundek, a Croatian missionary who arrived in Jasper, Indiana, in 1838 intent on satisfying the spiritual needs and increasing the size of the German Catholic population in Dubois County. An addition to the earlier edition, these many letters detail Kundek's vigorous recruitment efforts, his missionary trips within Indiana and to Ohio and Pennsylvania, the establishment of towns and parishes in Ferdinand and Celestine, the building of churches in numerous surrounding communities (map), and even his attempts to procure priests for southern Indiana from the monastery at Einsiedeln, Switzerland. Another topic of equal urgency that emerges from his letters is the poverty of the people. In a letter to his superior regarding a new settlement, he wrote: "Then to build the church, the school, I cannot rely on the people because they are dreadfully poor. In all my life, I have never seen more severe poverty" (61). This issue of poverty is mentioned in almost all of the succeeding chapters.

Also new to this edition is the biographical sketch of Kundek in chapter two by Reverend Bede O Connor, one of the priests recruited from Einsiedeln who became the pastor of St. Joseph's Parish after Kundek's death in 1857. This depiction of Kundek offers the reader a succinct chronological summary of his pastoral activities in southern Indiana. Through Kundek's own correspondence the reader sees the official side of this busy servant, whereas the Bede sketch offers a much more human view.

Chapter three presents us with another addition, the Hassfurther/Gerhard Letters. These letters truly depict the notion of "history from the bottom up, the history of everyday life" alluded to earlier. Through this correspondence the reader is confronted with the emotions of emigration/immigration: the fear, anxiety, sorrow, anticipation, tribulation, and joy that accompanied it. Given Krapf's motivations and goals, this is by far the most outstanding chapter in the book.

The next three chapters reintroduce material that appeared in the first edition, albeit either in an expanded or improved version. Instead of letters, two of the chapters comprise journals, and one consists of a single letter and a passport. Together with very factual descriptions of their ocean voyages to America, these writers continue the portrayal of the harsh life experienced in the new world. But just as the others, they also allude to the support network provided by the established German immigrant population that helped make their new lives bearable.

The last chapter comprises two passport papers and two farewell poems. The poems, by far the more interesting entries, serve as a thematic summary of the contents of the book's other letters and journals.

Whether readers are interested in the specialized details of German-Catholic immigrants in Dubois County, Indiana, or in an intimate view of the emotional side of emigration, this book is highly recommended.

Yearbook of German-American Studies (1998): 187-89.

Albert J. Camigliano
University of Missouri-St. Louis

Selections from Finding the Grain
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