This week features one of my favorite things to do. Decorating the Christmas tree.
For close to thirty years our Christmas trees have been gifted to us by a family friend. In the early years, he would choose a tree from the woods near where he lived. When he moved away from his home village, he continued to bring us a tree now bought at one of the many markets supplied by Christmas tree farms.
The trees were not always decorated in the same way. Some years only gold or silver was used. Other years color was added. There have been silver with blue and white, silver with purple, all red, and all colors mixed up.
The first lights we bought for our tree were candle-shaped and lasted years. When they finally gave out on us we bought strings of tiny lights which didn’t last as long. Since the days of the candle lights, I always check that the lights work before I put them up.
This year I decorated our tree with the two strings of lights and wasn’t happy with the way they looked. I nearly finished taken down the first string when it died on me. It wasn’t the first time this happened. It’s always aggravating but I try to not let it get to me. I spread out the lights of the remaining string around the front and sides leaving the back of the tree dark. By this time I’d been at it for nearly two hours. I was thinking I should have stuck with Motown instead of Christmas songs.
For the past few years, the tree had been done up in silver and/or white with blue and/or purple balls and icicles. This year I planned on doing it in gold with special touches. I’ve had these artificial poinsettias bushes that haven’t been used in years when decorating the house. I got out the wire cutters and cut them up into individual flowers and stuck them in the tree. I added gold bows and angels. Next came the special heirloom touch.
Years ago Mom gave us four Villeroy et Boch old fashioned multi-colored porcelain Christmas ornaments which I’ve been hanging on doorknobs of furniture. Earlier this month she stopped by with four Hutschenreuther porcelain ornaments from 2018 in the shape of a bell, ball, boot, and egg from the Christmas Pleasures series. I added these eight heirloom ornaments to the tree.
Bows, Angels, Poinsettia, and Heirlooms
May the peace of Advent be with you and your families.
The week between the second and third Sunday of Advent is mostly reserved for baking cookies. It’s become a tradition to bake and share Christmas cookies with family, friends, and acquaintances.
In the December 1996 issue of the Good Housekeeping magazine, my Mom tried out a recipe that became a family favorite and the most-liked by everyone who receives them as a gift. For a while, I wanted to keep the recipe for Chocolate Sambuca Cookies a secret but finally translated it to German and converted the US measures to metric. These cookies are the first to be mixed up as they need to be chilled overnight.
Next, I fix two recipes of Kokosmakronen (Coconut Macaroons), a recipe I received from a Luxembourgish friend many years ago. These are quickly whipped up and need to be watched when baking as they should begin to brown but not be allowed to dry out. The secret ingredient is marzipan which makes them chewy instead of hard like meringue cookies. The half a dozen leftover egg yolks are perfect for making Mom’s recipe for ice cream.
When we married in 1978 my mother-in-law gave me a cookie press. It was only when I tried the recipe for Spritz cookies in my 1976 edition of Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book that I finally began using it each year. I had a “feeling old” moment when I looked up the book on the internet and found it referred to as vintage! 1976 was the year I graduated from high school. The recipe makes a lot of cookie dough for pressing. One year I tried adding a cherry on top of half the cookies. This was a big hit with my husband and I’ve added the cherries to the macaroons too.
A few years ago I tasted these orange-flavored biscuits sold at a well-known coffee shop associated with Mr. Clooney. They were delicious but, I thought, too expensive. I experimented with the Spritz recipe, leaving out the almond extract and adding orange extract and peel. To add more flavor I brushed them with orange glaze and called them Glazed Orange Spritz.
Chili Chocolate Chip Cookies are another favorite in the tins we gift. Several years ago I found a free sample of Vanilla Chili Salt in a German cooking magazine. The recipe for the cookies was on the back of the little packet and the sample was just enough for one recipe. The supermarket we shop at carries the label but didn’t have this particular salt mixture. I ended up mixing my own version of the vanilla chili salt. Later when I was able to buy the flavored salt I had to add more chili as either they had changed their recipe or we had gotten used to the more hot taste of my salt mixture.
After two full days of baking, the cookies were ready to be packed up in the Christmas tins to give away. There were not enough left over to fill the small bags of cookies for our postman and the trash collectors so I’m off to do more baking.
May the peace of Advent be with you and your families.
When our children were small St. Nicholas Day usually fell in the week between the First and Second Sunday of Advent. They would set their shoes by the front door for about a week before the 6th of December. Depending on whether they had been naughty or nice, they would wake up in the morning and find a piece of chocolate or some other treat or a switch if they had been bad.
On the 6th of December, they would find a plate full of candy, nuts, clementines, toys, and a Boxemännchen. These little men are made of sweet brioche dough. A roll snipped here and there to form the arms and legs, and a ball of dough for the head. If you don’t make them yourself, you can buy them at the bakery in all sizes, with or without sugar glaze. I like the plain ones the best.
Since the children are grown and have left home, the week before the Second Sunday of Advent is our time to begin putting up decorations for the holidays. Unlike my cousins in the US, we don’t put up a tree as soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers have been cleared away. We’ve never had an artificial tree and wait until the week before Christmas.
I brought the decorations down from the attic on Friday and began with the lighted garland in the hallway.
My husband brought up the ladder from the basement yesterday and put up the outside garland before we worked on the lights and garland in the living room. He then left to do some errands.
My favorite part came next. The finishing touches. I get to do this all by myself – while listening to Motown Soul music. It gets turned up and no one is there to hear me sing or watch me dance while I move things around until I’m satisfied with the way everything looks.
Finally, this morning we lit the second candle on our Advent wreath.
May the peace of Advent be with you and your families.
The first of December and the first Sunday of Advent came around faster than expected this year. My followers may have been wondering why it’s been so quiet on my blog. I’m working on a genealogical problem I hope to soon reveal and haven’t had much inclination to write my usual posts on families I research. In the meantime, I’m going to write a few short posts about the holiday traditions we follow in the Meder-Dempsey family.
I’ve shared photos of our Advent wreath on each of the four Sundays of Advent on my Facebook timeline for the past seven years.
This morning we lit the first candle on the wreath and shared the photo on Facebook. We’ve been choosing wreaths or making them ourselves since we were first married. We added to the tradition when we began posting photos on the four Sundays for our friends who enjoy seeing a quiet reminder of the holiday season.
May the peace of Advent be with you and your families.
For some reason, the subject of maison dite or house names kept coming up while I was researching the MERTES-DONNEN family. Not only in my research but in several Facebook groups and pages I follow. Maybe the ancestors were trying to tell me something. Or maybe it’s time to discuss what I learned while researching this family – something I left out in my last post.
Before I share my discovery, let me give you an overview of the history of house names and surnames in Luxembourg.
This past June I attended a conference by Paul ZIMMER, Latein in den Kirchenbüchern korrekt lesen (Reading Latin Correctly in Church Records). His presentation included an explanation of the peculiarities of names found in church records. After the presentation, he kindly sent digital copies to all participants of a dozen articles published under his pseudonym, Victor Racine. I used his introduction to genealogy research adapted to the Luxembourg situation: Petite introduction à la recherche généalogique avec des conseils pratiques adaptés à la situation luxembourgeoise (Victor Racine) as a guide.
House Names and Surnames
Until around 1500 the first name of a person was sufficient enough to identify ordinary people. When pleading someone’s case, it was done orally and normally in the presence of the person eliminating the confusion of identities.
The appearance of the first written documents however required additional distinction. Nicolas, therefore, became known as Nicolas de Steinfort (by his residence), Nicolas le Meunier (by his occupation, i.e. miller), or Nicolas le Petit (by a trait, i.e. small person).
When these extensions to the first names finally became family names transmitted from one generation to the next, they were not, for a long time, patronymic. In about half the cases, the children’s names came from the mother, as the rules of family succession in Luxembourg were based on primogeniture – the right of the oldest child inheriting the parental home without any distinction between males and females.
Luxembourg researchers are confronted with the phenomenon of “house names” shared by all people living under one roof, regardless of their initial name received at birth. At the time of the marriage, the spouse always acquired, whatever his sex, the name of the house into which he entered. Thus, each couple had only one and the same surname which was transmitted to all their children.
In the course of the eighteenth century when Luxembourg was under Austrian rule, the civil authorities imposed a contrary law, that each individual should keep his birth name – it could no longer be changed during the course of his life, notably at the time of marriage. Each legitimate child inherited his father’s surname.
During the long transition, the coexistence of the two rules and practices, totally opposite, constituted a complication which was the source of errors. The children of one and the same couple sometimes obtained different surnames. The second spouse of a widow or widower may have been known by the surname his spouse had previously taken from his first conjugal partner.
Priests were aware of the problem of the double and triple surnames of their parishioners. Some were careful to note more than one name. The different surnames of one and the same person were juxtaposed and linked together by Latin words: alias (otherwise called), vulgo (commonly called), modo (otherwise), sive and aut (or), dicta (said). Sometimes the correct connection with previous generations can be determined by useful references such as ex domo … (from the house) or in domo … (in the house). House names were also mentioned in the parish records using the term in aedibus (Latin for in house) followed by the name.
Our genealogical research may suffer from the rivalry of these two incompatible rules but in the following case, I profited from them.
Researching the MERTES-DONNEN Family
It took me longer than usual to research the MERTES-DONNEN family before I wrote about them in my last post. I couldn’t seem to get to the point I wanted to be before beginning to write. I wanted to know as much as possible about both Nicolas MERTES’ family and Maria Catharina DONNEN’s family so their timelines would be as complete as possible.
This led me down a rabbit hole as I also looked into their grandparents. When I finally thought I had the timeline ready, I began writing using information from the documents for each of the events.
As I was composing the post I went off on a tangent taking a new look at the death record of Margaretha BIVER, the mother of Nicolas MERTES. I ended up cutting out a large portion of what I wrote about the death record and my findings as I realized I had gotten sidetracked from the subject of the piece.
However, I saw an opportunity to use the information I had found to help other Luxembourg researchers.
The MERTES Family’s House Name
Marguerite BIVER died on 20 December 1820 at nine in the evening in house number 69 in the Opperter road in Bertrange. The informant for the death was her son-in-law Jean KETTENMEYER. The record (below, top entry) did not indicate the address was also that of the informant.
The next entry in the register (above, bottom entry) was for a baby with the surname CHRISTOPHORY who died in house number 73 of the same street.
The importance of the deaths taking place in the same street, likely only two houses away from each other, can be seen in the pedigree of Franz MERTES, the son of the MERTES-DONNEN couple and grandson of Marguerite BIVER.
I haven’t followed through to see how the baby’s family was related to Barbe CHRISTOPHORY, Maria Catharina’s mother. But it had me wondering if the DONNEN-CHRISTOPHORY and the MERTES-BIVER couples had been neighbors when their daughter and son married. I tried to locate the address in present-day Bertrange but the list of street names on the Luxembourg post office’s site did not turn up any matches.
My next step was to check if perhaps the KETTENMEYER family’s street name may have been mentioned on the census or in a vital record. Jean KETTENMEYER died before the first available census. The two listings I found for his widow Anne MERTES did not include the street name.
Jean’s death record revealed an interesting fact. He died in la maison dite Karpen, an Oppert or a house named Karpen in Oppert.
This was an amazing discovery. When I read maison diteKarpen on the record I knew right away the KETTENMEYER family was living in the home of the MERTES family.
The significance of “la maison dite Karpen”
Peter, the father of Nicolas MERTES and Jean KETTENMEYER’s wife Anne MERTES, was the son of Mathias MERTES and Maria HOLTZEMER of Steinsel. At this time I do not have a baptismal record for Peter. His death record indicates he was born about 1733. I suspect his age was over-estimated at the time of death.
The parents of the groom were married in 1726 at which time their names were given as Mathias MERTENS and Maria HOLTZEMER. The family name had evolved from MERTENS to MERTES by the time Peter married.
Mathias and Maria had six children born in Müllendorf and baptized in Steinsel from 1729 to 1741. The baptismal records have been found. The priest gave the following names for the parents on the children’s records:
Theodore b. 1729: Mathias MARTINI and Maria HOLTZEMER
Magdalena b. 1731: Mathias MARTINI and Maria CARPEN dicta HOLTZEMER
Johann b. 1733: Mathias MARTINI alias CARPEN and Maria HOLTZEMER
Mathias b. 1736: Mathias MARTINI alias CARPEN and Maria HOLTZEMER
Anna Maria b. 1737: Mathias MERTENS alias CARPEN and Maria HOLTZEMER
Johann Peter b. 1741: Mathias MERTENS alias CARPEN and Maria HOLTZEMER
As mentioned in the explanation of surnames in Luxembourg, the priest gave a Latin twist to the surname and added an alias to Mathias’ surname as well as dicta (said) to Maria’s.
Although I know that Peter MERTES was the son of Mathias MERTES (MERTENS) and Maria HOLZTEMER as these were the names given at the time of his marriage, I still do not know for sure when he was born and baptized. I believe he may have been the youngest son, Johann Peter born in 1741. Further research will have to be done to prove or disprove this assumption.
The alias CARPEN was found to go back further through Maria HOLTZEMER’s line. She was born in 1704 when her parents were listed as Nicolas HOLZEM and Angela PEIFFERS. When Maria’s her sister Angela was born in 1707 the parents’ names were given as Nicolas HOLZEM dicti KARP and his wife Angela.
Digging a bit deeper I learned Angela’s family did not use a surname until their fourth child was born. It would have been very unlikely that I would figure this out on my own. Claude Bettendroffer, vice-president of Luxracines, made the connection and shared it in his database on our society’s website. When the first two children were born the parents were seen Godefridus (also seen as Godfroid and Godart), a sutor or cobbler, and Dorothée. When Angela was born her father was seen with the same occupation, only written in German, Schuhmacher. The father’s occupation was used to distinguish him from other men with the same first name in Steinsel. By the time their fourth child was born the family was using the surname or house name PEIFFERS. The oldest child, a daughter, inherited the home and passed the name on to the children of both of her marriages as her husbands took on her house name PEIFFERS.
It was astonishing to have followed a family line back using surnames, to using a house name, to only being identified by the father’s occupation during a documented period from 1666 back to 1659.
The house name KARPEN was not used by the PEIFFERS family as far as I can tell at this time. It was used by the HOLTZEM family in Müllendorf as early as 1707, by the MERTENS-HOLTZEMER family in 1731-1741 in Müllendorf, and finally by the MERTES family in Bertrange as late as 1837 when the son-in-law died. It appears the house name followed the son when he married and made his home in Bertrange.
Karpen house in Oppert. Where was Oppert?
When I searched for Oppert as seen in the 1837 death record instead of Opperter as seen in the 1820 death record, I found it is now a street in Bertrange called rue des Champs. I know this street. We’ve ridden our bikes on this road which runs from the center of town out of Bertrange into the fields to the west of town where bike paths link it to Mamer in the northwest and Dippach in the southwest.
Zooming in on Google maps street view I found the street sign, a bit above and to the left of the shutter on the left side of the house, for rue des Champs includes the Luxembourgish name Oppert.
What’s the secret?
I don’t believe there is a secret to the maison dite or house names in Luxembourg records. As long as we know how surnames evolved and how house names were used to identify people, we can use the rules to benefit our research.
Even today the older generations can be heard referring to a person by their house name instead of their surname in Luxembourg. But it is a custom which is quickly disappearing.
Family traditions in Luxembourg are many a times tied to the predominant religion of the country, Roman Catholicism. Food is often a part of the traditions as seen in another family tradition I wrote about: Berliner and Verwurelter.
Lent is a period of about six weeks of fasting, self-denial and prayer in preparation for the feast of Easter. It comprises forty days, not including Sundays, from Ash Wednesday to the end of Holy Saturday.
On the fourth Sunday of Lent, the halfway mark, the people of Luxembourg celebrate Bretzelsonndeg or Pretzel Sunday. Men give their girlfriends a Bretzel or cake in the form of a pretzel. The size depends on how much he likes her or maybe can afford to like her. In return the young lady will give her young man a decorated egg on Easter Sunday.
The tradition isn’t only for singles, married people also follow the tradition. In leap years, the tradition is reversed and the young ladies offer a Bretzel to their beloved. This morning at the bakery, it being a leap year, the women were in the majority buying Bretzels for their chosen one.