It is an unfortunate fact that I know precious little about my father‘s side of the family: Partly because my father was a generation older than my mother, partly because he had no ties with his living kin except for one half-sister, all that we had to go by were anecdotes, and very few photos, until the internet came along and research became a whole lot easier. The above is one of those photos, showing, so we thought, my father’s parents, but it is not so. The couple above shows my father’s grandparents instead, and here begins our conundrum because we do not know anybody who might be able to still recognize these two people and tell us for sure if these are his maternal grandparents (last name Lingemann) or his paternal grandparents (last name Kappius).
For the purpose of today’s post, though, I will assume that the gentleman shown above is Josef Lingemann, standing next to his wife, whose name we, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, do not know. When Josef Lingemann was born or where, we also cannot tell, but it must have been around 1850 because we know that in 1875, he was an adult and had a job. He and his wife were living in Haaren, Wesphalia at the time, a small but old (first mentioned in documents in the year 975) village which was part of Prussia between 1815 and 1918. There, Josef was the 1st teacher at the local school from 1875 to 1899. His daughter Antonia Lingemann, mother of Jupp Kappius, my Dad, was born there in 1882, and so were her two sisters of whom we, you guessed it, know very little.
In 1884, we find Josef and about 50 other men from Haaren founding an organization that had a rather interesting purpose. Farming was no easy task towards the end of the 19th century, and many farmers had to go into debt if their crops failed or their cattle got sick. Since there was no bank to go to, they borrowed money either from the church or from the resident Jews. As a security, the farmers had to put their land and farm houses on the line, and when they failed to pay back their debt, they lost their farms, like my family did during that time (that’s a different story for another blog post at some point in the future). Incidentally, a good many families from Haaren ended up in Nebraska during this period (as did my great-uncle, but that, too, is a different story for a different post).
The situation in Haaren was by no means unique. Twenty years earlier, a young man by the name of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen had observed the suffering of farmers in the Westerwald area who were often in the grip of loansharks, and conceived the idea of cooperative self-help. He founded the first cooperative lending bank, in effect the first rural credit union, in 1864. His ideas he published, thus giving other communities a guide on how to establish similar local organizations.
Just such an organization with the explicit purpose to help impoverished farmers and to prevent poverty they founded in Haaren that day in 1884, calling it the “Haarener Spar- und Darlehnskassenverein”, and its purpose was to encourage saving and prevent debt. Raiffeisen’s principle was followed all over the place and to this day you can find such banks in Germany, Austria, Switzerland as well as some Eastern European countries. It helped people keep their farms everywhere, and it surely kept families from Haaren in town, and it is remembered as a great achievement and improvement for the community.
But back to the immediate family history:
After 1899, Josef Lingemann left Haaren, most probably for Schmallenberg, another old community (first mentioned in documents in 1243) a little further south, in the Sauerland region. We know that two of his daughters lived there still after WWII, and we find it listed as his place of residence during WWI. This is also the last reference we found to Josef Lingemann in history: On a list published on 4 Dec 1915, he shows up as “missing” in a publication concerning soldiers in WWI, missing and taken captive according to foreign message (see the featured image). In other words, he was a POW, and at the time he must have been up there in age for a soldier, probably around 60 years old already, because he cannot have been much younger than 20 in 1875 when he became 1st teacher in Haaren. He belonged to the 5th company of Infantry Regiment 158, part of the VII Army Corps, which places him at the Western front during this particular time in history, but I have been unable to figure out where exactly he would have been when he was captured.
That’s the last we heard of him, so we do not know if he survived his captivity. All we have left is the above photo that shows a man you can very well imagine being 1st teacher at the school and co-founder of a credit union, as well as a soldier when he must have been older than the usual fighting age.