Remembering Our Ancestors: Cousin Katharina

On Monday, 19 August 2019, Cousin Katharina passed away at the good old age of 89.  With her, we have lost a family historian to whom we owe much.


Cousin Katharina, her full name being Maria Katharina Johanna Kappius, later Schmidt, was born on 20 January 1930, in Haaren, Germany.  Her grandfather and my great-grandfather were brothers, which makes her my 2nd cousin 1x removed.  She was the eldest of four children, three girls and one boy.  The family lived in a farm house and thus weathered WWII relatively unharmed, albeit being located only about 5 miles north-east of the SS School in Castle Wewelsburg, and the KZ that was located there also.

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This excerpt mentions the beginning of the anecdote about how Katharina’s father, Reelen’s Anton, went snooping around the KZ Wewelsburg and got caught doing so, but was released the next morning unharmed.  He had bought a wood lot in the vicinity which provided him with a credible reason for being in the area.

On 24 Oct 1955, Katharina married Rudolf Schmidt in Lennestadt-Altenhundem, in the German Sauerland, and there she lived until the end of her days.  Her husband died in 1982 already, 37 years earlier than she did.  They had five children together, three boys and two girls, and by the time she died, Katharina was a grandmother many times over.  For many years she had an apartment upstairs in her oldest son’s house.

Although where she spent most of her life is not at all far from where I lived until the early 2000s, Katharina and I did not meet until I had already moved to the United States.  Thus, all the personal contact we have had was either via good old-fashioned letters, or, periodically, via video-chat, something very newfangled that dear Katharina could appreciate because, like she said, you can have someone over for a Kaffeeklatsch (that is, coffee, cake and a chin-wag) without even having to provide either the coffee or the cake!  But I owe her a lot, and she has grown very dear to me in the five years that I knew her.

You see, Katharina was the family historian of the Kappius-clan, so to speak.  Just about everything that I know about my father‘s side of the family, apart from very few anecdotes and one photo that isn’t even clearly labeled, I know from Katharina.  She provided me with memorabilia as well as a goodly amount of historical facts and family ‘stories’, so much so that I was able to develop a whole new relationship to my paternal relatives and ancestors.  From her, I received the first picture of my paternal grandfather that I had ever seen, and the first picture of his brother whose letters to my father we have, but we didn’t have a photo.  Through her, I learned why our family name used to be Cappius Reelen, and where the clan had lived for many generations as farmers.  From her I learned what kind of a person my paternal grandfather was, and how much he was appreciated by his family back in Haaren.

So I asked her to write down her memories.  A big request, no doubt, but she began writing it all down even before I had asked.  All pictures in this post show passages from her notebook that she sent to us.  It is one of my most treasured genealogical, and personal, assets.

Katharina Schmidt passed away on 19 August 2019, and has been laid to rest in her home town yesterday in the afternoon.

Thank you, Katharina.  Thank you for being who you were, for all your efforts, for your laughter, and for your thoughtfulness.  We miss you, but Rest in Peace now.

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This is how Katharina’s account ends, with a last reference to my grandfather Joseph Kappius Sr. and how his good business relations helped her family in times of financial crisis.

The featured image relates how WWII ended in Haaren with American tanks rolling into town during mass on Good Friday in 1945.

The song below was played at Katharina’s funeral, in particular for it being in Plattdeutsch (Low German).

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