Roots Rodenhiser style: I'm celebrating 250 years of my family being Nova Scotian by David Rodenhiser
Squinting into a summer sunrise, Johann Philipp Frederick Rothenhauser took a deep breath of salt air, tightened his grip on his wife’s hand, then turned to her and smiled. She returned his smile, but Johann could tell by her eyes that she saw through his feigned confidence. He was actually riddled with anxiety about the journey ahead, and the uncertain future he was about to plunge his young family into.
Rotterdam was a strange place to Johann, 46, Elizabeth and their four children. They were from Klein Heubach, a German town on the bank of the River Main. Like the dozens of other German families milling about them on the dock, they had travelled many days to reach the great Dutch port. All had been lured there by John Dick, a Rotterdam merchant hired by the British to offer German Protestants free land in a North American colony called Nova Scotia.
Free land sounded too good to be true to Johann, but the New World was so far away. It meant leaving behind everything and everyone he knew. Tied up at the end of the wharf was the Murdoch, the sailing ship that would take them to Nova Scotia. To Johann, it seemed much too small to accommodate the 100 families who had signed up for the perilous voyage. But it was too late for second thoughts. With Anna, 10, Maria, 8, and Philipp, 6, in tow, and Elizabeth carrying two-year-old Hans, Johann strode up the gangplank and into his new life.
The date was June 22, 1751.
The names, places and dates are all correct. The emotions and thoughts, I’m guessing at. Johann Rothenhauser was my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. I’m shirking my regular duties as a political columnist to take my last opportunity to mark the 250th anniversary of my family arriving in Nova Scotia.
The Murdoch sailed into Halifax on Sept. 19, 1751, with 298 passengers aboard. Twenty-nine people died during the 58-day journey.
The Rothenhausers survived the trip, but Anna, Maria and Hans died within four years, presumably from disease. (Genealogical records don’t provide an answer.) Life was difficult for early settlers in Nova Scotia. But so, too, had it been in Germany: Johann and Elizabeth had lost five babies at childbirth or shortly thereafter before deciding to cross the Atlantic.
Philipp, who’d made the voyage from Rotterdam as a six-year-old, lived to the ripe old age of 84. He was my great-times-five grandfather.
I won’t bore you with a generation-by-generation account of my ancestry. But the Christmas season gets one thinking about family, and I must say that the best gift I received all year was from my brother, Andrew, who e-mailed me a genealogy database this summer that traced our family back to Johann’s grandfather, Hans Heinrich Rothenhauser, who was born around 1651 in Hoffstetten, Germany. Hans Heinrich was Hoffstetten’s mayor for some time, but later moved his family to Klein Heubach.
There’s no record of why Johann, a Lutheran by religion and a baker by trade, decided to immigrate to Nova Scotia. At the time, thousands of Germans fled to North America for economic, political and religious reasons.
In Nova Scotia, Johann received a land grant at First Peninsula, near Lunenburg. His surname took on several Anglicized versions, including Rhodenizer and Rodenhiser.
Johann’s great-grandson, John Leonard Rodenhiser, acquired land on Tancook Island, at the mouth of Mahone Bay, around 1840. My father, John Leonard’s great-great-grandson, was born there.
For those curious about their own ancestry, tremendous genealogical resources are available on the Internet, particularly through the Nova Scotia GenWeb Project, www.rootsweb.com/~canns/index.html.
I’m indebted to them.