After leaving Beaune, we were Poland bound. Needing to arrive by the 15th of February, we had to make haste (having dilly dallied in wine country for longer than anticipated). However, I required one more stop to fulfill a deeply rooted curiosity – Strasbourg, France. And it just so happened this stop also took us through France’s Alsace wine region, albeit briefly.
Stasbourg is the seat of the European Parliament, the largest city in the Alsace region, and a blend of French and German influence. The city is known for its cathedral, the Notre-Dame, its historic city center, the Grand Île, and the University of Strasbourg, but also for a long history of Catholic and Protestant coexistance. This last point is of the greatest signficance to our story and at the root of my curiosity.
But first, the wine region. Unfortunately we were off-season, and many of the wineries were closed. We did, however, manage to find a quaint village for lunch where we could sample a few local wines, as well as one winery which remained open. Driving into the small towns, the Germanic influence was apparent. This looked nothing like Bordeaux or Beaune. The architcutre was mostly tudor in style and very colorful. Between towns we’d pass through vineyards with the next village’s steeple visible on the horizon. It was as though the pages of our favorite childhood stories were coming to life around us.
Although we only had a few hours, we stopped and walked through a few villages and wound our way through their empty streets. In the quiet, dodging rain drops, I at once sensed a connection not yet experienced on our adventures.
Perhaps it was the fairy tale images, but you could almost imagine life long ago – which is exactly what we came here to do. (As well as taste a few wines of course – Slyvaner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and rosé – all of which were crisp, fragrant and light.)
You see, I have in my possession an extensive (physcially massive) family tree. This tree traces back through my maternal grandfather’s family line for generations. In fact it takes us all the way back to France in 1646 and eventually to….you guessed it Strasbourg!
The story began with Daniel Ferree and his wife Marie Warenbuer. Daniel’s family were silk weavers and merchants belonging to one of the oldest noble families in lower Normandy. When Daniel and Marie were married around 1675, their business was located in Bavaria, which was then part of France. They had six children and were well-respected in the community, which I say not out of pomp, but due to the fact that this played a role in their destiny. You see, they were also Protestant – Huguenots to be precise in a very Catholic France.
To make a long story short, the Huguenots were ordered to be exterminated in 1536, then allowed some religious freedoms by King Henry the IV through the Edict of Nantes in 1598, and were again persecuted when King Louis XIV enacted the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Like so many other families of various religions throughout history, my ancestors, the Ferree family, were marked for persecution. The Ferree’s were targeted in particular owing to both their prominence in the community as well as their relentless commitment to their faith. Fearing their lives, they escaped to Strasbourg, which had recently been annexed by France, but was not required to uphold the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes due to its status as a foreign province. And so, they remained for several years, exiled in Strasbourg.
The family eventually left Strasbourg for the Palatinate region where Daniel died in 1707. Marie the family stalwart and an outspoken woman, took charge of her six growing children a few of which had since married and sought safety and provision despite her lack of means and exile. She initially moved the family to Holland where they were given passes to England. Queen Anne of England had issued an invitation for Protestants of the Palatinate under which they would receive passage to the New World in order to begin the colonization of America.
Marie went about finding a way to provide security for her family in the New World. Eventually, the stories say, she met with William Penn who sympathized with her plight and arranged for her to meet the Queen. It’s said that Queen Anne, also an independent, strong woman, admired Marie’s will and granted her land and passage to America. I don’t know that this detail is accurate, but she did receive rights to land, free passage and provisions from the Queen to settle in Pennsylvania.
Marie and her family set sail for America and arrived in New York, where they remained until the survey for their land was completed. Then, in 1712, the family moved to the Pequea Valley (Lancaster County), Pennsylvania where they settled a colony and remained for many years. Marie passed in 1716 and remains burried in the Ferree Graveyard (now known as Carpenter’s Graveyard). Marie and her family were among the first 5000 of 150,000 Huguenots to immigrate to America and countless family lines have since sprung from her roots – including ours.
While this is only one piece of our family history, it is the only one from which I have enough pieces to trace back to its European origins. And frankly, contemplating the complexity of family trees is enough to make my head explode. So for now, we’re content to ponder its fascinating origins as we sail along the river through Strasbourg. Besides, I rather enjoy passing along the story of a determined and brave matriarch to our dear Miss A (and Mr. N for that matter!).
Both of the kids were fascinated and full of questions. Mr. N was curious about class-systems and our former “nobility,” religious persecution and the Huguenots, while Miss A pondered the more mundane details: “Mommy!” she exclaimed excitedly as we cruised along through the city listening to our audio guides and passing through the “washing machine” portion of the river where the townsfolk used to wash clothes, “We’re floating in the germs of our ancestors! This is where they washed their clothes! We’re in their germs!”
While we only had one full day in this stunning city, it touched each one of us on a deeper level than we had anticipated. While connecting us, however remotely, to our history, it also brought us closer as a family. We walked hand-in-hand for hours and hours, knowing that we only had but moments to absorb the history, architecture, food and splendor of this Franco-Germanic city.
While Strasbourg certainly isn’t Paris, I can say having been to both, walking under our umbrellas in the rain along the river with shops and restaurants aglow – it has its own romanticism. (The rose from a street vendor and French Valentine card from Mike certainly added to the mystique.)
It’s fun, exciting and important to visit the tourist sites and big cities, but for us, the real adventure lies in the places not on the usual tourist path, the streets not written up in guide books, and the people you meet in the process – this is where we find the real culture, and sometimes even pages of our own storybooks.