By Allan Christensen
A person’s lineage is often easily broken into little fractional pieces. Each person made up of two family trees intertwining. Halves break into quarters and then eighths and further on into fractions much harder to say. As they get smaller, time obscures the pieces.
Xaver Aleck was the smallest fraction I could find. He left Riegel, Germany, in 1852 and landed in Philadelphia. He eventually moved his way west. That is all anyone really knows about Xaver. He would have been leaving Germany at a point of great turmoil. The year 1848 had been marked by several rebellions and uprisings bringing about the advent of the German country.
It’s far from a unique story. A man leaving a war-torn land for the promise of America. Xaver Aleck found a community. He found a country. I know that because of the history that takes place after Xaver.
If you broke me up into fractions you could say I’m half Christensen and half Rohlfs. Or you could say I’m a quarter Christensen, Weidner, Rohlfs and Richards. A walking, talking Midwestern stereotype. One-quarter Danish, one-quarter English and one-half German, my ancestors settled on various farms from western Iowa to northeastern Nebraska.
Most of these names are shrouded in mystery to me. I’m the last male Rohlfs from that line left in the world. I carry my mother’s maiden name along with my father’s last name, and hopefully one day I will give it to my child to pass on. The Rohlfs family has been in the United States the longest of the four main branches my tree. They were farmers near Persia, Iowa. It was the eventual birthplace of my grandfather, Merne.
Before my great-grandmother married a man named Fred Rohlfs, she was Lucille Aleck. Her father was Charles Henry Aleck. Charles Henry was the first of my ancestors born in America. Up until September 17, 1873, the roots of my family tree were wholly in European soil. At that point I was five generations away, but the branches started coming together that would eventually end up as me.
Charles was one of the lucky ones. He was one of 12 children of Xaver and Christiane Aleck. He fared much better than his siblings, Crezentia and Ida Emma, who lived for less than a year. Charles died in 1953. Unlike his parents, he did not move from the place of his birth his entire life. He lived and died in western Iowa. His daughter Lucille did as well.
Xaver Aleck left all he knew and traveled across an ocean with only his wife and found a new life. Five generations later, I could travel back to the Aleck farm in Persia, Iowa by car in under two hours. It’s a 13-plus hour plane ride to Riegel am Kaiserstuhl, Germany. I have a tough time imagining grabbing my wife and two plane tickets to my ancestor’s hometown for even a visit.
But the will to pioneer is in there somewhere, deep down in my DNA. After all, I am one-thirty-second Xaver Aleck.