“We were eleven weeks on the ocean [leaving Bremen in the Province of Hanover, Germany on the Bark ship Fortuna for Texas] and when we were right near Galveston, the ship ran on a sand bar. We stayed there all night and part of next day before we were taken off. The ship had broken in the middle and was about to go all to pieces. By that time all our belongings were wet from salt water. At that time I was less than two years old but I have often heard my father say there was a family on board that kept praying and all the other people tried to get to them because they were all afraid except those who were praying.
On the ship with us was my father’s mother and my mother’s father. My father’s brother John Koym and his family, Ferd Koym who was single, and my mother’s brother William Buls and his family, Andrew Buls, also single, as was Sophie Pletzech, who came along, too.
There was a family by the name of Poshen, and a single man by the name of Carl Rando.
I remember all of them very well. We stayed in Galveston several days and dried the belongings the best we could and then we moved to Brenham by train and from Brenham, on an ox-wagon driven by a negro driver we went about two miles out in the country, to an acquaintance of my father, where they were farming. Then we went on to Weimar. We lived there about 16 years and after I married Lena Reinhardt. I and a good many of my people moved to East Bernard, where we have lived all these years…”
German immigration to Texas in the nineteenth century after the Civil War was partly driven by advertising in their newspapers for farm laborers to replace the African American men, women and children who once were slaves but now were free to leave the cotton, corn and tobacco fields of their masters to seek paid wages elsewhere. Many slaves left the farms without a backward glance which meant white landowners needed help with their cash crops, help to do the manual farm labor they couldn’t or wouldn’t do.
Enter the Germans who faced political revolutions of their own, declining opportunities for farming in their homeland, varying degrees of religious persecution – murmurings among friends to brave the ocean voyage for a new life in America grew louder. The Koym and Buls families in the Province of Hanover in Germany shared not only a passion for economic improvement but also a two year old grandson named Hermann (who many years later wrote the above newspaper article about the shipwreck for the Galveston Daily News). A German friend who was already established on a farm two miles outside of Brenham in Washington County had sent word to Wilhelm Koym that Texas was the promised land. Friedrich (William) Buls was 62 years old, a widower with four adult children who were planning to risk their lives for fortunes and adventure across the high seas.
The Bark ship Fortuna was a cheaper form of sailing vessel for the immigrants which indicated this group’s unremarkable socioeconomic status. Tens of thousands of poor working class Germans crossed the Atlantic in similar difficult conditions, but this small band of wayfarers was significant to me.
Hermann’s maternal grandfather, Friedrich (William) Buls, was my 3rd great-grandfather, the widower who made this voyage at the age of 62 with his four grown children. His eldest son 32 year old Joachim Andreas Christian Buls (Andrew), the “also single” son in the newspaper clipping, found a wife in Texas and married Sophie Bartels Schawe in Salem, Washington County one year after the Galveston shipwreck. Sophie was a widow with three children when they married; she became the mother of another four children with Andrew Buls.
The third child born to Andrew and Sophie on August 02, 1873 was a daughter, Bertha Emeline Selma Buls. Selma grew up on the family’s Washington County farm, spoke German in the home, had no formal schooling. When she was seventeen years old, she married another German Charles C. Schlinke who had been born in Brenham in Washington County.
Selma Buls Schlinke was the woman I called Grandma Schlinke when she visited us in Richards, Grimes County, Texas throughout the 1940s and 1950s until her death in 1956. Grandma and Grandpa Schlinke had 12 biological children – one died as an infant – my grandmother Beatrice Louise Schlinke was their fifth child born October 20, 1898 in Rosenberg, Texas. A circuitous journey brought my grandmother Louise (with her husband James Marion Boring, Sr.) to live in the little town of Richards that was a hundred miles west of Weimar where her mother Selma was born and raised.
Several additional twists of fate brought my daddy, mama (named Selma Louise) and me to live with Louise Schlinke Boring when I was two years old in 1948. My grandmother Louise who I called Dude as a toddler (because I dropped the second syllable of “Dudese” which I’ve never understood until our granddaughter began skipping unimportant second syllables in her initial communication of language) had a small house in Richards but the hospitality was warm just like she was so we had regular visitors every year. Grandma and Grandpa Schlinke visited us in the summer for a week or longer – they loved to get away from the big city of Houston where they lived with a son Otto and his wife Patrina on Posey Street, a lower middle class neighborhood of blue collar workers and small entrepreneurs. My Uncle Otto owned a grocery store located behind his house.
Faded photographs I found this week plus a folder marked simply “Buls Family Genealogy” captured my interest about my mother’s maternal ancestors. I have several tiny pictures that I believe were taken of Buls relatives in the 1920s or 1930s on a farm which could be in Washington County. I don’t know the names of these German Texans because none of them were identified by my grandmother, but she carefully saved these 3×2 inch images of a particular time and place so I understand their importance to her; whether they are my family or yours, I found them compelling.
Harvesting crops was a family affair
Truly “horse and buggy” days in Brenham, Texas
Typical farmer with his plow
High Corn (not High Cotton)
Texas farmer and his hardest workers
Texas woman riding a horse – in my DNA
Finally, I’ll close with one of my favorite pictures…taken before 1953.
I am standing between my mother Selma –
and my grandmother Dude.
Grandpa and Grandma Schlinke are seated.
I am the child of shipwrecked dreamers who refused to give up when their ship went down in the salty sea on the Texas coast, who then traveled by train, and then by a cart pulled by oxen to arrive in a beautiful country where no one spoke their language. I honor their memories as I celebrate the dreams of all who still dare to dream today that America is a land of hope.
Stay safe, stay sane, please get vaccinated and please stay tuned.