Having just returned from a two week genealogical research trip to Germany and Switzerland, I was amazed at the writing that appears on the old houses in the villages I visited. At first I did not understand what they meant. But then I visited the town of Steinweiler, Germany, where my five times great-grandfather Vitus Schwein lived. Some local historians took me to see the house that was owned by the Schwein family. The historians pointed out to me that the writing on the house not only identified Ulrich Schwein as the owner of the house when it was built in 1717, but the other symbol indicated that he was a blacksmith. As luck would have it while we were photographing the front of the house, the owner returned home from work. After my guides explained to him who I was and why I was in town, he invited us to come inside. What a thrill! To cross the same threshold that my ancestors had crossed centuries ago was an unexpected surprise, and one that still gives me goosebumps.
The current owners are renovating the house, so we were only able to see the courtyard area and the living area immediately inside the front door. The owner pointed out to us that the beams in the ceiling are original to the house, but the others had been replaced over the years. I was amazed that even the beams were still in place. Think of the craftsmanship that has enabled this house to endure all these years.
As I looked at these houses and the dates and symbols etched onto them, I couldn’t help but think about all the steps we need to take back in the United States to try and determine when our house or the house of an ancestor was built. How nice would it be if the history was just written on the house itself?