A Visit to Grosskarlbach, Gerolsheim, and Heuchelheim in Germany
by James Buell Mumma Jr.
I read in the Moomaw-Mumma-Mumaw-Mumaugh Genealogy, by Robert A. Moomaw (page xvii) that, according to "Latter Day Saints microfilm records of Protestant churches in the villages of Heuchelheim, Gerolsheim, and Grosskarlbach, Germany…From the Gerolsheim Lutheran Church marriage records, we find that on February 23, 1789, David Mumma, a widower from America, born at Grosskarlbach, married Gertraud Neumann, daughter of the schoolmaster of Gerolsheim. (We know this David Mumma to be the son of Leonard Mumma who arrived in America on 9-18-1732. Leonard and wife Juliana, and five children under 16 including the son David made this voyage.) Further, the marriage records of the Heuchelheim Reformed Church reveal that on June 1, 1728, Eva Sybella Muhma of Grosskarlbach married Heinrich Kaisner. This Eva Sybella could be … the younger sister of … Leonard." What is it like there? Are there any evidences of my ancestors there?
On Sunday, January 18, 1998, I had the privilege of visiting the communities mentioned above from which my forefather, Leonard Mumma, departed to come to America. A work associate and I left our hotel in Heidelberg at about 10:30 that morning. We made our way to Autobahn (highway) 6 and, in about twenty minutes, were crossing the Rhine River, heading West toward our nearby destination. Open, nearly flat farmland is straddling the Rhine. To our South, a huge manufacturing facility, BASF, is located primarily on its West bank. I had imagined steep banks blanketed with verdant grapevines, but this was not the scene. Rather, the area is one of gently rolling hills. The city of Worms is only a few miles to the North. We pass Heuchlheim on our right, then Gerolsheim and Grosskarlbach on our left but wait to get off the autobahn at the Grunstadt exit, some ten miles from the Rhine, to go back for a closer look on back roads.
Grosskarlbach is a large village with quaint, modest homes in the classic European style. Some are set back slightly from the road with small grounds but many homes toward the center of town rise as walls from the sidewalks of the narrow streets. Signs advertising apples and wine abound. A small ceramics factory faces the central church. My forefather Leonard, his wife Juliana, and their family walked these streets and likely prayed at this church before embarking on the perilous trip to distant America! It is 11:20 a.m. on a Sunday but neither of the churches shows any signs of life. We walk along the streets and follow a path behind the houses fronting on the South side of the main street. One is never far from cultivated land here. Shrubs and trees are a muted green despite the chilly Winter breeze. Some flowers are even blooming in a few garden beds. The climate here is gentler than in my native Boston!
We loop back to the village center to see if the Karlbacher Restaurant really does open at Noon, as advertised in the window. It is open and we are served a superb gourmet meal at one of the ten tables. The meal for two, complete with aperitif and wine, comes to 132 DEM (73.00 USD). The proprietor agrees to sell us a few bottles of local wine for 34 DEM (19.00 USD), as no stores will be open today, Sunday. We drive to a height of land a few blocks to the North and enjoy the sight of open farmland with grapevines aside and behind a number of houses.
We continue East along the back road and are soon in another village, Gerolsheim. The protestant church is one block North of the main road. Again, no signs of life in the church early on a Sunday afternoon. Are there records inside which speak of the Momma family? Or, have they been moved to a central repository? We will not find out today. Onward to the East and North, we pass under Autobahn 6. On the other side we enter Heuchelheim, a village similar to the others. We find the church and it is likewise quiet. Next door we study the gravestones—any familiar names: Momma, Muhma, Neumann, Kaisner? No, and it’s time to head back to our hotel.
Back in the hotel in Heidelberg I contemplate the day’s visit to the land of my forefathers. I have two rolls of film ready for processing, and a sense of what the European jumping-off point for my family is like some 266 years later. I think Leonard and Juliana and their children made a good move in coming to America, but it had to be pretty good in America to be better than the beautiful land from which they came. Of course, the Mommas were only in the area I visited for less than forty years. Why did they leave Stolberg in the North to come here? Was their freedom—economic and religious—more sure here than there? Did they gain the confidence by coming here to take the really big step, going to the New World? Maybe so. Are there more traces of my ancestors somewhere in the towns I just visited? Would more time than one Sunday afternoon uncover more interesting details? What is it like in Stolberg, or Aachen, or even in Dinant, Belgium, to go back even further? I’ll have to wait for another opportunity.
Oh, are there any Mommas or Mummas in the Heidelberg telephone book? Yes, one. Hans W. Momma lives in Edingen at Lerchenweg 1. Does he know anything about the family history? That question will also have to wait for another day.
James Buell Mumma Jr.
29 Shaw Street
West Roxbury, MA 02132-3522
[Copyright (C) 1998 by James Buell Mumma Jr. All rights reserved]