A Long-Ago Life

Sometimes, in digging into my family tree at Ancestry.com, I find something so mind-boggling that I can’t imagine anyone living the life I am researching.

Over the weekend, I was looking into the life of one Magdalena (possibly Magnolda) Wachtler (1818-1885), who was born in an independent Hungary and died a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was born in a village called St. Johann, a German-speaking village. Adjacent to St. Johann was the German-speaking village of St. Peter.

The villages were located in far northwest Hungary, about sixty miles from Vienna, Austria, in an area that was ethnically German until after World War II, when they were renamed as Szentjános and Szentpéter (later combined into one city named Jánossomorja) and were populated, one assumes, with ethnic Hungarians.

The history of the area fascinates me, as does the history of any of the areas of Germanic and Nordic Europe where my ancestors lived. But as I noted above, I was looking specifically into the life of Magdalena Wachtler, who was the sister of my great-great-grandfather, Paul Wachtler, and thus my great-great-great-aunt. The bare bones of Magdalena’s story sadden me.

In November of 1838, when she was twenty, Magdalena married Martinus Natz from the nearby city of Lébény, where she lived the rest of her life. Over the years, they had twelve childen:

Katherina No. 1, 1839-1850
Anna, 1842-1921
Stefan, 1844-1920
Janos, 1846-1847
Mathias, 1847-1854
Theresa, 1849-1854
Katherina No. 2. 1850-1852
Josephus, 1851-?
Marton, 1854-1854
Martinus (twin), 1855-?
Elizabeth (twin), 1855-1855
Johann, 1858-1905

I can find no death dates (so far) for Josephus or Martinus, although I know that Martinus survived into adulthood, as I’ve found records for his marriage and the names of his children. I’ve found no such records for Josephus, and I almost have to assume that he died in childhood.

So Magdalena and Martinus had twelve children, and likely only four who lived to adulthood. I know that childhood was full of many more perils in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, perhaps especially in rural Central Europe, but still . . .

And what happened in 1854? Was there an accident of some sort that took three of the children? A fire? An epidemic? I dug a little more, and the death dates for the three children who died that year are different, so I lean toward the latter (and that might also account for Elizabeth’s death in 1855). I’ve found a list of epidemics in Eastern Europe online, and there was a major cholera outbreak in portions of what is now Poland in 1854. It’s not unreasonable to think that the outbreak extended into Central Europe, including Hungary. That calls for more research.

Anyway, maybe all of that was seen as normal, but looking back from more than 150 years later, Magdalena Wachtler Natz’s life seems to have been one of nearly unmitigated sorrow. I hope I’m wrong.

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