It’s time for Perry County residents to dig out all those old family relics for a chance to participate in a new history project.
The Missouri Humanities Council has partnered with Perry County Heritage Tourism and the Perry County Historical Society to bring the second installment of its German artifact digitization program to Perry County.
“We are so excited to have this special opportunity for people with stories and artifacts linked to their German heritage to be able to have them professionally documented and preserved,” said Perry County Heritage Tourism director Trish Erzfeld. “It’s the perfect way to honor and preserve the history of local families’ immigration from Germany, their trials of settling in Missouri, and their contributions in creating the communities we live in. Missouri needs to celebrate these German pioneers because they are an important part of who we are today.”
In late 2017, Missouri Humanities was the recipient of a Common Heritage Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund the creation of a German artifact digitization program. The inaugural event for this program, called “Digitizing Missouri’s German Heritage,” took place in Hermann in June of 2018.
“I think that we have such a great relationship with our Missouri Humanities Council because they are now realizing how significant the German immigration was to Perry County,” Erzfeld said, “and, in a sense, to the state of Missouri because so many of them started here, and then they reached out to other areas of Missouri.”
The event is scheduled to take place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Perryville Higher Education Center located at 108 Progress Drive.
Erzfeld said participants are welcome to bring any number of documents, photographs, or physical objects to be scanned into the computer or photographed and documented.
“It can be anything that someone deems to be important to German heritage,” Erzfeld said. “It can be a pocket watch that great-great-grandpa brought over. Or maybe it’s great grandma’s silverware. It could be a family Bible that was brought over or a trunk. I have even seen like when our ancestors were immigrating, when they were traveling across Germany to get to the ports, they would have a piece of paper that was in a sense their passport.
“But it can be any of those things that we’ve put back that are family heirlooms that have a deep German significance. I mean, it could be a recipe that your great-great grandmother used to prepare, that was something that they brought over.”
The first German settlers immigrated to Perry County in the early 1800s, settling in the east end of Perry County.
Those early German immigrants established seven small settlements which they named after the communities that they had left behind in Germany — Altenburg, Dresden, Frohna, Johannisberg, Paitzdorf, Seelitz, and Wittenberg.
Wittenberg, located near the Mississippi River, survived until 1993, when the town was destroyed by a devastating flood. Today, only Altenburg, site of the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum, and nearby Frohna, home to the Saxon Lutheran Memorial, are still active communities.
Erzfeld said project organizers are casting a wide net to find and document as many artifacts and as much history as possible.
“We’re trying to gather artifacts from all over,” Erzfeld said. “Obviously a lot of our German immigration artifacts have homes at the Altenburg museum and also the Saxon Lutheran Memorial has a fantastic museum as well, but we’re reaching out to individuals right now, the people who have things in their closets, in their attics, in their basements, to see the really cool things that they have. Down the road, they will be tapping into more of our other museum-type artifacts that have been preserved for our community.”
The process is simple, Erzfeld said.
“They can take a photograph of an artifact,” Erzfeld said. “If it’s flat or paper, we can scan it and make an image of it that way or it may even be a voice recording of a person telling a story about what they know about the artifact.”
Erzfeld said the ultimate goal of the project is to preserve the history of those early immigrants.
“There are three objectives to this program,” Erzfeld said. “One is to increase the understanding of the effects of German immigration to our region, to the culture of our region. The second is to allow the public to share those stories with other people and then obviously to preserve our culture for future generations.”
Those who wish to participate are encouraged to register online in advance by visiting www.mohumanities.org/digitization-registration, and enter their names, object information, and pick a preferred time slot.
Erzfeld encouraged anyone who has questions or needs assistance, either with registration or transportation, to call her at 573-517-2069.
“It really is a big deal,” Erzfeld said. “It’s very significant for the state of Missouri. There are so many people that can trace their ancestry back to Perry County, the first immigrants that came over from their families. So it is a big deal in a sense that this is where a lot of people got their start.”