The Mystery of Christine Nuwer and Her Diary

See Also:
     Home Page for This Genealogy
     Genealogy Entry for the Nuwer Family
     "The History of the Nuwers" by Estella Minderler Nuwer

If you are a member of the Nuwer family, then the chances are that you have heard about the immigrant Christine Nuwer and her diary, in which Christine described her 1843 voyage to America with her brothers, John Nuwer and Francis Xavier Nuwer. You might hope to read the diary, because it probably tells a very interesting story.

I have spent quite a bit of time researching the immigration of the Nuwers, and I've also tried to locate the diary. I am sorry to say, I have some bad news: It is likely that the diary no longer exists, if it ever did. More bad news: There never was an immigrant named Christine Nuwer.

This bad news requires an explanation. It's a long story...

Estella Nuwer Minderler and "The History of the Nuwers"

At about the time that I began building this genealogy website, in the year 2000, I acquired a copy of "The History of the Nuwers," a 33-page family history written in 1974 by Estella Nuwer Minderler of East Aurora, New York. I am not a descendant of the Nuwers. However, our families have many close ties, including a common ancestor in the distant past and many intermarriages through the centuries. Therefore, Estella's work has been a very helpful resource to me as I do my own research.

When I first read Estella's history, these two paragraphs from the introduction immediately grabbed my attention:

In 1843, John, Francis Xavior, and Christine Nuwer, children of Anthony and Margaretha (Ludwig) Nuwer, left their parents and their Homeland to join the millions of others who made the decision to emigrate to America. More than 15 million French and Germans came to America between 1830 and 1860.

Christine Nuwer recorded the events of the voyage on the steamship as they crossed the Atlantic to America, in her diary. Descriptions of conditions on the steamships indicate that the emigrants' voyages were terrible experiences. The boats were crowded and the voyages lasted for weeks, and food was scarce. Reaching New York, they came on the same boat (or another) to Buffalo, New York.

This was very interesting for two reasons: First, my own great-grandfather, Joseph Voegele (1823-1890), made the voyage in the same year, 1843. Joseph Voegele and the Nuwers came from the same village, Soufflenheim in Alsace, and they settled in the same place in the U.S., Lancaster, New York. Perhaps Joseph and the Nuwers were traveling companions!

Even more intriguing was that Christine Nuwer wrote a diary! Maybe she mentioned my ancestor Joseph Voegele. And even if the Nuwers and Voegeles did not travel together (and I have subsequently determined that they did not), the Nuwers' voyage would have been similar enough to Joseph's that it would be fascinating to read about Christine's experiences in her own words.

The Search for the Diary

During the next two years, I made many attempts, mostly by e-mail, to track down Christine Nuwer's diary. I made contact with Dr. Donald Nuwer of Amherst, New York, and discovered that he had been making the same search for quite some time. Don has the advantage of living in New York, so he could visit many Nuwer descendants in person. But unfortunately, he has come up empty-handed. Apparently no one knows the present-day location of the diary.

Particularly distressing was this note that I received from Don's son Dave Nuwer:

You touched upon a subject that is of great great interest to me... I sure would like to see that diary of Christina's. I remember that Estelle said two things about it: 1) It was written in French. 2) The individual who had it last told Estelle that "they threw it away because it was useless since it was written in French."

Hopefully this anecdote is not true, and the diary still exists somewhere. It would be a rare and wonderful family treasure, regardless of the language. It seems to me that the diary was more likely written in German than in French. I suppose that any person foolish enough to discard it would probably not able to tell the difference.

Estella Nuwer Minderler passed away in 1994 and so, unfortunately, we can no longer ask her about the diary's last home.

The Search for the Nuwers

While doing genealogy research about my Voegele ancestors going back to the 1700's, I frequently came across information about the Nuwer family. This is not surprising, since the Nuwers and Voegeles lived in the same places in Alsace and Erie County. The Nuwer name is distinctive, and everyone with that name is closely related to that 1843 immigrant family.

I have recorded on this website all of the Nuwer data that I have obtained, even though, as I have said, I am only distantly related to these people. You will see many Nuwer listings on this site, for example on the page, "Marriages and Families - M-R." Perhaps collecting and publishing this information will help somehow in the search for Chritine Nuwer's diary.

Here are some of the findings from my research:

As I collected these records, I noticed something very odd: There is no mention in any of them of Christine Nuwer, the supposed author of the diary!

Christine Nuwer: Fact or Fiction?

The evidence indicates that Antoine and Marguerite Nuwer never had a daughter named Christine. The Soufflenheim birth records seem to be quite complete, and they make no mention of any Christine Nuwer. As I have noted above, there is no Christine traveling with either of the Nuwer brothers on their trans-Atlantic voyages. It would appear that Christine Nuwer never existed.

On the other hand, Estella Minderler's family history provides several pieces of information about Christine and her life, which would seem to indicate that she was a real person, with parents, a husband, and children. So I inspected Estella's work more closely, looking at each item about Christine Nuwer. I was sad to find that Estella's "facts" about Christine Nuwer all turn out to be erroneous, upon closer inspection:

So my conclusion is that there never was an immigrant from Alsace named Christine Nuwer.

Estella Nuwer Minderler put together an excellent family history, full of good research and rich in detail. But about this one person, she was mistaken. I suspect that Estella tried too hard to force the documented evidence to fit erroneous beliefs that she had about "Christine Nuwer."

I receive e-mails from time to time from Nuwer descendants who insist that I am the one who is mistaken, and that Christine Nuwer did exist. In my opinion, the burden of proof falls to them at this point, to produce some physical documentation about Christine, other than Estella's history. The records of Soufflenheim and Lancaster are easily accessible to everyone, and I am happy to give assistance to anyone who would like to see them and do their own investigation.

If There Was No Christine, Then What About the Diary?

Even though I believe there was never an immigrant named Christine Nuwer, I am inclined to believe that there was (and, with some luck, still may be) a diary. I even have a little theory about who wrote the diary, since Christine didn't, and how the myth of "Christine Nuwer" evolved as the story of the diary was passed down through the generations. This is entirely speculation on my part.

I think the diary was written by Catherine Kieffer, the wife of John Nuwer, and she was writing about her 1843 voyage on the Oneida. When later generations spoke about her traveling to America with "her two brothers," the two brothers were not John and Frank X. Nuwer. They were actually Lawrence and Alexander Kieffer, Catherine's brothers, who were with her on board the Oneida.

John and Catherine Nuwer had many children in the U.S. One of them was named Christine Nuwer. She was born in Lancaster in 1850 and married Bernard Pautler. I think that in later years, Catherine Kieffer Nuwer passed her diary to her daughter Christine Nuwer Pautler. As even more years passed, later generations of the family confused daughter Christine with mother Catherine. One hundred years later, when Estella (who was a descendant of Frank X. Nuwer, not of John and Catherine) took an interest in the diary, the family legend was that Christine Nuwer was the author.

We may never know for sure.


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