Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When is a man a German American?

The above question-and-answer comes from the February 1889 issue of Das Evangelische Magazin, edited by C. A. Thomas and R. Matt and published in Cleveland, Ohio, by Lauer und Mattill. Such inquiries appear in the magazine’s “Mit unsern Lesern” section, and while the majority of them are of a religious nature, occasionally something more secular appears. Here a reader from Missouri asks if a man born in America to German parents is a German-American or something else. The editors proclaim that such a person would be as much an American as if his parents had come on the Mayflower with the Puritans. They offer the distinction that a German-American would be someone who was born in Germany, but either naturalized here or became a citizen through the citizenship of his father. The situation, they point out, would be the same for anyone from any other country; but if you are born in America you are simply an American, even if your father was an English lord or an Italian count.

An interesting emphasis on the democratization of America, though perhaps a bit disappointing for those of us today who wish to proudly identify our ethnic heritage, or perhaps even wish to bask in the glow of a presumed noble “von.”

A bit of research into the history of the magazine itself reveals it was published from 1869 through 1927 under several different editors and publishers (although the location of the publishers, despite name changes, was always given as 265-275 Woodland Avenue. This, we discovered was the home of the Publishing House of the Evangelical Association, which produced materials in both English and German). We were also able to discern that R. Matt was Robert Matt, but haven’t been able to yet learn much about him. We did find some information in the 1894 Congress of the Evangelical Association on C. A. Thomas: “Rev. C. A. Thomas, at the head of the publishing interests of the Evangelical Association, was born in Germany in 1840 and came to this country when a boy of fourteen. He entered the ministry in 1859, was elected Presiding Elder in the Spring of 1879, and in the Fall of the same year editor of Das Evanglische Magazin and German Sunday-School literature, Cleveland, Ohio, which office he still holds.” This image of C. A. Thomas was also provided:

We’d like to learn more about Thomas and Matt, and about the German-language activities of the Evangelical Association – if you have information you’d like to share, do contact us at the Max Kade Institute for German Studies in Madison, Wisconsin!