Cousins embark on heritage tour

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Cousins embark on heritage tour

By Brian Smith
Contributing Writer


            Knowing where you came from is an important part of deciding where you might want to go. The Heying and Reicks families have decided that knowing about and understanding their family history is important to them; thus, they were motivated to travel to the land of their ancestors to gain more insight.

            And so it was that in late July 2013, a group of 10 cousins from the Heying and Reicks clans embarked on a trip to Germany. This was actually the second trip of American relatives to journey to their forefathers’ homeland, as their parents had taken a similar trip in 1992.

            “That group consisted of 11 Reicks family members from the Lawler area. After they visited Germany in 1992, a group of our German relatives returned the favor by coming to visit Iowa in 1994,” explained Elaine Reicks, who made this year’s trip.

            At a recent Reicks reunion the idea of taking another trip was brought up, and Marla Reicks of Ham Lake, Minn., took the initiative to begin planning. Marla made connections with the Heying and Reicks side of the family in Germany, while Ruth (Reicks) Keizer helped with making arrangements for vehicles upon their arrival. On July 22, the group departed on the 2013 Reicks/Heying German Heritage Tour.

            Two patriarchs, one each from the Reicks and Heying side of the family, came to America in the mid-19th century. Theodore Reicks, born in 1813 in Darup, Germany, came to the United States in approximately 1850. He eventually settled in the St. Lucas area and was the great-great-grandfather of those in the Reicks/Heying clan who traveled to Germany this summer. John Heying (with a German spelling of Heijnk) was born in 1859 in the area of Alstatte/Ahaus, in northwest Germany near the Netherlands border. He came to America in approximately 1876 and settled in rural Festina. He was a great-grandfather of the Reicks/Heying family that made the trip to Germany.

            The group flew into Amsterdam and spent two days with each side of the family. Cornelia (Heijnk) Gellissen organized the activities with the Heijnk family in the Alstatte/Ahaus region. They were able to visit the homestead where John Heying was born and walk through the cemetery in Ahaus where many of the Heying ancestors are buried. They also toured the Vreden area where they visited the Baroque church of Zwillbrock.

            “While we were there, we all sang together ‘Grosser Gott, wir loben dich,’ which the American group recognized as ‘Holy God, We Praise They Name.’ It was quite a moving experience for us, to sing an old song like that together in a place that contained some of our heritage,” related Jane (Reicks) Scheidel, Elaine’s sister.

            Later, the German ‘Heijnk’ family treated their American Heying relatives to a get-together, in which they shared a meal together and exchanged stories and information about their families.

            They were also able to spend some time in Billerbeck, Germany, where many of the German Reicks members of the family lived. Billerbeck is just north of Darup, where Theodore Reicks had been born. Josef Reicks, who lives in the Billerbeck area, was instrumental in organizing activities for the group during their stay in Germany. He took the group to a small church in Darup, where many of their ancestors had been baptized, married, or buried as well.

            “One of the things you realize when you are here is how old the buildings and other structures are. Back in Iowa we see things that are more than 100 years old, but there the older buildings are hundreds of years old. They were built to last!” declared Reicks.

            The German Reicks family also provided the Americans with a party to attend, where they got to meet and converse with many family members they had never met before.

            “We were just overwhelmed with the hospitality and generosity that everyone showed to us while we were there. They opened their homes to us and were genuinely excited about meeting us and talking to us, even though they had never met us before,” laughed Scheidel.

            In addition to meeting family members and visiting places significant to their family’s heritage, the group was also able to travel to Berlin, Dresden, Cologne, and Munster. Along the way they visited museums, historical sights, a farmers’ market, and did some biking. They also got to go to a couple of German farms to learn something about agriculture in the area.

            “We were especially interested in that because some of those in our group were farmers, and agriculture is something we are all familiar with, being from Iowa,” Reicks noted.

            Perhaps one of the most excited members of the family was one who did not get to make the 2013 trip but was a part of the 1992 group that visited Germany. Norbert Reicks was very happy that members of his family were going to the place to which he had traveled 21 years ago. He sent along notes with greetings for several of the family members that Elaine and Jane were happy to pass along for their uncle.

            In all, it was a most memorable trip that offered both familial and cultural experiences that were unforgettable for the Heyings and the Reickses.

            “Seeing where your great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather came from and noticing how much their countryside looked like Iowa in many places was very interesting. It probably had much to do with why they chose to settle in Iowa,” Scheidel remarked.

            “Singing together in the church and realizing that our forefathers were actually here in this place was very meaningful to me. Also meeting some of the next generation of our family who live in another country was just wonderful!” exclaimed Reicks.

            Both Elaine and Jane encourage others to share in their experience by making their own ancestral connections. Discovering and understanding more of their heritage has been a great experience for them, and they believe it could be for you as well.

So, as they say in German, “Wo kommen Sie her?” Where are you from?


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