Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Can Sacred Spaces Reveal Clues to Wyandotte’s German Ethnic Heritage and Show Status?

Can Sacred Spaces Reveal Clues to Wyandotte’s German Ethnic Heritage and Show Status?

Jeri L. Pajor

Wyandotte, Michigan was a destination for many German immigrants during the 1800s as settlers from New York and the New England states moved westward.  Many new immigrants came seeking the American dream and found them in Michigan, working in the Wyandotte area iron factories and other businesses, such as ship building and the chemical industry.  The immigrants lived in nearby communities and neighborhoods, often arranged by their ethnicities, bringing with them their cultural traditions, foods, and instituting their own fraternal organizations. They often attended local area churches, schools, and frequented local businesses. They grew up, raised families, and then eventually died in these new communities.  Immigration to this area came in waves; the Germans first followed by the Polish, the Irish, and a wide range of other ethnic groups searching for more opportunities for themselves and their descendants.

The focus of this paper is to explore some of the local Wyandotte cemeteries, specifically the Oakwood and Mount Carmel; which are non-denominational and catholic, respectively for ethnic evidence.  Can grave markers, headstones, and tombstones reveal German ethnicity merely by the language and iconography that they employ?  What sorts of evidence can be found?  And is there any way to denote status and how would that evidence present itself?  I will employ photographic representations of many different grave makers, headstones, etc. to show evidence of German origins mostly through use of the German language in the names, dates, and epitaphs, but also occasionally artwork like the Edelweiss flower.  After immigrating to Wyandotte, many Germans Americanized their names, and I will show some samples of this.   I will support my research using academic journals articles, historic documentation, local cemetery records, photographic records of my own and several online sources, such as “Find a Grave,” as well as other resources like conversations between myself and cemetery personnel and local historical societies to uncover and support the idea of German ethnic heritage revealed in local sacred spaces in the City of Wyandotte.

Keywords:  German, Wyandotte, Michigan, cemeteries, grave markers, plots

April 15, 2013 - Posted by | abstract

1 Comment »

  1. Jeri, have you observed any patterning in orthography (use or disuse of German diacritical marks or characters), typography (gothic versus roman characters– I’m probably not using the right terms here)? It would be remarkable if, in succeeding generations, one could observe a process of Americanization where Göthe becomes Goethe (or Gothe), or “liebste Mutter” becomes “dearest mother.” I suspect the years surrounding WWI would be a watershed.

    Comment by Dan | April 25, 2013 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: