Hummel, Hummel-Mors, Mors

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota

Clyde’s recent posts about DNA and birch logs made me think about these little carvings I have that came from my mother’s family from Hamburg, Germany.  

The crabby water carrier and the farm animals and other figures were in my house all throughout my childhood.  Mom would never let me play with them. I think some of them were children’s toys. Mom said she thought that some of them were sent from Hamburg by family in thanks for the food packages my grandma sent them during the war.  She was pretty vague about it.  She couldn’t even tell me  how long she had them, or why she had them instead of my grandmother or other family members.  

She also couldn’t tell me much about the water carrier. She said he had something to do with Hummels. I always thought she meant the porcelain  child figures designed by the nun, Sr. Maria Hummel.  

Well,  That isn’t quite the whole story.

I now know that the water carrier figure was a real person who worked as a water carrier in Hamburg in the mid-19th century and who was noted for his nasty temper. He was given the nickname “Hans Hummel”.  The word Hummel sometimes is used to refer to a bumblebee. Hamburg children would follow him through the streets as he carried water, yelling “Hummel Hummel” and he would respond with “Mors Mors” which is low German slang for “Kiss my a**”.  

People from Hamburg often greeted each other this way long after Herr Hummel went to meet his maker. The water carrier is a popular symbol for Hamburg.  Now, why didn’t my mom tell me this? How did those cute child figures get mixed up with this?  I don’t even know if mom knew the whole story. If that is the case, why didn’t her mother or her grandparents tell her the story?

Since my parents have both died I find I have lots of questions that I will probably never get answered. I wish I could go back in time and ask my great grandparents and other ancestors just what is up with all this stuff.  Husband and I are tentatively planning a May trip  to Bremen and Hamburg, so maybe I will find some answers.

What question would you ask your ancestors?

42 thoughts on “Hummel, Hummel-Mors, Mors”

  1. Good morning. I don’t know very much about the history of my mother’s family or of my father’s family. My parents and all of my Aunts and Uncles are gone. Of course, I do know basic details about my family history going back a couple of generations.

    On my Dad’s side of the family I would like to know more about my ancestors who lived in Friesland. My Grandfather and my Grandmother on my Dad’s side were born in Friesland. Both of my mother’s parents were born here and were of English ancestry. I know nothing about the migration of mother’s ancestors from England and that would be one of first things I would be interested in learning about for that side of my family.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If mysteries allow you to create a story and share it, well, perhaps that’s the purpose of your mother not telling you about these figures. In our world today, there is little silence. People want to know everything about everyone and everyplace. Secrets allow for wonder. Now you’ve got an entire universe to uncover and who cares about the truth?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Rise and Inquire Baboons!

    I really like those figures Renee. Thanks for this interesting topic.

    After my adventures on the last 2 1/2 years I have so many questions. When you work with that and start to see many multiples of ancestors, many generations back the trends of history appear. The opening up of the West after Jefferson purchased “Louisiana” is particularly influencial. Almost all our people came West from Pennsylvania and New England, settling in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, displaying their love for states with vowels. More than anything I always want to know “What was that life like for you?” “What did you learn?” What kept you moving on to Iowa?

    And speaking of this, I will be off-line for a few days because my sister and I are going to Philadelphia to answer some of the questions Renee raises! We are going to a Quaker cemetery near Philadelphia where our 6th great grandfather was the first Quaker to be buried there. Then we will investigate the Jewish connection that the DNA results (post from last Saturday?) revealed at the Synagogue and Museum near Independence Hall.

    There is a tiny Quaker Meeting House near Independence Hall that is Free Quaker. Those Quakers fought in the Revolution as did our ancestor, Daniel Stratton. I have a few questions there, too.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. One of my great-great-grandfathers emigrated from Cornwall, and I guess he took the idea of America as a fresh start seriously, because I have no information about his parents. It was a little disconcerting to open up the family Bible and see his branch simply terminate, when all the others, including that of his wife, went back one more generation at least. I’d like to ask why he left and what he left behind, whether it was a feud, debts, the law, or what. Of course, I’d also love to know everything about my pre-Christian ancestors and their ways, but as far as personal questions, that’s the one that’s been nagging at me since I started poking around with genealogy.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. On certain branches of the family tree, that occurs often–you get to a dead end and it is like the last person just appeared under the cabbage in the garden. He/she comes from nowhere. I wonder the same thing–what did that person leave behind?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. My paternal grandfather and his brother said they grew up in an orphanage in Germany, and both of them married girls from the same orphanage. I’d like to find out if that is really true, or if they told the story to obscure some other less savory details about their life in Germany. If the orphanage story is true, I’d like to find out how they all ended up there. No stories were passed down in the family, as far as I can determine.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. I have always liked the rabbit lady figure. I think the kneeling children might be part of a manger scene. The Hummel reminds me of my maternal grandfather, who was tall and thin and stooped.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I have no questions for my immediate ancestors, at least in relevance to me. I have lots of questions for my cultural ancestors, about daily life, decision-making, worries, joys, community, church. I would like to know the feel of life in 1750, 1800, 1850, 1900.
    Jews are not my ancestors, not that I know of, but if DNA showed some Jewish ancestry, which it can generally can tag, oh, the irony for my anti-Semetic parents. But, I see them as much a part of my cultural ancestry as my northern European. So many questions they could be asked about acceptance and hate. I just wrote a short story called First contact, about a wolf’s first contact with men in the forest of NE MN. What was first contact like for Native Americans. I have heard the oral tradition of first contact from Inupiats, which are fascinating.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. My mother’s family is a complete mystery. I knew people who knew the people who came over (my great-grandparents), but I have only very vague stories about them, and most of those are about their later lives in Minnesota, with a snip here and there about how they came here.

    I tried digging through, which is how I found out just how flawed they can be (I have a great-great aunt who died childless, but she and her husband are the ancestors of quite a few people on, none of whom I have ever heard of, and no, I know for a fact there was no second marriage or whatever-whole family trees have been made up from one flawed census record).

    If there are family artifacts from Germany, I don’t know about them.

    I have a friend who is amused by my “sentimentality” about the ancestral things I do have. Perhaps when you really don’t fit in your immediate family, you do what you can to try and connect somehow to some sort of family, I don’t know.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You are correct about the errors. The records are filled with very significant errors and you have to sort through all kinds of stories/rumors/records for clues. So many people had things about them they did not want known.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. According to my father’s birth-mother, he did not exist. At the urging of her granddaughter, she wrote a sort of abbreviated memoir which I was lucky enough to get a copy of a few years back. It gives all kinds of information about her parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents, but conveniently fails to mention that – at the age of twenty-six – she gave birth to my father. She simply edited him right out of her life.

        It speaks volumes, I think, about the stigma and shame connected to giving birth out of wedlock in 1920, that when she wrote this memoir late in life, she still could not acknowledge it. It was a secret she took with her to her grave at age 92. Makes me wonder what other secrets she might have had.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. This brings me to a current connundrum: Several years ago, when I was tooling around on Ancestry, I discovered a census record that lists one of the s&h’s living ancestors as being adopted.

        I have never heard this and in fact we have a fairly extensive family tree that was drawn up by this person that gives no clue to this.

        The scientist in me wants to know, but while I suppose I “could” ask, really, on several levels, no, I really can’t. Given the secretive nature of adoption records in the 20s, I suppose we will never know, so why bring it up. still……

        Liked by 2 people

        1. The first thing I would consider is how close the census report was to the birth of that person, my assumption being that it would be more likely that the adoption would be glossed over in later censuses. Of course you can also use your own judgement as to whether the relative looks like the rest of his or her family (that’s assuming the “adoption” came from outside the family).

          Liked by 1 person

    2. has its roots in the LDS church and often the information compiled by individual researchers tends to be biased toward making family connections, even when the evidence is unlikely or nonexistent. I’ve seen children born several years after their father had died and children born in the old country several years after their parents had emigrated.
      Censuses are generally more trustworthy, but they rely on what the interviewees reported and what the enumerator recorded. It’s always good to compare the information on several censuses. For reasons known only to them, people sometimes lied or misremembered on the census, about when they immigrated and when they were married. I have some relatives who claimed they emigrated from Norway in 1872 and that they were married in Minnesota, but their oldest son was born in Illinois in 1870. The Chicago Fire was in 1871. They showed up in Owatonna in 1872. I wonder what they were hiding?

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Last carving point: the water carrier could be slipped into Norwegian carving of the era and for right in. Norway was another one of the great carving nations, now mostly lost, or not maintained as it has been in Bavaria and other parts of Germany.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I brought back 2 wood carvings from Norway last year. I had given up on finding any when I found them in a craft fair tent in the town plaza in Stavenger. That was the only real carving I found anywhere.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “I remember how my great-uncle Jerry would sit on the porch and
      whittle all day long. Once he whittled me a toy boat out of a larger
      toy boat I had. It was almost as good as the first one, except now
      it had bumpy whittle marks all over it. And no paint, because he had
      whittled off the paint.” Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I’d like to know if a family story is true as well. Supposedly when my grandfather’s German relatives came over from Germany they were the Rumpf family. When they arrived on American shores, they decided to class up their act by adding “Von” and dropping the “f”. Of course, the resulting “Von Rump” was not a great moniker. My mother has always said that she married my dad because he had a very ordinary name!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. There is allegedly some Romani blood on my mother’s side of the family. It would be interesting to find out what life was like for my Romani ancestors. Their people were often enslaved, up until the mid-19th century or so.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If you are really interested, I have some books by George Borrow written about the gypsies in the nineteenth century that I would be happy to lend you.


  11. I would ask my Norwegian great-grandmother who left all of her relatives in Norway when she and my great-grandfather and their two daughters came to America what it was like to never see them again. Lots of photos were sent back to Norway of the family of 11 children, but only one of the children ever went back to Norway to see (briefly) the church where her parents were married.

    My Norwegian great-grandfather’s mother died three years after all her children and grandchildren emigrated to America. I wonder if that is why she died.

    I tried to trace back a Norwegian-German ancestor who went to Norway in the 1700s to work in the copper mines in Rørøs and ended up on the west coast where he settled. I tried to figure out where he might have come from in Germany but no record of where so I would ask him where he came from and if the family story that he left Germany so he wouldn’t have to become a priest is true.

    And, finally, I would like to know if my Prussian great-grandfather really might be a Swedish/German because he hated Scandinavians so much and I love the irony if he was. On the other hand, it could just be because the Swedes especially were warlike and domineering and invasive up to and including the 1800s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. you think theyve stopped? i think thats why they all sit so erect and stoic faced. they are thinking about warlike domineering and just hiding it in a scando sort of way


    2. I have also wondered my Norwegian ancestors who moved to the flat lands of Wisconsin from the mountains of Norway – did the better farming make up for the lack of elevation? What would it be like to only move with what you could easily carry and start fresh someplace where there were barely wagon trails?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. my irish relatives thought the wisconsin neenah menasha area was wonderful. 60 acres and all you had to do was clear trees on 55 of them but what nice soil and the rest of the family could come and have land too. and rich black dirt andnot so many rocks as home (west coasters)


  12. my family is of great interest
    my great grandfaterh who made the trasition form the rez to the law offices in leech lake courthouse has an interesting story but even a more interesting untold story
    my moms dad was a success story of the self made man who left hoople north dakota to make good and did.
    my dads dad was the irish stock who ended up in fargo with all the irish cousins farming and he laying brick and not becoming the big league pitcher he wanted to be but family life would not allow. his perfectionist son of an alcoholic guarded life has always been interesting but scant on information.
    my wifes dad died when she was 4 and mom married the old high school boyfriend 4 or 5 years later so the discussion of her dad was not forbidden but a little odd. her dad was a hotshot 4 h champion in farm country ill who died of lukemia (likely inhaling the chemicals of the day in farm life) and a monied situation but when he was a kid he signed his beneficiary on his life insurance policy over to his mom so when he died the family didnt get the benefit the mil did and she milked it until she died 40 years later.
    what questions? stuff comes up but i doubt the things i have questions about are things they thought about. the cultural pattterns they fell into because thats the way it was done. i dont think there was a lot of questioning of things in my families families. destiny was determined by circumstance rather than vision.
    yesterdays topic escaped me until this morning (nice vs) and i think the thing i passed on is the ability to question. lord knows they question me. if they have questions they ask and when i answer they let me know i may want to rethink the remise of my existence here on earth

    Liked by 1 person

  13. My mother’s Irish Catholic family fascinates me no end. Mom was full of stories about her childhood and youth, some of which I know to be true, but many more that I suspect are not. It was very confusing, growing up, to witness her make up stories out of thin air. She did it with such detail and natural flair that most people never questioned them. Some of those stories were repeated so often that they took on a life of their own, she came to believe them herself. I used to think of them as lies, now I wonder if they were an alternative reality that she created in an attempt to claim some sort of legitimacy?

    Toward the end of mom’s life it would have been possible to ask her some questions and get some candid answers, I think. Unfortunately, we lived thousands of miles apart, so those conversations never happened. I wonder what she knew about her parents’ backgrounds. Not the doctored up versions that made them sound respectable, but the real characters, warts and all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When I married wasband, I needed to get a certified copy of my birth-certificate from Newcastle upon Tyne. The original, which I still have, couldn’t be used because my mother had “amended” it – in her own hand writing and with an ink that didn’t match the original. She had simply added my great-great-grandfather’s (on dad’s side) name when she discovered that he was a famous Danish author. At the time of my birth, she had rejected it.

      Ironically, that is the name my sister and her offspring now use as their last name. This despite the fact that dad may not be her father in which case she wouldn’t be in his lineage.

      Like mig, I’m really curious to know the truth about that, but it’s not worth causing a family rift over.


  14. i would love to have asked my greatgrandfather about his indian status as a boy. he kind of got shipped off to white man territory to have a good life and he understood that the indain life was a terrible alternative at that time maybe even more than today. he kind of took the japanese mentality that the victors should be emulated instead of hated and took the opportunity to be an american and in a place where you can do what you wish as long as you dont screw it up as a mantra. he knew he had to work twice as hard as a white guy and that if he ever gave anyone reason to find fault they would bury him so he lived a model life and it is like the old saying about if you dont think you would want it printed on the front page of the paper dont do it… he kind of went that way. his kid rebeled and went to jail and made for a miserable his wife died and he bacame the model citizen of the universe and a philosopher who was a soft spoken man of few pricnciples that stood strong and directed him to the easy answer on all the other questions of life.
    ed rogers showed up on the wall at st thomas when my son went there as the football coach of fame. (i didnt know) he was famous for his career as a football star at the u of m (class of 03) and lots of other stuff that makes him a little forset gumpish. but he was a heck of a guy. he died when i was 17 or 18 in a room in an old folks home where he knew no one and had no reason to get up in the morning. at age 90 he had outlived everyone he knew and said that the hardest part of getting so old was that all your golfing buddies kept dying around you.
    he did most of his philosophizing in my presence at a card table with a cribbage board. like to have a few insights…

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I would like to know more about my mom’s mother’s life after she lost her second parent at age 4 – apparently each of the 7 children were “adopted” by other aunts and uncle; she didn’t feel welcome in the home she landed in, and must have jumped at the chance to join her older sister in America when she was 15. She loved to dance, which seems to be where I got my penchant for dancing – I would give anything to see her in action.

    My dad’s mother came from Norway when she was twelve because her father had died and her mom could not support all the children. She lived with an aunt, “Grandma Duea”, the widow of a Civil War veteran much older than her… I DO so wish I had met Grandma Duea and could hear some of the stories she told my dad and his sibs.

    I think everyone should be required to write a short bio (accurate) before they die.

    OT: Have to read more of these later. Just back from California trip, hopefully a post in a coupla days.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. When I was a child we visited friends who had a daughter a little older than me. Her mother had several porcelain Hummels that we played with while the adults talked. Her mother was horrified, as I recall, but we didn’t break any and made wonderful stories with them. Naughty children.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I would like to have a chat with one of my grandmother’s aunts, a woman who operated her own beauty salon in Hamburg in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. I don’t imagine there were many women business owners back then . We have photos of her, heavily corseted and elegant looking, in dresses that indicate she was in gradually reducing levels of public mourning for her husband.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I would like to ask my maternal great aunt about the handsome men that are in photos with her skiing, on a boat ride in Chicago and a few other hard to identify places. I would also like to ask about her experiences as a nurse in WWII (she was in a field hospital in France).

    I would like to ask the Founding Aunt (dad’s side of the family) about her trial for witchcraft and how she managed to defend herself successfully. (And did the neighbor’s pigs keep dying?) Heck, what was life like in 17th century Massachusetts?

    And finally: to my paternal great grandmother – are we really Scots-Irish, or is it as I suspect, a ruse based on prejudice against Catholic Irish who came to the US in the 19th century? The last name is not a traditionally Scots-Irish name, that part of the family came at the end of the 18th century…and was Protestant. I have my suspicions…but hard to confirm since we don’t have a good bead on where the family was from in Ireland, only what port they left from there.

    Liked by 2 people

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