Families' friendship stretches across ocean, time Grandchildren continue 100-year link CARROLL COUNTY SENIORS

February 10, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

In the German village of Wallroth, in 1879, a young girl named Dorothea Kress decided not to marry John Lotz, a boy she had grown up with and liked.

Instead, she made the difficult choice to seek a better life in America.

In 1880, wearing a dress John Lotz's mother made for her, she set out for her new life with a $56 steamboat ticket. She arrived in America on Easter Sunday.

Since then, for more than 100 years, the Lotz and Kress families have kept in touch across the Atlantic.

Last July, they met face-to-face once again, when Hampstead author Dorothea A. Gross, 76, granddaughter and namesake of Dorothea Kress, was invited to Germany by Heinrich Lotz, John Lotz's grandson.

Mr. Lotz, 66, had read Mrs. Gross' 1988 book, "Recollections of My Immigrant Grandmother," which describes Dorothea Kress' German childhood and her journey to America.

Mr. Lotz contacted Mrs. Gross because her grandmother's old house in Germany is being demolished to make way for a garage. He thought she would like to see it before it was torn down.

"I loved to see it," Mrs. Gross said. "When you get to my age, you think of your past more."

However, seeing her grandmother's home was a bittersweet experience, she said.

"I really was sad in her house," Mrs. Gross said. It reminded her of her grandmother's difficult childhood.

Dorothea Kress was orphaned as a small child, and she labored hard even as a schoolgirl. She worked for local farmers, doing baking, spinning, milking and other chores. She was paid $8 a year plus whatever she could get from selling two rows of potatoes.

One particularly sad night, when Dorothea Kress was about 12 years old, her grandmother, who had raised her, died, leaving the girl without any living relatives.

Like Dorothea Kress, Mrs. Gross was raised by her grandmother. Because of that, she said, she knew enough German to stumble along.

"I can get away with it," she said.

The tiny timber-and-brick bungalow in Wallroth, about two hours' journey by car from Frankfurt, was built in the 1700s with three rooms and a loft. One room was for the family and one for cooking. The livestock slept in the third.

Mrs. Gross said her family and the Lotzes aren't blood relations.

However, Dorothea Kress' stepfather, a ne'er-do-well tailor named Alder, married John Lotz's mother after Dorothea's mother died.

When Mrs. Gross and the Lotz family met in July, she said, "It was amazing."

While she was visiting them, she said, "I never felt like I was without family."

Mrs. Gross almost didn't get to Germany. Her trip was originally scheduled for March. But she had a mild stroke. Hospitalized, she missed her flight.

"They were calling me from Germany," she said, "and I was in the hospital!"

The trip was eventually rescheduled for July. Mrs. Gross' children decided to send along her 12-year-old granddaughter, Laura.

Mrs. Gross said one highlight of the trip was seeing Laura dressed up in a borrowed 150-year-old outfit of the sort Dorothea Kress would have worn on her voyage to America -- a green blouse, a purple taffeta skirt with a bustle, and a small, black pillbox hat.

The school Dorothea Kress had gone to has been converted to apartments. But Mrs. Gross and Laura were able to visit Dorothea Kress' old Lutheran church.

"Recollections of My Immigrant Grandmother" was published in 1988 by Carlton Press, a vanity publisher in New York.

The following year, Mrs. Gross published her second book, the story of her mother: "Ragtime Ganny: Memoirs of Amelia S. Herrmann."

Mrs. Gross said friends and relatives are after her to write another book, about her travels abroad with her husband, Charles, who died in 1978.

The couple traveled widely, visiting Greece, Italy, England, the former Soviet Union, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean.

Mrs. Gross said she would also like to write about her trip to Germany.

Heinrich Lotz gave Mrs. Gross a lengthy genealogy of her family. He contends that she is a descendant of Martin Luther.

Mrs. Gross said she thinks the family history might provide grist for some historical fiction.

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