Little Red Riding Hood and The Huguenots

Relief, describing the arrival of Huguenots in Prussia (modern day Germany)1685. Johannes Boese

A relief depicting the arrival of Huguenots in Prussia in 1685. Artist: Johannes Boese

Late last week, I began researching my Chastain family line with the knowledge that my great-great-great grandfather, Peter Chastain, had come from Schwabendorf Germany in 1860, and that his father was named Christian Chastain. Armed with this information, I began researching (i.e. Googling) Schwabendorf (which is very fun to say). One of the first things I stumbled upon was this lovely article from 1987.

FAMILY. Tradition. Heritage. An ideal ancestral hometown. Schwabendorf is a place so real it seems almost imagined. You won’t find it on a standard road map of West Germany. This tiny hamlet is no more than a handful of houses surrounded by lush, rolling farm fields ripening with wheat, hops, hay, and corn.

An ideal ancestral hometown? I had only known it was my ancestral hometown for a few hours, but, already, I agreed. It continues:

Nearby on a low hill above the town is a dense, dark forested area cleared of underbrush, firewood neatly stacked between trees. It’s a Little Red Riding Hood landscape. Yet on the first Sunday in July, the 430 people who live in the village were hosts to more than 5,000 visitors – relatives from America, France, other parts of Germany, friends from Italy, Denmark, and the surrounding cities and towns. The crowd had gathered to help celebrate the 300th anniversary of a community created as a refuge for Huguenots – French Protestants – fleeing from religious persecution in their homeland.

The Huguenots? I hadn’t read or thought about them in years. Reading that word swiftly plucked me from out of 2014 and set me down in 1998, sitting studiously in my 10th grade World History class. The Chastains were Huguenots? I’d always loved history, but to suddenly learn of my family’s involvement in dramatic historical events, that made it personal and therefore much more meaningful. This also solved a mystery I had occasionally puzzled over. What vagaries of history had led my family, with a very French last name, to live in Germany? Now I knew.

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