More Ruff & Lehenbauer family trivia

by Matt Ruff on March 16, 2007

Since blogging about my cousin Ernest, I’ve been on a family history jag. I’m not sure how interesting any of this is to non-relatives, but with Bad Monkeys‘ pub. date just four months away, I’m starting to get requests from publicists for biographical tidbits to feed to reviewers and interviewers, so maybe there’s something here that’ll qualify as “local color.” And, hey, I think it’s cool.

First, a couple corrections: in my previous post, I had originally written that both the Ruffs and the Lehenbauers came from Bavaria. Actually, the Ruffs were Prussian; my great-great-grandfather Johann Frederick Ruff was born in 1830 in the village of Badeleben, near Magdeburg. I think the reason for my confusion on this point is that my German publisher is located in Munich, so I regard Bavaria as my home base when I’m over there. But if there’s a Bad Monkeys book tour, I’ll have to see if I can arrange a stop in Badeleben, and maybe at the University of Berlin to look for J.F.’s old school records.

As for Mom’s side of the family, I wrote that the Lehenbauers worked as linen weavers in the town of Oettingen “during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.” Those dates come from The Family Lehenbauer, a privately published genealogy. What I’d forgotten until I started digging into my files is that I also have a set of addenda to the genealogy that pushes the timeline back even further. Turns out the Lehenbauers were in Oettingen from at least the 17th century. The ur-ancestor is a man named Johann Caspar Leonhard Lehenbauer, born in 1674.

Geez, 1674. I’m simultaneously awestruck and amused. I mean, the guy is my great-great-great-great-grandfather (one of them—I’ve got, what, 31 others?). At a remove of six generations, the genetic link must be getting pretty weak, and culturally we’d be aliens to each other. So to feel a special connection to him is, on one level, absurd. And yet…

Closer to home (temporally speaking), I also did some checking on my grandfather, the Lutheran missionary who went to South America. It seems he wrote a short memoir, Roughing it for Christ in the wilds of Brazil, that is listed on Amazon.com, though of course it’s long out of print. My wife Lisa is going to use her rare-book skills to try and locate a copy, but this is the sort of ephemera that is notoriously difficult to track down.

One thing I did find, though, is a street in Santa Rosa, Brazil that’s named after Grandpa—the Rua Pastor Albert Lehenbauer (Google Maps has the last name misspelled as “Lemenbawer”, but it’s definitely him). While I’m not sure how he came to rate a street sign, it’s probably got something to do with his role in Brazilian agricultural history. Grandpa was the guy who first brought soybeans into the country and convinced the local gauchos to start growing them; today, soy is Brazil’s second-biggest legal export crop.

And one more neat little discovery: if you fire up Google Earth and look at Santa Rosa from orbit, the town is disappointingly blurry. But if you track south-southwest, the satellite resolution suddenly gets a whole lot sharper (CIA must have had biz in the neighborhood), and if you look closely, about fifteen miles out you’ll find a dot marked Ipiranga next to a spot where two dirt roads meet at right angles. I believe this is Ypiranga Crossroads, where my grandfather and grandmother were married and where my mother spent her early childhood. The level of detail is high enough that I could easily pick out the house, if I knew what it looked like.

So again, a mixture of awe and amusement. Hi, Grandpa. Hi, Mom. Greetings from the future.

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