Before Joseph Lutz left his home village, he carefully inscribed his name inside a leather-bound prayer book, small enough to be tucked inside a coat pocket. “This book belongs to me, Joseph Lutz of Sondersdorf,” he penned in French. The book, however, was printed in German; Joseph spoke both languages, having grown up in an area that was the subject of dispute between France and Germany.1
Joseph Lutz of Sondersdorf, Haut Rhin, Alsace, France, the son of François Joseph and Marguerite (Meister) Lutz, was baptized on 31 May 1844.2 He left his homeland following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. It was said that he had been injured during his time of service, which may have limited his opportunities for occupation, and, furthermore, he did not wish to live under Prussian rule.3 Thus, like many of his relatives, he set his sights on Minnesota.
Once settled, Joseph may have read from his prayer book with his wife, a Polish immigrant who also spoke German, as they began their life together.4 Perhaps it inspired his generosity during his career as a butcher, when he was said to have provided gifts of meat to struggling immigrants. When he later became a saloon keeper, it may have given him the strength to avoid the temptation of alcohol, a quality appreciated by his wife.5 Perhaps the prayer book brought him peace as he suffered from tuberculosis, an illness that claimed his life on 3 May 1887 when he was forty-two years old.6
Joseph was said to have been buried in Danville, Blue Earth County, Minnesota, and though a wooden cross once marked his grave, it is no more.7 His well-worn prayer book was passed down to his daughters, who kept his tintype – his only known photograph – tucked inside to ensure its safety. These items may have been their sole mementos of their father, a slim man with a handlebar mustache, a Catholic, a veteran, and a businessman who hailed from the border of France and Switzerland.
1 Joseph Lutz prayer book, Adam Family Collection; privately held by Brian Adam (personal information withheld), 2014. The untitled German text prayer book is bound in embossed black leather. It is inscribed in French, “Le livre apartient A moi, Lutz Joseph de Sondersdorff [This book belongs to me, Joseph Lutz of Sondersdorf].” Included with the prayer book is a handwritten note in English, “‘Prayer Book’ from Switzerland, 1872, Anna Catlin.” Anna was a daughter of Joseph Lutz.
2 Archives Départementales du Haut-Rhin, “Sondersdorf, Naissances, 1787-1852,” digital images, Actes d’État Civil (http://www.archives.cg68.fr/Services_Actes_Civils.aspx : accessed 28 April 2014), entry for birth of Joseph Lutz, 31 May 1844.
3 William “Bill” Catlin, conversation with the author, September 2002; notes in author’s files. The late Mr. Catlin was the grandson of Hedwig (Cichos) Lutz Rindfleisch and was acquainted with her until her death, at which time he was thirty years old, and Gerald and Fern (Thoma) Adam, conversation with Brian Adam, ca. 1985; notes in author’s files. Gerald Adam was the grandson of Joseph Lutz.
4 “Minnesota, Territorial and State Census, 1845-1905,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 April 2014), 1875 Minnesota State Census, entries for Joseph Lutz, 30, and Hattie Lutz, 20, Minnesota Lake and Keister, Faribault County.
5 William “Bill” Catlin, conversation with the author, 2002.
6 “Mr. Joseph Lutze,” Wells (Minnesota) Advocate, 5 May 1887, and William “Bill” Catlin, conversation with the author, 2002.
7 Gerald and Fern (Thoma) Adam, conversation with Brian Adam, ca. 1985.