A Prayer Book from Home

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 prayer book, Adam Family Collection; privately held by Brian Adam (personal information withheld), 2014.

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 Lutz prayer book, Adam Family Collection; privately held by Brian Adam (personal information withheld), 2014.

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.

13 thoughts on “A Prayer Book from Home

  1. Trudy Slusser

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Joseph Lutz and his brother Paul Lutz arrived in New York on the passenger ship Nevada May 7, 1871. Paul Lutz, son of Francios Joseph Lutz and his second wife, Margurite (Meister) Lutz, was my Great Great Grandfather. Paul Lutz’s daughter Anna Julia (Lutz) Hasher was my great Grandmother. I was able to take a trip to Sondersdorf, France and the surrounding area last year and met some Lutz, family members that I never knew existed. I long to go back….

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  3. Mary Lutz Lubrecht

    My great great grandfather was Pierre Modeste Lutz. A true novice, I stumbled on this blog & hope to start a family tree soon. I think there’s a connection to your connection.

    1. Melanie Frick Post author

      Hi Mary, Thanks for your comment! I’m sorry I missed this earlier. I think we do have a connection – feel free to message me if you’d like to explore it further!

      1. Kim Leskiw

        I am a niece of Mary Lubrecht lutz, I am curious about the family connection and appreciated your blog about Alsace!!! What would be our connection to Francis Joseph Lutz? My great grandfather was Modeste Pierre Lutz, my great grandfather Alfred Raymond Lutz, my grandfather was Dean William Lutz, my father was Dean William Lutz II.
        I would expect he’s a brother of Moses(Modeste), but the birth dates don’t coincide with my records and my record say Moses came to New York in 1882 with his mother and brothers Fortine and Caesar . So are we looking at different families?
        Thank you!
        Kimberly Lutz

  4. Melanie Frick Post author

    Hi Kimberly! I believe your ancestor Pierre Modeste Lutz (1851-1911) was a second cousin to my ancestor Joseph Lutz (1844-1887). They shared a set of great grandparents, Valentin Lutz and Maria Libis. Somewhat confusingly, however, this connection comes from Pierre Modeste Lutz’s maternal side of the family, as his maternal grandmother was also a Lutz. I’m sure it was the presence of your Pierre Modeste and his parents and siblings in Minnesota that brought my ancestor Joseph to the area (it seems he immigrated after they did), so it’s so exciting to make this connection! Thanks for your comment!

    1. Joseph Norby

      This is wonderful! Joseph Lutz was my great-great grandfather. His daughter, Hattie Sonnek spent some winters at our home in Wisconsin. Hattie’s daughter, Marguerite Sonnek (Norby) was my grandmother.

      1. Melanie Frick Post author

        Hi, cousin, and thanks for commenting! Joseph Lutz was my great-great-great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandmother was Hattie’s younger sister Melanie. I would be very curious to know if you have any memories of Hattie to share, as I was born too late to meet any of the Lutz sisters!

      2. Joseph Norby

        Great grandma Sonnek (Hattie Lutz, the younger) had 5 children, I believe. Armand, Kenneth, Ronald, Georgianna and Marguerite. Marguerite was my grandmother. Marguerite Sonnek married Clifford Norby. My father, Gerald, was their son.
        Marguerite died very young, shortly after giving birth to her 8th child. After her death, my father and his siblings were raised by grandma Sonnek until my grandfather remarried.
        Hattie Lutz the younger married Andrew Sonnek, from the Minnesota Lake area. Andrew’s parents had come to the US from Poland. He was killed in an argument over a wagon. Hattie remarried. Her second husband, much like her mother’s second husband, drank a lot. They separated and she resumed the name Sonnek. She enjoyed pinochle, a daily glass of wine and had a wonderful sense of humor. She passed away in 1966, I think. I believe my brother or cousin has pictures. I will try to track them down. I also texted my brother, Mark Norby and told him you might be interested in some of his memories as he and grandma were quite close.

      3. Melanie Frick Post author

        Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing these memories, and for asking your brother too. Hattie sounds like she was quite a fun lady despite her troubles.

  5. Melindaduffjohnson

    I am doing some research on my ancestor, James (Jacque) Erblang, and his story is so similar to Joseph Lutz, that I think they may have likely knew each other. James was born in Alsace-Lorraine 1850ish (I know it was not Alsace-Lorriane at that time, but that is what he reported on all his records), he fought in the war, escaped a firing squad because he knew both French and German, and ended up moving to Faribault in 1872.

  6. Pingback: Two Brothers from Sondersdorf | Homestead Genealogy

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