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Stemwede Historical Timeline &
Community History and Customs

by Wilhelm Niermann

 969 - The settlements of Levern, Destel, and Wehdem are first mentioned in records. Each community celebrated its 1,000-year anniversary in 1969.  

1227 – Founding of the convent at Levern by the Cistercian Sisters.

13th century – Corner stone laid for St. Mary’s Church in Dielingen. Construction started of the palace at Haldem by the bishops of Minden .

1368 – The administration of Stemwede was transferred to the bishop and the bishopric chapter of Minden .

1558 – The convent at Levern changed from a religious institution to a secular (lay) institution for noble women.

1810 – The secular convent for noble women at Levern was dissolve during the Napoleonic regime.  

1973 – In accordance with the municipal reorganization, the district of Stemwede was formed from the dissolved districts of Dielingen, Wehdem, and Levern that up to this time each had their own mayor.  

In the municipal reorganization in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, communities were combined into larger districts. In the Stemwede area they were organized along the old parish boundaries that existed at the time of the emigration (ca. 1850s). At that time there were here only Evangelical-Lutheran parishes.  

Stemwede is located in the northern most part of North-Rhine-Westphalia, at the border with Lower Saxony . The distance to Lake Dümmer is about 15 km.  Maps

The parish of Levern comprises the communities of Levern, Destel, Sundern, and Niedermehnen. In earlier days the latter place was called Mehnen.  

The parish of Dielingen comprises the communities of Dielingen, Drohne, Haldem, and Arrenkamp.  

The parish of Wehdem comprises the communities of Wehdem, Westrup, Oppendorf, and Oppenwehe. In the past Oppenwehe was spelled Oppenwedhe.  

I [Wilhelm Niermann] have tried to collect the names of the emigrants from these 13 communities. At this time my database contains at this time over 5650 names. I am sure that many names are missing from this list, for example, those of women.  

Stemwede’s proximity to the border with Lower Saxony, until 1865 it was the Kingdom of Hanover, allowed many individuals to leave our area without official permission. A walk of ½ hour on the foot trail took an individual over into the Kingdom of Hanover where no one asked what he was doing there or where he was going.  

Starting in about 1890 the Prussian government recruited people to the Posen area in an effort to settle the region. Many persons from our area were attracted by the offer and resettled in the east. These individuals, over 500 of them, are also listed in my database.


Community History and Customs in old Times !

 Haldem is a village just to the east of Dielingen and is included in Dielingen Parish. It is one of the thirteen villages of Stemwede. In the middle of the 17th century, all the farms of the villages in this area were given numbers, and "98 Haldem" simply says that it was farm number 98 in Haldem. Drohne is a village just to the south of Dielingen and is also included in Dielingen Parish.

The answer in this case needs to be a bit longer.  

Broadly speaking, there were two classes of peasants in Stemwede until the mid 19th century. The "upper" class (called Coloni, or settlers) consisted of those peasants who held hereditary leaseholds on the numbered farms and therefore had claim to a certain kind of landholding.By long tradition (back to at least the 12th century) the total number of farms in each village was quite strictly limited, and new ones could be founded only by special permission. The Coloni had defined rights to graze their animals on the village common land and to have a voice in village decisions. Since their farms could not be divided, only one child in each generation could inherit the leasehold, and the other children were severely limited in options, at least until the 18th century: they could find the heir of another farm to marry, they could (in the case of males) join the army and move away, or they could live out their lives as unmarried laborers on the family farm.

By 1700 a new, "lower" class of peasants was emerging, consisting of married but landless laborers (called Heuerling). At first, these were typically individuals with a special skill or trade that permitted them to support a family, even though they did not have their own land to farm. They also usually hired themselves out as farmhands for the Coloni. As the 18th century progressed, this class grew fairly rapidly, fueled by the opportunities provided by growing demand for German linen cloth, which the families of this area spun and wove from locally produced flax. Since the market for linen was highly variable, and since farm labor was seasonal, life was very hard for the Heuerling families. The only housing available for them consisted of sheds, usually quite humble and even shabby, built next to the farmhouses of the Coloni, in whose fields they worked to pay their rent. Thus, the only address a Heuerling had was in the form of "Dielingen by 60," meaning "I live in a shed next to the farmhouse on farm number 60 in Dielingen."

Incidentally, the world changed radically for the Heuerling families of Stemwede when the first machines for spinning and weaving linen arrived in the area in the late 1840s, causing a disastrous fall in prices. Simultaneously, there were two years of major crop failures. Thus began the flood of emigration, almost all by Heuerling families, from this area to America in the 1850s and 1860s.