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Founding family of Bergholz gathers for centennial reunion

Many of the descendants of Christoph and Louise Camann, who helped settle the hamlet of Bergholz in 1843, gathered recently on a picture-perfect weekend at Gratwick Hose Fire Company grounds in North Tonawanda.

They brought homemade dishes to pass, sat in the shade and reminisced, posed for photos, paused for evening vespers and even wore name tags to help identify the more far-flung of the clan.

It was a typical family reunion in many respects, but unusual in some notable ways, as well.

It was the family’s 100th year of documented reunions, and the family is deeply entwined with the history of the hamlet of Bergholz.

The reunion was more specifically a gathering of the descendants of one of Christoph and Louise’s sons, Carl Gotthilf Camann, and his wife, Emilie Grassmann Camann. It drew more than 200 people from across the country on the late July weekend.

The family’s first documented reunion was held in 1915 at Carl and Emilie’s home on Luther Street in Bergholz, where they raised eight sons and one daughter. That house is still standing.

One of their grandsons, the late Eugene Camann, started the Historical Society of North German Settlements in Western New York, which is still maintained in an 1843 house at 2549 Niagara Road, Bergholz.

Eugene Camann also traveled to East Germany several times for research, which resulted in his creation of two books in the 1990s on Bergholz families – and other Western New York families, as well – and their Prussian (German) history.

Christoph Camann emigrated to the United States from Bruessow, Prussia, in 1843. Bruessow is a 750-year-old town in what was later East Germany. Driven from their homeland in search of religious freedom and job opportunities, 500 Prussian Lutherans representing 100 families arrived in America at that time. They founded “New Bergholz” in Niagara County on Oct. 12, 1843.

Named after Bergholz in Prussia, “New Bergholz” later became simply Bergholz, a hamlet in the Town of Wheatfield. The founders also were among the organizers, on Nov. 19, 1843, of the first Lutheran Church in Wheatfield, today’s Holy Ghost Lutheran congregation.

Jean Camann Klettke, 85, the last direct descendent of her generation of grandchildren of Carl and Emilie Camann, still lives in Bergholz.

At the reunion, she was photographed holding the youngest descendant, Elam Fuerch, four months old. Klettke has two cousins, Doris Camann and June King, who married into the Camann family in that same generation.

The reunion’s organizers also recognized those descendants who traveled farthest to attend the reunion, Jim and Nellie Camann, of Denver.

And, the reunion attendees were in for a surprise when the organizers introduced the most recent newlyweds – Thomas “Jack” Sutherland and Dawn Rich, both in their eighth decade, who married June 6.

They also sold cookbooks containing old family recipes with sidebars on their sentimental value, as well as popular family-crest T-shirts.

They offered a golf tournament and conducted children’s games.

The Camann descendants have been holding these reunions for most of the past century – briefly interrupted by World War II, with another gap in the late-1960s to early ’70s, when they resumed every third year.

“We thought we’d have better participation,” said Ruth Camann Voelker, of the family’s decision not to hold a reunion annually.

The family stretched the interval to four years this year to mark the special centennial, she explained. They’ll return every three years, now, with the next one slated for 2018 at the same site.

Ruth and her husband, Earl, helped chairman Don Flett organize this year’s event.

They also held a mini-reunion at their home specifically for the descendants of Albert Camann just prior to the big reunion. It attracted 99 people – nearly half of the overall attendance of the big reunion.

Remarking on the big reunion, Earl Voelker said, “We’ve been encouraging some new people to volunteer, and every family [branch] came up with a new representative. We need new people, new ideas, and new life.”

Ruth said she believes her family held reunions prior to 1915, but the family definitely has photos and other documents tracing the events to 1915.

Ruth noted that in the 1940s, family records show that there were 91 descendants of Carl Gotthilf Camann worldwide.

Now, she figures there have to be more than 700, and the family stretches over eight generations.

Earl Voelker said that while Camanns are found throughout the U.S. now, only a handful of people with the Camann surname are left in Western New York.

Ruth looks forward to the reunions, because, “There’s still that connection of family, religion and God. Most of us are Lutheran, we’re churchgoers … And, we want our kids to know their cousins so they can carry this on when we’re gone.”