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Over 40% of Wisconsinites claim German as their primary ancestry (nearly 70% in some communities) and much local history has been documented in the German language. Personal correspondence between German Americans and relatives in Europe, as well as among German-Americans themselves, sheds a fascinating light on the American story that is often overlooked since most Americans today do not speak German let alone read the script in which the language used to be written. It is the mission of the Max Kade Institute to preserve these documents, make them widely accessible to the general public and researchers alike, and interpret them for today's readers.
Letters in this collection currently include the Jacob and Franziska Sternberger Collection (1809–1900s). Jacob (Jakob) Sternberger came from a prominent family in Kaaden, Bohemia (now Kadan, Czech Republic). As a student at the Charles University in Prague he had been involved in the revolutionary movement spreading across the German states and fled to the United States in 1850, where he purchased a farm in Portage, Columbia County, Wisconsin. In 1851 he tried to establish on his farm the nucleus of a utopian society called "Marienstern" where, among other things, there was no private property, every community member had an equal voice in decision-making, and women were regarded as equals in every respect. In 1861, at age 39, Jakob Sternberger voluntarily enlisted in the Union Army and fought for his ideals in the Civil War. On November 4, 1865, Sternberger married Franziska Leute in Columbus, Wisconsin.