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This Couple Lives on Top of Roman History

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

May 2

Roland Geiger holds a tile nearly 2,000 years old found in the parking lot of his home in St. Wendel, Germany.

Roland Geiger holds a tile nearly 2,000 years old found in the parking lot of his home in St. Wendel, Germany.

I was invited to have dinner with Roland and Anne Geiger recently. As we sat in their cozy dining room heated by a wood-burning stove with our nostrils being savagely attacked by the wonderful smells coming out of the kitchen behind the wall, Roland entertained me with stories of what he has found on the property. More than once my mouth fell open, and it was not just from hunger. It was excitement at the thought that we were sitting on top of more than 2,000 years of history.

Roland casually pointed out a broken but still useful pot in the corner. ‘Used for cooking meat,’ he explained. They found animal bones and rocks inside. It now serves as a planter. He brought out a tile with wiggles scratched into its surface. ‘This was used to hold plaster,’ he explained. The Romans made these square tiles and attached them to the walls of houses with a concrete mix. Then they plastered over the wiggles, and the wiggles held the plaster in place. This ingenious system is copied today all over Europe with wallpaper that acts as an adhesive for paint.

Holding a Roman invention for applying plaster to a wall so that it would stick.

Holding a Roman invention for applying plaster to a wall so that it would stick.

But the most valuable thing in Roland’s collection, his ‘precious,’ is a broken tile in two parts with a faint etching on it. It could be a name. Yes, it probably is a name. ‘S, and then a very old e, the kind of letter used in the capital until about the year 1 and then in the provinces until around the year 100 AD,’ Roland pointed out as the wind was sucked out of my lungs by the thought that I was holding a piece of history in my not quite steady hands. ‘Then we have here a v, an i and an r and another i.’ The name ‘Seviri’ etched into the tile by the tile maker who needed to keep track of who had ordered which stack of tiles. Like attaching a sticky note, except one made with materials on hand. For this tile maker, it was a tile.

The name 'Seviri' is easily seen once the tile has been moistened

The name ‘Seviri’ is easily seen once the tile has been moistened

Roland sent images of the tile into the ether and soon had an answer from a professor in Madrid, who confirmed the purpose of the tile and the age.

Later Roland took me up into his barn where there are boxes and boxes of finds, many of them absolute treasures to the history nut. More fragments of the wiggly wall tiles. Pottery fragments from Roman and medieval times. All found in his garden, his parking lot, below his 17th century house which itself is a treasure worthy of another story.

Just a bunch of Roman stuff. Really? The heart starts to beat when one sees boxes of fragments of history in the attic of the Geiger home.

Just a bunch of Roman stuff. Really? The heart starts to beat when one sees boxes of fragments of history in the attic of the Geiger home.

Fittingly, Roland Geiger is an accomplished genealogist and excellent researcher who has helped many of our clients dig deeper into their family histories in the Saarland as well as in Rheinland Pfalz and surrounding areas of Germany.
Roland can be reached at [email protected] or through his web site at www.hfrg.com

With Burgermeister (Village Mayor) Mueller in the former post wagon changing station


Thanks to genealogy research Roland Geiger, who is headquartered in the lovely town of St. Wendel, Saarland, Bill and Gini Packwood were able to break through one of their “Brick Walls” in genealogy and find the origin of their emigrant ancestor, Johann Merkel, of Standenbuehl and later, Stetten in Donnersbergkreis near Kirchheimbolanden, Germany.

Muensterdreisen Jesuit Monastery on the St. James Way near Standenbuehl


We also learned that the influential and larger Muensterdreisen Jesuit Monastery near Standenbuehl, between it and the neighboring village of Dreisen, was a way station for pilgrims following the Way of St. James to the saint’s burial place in Santiago di Compostela, Spain. This pilgrimage road also crosses the locally known “Kaiserstrasse,” or Emperor’s Way, which cuts through the heart of Standenbuehl. We were told by the village mayor that this road was named for the passing of the emperor through this area in the year 1101 on his way to Mainz. Napoleon also used this road as he made his way to Mainz. The post changing station was a highlight of our visit, where Mayor Mueller showed us where the horses would be changed and any repairs done to the carriage before the journey pressed onward. “An average day would be 60-70 kilometers,” the mayor said. That’s 45 miles over rough, unpaved roads. The mayor himself, a man in his early 60s, remembers when Standenbuehl had a main street made of large cobblestones and not the smooth blacktop of today.

Experienced Genealogist Roland Geiger translates Latin into English in a chapel in Weistersweiler, Rheinland Pfalz


The Packwoods are currently enjoying a trip through their ancestral villages with James Derheim, founder of European Focus. With Roland’s help, we were able to not only visit the ancestral “Stammort,” or origin village, but we were able to pinpoint various farms and other properties owned by the Merkel family prior to their emigration in 1844 to Wisconsin.

Guiding tours in European for over 20 years