Ernst Walter Mayr was born on 5 July 1904 in Kempten, at the northern foot of the Alps, located in southern Germany, and he was the middle of three brothers. His father, Dr. jur. Otto Mayr (23 July 1867-1 July 1917) was a successful jurist from a peasant family in Oberegg near Kempten (Fig. 1.1). The family name "Mayr" is fairly frequent in Bavaria. Ernst's great-grandfather, Johann Evangelist Mayr, was born in Westenried near Unterthingau on 16 December 1807 and died in Altusried (near Kempten) on 28 June 1864. He and a second great-grandfather (Bonifaz Müller) were the first physicians in the family and established a long medical tradition that is still alive in the family today. Johann Mayr had two sons, Dr. med. Otto Mayr (OM 1, born in Altusried on 8 August 1833, died in Lindau on 17 January 1912), Ernst's grandfather, and Eugen Adolf Mayr (born on 16 December 1839, died in Nürnberg after 1920). Dr. Otto Mayr (OM 1) studied medicine in Munich. He was at first a physician in Oberstdorf in southwest Germany (where Ernst's father was born) and later in Lindau am Bodensee (Lake Constance) where he became a doctor at the town hospital and served as surgeon for the poor. He was a naturalist, apiculturist, and hunter, and he participated on a regular basis in the annual meetings of the German Society of Naturalists and Surgeons. He married Wilhelmine ("Minna") Müller, a member of the distinguished Gruber family, respected landowners in this region. Minna Mayr lived from 3 October 1847 to 22 December 1928. They had two sons, Otto and Hermann, and one daughter Dora. When a little over 70 years old, the grandfather retired, and built a house in the outskirts of Lindau, with a large garden, where Ernst and his brothers spent several summer holidays. They received much attention especially from their grandmother because they were her only grandchildren. Uncle Hermann in Heidelberg and Aunt Dora had no children. Like her brother Otto, Aunt Dora was very interested in philosophy and the family considered her brilliant. Occasionally, the grandfather or Aunt Dora would take them for a walk and then for a piece of cake at a cafe. After the grandfather died in 1912, grandmother Minna and Aunt Dora (who later married August Selle) continued to live in the house in Lindau. Ernst was in New Guinea, when his grandmother died in December 1928. The house in Lindau-Reutin (Rennerle 7) still belongs to Dr. Jörg Mayr, one of Ernst's nephews. His brother Dr. Otto Mayr (OM 4) maintains a comprehensive family archive there.
Uncle Hermann Mayr (1873-1914) was a medical doctor and his older brother Otto Mayr (OM 2, 1867-1917; Ernst's father) became a jurist in the Bavarian court system. He had a brilliant career and, although he was only 49 years old when he died from cancer of the kidneys on 1 July 1917, was to be appointed to Germany's supreme court in Leipzig. His library comprised several thousand volumes, particularly the subjects of history, philosophy, and the classics. On Sundays he would read Homer in the Greek original, without a dictionary.
"He was a gymnast," Ernst Mayr recalls, "belonging to the local sports club, was one of the pioneers of skiing in Germany (he bought his skis in Norway) and he was an enthusiastic mountaineer. He served in the Bavarian Guard Regiment and later was a reserve officer in the army, but when war broke out in 1914, he was too old and ill to serve, much to his regret. He was not at all severe with us children, indeed I have the feeling that my mother was more or less running the show."
Ernst Mayr's mother, Helene Pusinelli, was born of German parents in Le Havre, France, on 22 July 1870 and died in Bad Boll, Germany, on 31 May 1952. She was a member of a well-known Dresden family. An Italian ancestor, Anton Pusinelli (1790-1828), had come to Germany from Nesso, a village on the eastern shore of Lake Como (northernmost Italy). In 1809, he settled in Dresden where his older brother Carlo owned a wine restaurant, which Anton took over after Carlo's death in 1812. Anton married Caroline Brügner (1790-1853) from Torgau and they had six children, four girls and two boys, of whom the older one, Carl Anton Pusinelli (1815-1878), became a rather wealthy pediatrician to the Saxon court in Dresden and a close friend of the composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Carl Anton treated quite successfully the children of the Saxon princes and had the title "Hofrat," but was not an employee of the court. His younger brother was Carl Louis (1820-1879), Ernst Mayr's grandfather. When Carl Louis was 23 years old, he left Dresden and established an import-export business in Le Havre, France, during the late 1840s. Upon a visit to his hometown in 1852, he married Camilla Leonhardt (1833-1891), the daughter of his former boss in Dresden, and they had 11 children. The next-to-youngest was Helene Pusinelli, Ernst Mayr's mother. She was only a few weeks old when the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) broke out. The family was expelled and returned (via Rotterdam and Hamburg) to Dresden where, through his family connections, Carl Louis Pusinelli became the director of a local bank. He had owned a profitable wholesale business in France and had suffered substantial losses because of the expulsion. However, eventually he became quite affluent through considerable compensations from reparation payments. He died in 1879 of stomach cancer. His daughter Helene, her four sisters (another one had died early) and five brothers grew up in Dresden and in part lived there later. Her uncle and a cousin were medical doctors. However, all the family fortune, invested in government securities at the beginning of World War I, was lost due to hyperinflation during the 1920s.
The early Mayrs were members of the Catholic Church. Because the grandfather Otto Mayr had married the Protestant Minna Müller, their three children became members of a Protestant church, too. The Pusinellis in Dresden belonged to the reformed Protestant church. They too had originally been Catholic.
How did the Mayr lineage in Bavaria and the Pusinelli lineage in the distant Saxon city of Dresden meet? The best friend of Dr. Otto Mayr (OM 2) in Bavaria o
Joseph Mayr m. W. ßitzer 1772-1823 1765-1829 Farmer
Aloys Müller m. Anna Pflieger 1765-1854 1773-1849 Teacher
Christian Brügner m. Sophia Kaempfe 1756-1828 1754-1798 Tax collector
J. Schieblich m. J. Schieblich 1775-1832 1780-1851 Merchant
Cornelius Haberstock m. A. Siegel 1776-1839 , 1780-1819 Paper maker
Johann Mayr m. Josefa Haberstock 1807-1864 1808-1884 Physician
Johann Gruber m. Anna Hartmann 1767-1840 . 1779-1863 Merchant
Bonifazius Müller m.Bertha Gruber 1805-1860 1813-1895 Physician
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