Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Finding Family

If you haven't guessed from Jeff's fair appearance and robust nose, he is of German descent. His maternal great-grandfather was one of several brothers who emigrated from north Germany to Texas in the late 1800's. He married a German/Swedish woman, and Jeff's grandmother spoke a little German as a child and remembered some German songs. Most of this came to our attention several years ago after his grandmother died and we found a letter she had written to her father's brother's daughter (her Cousin Sophie) back in Germany in the 70's. Sophie had died by that time, but her 18 year old granddaughter had written back and provided a few family details such as names and ages of the current generation. Given this, Jeff utilized the Internet and located the granddaughter and her brothers (his third cousins). There was a little email correspondence and the exchange of a few old pictures to confirm the shared ancestors. Nothing much more happened, but it was nice to find a connection in the Old Country.

Fast forward a few years. Jeff decided that since we are in Germany, he would get in touch with his distant relations over here. Amazingly, the three cousins and their father live only a few miles from several of our church friends who had been inviting us to visit them in their home! So we arranged to stay overnight with our generous hosts Saturday evening, and Sunday morning we met the German branch of Jeff's family tree. We were able to see two of their homes and meet all three third cousins, their father, and several of the spouses and children. We spent a lovely morning and afternoon before taking the train a few hours back to Berlin.

One interesting note: we asked about visiting the grave sites and cemeteries where some of the ancestors might be buried. We were informed that in Germany, one doesn't own the burial plot, one basically “rents” it. Once the family or descendants stop paying, the marker is often removed and the site can be used by someone else. Now, they weren't quite sure what was done with the casket or the actual remains, but essentially, unless there is an interested party that preserves the ancestor's final resting place, it is very unlikely that you can locate the actual grave site. The village church may have records, but don't expect to get a rubbing of the headstone!

Jeff with his third cousin Martin and his family
(Of all things, Martin is a Ph.D. materials scientist and used to teach at a university; Jeff is a Ph.D. metallurgist and is a professor at a university! Maybe it was in the genes.)

Jeff and I with his third cousins (back row) and their father

1 comment:

  1. That is so neat! I can sort of see a resemblance in their mouth structure. The smiles are very similar.