One of the things I love/hate about genealogy is that there is always something tugging at you, tempting you to stray from a well-outlined research path and wander around in search of something that catches your attention. When I started this blog, I promised that I would tell the story of my journey and what I learned along the way. Getting sidetracked is a part of the journey. So, once again, I interrupt the saga of the Doyon family to relate what it is that has been taking up all my time this past week.
I have mentioned a number of times that the search for my German family has been a difficult one. Records in what was, for almost 40 summers, East Germany, have been notoriously evasive. Many voting and/or census records were destroyed to keep religious and/or political affiliations out of the hands of the ruling government. People in East Germany were leery of being too forthcoming because no one knew who might be informing on whom. The State Security Service (STASI) was everywhere. Records, buried for centuries in dank, dark, church basements are just beginning to see the light of day and only recently began showing up on search sites. I had abandoned much of my search out of frustration.
But my cousin Yvonne in Bavaria found me and in doing so I learned about two of my mother’s first cousins I had not known about. What about the one I did know about? What happened to him?
I knew that my grandmother’s sister, Margarete, had a son, Gerhard. I remember Oma, Opa and my mom talking about him “coming to America”. Now, 60+ years later, deep into the research of my family history, those vague memories of a five-year-old eavesdropping on the German whisperings of her family, started coming back to me. I had two photos of Gerhard, a copy of his birth certificate and a copy of his and Ruth’s marriage certificate. I might still be able to uncover what happened to him and his wife.
And so, armed with a renewal of my Ancestry.com subscription and a one-week trial subscription to Newspapers.com, I set off to see what I could find. It amazes me what you can do with a single piece of paper. Ancestry.com only gave up one piece of information that had not been available before – Gerhard’s Petition for Naturalization. What? He was right here in the United States?
That petition had his name (check!), his date and place of birth (check!), the name of his wife (check!), where he was living and for how long, the date he arrived in the U.S. as well as the airline and flight number. But even better, it stated that he had two living children. Ah-Ha! Unfortunately, no names. But a little digging managed to turn up the flight manifest for Great Lakes Airlines, flight #65141, 7 May 1957. Listed there were the names of Gerhard, his wife, and their two children. The search was on!
Ancestry.com has a policy of not revealing information about living people. As an advocate for privacy, I can appreciate that. But it does a nice job of stymying research. Newspapers.com, on the other hand, is an immense catalog of newspapers that makes no such distinction. Armed with names and a general place of residence, I was able to locate more than one hundred pieces of information about Gerhard and his family. Birth announcements, engagement and wedding notices, obituaries, scholastic achievements, and real estate transactions – many accompanied by photos – all available in the local papers. It was a gold mine of information. Armed with names and dates, I went to Facebook and did more research. By the time I was finished with my three-day research excursion, I had constructed a pretty accurate family tree for Gerhard, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I discovered I had two, second cousins who I never knew about and who, probably, didn’t know about me. Or did they?
Okay. I am a curious person. I ask a lot of questions. But more than that, I consider myself, as so aptly described by Della M. Cummings Wright, to be the storyteller of my tribe – breathing life into all those ancestors that came before me and feeling, somehow, that they are looking on, and approve. And Gerhard and his family are part of my tribe. Each new discovery just added another aspect to the mystery.
Did the Muellers (change of spelling) know about their relatives in Connecticut when they arrived in the U.S.? Why did they settle in Illinois? Why didn’t my Oma, Opa or mother ever talk about these family members? Did they keep in touch? How did I manage to grow up in such a small family and not know we had relatives in Illinois. Why so much mystery? If I got in touch with them, would they be interested in their Connecticut cousins? Where? Who? What? When? Why? Lots and lots of questions.
I decided to reach out – and am now waiting to see if anyone from Gerhard’s clan reaches out to me. Maybe, they too, have some questions.