When I grew up, my maternal grandmother often talked about her younger brother, Erwin. He was born only a few years before World War I, so in his early childhood years during the war, he suffered immensely from the lack of food. Even though my grandmother shared her meager portion with him, he suffered severely from malnutrition. When he developed a kidney infection a few years later, his body was not resilient enough to fight the disease, and he passed away as a very young man.
My grandmother never overcame his passing. Even in her 90s, her eyes filled with tears when she talked about her younger brother—and so did mine. Growing up in a home where there was always plenty of everything, I simply could not imagine what it was like to be hungry and undernourished. How I wished I could have shared some of my plenty with Erwin or could simply do something for that hungry little boy.
As a young woman, I started to work on my family tree. For my father’s side of the family, research was very easy because of well-kept family records. For my mother’s side, however, research became very difficult because my grandmother’s house had been bombed during World War II. The family had lost all of their possessions, including their family records. I was able to identify the names of my grandmother’s parents, but there was no information on their children, including Erwin. Living a busy life like almost everybody today, I postponed further research to some later time in life.
Then, a few months ago, I was asked to help German stake indexing directors. I realized that I needed to increase my knowledge about the process of finding records and teaching others how to use them. A colleague sent me the link to a website called Ancestry.de which provides access to many useful German record collections. Experimenting with the website, I searched for Erwin’s name, and there was one exact hit—his death record. I searched for his parents, and again, there was one exact hit—his parent’s marriage license, which included the names of their parents, my great-great-grandparents for whom, so far, I had no information. Within seconds, I had found five new names for my family tree.
I could not believe this success—I had not asked for help with my own tree or with my own research. The only thing I had asked to do was to learn how to find information in Germany so I could teach others how to do it. I never imagined that this simple request would trigger events that would so quickly and easily lead me to the names of five ancestors that I could add to my own tree. I was totally overwhelmed.
Because of this experience, I am convinced that if we will just make the effort to begin searching for an ancestor then great things could possibly happen and we may experience results in a way that are beyond our imagination.
I can hardly wait to share this information about Erwin with other family members. Finally, after so many years, there is something I can do for a hungry little boy whose story touched me so deeply when I was a young girl. I can share his story and help ensure that the memory of this little boy stays alive.