Exploring the family tree

I got a digital ancestry (family tree) from my grandparents for christmas. I actually never really looked into it, but I did now. My grandfather’s brother and his wife put it together.

The earliest ancestor we know of seems to have been born 1685 (!!!). It may be possible there’s one generation between him and the next. He has the family name my mother had when she was born and gave up when marrying my father (shame – his family tree is likely much shorter.
The first ancestor we have accurate, reliable documentation of was born 1774, which is also pretty fucking crazy.

The documentation of all this was only possible due to a heroic clergyman’s wife who saved church documents from the Russians in 1945. They annexed the village, pillaged the church, threw documents out of the window – she sneaked onto the church grounds at night and grabbed as many books as she could.

My granduncle and his wife travelled into the DDR in 1979 and visited a pastor who dug through old church documents and verified as many as he could. They were really elaborate when putting together the family tree, gathered as many authentic documents as possible. They even tried to find out what these people’s occupations were: There are teachers, engineers, linguists, industrials, farmers, and more.

They photographed every document they couldn’t carry home, including pictures of families and people. The resemblance to still living family members is amazing. There are ~30 official documents like birth/death certificates with dates, locations, names, family members etc, even one school document which verifies an ancestor of mine who entered school in 1883 (born 1877) was “sufficient” – so, pretty average.

The original documents are almost impossible to read due to age & style of writing – this must’ve been an insane amount of work to put together.
My granduncle and his wife documented every step of their journey to gather all the documents in a 4-page-diary in 1979, luckily with a typewriter. A good chunk of the documents that helped here seem to have been baptism documents, in private family and church libraries. The whole journey to gather these documents and speak to people took place between the 2nd and 8th of April 1979, they travelled ~1800km (!). Their schedule was full every day, there were some last-minute change of plans (how do you do that without internet or cell phones?!?), arriving five minutes before closing and talking to some very sceptic people – all that in the DDR as BRD citizens, which is not exactly easy & pretty scary as well, because one big fuck-up and you may never get back home.

My grandparents’ family name has slavic roots and is the result of differences between different language’s characters, including Sorbian. Sorbs lived in a small area on both sides of today’s borders between Germany and Poland; they’re originally west-slavic and lived in the Lusatia area. Coming closer to the 20th century, they spread out more in germany and became a minority in most german areas; the language got used less and less and the nazis prohibited its use entirely (like many other).

The original documents verifying the family tree are stored at my granduncle’s home and to be inherited by whoever carries on the family name (so not me or my brother). I’m quite sad about that now, actually – I think such a long family tree is pretty rare, and my father’s is nowhere near as long or elaborate; it starts at 1878 when Prussia introduced a centralized administration and the research was restricted to official libraries. Still, both of my mother’s siblings kept the family name of my grandparents and their kids have it too, so it won’t die this generation.

Still, I’m glad I have this. It’s on CD now, on my hard drive, on an external one and in a Dropbox, and my brother has a CD as well.

Shoutouts to pastor Stosch from Trebitz, Beeskow who visited my granduncle and his wife out of nowhere in 1978. My granduncle wanted to put together a family tree earlier, but never got a response from the mayor. No idea how the pastor found them, or if he searched for them at all – maybe it was just an incredible coincidence he met them when visiting the BRD after his early retirement. He got permits for my granduncle and his wife to visit the DDR, and pastor Golling did a lot of work until 1981 digging through libraries and transcribed as much as possible. Of course, deciphering all this & putting it all together, including digitally, must’ve been an insane challenge as well.

I’ll care for it.

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