Genealogical Gold Dust

Sorry for the cliff hanger – I couldn’t resist.

My moment of joy – after so long of having a complete brick wall where my Great Granddad had come from and any information at all about his parents and family. I had a message from the daughter of a family history researcher from Germany, she said that her father had been researching the family for years and put me in touch with him. I must admit I got very excited, and my poor (family history widower) husband wondered what on earth was going on.

A lovely man called Rudi emailed me, apparently it was a known story in the German side of the family about the uncle and four cousins who had emigrated to England in the mid 1800’s and there had been regular contact for years with some of the cousins. (Sadly, not my side though obviously).  He’d come over to London in the 1970’s and searched for descendants, even to the point of looking through the phone books for anyone with that surname. Sadly, family here had either had daughters who married out of the surname, or they had emigrated to Canada so he never tracked us down.

He was and still is very proud of being from the state of Hanover and told me many tales of how close the citizens of this area felt towards England (and our ‘German’ royal family) and what they did to fight and resist the Nazi ideology in the villages our family lived in. He told me his father had had no choice but to join the German Army and fought and died during WW2 on the eastern front fighting the Russians. He never knew his father as his father was killed in battle when he was a baby. After the war descendants of my Great Uncles who had emigrated to Canada had sent care parcels to his Mum as they struggled to survive in destitute post-war Germany without his father.

And oh, joy of joys he had traced the family back to the 1600’s…He had photos of the houses my ancestors had lived in, and so many documents – it was such a joy to this historian’s heart. He sent me a huge parcel of documents, a family genealogy, numerous baptism records and soooo many documents tracing the family back generations. There was a massive family still living in Germany which we’d had no idea about. His grandad was a cousin to my great granddad and that was the link between us. Our relatives had been many things including musketeers and village mayors.

Researching Grandad’s Siblings

Whilst searching for new relatives and the ever-hopeful link to relatives still living in Germany, I was also filling out what I knew of my Grandad’s Siblings.

My Grandad was the second youngest of 11. Nine had made it to adulthood with two sadly dying at birth. All his brothers were older than him and they all fought in WW1. My Grandad was born in 1901 so he was just too young to sign up. (He did however join the Navy after WW1 and went on to join the RAF during WW2).

What I didn’t realise is that the majority of young men with German heritage who signed up to fight had to fight in what was called the ‘Kaisers regiment’. The law was if you were born in England and one of your parents was ‘foreign’ even if you had never travelled to your parent’s birth country, you were considered foreign yourself and couldn’t be trusted. This was also the case for spouses of anyone born abroad, and to be honest my immediate family were lucky not to be deported back to Germany or be placed in Internment camps. Which is what I discovered had happened to the descendants of extended family members who had emigrated to England.

One brother was captured by the German Army and spent most of the war in one prisoner of war camp or another. The family story goes – that so little was known about his whereabouts or even if he was still alive during or just after the war that his ‘widow’ was on the point of marrying someone else when he turned up unannounced weeks before the wedding.

Sadly, Grandad’s youngest sister had died during the Spanish Flu epidemic just after the war, she was only recently married and was pregnant with her first child. It really affected my Grandad as he adored her, she was the sibling he was closest to.

One sister married and had four children and then her husband was sadly killed in a car accident caused by his son. I was always told by my Mum that her uncle and cousin had been arguing about which junction to take off the road they were travelling on. They ended up crashing as a result and the son ended up going to court for causing death by dangerous driving. I have never been able to find any court records to prove this, but after this horrific accident my Great Aunt emigrated to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with her children.

Another older sister married an American and as she couldn’t have any children of her own took on a younger sister to raise to aid her parents.

Two of Grandad’s brothers emigrated to Canada on their return to England after demobilisation, and it was their grandchildren who I’d made contact with from my Gran’s address book.

One Great Uncle has remained a mystery to this day, I think he fought in WW1, but due to the damage of WW1 records I can’t prove this. My Gran was told a couple of stories either that he was blown up in WW1 or that he was Winston Churchill’s chauffeur but got killed in a bomb. Neither of which stories can be proved, I think I found him on some immigration records entering USA as a chauffeur to an American, but this is where the trail disappears.

One brother, (the oldest of all the siblings) remained in England but sadly died only a couple of years after the war, this was due to serious health conditions brought on by being gassed in the WW1 trenches. This was one story my Mum did know and told me about it when I studied War Poetry as part of my English A Level. Wilfred’s Owen poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ about being gassed felt so very poignant and really hit home.

Finally, the last brother became a Prize Fighter and a lovely person on a genealogical forum sent me a photo of him posing with his gloves on. He later became a carpenter and my aunt mentioned visiting his workshop with her dad and brother when she was little. She said they called him Uncle Charlie but had no idea he was actually their uncle, their dad’s brother. I thought this was a bit odd but it’s just more proof of my Grandad not talking about his family and how distant they were from each other.

Then came my personal research Gold Dust – a distant family member in Germany had seen the message I’d posted on one of the German genealogical forums and contacted me.

Looking For Fritz

After my Mum died at such a young age both myself and my sister-in-law decided we had to sit down with my Grandmother and ask her about her parents and also what she knew of my Grandad’s family and where they came from.

She was in her 90’s at this point and we did not know how much time we had left with her. I was so thankful we did this, not only did we get the names of my Grandad’s parents and his siblings, but he also found out information about her family that without it I would never have found her or her parents in the records – however more about that later, let’s keep to Grandads family.

I began my search for my ‘foreign’ Great Grandad in the traditional way by sending for his marriage certificate in 1884 and looking for him in the census records. On his marriage certificate we finally had his full name – four forenames! All I’d had up to now was his ‘family name’ of Fritz so this was a definite step forward. I need to point out here that when I began this research 20 years ago not many census records were available online. We only had from 1841 up to the 1891 census.

The first possible mention of him was in the 1881 census in Walthamstow. This was the right area, but I couldn’t be certain it was him as Fritz was a common nickname for those with Friederich in their name. What proved I had the right man was in 1891 he was still in Walthamstow, and he was with his wife and children. For his place of birth, he put Germany. – we finally knew where he came from hurrah; however, Germany is a big place so the search hadn’t ended.

Now we had to work out where in Germany, bearing in mind that when he was born – in approx1860, Germany wasn’t actually a country but a collection of small States, Principalities and Duchies.