My mom and I went to Germany last month to find out more about our ancestors. We knew they were from a small town outside of Frankfurt, called Marienbrunn. It is so small that we couldn't even find it on googlemaps. We are talking tiny. So without proper directions or an address, we set out to find the old Schwind house, the home of my great-great-great grandfather. With the help of several kind (mostly non-English-speaking) people in the town, we were directed to an old, humble brick home directly across from the church. This was the Schwind house. We couldn't believe our luck! And to top it off, we were able to speak with the older woman who lived next door to the house, and who had memories of her parents speaking of "the Schwind family who used to live next door". She even had a tiny photo that she had kept all these years from her parents of the family. The old man sitting by himself on the steps in the photo is believed to be a relative. The house has since been sold, as my ancestors left back in the mid-1800's, and the house now functions partly as a barn. A cozy home to about 10 chubby pigs.
We also were able to be introduced (by the older woman neighbor) to a distant relative. A woman whose mother was a Schwind. My mom is now exchanging emails back and forth to find out more about our family history, and we even think she'll be able to provide us with names and birth dates and history going very far back, which is now logged in old church books, buried away in a pile of dust somewhere in the town.
For such a short trip (5 days in Germany and only 2 in this area of our ancestors), we felt very successful and grateful for the help of so many. We visited a nearby Catholic records library and made hundreds of dollars worth of copies of Schwind marriage and birth records. Now to find the time to sift through everything and figure out where our family line begins and ends! It's a daunting task, no doubt.
It felt very powerful to be in the tiny village of my ancestors, and I was immediately impressed that these serene and humble surroundings were not always so. I imagined how they lived and survived in these beautiful and what must have been very hard times. In reading the history of Germany in the mid-1800's, there were famines, recent wars, and resulting lack of work, which is why many emigrated at that time. The strong and providing hills that grew vegetables from the earth, feeding and supporting so many through the centuries, are now dotted with wind turbines and old roofs covered in solar panels. Cars zoom by on the nearby autobahn at speeds near 150 MPH. It is starkly different from days past, yet the people in this town continue to live and work off the land, their strong German constitutions and the beautiful sun-kissed hills as their companions. Knowing that I come from this bloodline, from a hearty stock of devoted and determined villagers, who lived as long as they could in the town until they made a surely heartbreaking decision to leave the home they knew and loved to seek opportunity. I'm grateful for their sacrifices and grateful to even know about their sacrifices. Seeing your family history come to life really is beyond words, and I'm happy my mother and I were able to take this trip.
More photos to come from Munich and Frankfurt...