We recently traced a client’s ancestor from Orange Free State, South Africa, back to Germany. And, we discovered a secret in the process: he was Jewish!
The client found us on facebook and reached out via our contact form at lostgenerationsgenealogy.com. We started with details, letters, and photos she provided or had posted to the world family tree at familysearch.org and to her tree at ancestry.com. Using the digitized Hanover, Germany, city directories and through correspondence with the city offices and city archives of Hanover, Germany, we learned details about the ancestor’s brother.
We searched first in the Lutheran Church records of Hanover with no relevant results. As we gathered more information and received a response from the City of Hanover, we learned of a city where the ancestor was likely born. But, searches in the christening, marriage, and death records of the Lutheran church there turned up nothing. Then, the inspiration hit.
Though the ancestor’s children were all christened in a reformed Lutheran church in South Africa, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren had heard stories that the ancestor might have been Jewish. (It eventually came out that there was one document in their possession–a POW record from the Anlgo-Boer War–that indicated that the ancestor was Jewish.) The stories. The surname. The dearth of mentions in Christian records.
With these realizations, I went directly to a popular European family tree site, myheritage.com, and searched the surname, and the hometown we had gleaned through correspondence with Germany. And, there it was:
- a tree with the names of the ancestor’s parents with appropriate ages
- a son named Moritz–the same name of one who sponsored the ancestor’s child at a christening in South Africa, and he was of the right age to be the ancestor’s brother
- all in the city where we believed the ancestor was from
One last search by our correspondent at the world-famous Family History Library in Salt Lake City sealed the deal. In a book about the Jews of that city, there they were: the brother whose records led us to the hometown, the ancestor with a matching name and birth date, parents with the names listed on the ancestor’s death record, a brother named Moritz, as well as four more siblings! The moment was thrilling and the client was over the moon. For years, she desired to know more about her great-grandfather’s family–his ancestors. Now, the day had come. (Days like these that remind us why we’re in the genealogy business!)
If you want to learn more about your ancestors, start your tree for free at www.familysearch.org. To learn more about Lost Generations Genealogy and our Professional Genealogy Research Services visit our website, www.lostgenerationsgenealogy.com, or find us on Facebook at facebook.com/lostgenerations.
About the author: Bryce H. Rogers holds a B.A. in Family History–Genealogy and German Studies from Brigham Young University. He has been a professional genealogist since his genealogy research internship in continental Europe in 2005. He is a father of seven, husband of one and lives in the Southern Idaho, USA metropolis of Malad City, population 2,104.