I was beginning to think my future as a blogger was looking quite dismal. I left Poland nine days ago and I am not even close to recording my entire journey. Three flights and 30 hours of travel completely wiped me out. More than 3,000 photos crashed my computer and froze my screen to a jumble “panic” warnings. A visit to the Apple Genius Bar got my computer up and running, but then I was hit with an acute case of bronchitis stopping me in my tracks. So today was to be my day to catch up. But as I went through my photos, my notes and my memories, the sheer scope of everything I had experienced was completely overwhelming and was teetering close to becoming a distant blur. As I tried to focus on where to start, I heard the familiar ping of a note from Facebook Messenger. It was from my archaeologist friend Przemek who put me in contact with a genealogy researcher from the Polish Archives. On my last day in Poland, he had me write down everything I knew about my family. I left him with several pages of notes and my ancestral chart. Today Przemek sent me the following message:
We have first document from the archives. Birth certificate of HEINRICH WILHELM, son of blacksmith master Wilhelm Ludewig and his wife Ernestine de domo Schiller, primo voto Gaertner (so Wilhelm was her second husband, she was a widow).
There it was. My grandfather’s birth certificate. He added that he would be sending me a “transliteration and translation tomorrow.” But even in German and written in a barely legible script, I could see what it was. In more than 30 years of my own genealogy research, I had never found a birth certificate for my grandfather. The first record I discovered was on a passenger list when he immigrated to America in 1882. [See “A Very Warm Welcome to Jelenia Gora,” August 15, 2016]. But a birth certificate? Nope. And as I was told, after the German-speaking people were forced to leave their homes after the close of World War II in 1945, many church records and vital records had been destroyed or simply vanished. The entire history of the Prussian people disappeared forever.
Everything I know about the Ludwig (Ludewig) family of Boberröhrsdorf is from the actual words of Grandpa’s father, Wilhelm Heinrich Ludwig. Remarkably, he kept a journal in which he wrote down his daily activities, financial transactions, gifts received from family on the birth of his son Heinrich, recipes and even his favorite hymns and poetry about his love for the Prussian empire.
From 1845 to 1883, Wilhelm kept a record and the key to his life. Had he not done so, I doubt I would ever have discovered his beautiful homeland. Written in German, I have had the translation typed out from the original since I began studying my family history in 1981. I do not know who originally did the translation. My Aunt Helen kept meticulous notes and eventually expanded the translation to include a chrononlogy of the financial transactions, names of cities and towns mentioned with maps, a detailed history of what was happening in Germany at that time and an aphabetized list of names mentioned in the Journal.
For such a scrupulously detailed account of his life, I was surprised last summer when I got to see and hold Wilhelm’s Journal for the first time. The keeper of the Journal is my cousin Forrest Ludwig who lives up in the mountains near Boise, Idaho. The Journal is no more than 2 x 5 notepad with a cardboard cover. It is extremely fragile, but it is filled with the most exquisite script. I attempted to photograph the pages, but because of its size and the brittle pages, it was difficult to do so adequately. Still it is a wonder to behold. I have had dozens of similiar little notebooks I have scribbled in during my lifetime. How could Wilhelm have ever had known that 168 years later his great-grandaughter would have followed his notes and fallen so completely in love with the village he had called home.
So today I am encouraged having received my grandfather’s birth certificate all the way from the Polish archives. And forever grateful to Przemek and his resources for going to such lengths on behalf of my family. I need to remind myself that I have all the time in the world to record each surprising discovery from my extraordinary trip. I made the journey, now it is the time to record my discoveries. And who knows? Maybe someone else will be inspired a 100 years from now.
My cousins and I on the day we photographed Wilhelm’s Journal, October 2015 (From Left to Right: Karen Ludwig Scott, Kathy Ludwig Geib, Me, Forrest Ludwig)