Sunday, 25 September 2011

Looking for roots

I have just visited my historical Heimat. The branch of my family that I know best and that I have always identified with came from Schwabia. We know nothing about them; they could have been peasants, wine mechants or craftsmen. Maybe they lived in one of these magnificent houses. Most likely, not. My great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was born in Danzig, now Gdansk, in 1753. What his parents did in Gdansk is unknown. Perhaps they moved to seek their fortune; perhaps the father was the youngest son who did not inherit his father's business. We know that this ancestor of mine, Paul Tietz, came to Russia in 1788, on foot and with a violin as his only possession. (the latter is perhaps a family legend, but a later ancestor mentioned the violin in his memoirs, so somewhere it did exist). Paul was one among many Germans on their way to the Holy Land. Somehow they got stuck in Northern Caucasus and settled there, becoming farmers, millers, and wine merchants. My great-great-grandfather - and this is no longer a legend - owned a mill and quite a lot of land. My great-grandfather, the youngest brother of three... it would be termpting to say that he inherited a cat and eventually married a princess, but the three brothers were in full agreement and worked the mill togehther, although my great-grandfather also loved arts and supported young artists and musicians. He didn't marry a princess, but my great-grandmother, the daughter of another German settler.

I won't dwell on what happened to them after the Catastrophe; instead I'll go back to Tubingen where I should have felt that I belonged. I didn't. If I had known more I might have gone to the city museum; I might have visited archives; I should have looked for headstones in the cemetery.

I envy people who can with confidence say: "This is where I come from". People from the USA, Canada, Australia, who go Europe to find places where their roots are. People in Sweden who can idenitify the little village where the parish church books have dates of births, weddings and funerals. People whose families lived in the same place for generation after generation.

My family, this branch that I feel I come from, were nomads. I can trace their wanderings through Europe, Russia, Transcaucasus, Middle East. Some ended up in Australia. Today, most of their descendants have returned to Germany, after more than two hundred years. They have found their roots.

No comments: