A Family Reunion after 200 Years

[Also see the related article “A Family Reunion Resulting from Ancestral Research”]

Flaig, John. "A Family Reunion after 200 Years." Mitteilungsblatt, February 2011, 15-16.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.

NOTE: This is one of two related articles, introduced in this February, 2011 issue as follows:
Toward the end of the 2010 we received two reports from Armin Flaig, a reader in Kempten [Germany], regarding an unusual family reunion: “Our families met on June 22 in Kempten. The impetus for this was a number of trips to Bessarabia. In 2006, Dietrich Holzwarth and I were visiting Wittenberg. At the end of that visit I had given the local school mistress, Mrs. Reul, a brief report on village life and on the school around the time of the resettlement of 1940. The report, in German and in Russian, can still be seen at the school in Wittenberg [in Bessarabia], which Herbert and John Flaig of the US visited in 2009, and where they discovered photos and that report of mine. On returning home, they received my address from Carolyn Schott of Seattle, US, and a lively correspondence ensued, which in turn led to a visit in Mönchweiler and Kempten.”

Around 1800, the Flaig family in Mönchweiler in the Black Forest made a decision to emigrate to Prussia. Napoleon’s troops had leveled the Flaig farm property. Christoph, the eldest among the numerous children of the family, together with his father, had finalized the plan. Georg, the second-oldest, would follow a year later. However, the Flaig family did not fare well in South Prussia, so after just a few years they continued onward to Bessarabia. Christoph became a co-founder of the village of Wittenberg, while Georg moved on to Alt-Posttal. And the latter’s son, also a Georg, went to Beresina, where he started a family. The descendants of those two sons Christoph and Georg would later have no knowledge of the relationship, but they eventually had a reunion in Bayern in June of 2010. Armin Flaig of Kempten [Germany], a direct descendant of Christoph, met together with (American) direct descendants of Georg Flaig. The background for this small Flaig family reunion is rather unusual, but the history of these two family lines is probably typical for many Bessarabian families.

My father was born in 1939 in Mintchuna (Bessarabia). After the resettlement the family came to West Prussia in 1942, and after the flight [from Poland] in 1945 they lived in Niedersachsen [Lower Saxony/West Germany] until 1951. From there they emigrated to Canada. I was born in New York in 1974. Our ancestral record contains information about our Flaig family branch, and this documentation starts at Grömbach in what was then South Prussia, but the oral history of our family takes us back all the way to Swabia, although the exact place was never recorded. Swabian was spoken in our grandparents’ home, and I always believed that there had to be a historical link to Württemberg. Although my father’s doctoral thesis was on German history, he had little interest in or knowledge of where the Flaig family came from or why they emigrated. Without my own deep interest in the Flaigs our Bessarabia trip of 2009 and the work on the Flaig family history would never have taken place. Still, I was completely in the dark about it all, and I had located no information in any document or book.

But it is this search which in 2009 finally saw my 71-year-old father and me stumbling through high brush and thorny bushes in a wildly overgrown cemetery in Wittenberg (now called Maloyaroslavetz I). In Beresina [also in Bessarabia], where my grandfather Johannes Flaig was born in 1897, we had looked in vain for graves of Germans in the cemetery. So we had driven on to Wittenberg, where to my knowledge there had been Flaigs at some time, and there we searched for our Flaig ancestors’ names on still grave markers that were either still standing and those that had been. Under some thick underbrush, which we were continually pulling up, we then came upon the broken gravestone of a Friedrich Flaig. It is difficult to describe one’s emotions after such a discovery. We had come all the way from America, halfway around the world, to a small village in the Ukrainian steppes adjoining the Moldovan border, and there we found our name, etched very plainly into a broken gravestone. Now we had proof that some of our ancestors were indeed resting there.

After this discovery of Friedrich Flaig’s gravestone, we were received very warmly by Galina Ivanovna Reul, principal of the school in Wittenberg. Mrs. Ivanovna Reul is strongly interested in the history of the German founders of the former Wittenberg, and she has put together a collection of artifacts and photos of former Wittenbergers, all of the Russian and Romanian eras. Among the photos was one of a recent visitor from Germany, who was also tracking down his ancestors. The name on the photo was Armin Flaig. I knew nothing about an Armin Flag, but I thought that he must somehow be related to my family.               

After we returned to the US I sent an e-mail to Carolyn Schott, who was working as a volunteer with the Association of Germans from Russia [German Russian Heritage Society (GRHS) - Tr.] headquartered in Bismarck, North Dakota. I wrote to her about our trip, about our visit in Wittenberg, and about the photo of Armin Flaig. To my great surprise, it turned out that she is a relative of Armin Flaig and has visited him in Germany. She sent me Armin’s e-mail address.

This is the Armin Flaig of Kempten [in Bavaria] who discovered the missing link in our family history. Some years earlier, Armin Flaig, with help from Klara Bollinger, had worked his way through the history of the Flaigs and, via certain documents, had demonstrated that Martin Flaig is the common ancestor [of our family branches].

In 2010 my family (father, mother, a brother, and I) flew from Chicago to Frankfurt, then drove to Mönchweiler for a week’s stay. With the help of local historians we learned a great deal about the history of our ancestors there, and also how the history of Europe often touched it. (Mr. Makowe and Mr. Pechmann, those local historians of the Flaigs and of the Mönchweiler area, also served as our excellent guides during our travels there.) I learned much about the 500-year history of the Flaig family in Mönchweiler and surrounding area. Part of this new knowledge is the fact that around 1810 the people of Mönchweiler became Badeners, prior to which they had been Swabians. My father cannot accept this, and my grandfather lived and died a proud Swabian.

Two Flaig Branches
The Old Cemetery in Wittenberg

Appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of these articles.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller