Searching for Family Traces

Micheel, Marion. "Searching for Family Traces." Mitteilungsblatt des Bessarabiendeutschen Vereins, August 2011, 13-14.

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

For several years I have been busy working on my family tree. In addition to the usual topics of ancestors and their birthdates and birthplaces, I am also interested in the history of these people. I am a member of the grandchildren’s generation of Bessarabian Germans. My father, Gerhard Schneider, was born in 1914 in Korntal I in Akkermann County. He would talk of Bessarabia more from his mother’s memories than from his own experiences.

I have so few memories of my grandmother that I developed a steadily growing desire that I might personally preserve the memories of life’s experiences for my own children.

It was thus that I began to peruse passports I had of my ancestors, to ask questions of aunts and uncles, and to establish contact with the [Bessarabian] Heimatmuseum in Stuttgart. I also became a member of the Bessarabiendeutsche Verein [Bessarabia German Association], attended meetings of local chapters (with my father), and put together a family tree of my paternal branch and published it.

Via the Internet I came upon many connections with other descendants, entered into lively e-mail correspondences, and exchanged information and photos. More and more I longed for a trip to the homeland of my ancestors, and so last fall I first traveled to the Black Forest and then, via Poland, to Bessarabia. I visited several homeland villages and a school in my grandmother’s birthplace, and I used cemeteries to search for family traces. I returned home with many photos, memories of conversations and encounters, a glass full of “black soil,” and new insights.

I am proud of my ancestors, of their diligence, their persistence and their trust in God. Via I discovered Anton Littau, a descendant of mutual ancestors. He lives in far-away Alaska and has become an important friend. Telling him of my impressions and sharing my accounts and photos with him made him curious enough that he desired to see the homeland of his great-grandfather. Our mutual ancestor was a Johann Littau, who emigrated from Pomerania to Tarutino in 1815, where he took over a farm. Anton Littau has documented this in his thick book on the Littau family.

As part of an American tour group, Anton Littau and his 83-year-old sister Alvina traveled to Bessarabia in May of this year. They visited Odessa and Tarutino. It was an extensive and adventurous trip. Their return trip had been planned to proceed via Stuttgart, which was a natural place and time for us to meet. I talked my seventy-seven-year-old father into going to meet his “nth” cousin. My mother was also interested, and so on the morning of May 25 we traveled to Stuttgart. We had reserved a room in the same hotel [as the Littaus]. Via e-mail we had agreed on a meeting time and we were hopeful that my meager English would do the job.

I still have a great feeling of joy about it. Right away on meeting Anton and Alvina we felt very comfortable, we hugged, and we showed each other pictures of our families.

Michael M. Miller, director of the tour group, invited us to come along to a concert by a German Russian chorus. It turned out to be the event of the evening. The hospitality of those Aussiedlers was simply great. There was a lot of eating, drinking, telling of stories and singing. How similar were all our lives and life’s sufferings!

During the following day we and our relatives visited the Heimatmuseum. Anton was very interested in researching the legend of “Toppeltock,” the Robin Hood of Bessarabia. His father had told him that Toppeltock’s wife was a “Littau,” and Anton wished to find evidence of that. I was hoping strongly that we could gain some new insight at theHeimatmuseum.

At the Heimatmuseum, my father was welcomed by Claudia Schneider, an employee of the museum. My father replied, “Pleased to meet you. I am a Schneider, too! Perhaps we are related?” Dr. Knöll was able to clear things up, and just like that I had a new fifth cousin! What a joy! With Pastor Roger Dieterle from North Dakota, who was also present, we were able to establish that we were relatives of his as well. Dr. Knöll has collected incredible amounts of data and has entered them into a computer data base. We compared birthdates and birthplaces. For my father this piece of work was one of the finest and most important events of his recent years.         

While at the museum, my mother, Alvina and I desperately looked through many books and pamphlets for any evidence of Toppeltock. At last, near the end of our planned stay, we came upon something, and I was really happy for Anton. In a book regarding the Tarutino community a Wilhelm Mutschler cites original text from a 1933 famers’ almanac regarding Toppeltock and his wife, a Justina Littau. It was thanks to Dr. Knöll’s data that we were able to establish the connection. Unfortunately, we were unable to discover the real name of the Toppeltock character…
Perhaps someone may still be in possession of this farmers’ almanac?

For me, a descendant of Bessarabian Germans, this was a wonderful meeting. I am hoping strongly that we, the descendant generations, will all preserve and pass on the collected reports, experiences, names and lives of our ancestors. Our driving forces should be understanding between peoples, thoughts of peace, and the preservation of roots and traditions.

Unfortunately we finally had to say good-bye to our new friends and relatives. Addresses and telephone numbers were exchanged, and I am hoping strongly that there will be another meeting on this earth with Anton, Alvina, as well as with Claudia.

Meanwhile, Anton and his sister have returned safely to Alaska. We exchanged photos and will keep in contact.

I would like to express my gratitude to all the employees at the Bessarabian German Heimatmuseum, especially to Dr. Knöll. You are performing great work!

Photos of the group attending the concert in Stuttgart.
Photos of the group attending the concert in Stuttgart.
Anton Littau researching his family history, here shown with Dr. Knöll.
My grandparents Christian Schneider and Lydia, nee Littau.
Pastor Roger Dieterle of North Dakota in the library of the Heimatmuseum.
Ingeborg Schneider, Alvina nee Littau, Gerhard Schneider and Anton Littau.
Gerhard Schneider, his wife Ingeborg Schneider, Marion Micheel nee Schneider, Anton Littau, and his sister Alvina.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation, and to Dr. Nancy A. Herzog of editing of this article.

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