My Interest in Family History - How It Began
1917 - This was the year of the Russian Revolution, which received much newspaper publicity and much discussion among our people. I was 8 years old and had just started school. I didn't know much English yet, but had mastered a set of four German readers before I started school. I still have the four books in my library.
1918 - The year of the end of the war and of the "flu" which killed people all over the world. I was 9 years old. l didn't contract the flu, but I got a crush on a history of the world war that appeared early in 1919. I pestered my father to buy me a copy, which he did. He warned me, however, that there were a lot of lies about German in it, but he let me read it, with the warning not to believe everything that is printed in books. This book had much information about the Russian revolution and the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks. It also had a lot of good pictures, including the sinking of the German ship that brought my grandfather and his family to America in 1900. I still have this book in my library.
1923 - The year when grandma received a letter from her sister in Selz, with much sad news about family sufferings and deaths during the war and revolution and a famine then existing among them. Grandma sent her sister a food parcel and we received word later that it got there. This contact with the family in Russia was the first since before the war in 1914. There were a few more letters, then Stalin clamped down on letters to the western world. I now have copies of some of the letters grandma received then.
1924 - The year grandma died. She was only 59 years old, much loved by her children and grandchildren, who assembled for a large family gathering at and after her funeral. Much reminiscing about the history of the family! Never again after this did I see all my uncles, aunts and cousins assembled at one place. I was 15 years old. Many years later I wrote a book in memory of grandma entitled, "My Grandmother's People."
1928 - The year when Stalin announced the Five Year Plan. This plan took all land, farm equipment, farm animals, and other valuables from individuals and made them state property. The plan was enforced through a reign of terror, which brought death or long terms in concentration camps to thousands of our German relatives in Russia. I was then 19 years old, attending college in Regina. Our newspapers were filled with horror stories from Russia.
1936 - The year grandfather died, at 75 years of age. I couldn't make it to his funeral. I was teaching in a rural school in northern Saskatchewan far from home, I had no car, the weather was wintery. The next summer I saw some of the interesting papers he left behind, some of which I later made copies. Of most interest to me was his passport from Russia, which described him as Ambros, son of Adam. This is where I first saw recorded the name of this great-grandfather, whose name I inherited.
1945-1950 - This post-war period brought us the first news of the fate of the Germans who had still lived before the war in the Black Sea and Volga regions of Russia, the deportations of many to concentration camps in Asiatic Russia and the repatriation of others to Germany. About 1950 many German-Russian refugees began to arrive in Canada and the United States. Now we began to hear first-hand stories of the tragic wartime events.
1958 - This was the year when I made my first contact with Dr. Stumpp. I saw a copy of the Heimatbuch der Deutschen aus Russland and wrote to the editor about subscribing to it. The editor was Dr. Stumpp. In his reply he told me that he had a census list from Mannheim, which listed a Jacob Giesinger among the founders. Might this be my ancestor? There was no doubt in my mind that he was, since both my grandfather and my father were born in Mannheim. What others were between this Jacob and us, we did not know, but we were excited about hearing about him. I now know that this Jacob was my grandfather's grandfather, but my grandfather had not known him nor of him. He had died many years before my grandfather was born.
1960 - This was an era of research in books I borrowed from libraries
in Germany. This research resulted in 1974 in the publication of
my book, From
Catherine to Khrushchev:The
Story of Russia's Germans.