Review by James M. Beidler
Beidler, James M. "Book is a Primer for Visiting Ancestral Villages." Geman Life Magazine, April/May 2011.
Schott, Carolyn. Visiting Our Ancestral Town. Columbia-Capstone, Redmond, Washington, 2010.
Last issue's column talked about my thrill in finding and then visiting my "surname hometown"-the village oforigin for my Beidler line's immigrant ancestor, Johannes Beydeler.
Since the desire for such an experience is shared by many a family historian, it was a pleasure when Carolyn Schott, a "genealogy conference acquaintance" of mine, told me about a book she has had published titled Visiting Your Ancestral Town (ColumbiaCapstone, Redmond, WA, 94 pages, $6.49, available from Internet booksellers).
Her book is the first of a series of books called "Yes You! Yes Now!" and are not intended to be in-depth studies of their topics; instead, they are designed tor "the action-oriented person who wants to try something new and wants to find out about it now."
Schott's No.1 research interest is ethnic Germans east of modern (or even historical) Germany's boundaries, but her book is a primer for anyone who has made the decision to visit an ancestral village-whether that place is "across the pond" or merely in another part of the United States.
The author has been a board member of the Germans from Russia Heritage Soci 'ty, but she has also traced various lines back to Germany proper and has made Heimat visits in both Germany and today's Ukraine.
Schott ticks off the various reasons people give for such searches: trying to connect with family stories and memories; the awe of walking in more distant ancestors' footsteps; and the opportunity to take the road less traveled.
In some cases, travelers have all or some combinations of these reasons. Since all of my ancestors immigrated to America by 1840, there are no close relatives of mine in Europe, though the relationships I have developed through genealogy and traveling to Germany have left me with several close friends. And because my ancestors stayed in one place in America, I have never had a distant town or state to which to return on this side of the water.
"Walking in ancestors' footsteps," however, resonates especially well with me since I have had several outstanding experiences with German hospitality that resulted merely from announcing that I had ancestors who came from a particular village (Acknowledgement of my 1737 immigrant ancestor in one small town even got me a free lunch!).
And "taking the road less traveled" is advice that I frequently give to potential travelers. Where others may go for the "touristy" spots such at Rothenburg ob der Tauber, I will take the small towns with pleasant outdoor cafes, friendly folks, regional cuisine (even if it is escargot from an area snail farm!), and local beer and wine favorites.
Schott is adept at putting together her instructive "words of wisdom" with some great stories from her own travels. Schott's genealogy background allows her to give just enough tips on how to go about looking for immigrant's home villages for a non-genealogist to get started.
And she is not just a cheerleader-the book has one chapter about when things go righf ... and another about when things go wrong!
Schott also tells her readers that a crucial decision is whether to travel as part ofa standard package tour, a small specialty tour, or as an independent traveler (it shou Id be noted that The German-American Connection that this column profiled two issues ago is an example of a "small specialty tour" in Schott's methodology).
This particular decision has no right answer-each way of traveling has pros and cons, and it is really up to the individual and his or her comfort zone as far as what to do. What Schott does is layout the template for the reader to "fill in" with his or her own priorities. The book also contains a handy chart to compare the alternatives.
The author also gives a short rundown of basic genealogical methodology, repositories and documentation for beginners, since they are the primary target market for this and other books still to come in the "Yes You, Yes Now!" series.
Reprinted with permission of German Life magazine.