Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Family Kolberg/Colberg, Part Four


Following the completion of my book on my Kolberg family, and the complimentary response from many of my cousins, my quest to further my research intensified. I was fairly satisfied with the information I had gathered on the 5 Kolberg brothers who had immigrated to America. I had their families, including children and grandchildren, nearly 100% documented. There would always be gaps to fill in, new marriages to add, new children to add, etc, but with the assistance and cooperation of so many of my cousins, I had documented these lines up to the present generation with vital statistics, photos, census images and vital records.

Now my attention turned to tracing the descendants of the remaining two Kolberg brothers who had remained in Germany. This would be challenging since knowledge on "this side of the ocean" was pretty sketchy. The most I knew was that the two remaining brothers were Johann Kolberg, who was to have moved to Berlin, and Friedrich-Wilhelm Kolberg, Jr., who was to have remained on the family farm in Klein Tuchen. From cousins here I was told that both brothers had at least 6 children each. I had a photo of Friedrich-Wilhelm Kolberg, Jr. and his wife but no photo or other information on Johann Kolberg.

At this time, 1980, I was an avid reader of the Genealogical Helper magazine. I happened to see an advertisement where a person could send to Germany for a listing of people with a specific surname with addresses from a specific telephone directory. So, off went some of my money (I don't remember now how much) and a request for a listing of ALL Kolberg names in Berlin. I was convinced that someone had to be remaining from the family of Johann Kolberg and I was hopeful that this might be a way to connect with those descendants.

The list came to me with 110 names of Kolberg individuals in Berlin. I then drafted a simple request letter and had it translated into German. Basically, it stated that I was searching my family history and that my great-great grandparents were Friedrich-Wilhelm Kolberg, Sr. and Amalie Kautz of Klein Tuchen, Bütow, Pommern. I further stated that I was searching for any descendants of their son, Johann Kolberg, who lived in Berlin from approximately 1890-1930 and who was to have had at least 6 children. I included the specific dates that I had already gathered, made 110 copies of this letter and mailed them off to each of the names on my list along with an International postal coupon to cover their cost for return postage.

Amazingly, over the next 18 months I did receive 87 responses to my letter which was very gratifying and exciting. But, unfortunately there were no connections. People were very gracious and willing to share their own personal line of ancestry with me but nobody was even remotely connected with my Kolberg line. I was beginning to think that Kolberg was as common of a surname in Germany as Smith, Jones or Miller are in the US.

At the same time I also placed a similarly worded advertisement in two different Berlin newspapers that offered a listing free of charge. But, again, two years went by with no response to those ads. Success with genealogy research, in those years, was a long, long process before the use of personal computers, the Internet, Google, e-mail and instant responses.

So, wait I did - but not patiently I might add. During that period of time, I continued to tweak the data that I did have on the 5 branches of my Kolberg line and kept questioning cousins as to any memories they might have of the German branches.

It was, therefore, in November, 1982 that I was totally surprised by a letter that I received. Letters with German postmarks and fancy stamps were a sight to behold and excitement reigned whenever such a letter appeared in my mailbox. This letter was to be the start of a correspondence that would last only a few years but would give me my first direct German connection. While it was NOT a connection with either of the families of Johann or Friedrich-Wilhelm Kolberg, Jr., it was actually a connection taking me back more generations.

This letter came to me from Hemmingen, a village near Hanover, and was written by a woman who informed me that, while she had not personally seen my advertisement in the Berlin newspapers, a friend of hers had and he shared my ad with her. She explained that from my data in the advertisement, she could inform me that HER great-grandmother and my mother's great-grandfather were indeed Colberg brother and sister (emphasizing to me the correct spelling of the surname was Colberg).

Here is a copy of this first letter that I received, complete with my English translation:

To say that I was excited with this connection is an understatement. Of course, initial pleasure was tempered by the fact that the letter had to be sent off for translation. During these years, I was fortunate to have a wonderful woman in California who did all my translations for me and translated my English into German and then translated the German responses back into English. I wish now that I had kept a tally of just how much money I spent on this Kolberg research but, perhaps, it is best that I don't know. However, without these expenditures, I would never have gathered the information that I did.

Our correspondence spanned a short period from 1982 until her death in 1989. During those 7 short years, we had twice/month correspondence and I even made a trip in 1983 to visit her and meet other members of her family. After only about 2 months of correspondence, her letters changed from German into English and she explained that she hated to see me spending my gelt (money) on translators so she would attempt to use her English skills from her school days. Actually her English was near perfect and there was never any difficulty with communication.

It is amazing to me, even now, to go back and re-read all the materials, data, maps, newspaper clippings and vital records that she shared with me. She told me that on two different occasions she had personally driven in her own car into Poland to visit Gross Tuchen and view the Evangelical church books that were still housed there in the Catholic church. This was in the 1960's and 1970's and was long before the Berlin wall came down. She stressed that these trips were dangerous but she was determined to obtain all the information she could. She was a very forceful woman and it was obvious, when I visited her in Hanover, that she meant business and I am sure any travel difficulties into old East Germany and into Poland were difficulties that she handled easily.

When I look back and remember the 110 letters that I sent off to Berlin and the two advertisements that I placed in Berlin newspapers with such high hopes of a match, it is obvious that a genealogist never knows what connection is going to appear. I did learn from this cousin that my chances of connection were probably hindered by the fact that our family Kolberg was actually spelled Colberg originally and I missed a whole contingent of listings in the Berlin telephone book under Colberg. Also, she explained that I would have done better to extend my search into East Berlin as well. These suggestions would prove to be correct and would actually help in my journey to finally make one of the connections I so desperately sought.

But, that is another subject for another chapter in this series and would take another 17 long years to come to fruition.

Coming next...Part Five...Extending the Generations.

Above documents personal collection of Cheryl Schulte


GrannyPam said...

This is a great story, which I was glad to read. Your persistence paid off in a big way!

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Granny Pam, stay tuned for the remainder of the story which will unfold over several more days.