"SUCCESS WITH THE INTERNET...1999 STYLE"
In the over 20 years that I had been researching my Kolberg family, I had had many successes:
(1) I had been able to ascertain the name of the village in Pommern where my Kolberg ancestors had originated.
(2) I had received a few documents and old letters from local cousins which verified the data that I had.
(3) I had researched heavily the 5 Kolberg brothers who had immigrated to America.
(4) I had produced a 400+ page book on our Kolberg family which many cousins were interested in obtaining.
(5) I had "crossed the ocean" in my research and made a connection with a distant cousin in Hanover who shared her research and knowledge with me and visited with her and her family in 1983.
(6) I had connected with the Catholic priest in the home village of Tuchomie who shared vital records from the German Evangelical church books with me.
(7) I visited the areas of Groß Tuchen and Klein Tuchen in 1993 and met with many current residents there.
(8) I had computerized all my Kolberg records into my Family Tree Maker program.
(9) I was working on organizing a 1999 Kolberg family reunion.
It was truly a 20+ year labor of love with extraordinary results. I was very pleased.
When I moved with my mother back to St. Joseph in 1997 I knew that I would have a greater connection with the hundreds of Kolberg cousins still living in the area. I was hoping that with these connections I would still be able to find some clues as to the descendants of the two remaining Colberg brothers who remained in Germany, namely Friedrich-Wilhelm and Johann.
One of the most helpful cousins to me in my research had been the daughter of Grace Kolberg Gaul, Bernice Gaul Schoenfelder. Bernice and I had had a long correspondence over the past 20 years and her mother, Grace, had been instrumental in starting me on the path of my Kolberg research. Bernice had inherited her mother's love of family as well as all her mother's documents, journals, photos and most importantly, knowledge. Thus, when I moved to St. Joseph in 1997, Bernice was the first person I contacted.
We met frequently and she always surprised me with more old photos or documents which she let me borrow to scan into my computer. She possessed enormous knowledge on the areas in Berrien County where our ancestors had settled, she took me around to all the 'old' farms of the original Kolberg brothers, told me stories and shared documents with me. Through Bernice I made many closer contacts with area cousins. There was not a person around, relative or not, who did not know Bernice and respect her.
The first two years I was back in St. Joseph we batted around the problem of the descendants of Johann and Friedrich-Wilhelm Colberg. Despite the numerous records Bernice had from her mother, she could not come up with anything that would give me a clue as to these elusive Colberg brothers.
In 1998, one of her close cousins, Oliver Kolberg and his wife, Anne, came to visit from Arizona. Also interested in the family history, they came to my home to view all my records and information. When they returned to Arizona, Oliver and I began an e-mail communication. In one of his e-mails in early 1999, he mentioned the following and I quote from his e-mail to me:
"I was thinking about your quest to find German relatives from the two brothers of my grandfather, Otto, who remained in Germany. You know, Cheryl, I remember something. When I was a young boy in the 1930's I can remember an older German lady coming to visit each summer. If I remember correctly, she came from Germany to Chicago where her son was living and they would all come out to Grandpa's farm in Baroda and we would all pick berries. I think she must have been a Kolberg relative because she was always calling Grandpa "Uncle Otto". I remember her coming year after year and I remember hearing that after I was grown she returned to the US again, became ill in Chicago and died there around 1946 before she was able to return to Germany. I think her name was Greta but I am not sure. But I can tell you for sure that Bernice would certainly know."
My first clue. Armed with that information, I gave Bernice a call, repeated Oliver's e-mail and asked Bernice if she remembered someone visiting her gradfather's farm in the 1930's and 1940's from Germany named Greta. She immediately responded "YES" and stated that her name was Greta "O" and she did indeed come each year from Berlin to visit her son and family in Chicago. Bernice seemed to remember that Greta's son was named Hans with a wife Julie and two small children at the time. They all enjoyed playing on Otto Kolberg's farm and picking berries. Bernice said that she even remembered specifically when Greta passed away because it was while Bernice was pregnant with her first child and she remembered driving to Chicago for the funeral...date Fall of 1946. She even thought she might have the funeral card in her home and she would search for me. Bernice said that she didn't know why she had never thought of Greta before when we were talking about any German cousins.
Of course, this did not prove that this Greta was indeed from the family of Johann or Friedrich-Wilhelm Colberg but there were a few clues that led me in that direction, namely (1) she came from Berlin where Johann was to have settled and (2) she called Otto Kolberg 'Uncle".
Now what was I going to do to expand on these clues? It was a good 53 years since Greta had passed away in Chicago and what would be the chance that her son or wife, Hans and Julie "O", would even still be living?
To the Internet I went which would be my first attempt at using this tool in my Kolberg research. I first looked for a listing in Illinois of a Hans "O". Up came one listing in a suburb of Chicago with the names Hans & Julie "O". Okay, this was good. Now what?
I drafted a letter to Hans & Julie "O" in which I explained who I was and asked them if they were from the family of Greta "O" who had previously visited the US and Uncle Otto Kolberg's family in Baroda, Michigan in the 1930's and 1940's. I mentioned cousin, Bernice's name because everyone knew Bernice and that was a good opening. I included some dates that I had and asked them if perhaps Greta "O" could have been a daughter of Johann Colberg of Berlin. I included my phone number and address and off went the letter on a Thursday. I admit that I even kissed the envelope for good luck because this was the closest I had come to any clues on this elusive family in over 20 years of searching.
Three days later, on Sunday afternoon, I had a phone call. The caller identified herself as the daughter of Hans & Julie "O" and stated that they had received my letter. She affirmed that her grandmother was indeed Greta (Colberg) "O" and that she was indeed a daughter of Johann Colberg of Berlin. She herself could remember visiting Baroda, MI in the 1930's and 1940's and definitely remembered Bernice. She said that her father, Hans "O", was deceased but her mother, Julie "O", was in her 90's and still sharp. She said that she believed there were more family members in Germany but over the years they had lost touch with them.
This caller then told me something very intriguing. She said that her mother had received a letter in 1992 (7 years earlier) from a German cousin who was researching their Johann Colberg family. She said they had the letter "right here" but had never answered it. She agreed to mail the letter to me.
Talk about exciting. Now I was sure I was getting somewhere.
About 10 long, long, long days later the letter came to me from the "O" family in Chicago. This letter had been sent to them in 1992 from a cousin, Gerhard Kolberg, of Berlin. I quickly sent the letter for translation and it indicated that this Gerhard Kolberg was a cousin of Hans "O" and that Gerhard's father, Otto Kolberg (another Otto Kolberg) of Berlin, and Greta Kolberg "O" had been brother and sister. Gerhard was doing a Colberg/Kolberg family history on the family of grandfather, Johann, and he was asking the "O" family for information on their branch.
To my translator went a letter to have prepared in German and off it went to the address on Gerhard Kolberg's letter to the "O" family. I knew his address was 7 years old but was hopeful it was still an accurate location. However, three weeks later the letter came BACK to me marked "no such person at this address, moved, no forwarding address". Talk about a roadblock. Now what?
I thought about this for a few days and went back to the letter that Gerhard had sent the "O" family in 1992. He had indicated the names of a few other family members still living in Berlin so back to the Internet I went to search for addresses for any of these names. One name was found, whether it was the correct person I did not know, but I sent off a letter to this address, including the original letter I sent to Gerhard. I asked the lady I wrote to whether she was from the family of Johann Colberg of Berlin and, if so, if she knew Gerhard Kolberg of Berlin.
Now the wait began, again!
Coming next...Part Eight...The Johann Colberg Family Is Found!
Paul Koenig on the S.S. Veendam
10 years ago