In a German pub, genealogy takes living, breathing form
A man walked into the German restaurant, and my jaw hit the floor. I'd never seen the man before. It was my husband. But let's begin at...
Special to The Seattle Times
A man walked into the German restaurant, and my jaw hit the floor. I'd never seen the man before. It was my husband.
But let's begin at the beginning ...
My husband, Ron, and I had traveled to Konstanz, Germany. Ron was on the trail of his German ancestors. He disappeared into the archives office as soon as we arrived, while I set off to explore Konstanz, a city of ancient buildings and tangled passageways. Every once in a while I pictured my husband stuck in a dark, dusty cellar, surrounded by cobwebs and ancestral records.
I was sunbathing when Ron caught up with me.
"There you are," he said, barely able to contain himself. "You won't believe this. I found out where the Schwerts are buried in Binningen, only 20 miles from here."
The next morning we took off in the rain, looking for the tiny ancestral village among rolling hills and farmland. When we located Binningen and its Catholic church, Ron leapt out and headed for the cemetery. He returned a half-hour later, having spotted five Schwert graves.
"You're soaked to the skin," I exclaimed. "Was it worth it?"
"Oh, yeah," he said, grinning from ear to ear.
On the way out of town we came across a gasthaus. Ron hesitated, but I wanted to go in and celebrate. Half a dozen men sat drinking beer and talking quietly. When we plunked down beside them, all conversation ceased.
We ordered beers, and our waitress Sylvia asked if that was all.
"Well," said Ron, "I'm looking for information about the Schwert family. Do you know ... "
Sylvia questioned the men in German. They came alive, talking and nodding emphatically. "They're saying you look like a Schwert," reported Sylvia.
"I do?" he asked, astonished.
Pub owner Jesse made a phone call, then said, "Don't worry, he's coming over."
"Who?" said Ron.
We looked at each other, speechless. I thought my husband was going to burst.
Less than 10 minutes later, Franz walked through the door. He was Ron's doppelgänger, from his height and build to their common facial features. "I didn't know I had relatives in America," he said, clasping Ron's hand.
Franz placed his family chart on the table next to my husband's. They had the same great-great grandfather, but they could have been brothers, with their identical profiles bending over their charts. And they certainly shared a passion for genealogy.
Franz took us home to meet the family. His wife, Ursula, greeted us with open arms, and as we sat in their cozy kitchen, we shared stories of lives lived more than a continent apart.
As we drove back to Konstanz, Ron and I felt euphoric and sad. "I wish my parents were alive," said my husband, emotion tugging at his lips. "Wouldn't they have loved this?"
"No doubt," I replied. "Just as I did." When a name on a document came to life, I finally understood the magic of genealogy.
Jan Burak Schwert lives in Seattle.
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