Dripping blood, missing rental car, taxi careening through traffic—as I told the rental car agency guy (when we finally found him), “We’ve had a hard time leaving Warsaw this morning.”
Once we were on the road though, things proceeded smoothly. Roads were clearly marked and matched my maps from Google. We drove straight to my first ancestral town, Kochanow (Erdmannsweiler), where my Brenner and Zaiser families lived for a generation in about 1800. It was a pleasant town of well-kept, updated homes. We met a friendly construction guy who clearly was intrigued by the paper of Polish translations I thrust in front of him. (My name is Carolyn. My ancestors came from this village. Do you know where the old German cemetery is?) He directed us to the cemetery and hooked us up with a local who regretfully indicated that there were no 200-year-old houses in town.
Although I found no specific traces of my long-gone ancestors (not even old German headstones), it was a pleasant visit to a pleasant town. The flat lands of Ukraine and North Dakota where my ancestors later settled must have seemed very familiar to them after the flat lands of Poland. And we saw the Catholic church in the nearby town of Gluchow, which would have been the civil registration place for the births, marriages, and deaths of my Lutheran ancestors before there was a Lutheran church in town. A pleasant visit to a pleasant town.
My two nongenealogy friends had only signed up for one ancestral town. But they agreed to visit a second when I assured them the next town on my list was just up the road a few kilometers, on our way, and just five minutes off the road.
An hour later, we were still searching for Boginia as we turned onto a narrow road between small lakes, then plunged into the woods as we bounced over a spine-wrenching, rutted road. The road that had been “on our way” and seemingly clearly marked had been the wrong road.
“Turn here, no wait, here. Wait, I think we’ve gone too far,” I said, trying to navigate an alternate route to my ancestral town of Boginia. I finally turned on my smartphone and GPS (I’d been holding off, rationing data usage on my global plan) to figure out which rutted road most likely led to our destination.
We finally burst out of the woods back onto a paved road bordering fields, then entered Boginia (a town of no more than about 20 houses) through its suburbs. The setting was pretty—rolling hills, woods, small lakes, small farmhouses dotted here and there. Yet there was no town at all (the distance between the “entering Boginia” sign and the “leaving Boginia” sign could have been walked in less than five minutes and included only about two buildings). I stopped a man on a tractor who read my paper of Polish explanations, then shook his head and handed it back, looking sorry he’d stopped. Another man in a car avoided my eyes and wouldn’t stop at all. (Even though I was standing in his driveway taking photos; you’d think he would at least have been curious.) Apparently no church, no cemetery, no recognition of a history of German settlers.
My Siewert family has always been elusive and their (possible) ancestral town proved to be equally elusive. I’d hoped our convoluted search for the town would be rewarded with the discovery of an overgrown cemetery filled with German headstones or a crumbling 200-year-old house, but alas.
Sometimes the adventure of the search is more interesting than the destination.