In Search of an Elusive Ancestral Town

Helpful construction workers giving me directions my ancestral town of Kochanow, Poland

Helpful construction workers giving me directions in my ancestral town of Kochanow, Poland

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.

Ancestral town BoginiaWe 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.


  1. Torrey Olsen on March 17, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Love reading this Carolyn! Love especially seeing the SUNSHINE on you in these pictures! I had largely forgotten what sunshine looks like. I like it and would like to see more! You are a great writer and photographer and the brief descriptions are fascinating. Can’t wait to see and hear more once you are back.

  2. John Siewert on March 23, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    The Siewert family I come from (my father Gottlieb born in The Ukraine in 1910 and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1910, my grandfather Andreas born in northeast Germany now a part of Poland) moved to Volinyia (then Czarist Russia) in the 1870s or 1880s so there might be a connection back several generations ago

  3. Carolyn Schott on March 24, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    @Torrey – thank you!

    @John – that’s very interesting! Where was your Siewert family from in Germany? Were they in Mecklenburg? Everyone tells me that Siewert is a Mecklenburger name.

    My Siewerts left Germany probably in the late 1700s. They were in Poland for a generation, then moved to Ukraine (a region that’s now part of the Odessa oblast, in that chunk of land between Moldova and the Black Sea). Their time in Poland is a little vague to me. And I haven’t been able to find out anything about where they might have come from in Germany.

  4. Jerry Frank on March 29, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Are you aware of the Konrad Zeyzer / Rozyna Szayble marriage in 1814 in the Gluchow record books? It will almost certainly provide a place of birth and possible further research opportunities for the Zaiser family.

  5. Carolyn Schott on March 30, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    Thanks, Jerry, I am aware of that one. I didn’t check the church books myself, but was using an extraction/translation that Tom Stangl did awhile back. That Konrad Zaiser is my 4x Great-grand-uncle. 🙂