May 15, 2009

We Might Find the Child

by Sarah Albrecht

Fourteen months ago I opened the olive-green paint box my dad left to me, searching for a charcoal pencil. The long-closeted scent of turpentine rocked me with it a wave of memory so powerful I had to sit back and close my eyes.

In that instant of reconnection, I knew I had to write--not my dad’s story, but his father’s. In spite of good intentions, I had never written a life story and wasn’t sure why the urge to start this one felt so strong.

All I knew about my paternal grandfather was that he came to Wisconsin, a German from the Ukraine, at age four. Years later he met my grandmother at the county asylum where they both worked, nursed her through the influenza of 1918, married her in 1920 and had five children, then died of complications from diabetes in 1933. Because of the hardship my grandmother experienced after his loss, he hovered through my life simply as the grandfather who died. I knew even less about his parents and the rest of his family. Based on that knowledge, his story would have been about two pages.

Despite lack of research experience, I started hunting for more information: interviews, books, internet sites, historical societies, chronologies, timetables. I found recipes, songs, postcards, broken legs, weddings and babies and deaths. Distilled from the mass of new information was the fact that the family sailed from Bremen aboard the Braunschweig, together with the family story that one child died aboard that ship.

No one knows the child’s name or age. They think she was a girl. My mom has been searching for her for forty years.

By accident one Sunday afternoon, I stumbled onto a site quoting a BYU professor on finding immigrant ancestors. He listed the German archives that held records for deaths aboard ship. It took a minute to realize the significance of what was on the screen: We might find the child.

Like so many families, my grandfather’s family resonates with struggle and perseverance, and I have learned and grown through my connection to them.

And above all, we might find the child.


  1. You are an inspiration to geneology and one of our purposes here.

  2. Great post, Sarah. My husband searched for one of his ancestors for many years after others had given up and he couldn't find her either. One day in church he was substitute teaching Gospel Doctrine and the Bishop's sister from out of town just happened to be there when he mentioned his search for her in the southern states. This woman came up, introduced herself and said she specialized in research in the southern states. Soon afterwards we contacted her, hired her and she found our missing ancestor. I have to marvel because if any of the following things had not happened: if Jim had not been substituting or had not mentioned his search, if she had not been visiting or had not introduced herself or left out telling him what she does, then our ancestor would still be missing... just like you "stumbling" upon that quote.

  3. And never forget that those beyond can step in to help us out. That has happened to me now twice. And it's an aweinspiring moment.

  4. Great post Sarah! Thank you. I love hearing these stories about finding family members. I also know that sometimes we don't find them because they are not ready for us to find them yet...and then suddenly, one day, there they are! I had a friend who kept coming across a piece of paper with some names on it. She put the piece of paper away a number of times...thinking she had imagined she put it away...until she deliberately noted putting it in a certain drawer. Yep...the next morning it was out on the counter. She read the paper more carefully and found a child she had overlooked!

  5. So exciting! I love family history!!! Good luck in your search...that's not really the right thing to say, since luck has nothing to do with it. How about, enjoy the search!


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