We slowly made our way back to the hotel in the drizzling rain. For two days, my wife and I had been copying information on her ancestors from church registers in a small German town. After deciphering so much barely legible handwriting, we were exhausted. Our heads were spinning with the names of generations we had managed to trace back to the year 1648. That date was as far back as we could go, since the church registers had been burned during the Thirty Years’ War. I suggested that now it was my turn to look up my ancestors.
My grandfather had settled in our native Holland. The only clue I had about his background was that he had lived in a German town called Solingen, not far from where we were now. I told my wife that if we left immediately, we could make it to the Solingen church archives by the next morning. So off we went, arriving at what we believed to be Solingen by nightfall.
We found a hotel and, before long, were sitting at the dinner table when the waiter brought soup. But then the waiter mentioned that we were actually in Grafrath, a suburb of Solingen. We immediately canceled our order and, much to the waiter’s surprise, rushed out and into our car. Solingen proper was a half hour away, and we couldn’t afford to waste time traveling in the morning.
Unfortunately, all the hotels in Solingen were full, so we decided to return to Grafrath. Imagine our waiter’s surprise when we returned a few hours later and reordered our dinner! When we explained to him why we had left in such a hurry, he smiled sheepishly and then informed us that all of Solingen’s church records were in Grafrath—in the building adjacent to our hotel! Then it was our turn to smile sheepishly.
After dinner we immediately went next door. There were the archives, open the next day from 8:00 A.M. until noon. We were at the door the next morning even before the archives opened. When I introduced myself to the archivist, he said, “Mr. Kirschbaum, I am so glad you have finally come.”
As it turned out, the previous archivist had compiled extensive information on the Kirschbaum family back to the year 1500. The Kirschbaums had been famous sword makers, and several of them had been mayors of the town.
As I read about my ancestors, I learned that they apparently had the typical Kirschbaum trait of a quiet, good-natured disposition—except when aggravated. I read with amusement about a local notary who apparently played a mean trick on one of my ancestors. The man later found himself shut up in his own house by a cartload of “natural fertilizer” that was delivered to his doorstep by Herr Kirschbaum himself—the mayor.
At noon we left the archives, loaded with information on hundreds of ancestors, including a pedigree chart, countless photocopies of publications on my ancestors, and a book on Solingen sword making.
We didn’t say much as we drove back to Holland, so preoccupied were we with all that had happened. In a matter of hours, we had been given the family records of hundreds of ancestors. But suddenly I broke the silence with a laugh.
I thought of my good-natured ancestors smiling contentedly as we arrived in Grafrath, where the information needed for their temple ordinances was kept. Then I imagined their frustration as we rushed off to Solingen. I could almost hear them yelling, “Hey! Where are those Dutchmen going!”