Hello Lost Cousin!

(Family found over the Internet)

When my grandfather passed away, my grandmother gave me papers she found listing his ancestry for several centuries. I was fascinated by them and, on returning home, showed them to my father. He took them to work to make copies. Unfortunately, someone stole his briefcase containing the papers from his car before copies could be made.

Most of us interested in genealogy can point to one event that triggered our ancestral quest. The loss of this information was my genealogical catalyst. It did not take long for me to discover my ancestry through my maternal and my father's maternal lines. Unknown to them, they both had rich colonial ancestral roots. However, after nearly 10 years of research, I discovered nothing on the lost German von Beschwitz line.

In the back of my mind I was not concerned, since I knew someone had already taken the effort of documenting the line. I just needed to rediscover this data. I had some information indicating that they were of nobility and since I found several noble connections through my colonial roots, I assumed it would only be time before I found the German connection. Still, it seemed strange that I could find no reference to the von Beschwitz surname.

From day one, I used my computer to store my data and once on-line computing came about, I used the Internet to search and query for my von Beschwitz line. Though I discovered hundreds of newly found cousins using this medium, I still came up with a blank on von Beschwitz. Every day my hopes would swell as new content would emerge. Several web pages appeared dedicated exclusively to German Nobility, but still no von Beschwitz.

One of the difficulties of the Internet is finding the specific information desired. Just think of the complexity of searching millions of books for the surname Smith. You literally get hundreds of thousands of references to Smith on the Internet. In this case, the search tools need to be enhanced to let you narrow down the results to only the Smiths you are seeking. In my case, however, the search engines would come up with nothing.

At the end of 1995, a new search engine called Alta Vista, was introduced by Digital. It was built upon an index of over 2 billion words and phrases. Other search engines up to this point only indexed on the more frequently occurring words resulting in an index in the millions. In addition, the architecture of this search engine was more advanced resulting in quicker and more precise results. Immediately, I found new pages on my known colonial lines. For example, I found information on Salem, Massachusetts's Rebecca Nurse's trial and a picture of her home.

Later that night I entered my obligatory von Beschwitz search, not really expecting anything, and low and behold..., one page was referenced. The page appeared to be a German government page which quickly piqued my interest. However, I knew no German. Listed was what appeared to be addresses of German government officials. One address was Esther von Beschwitz at Toronto, Canada, and in addition was an e-mail address! This was surprising since my father told me there were no more von Beschwitzs living.

Quickly, I shot off a message to the address explaining what little I knew about my Beschwitz ancestry and how the precious ancestry was lost. My heart quickly raced with anticipation of a response. I then went to Who is Where to see what I could find on this e-mail address and found the following eloquent entry:

"I am studying at the moment at the University of Toronto, until I move to Germany in July. There I will attend the University of Bonn at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences. Being the child of a Diplomat, I have been around half the world, including the States, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Iceland and now Canada. I have met many important political figures and am therefore very interested in history and world politics. As my journey in life goes on, I am awaiting many more challenges and adventures. I encourage everybody to travel and to see the world, because only then you will be able to recognize the significance of other nation's culture's and ideals and will be able to expand your knowledge and morals in general."

Before I finished reading this entry, my computer barked, "You've got mail." Quickly, I opened my mail program and there appeared a message with a subject line that will forever be etched in my memory: "Hello lost cousin!". I was so excited I let out a shout that caused my wife to come running fearing I was hurt.

Evidently, my search paled when compared to my German cousins. They were searching for our family for fifty years making seven trips to the States. They knew my father's name and birth date but our change to the "Americanized" and more common Beckwith name complicated the search.

Chris, Christianna, and their eighteen year old daughter Esther were residing in Toronto as part of the German diplomatic corps. The Beschwitz line is of "old" German Nobility documented back to the 11th century in the "Gotha" (volumes of books published on German Nobility named after the town where originally published). I later found these books at Chicago's Newberry Library. In them was listed my father.

In June, we had a family reunion with the von Beschwitzs at my parents home in Sevier County, Tennessee. Next summer we plan on visiting our newly found von Beschwitz cousins in Germany. Together we will travel to the Eastern part of reunified Germany to see what used to be the family castle in Zitau. It will be a treat for all of us---von Beschwitz and Beckwiths alike.

Beschwitz Reunion
Beschwitz Reunion - Front row: Yvette Beckwith, John R. Beckwith, Esther von Beschwitz; second row: Christianna von Beschwitz, Lisa V. Beckwith, Jeanette C. Beckwith, Robert S. Beckwith, Kara Marcott; back row: Chris von Beschwitz, David L. Beckwith, Robert M. Beckwith

After being lost for over fifty years, the Internet reunited us in just minutes.

David L. Beckwith heads the DuPage County (IL) Genealogical Society computer interest group. His home page is http://www.smokykin.com/home and e-mail is beckwith@interaccess.com.
© Copyright 1996-1998 David L. Beckwith