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
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
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
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
and a picture of her
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.
After being lost for over
fifty years, the Internet reunited us in just minutes.