Friday, November 22, 2013

How I met my cousins (part 2)

I already told you about how I met my English cousins.  Now here is the story about how I made contact with my Swiss cousins.  It's almost like something out of a movie script.

I knew that my mother's paternal grandmother, Susan Marti, was born in Switzerland, and that the family had immigrated to Ohio when Susan was a girl.  I obtained a copy of her death certificate, and I was very lucky, because the certificate listed the name of the town in Switzerland where she was born... a little town called Othmarsingen, not far from Zurich.  On the internet I was able to find U.S. census data that gave me the names of her parents and siblings.  The data said that her father and brother had worked in the sandstone quarries that flourished in Berea, Ohio, in the late 1800s.  I also knew that many years ago, a great aunt of mine had visited cousins in Switzerland.  I was a teenager at the time, and I had not inquired about those cousins.  My great aunt died long ago, and had no children, so that information was lost.

I was unable to find any information from Switzerland on the internet about the family.  But I did find the Swiss telephone directory online.  I saw that in the town of Othmarsingen there were many families with the last name of Marti.  Some of them had to be related to me!  I toyed with the idea of writing to all of them, but I was hesitant to do so.  I then discovered that Othmarsingen had a website.  Of course it was all in German, but I figured that "gastebuch" meant guestbook.  So I clicked on it and wrote a message.  I apologized for my lack of German, and asked if anyone knew anything about my great-grandmother's family. I provided the information that I knew.  Months passed, and I had forgotten about the message that I had sent.  Then, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from Switzerland.  It was from a fellow by the name of Niklaus who lives in Othmarsingen.  As it turns out, Niklaus is the equivalent of what we would call a town councilman.  He said that, yes, there were many Martis living there, and that he would make inquiries and see if any of them were related to me. He also went to the regional archives and found documents tracing my family back a couple more generations, and he sent those to me.  A few weeks later he wrote that he had made a connection.  He had talked to an elderly gentleman by the name of Andreas Marti who said that relatives had immigrated to Ohio and that a cousin Bernice (my great aunt!) had visited them in Othmarsingen.  Bingo!!

Niklaus sent me the address of Andreas.  This was shortly before Christmas of 2010.  I sent him a Christmas card. (The retired German teacher from the school where I worked was kind enough to translate a letter into German for me.) 

On January 3, 2011, a letter arrived in the mail from Switzerland.  It was written (fortunately in English!) by Andreas's son, Werner.  Werner wrote that his father was very pleased to receive my Christmas card, and happy to have made contact with a relative in Ohio after all those years.  Werner does not live in Othmarsingen, but he was visiting for the holiday season.  And where does Werner live?  In Madrid, Spain.  Wow!  This retired Spanish teacher has a cousin in Spain!  Werner gave me his e-mail address, and I immediately sat down in front of the computer and wrote him a long letter.

That same evening I received a reply from Werner.  He told me that on New Year's Eve, he and his father had gone to Werner's sister's house to spend the evening.  They were having a lovely time, but then suddenly Andreas felt ill.  Just before the church bells rang out the New Year, Andreas died in his son's arms.  Even though I had never met him, tears were streaming down my face as I read the e-mail.  I immediately wrote back to Werner expressing my condolences.

The next morning there was an e-mail from Niklaus.  He had just heard of my new-found cousin's death.  He asked if I would like him to send flowers to the funeral in my name.  I said yes, of course, and said that I would pay him for the flowers, but Niklaus would not let me.  What a kind and generous man he is!  I will be forever grateful to him for having connected me with my Swiss family.  On a later trip to Switzerland, I had the opportunity to meet him, and I took him out for dinner as a small "thank you" for all that he did for me. 

The flowers were delivered to the funeral, but there was no card with them.  Everyone wondered who they were from.  Later that day, Werner found the card in the mailbox at the house... "from your American cousin."

Werner and I continued to correspond via e-mail, and we developed a close bond.  He invited me to visit him in Madrid, and later that winter I took a short trip to Spain.  When I left he presented me with a gift... something that he had found while cleaning out his father's office... the baptismal and confirmation certificates of my great grandmother.

I am an only child, and have no immediate family.  I cannot express how much it has meant to me to make a connection with my cousins in Spain, Switzerland, and England.  They may be distant cousins, but in my book they are all definitely  "first cousins"!

In the future I will post more about my subsequent trips to Spain and Switzerland.  For now here is a picture of my cousin Werner and me...


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