Here is my story from the beginning about how I made rapid progress with my German ancestors. Late in 1987, I became interested in my family history. Like most of us, it was after most everyone had died who knew anything to help. I dug out some notes that I copied in 1956 from my aunt in Kansas. They told the names of my great-grandfather and his two brothers, along with their siblings' and parents' names. It also said they came from Ottenstein, über Hameln. In addition, it said my great-grandmother, Caroline Wilkening, came from Hemeringen. I looked up the locations on old U.S. Army maps in the University library here, and then referred to a German Atlas. In the book, "In Search of Your German Roots" by Angus Baxter in the local library, I saw that one place to write in Germany was the Genealogical Society in the state where your ancestors lived. I knew it was Lower Saxony, so I wrote there.
Within a few weeks I received a letter from Jürgen Ritter. With the information I sent him, he called a Schäfer in the phone book of Ottenstein, and luckily it was Hermann Schäfer, who lived in the old Schäfer house from which my great-grandfather left in 1856. He said, yes, he knew of three brothers who went to America in the middle of the last century. Herr Ritter also said he phoned the pastor of the church in Hemeringen, where he learned the names of Caroline's parents. He already had other information that linked to the Wilkening family there, because his own ancestors are linked to mine there. His grandparents had lived in Hemeringen.
(Let me insert here that Jürgen Ritter has specialized in taking the various church books in many locations and linking the names into families. He has published these and I have been in his home office in Hannover and seen some of them. He had done the church in Hemeringen because of his personal interest there, but he was concentrating on garrison churches. He told me that he had visited the Mormon Library in Salt Lake City, and they had his books there.)
A sort while after I heard from Herr Ritter, I received a letter, with photo, from Hermann Schäfer in Ottenstein. It was one of my thrilling moments in family history.
Through Herr Ritter, I employed Horst Giesemann to go to Ottenstein and copy information from the church books. The cost was quite minimal and he also discovered a tie-in he had with my g-g-grandmother, whose maiden name was Giesemann.
We took our very first tour in Europe in July of 1988. We had a nephew there in the Army and arrived two days before our tour and he drove us to Ottenstein. It was another thrilling time. But Herr Ritter's help was just starting. He and his wife were there at the Schäfer house and interpreted for us. They had driven there from Hannover.
We continued to correspond with both Herr Ritter and the Schäfers. A few years later the Ritters visited us in our home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Jürgen's wife, Bona, died in 1993. In 1996 we visited Germany again and arrived in Hannover by train from Berlin. We were met by Herr Ritter and several of my relatives who live in Hannover. He drove us to Hildesheim and Goslar and many sights in the area. He then drove us to Ottenstein where we spent four nights in the Schäfer house and I met other third cousins living there. We also went to the church office in Ottenstein and Herr Ritter found out more information from those books than most people are able to read and understand. We saw many places in that beautiful area that are missed by most American tourists. He also drove us by Hemeringen on the way there. As we left Hannover to go to Frankfurt and back home, Herr Ritter would not let me pay him anything for all his help and assistance. He also had prepared new family information that he had typed up from notes he took in the church office.
Jürgen Ritter died 12 Aug 1998, just a month before he and his friend, Ruth Meyer, were going to come visit us.
This past school year our oldest daughter and her family hosted a German exchange student who just happens to be related. The boy is the grandson of Heinrich Schäfer, an older brother of Hermann's. The boy's name is Thies Filler and his mother is Dr. Andrea Schäfer Filler of Hannover. Andrea and her brother, Uwe Schäfer of Ottenstein, came to visit us here last June and then they accompanied Thies home. Now we have more generations that are strongly linked.
This would probably not been possible without the generous help of Jürgen Ritter, We really feel indebted to him and others like him who are willing to help link families together.
Now, that's my long story. And I left out a lot.