How I Found My Buchignani Connection

 

My mother was born Maria Columbia Buchignani. Her parents were Vittorio Alberto Buchignani and Eva Veronica Giorgi.

Mom and Grand Parents

Growing up in Healdsburg, California I remember spending a lot of time visiting with my mother’s cousins on her Giorgi side. But there were also numerous families in town and the surrounding area named Buchignani, and we never socialized with any of them. My mother’s explanation was that “We’re not related to them.” By the 1990s there were 39 Buchignani families in Sonoma County. There were 160 in California. But, of course, we were not related to any of them.

SKIMPY DETAILS

Giorgi Family Tree - 1985In 1985, my Giorgi family held a reunion in Healdsburg. My sister, Joanne Taeuffer, wrote a family history using research and remembrances from our mother and other family members. From this work I learned that my mother’s father, Vittorio (Victor) Buchignani had been born 26 September 1894 in Carignano, Lucca, Italy and that he had immigrated to the U.S. in 1910. His parents had been Orlando Buchignani and Columba Puccetti, and he had had a brother named Natale, who had remained in Italy. And that was about all.

After my mother died in 1994, I embarked on my journey into our family history. Admittedly, I focused mostly on my father’s side. This was, in large part, because most of his people had come to the United States much earlier than my mother’s people had and consequently the records they had left were written in English and easier to read.

Nevertheless I was able to find the record of 16 year old Vittorio Buchignani arriving at Ellis Island in 1910 on the S.S. Berlin. The ship manifest indicated that he was coming to stay with his cousin who was working in a brick factory in the tiny village of Waynesburg, Ohio. By the next year, 1911, he was in San Francisco working at the Gray Brothers Brickyard. Apparently that type of physical labor did not suit Vittorio, because soon he was working in a bar in San Mateo. By 1917 his World War I Draft Registration Card indicated that he was working as a grocery salesman for Orlando (sic – it had actually been Oreste) Buchignani’s grocery store in Healdsburg. Surely having the same surname as the boss could not have been a coincidence. There must have been a family connection, right? In 1919, Vittorio married local girl, Eva Veronica Giorgi, which resulted in her losing her American citizenship (but that is a story for another time).

THE ODD MAN OUT

In 2012 I came across an article written by Shonnie Brown, well-known Sonoma County genealogist-for-hire and popular newspaper columnist, detailing a Buchignani family reunion that had recently taken place. When I contacted her asking if she had any additional details about the family genealogy, she referred me to Suzy Buchignani in Healdsburg. Suzy was extremely helpful and explained that she had built her husband Ken Buchignani’s family tree for their recent reunion. Her work had traced that family back to Narciso Buchignani whose son had immigrated from Carignano, Lucca in 1907, just three years before Vittorio. But my grandfather didn’t show up in that tree. Nobody living knew where Vittorio might fit in. Suzy was able to put me in touch with another family researcher, Stacey Joose, who had also done some research into the second Healdsburg Buchignani family line.

It took until 2013 for me to get in touch with Stacey who had traced her Healdsburg Buchignani family back to Vincenzo whose son had immigrated from Carignano, Lucca in 1896. But again, my grandfather wasn’t in her tree. In the course of our correspondence she happened to mention that her two great uncles Angelo and George Buchignani had owned a bar at 201 Railroad Avenue in San Mateo, California in the 1910s. Now wait a minute…That is the bar I have a picture of Vittorio standing behind! Being able to provide Stacey with a photo of her great uncles’ bar was one of those goose-bump genealogy moments that are equally rewarding for the donor and the recipient. Priceless!!

Now if Vittorio had found a job with these Buchignani brothers, how could he have not been related to them in some way? Or did he just go from town to town looking up people named Buchignani in the phone book so he could hit them up for work?!?

So by 2014 I had learned that the two Healdsburg Buchignani lines could be traced back to Lucchesi ancestors Vincenzo and Narciso. Family lore said that they were uncle and nephew, but nobody had proof. Nobody knew where Vittorio might fit in, so everybody assumed that he didn’t. He was still the odd man out.

In 2015, the genealogically inclined Buchignani folks had agreed to get together in Healdsburg the day before Thanksgiving to compare notes. Suzy was kind enough to invite possible-relative me to join them. When I arrived I found they had laid out printed copies of the family trees of the Narciso and Vincenzo Buchignani lines on either side of the long dining room table. The descendants present aligned themselves on the side of the table corresponding with their family tree. I stood awkwardly at the short end of the table, like Vittorio, the odd man out.

THE PLOT THICKENS

Enter my potential cousin John Puccioni, raised in Healdsburg but recently retired and living in Colorado, whose grandmother had been a Buchignani. He had taken the time to sift through the unindexed vital records from Lucca available on the LDS Website Family Search and had found some crucial records, but he had not been able to translate them completely. My contribution to the pre-Thanksgiving gathering was to connect him up with the Facebook group Italian Genealogy where he was able to get the documents translated by an expert. It turned out that Vincenzo and Narciso were actually brothers! Their father was Ranieri Buchignani. The two Healdsburg Buchignani branches were now linked definitively. Hurrah for them!!

But what about Vittorio? Perhaps he came from another, yet unknown son of Ranieri. But how would we find out? The civil records available on Family Search only exist for events that occurred between around 1860 and 1890. We needed to go back further to determine whether or not my line might lead to Ranieri. But how could we get access to the early church records in Carignano?

LET’S GO BACK TO THE OLD COUNTRY

Meanwhile, I had retired in 2014 and had been studying the Italian language at Glendale City College. The school was organizing a study abroad program in Italy for January 2016 rental carand so I signed up. After a whirlwind four-week semester studying Italian culture through film, touring all the great spots in Rome, and eating a lot of amazing food, the rest of the group went home and I set off by myself to look for my ancestors.

After spending an amazing four days staying in Boveglio with my cousin Anna Cesari on my Giorgi side (but that is a story for another time), I headed westward toward the community of Carignano just to the north of Lucca. I arrived at the Hotel Carignano in the early afternoon and checked in. It was Carignano ChurchFebruary and the place was deserted. I decided to drive up the hill to the nearby church, Chiesa di Maria Assunta, to see if I could determine when they held Mass and when the church might be open. I spotted the parking lot sign just below the church and pulled the rental car in. Miracle of miracles! The lot was filled with cars! The church was open right now!!

I grabbed my camera and slogged through the muddy parking lot toward the church, which was abuzz with activity. It was Carnevale week and they were selling gift baskets of traditional treats in the room just outside the main church entrance. I approached a gentleman there and in halting Italian I tried to tell him that I was looking for old church records. He seemed mystified, but a mature woman overhead me and understood well enough. She grabbed me and dragged me inside the church and over to the elderly priest. He spoke absolutely no English, but apparently I was not the first crazy American to show up there with a similar request. I explained in Italian that my grandfather had been born nearby and that I was looking Cabinetfor the birth records of my great grandparents, Orlando Buchignani and Maria Columba Puccetti. I knew the dates, so he was agreeable and lead me back past the altar and into a dark room with the cabinet that held all the old records. He brought down the book of baptisms that began in 1790. It was Volume III. How far back might the earlier volumes go?!?

THE MOTHER LODE

Before long I was looking at the original record of Orlando Buchignani’s baptism in January 1851. It identified him as the son of Francesco and grandson of Ranieri. There was the link! I WAS related to all those other Healdsburg Buchignani families!!

Orlando Baptism
15 January 1851 – Orlando Paladino, son of Francesco son of Renieri Buchignani and of Maria Rosaria daughter of Arcangelo Farilla, his wife, was born the abovementioned day at 10 o’clock in the morning and was baptized at Lucca in the church of San Frediano.

The record indicated that Orlando had been baptized in the church of San Frediano inside the wall of Lucca. I later learned that the church of San Frediano was originally built in the 6th century and that the Romanesque baptismal font had been carved by three artists in the 12th century. My great grandfather had been baptized there.

Over the next three days I was able to spend a total of six hours hunched over the table in the dark room lit by a single bulb, which I would estimate at about a 10W power rating. I spent the time photographing every record that included the surnames I knew to look for: Buchignani, Puccetti, and Puccioni. The translation and analysis of these records would have to wait until I was back in the states when I would have more time (not to mention better lighting). It would turn out that through these records I would be able to identify at least 50 new blood relatives going back three generations beyond what I had known before my trip.

GiadaWhile I was poring over the records, the word went out into the neighborhood that some Buchignani descendant had arrived from America and was in the church looking at the old books. So it was not long before a pretty young lady arrived to say hello. She introduced herself as Giada Buchignani, great granddaughter of Natale, making her my second cousin once removed. She gave me a list of her aunts and uncles that coincided with the list that my mother had compiled during her visit to Carignano in the 1980s, about 30 years earlier.

I’VE HEARD THAT SOMEWHERE BEFORE

On my second day in Carignano the church was closed, so I took a walk through the cemetery. I knew that in Italy the practice was that after a certain amount of time had passed the remains would be removed and the graves reused, so I wouldn’t find plots older than 50 or 100 years. But we genealogists just can’t stay away from a graveyard. As soon as I opened the creaky rusted gate I noticed a group of older ladies placing flowers on the graves at the other end of the cemetery. One redheaded lady approached me and Giuliannaintroduced herself as Giulianna Buchignani, daughter of Natale. This was my mother’s first cousin! She gave me a tour of the cemetery, pointing out the various Buchignani graves and telling stories about those people contained within.

Presently, we stopped in front of one Buchignani plot. Giulianna pointed at it and shook her head. Then I heard my mother’s words (only in Italian) come out of her mouth, “We are not related to them.” I didn’t have the heart to try and set her straight!

Sources:
U.S. Phone and Address Directories, 1993 – 2002, Ancestry.com
Passaporto Italiano di Vittorio Buchignani
“A Giorgi Family History 1882 – 1985” by Joanne Taeuffer
Ship Manifest, S.S. Berlin – Ellis Island Records
Wikipedia
“History of Sonoma County 1937” by Ernest Latimer Finley
Photo of Vittorio in Ovest Fontana, 201 Railroad Avenue, San Mateo, California
U.S. World War I Draft Registration Card, Ancestry.com
http://www.sacred-destinations.com
Libbro di Battezzati della Cura di Carignano e Busdagno – 1790

 

 

 

KEEP LOOKING: More on that elusive Congleton family…

One very basic building block of family research is to catalog your family’s movements via census records. These reliable documents provide us not only with evidence of where our people lived across time but also indications of family relationships, countries of origin, occupations, etc., etc. However, every family historian soon learns that the information contain is not always 100% accurate nor is it always complete. I suspect we all have that branch of the tree consisting of people who, by all appearances, were intent on hiding from census takers.

In 1849 the new California state constitution mandated that a state census be conducted in 1852. Since I had discovered a reliable record of my New York-born Great Great Grand Uncle, Aden C. Congleton, having come to California in 1849 from Michigan by wagon train, I felt certain that I should find him in the 1852 census. His brother, John E. Congleton, my Great Great Grandfather, had reportedly arrived with his family sometime in 1852 and so they may or may not have been enumerated. But Aden should be in there!

Repeated rigorous searching of the 1852 California Census on Ancestry using every conceivable spelling and misspelling of Congleton yielded nothing. Years went by.

Recognizing that the database on FamilySearch was likely built using data from a different indexing project than the one done for Ancestry, I repeated the rigorous search on that site. It yielded nothing. More years went by.

Eventually, in 2016, my research led me to the California State Library in Sacramento. There I found a microfilm copy of the typewritten “California Census of 1852” which had been transcribed and published by the DAR in 1934. There, on page 13 of Volume IV, I found a listing for “Congleton, A. – 36 years old – born in New York – last residence Michigan.” There he was! Just as he should be! So why had my seemingly endless searching on Ancestry and FamilySearch not found him?

I made note of the other names on the page with my Congleton and searched Ancestry for them. I found the image of the page that, to my eye, obviously listed “A. Congleton” (OK, the “A” is a bit of a stretch, but…). Ancestry had indexed him as “W. Coughton.” No. Not even close.

1852 CA Census detail

But where was John E. Congleton and his family? Considering that land records indicate they had lived close to Aden, it is likely that they had been enumerated on the same page as him. But since 27 entries on the page had been eaten away by time and neglect, those names would be lost to history forever. I guess John and family are among those lost. But I won’t stop looking for them!

1852 Census full page

MORAL OF THE STORY: Don’t give up the search before every resource has been exhausted. Sometimes the answer can be found in a library, not online. Look at the source document yourself. People make errors.

John Congleton’s Saw Mill

Several years ago, during a visit to my hometown of Healdsburg, California in Sonoma County, a dear cousin of mine shared with me an old scrapbook she had come across while clearing out her recently departed Mother’s home. In it was a newspaper article, written in the 1930s, that relayed some stories about our shared ancestor, John E. Congleton, who had arrived in California during the Gold Rush. The article quoted his Congleton Newspaper Articledaughter, Amelia Jane (Jenny) Congleton Smith Cook, as having stated (among other things) that her father “was not so much interested in gold mining as he was in the lumber business, for he [had] established a sawmill at ‘Rough and Ready.’” I had never heard about the family owning a saw mill in my prior twenty years of researching this family. I vowed then and there that someday I would make an attempt to verify this for myself…

Just Poking Around…

In October 2016 I traveled back to Healdsburg to attend my High School reunion. I decided to extend the trip to include stops at several of the Northern California repositories I had been wanting to visit since beginning my family research in 1994. My first stop was the California Genealogical Society Library in Oakland. There I found John Kitts Index at CGS LibraryCongleton’s name in a microfiche of “Kitt’s Index to Records in the Nevada County Recorder’s Office for July 21, 1856 to January 26, 1922.” It was not abundantly clear what the notations following his name indicated, but it sure looked like it was the location of a land record to me. Unfortunately, a quick search of the Nevada County Recorder’s Office website confirmed that they no longer were in possession of records of this vintage. Bummer.

I Wonder What I Will Find Over Here…

Proceeding with the confidence in my family historian ability to find stuff out and armed with the cryptic notation, I proceeded to the Doris Foley Library in Nevada City, California. I asked the helpful volunteer there if he was familiar with Kitt’s Index. And he responded, “Of course. And we have the original records on microfilm if you would like to see them.” After a short happy dance, I found myself looking at the record of my great great grandparents, John E. and Almira Congleton, selling their property, which included their residence and their one third interest in the “Newtown Sawmill,” to Porter Gilman in 1857 for $800. The description of the property indicated it was located at the bridge on Deer Creek on the East side of the Newtown Road Bridge. Now we were getting somewhere!

Hot on the Trail…

My new best friend at the Foley Library encouraged me to head over to the Searls Historical Library, also in Nevada City, to look for additional details. Once there, the friendly volunteer informed me that, sadly, the assessor’s records went back only to 1862 because earlier ones had been destroyed in a series of courthouse fires. However, she did bring me the original book “Kitt’s Index…” In it I was able to find later transactions by the individuals named in my ancestor’s deed. Using this information I was able to locate the assessor’s record of a portion of the property in the 40-lb. Assessors Book of 1862 that the volunteer was barely able to wrangle off of the shelf. At that time the 160 acres of land improved with “house, barn, fencing, fixtures, five cows, two horses, and two mules” was valued at $450 real estate and $250 personal property. The tax assessed that year was $9.61. This was pretty cool, but I wanted to see the land for myself.

Don’t Answer Yet, You Also Get…

My next stop was on Google Maps to look for the intersection of Newtown Road and Deer Creek. Unfortunately, it showed that the current Newtown Road ends at Bitney Springs Road just a few yards before it would cross Deer Creek. Rats. Undeterred, I headed out in the pouring rain to see what I could find. The GPS on my phone guided me onto Newtown Road and I followed it as it wound around for several miles before it turned and began running parallel to Deer Creek. As I approached the end of the road I pulled my car to the side and took off on foot with camera and umbrella. As I gazed across Bitney Spring Road I suddenly realized that I was looking at the abandoned continuation of Newtown Road and the decrepit old bridge across Deer Creek! This was the place!!Newton Road Bridge over Deer Creek

After another happy dance, I ambled over and found myself standing on the land that my ancestors had owned 160 years earlier. “I found you, Grandpa,” I whispered to the wind. This is why we research genealogy. For these moments of connection with our family from the past. And it all started two weeks earlier with an obtuse microfiche at the CGS Library in Oakland.

Moral of the Story

Look everywhere. At everything. And remember, those volunteers are out there just waiting to help you solve your mysteries.

 

The Day the Taeuffers Returned to Frohmuhl

On September 5, 1995, Judi and Jean Taeuffer, along with their husbands, Michael Scott and Ron Hoopes, left their hotel in the small hamlet of la Petite Pierre in the French Department of Bas-Rhin. They drove out to the West and turned North onto a small paved road towards the village of Frohmuhl which Ernest Taeuffer had left over 120 years earlier on his way to America. The road was marked by the Alsatian hiking club as 1 hour 45 minutes to Frohmuhl (walking, of course). They did not know what they would find there. This is the first person account of that day as remembered by Jean.

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The narrow country road wound through a beautiful woods. It was so pastoral and deserted that I expected the road to turn to a dirt path at any moment. We came upon a placid lake that reflected the surrounding woods as perfectly as any mirror. We stopped to soak up some of the tranquility and try to capture the scene on film. A large, deserted building, white with the typical pink sandstone window sills and door frames whispered of another era. I began to wonder why in the world Ernest Taeuffer had ever left this beautiful place.

 

 

1995-0905 058 edit 1

Soon we were on our way again, and presently drove into the tiny village of Frohmuhl nestled at the foot of a small hill. One block later, we drove out of the tiny village of Frohmuhl. In this part of France, each small town has signs on each approach with the town name on them, and Frohmuhl was no exception. We stopped to take pictures of Judi and me under the Frohmuhl sign.

As with all the small towns in this area, the church spire was clearly visible on the hill. Investigation revealed that the sandstone church was built in the early 20th century, and included a war memorial listing the Frohmuhl citizens who had lost their lives in World Wars I and II. However, no old cemetery was is evidence. Conveniently, there was a town map posted on Rue Principal, which indicated the location of the current cemetery. We drove the two blocks, past the tiny train station, to the cemetery.

1995-0905 067

The small cemetery consisted of closely spaced, well maintained graves covered with elaborate marble slabs. All graves held fresh flowers. There were numerous Taeuffers, as well as spouses and their families. However, the graves did not date back beyond Ernest’s generation. After photographing the various plots, we returned to the map in the center of town to consider our next move.

The mayor’s office, located above the one car garage fire department, indicated that office hours were 6 pm to 9 pm on Tuesdays. Happily, September 5 was a Tuesday. I was slightly disappointed to learn that the mayor’s name was Gaston Dann, apparently no longer a Taeuffer, as it had been throughout the nineteenth century.

Unwilling to simply wait until evening, our foursome continued to wander the village. People working in their yards or walking down the street had begun to notice us and we felt certain that the word was out that strangers were in town. Frohmuhl was not a place where tourists could blend in. Finally, we decided to inquire with a gentleman we had seen working in his open garage. Happily, he spoke some English and some German, as well as French. Michael was able to communicate that we were looking for people with the name Taeuffer. The gentleman indicated that he had only lived in Frohmuhl for the past two months, but that the mayor’s house was two doors down and perhaps he would be able to help us. We thanked him and wandered on.

While Judi and I were debating whether or not we should simply knock on the door, Michael did exactly that. A tall, blonde, young man answered the door and Michael asked if he spoke English. The youth reluctantly admitted that he spoke a little bit. Michael explained that the great grandfather of Judi and I had come from Frohmuhl and that we had come from California looking for family. The young man said “California, ooh,” and looked very impressed. Michael asked him if there were any people still living in the town with the name Taeuffer. He replied, “no…. but my grandmother was born with this name.” And we realized that, indeed, a Taeuffer descendant was mayor of Frohmuhl.

Michael told him that we would like to see town records and he indicated that the school teacher was also the Secretary to the Mayor and asked if we would like him to take us up to the school to speak with him. We agreed enthusiastically and the five of us proceeded up the hill. On our way, we learned our eighteen year old guide’s name was Michel Dann.

The school building consisted of a small, one room school house with living quarters for the teacher and his family above. Once there, Michel went in and brought out the teacher’s nineteen year old son, Eric. Eric spoke English quite well and was very interested in we Americans. He indicated that his father would speak with us when the children went to lunch in about 15 minutes.

We discussed what we did for a living, and they were quite interested to discover that I manufactured Coca Cola. Eric and Michel asked what we had seen in the area and recommended several points of historical interest.

They explained that this school was for the young children of the area and that older children went to school in similar buildings in other towns. Presently, a small bus arrived to take the out-of-town children home for lunch. The children came running out of the school, just as they would in any other country in the world, and the teacher invited us inside.

Unfortunately, although Richard did not speak a word of English, like any other teacher, he had a lot to say. Poor Eric did his best to keep up the translation. We were told that the original school and church had been located a little further down the hill, but that the railroad company had torn them down so that the tracks could run through. The railroad had then built the existing school in return for the right-of-way. Richard indicated that he would have more time to go over the records with us after school was out at 4 that afternoon. So we agreed to meet him then.

Michel asked us if we would like to meet his grandmother, and we, obviously, replied that we would. So we walked back into town and approached a small house. Michel walked into the back yard where a small white haired lady was working. They spoke a few minutes, and then came out to where we were standing. Michel introduced us and his grandmother, Lucie, invited us into the house.

We gathered around the dining room table and Lucie brought us Port wine and cookies. I tried to write down the family relationship on a scrap of paper, as I had thoughtlessly left the computer print-outs at the hotel. She had not been aware that she had had a great uncle Ernest who had gone to America, but was indeed familiar with the name Sophie Winter (Ernest’s mother). She also corrected me in the name of Catherine Taeuffer’s husband August Noelinger. The name was actually Noetinger and Lucie had a whole photo album of that branch of the family. She brought it out and went through great explanations that Michel tried valiantly to translate. The Noetinger family had moved to Strasbourg, where one of the daughters entered a convent, one married a count, and the third went crazy after the war and was always yelling that Hitler was coming. The son had joined the service and had left France for Indochin (Viet Nam).

Lucie regaled us of stories of the G.I.s that came to liberate Frohmuhl in 1944. We ascertained that some of the soldiers that came through were black men who tried to get the local girls to accompany them back to America. One of the soldiers continued to write his Alsatian sweetheart for two years, and the girl had only been 16 years old! I was very disappointed in myself that I had not brought my tape recorder. I asked Michel to ask his grandmother if she would write me the stories she remembered so that I could translate them. They did not seem to understand why I would be interested in such stories.

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We also learned that Frohmuhl translated to “happy mill” and had been named such by a convent of Catholic nuns who had lived in the building by the lake which we had seen earlier that day. Lucie told us that when she was a girl, unmarried young women would work making straw hats that were exported to Indochin.

 

Presently, we began to feel we had stayed long enough and we took our leave. We agreed to meet Michel back at his home that afternoon at 4 pm to go over the town records. And we left Frohmuhl to return to la Petite Pierre.

 

After enjoying lunch in la Petite Pierre, we returned to Frohmuhl, this time armed with genealogical print-outs and tape recorder. We met Michel at his home and proceeded to the school house. After releasing the children for the day, Richard asked that we meet him at the mayor’s office. Once there, he pulled the original town records (the micro-film of which I had gone through in Salt Lake City) out of the cupboard. He began going through them and photo-copying the birth records of various Taeuffers, all the time speaking in rapid French. I had the presence of mind to start the recorder, with the idea that one day I would learn enough French to understand what he had been saying.

Eric made a valiant effort at keeping up the translation. I told him that I had seen microfilms of the records we were holding. He could not believe what I was saying, and thought he must have misunderstood my English. But I explained again, that these records had been microfilmed in 1979 by the Mormon Church and were available to the public in Utah. They were amazed that anyone should be interested in the records of their little town.

Richard explained apologetically, that the records from several years in the late 1800’s were missing because they had been burned. He went on to say that in 1944, when the American G. I.s came through to liberate the town, they had made camp in the school house. It was very cold and they had no fire wood, so they had pulled up the floorboards of the school and used the records as tinder. I was horrified that our soldiers would have come in and torn up the floor, acting like so many barbarians. I reacted very strongly and with obvious dismay. Richard explained that the people in the town had been very happy to have the Americans destroy the school house floor, because they had chased the Nazis out.

As we went through the records, several people came into the office on various errands. Eric explained that when the office was officially open, no one ever showed up, but when they saw Richard’s car parked in front they all came around. I suspect they had just wanted to come in to take a look at the Mayor’s American relatives and see what we were up to.

After we had looked through the records we thanked Richard profusely and walked down stairs. Michel asked if we wanted to meet his uncle, Charles who lived across the street from the Mayor’s office. We approached a lovely home with beautiful window boxes spilling over with red blossoms. Michel spoke with the man in the garage and dragged him over to us. Charles did not speak English and was very shy with us. He was the reincarnation of our own Ed Taeuffer. We complimented him on his garden and, realizing we were making him uncomfortable, we took our leave.

As we walked down the street towards our car, a young girl approached. Michel told us this was Charles’ daughter and he grabbed her. He began to tell her who we were when she looked at him and said something in French which obviously translated to “yeah, I already know about them.” This Frohmuhl was beginning to feel more and more like Healdsburg.

As we walked past Lucie’s home, she came outside and began speaking to Judi and me enthusiastically. We looked to Michel helplessly and asked for a translation. He informed us that she had a present for us. She took us into her home and presented us with decorative plates depicting typical Alsatian scenes. She also gave us an old postcard with an aerial photo of Frohmuhl. We were speechless and could only thank her again and again. Michel explained that Lucie owned the local restaurant and showed us the location on the postcard. He then told us she wanted to show us something.

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We walked outside toward the restaurant where Lucie pointed out to us the keystone above the door. Upon inspection we found it was carved with the date 1804 and the names Nicolas Taeuffer and Anna Marie Macart. Again, we were speechless with delight.

About this time, Michel spotted a small red car approaching and flagged it down. He spoke to the driver for a moment, who then parked the car and approached us. It was Michel’s father, Gaston Dann, the mayor. He invited us to their home where his wife, Bernadette had just arrived. We all trooped into the dining room where we were served wine and cookies. Gaston told us that when Michel had come up to the car and told him that relatives from California were here he had though Michel was crazy.

We found out that Gaston and Bernadette were both teachers in local towns. In addition to being mayor of Frohmuhl, Gaston was president of the Alsatian society which was in charge of restoration of the numerous historical sites of the region. Gaston indicated that Bernadette had the next day’s afternoon free and that, if we liked, she would take us around to the various points of interest. We didn’t know whether or not we were supposed to decline out of politeness, and after a few rounds of Bernadette insisting it was not an imposition, we agreed. She told Michel and Eric that they would come along, as well, and it was agreed we would meet at the hotel the next afternoon.

They were very interested in finding out how we had known where to look for our family. I explained that we had found the slip of paper that said “Ernest Taeuffer came from the village of Frohmuhl in the canton de la Petite Pierre.” They nodded at the reference to the canton and laughed as I explained that, while I had found la Petite Pierre on the first map I looked at, it took several maps until I had actually found Frohmuhl. Gaston considered our theories as to why Ernest had left France, He verified that Ernest would have been required to serve in the German army, and agreed that he had probably fled to avoid that.

We stayed until we felt we should go, and gave many thanks to one and all. We drove back to our hotel with our heads spinning.

The next morning we drove to one of the recommended points of interest, the houses under the rocks in Graufthal. After lunch we went to await our guides at the tables in front of our hotel. Bernadette, Michel, and Eric arrived promptly at the appointed hour. Before we were on our way, however, Bernadette stopped to speak with some people she knew. Now all of la Petite Pierre would be aware of our mission.

Eric rode in the rental car with Ron and Michael, and Judi and I went with Michel and Bernadette in their car. We drove to the chateau at Lichtenburg. Bernadette knew the ladies working in the ticket booth. We received a detailed tour from our guides. The young men impressed us with their knowledge of and interest in the history of the area.

1995-0906 023In addition to the chateau, we were guided to several “typical Alsatian villages” complete with half-timbered houses loaded down with flowers, flowers, flowers cascading from window boxes, as well as lining the yards. We were then whisked out to the areas famous for ceramic ware. It seemed they were determined to show us as many points of interest as was humanly possible in the time allotted.

Finally, it was time to drop us back at the hotel. We thanked our new-found family again and again. Promises to write were made and hand-shakes were exchanged all around. And then they were gone and we were left with our heads spinning again.

A more perfect visit to Ernest’s home land could not have been imagined nor hoped for.