The Stuff of Legends

Every Family Historian has a few brick wills she will attempt to climb every now and again when the maze has confounded her. One of mine comes from my first Family History vacation in 2012.

After visiting and touring the church, after walking the length and breadth of the cemetery, we met with some of the family at Uncle John’s place. We sat in his man cave, sharing stories, drinking beer (for those of us who drink beer), laughing, remembering, swearing to not let so much time pass before our next visit. There is nothing as good as listening to uncle stories. There is nothing as wonderful as not knowing which stories are true, which are tease, and which are faded in between by the beer.

When we returned to the hotel that night, I typed the following, dated April 12, 2012:

 John remembered his dad talking about the Old Country. He told John the Schmitzers were a nomadic tribe, and they moved around quite a bit. At one point, he told John, the Schmitzers settled in Czechoslovakia. When John asked why they moved around so much, he said his dad answered him, “without batting an eye, without the faintest hint of a smile,” that they were always “one step ahead of the Law.”

At the time, I dismissed it as “too much beer.” It was so far-fetched and so random–and there had been mention of our ancestors being horse thieves (to be honest, I think the expression was “Czechoslovakian horse thieves”). I mean, really. Horse thieves?

But the truth is, I’ve learned enough about Family History to know that Family Legend comes from somewhere. When we tell family stories, we don’t just make them up. Usually, there is some element of truth to them–whether big or small. And so, despite the fact that my gut tells me the Schmitzers did not descend from Czechoslovakian horse thieves, this Legend remains one of my brick walls. Every now and again, when my research has left me asking “what next,” I turn around and try to scale the wall. As of yet, I’ve made no progress connecting the Schmitzer clan to Czechoslovakia or horse thievery.

Two years ago at the Schmitzer Reunion, I was blessed to meet the amazing daughter of a woman who served as Secretary on the Reunion committee for a number of years. She graciously gifted me a brown paper bag which had held its treasures for years apparent. The giving itself humbled me speechless. The contents astounded me.

Journal entries of each Schmitzer Reunion detailed who attended, what monies were paid out, who would serve on the following year’s committee, and anything noteworthy that had been discussed or presented for the family’s benefit. Births and deaths, marriages and graduations, names and addresses often grouped by Clan, and a random photograph of my own handsome grandfather in his young adulthood–these are the rare jewels of which Family Historians dream! I guarded them dearly, eager to come home and sift through it all. And here, two and half years later, I have still not completed the task.

Last weekend, I pulled out the sturdy box where I’ve stored these treasures, and I tackled the stack of letters. Yes, letters. Oh, how my heart lifted! Notes written from family members who couldn’t make it to the given year’s reunion were (as I understand) either read or made available for everyone to read at the reunion. Therein, I have stumbled upon two amazing finds. The first, a letter written by my grandmother the year after my grandfather died. I’ll share more about this another time.

But the second was a letter stuffed into a plain, non-postmarked envelope with the word “Important” underlined on the front. And on the inside? A treasure from the real Family Historian! As if it isn’t enough to read a letter from my great-uncle Alois, to work through his post-script notes on the family history, I stumbled upon a brick from a wall I’ve been unable to scale:

I want to say that what Uncle Martin said and Uncle Albert denied about Schmitzers migrating from Czeck to Germany is most likely true.

German clans were fighting and killing each other during the 1500 and 1600 hundreds, some other civilized groups were also involved I guess. Anyway, they did not have enough men to work and run farms and businesses, so they offered Czecks, Italians, and Swiss opportunities to come. Zehnders came from Switzerland and some others. Also, I found out some came from Italy. Bavaria, Italy, and Czeck borders are all close together or were at that time. Later Austria took over some of Italy’s northern border.

Letter from Alois Schmitzer, dated 19 July 1972.

But is it true?

It may be, and it may not be. It’s going to take an amazing amount of time and research, and it may end with no more certainty than I have at this moment. Still, I now have two relatives relaying similar Family Legend. No doubt my Uncle John’s story came from his father–my grandfather, who was Alois’ brother; and no doubt Alois and Grandpa heard it from their uncles, who seemed to have some disagreement about the matter in a manner publicly enough that folks at the 1972 Reunion would know what Alois letter was implying.

Are you intrigued?

I am totally intrigued.

Wish me luck!



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