Monday, 25 January 2016

Researching Eastern European Ancestors: A Plea for Help

My mother's father was born in what is now Zamosty, Ukraine. In 1888, the time of Gustav Lange's birth, Zamosty was part of the Volhynia region of Tsarist Russia. His family apparently moved to Lutsk when he was a young boy as his father died there about 1905.

Zmosty, Ukraine; courtesy of Google Maps

Mom's mother was born in Alberta, Canada, in 1894, though my Schalin great grandparents had immigrated for religious reasons from the Tutschin area of the Volhynia region the year previously. Both of my mother's parents considered themselves German but we have no idea from where in Germany the Lange and Schalin families originated.

Thanks to the work of the late Lucille Marion (Fillenberg) Effa, we know a great deal about the history of the Schalin family. Lucille traced back to my four times great grandfather, Marcin Schalin, who was born in what is now Poland in about 1770. However, we knew very little about my maternal grandfather's Lange family.

All we knew were the names of his parents, the fact that his father died early, and that eventually most of his younger siblings immigrated to Canada after World War II. My mother knew the names of her aunts and uncles but had not met most of them. In fact, the names she gave me did not match up to the one photograph of Grandpa Lange's family taken before my grandfather left for Canada. There was an extra woman in the photograph, who I assume was a sister I do not know about.

My grandfather's mother and siblings. He is second from the right;
personal collection

Before my mother died, she graciously took an AncestryDNA test. When the results came back, she had three shared matches, which were my two brothers and me. She was tickled to learn we were in fact her children! Her ethnicity was 64 percent Eastern European, 26 percent Great British, and 3 percent Irish, which surprised all of us as we expected her to be mostly all Eastern European. Most of her matches were predicted to be distant cousins, which did me little good as we knew so little about most of her family.

Richard Lange family at their home in Canada.
This photograph was taken during a 1949 trip
to Canada to visit relatives; personal collection

I would check her DNA results every four to six months. Eventually a familiar name appeared as a possible fourth cousin. Mom's mother's parents had immigrated with a large group of people and settled in the Leduc area south Edmonton. Their descendants intermarried frequently so I knew many of the names of these families. The only connection I could discover was a by-marriage one, which certainly did not account for a fourth cousin match. I contacted the DNA match and he generously provided me with what he knew about his family history. We determined there must have been a Klapstein-Schalin marriage in Europe previous to our families' known history. I did learn that one of the Klapsteins was a professional football player (American style), which Mom enjoyed knowing as she was a big fan of the sport. Later another possible fourth cousin appeared in her results. He was the great grandson of Ludwig Schalin, my mother's grand uncle. So far all of Mom's DNA matches were on her Schalin side. Not really surprising as I knew much more about that side of her family tree, but not helpful in learning more about her Lange family.

Then I was contacted by a granddaughter of another grand uncle, Friedrich Lange. She did not know much about her grandfather's family either. Her father was still alive so she promised to ask him questions and she sent me several wonderful photographs.

Friedrich Lange family; courtesy of Gabriele Breier

A few weeks ago a potential second cousin match appeared in Mom's results. He had seven people in his family tree. I sent him a message and had just about given up hearing from him when my phone rang a few days ago. Caller ID identified the call was coming from Edmonton. An elderly gentlemen introduced himself and explained he was calling because of my message about our DNA connection.

We had a lovely conversation and determined that he was indeed my Mom's second cousin. His grandmother and Mom's paternal grandmother, Caroline Ludwig, were sisters! In fact, one of my grandfather's brothers paid for Mr. Lade to come to Canada after World War II and he and his father had visited the Lange family in Lutsk when he was a boy. So I finally have some new information about my Lange line. It's very exciting and I wish my mother were still alive. She would have been thrilled.

Lutsk Old Town; photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

The point of all this you ask. Well, I believe it's obvious I need to stop putting off learning how to research Eastern European ancestors so that is my genealogy goal for 2016. If you have any tips or pointers, please pass them along. Thank you.

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