Those of us who deal with genealogy know that sometimes strange things happen. It can be the voice inside you telling you to look in a certain church book, although your mind tells you that it will be a waste of time. You just put in the film, fast forward it, it stops, you look at the screen and see your great-great-grandfather’s baptismal record. It is this strange urge to visit a certain place and afterwards it turns out to be the place your roots lie. And it is missing your flight and then meeting a distant cousin you have never heard of before at the airport. Has this happened to you before? Do you know that feeling?
It has been nearly 20 years since I visited Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Even though it was the first of May it was cold and rainy. We walked through this magnificent town, fascinated by its beauty and it’s multicultural environment. We had visited the German Dom and the Russian Church and walked the narrow streets, when we came to the old city wall with it’s small shops. We noticed a second-hand book shop that was stuffed with German books and figured that that might be the right place to warm our frozen fingers. When we entered, something strange happened. I turned to the right, walked straight to a bookshelf with old bibles, took one and thought “I just need to buy it, I have been looking for this book for a very long time.” Now, usually I am not the kind of person that does these kind of things, and I hadn’t really been looking for a bible either. But there was something that told me I’d better go to the desk and buy it. So I did, put it into my bag pack, carried it around for the rest of the day and finally took it back home to Stockholm. There I put it in my bookshelf and simply enjoyed looking at it. After some time I felt like taking a closer look and to my surprise I found a complete family chronicle on the first pages. And in that very moment I knew that this was not my bible and I had to bring it home. But where might “home” be?
I started with reading the chronicle: The bible had been a Christmas present for a young man called Kuno to remember his confirmation in 1886. His mother Cornelie Henriette kept the bible updated. In 1894 young Kuno got engaged and married a young girl from St. Petersburg called Alexandra. In 1896 their (only) daughter was born and named Nathalie Benita. Kuno died in 1927, his daughter Nathalie gave birth to a son in 1929.
At first it didn’t seem to be too hard to find, both Kuno, his mother and his wife Alexandra came from noble Baltic families. But I simply wasn’t able to trace Nathalie, who’s husband had a very common name. Had she lived in Tallinn or somewhere else? If she had stayed there, did she inherit the bible and had to leave it when running for her life in the last days of WWII? Did the family survive? I tried to lay it to rest but somehow I couldn’t really get it off my mind. Every once in a while I looked at it, with a bad conscience, that I still hadn’t carried out my duty. I searched the internet, sent letters, I even called members of the noble families mentioned in the bible but no one could help. Meanwhile I had moved to Berlin, still thinking about how to bring the bible back home. After 12 years, I figured I should give it one last try. I sent an email to the Baltische Ritterschaften (Association of the Baltic Noble Corporations), hoping for some kind of information. I had been in touch with them before, but had never received an answer to my letter. After having sent my request, I felt like doing a little research on the internet. I searched Nathalie’s name as I had done so many times before. But this time, I got lucky. Some student had written an essay on Nathalie’s married name in a certain area in Lower Saxony and posted it on the internet. And there she was, Nathalie Benita, her husband, her five children, her grandson’s name and his place of residence. I had hardly recovered from this information when an email arrived from the Baltischen Ritterschaften, providing me with even more facts. I looked up the family’s phone number and called them right away. A women answered the phone and I told her that I wanted bring the family bible home to her. It was silent at the other side of the line. Then she said: “Tomorrow we will celebrate our daughter’s confirmation.”