Friday, November 11, 2005

The Lost Graveyard

We’ve just returned from three weeks in Europe. While most of the trip was centered in France and Amsterdam, we did take a little side out to a small Westphalian village called Ladbergen. My mother’s great grandmother, Maria Wilhelmine Fiegenbaum, was born there in 1833. It turns out that all Fiegenbaums in the U.S. trace their ancestors back to that village. Thanks to the careful work of others at the Fiegenbaum website, I arrived armed with birth and death dates going back to 1627 in Ladbergen. I was looking forward to a day of graveyard reverence communing with the fading headstones of several generations of Fiegenbaums.

Ladbergen is a very uncomplicated village. There are only three graveyards, and as it was the Feast of All Saints the day we arrived, the friedhof were filled with visitors. But soon it became clear to me that there were no headstones ANYWHERE in the town before the 1850’s. The town church had been built nearly 10 years after my Maria Wilhelmine had left Ladbergen. Where were they?

We were staying at an inn called Gasthaus zur Poste. After a few inquiries, the owner of the Gasthaus, Frau Haug, appeared from the back office and told us the story. (I say us … actually she told it to Hunter in German and he translated it for me.) She had grown up at the Gasthaus and was the fourth generation of the Schulte-Freckling family to live there. We followed her out into the backyard where she pointed out where the old church had been and then gestured toward her lovely garden where the graveyard had been. There, beneath one of the loveliest vegetable gardens I have seen, lay the remains of my Westphalian ancestors. She said that during the War, a bomb had dropped where the garden now is and bones had been uncovered. That is how she is sure that this was the lost graveyard.

She has bordered the garden in double rows of boxwood about 8 inches high. Much of the garden is reserved for spring asparagus. I complimented her on her compost operation (which is quite professional) and said I could think of no better place for my ancestors to rest than in her lovely garden.

Somehow, it all comes back to the garden.

No comments: