How it all started
Some time ago a friend asked me:
" Now you have been researching your family tree for such a long time, aren't you ever going to stop?" I replied that it has now become a habit, a great interest and an obsession and I don't think that I will ever stop.
To start with, in the 1950s, I wrote to my maternal grandmother and asked her about my family background. My mother was born in Moscow, and her ancestors came from there and Estonia and Latvia, and because I was born and raised in Finland until 1939, I only knew my mother's parents.
At first my grandmother told me off because she thought I was only going to brag about names and titles.
" Look at your father, he built his own business by hard work. You can be proud of him" , she said. But I convinced her that I just wanted to know who they were and where they came from, and so she wrote down a lot of information for which I am truly grateful today.
About 30 years later I got my first computer and then I got a floppy disc with a very early version of the Danish family tree program Anetavle which I am still using, nw in version 2.8.
Now I had to find out how to do genealogy, and I read lots of books. I subscribed to a couple of genealogy newsgroups, and joined local genealogy associations and attended meetings.
Soon after I visited the archives in Copenhagen to search the church books. I wrote to archives in Russia to seek help with my mother's background, and from one of them I received eight pages of closely typed Russian about one ancestor related to my great-grandfather by marriage. His name was Johann Theodor Leo Stern von Gwiazdowski, but in Russian he was called Ivan Samoilowitch (ie Johann son of Samuel) he was an officer in the Russian Tsar's army and ended his career with the rank of General. So I had to start learning Russian and finally managed to get through the document with the help of people who knew Russian.
Russian State Military Historical Archive
2 Baumanskaya, 3
107864 Moscow, Russia
Tel.: 7 (095) 261-20-70
As I had also German ancestors I posted a question to news:soc.genealogy.german about how to find parish records and archives in Germany. One of the answers came from Hugh Watkins who has now become a friend and my Rootsweb mentor. (Sadly he died in December 2009). He persuaded me to upload a Gedcom of my family tree on Rootsweb World Connect http://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?db=hedvig_o, and he helped me publish my family history on Rootsweb Freepages Slægtssider for Hedvig Pitzner-Jørgensen. This led to lots of contacts and friends all over the world.
My family background
Now I will tell a little about my family background. My father came from Denmark to Moscow in 1916. He was sent to Russia by his company to open their branch in Moscow. In 1917 he took a room with a German-speaking landlady. About one year later he married her daughter and they moved into a small flat at one end of her parents' house. This was in the summer of 1917, just before the Russian revolution, and although they wished to go to Denmark so that she could meet her new family, they were unable to leave until 1920. After a couple years in Denmark they moved to Helsinki in Finland, and my father set up his own business as an importer. I am lucky to have the letters my father wrote from Moscow to his parents in Copenhagen from 1916 to 1919.
My grandparents wanted to get out of Russia as soon as possible and at first moved to my grandfather's native Estonia, and in about 1933 they came to Finland and we shared the same apartment house in Helsinki - my " Mummu" and " Muffa" as I called them lived in a flat one floor under us.
I spent a lot of time with them and got really close to my grandmother, she was the one who used to look after me if my mother was not at home.
The war begins in 1939
When World War II broke out in September 1939 we - my mother, my elder sister and I - were sent to Denmark because Finland was not considered to be a safe place because it was so close to Russia, and my grandparents moved to Berlin. My grandfather had worked for a German company which paid his pension, and so it seemed the obvious place to go. When he died in 1943 my parents arranged for my grandmother to come to us in Copenhagen, which proved to be a wise decision. After the war she wanted to go back to Germany, and she stayed with a cousin in West Germany. It was then - in the 1950s - that I wrote to her and asked her to tell me about her ancestors. I realised that she was my oldest family member.
In about 1926 my mother's brother and his wife migrated to Australia and landed in Freemantle and moved to Sydney. They settled by the coast in a small place called Pebbly Beach near Batemans Bay, where they let holiday cottages to tourists. My aunt took all her photo albums and other memorabilia with her, and after she died her neighbour wrote to me that she had saved an album which she had kept for me. Some of my Danish relatives went on a family visit to Sydney and brought that album back to me.
When Hugh Watkins said that it would be a good idea to publish my family tree on Rootsweb I was a bit reluctant at first. But it had not been out there for long before emails began to stream in.
It is great fun, and suddenly I have friends all over the world.
I published my family tree on Rootsweb's WorldConnect in 2005, and soon after I got the first emails from people who were related to me
How Rootsweb helped me to find my mother's roots
If I thought that it would be particularly difficult to find my mother's roots I was mistaken. Emails started to come from far and near. Last year a German lady wrote to me that her husband was related to my aunt in Australia. I wrote back and told them about the album and started to scan some photos and send to them for identification of the persons.
They were planning a trip to Sweden in the summer and wanted to come and visit me. When I realised that they had lost all their family photos because of the war, I decided to give them the photo album that had travelled from Estonia to Australia in 1926 and 80 years later from Australia to Denmark.
Although my new cousin's wife's mother's family came from Berlin, she was born in the north of Germany where her fatherís parents lived, because this was considered safer in February 1945. However her father had been captured by Russians and after the war they moved back to Berlin. They had little contact with the north German relatives which accounts for the lack of photographs on her side.
In 1939 my new cousin's parents were directed by the Germans to move from Estonia to the province of Posen (now called Poznan and belonging to Poland) which Germany had occupied at the outbreak of the second world war. He was born there in 1940, and because of the war the family had to flee to the west in 1943, and they came to Berlin. It is obvious that in such circumstances you did not carry more than the most necessary things with you, and photographs and the like were left behind.
It was a wonderful experience for me to give the album to this couple. They told me it was like getting back their family history. We still correspond with each other.
My maternal grandmother's side
On my grandmother' side I have the names Baumgarten, Gwiazdowski and Meyer.
The Baumgarten family was relatively easy to trace. They were from Latvia, and two of them - father and son - had been members of the Riga city council. There is a book which lists Riga councillors back to the first city council, so here I found James Carl Baumgarten, the son of a merchant, who at the age of 49 married an 18-year-old ballet dancer. They had 7 children, the last one was born two years before James Carl Baumgarten died at the age of 70. The information about the ballet dancer was given to my by another Baumgarten descendant, who was the grandchild of a cousin with whom my grandmother stayed in Germany, so I knew their names and where they lived, and I found the family in the German telephone book Das Telefonbuch and wrote to them. I also got an email from a third descendant of James Carl Baumgarten's children with more interesting information.
Stern von Gwiazdowski
The name Gwiazdowski, sometimes Stern von Gwiazdowski, gave me a bit of trouble.
My maternal grandmother proudly wrote to me: " Meine Grossmutter war eine geborene Stern von Gwiazdowski" (my grandmother was a Stern von Gwiazdowski by birth).
I thought the name was a bit of a mixture as both names mean 'star', in German and in Polish. Some of my ancestors were even called 'Gwiazdowski, named Stern' which added to the confusion.
Luckily all of a sudden emails came in from three different sources which gave the explanation. As the name suggests, the Gwiazdowskis came originally from Poland, but being Protestants, they were some time in the 1600ís ordered to convert to the Catholic faith or move out of the country. Having moved to Germany the couple's two sons, who were born at the beginning of 1700, decided to change their name into the more German-sounding Stern.
Descendants of them came to Latvia, where both my great-grandparents were born (he was called Meyer and his wife Baumgarten), and then I was able to get more information from the State Archives of Latvia.
But my story does not end here. My great-grandparents moved to Russia, and after she was widowed my grandmother's sister stayed on in Russia in the village of Tsaritzyno near Moscow where the family had their summer residence, nowadays called a dacha. She died in 1970.
Some years ago I was in Moscow and went to the cemetery at Tsaritzyno where I hoped to find her grave. I had left my papers back in Moscow so I took my Sony Ericsson k800i videophone and searched via the 3G network for http://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?db=hedvig_o and found Meyer*, Vera who was born 03 MAY 1877 in Moscow and died 13 MAR 1970 in Tsaritzyno near Moscow, which enabled me to give these dates to the lady in the cemetery office, but she could not find the grave.
I hope some day to find this grave through the civil registration office (ZAGS) in Moscow.
On a recent trip to St. Petersburg I managed to find the grave of the above-mentioned General Stern von Gwiazdowski and to get news about his two sons, also military men, who were both sentenced to death by shooting in 1936 for being 'enemies of the people' when Stalin purged Russia of members of the old military families.