Jane Williamson spent 10 years on a passion inspired by her ancestors. She had worked first as a journalist, then as a claims examiner at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Waco.
This background, research and careful recordkeeping came together when she attended her first formal genealogy meeting at the Waco-McLennan County Public Library. It was the 50th anniversary of the Central Texas Genealogical Society and she was the “newbie.”
Her search sent her around Texas, on numerous trips to the library, and ultimately to the Grote family farm in Germany. The eventual result is a handsome, leather-bound volume titled “My Journey: Tracing Ancestors to Grote Family Farm in Mackenbruch, Germany.”
“I was curious about my family because so little was said. I could not pursue things until I retired. That was my hobby,” she said.
Williamson said her interest into her mother’s ancestry began after finding scribbles on a scrap of paper left by her mother in a book. She started wondering about the mother of a 9-year-old boy who came to Texas with an uncle in 1848 to join his father who had arrived earlier.
“It really became exciting when one of those German cousins wrote me,” Williamson said. “It became a challenge.”
Williamson compiled 14 large crates of carefully cataloged material. Of particular help, she said, were the microfiche files from the Church of the Latter-Day Saints genealogical library in Salt Lake City. For religious reasons, genealogy is of critical importance to Mormons, and they make their services available to all who ask.
Although Williamson does not speak German, she learned how to fill out translation forms and to write to parish churches and other German record centers. Bit by bit she accumulated information about a particular ancestor, Charles A. Grote, who arrived in Texas from Lippe (a German principality) in 1845.
Three years later his son, Friedrich “Fritz” Adolph Grote, age 9, arrived in Texas. However, several dates seemed misaligned, or outright contradictory. The child was described as “motherless,” but records from Germany did not conform or agree to other records. After considerable digging. Williamson discovered that Fritz was born out of wedlock to Anne Marie Lohmeyer, who lived until 1890.
Anne and Charles could not marry because he was the fourth son of a landowner, and she was the daughter of a tenant farmer, considered a lower social class. Also, in Germany at that time, a man had to prove that he could support a wife and family to get permission to marry. When she did marry, some years later, she sent her son to his father in Texas. By then Charles Grote was a Methodist preacher.
This bit of insight took months of painful writing and translating, but from this Williamson found that history will give up its secrets, but only if the investigator is tenacious and devoted.
In 2010 Williamson made a chance contact and located Grote cousins living in Mason County in Texas. Pictures, names and dates emerged. Most important of all, though, she located the grave of the Rev. C.A. Grote, who died Nov. 10, 1887.
She was not able to visit the grave itself because of flooding, but got a good picture of it. It is inscribed: “Ich ben die Auferstehung und das Leben, wer an mich glaubt, wird leben.” Translated, that is: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, shall live.” The personal testimony of the old Methodist preacher lived on.
Other anomalies continued as her research continued. Her ancestor was of the Grote farm line, not necessarily a blood line. That is, if there were no male heirs, the farm could pass to the oldest female, if she married. In most cases a landless but likely young man found this as a way to “step up” in the Old World, but to preserve continuity he had to give up his name and adopt the name of the farm, in this case, “Grote.”
To complicate matters, “Grote” could be correctly spelled as “Grothe,” “Groten” or “Grothen,” depending on a host of factors and styles that have come and gone over the centuries.
Further research showed that the earliest mention of the Grote Farm was first mentioned in a register of Lippe as early as 1467. By one means of inheritance or another, the farm has survived to today. It has endured through the horrors of the Thirty Years War, Napoleon and two World Wars.
Planning a Trip
By 2011, Williamson had exhausted her means of research from her home in Woodway. She had also exhausted several recordkeepers back in Germany, who declined further assistance. Never to do things by half measures, she planned a trip to Germany to directly research further.
Jane and her daughter, Rachel, arrived in the Old Country on Sept. 1, 2011. She eventually met Herr Heinz-Jurgen Grote and they were warmly received by him and Hille, his wife. There she found that little had changed. The house was modernized, but the land has scarcely changed from 1467.
It consists of 32.7 acres of productive land, and about 10.1 acres of a house, forest and garden area. Year in and year out for centuries, this small farm has been used, and continues to produce food for the area.
They also found fourth cousins who had no knowledge that family members had gone to Texas in the 1840s.
After the years of research, Williamson began compiling and organizing her book. It was another monumental task, and it took over a year to bring to publication.
The result is a large, beautiful leather volume of 344 pages that will preserve the Grote family history for future generations.
“I learned so much and it was all in those crates of boxes in my spare bedroom,” she said “It was all going to die with me when I die if I didn’t write it down.”
When she gave a copy to the Genealogical Library of Mason County, Texas, the librarian told her it was one of the best family books he had ever seen.
She donated two copies of the book to the West Waco Library and Genealogy Center. One copy will be in the non-circulating Genealogy Center, and the other will be available for checking out of the library.
The West Waco Library and Genealogy Center is hosting a daylong workshop, “Writing Your Family History, a Hands-on Workshop,” March 16 at the library, 5301 Bosque Blvd. It goes from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with seven sessions available.
Space is limited and online preregistration is required. Online: www.waco-texas.com/cms-library/