Family history search leads to German village
This family history story begins shortly after World War II, when Terry Humphries, who tells this inspiring tale, hadn't yet been born. Terry, who retired from BYU, lives in Highland, Utah. She often attends the BYU's Conference on Family History & Genealogy, where she shared this story of dedication and sacrifice.
"My mother's father was German. His grandparents came over from Germany in about 1890 or 1900. After the Second World War, the cousins (in Germany) wrote to their cousins in Spokane, Washington, saying, 'Can you please help us? We don't have any food, we don't have any clothes.' My grandmother sent to Germany boxes of clothing and whatever else they needed. This happened a number of times, about 1948. "There was this one gentleman who had married into the family, Johannes Witt. He wrote this letter saying 'Please help us.' The letter he wrote got passed down to my grandmother, to my mother, and to me when I was starting family history. My mother said, 'You might need this address.'
"So when I decided I wanted to work on this German side, I wrote to this address and it turned out to be the old family farm where they had lived for 200 or 300 years. It was in a little town near Kiel, near the Denmark border. The same guy (Johannes Witt) who wrote in 1948 wrote back and said, 'How did you get this address?' so I wrote back and told him how I got it."
She also told him that she, her husband and her parents were planning to visit Germany, and he invited them to visit there.
"We went up to a little town near Kiel and saw the family farm, and this great big field, this family's plot where they grew their vegetables. It turned out the whole town was related to us. So they had a luncheon for us in the town hall, and we met third, fourth, fifth cousins. My mom was just thrilled, knowing she had so many cousins. The guy who was speaking English had married my mother's second cousin, and it was that close. That was just fun, going and seeing the place where the ancestors had been for longer than 200 years.
"Johannes Witt was the same age as my father. He told me, 'When I retired I needed something else to do with my life. And I looked around and said, 'Oh, family history—that looks good.' He came across one of the LDS Family History Centers, not knowing what it was. So he started working with them; they were helping him find his records. It was all right in this area in Germany—he just went from church to church and cemetery to cemetery, and gathered all these records. He was not a member of the (LDS) Church, but it was marvelous because he got introduced to the Church.
"He said to me, 'You're into genealogy?' I said, 'Yes, I am.' So he gave me a stack of papers two inches high, and said 'Here, will you please put these in your vault? In the mountains in Salt Lake?'
"I said, 'Oh, OK, I would be glad to. Do you know what that involves?'"He said, 'Oh yes.'
"I think he was working in the Family History Center then, and he knew all about the temple work. I even came out a couple times and asked him, 'Is it OK if I do the temple work for them?' He kind of hem-hawed around, but it was a yes. "But he gave it to me in just individuals. So I had to write back to him and say, 'Can you please put them in families?'"
Johannes spent about six months putting the individuals in families, in family group sheets. Then Terry noticed that he had included the name of each person's town, but not the county and state. She wrote back, and he sent her a list of all the towns, and then the counties on another sheet of paper, and the states on another sheet. "I had to put together where these people had come from. Most of them were from that one area, so I was pretty lucky in that way.
"At that point I was on PAF, and it was not the new version where you could do it in German. So I had to translate all these things from German into English, and that was another challenge. It took me 10 years of corresponding with him to get these records on my PAF."
After that came the temple work. "I was constantly asking my ward members, the young kids, 'Will you please do the baptisms? Parents, will you please do the initiatories and the endowments?' And then at the ending, 'How about if we go in groups and do the sealings?' So we had ward sessions with all German names. It was marvelous! My ward was fantastic at helping me do the names and spending time with me. A lot of them were very challenging, how to pronounce the names."
How many names?
"Oh, 7,500. I got the whole town."
And now, the rest of Terry Humphries' story—the part about sacrifice.
"I was married in April l, 1979 and got pregnant in June. In August I was in a car accident—I'm still dealing with the aftermath." (Her car went over a cliff and she was thrown out of the car. She was in the hospital for three or four months, with no pain medication because of her pregnancy.)
"I was pregnant with my daughter Tanya at the time," Terry said. "The doctors were worried about her. Then at the end, when my daughter came out, she came out perfect. She was my miracle baby. She was a ray of sunshine who always loved to serve people. She was my back and shoulder massager because of my neck and back problems.
"After we came home from Germany we got a letter from Johannes' daughter. She and her husband spoke German and English. They had three daughters, around the same ages as my children. They said, 'If you have any family members who would like to come over and be like an exchange student, they're free to come.' My 15-year-old daughter Tanya jumped at the chance and said, 'I've taken German for one semester! I want to go.'"We told her we would go half and half—we would pay half, and she had to pay the other half. She was baking bread and baking brownies and selling them down the streets, and cleaning services, or anything else that they needed. She needed to raise $500. She asked her grandfather, my father, if he would forward her Christmas and birthday money for 10 years. So she got $250 from him! She was just a real worker on how to get money. "When she left, she was traveling by herself. She got lost in the airport. She lost her tickets in the airport. She just prayed her little heart out, and went up and ended up crying on people's shoulders. But she finally got to Germany.
"The people picked her up and told her, 'We will speak English for two weeks. After that, it's all German.'
"She stayed over there for six months. We called her every Sunday to make sure she knew she had a family here. She went to all these German places that we didn't have a chance to see when we were there. Johannes took her there, and his grandchildren. She came back after six months, and she was fluent in German. She went into this one German class in high school and just blew the teacher away. She came back to help me with my health problems—but she wanted to stay longer, for a year. She was 16.
"The Mt. Timpanogos temple was being built—it was dedicated in October that year. In September, Tanya passed away. She was down near Lake Powell. There was a flash flood. There were a bunch of kids and adults. Nobody else died, got hurt or anything." "In October, the temple opened. The first session in that temple was for my ward, and it was dedicated to my daughter. So I went through for her, doing her endowments. The whole ward was there. She was with me the whole time. I could feel it, and I knew very strongly that she was taken home at that time because of the research that Johannes Witt had done, that he had given to me. All these family members needed to be taught the gospel, and that's what she is doing. I just feel strongly that that's what she is doing.
"My son (Austin Jay) was 13 when she passed away. He was just a little rabble-rouser. It took him a while to decide he wanted to go on a mission. He finally did (to the Canary Islands). He came home, and nine months later he passed away. This was going down American Fork Canyon, 80 miles an hour at midnight in a sports car. He slid off some gravel, hit a tree, and the car flipped over. It ended up in the river, upside down. His friend got shot out the back window. He was a big guy, and that window wasn't very big—he had scratch marks up and down . . . that's all the problems he had with his body.
That tells me it was my son's time to go. "I feel rather strongly that it was my daughter saying to him, 'I need your help. I need you to come help preach the gospel.' It was nine years after Tanya died that Austin passed, and 11 months after his mission.
"So all the German work is done. It's taken long enough, but it's finished. I'm now working on my father's father's line—I've found some of them in miraculous ways. I love to do the research. That's why I love to come to these conferences."
Permalink to this story: http://familyhistory.ce.byu.edu/stories_german