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Thirty Years to Find My Third Cousin Micheline

9 June 2011

(I hope MyHeritage.com and Family Tree Magazine will select me to win a family reunion with my long-lost French cousins.)

    My IMMERWAHR family tree always contained an interesting branch -- but one that seemed to peter out in the early 20th century.   The IMMERWAHRs originated in the small Prussian town of Kreuzburg in Upper Silesia (now Kluczbork, Poland).  By the 1830s, they were living in Breslau (now Wroclaw), the capital of Silesia, where David IMMERWAHR (1796-1861) became a successful merchant.  He and his wife Lina SILBERSTEIN (1811-1883) had 9 children.   The second youngest was my great grandmother Clara IMMERWAHR (1845-1914).  The youngest child was Mathilde Marie Ottilie IMMERWAHR (1847-1929).

    Considering that she came from a German Jewish family, the story of Mathilde was always very interesting and surprising -- because she married a non-Jewish Frenchman, who was a career soldier.  Col. André Albert LAFFITTE-ROUZET fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 and became a prisoner-of-war.   As a POW, he was garrisoned in Breslau.   Somehow, Mathilde and the Colonel met, and presumably fell in love.  They were married in 1873 on her uncle's estate, Malkwitz.

    Col. LAFFITTE-ROUZET and Mathilde settled in France.  They had 2 children, Charles and Gabrielle.  In about 1890, my grandfather traveled from eastern Germany to France to visit the LAFFITTE-ROUZET family when he was just a teenager.   Gabrielle was my grandfather's favorite cousin, and 30+ years later, he named his daughter (my mother) Gabrielle.

    From the family tree that I first saw in the 1970s, we knew that Charles followed in his father's footsteps and also rose to the rank of colonel in the French army.   We knew that Gabrielle married a CLERC (or CLERONE) -- first name not known -- and had three sons, one of whom had a son who was a dentist.   That was about it.   And that is where things stood.

    In 1998, I got in contact with another cousin from the IMMERWAHR family who still lived in Germany.  His father had been a colonel in the German army -- until 1936 when he was given the options of divorcing his wife (from the Jewish IMMERWAHR family) or ending his military career.  To his credit, he chose to retire.   Colonel DOHNE and the younger Colonel LAFITTE-ROUZET were in contact, and had met on a few occasions.   They cancelled their last planned meeting in the 1930s because of concern that their meeting would be misconstrued by the Germans, or the French, or both, as espionage.

    In 1999, I thought to write to the archives of the French army, "Service Historique de l’Armee de Terre."   I received files on both French colonels, including information on Col. André Albert LAFFITTE-ROUZET's time as a POW, and his marriage to Mathilde.   The file did not help me track down their descendants, but it did contain a clue that eventually led to new information -- that André Albert LAFFITTE-ROUZET died in Valence, France.

    In 2006, through the network of Jewish genealogy researchers, I saw a note from a man in Valence and thought to ask him how I could learn if there were LAFFITTE-ROUZET burials there.   He contacted the cemetery, and learned that my great great aunt and her husband were buried there.   I wrote to the cemetery and in mid 2007 received an e-mail with information about André Albert and Mathilde, about Charles and his wife, about Gabrielle and her husband, and about their three sons, all buried in the LAFFITTE-ROUZET family tomb in Valence.  The information brought my research up to 2002, when Gabrielle's grandson, the dentist Jacques CLERC died in Paris.   Learning Jacques' last address led me to believe that I would finally find a living member of this branch of my family.  I did, but unfortunately, the contact did not lead anywhere.

    In 2009, a different cousin in Germany sent me the 1970 death notice of Gabrielle's son Jean François CLERC.   I learned the name of Jean François' two grandsons and one granddaughter.  Within a day, thanks to the ubiquity of Facebook, I had found and "friended" my new third cousin once removed Marie-Astrid.  She got me up to date on my CLERC cousins, including her father's two first cousins, brother and sister, living in the south of France.

    The very next day, I received an e-mail with an amazing photograph.  My brand new cousin Maurice who sent me the photograph knew that the younger man on the right was his father André CLERC, but he did not know who the older man on the left was.

When I saw the photo, I immediately knew that the other man was my grandfather Walther FREUND!

    The photo from about 1920 captured a return visit of the French family to my grandfather's home in Breslau.  It is always rewarding to find a new cousin, or better yet, a whole new branch of the family.  But to receive a photograph of my own grandfather from some long-lost cousins, over 50 years after the death of my grandfather, and over 75 years since the family connection had been lost, was most remarkable.  It felt like I was matching my half of a 100-year-old photograph to the half preserved by lost, but loving, cousins from a different era.

    Since then, my mother and I have had a great correspondence with our new French cousins -- with lots of talk about trying to arrange to meet.   Cousin Micheline is now 89, and has failing eyesight.   She has urged me to come to meet her while she can still see me; something I truly hope to be able to do.   So far, it has not happened, but perhaps the MyHeritage.com contest will make it possible.

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Reader Comments (2)

Shabat Shalom Stephen,
nice site. How are you, long time that we were in
contact. Here everything is fine, in the health
of my mother is no chnage, following tuesday,
June 14th is her 85th birthday.

June 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHans-Joachim


June 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterabraham

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