German-interest group firmly rooted in Janesville

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, June 30, 2014

 JANESVILLE--Regina Anderson opened a whole new world when she searched for her German ancestors.

“I'm very much into genealogy,” she said. “It's like being attacked with a bug.”

Anderson wanted to find out if her great-grandparents emigrated from Bavaria. She joined the Janesville-based German Interest Group, where members helped her get started.

Fourteen years later, Anderson is secretary of the organization, whose purpose is to educate and support members with their German genealogical research.

The group also hosts regular meetings and an annual genealogical conference.

“How to Find Your German Roots” will be Saturday, July 12, on the UW-Whitewater campus. Nationally known genealogist Michael John Neill, a popular lecturer, will be featured.

Among other things, presenters will talk about websites for German research, German immigrants in the 19th century and German place names.

Interest in the conference and the group is not surprising because Americans of German descent top the list of U.S. ethnic groups, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

The German Interest Group began in Janesville in the 1990s. A handful of people of German ancestry wanted to help each other research their genealogies. Today, up to 50 people attend the mostly monthly meetings. Kathryn Shebiel edits the informative newsletter sent to 300 people across the United States.

“We include information on technology,” she said. “We also include information on German history or culture, research skills and places to do research. Our members are all genealogy nuts, and we share information.”

In the past, speakers at monthly meetings have talked about everything from discrimination against German Americans in World War I to German cuisine.

“You learn a lot if you come to our group,” said Jean Liefke, president.

She joined about a decade ago, when she was interested in learning about her great-grandfather. He was born in Prussia, one of the largest Germanic states.

“What got us started was a page in the old family Bible,” she said.

Tracing family roots is popular for many reasons. Some search the past for a deeper understanding of themselves.

“As you get older, you want to find out where you came from,” Anderson said.

She eventually found out that her ancestors lived in Waldrohrbach in western Germany. Anderson and her husband, Timothy, visited the village in 2006 and met German relatives.

Her great-grandparents, who were farmers, emigrated in 1848 and settled near West Bend.

“Everyone seems to have heard about the Irish potato famine,” Anderson said. “But the same weather conditions that made the crops poor in Ireland spread to Europe. It was a desperate situation. Crops rotted in the ground.”

She wonders if she would have had the strength to endure what her ancestors did.

“Learning about them made me admire them,” Anderson said. “I don't know if I could have left my parents and people behind never to see them again.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.



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