Family History Research in Silesia (former Prussia, Germany, now Poland)
by Guenter Boehm, Herkimer, NY
Our many years of genealogical research of our ancestors in Silesia have paid off. We have made numerous trips to the area to research ancient church books, gravesites, archives, libraries, even exploring old abandoned castle ruins in impenetrable forest. This year rather than going to do research, we were finally able to go pick the fruits of our labor. As a result of ten years of intense work, eight years ago we discovered the Polish government holding the abandoned ruins of my great-granduncle‘s palace (also referred to as castle) in what is now Poland. Two years later and through the internet, we discovered long-lost relatives who left Germany in 1925 and who relocated in South West Africa, now called Namibia. The great-granddaughter of the palace’s former owner contacted me, inquiring about the palace and its history, and the possibility of renewed kinship between the families. Due to the chaos that World War II created for regular civilians, our families had lost contact with each other. Four years ago, the Leda family from Poland bought the property containing the palace with plans to renovate it for preserving the history of the region. They wrote to me with the desire to know and learn about the family that inhabited the palace prior to the end of World War II. Since then we have been in contact with these new owners of the palace, who are spending great amounts of resources to restore the palace and its grounds with historical accuracy. This year the Leda family held a reunion of the two families, the Ledas of Poland and the two lines of the Boehms, at the palace in order to help promote their efforts. It was an incredible experience.
The palace is formally called “Schloss Tannhausen” (Palac Jedlinka in Polish) in former Bad Charlottenbrunn (now Jedlina-Zdroj). Last year the Leda family dedicated the “Gustav-Boehm-Chamber” for our permanent exhibition of our family history collection. I had the great honor of being invited to be the ribbon cutter at the presence of the local media. From 1889 until the end of World War II the manor belonged to the family of Gustav Boehm (1864-1933), a former Prussian Cavalry Major.
July 26, 2008 was a day of joy for our family. On this day we opened a permanent public exhibition of our family history in the dedicated Boehm-Chamber, and hung four framed posters depicting the family history on the walls of the entrance hall.
As we approached the castle courtyard, from afar we saw a large banner on the balcony above the entrance with the inscription in Polish: Boehm Family Reunion. We received a warm welcome by the Leda family. The director of the castle, Dr. Dariusz Woznicki, presented us the invited guests before offering us a relaxing drink and a guided tour through the reception rooms.
Irmgard Boehm represented the direct descendants of the Boehm’s Hermsdorf/Tannhausen line who are now scattered in Namibia, South Africa, the U.S. and Germany. She was handed over an illustrated book about Silesia. I represented the Boehm’s Hermsdorf/Langwaltersdorf Line (now in the U.S., Mexico and Germany). I received the coat of arms book "HERBARZ, szlachty slaskiej" by Roman Sekowski as well as a handy illustrated guide with maps of Lower Silesia [in German], and two framed documents on our family history from 1911.
The director of the castle and Adam Leda (representing the Leda family) gave the official greeting of our family in the conference room. Next, the historian Dr. Arkadiusz Kuzio-Podrucki of the University of Opole in Poland gave a notable presentation of our family history dating back to the 14th Century. These remarks were in Polish and German, and at the end of the presentation, he pronounced a welcome of a "symbolic return to your homeland".
An excerpt from my acceptance speech:
"... The Boehm's in Namibia were particularly busy. They have made a transcript of the 1892 castle chronicle. The original hand-written chronicle and a copy of the transcript will be given with full confidence to the castle library for preservation and exhibition. Among other gifts are also four photo albums with old photos of the castle and of the Boehm family ..."
The ballroom was richly decorated and a finely stocked buffet created an atmosphere for informal interaction which invited great contact and good conversation with all the presenters, organizers and guests. Irmgard and I were interviewed by Polish Television and Radio Wroclaw.
July 26, 2008 was a day of pure joy for our family and for me personally due to the permanent exhibition of our family history. It was indeed a coronation of my many years of dedicated family history research.
Then, on the 18th and 19th of September 2008 we were invited to attend the 2nd Competition among top students from Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany about "Silesian castles and palaces". It took place at Castle Tannhausen (Palac Jedlinka) and I was asked to be on the panel of the honorary patronage as the representative of the Boehm family, as well as participate in the jury. I gladly accepted and was honored to be able to participate in this event as well. The Leda family has instituted Castle Tannhausen to reflect the entire history of Silesia from the time of the Piasts of the 14th century until the modern time.
For more information see website: www.boehm-chronik.com [mostly in German, some in English, Spanish, and in Polish]