I grew up believing I was German. With family surnames such as Ollmann, Meinold, Wilke, and Kreutziger on my father’s side, and Geiling and Gallert on my mother’s, there seemed no doubt. But thanks to a DNA test which led me to a 1st cousin once removed and his wonderful genealogist wife, Ginny, we have not only discovered my mystery grandfather(!!!) on my mother’s side, but we’ve also learned that we’re part of an enormous family with records as far back as 1609 which includes some fun French surnames such as Longchamp, Hermes, LaCroix (hmmm, seems the fashion gene is recessive in my case), Champagne, Sansoucy, Rouillard and my favorite – Leblond. Mon Dieu! Nous sommes français! Many of our ancestors migrated from France to Quebec to the US. There are a few German names in the family tree such as Stenglein and Vogelsberg, and it appears that my grandfather’s surname may actually have morphed from Thommes to Nelles in Waldorf, Germany in the early 1600’s.
The family tree is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I expected it to be triangular, but to view it, one must scroll endlessly to the right and left given the huge number of children in each generation. Two pairs of great-great grandparents had 26 siblings and 26 children between them, and my great-grandparents Conrad and Josephine Nelles had 11 children and 70+ grand-, great-, and great-great-grandchildren, which means my known relatives have suddenly ballooned to include a bewildering number of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins. I love it!
Best of all, my Mom has half-siblings – 2 sisters and brother. She’s wanted sisters her whole life. I can’t wait to travel with her to meet them and other family members.
My mystery grandfather, Marvin Vincent Nelles, served in the US Army just after WWII. He was stationed in Bamberg, Germany, where he met my grandmother. When my Mom was in her 30’s, my grandmother dropped the bombshell on her that her dad was not her biological father. She provided a fictitious name which led me to many genealogical dead-ends over time. But DNA testing did the trick.
Originally, I took the test in the hopes that we might discover distant relatives in some far off country whom we might visit during our year of travel. A Catholic Mexican friend had discovered she had Jewish Ukrainian relatives, and that she was related to two of Ponce de Leon’s mistresses, so I was hoping for a good story. I could never have imagined that we’d make such a meaningful discovery right here in own backyard!