Erwin Nazarenus, 83, and his 16-year-old grandson, Jakob, began a journey from Germany to Sleepy Eye that brought an end to a nearly 30-year investigation.
Erwin’s grand-uncle, Asmus Friedrich Nazarenus, emigrated from Angeln Germany to America around 1880 and founded a new family branch. Erwin was finally able to meet that branch of family.
Donald Nazarenus’ father, Albert (1918-1979) owned and ran the Progressive newspaper in Sleepy Eye. In retirement, Asmus lived above the Progressive newspaper with his daughter, Anna, who is Donald’s aunt.
Since the 1970s, Erwin began researching his family lineage. His research had him examining archives and talking to historians, as well as finding information with church and civil offices. His research resulted in finding nearly 1,300 relatives from 479 families and 820 locations that Erwin keeps track of on special computer software.
Erwin said his interest in researching his family began when his father, Willy (Friedrich Wilhelm) gave family records to him.
He continues to research his family line, Erwin said, because it is important to him that his family knows where they came from.
What he knows about his grand-uncle Asmus is that he married and settled down with a large family. He came to America in search of owning land and became a farmer. Erwin said he still remembers when his grand-uncle visited his family in Angeln in 1936. His daughter, Anna, supplied her German relatives with clothes and other useful things. Unfortunately, after that they lost touch.
In recent years, it was Erwin’s goal to reestablish connections and that’s what brought him to Sleepy Eye.
“I’m never really through researching family,” Erwin said in German with Jakob translating. He has registered his family eight generations back to the marriage of Johann Friedrich Nazarenus in 1762.
In Sleepy Eye, Erwin and Jakob stayed with the Chris Nelson family. When arriving by plane in Minneapolis, Candy Sobocinski (Chris’ sister) was at the airport to greet them, excited to share her own genealogical records she’s been keeping with Erwin. Candy, a teacher, also took Erwin and Jakob to her school where Jakob spoke to several classes about his life as a student in Germany.
Other highlights of their stay included a trip to visit Asmus’ gravesite in Worthington and visiting New Ulm.
“When we got off the plane in Minneapolis, the first thing I saw was a sign written in German welcoming us to Minnesota,” Erwin said. “When I heard that New Ulm was close to Sleepy Eye I knew we wouldn’t be bored.”
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Erwin explained that if Donald were to visit Germany in search of his great-grandfather’s grave, he would never find it.
“After 30 years the grave stone is removed and the spot can be used for another person,” Erwin noted.
The German visitors were impressed with the beauty of Sleepy Eye and how vastly different it is from their own country that it butts the Baltic sea and cities are scattered among the hills and forests.
Jakob and Erwin spent around nine days in the area gathering as much family information as they could. Erwin said he had about 500 family pictures he has found through his research and after leaving Sleepy Eye his total was sure to be closer to 600 photographs.
Jakob is a high school student in Germany. Both of his parents are medical doctors. Erwin is a retired engineer.