Who was a German soldier who bore my great-grandfather’s name?
In 1998, I visited my Bavarian great-grandparents’ town for the first time. I was not well-prepared to do any genealogical research because the trip came about as a convenient accident, not through careful planning. While I was in the general area for work-related travel, I knew I had to make a detour to their town, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm. Back then, I hadn’t traced either family too far back, but through my great-grandparents’ marriage record I knew that he, Josef Bergmeister, was from the nearby town of Puch, and she, Maria Echerer, was from Pfaffenhofen.
Some friends from a different region of Germany met me there – they thought it would be an amusing weekend trip to visit a “foreign” area of their own country and see their American friend. One joked about this tiny town they drove through called Puch. “Wait,” I said, “that’s my great-grandfather’s town! Can you show it to me?” They said yes, but assured me that it was so tiny, there wasn’t much to see.
The next day, we drove a 2-car convoy to Puch from Pfaffenhofen (approximately 8 miles). They drove the lead car and came to a stop in what was presumably the center of town. My friend got out of the car and came up to my window asking, “Is there anything to actually see here?”
I was busy squinting over his shoulder. “Yes,” I replied, pointing beyond where he stood, “there’s that!”
We had stopped directly in front of a war memorial – every European town, no matter how small or large, has one. On this particular monument to the sons of Puch who perished in the world wars, I noticed a familiar name – Josef Bergmeister, who died in 1916. Another Josef Bergmeister from Puch? Surely it was a cousin, or perhaps a nephew! I took a photo of the monument and knew I’d find the answer one day.
My research continued on the Bergmeister line, but I focused on going backward so I never fully investigated the Josef who had died fighting in the war. I eventually even met Bergmeister cousins who still live in Pfaffenhofen, but when I asked about the Puch relatives, they merely replied, “There are no more Bergmeisters in Puch.”
It remained a mystery. I could have looked further into birth and death records to find the answer, but the records available from the Family History Center ended in 1900 and I did not write to the church or town directly for more information.
Josef remained my own personal “unknown soldier” – until now. Recently Ancestry.com added a new set of records to their growing international collection – the Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918. While my direct ancestors immigrated to the United States more than a decade before the first world war, I was able to find out significant information about the lives and deaths of the cousins they left behind.
Join me this week as I explore these records and tell Josef’s story. Today’s introduction is Part 1 of a 5-part series which will include the following:
- Part 2 – The Bavarian Military Rosters – What were they? How do I read one?
- Part 3 – Josef Bergmeister’s WWI Military Record – Who was Josef Bergmeister? How did he die?
- Part 4 – The Great War and the Homefront – What happened at the battle that cost Josef his life? How were his American cousins affected by the same war?
- Part 5 – The Bergmeister Family Tree – How is Josef related to “my” Josef Bergmeister?