A 10-day trip to Germany in mid-September became a memorable journey for a local family. It was the culmination of 81-year-old Shirley Siferd-Hart’s 45 years of genealogy research. Shirley, formerly of Cedar Springs and now of Grand Rapids, traveled with her children, George and Sandy Waite, and Sue (Waite) and Tim Wolfe, to Germany, because it was the birthplace of Johann Adam Siferd, the ancestor who brought the Siferd family to America. Johann Siferd was born in 1754 in the small village of Unfriedsdorf, Germany. He came to America as part of the Bayreuth Military Regiment in 1777 by the British to assist them in the Revolutionary War.
This trip allowed Shirley to go back to where three generations of the Siferd Family lived beginning in the late 1600s. The carefully pre-planned trip included time spent with an English-speaking research consultant, historian, archivist, and genealogist. The family spent several days continuing the genealogy research, which involved reviewing microfiche film, maps, and handwritten documents in Nuremburg, Munchberg, and Bayreuth. A guided walking tour of Munchberg with a university student majoring in German history was also included.
Knowing Johann Adam Siferd was raised in a country setting with his father being a master weaver (land weber), the family decided to stay in a small rural village named Birk. The actual home they stayed in was originally a barn-home combination built in the 1700s. A history professor from the University of Bayreuth purchased the home a few years ago and restored it keeping as much of the original structure as possible. Those originals include exterior walls, feeding troughs, beams, and cement floors along with the wood fireplace that is still used to help heat the home. The property is now only a home and is centrally located among approximately 10 other simple homes in a valley with a small creek running through it.
Johann Siferd’s regiment sailed the Main River after walking approximately 50 miles from Unfirendsdorf to Ansbach. The Main meets the Rhine River in Bergin, where the family spent two nights. Johann’s regiment sailed on the three-masted schiff called the Durand and arrived in America after a six-week sail from Germany. The “SH Team” (Shirley Hart Research Team) spent one day cruising up the Rhine River trying to imagine what Johann may have been thinking as he left all his family and homeland for a country he had little knowledge of, in search of a better life.
Upon the advice of Tom Noreen, the family took a few side trips in the area to include a concentration camp, castles, vineyards, and numerous beer and wine tasting opportunities. Each meal proved to be an adventure in itself just trying to figure out what the menu meant, and then once the food arrived, figuring out what it really was.
“This was a dream come true for me after many years of research,” said Shirley. “To actually be there in Germany and stomp on the same ground where my father’s ancestors lived, worked, worshiped, and raised their families was a precious gift. Being able to do this with my children made it even more meaningful. Learning about my 7-time great-grandfather, Johann, who was a teacher of weaving, and knowing my father, too, was always learning and teaching, gave me an even greater appreciation of passing down traditions,” said Shirley.
Sue Wolfe added, “My mom has diligently worked on our family history. She made this information available for all future Siferd generations, and us. We now have a better understanding of our ancestors and what their lives were like. She showed us the sacrifices they made that allowed us to be who we are today. This history of our family bloodline was created from a much different period of time, when many of the people did not even read or write. My mom worked hard so that we might have the information, before it may be lost or nobody is around to tell the stories of our family. It was an awesome adventure to share with my mom and family. She certainly is passing down the importance of teaching and the privilege of learning.”
“I am proud to know where I came from and how I got here. That is rare in today’s world,” commented George Waite.