We have just attended the largest Book Fair in the world, held here in Frankfurt. More than 215,000 people from all over the world attended. It was a grand event, made even more so because for the first time ever our Central Europe Area FamilySearch team sponsored a booth.
Almost 4000 people visited with us there, learning more about their family surnames, where in the world their family name is found, what famous people they resemble, or if they had connections in the family tree. We guided them through fun experiences and showed them how to download the free app on their phones.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints funds FamilySearch to help people find strength and support in their family relationships—past, present and future. The FamilySearch database, populated by more than 25 million users worldwide, helps us research, preserve and share our family history with others. If we each add our own family, the tree grows and we connect to each other.
Here is our booth in the calm before the storm:
And then everyone arrived!
I think we were of interest to those passing by because we had something different to offer and it was interactive and fun. We used iPads and big screens to engage our new friends.
We had prizes for those who completed 4 fun tasks:
The first two days of the Book Fair were reserved for professionals involved in the publishing world–authors, illustrators, publishing companies, media people and more. At 2:00 on the 3rd day, the doors were opened to the public. Look at the swarms of people waiting to get in!
Saturday and Sunday our booth was swamped with people wanting to learn more. I loved being there, feeling the excitement when someone discovered something they did not know about their family.
From my journal Sunday:
I had one especially moving experience today with a woman named Monika who was there with her grown son, a large man with a dark beard. They were very interested. I showed them a few things, then he went to sit down and immediately started entering names. He was hooked. Monika showed me photos in her phone of her ancestors. Who has those at their fingertips??
She said early on, “I love what I am feeling right now!” Then when I showed her my tree, she saw that my Grandma Elsa’s mother’s name is Susanne Fritz. She said, “I am getting goosepips!” She said that her great grandfather was also a Fritz, not a common surname. I told her that all I know about Peter Fritz is that he was soldier who passed through the area and Susanne was an illegitimate child. Her face lit up and she said, “My great grandfather was also a soldier!” I said, “Maybe we are cousins!” She hugged me and then said, “I feel like there are angels here, all around us. They brought me here to this place.” She was very moved by what she was feeling.
We visited some more about family and about believing in Jesus. She saw my name tag and again said she felt heavenly angels around us. Then she gave me a big hug and held me tight. She told me in my ear that yesterday she said good bye to her father. I told her I was so sorry. She said he didn’t die, but they’d been estranged and she hadn’t seen him in 2 years and yesterday she went to visit him. He told her “I don’t know why you are coming to see me. What do you want from me?” She was sad and didn’t know if she’d see him again. Then (we were still in a serious hug) I told her that what she was learning here today about gathering her family would heal her family. She and I both had tears filling our eyes. She felt it. It was a sweet and powerful moment.
The biggest miracle for me came towards the end of the busy afternoon. We’d hardly had time to breathe.
Again from my journal:
I noticed a young man, standing outside the booth looking at us, wondering what we were doing. I decided to approach him. I asked him if he’d like to come search for his family name. He was shy, but he came to one of the iPads on a stand. I was looking away as he typed his surname into the iPad, then I looked down at it. It said LAEMMLE. I immediately thought I hadn’t cleared my account from the screen (but I was using a different iPad). Then I realized that that was HIS name. I stared at him in shock and wonder. I said to him, “I am your family!!” I showed him my family tree on the iPad I was holding that was logged in to my account. “Here is my father–Arthur LAEMMLEN.” I showed him my line. I said, “WE ARE COUSINS!!”
Not only did we have the same name, he Knew his ancestors. He had documents and names in his phone. He showed me some of them. I did not recognize the names, but he told me that his family is from the Heilbronn area. I told him mine is too. I was so excited. I told him that I once came to a family reunion in Germany for the LAEMMLE family that was organized by a distant Laemmle relation in Vienna. My new cousin said he has corresponded with this same man in Vienna and found his family names in his Laemmle database. I told him that my line is also there in that data base.
I don’t think most people understand what a huge miracle that was. Most family names have thousands of people in common. But not Laemmlen. We are a unique name that is not widespread in Germany. For me, it was an absolute Miracle that out of the 1000s of people who came to the Book Fair and out of the 1000s of people who came by our booth, I was the one who interacted with Simon Laemmle. None of the other volunteers would’ve had any idea that his name was the most important name I heard all week.
Simon was a quiet gentle man. He was shy. He had beautiful eyes and a really big smile. When I looked into his face, I felt something special. I felt like we are family. I really felt it. My heart was in such a flutter after that. I had to just sit down for a minute and process the experience.
I have already received an email from Simon with his family tree. I am so happy to have met him!
Family History is a big grand work. It spans decades and countries and peoples. Doing family history work is my greatest joy. But the real gift of doing family history is discovering family and that’s what happened for me here this week at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
I wonder if we could see each other’s family trees, if we’d be more loving and tolerant and kind to each other. I pray for the day when we will see how we are all connected, every single one of us, cousins and family.