Woman traces Sermersheim family history to Germany

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After a recent trip to Wagshurst, Germany, a woman with Jasper ties feels more connected to her family’s roots.

“It was just like people say, you feel like a part of your puzzle is figured out,” said Jane Schwartz, 71.

Schwartz — who was born in San Jose, California, moved to Jasper at a young age and now lives in Indianapolis — had been curious to find out more and more about her family history for as long as she can remember. In her youth, her aunt, Monica Sermersheim, often told Schwartz what she knew about the Sermersheims’ and Mehringers’ German ancestries. Schwartz’s mother was the late Inez (Sermersheim) Nicholson and her father was the late John Nicholson. Schwartz’s grandmother on her mother’s side was originally a Mehringer.

Her interest in her genealogy began when she was attending Jasper High School, but she did not begin seeking details until after she retired from teaching French and English in 2009. Schwartz started with informal, handwritten documents penned by her great aunts that had been passed down through the family.

“I began to think, well maybe I could really find some more,” she said.

Schwartz is Catholic, but she visited a nearby Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints family history center to get the ball rolling on her search. She said the experience was a good one and those that helped her at the church were kind. They familiarized her with familysearch.org, which is run by a nonprofit family history organization dedicated to connecting families across generations. She learned that the Sermersheim family hails from Wagshurst, a small, German farming community near the French border.

Schwartz and her husband, Michael Schwartz, visited France from Sept. 11 to Oct. 11 of this year. Michael traced his family history back to France, and Schwartz expected the trip would be all about him further exploring his roots. But while the two stayed close to the German border, they made a day trip to Wagshurst with friends.

After arriving at the village’s town hall, the secretary phoned the village historian, Werner Stueber, who arrived just minutes later. Schwartz told Stueber that she sought information on the Sermersheim family, and the man looked into her eyes and asked, “Are you from Jasper, Indiana?”

“My mouth just dropped open,” Schwartz recalled, before she answered yes in amazement.

Stueber informed her that all the Sermersheims who immigrated to America in the 1840s moved to Jasper. He and Schwartz dug through binders filled with names, dates and documents chronicling 300 years of her family history. They included information about her great-grandfather, Josef Sermersheim, who was born in 1819 and immigrated to America in 1841. Schwartz also discovered that her earliest Semersheim ancestor is Georg Semersheim, who lived from 1631 to 1707.

Schwartz has traced the Mehringers to Andrew (Andreas) Mehringer, who lived from 1793 to 1852 and was born in Bamberg in Bavaria, Germany, and died in Jasper. She has not been able to search for additional information in Germany for the Mehringers, but said she will in the future.

She said the experience of confirming birthdays and death days as well as connecting lines in the family tree brought a rewarding feeling. She also encouraged others to trace their own heritage.

“The people that have some kind of family history to look back on are people that know a little bit more about themselves and the kind of person that they are and want to be,” Schwartz said. “To live up to the family people that came before them.”

She later added: “It really gives us a sense that our ancestors went through a great deal for us to be born in America.”

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