The VGS German SIG
We are the German Special Interest Group of The Villages Genealogical Society, Florida’s largest genealogical society, located in The Villages, Florida. The Villages is the largest gated retirement in the world, and draws residents from all over the US, Canada, Europe and elsewhere.
In the summer of 2016, Bernhard Guenther and Margaret Sgritta took over the leadership of the German Special Interest Group. While Bernie was born in Germany, Margaret is a seventh-generation German-American married to an Italian-American. Both enthusiastically cherish and research their German heritage, having previously given presentation to the group. Their challenge will be to actively involve more members to do the same.
Bernhard (Bernie) Guenther
Bernie’s background is somewhat unusual compared to the vast majority of SIG members. He is an immigrant, having come to the USA at 9½ years old, still speaks, reads and writes the language and is the only one of his family—aside from 2 daughters—residing in the USA. Cousins are scattered throughout 4 continents. What make the research into his heritage even more challenging is that both sides of his family have mostly come from eastern parts of the erstwhile “German Empire” that are now parts of Poland and the Czech Republic.
He is also relatively new to genealogy, constantly trying to get up to speed with the rapidly evolving technology and research techniques, just as many of you. It is his oldest daughter who took an interest in her grandfather’s unique background and inherited his vast trove of original documents, which he is now attempting to decipher and translate. Since she is now busy in her career and raising a young family, as a retiree with ample (?) time on his hands, Bernie decided to educate himself so that he could move her tree forward—hence his membership in the Villages Genealogical Society in 2014.
As if the German side of his family is not enough, Bernie has managed to find new challenges on his wife’s Latino side. It’s all been fun finding out facts to delight the extended family. Through his leadership, he hopes to be able to have this sense of enjoyment rub off on others in the German SIG.
Margaret is also relatively new to genealogy. Although she questioned her father about his parents who were long-dead when she was born, it wasn’t until a chance meeting with a cousin back in 2010 that her interest was really piqued. Not only had her cousin traveled to Pennsylvania to research the family but she also gave Margaret a copy of the History of Lehigh County Pennsylvania.
With information provided by her cousin and help from the VGS and the German SIG, Margaret has learned new ways to do genealogy research leading to some significant findings on the Internet and in personal visits to Lehigh and Northampton Counties in Pennsylvania. The one answer that continues to elude her and is the focus of her research is the name of the German town from which her ancestor came.
Margaret enjoys the presentations given by SIG members because there is always some tidbit which can be applied to her own research. Her goal for the SIG group is to enjoy learning about our German ancestors and their traditions as well as to learn about research techniques which can lead to their own “aha” moment.
Bernie and Margaret hope that through their knowledge of Germany and German genealogy research they can assist others in tracing their German roots. It is also their goal to increase the German SIG’s member’s knowledge of Germany, its history, and culture as well as the lives of their ancestors.