Chelsea Handler's search for her grandfather, Carl Stoeker, took her to Germany where she was able to find the answer to the question that had haunted her for years. Was her grandfather a Nazi?
This episode is a wonderful example of a part of genealogy that many genealogists overlook. What was our ancestor's world like. What exactly made them the way they were.
Chelsea was fortunate to be able to hop on a plane and head to Germany for some hands on research. (For those of us who can't do this, there are many international records on ancestry.com and family search.org) Here she learned about post World War 1 Germany. As we know, Germany lost the war and as a result the country was deep in debt. There was no work, no food, and for most of the people life was a miserable, hopeless, hungry existence. When you know this it is not difficult to see why Hitler was embraced by the people when he was able to turn things around and from 1936-39 life in Germany was good. Of course as we also know, things changed drastically and the German people were once again at war. In addition, they were labeled.
Knowing this, Chelsea was able to understand why Carl Stoeker worked for a notorious Nazi. He had a family; he needed a good job. And at this time Hitler had yet to show the world what he was capable of doing. Carl served in Hitler's army. He had so choice and it appears he was just an average soldier. But he was not a Nazi.
Carl's entire life changed when he was captured and sent to a POW camp in the U.S. He saw the truth about America and when he was able, he returned to Germany and brought his family back to the states.
All these things affected Carl's life. He needed a job. He was caught in Hitler's Germany. He had to serve in the army. He was transferred to the south of France where he was captured and exposed to American life.
History, geography, weather, family, friends are just a few of the things that influence out ancestors' lives. Take a half hour and just sit and think about all the things that have made your life what it is today. Most people have no regrets about the paths they have chosen in life. The reason is because they wouldn't be where they are today. And basically you wouldn't be here today if your ancestors would have chosen different paths.
Don't be so quick to judge or label your ancestors. Research what was going on around them so you can understand why they made the decisions that shaped their lives.
The following episodes of Who Do You Think You Are will be aired tonight on TLC:
Chelsea Handler - 8pm Eastern Time
Zooey Deschanel - 9pm and 11pm Eastern Time