Editor's note: The Deseret News asked for experiences of those whose trips have helped them connect with their family roots and how families have incorporated their history into summer vacations. Here is one of the experiences. It has been edited for length and clarity.
In 2012-13, I had the opportunity to serve in the New Zealand Auckland and New Zealand Hamilton missions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Toward the end of my mission, I received an email from my mom informing me that my great-uncle, Blair Poelman, had been doing some family history work and had recently gotten in contact with a distant relative who was from Switzerland but was living in New Zealand. He had a lot of information he had been sharing with my great-uncle. Oscar Roggen, this relative living in New Zealand, met me at the airport when I was on my way home at the end of my mission. I was touched by his genuine kindness and warmth toward me, as if we had known each other for years. He showed me his family tree and how we were related, and we got a picture together. I thought that was a really neat experience, but little did I know that it would not end there.
Three years after returning home from my mission, I went back to visit New Zealand with a roommate who had also served in New Zealand. While there, I met up again with Oscar and have lunch in his home. He is a part of a professional yodeling group, so gave me a demonstration, including a song on his long alpine horn. It was another nice encounter. He and my Great-Uncle Blair were still in good contact, so when he and his wife came over to the United States for travel the following year, they joined us for a big family reunion.
Fast forward to this past June 2018. I went to Europe with that same friend I had traveled to New Zealand with. I had always wanted to go to Europe, but the past few years the urge had been even stronger. I started to be a little more involved in family history work and had found family names to take to the temple. A majority of those names came from Switzerland, so that increased my already strong desire to visit there specifically. We traveled to seven different countries, and one of those countries was Switzerland.
We had just gone to see the LDS temple in Bern, Switzerland, and were on our way to Zurich on a very crowded train. About halfway through the train ride, the young woman across from us asked us where we were from. We started talking, and the older man next to her started to join our conversation as well. We seemed to all hit it off really well and shared our contact information with each other so we could stay in touch. I was talking to the young lady while my friend was talking to the older man. I heard him tell her his name, and when he said his last name was Roggen, I perked up.
After a lull in our conversation, I turned to the man and told him that I have ancestors with that same last name who were from Murten, Switzerland. He said that that is where his family was from as well. He then began to tell me that there was a man from Salt Lake City who had contacted him and his brother about family history. I asked him if the man's name happened to be Blair Poelman. He said "yes." I asked him if his brother's name was Oscar. And again, he said "yes."
Could this really be? It felt unreal. Here I was in the middle of Switzerland on a random train face to face with a relative. I didn't even know Oscar had a brother in Switzerland. We were both in shock but also filled with overwhelming joy. We, of course, had to get a picture. We left with a big hug and best wishes.2 comments on this story
A few hours later, I received a message from him inviting my friend and me out to lunch with him and his wife the next day. We had lunch and ended up spending a lot of time together as they showed us around Lucerne, Switzerland. By the end, they had graciously invited us to stay the night with them. We did, and they took such great care of us. We had a wonderful visit and such an enjoyable time together.
This has sparked a greater desire in me to learn more about my ancestors and to involve myself more in family history work. Family history work has the ability to come alive and be a part of our lives. I have come to learn for myself the joy that comes from it, and the relationships that can be built.