Part of knowing who we are is knowing our roots. Who were our ancestors? What is the history of our family name? What did our family members do for a living? Where did they originate? For many Americans, the answers remain shrouded and elusive. For others, delving into their family history has become a hobby and a passion.
The study of genealogy was not a planned pursuit for David Braeutigam, MBA, CHTM, CBET, system director of Healthcare Technology Management for Baylor Scott and White Health. A simple day trip sparked his quest to trace his family tree.
“My wife and I wanted to take a trip to Fredericksburg, Texas for a weekend in 1989. Fredericksburg is about 90 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas. I thought it would be interesting since I knew my dad was born there. Maybe I would ask around and find some relatives,” Braeutigam says.
As Braeutigam and his wife were walking around town, they came upon the Nimitz Museum; named after Admiral Nimitz. Next to the museum was a non-descript building with a cornerstone that read; “O.H. Braeutigam 1929.” Surprised, Braeutigam asked someone in the building about the cornerstone and they referred him to a guy named Johnny Braeutigam “at the men’s store.”
It turned out that the guy with the same last name at the men’s store had a mother who was Braeutigam’s dad’s godmother. It also turned out that there were a number of people with the same last name living in Fredericksburg.
“I later found out that a family history was privately published in 1970. I quickly obtained a copy of it and devoured the contents,” Braeutigam says. “I soon learned who we were, where we came from and how long we had been in Texas. We had arrived in the then Republic of Texas in December 1845 and were among the first to settle in Fredericksburg in May 1846.”
It was a revelation that prompted Braeutigam to get a genealogy program and start plugging in names to construct a family tree. His reasearch led to a family reunion in 1989 and every year since. Much of his early work to discover his ancestors and larger family was done before the many online resources of today were available. He relied on making phone calls, writing letters and making trips to central Texas to “visit relatives, courthouses, museums and libraries.”
The Internet has added a number of helpful resources for genealogical research.
“Eventually, as the Internet grew, I started using Ancestry.com and resources like county history websites to expand my family tree. As I became more adept at the research, I developed a guide to help others use the resources I had found,” Braeutigam says.
As in many families, there are some challenges to gathering information.
“My parents divorced when I was in the third grade so I didn’t know a lot of my dad’s family. So, everything I learned was new to me,” Braeutigam says.
“One of my first surprises was to learn my great-great-grandfather, Johann Wolfgang Braeutigam, built a store and a saloon along the road from Fredericksburg to Austin,” he says. “Here he also started the oldest county fair in Texas dating back to around 1881. On September 3, 1884, four men came to the store and robbed Johann Wolfgang of the prize winnings from the prior day. Johann tried to fight the men but they shot him dead on site.”
Learning more about his great-great-grandfather led Braeutigam to discover why his ancestors chose to leave Germany and settle in Texas. It was Johann Wolfgang Braeutigam’s father who made that decision.
“Johann Valentin Braeutigam was the one who decided the family should move from Kaltenlengsfeld, Germany to the then Republic of Texas,” Braeutigam says.
“As I read a book on the German pioneers that came to Texas, a reference noted that a document could be found at the Texas Land Grant office in Austin, Texas where all the original contracts were held of the original pioneers,” he explains.
“I drove to Austin to find this document fully assuming they would look at me in wonder trying to decide what I was talking about. To my surprise, it literally took just a few minutes for the gentleman to come back with the original document my great-great-great-grandfather had signed in Germany to come to Texas. The document was in German but it had his signature on the second page. I couldn’t believe I had a document that he had signed,” Braeutigam says.
Tips to Get Started
Unlike some hobbies that might demand a special skill set or athletic prowess, genealogy is available to anyone with a computer, some resourcefulness and an inquisitive interest in their family history. The best source of information is found in the generation ahead of us. Because of this, there is some urgency in gathering information while you can.
“I always tell people to start researching your family history as soon as you can. Start with your immediate family — parents, aunts and uncles — and start to build your tree,” Braeutigam suggests.
“You can use off the shelf genealogy software or use Ancestry.com to help build your tree. Using Ancestry.com is easier since you will have links to other family trees already built and access to census records up to 1940,” he adds.
“As you reach out to your relatives, start to collect photos and stories to help add to your tree. The stories behind the photos add so much more to the history of your family. I have been able to share many of the photos I have collected with family members who either never knew their relative or never saw the photo,” Braeutigam says.
He says that one reason this is rewarding is because he has also been on the receiving end.
“I also created a website many years ago so others can find the photos and download them if desired. Ironically, the website created another find. I had a person email me about a friend of his that was researching the robbers and murderers of my great-great-grandfather. He put me in contact with the writer. I eventually met the gentleman and shared the photo I had of Johann Wolfgang Braeutigam. When he wrote his next book, he published the photo and gave a more detailed account of how the Texas Rangers hunted down the four killers,” Braeutigam says.
When not researching the past and family histories, Braeutigam can be found on the job as the System Director of Healthcare Technology Management for Baylor Scott and White Health. The department manages the medical equipment for over 20 hospitals and almost 500 clinics all over Texas. To handle this task, they have 81 technicians, team leads, managers and directors that manage about 120,000 items of medical equipment.
Braeutigam has learned much more about his family’s history. His discoveries have been both an interesting look at the history of one family’s past and a treasure for future generations of the Braeutigam family. He encourages others to explore their family history. It just takes an Internet connection, some resourcefulness and a passion to discover where you came from.
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