While we were driving up and down dirt roads in search of cemeteries, Vidas was on his cell phone, talking with the Lutheran pastor. The pastor could not meet us, but he mentioned a 96 year old man who had a good memory and might be able to help.
Vidas drove us back to Zvyriai and we spoke with this fellow. This town had come up earlier in my genealogical research as “Zavier.” This gentleman indeed had a tremendous memory. He had grown up speaking German but went to the Lithuanian school in the 1930s when there weren’t enough German speaking students for the German school to continue. He had been a carpenter in the village. Somewhere in the past, the family name was changed from German to Lithuanian. He only spoke Lithuanian now, but he was still worshipped in the Lutheran Church (which conducted services in Lithuanian). His family avoided Siberia in 1945 because they weren’t “guilty.”
As we spoke, I learned so much about my mother’s family. Indeed, the Ernsts came from that village. He remembers my great-grand uncle Ephraim (uncle of my grandfather, Oscar Ernst)’s family, who married into the Delkus family. Yes, one of Ephraim’s daughter’s married a Delkus and they came to the United States in the 1920s. She had the good fortune of being born in the United States, and her mother took her back to Lithuania as soon as Ephraim naturalized in 1906. Ephraim went to look for them after World War I ended.
My new friend confirmed the bad luck of the Ernst blacksmithing enterprise: while wrought iron grave markers were predominant in German cemeteries, a rival outfit did all the markers in that part of Lithuania. My great-grandfather Karl and his brother Ephraim were blacksmiths, as were their sons. Absence of a steady source of income could explain why Ephraim and his siblings immigrated to the United States in the nineteenth century.
It was a fabulous afternoon and evening. Like the man who maintained the cemetery, this gentleman (I refrain from using his name to protect his privacy) was helping to keep alive a culture and history on the verge of loss. I was merely lucky enough to meet him and put down on paper what he had to say.