Presentation Notes: 2005-2006

Finding the Gold at the End of the Rainbow

Presented by Carol Vogler Bright - October 12, 2005

Notes by Jeanne M. Carley

Carol Vogler Bright told an inspiring story of her German-Czech family in the Midwest and how she connected with her relatives in Germany and shared their family history.

A woman of many talents-newspaper writer, businesswoman, farmer, mother of four, and caregiver-Carol has written a memoir, Making Waves in the Gene Pool: Growing Up German-American During World War II.

The first section of the book tells about her youth in Ohio filled with pictures of her family and documents. The second half contains letters written from Germany to their American cousins in Ohio. These letters in German had been discovered by her Cleveland cousin, Evelyn when her mother, Carol's aunt, died. Eventually the letters made their way to Cape Cod where Carol had them translated by her new friend from the German group of CCGS. They had met during a memoir class at the Snow Library in Orleans.

For two years, Ingrid Stabins, a native German, translated letters written in old German script on brittle paper from six brothers and sisters who remained in Germany. Carol's family had sent food and necessities to these families following the war.

Unlike the family picnics and good times enjoyed by the Ohio families, life in Nazi Germany was far different. The letters from the Fatherland told of deprivation, babies dying of exposure, frigid winters, the war's survivors and how the children of the forties grew up.

Many of the letters came from Leipzig. She followed up with a researcher in Leipzig and used to research her relatives. One of them, a grandmother Rosa and her teen-aged granddaughter, came to Cape Cod to visit. As Carol recounts, "We drank the same liquor, laughed at the same kind of jokes and danced the same way". Rosa had memorized all the family data which Carol assiduously wrote down.

While taking a memoir class at Cape Cod Community College, Carol was inspired to write vignettes of "characters" in her family. These were incorporated into the book eventually along with timelines and family chronological events, the love-letters of her parents who died before she was 15, and other family letters. Her own coming-of-age, marriage and children followed.

Although a colorful personal story, she has captured an era not only for her children, but for those who lived during this time. Carol credits all the people who helped her to write her story and to find her relatives, including her cousin Evelyn, Ingrid, Carsten, the Leipzig researcher, and her boyfriend who taught her how to use a computer. Since her book was published, Carol has helped many others to write their memoirs with classes herld at the Snow Library in Orleans, and in her home.

After the Berlin Wall came down, Carol and her only sister, Linda traveled to Germany for the first time. And in 2004, after Linda died, Carol went to Germany again with her cousin Evelyn and with new information. Carsten drove them around giving them history lessons. There, in a Leipzig cemetery on a cold, windy day, she found the stones of her ancestors with the family's history. With the help of cemetery records, she received information on all her people buried there and the extended family.

She found living relatives who played the accordion as she did-now out of style-and enjoyed the friendship of her new-found family. Her handout shows a beaming Carol playing the accordion with two of her German relatives. Carol summed up her experiences: "It becomes a passion, but you can't let it go because the rewards are so great."

See the Presentation Notes Index for summaries of other presentations given at the Society's monthly meetings.