Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Estonian Connection

Or possible Estonian connection anyway.

This past week, we have been holding "America Days" on the island of Hiiumaa. This is the third time we have done an "America Days" since I came to Estonia. We had them in Pärnu and Narva as well. They also had the first one in Tartu before I arrived.

"America Days" are basically events we plan with city or county officials to introduce America to local communities. Over the course of usually several days, we have events, contests, movie screenings, school visits and more. They have so far been very popular, and additional communites have approached us wanting to do their own "America Days."

Plus, they are just a lot of fun. We get a chance to get out of the office and really spend time with interesting people all over the country. They leave me exhausted and energized all at once!

Anyway, sometime about a week or two ago, one of my staff, knowing my hobby of photographing old churches in Estonia, sent me a website about churches on Hiiumaa.

As I was reading through the website, I noticed that one of the churches, Paluküla church, was built by the sons of the Count of Unger. Another, the Lutheran Church of Jesus in Reigi, was also built by the Unger-Stenberg family. Apparently the Ungers/Ungurns/Unger-Stenbergs (the spelling varies) were a prominent/notorious family of Baltic Germans who lived in Estonia for centuries.

Why does this matter?

Well, I am a genealogy nut. I have been working on my genealogy since my great uncle taught me to research in archives when I was 10.

I know A LOT about my family history. So when I saw the name Unger, I got excited. Because I am descended from a Jacob Unger who was born somewhere in Europe in 1788 (some record say maybe Germany, others maybe Prussia...the name suggests some sort of tie ultimately to Hungary, which would be interesting). He immigrated to South Carolina, where he lived in a German community outside of Columbia known as the Dutch (Deutsch) Fork (folk). Unlike many of my lines, I was unable to trace his line back into Europe. I had decided that I was going to have to live with it being a dead end.

But it might not be.

This is the first time I have found the name in maybe I have a tie to Estonia. Which would be cool, because in case you hadn't noticed, I really like Estonia.

So I will keep digging, but for now, I am just going to claim this as the ruins of my ancestral home.

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