When I opened my email this afternoon I was excited to see that my distant cousin, Kurt Bevensee, had sent not one but four emails. I was anxious to open them because he has been generously spending time locating records for my Bebensee ancestors in Germany. I couldn’t wait to see what news he may have. As I realized what he sent I actually started to shake. An overwhelming feeling of sadness seemed to come over me from out of nowhere. I looked at each photograph, but had trouble focusing as my eyes started to fill with tears. It was as if I was plummeted to a time that was not my own. I felt surrounded by people I did not know but, the connection was so strong I knew I belonged. If you have never experienced this it may be hard for you to understand – and yes I know I tend to gush and go on, but this was a moment I did not expect.
I know so little about my Great Grandmother, Maria Charlotte “Anna” Bebensee, nee Sievers that I consume every morsel of information as if it were a feast. She was born, married, bore her four children in Wandsbek, Germany and lived all her life there and the nearby town of Eilbeck. Both towns are suburbs of Hamburg. Anna met my great grandfather, Gustav Bebensee, while working as a servant at the Bebensee home. A marriage that was not acceptable to his parents. After my great grandfather and their oldest son emigrated in 1898 to the United States, she made a living by taking in sewing and by all accounts struggled to keep her 3 remaining children fed. In a letter I have from 1899, I believe she was kind, compassionate and loved her children very much, beyond this I know nothing of her life. What I do know is that my grandpa would tear up when he spoke of her. I know that his entire life he felt a sense of guilt because he was so excited to get on the ship to come to America that he never told her good bye, never gave her one last hug nor said I love you one more time. Possibly the sadness I felt today was not mine but his.
Through the wonderful photographs that Kurt sent I was able to walk past the Friedhöfe Kapella Tonndorf (cemetery chapel), past the statue of the “Pilgrim”. I could follow the path, past the graves which are so beautifully kept with flowers. Then there it was not far from the tall hedges was where my Great Grandmother was laid to rest in March 1920 at the age of 53. Maybe I’m just sentimental, but knowing this has meant the world to me. There is a peace in my heart now as the longing for answers has finally come.
My grandfather’s sister, Margaretha (called Grace), was the only sibling to remain in Germany. According to the records that Kurt sent she paid for her mothers burial at a price of 60 Reich Marks. The records also indicate that she was still unmarried at the time of her mother’s death, which provides another small clue to her. Unfortunately the lease on the grave was only for 25 years, so sometime after 1945 her remains were removed and the plot was resold to another family. Today there is no one buried in this plot. (I’d almost like to believe she is still there – but, I know that is not the case.)
So to my Oma Maria Charlotte “Anna” Bebensee you are not forgotten – your life will be remembered through the stories past on for generations to come.
Maria Charlotte “Anna” Bebensee
February 14, 1867 – March 27, 1920
Laid to rest at Friedhöfe Tonndorf
I have no words that can fully express my gratitude to Kurt Bevensee for all he has given me by his tireless search for the records of my ancestors.