As an unemployed 22-year-old with a journalism degree — yikes — I can’t function properly without an outlet for writing. If I don’t get it out, then I get cranky. I brood, I sulk and I stare forlornly out the window and hope that a rhino attacks my neighbor just so that I have something to write about.
Seeing as no rhinos live in Sleepy Hollow, I’ve decided to write about my project of becoming a European citizen instead.
“Now why the hell would you want to do that?” shouts the party-pooper in the back row who up until now has been playing Angry Birds on her cell phone.
“First of all, you can go to hell.” The crowd screams in agreement and throws sharp objects at her face. “Second, there are several reasons, as follows:
- It’s an excuse to learn more about my family. My Grandpa created volumes of scrapbooks on the Eischen Family history before he passed away in 2006. He started the work, which has been muy beneficial. I want to take his hard work and put it to use.
- The project feeds the appetite I have as a history buff and journalist. I can research documents, prod people for information and share my experiences with those bored enough to read what I write.
- It gives me an excuse to go to Europe. I’ve always wanted to go to Europe. Seeing as my No. 1 destination, Egypt, is undergoing some political turmoil at the moment that might not be resolved for quite some time, Europe seems the second-best bet.
- The project forces me to learn more German and start learning French. This way I can speak to my girlfriend, other French-speaking friends and understand what the hell John Cleese is saying whenever he mocks the French in episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
- It’s better than snorting coke or running over grandmas at crosswalks.
The project all started with an essay I wrote in 2011. A local chapter of a Luxembourg society was sponsoring a scholarship competition. The essay prompt requested a 500-word explanation of how the U.S. and other countries can learn from the success of Luxembourg. The title of my essay: “Like the River Eisch.” (You can skip this part.)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that fewer people live in Luxembourg than Wyoming. Nevertheless, Luxembourg stands tall as a formidable global force. It is the quintessential case study in the saying, “size doesn’t matter.” The nation’s undisputed political and economic strength clearly outweighs its humble land area and population. Surrounded by powerhouse sovereign states, Luxembourg supports solidarity among its neighbors while insisting on its own progressive and traditional ways, boasting the national motto, “we want to remain what we are.” I relate to this proud and respectfully stubborn motto. I want to remain who I am: someone who values both the lessons of the past and the exciting potential of the future. I am fortunate to have a heritage that I can cherish for my ancestors and their traditions as well as the morals and missions modern Luxembourgers have pursued to better my life, their country, and the world.
The Eischen family descends from an eponymous hamlet along the River Eisch in southwest Luxembourg. The word “ysche” means “water.” This Celtic derivation aptly reflects my ancestors’ approach to every aspect of life. Like the Eisch, the Rhine, or even the Mighty Mississippi, we Eischens experience the world with the energy and spirit of those famous rivers’ currents. Little wealth accompanied my ancestors to America, but they certainly brought their rich sense of civic duty, hard work, and philanthropy. Each generation gifted to the next these values that are exemplified in both Luxembourg’s culture and the American dream.
I also laud Luxembourg for its significance in world democracy and economic recovery. The country headquarters some of the European Union’s most important administrative components, which Luxembourg has long supported for its goals in promoting democracy, thwarting dictatorship, and ensuring financial prosperity. Much like the U.S., Luxembourg champions rights for all. The nation’s business-friendly atmosphere attracts European corporate operations, including Skype and eBay. The U.S. government could learn some salient economic lessons from a country ranked 175 globally in land area but second in GDP per capita, beating its bigger American brother by $40,000 per citizen.
Despite the physical and cultural distance, I feel a strong tie to my ancestral home. It pains me to hear people ask where Luxembourg is and what it has accomplished. Little do they know that this small country plays a vital role in global financial stability. As Americans of Luxembourg descent, it is important that we continue fostering a friendly and meaningful relationship with our Luxembourg brothers and sisters. We can exchange ideas and learn from each other’s successes. Luxembourg deserves more credit and acclaim for its diligent work from the media, the U.S. government and the general population. It is our duty to publicize our brother country’s achievements to our fellow Americans so that Luxembourg becomes more than just an answer to trivia questions. Like the River Eisch that flows through my ancestral hamlet of Eischen, I feel privileged for having the blood of Luxembourg course through my veins.
Don’t worry, when I walked away from my first draft, I thought the same thing: this is really over the top. But I went into writing the scholarship knowing that older Luxembourg-Americans would be judging the essays. They would appreciate the patriotic, nationalistic ideologies of a bygone generation.
I won the competition, which included a nice chunk of scholarship change that helped to put a dent, a rather small dent, in my tuition costs. I lie. Essentially, the scholarship money paid for one semester’s worth of books.
Anyway, I couldn’t attend the luncheon at which the winner was being announced. My parents, Eischen relatives and Great Aunt Mary Lou — who is a third grandmother to me — were in attendance. When my mom heard the winner announced, she promptly called me as I was driving west on I-70 toward Columbia, Mo.
She told me that in addition to me winning the scholarship, my dad had won sausages from something called The Wheel of Meat, about which I was rather envious and for which I was willing to swap my scholarship. My mom put Mary Lou on the phone. She congratulated me, asked what classes I was taking for the fall semester and then mentioned something about obtaining Luxembourg dual-citizenship. “Oh, really?” I said. “You should send me information on that. That might be a fun project.”
And so a year-long and still ongoing project commenced.
After hounding several Chicago-area leaders in the Luxembourg community for information on how to obtain Luxembourg dual-citizenship, I had enough to make a starting block on which to propel myself forward around the track of Luxembourg citizenship. To continue this inevitably bad running analogy, I wasn’t sure if I had the stamina to find everything I needed, unless I could inject a steroid that magically made me able to write, speak and understand French and German.
Unfortunately, there exists no such thing, although I could expedite the foreign-language-learning process by taking a few Adderall. My greatest obstacle, I knew and still know obstacle, would be language.
What do Luxembourgers speak?
Well, it’s difficult, especially for an American who’s accustomed to a unilingual society, to understand.
But thanks to reader email@example.com, I have a clarification on language in Luxembourg. She writes:
Luxembourgish … is the actual and only mothertongue of real Luxembourgers. French and German may be administrative languages and we learn them in school, but Luxembourgers will only ever speak Luxembourgish to each other. English is spoken by some, but certainly not all people in Luxembourg and contrary to the other three languages, it’s not an official language in Luxembourg.
Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch (I speak a little bit of German). I can say things like, “I would like a Coke,” and “Angela Merkel rules Europe,” but not, “I need this birth certificate from 1872 notarized by the secretariat of your commune.”
Parlez-vous français? (Do you speak French?)
Unfortunately, no. I’ve never considered learning any French. But after much genealogical research, it became apparent I needed to brush up on my German and seriously consider learning some French.
Being impatient, I put off learning the languages and dived right into the research.
First, there is I, Trevor Wayne Eischen, born to Kim Callihan Eischen and Wayne Albert Eischen. The Luxembourgers make up my dad’s lineage, so for this story we’ll leave out my mom’s family, full of Native Americans, horse thieves and a Scottish grandma who couldn’t cook. My father was born to my grandparents Louise Frances Schultz and Albert Lee Eischen. Albert Lee had a father named Albert Francis, whose dad is Peter Eischen.
That’s as far back as I have to trace for citizenship. According to article 29 of the Luxembourg nationality law instituted in 2008, as well as an email I received from a Monsieur Jean Ensch, one must have “an ancestor who possessed the Luxembourg citizenship on 1.1.1900.” Do they have to be in Luxembourg? No. Is it OK if that obtained citizenship in another country? Yes, the Luxembourg government doesn’t care; according to the way the law was written, these ancestors are still considered citizens of Luxembourg.
So my great-great-grandpa Peter was born in Luxembourg sometime in either 1868 or 1869. He then moved to Chicago, married his wife Susanna, had kids, who had kids, who had kids, who had me. In order to prove this, I needed to find his birth certificate from his hometown in Luxembourg and a death certificate in the U.S. The death certificate is currently sitting in the records office in Cook County, and I’m not worried one bit about finding it (please, Chicago bureaucracy, make my life difficult!). Finding his birth certificate would prove the harder task.
I was right. I couldn’t find it.
I looked, and I searched, and I sent myriad emails to Mertzig, the town in which he was born. I even researched the changes in administrative centers of the various communes in which Mertzig was a member from 1868 until today. Sounds complicated? It was a royal pain in the ass. For those who don’t know, as I did not, communes are essentially a group of towns governed by an administration; they’re similar to American townships or counties or parishes for you Louisianans. But unlike counties, these communes often change.
But alas, no matter where I scoured online, I unearthed no leads.
Then I remembered: Peter married a Luxembourger, Susanna Schmitz, who was born in Enscherange. She left Luxembourg, found him in the Windy City, got hitched, had kids, who had kids, who had kids, who had me. It was similar song and dance. I began the same quest for her document.
Like the search for Peter’s proof of birth, I wasn’t getting anywhere.
I knew she was born in Enscherange, which resides in the commune of Kiischpelt, formed recently in Jan. 1, 2006.
I later found out that the administrative center of Kiischpelt is the town of Wilwerwiltz. I emailed the town, the administrative government and even towns surrounding Enscherange inside the commune. I received few responses. Of those who did respond, all said that they didn’t have her on record.
Enscherange never responded.
I worked on it during the fall semester, when I met this super attractive lady in my magazine editing class who had also been living in the same apartment complex as I for the past year. Her name? Sarah. Her second major? French.
The next semester, my final one as an undergraduate, I allocated the few minutes of spare time I had to the project. But I found nothing. About mid-semester, Mary Lou sent me information on note cards that provided more information for my search. I now knew Peter’s and Susanna’s parents’ names. Knowing the parents helps verify whether I have found the right Peter or Susanna.
During that final semester, I also started dating Sarah, the super attractive lady I met in my magazine editing class from the paragraph before the previous. I could write a book about her, but I’ll restrain myself and only mention the part that’s pertinent to this already-too-long blog post. Using her French linguistic abilities, she said she would call Enscherange and/or Mertzig. But I didn’t think anything would turn up. I didn’t think Susanna’s or Peter’s stuff existed.
I was also too busy, and my girlfriend needed all the sleep she could get as a magazine/French dual-major. With my undergraduate history thesis, capstone at a city magazine, part-time job, classes and last-semester festivities — not to mention I didn’t know I had hypothyroidism during it all, which was slowing my metabolism, causing me anxiety and depression and making my hands painfully cold — I decided to place the project on a permanent back burner. My parents assured me something would break and that I’d finish the project eventually.
Eventually? I wonder if Robert A. Caro’s said that to him when he started writing a biography on Lyndon Baines Johnson. “You’ll be done with the book eventually.”
Caro has spent the past 40 years writing a biography on just this one president. And he’s still working on the last part in the five-book biography.
I wasn’t going to spend that much time and effort on this if it took me almost forever.
As I thought more about it, the likelihood of digging up the necessary documents fell into pieces. Peter was born in 1868 or 1869, and Susanna popped out of the womb on March 12, 1872. How many European conflicts have happened since then? Well, two consequential ones called WORLD WARS. In my pessimistic mood, I assumed that some Nazi stormtrooper burned Enscherange’s and Mertzig’s town halls just to spite a Luxembourg-American couple’s great-great-grandson who would one day seek Luxembourg citizenship. By the end of that final semester at Mizzou, I had considered giving up entirely.
I kept thinking, “Why won’t these government officials from these less-than-100-people towns respond to my English emails quicker?!” But after calming myself down a bit with a nice three-mile run, I had an epiphany:
It does not exist, and don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die.
The former applied to my situation; the latter is me shamelessly quoting Mean Girls again.
On the second Tuesday after I graduated on May 12, I had a strange feeling in my gut.
I drank a pot of coffee, hopped online and began searching. I came across a website I had never seen before, Luxroots.com.
Via a Google translation, I could read the website, and after figuring out the complex search engine on the website, I came across information on Susanna:
The screenshot is hard to read. But it has her exact birthdate, her parents’ names and her place of birth. I emailed the gentleman who posted the information, who then directed me to a Georges Eicher.
Eicher sent me a link to a genealogical database called Family Searched, which is maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
There it was. In the upper right-hand corner of a more than 130-year-old town registrar.
GOD BLESS THE MORMONS!
Hard to read, no? Not only is it in German, but it’s also scribbled in a font difficult to read for eyes used to modern fonts on computer screens. But I examined it for a good 15 minutes and translated each word. This was certainly my great-great-grandmother’s birth certificate.
Having finished the project, I hopped onto a plane, flew to Luxembourg, showed them the certificate and became a Luxembourger!
I needed this document notarized, and that would only be the beginning.
This is where Sarah comes in. Now that I knew the document existed, I was ready to blitzkrieg the government of Kiischpelt to get what I required. I wrote an English letter that Sarah translated into French. I wrote:
To whom it may concern:
I am an American searching for my great-great-grandma’s birth certificate. According to online genealogical resources, her birth certificate is located in your commune. Her name was Susanna Schmitz, and she was born on 12 March 1872, in Enscherange, Wilwerwiltz, Luxembourg. Her father’s name was François Schmitz, and her mother’s name was Maria Katharina Winandy. I am applying for Luxembourg citizenship, and I require from the commune a document that notarizes her birth certificate. I will include my contact information in this email/letter. Thank you for assisting me in my research.
Trevor W. Eischen
A qui de droit,
Je suis Américain, et je cherche l’extrait de naissance de ma arrière-arrière-grand-mère. Sur l’internet, j’ai trouvé que son extrait de naissance est situé dans votre ville. Elle s’appelait Susanna Schmitz et elle est née le 12 mars 1872 en Enscherange, Wilwerwiltz, Luxembourg. Son père s’appelait François Schmitz, et sa mère s’appelait Maria Katharina Winandy. Je suis en train de faire une demande pour être citoyen de Luxembourg. Pour ce processus, j’ai besoin une document qui va authentifier l’existence de Susanna Schmitz. J’espére que vous pouvez m’aider. J’ai inclus mes coordonnées pour vous, je vous remercie pour votre réponse et pour l’aide.
Trevor W. Eischen
WOW! Je suis fatigué! That does not mean, “My girlfriend is so smart, and I’m amazed!” It means “I am tired!” That’s really all I can coherently say in French — in addition to Je suis excité!, which I won’t translate for the innocent and impressionable youth reading this blog. But if I knew how, I would’ve said, “Wow, this is damn impressive.”
I sent her translation to an email address provided on the Kiischpelt website.
No one responded.
A week passed. On Tuesday, June 30, I met Sarah at O’Hare for her four-hour layover before she flew to France. After we had finished eating a duck burger and humms, she remembered that she had called Enscherange the night before because she couldn’t fall asleep. Within 30 seconds, she said, the man on the phone had found Susanna’s birth certificate in the records office. He said he could send it to my address … in Sleepy Hollow, Ill.
I had to restrain myself from dancing, but I certainly swooped in for an awkward, in-the-middle-of-a-public-venue-where-everyone-looks-unhappy hug. Although, I felt like doing this:
Now, I play the waiting game. After I receive the notarized certificate, there are more steps to the process, including sending a preliminary packet of documents, translating English certificates into German, communicating with government officials in French and, lastly, journeying to Luxembourg to submit my papers in person.
For the time being, I peer out the curtains of my living room and wait for the mailman to come.