A whole new world

A whole new world

For over twenty years now I’ve been researching my family tree. I’ve spent more hours than I can count digging deep into churchbooks, civil registrations, last wills, and documentation of estates my ancestors worked for. Anything I could use to tell the story of my family.

But sometimes it’s an old book you find at a flea market that changes everything. And this one changed my view of what a genealogist can do – and can be.

A special book

A while ago I found “Welt im Wandel: Lebenserinnerungen von Heinrich Dräger”. I don’t think it was ever translated into English which is a pity because it’s a wonderful witness of its time.

Roughly translated it means “The changing world: Memoirs of Heinrich Dräger”.

Heinrich Dräger was the founder of the company today known as “Drägerwerk”. No matter where you live, if you have anything to do with medical technology, work in the Oil & Gas industry or in Mining, you’ve used one of their products. The company has its headquarters in my hometown of Lübeck and is a very important part of the city – you can’t grow up there without knowing the name.

In his memoirs, Heinrich Dräger described his life – from his childhood to the first safety valve he invented (the company’s first product) till the day his son Bernhard Dräger took over as owner in 1912. Heinrich died 5 years later.

There have already been many talented authors and historians who’ve told the story of Heinrich Drager and his firm. What was special about this book was how it broadened my view on family research.

A personal and corporate history

While the book chronicles Dräger’s personal history, it’s also a history of the corporation. The more I read, the more I realized that you couldn’t separate one from the other. The history of the person Heinrich Dräger IS the history of the company Drägerwerk.

This realization made me want to know more about the company. What happened since then? A few searches later, I  started exploring the wonderful section of their corporate website labeled “History”.

My most favourite part was the interactive area. Dräger used a combination of dossiers,  biographies, pictures, video and audio clips to build a timeline from 1889 til today. As a global player both in English and in German.

The story of Dräger, so beautifully told, inspired me to dig into the history of other companies, including my own. And it was like discovering another world. There were independent corporate biographers and companies with corporate history departments. And story after story after story.

I’m not sure where this exploration will take me. But all these years I’ve been interested in genealogy, I thought it was just about my family tree. And now I see I can use those same skills to dig into new kinds of material, new places, and new stories.

The world of genealogy just got a lot bigger.

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7 thoughts on “A whole new world

  1. I took a course in English business records last year because a quarter of my ancestry is from Cornwall in England. My people were farmers and miners. There were amazing documents about the mining and the companies, and scholarly journal articles written about the economics of the times and how this affected emigration both inside England and across the sea. Besides my own family’s occupations, I delved into mariners’ records, insurance company records, friendly society records, union records, etc. It was indeed an eye-opener. I found it to be one of the best courses for ferreting out unexpected records that can help a family historian really begin to understand the lives of his or her ancestors. The book you found would be a gold mine for anyone whose work touched that company — or who worked in a similar field in a different company or who worked in the geographic area where this company was located. It all ties together.

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