European Travel 2022

European Travel 2022

As a tour director focusing on adventures to Europe, I am often asked about the safety of travel with concerns about Covid and now a bigger concern is the war in Ukraine. The atrocities happening in Ukraine is something I had hoped never to see. Hopefully, peace can be found without the world order getting completely out of control.

In the past weeks, I have been keeping a close eye on events and reading a lot about how events may affect travel to Europe. Most of the articles focus on eastern European countries that share a border with Ukraine or Russia. It is safe traveling to these countries including Poland with its many refugees.

Of course, we need to keep a close eye on the situation and adjust plans in the event of it becoming a wider war. As noted in the Rick Steve’s blog, ‘it is important to keep geographic realities in mind and remember that war in Ukraine is as far from our European vacation dreams as a war in Guatemala would be from Texas or Florida.’ Currently, I do not see any reason to change tour plans to Germany, the Czech Republic ‘Czechia’ and Austria.

Since 2009, I have been traveling to Europe and experienced an extended trip to Africa. It is important for Americans to travel and learn perspectives from wonderful people throughout the world. We all need to be better engaged citizens and to realize we are all part of a global community.

At this time, we can count our blessings and keep our travel dreams alive. I am looking forward to sharing experiences with groups in August, September, and October 2022. Join us and paint your picture as we explore together.


Farewell…Until we meet again.

Frank Hoffmann, 1934 – 2020

Yesterday, it was hard to say farewell to a very nice man, a distant relative and good friend Frank Hoffmann. He was always glad to hear from me and we both enjoyed our visits together.


Frank lived on our Hoffmann ancestors homestead farm with his brother Ray. Ray passed in 2002. Both of them were very nice to me and my family and I will always cherish those memories. Connection to family on this ancestral farm gave my kids the opportunity to have experiences and a glimpse into farming life. When I was young it was one of the greatest things to spend time on my grandparent’s farm. That farm has long since been sold out of the family were nothing resembling the old days remains.

Even though he did not know it at the time, Frank helped me understand my heritage and ancestry better. Sitting near the machine shed on a beautiful late summer afternoon, listening to stories about how things were done in the past helped me to get a better understanding of why the site was developed the way it was on the farm. Learning about how things were done in the past, gave me in-site into the hardships and ways our ancestors lived as a farming family in the past.

Farming practices have changed dramatically over the years and the way our ancestors did things are almost forgotten. I have found the best way to understand the past is to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors, both here in Minnesota, and in our ancestral homelands in Europe.

It has been fun getting to know Frank over the years and I enjoyed stories about his times stationed in Europe and his great adventures to the big twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Frank and Ray had a lot of fun back in the day. Frank had a great sense of humor, especially with little things.

Last fall while feeding the dogs some treats, we sat there and talked while Frank patiently waited with his cane in hand ready to get any fly that landed in the area. He would say, “Here comes another one for his funeral”, as he landed the tip of the cane rarely missing his mark. He laughed and said, “This is pretty entertaining when you are 85, you’ll see.” I hope so.

It was very surprising he went so quickly; I wish we had one more time to visit. I had the best idea for a birthday present for Frank next month, The Original Bug-A-Salt gun, which uses regular table salt to blast flies. He would have loved it!

It is difficult to say goodbye and to close that chapter in my life. Hopefully it opens doors to friendships with other relatives who share our common heritage.

Thank you, Frank. You are missed and I will always cherish the memories of our time together.


Guiding hands lead to celebrating an Irish 150th

The weekend before Thanksgiving my daughter and her husband moved into their first home together in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is located in an old neighborhood near Calvary Cemetery.

Irish ancestors lived in St. Paul since the State of Minnesota was formed in 1858 and are buried in this Catholic Cemetery.  It made me happy that our children remembered some of these details and asked questions to learn more.

Over Thanksgiving weekend we had very dear family friends visiting from out of state and we went to check out the newlyweds new home. Following a fun dinner at a neighborhood bar and restaurant, we decided it would be fun to stop in the cemetery.

First we stopped at the graves of our ancestors John Doyle (1847 – 1899) and Johanna Guiney (1849 – 1912). Both were Irish and have a long history here in Minnesota. Next, we drove to the other side of the Cemetery with a wonderful night view of downtown St. Paul.

Near the crest of the hill in the cemetery we saw the graves of the first Catholic Bishops in St. Paul and John Ireland who became the first Archbishop of St. Paul. He was appointed Pastor in St. Paul and married my second great grandparents in 1867. As we stood there in the dark, goose bumps raced up my arms as I realized the date was November 24thand that it was the 150thWedding Anniversary for these Irish ancestors.

John Doyle and Johanna Guiney Doyle

The next evening, we attended the wedding in downtown St. Paul, for the daughter of good friends. It was only a couple blocks from where my ancestors lived and we learned the groom has Irish heritage. The ceremony included an Irish tradition of blessing the hands.

Blessing of the Hands 

by Unknown

These are the hands of your partner, young and strong and full of love, holding your hands as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow, and forever. These are the hands that will work alongside yours as together you build your future. These are the hands that will hold you and comfort you in grief and uncertainty. These are the hands that will countless times wipe the tears from your eyes, tears of sorrow and joy. These are the hands that will hold your family as one. These are the hands that will give you strength. And these are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch.

Again, goose bumps and a deep happy feeling grew inside me as we stood, in a beautiful old building in downtown St. Paul, very close to the place where an Irish wedding took place 150 years ago, experiencing a traditional yet modern ceremony where two young people began their life together. It was an unexpected, inspiring and meaningful way to celebrate this ancestral wedding anniversary keeping their memory alive. I believe sometimes there are guiding hands connecting us with our heritage our paths in life and all we need to do is pay attention.


Anticipation was building on this cold and blustery December day, as we slowly powered our vehicle in line behind your guides small car as he gained momentum rising up the steep hill out of Molgau.

Mr. Hofmeister was ill with a deep cough and not much energy, but he was determined to lead us to the site of my ancestors mill. His tiny car drove fast through villages around the mountain leading us directly to the road, which three years earlier was blocked with a barbed wire fence and a herd of cows. Traveling alone and not speaking much Czech, it was probably a good decision to wait for another time to explore these properties.

Our guide wanted us to follow through the deep mud on the farm road to the forest in the distance. Luckily we stopped as the small white car was quickly sucked into the muck. Attempts to get free only buried the wheels deeper as the spinning tires showered the car in cold wet sludge.

Leaving the vehicles and our digging out project for later, we jumped the mud puddles and made our way across the pasture to the tree line. An old road descended down a steep rocky incline into the dark forest.


It was beautiful and somewhat eery after seeing WWII artifacts and knowing that the history of this place came to an abrupt end soon after 1945 when the ethnic German inhabitants were expelled from their homes.

It felt familiar even though I had never walked these paths before, the woods were quiet and as we neared the bottom of the hill you could hear the babbling brook below. The Lunzenbach creek is very small and in places one can jump across. It was hard to imagine such a small brook was used to power four mills up stream for hundreds of years.

As we neared the site of the mill, we could see where area opens up in the bend of the creek bed and we began to see some of the foundations of these long ago buildings. Mr. Hofmeister had some information and copies of photos of the mill which were the same as the ones used on a sign to mark the site along one of the old roads leading to the mill.

It was wonderful to finally see the place where the Stahlmühle stood. I have read it was one of four mills recorded around Molgau dating back to 1606. It may have traded hands over the centuries with different ancestors owning, operating and building it over time.

My Warta ancestors married into the Roppert family who ran the mill in the early Nineteenth Century and I know the Roppert name was involved in 1695. The older brother Adam, of my second great grandfather Joseph Warta born in 1854, took over the mill and his descendants operated it until 1945.

It was incredible to see this old stone infrastructure built by my ancestors so long ago. I was completely impressed with the effort that went into harnessing the power of the Lunzenbach to grind grain into flour.

The area is very overgrown with trees and brush and there are number of building foundations. There were at least three mill races where water was channelled to power different water wheels. The races were tunnels with squared stones for walls and huge flat rocks placed above and I believe below to funnel the water where it needed to go. The covering stones could support horses and equipment and later trucks and vehicles as they  moved about the mill site. It was fascinating to see all of this and it only required the ability to climb around and get dirty in order to peer into this infrastructure.


Above the foundations and mill races was once a huge mill pond. It held back a enormous supply of water to run the mill when needed. The embankment started at the bottom with a stone wall built in front of a large horseshoe shaped mound holding back the steam. Again I was in awe of the size of the operation even though most of it has been lost in time.

Now that I have some photos of what it once looked like, I hope to return and explore further in order to figure out how everything was situated.


Time was short, as was this December day, and we headed out to help Mr. Hofmeister get his car out of the mud before darkness.

This ancestral place is one which really hit me on many different levels and left me compelled to learn more about its history. I also want to know more about the ancestors who once lived and built their lives around this mill. Joseph Warta and a number of his siblings left for America and I am consumed with questions about this ancestor who was 30 years old before leaving this place in search of new opportunities.



Layers of History

Walking in the footsteps of your ancestors often leads to unexpected feelings and emotions as you discover layers of history where significant events took place. The smallest forgotten places seem to burst out from the pages of history touching you in extraordinary ways.

On a cold dark blustery day in December, friends and I departed for a day trip from Bavaria into the former homelands of our German-Bohemian ancestors located in what is now the western border region of the Czech Republic. My hope was to see some villages where my Warta and Roppert ancestral familie’s lived prior to immigrating to the United States in 1884.

Since 2009, I have had the opportunity to travel every year to Europe and to this part of the world exploring hundreds of places where ancestors once forged a living from the land in this mountainous and rugged region. Often leading groups of people who share heritage from this crossroads of central Europe. It is extremely rewarding helping others make connections and finding traces of their ancestors etched in the history of the land.

On previous trips, I had attempted to find the site of the family mill on the Lunzenbach Creek in the forest between two family villages. The road or rather muddy trail was blocked with barbed wire and a herd of cattle.

We drove down a steep and narrow road into Molgau/Málkov. It is the only road into this small almost deserted village. It is small circular community situated on a steep incline. In the center a school once stood and we squeezed our car into a small place directly in front of a stone monument crowned with an iron crucifix. Blending into the mossy green and gray stone hung a Nazi era German Soldiers helmet. Weathered, rusted resembling swiss cheese was this eery symbol calling out to remind us of the troubled and dark history thrust upon the people who once lived here.

A deep chilling breeze struck us as we stepped onto the frosty ground. The helmet enticed us to imagine stories as to why it was here.

img_7004No one seemed to be home in this quite village and we separated to quickly identify some houses and hopefully a road in the direction of the mill site. Within minutes dogs were barking and one man came out of his small cabin in the center of the village. He didn’t speak any English and he was able to learn what I was doing there with my basic German.

My friends from Germany, Helmut, Birgit and Tobi Mages, were able to communicate with Antonin Hofmeister. A Czech man from Domazlice who learned German by using a short wave radio to intercept German stations during communist times and closed borders.

Mr. Hofmeister is local historian and shared a story about a battle in the last days of WWII on the edge of this village between German and American soldiers. A number of German soldiers were buried at the site. Recently, eight bodies were exhumed with a lot of ammunition and a Bazooka.

Much of my research has been focused on the times my ancestors lived in these locations. There is a rich history going back to the 11th century, through wars, plagues, draughts and cold wet seasons and each point in over hundreds of years holds a special story of survival. Life goes on and layers of history continue to build on the foundations of the past.

Living here in the United States, we are somewhat removed from the long written history of Europe. For me WWII seems so long ago and so far away. Exploring these places and learning about these events brings the past to life. Traveling in the footsteps of your ancestors helps one gain a better perspective and understanding of history. You learn how these events directly effected the lives and actions of your ancestors and later how it affected the lives of distant relatives who remained. Traveling to these places also helps one connect with different people and cultures living in there today.

Martin Luther in Minneapolis!!

October 31, 2017 will mark the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther posting his “Ninety-Five Theses” changing the course of Christianity. The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) is hosting an extraordinary Exhibition on Martin Luther and the Reformation. For a short time now until January 15, 2017, beautiful artwork and incredible artifacts never before seen outside of Germany are on display. I recommend everyone take the opportunity to view this exhibit and learn more how the Reformation changed Christianity, split the Catholic Church and lead to one of the bloodiest wars in history.


Luther was not happy with abuses within the church and the selling of Indulgences. Indulgences were a way for the church to raise money and teaching it was permitted for people to buy their way to heaven. His reasoning based on study of the Bible was that people who had faith, acted with kindness towards others and followed the word of god would go to heaven without paying money or buying a ticket.


The Exhibition does a great job of sharing the events to gain a better understanding of what the Reformation was about. It is also fascinating to learn more about Martin Luther as a person, his family and the historical people and events which shaped the opinion of one man who stood up to the most powerful leaders of his time and pushed for change.


As an American growing up in Minnesota I have ancestors from many places in Europe. Some were staunch Catholics and others were Protestant and Lutherans, so I have had the opportunity to see and experience different points of view. The stories are fascinating and it always amazes me how people, families and cultures hold very strong views and positions on how things should be.


It is great Pope Francis went to Sweden this week and prayed with Lutherans and expressed hopes some of the conflicts could be resolved. Wow, this only took 499 years. Other religious conflicts around the world have gone on much longer. Hopefully, this is a strong and convincing sign people with different points of view and differing religious beliefs can live side-by-side respecting one and other.

Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation

For more information go to:

Traveling to Europe? -Pack Light.

This past weekend, we woke up before 4am to bring our European guest to the airport. It had been an extended stay and after arriving in the states many more items were acquired which required some creative packing and several suitcase weighings the day before. It reminded me of the benefits of packing light.

The idea was to push the weight limits to see what was possible. One of the most stressful things while traveling is opening your bag in front of the ticketing agent counter and trying to repack and juggle things between carry on and your checked luggage to avoid often heavy fees for overweight or additional bags.

There is nothing better than traveling light and not having to lug too much around during your travels. While traveling abroad you end up moving around with your luggage more than you think.


On our first trip to Europe, we didn’t follow this advice. We bought new full sized bags and also had a carry on size suitcase. It was winter and we were traveling over the holidays. We even had gifts hidden in piles of things we thought we needed. Our connecting flight was cancelled due to winter storms and our only option was to figure out how to travel by train through three countries in order to make it to our destination. Our luggage was too much, but we managed wishing we had less.

The second half of the trip was just two of us and I was lucky to be able to send most things back home and travel with a small backpack and carry-on sized suit case. It was a real blessing in Venice Italy walking in the dark to find the bus stop. It seems every bridge big or small has steps going up and down and there are many bridges.

Rick Steves has some great information on packing light and even has packing lists one can download. I have made a couple adjustments and I have had great success traveling light. You can travel over a month with a small back pack and a carry-on sized bag. Even while leading tours in Europe, I have been able to bring the materials I need for the group and all I need to wear.

You can get your laundry done along the way and I always carry some detergent fabric sheets. You just cut off a strip of detergent sheet to wash items along the way and hang them on a small clothes line. It works! You really don’t need a lot of extra things and still be clean and fresh.

Having too much luggage marks you as a tourist and con artists see you as vulnerable. I remember my first time in Prague and this beautiful city had a larger than normal snowfall. It was great to be carrying all I needed, as I watched other pulls heavy suitcases down the center of snow covered slushy streets and over many snow piles.

Traveling light is often less expensive and it helps create a free traveling lifestyle. Adjusting plans or changing locations is simple and it is much less stressful boarding a crowded bus or train and trying to find an open seat with nowhere to put your bags. Remember to pack light and don’t be like many other travelers, who wish they had.

Here are links to the Rick Steve’s Packing Lists. I like to look at both lists as I am packing:



Photo also from the Rick Steve’s site.

Tragedy in Mendota, Minnesota 1880

Last evening, I began to think about Irish ancestors who lived in St. Paul and Mendota, Minnesota. I have traveled all over the world researching these ancestors yet never accessed the resources in my own backyard. They lived in the same areas, traveled the same roads, attended the same churches a hundred years before me and I know almost nothing about these bright green Irish branches of our family tree.

It was a rare free evening and after a few errands we decided to have dinner in the village of Mendota. As we crested the hill to Mendota, we made a quick stop at St. Peters Cemetery to look for answers about these Irish connections.

My second great grandmother, Johanna Guiney married John Doyle on 24 November 1867 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Johanna’s older sister Ellen married William Hayes on 26 April in 1858 in St. Paul. The Hayes and Guiney families lived in the village of Mendota, in Dakota County Minnesota.

Upon finding the large marker for William Hayes, I noticed that he had died 18 August 1880 and that today is the anniversary of a very tragic event. William Hayes was struck and killed by a train on a bridge in his hometown of Mendota.

He was a well-known member of the community since the 1850’s. He was proprietor of a Grocery Store, Hotel or boarding house and Saloon in Mendota. The 1880 census was completed on 24 June and his family is listed as Ellen his wife, and the children still at home were; Mary (21), David (19), William (17), John (15), Hannah (13) and his mother in law, Mary Guiney Age 70.

It is also interesting his son William shows up in St. Paul on June 8, 1880 as a boarder at his aunt and uncles, John Doyle and Johanna Guiney Doyle’s Boarding House and was working in the store.

Many relatives in Mendota and St. Paul were shocked about the tragic death of William Hayes 136 years ago today. They all gathered on the hillside in St. Peters Cemetery for the funeral of William Hayes.

Today, I felt compelled to share this story keeping his memory alive. And, perhaps his descendants will find this story and learn about their past.

Here is the story as printed in the St. Paul Globe on 19 August 1880 and then printed in the Hastings Gazette on 21 August 1880.

Wm Hayes Accident003

May he rest in peace…



Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan

Now as we head into summer, I have to reflect on the beautiful spring we have enjoyed. Even if there has been cool weather here in the northern midwest. This is the perfect time to reflect on one of the highlights of the season which was a first ever road trip to Holland, Michigan.

It was a fantastic experience allowing us to meet new friends, enjoy a wonderful community with a strong Dutch heritage, see the sites around town and along the beach of Lake Michigan.

Being a genealogist, it was captivating and intriguing to get in touch with my Dutch heritage. Maybe I went a little overboard with my enthusiasm with the largest pair on wooden shoes one can buy. They make me happy as I wear them with wool socks and drinking coffee from a Holland cup with windmills on the side.

Driving from Minnesota, you can make it in one long day of driving. Of course one can stretch it out if you would like to see some sites in a little town called, Chicago or many other places on the route.

We stayed at our friends mothers house, we’ll call it, Alice’s Place. Alice was the best part of the trip, greeting us with her warm smile and treating us to wonderful meals and a few Dutch treats.

Alice and her husband grew up in the Netherlands and were teenagers during WWII. We were all moved as she shared some stories about her experiences during the war and actions taken to survive and help save others. I would love to go back to hear more of these stories and learn more about the Dutch Culture. More on these stories in a future article.

Holland Michigan has a full schedule during Tulip Time and the whole community takes pride in the event no matter if the have Dutch Heritage or not.

First stop, after a delicious breakfast, arriving before the crowds, we went to Windmill Island to see the gardens full of beautiful Tulips and “DeZwaan”. DeZwaan is the name of an original Dutch Windmill moved from the Netherlands in 1964. As a working mill, they employ a full time miller, who while not always milling flour, maintains it during the off season. During the tour you gain a great understanding of how physically demanding the job is of operating the mill. It is beautiful and surrounded with fields of tulips.

The grounds include several gardens, a canal, museum and gift shop. We were also treated to music from an Original Street organ from Amsterdam donated to the community following WWII. Alice was excited to hear the music and I found it interesting it was made in Breda, Netherlands, near her home town.

There were many activities to keep everyone interested including a carnival with rides, an exhibition with presentations in the civic center. A beautiful well kept downtown area with an abundancy of shops and a wide variety of things to see.

Holland and a few surrounding communities was started with Dutch Immigrants in 1847. It has a long history and still has a strong Dutch culture.

While shopping on main street, we met a woman, named Margaret, in her traditional Dutch, Staphorst costume, and she invited us in for their book sale. One of the books I bought was about the Overijssel region of the Netherlands. This is where my ancestors lived and Margaret grew up in this area.

The coast of Lake Michigan is worth exploring with beautiful beaches, homes and Big Red. The Holland Harbor lighthouse has been an attraction since this third light house was built in 1907.

Some of the highlights to see include; DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory, the Holland Museum, Nelis’ Dutch Village, Veldheer Tulip Gardens and Wooden Shoe Factory, Holland State Park and Tunnel Park.

When you go, pick up the schedule of events to make sure to participate in all you are interested in. The festival caps off with a very nice Parade Sunday afternoon and a giant fireworks extravaganza in the evening.

Nearly 1,000 costumed locals perform traditional Dutch dances every day throughout the City of Holland. Dance performances are approximately 5-15 minutes. After some performances, we also have a 10-minute style show to showcase the traditional Dutch costumes.

The people are what made the visit so special. While taking pictures of the Windmill from one of the Tulip Gardens, I stopped to help a mom get a better ‘selfie’ with her two very young daughters and I will never forget the smiles and enthusiasm as they sang the words, “Tulip Time” and smiled for the photo.