Land of Opportunity: Trip to Father’s Birthplace Reveals Facts

Man travels to Germany, birthplace of his father, and finds elderly couple able to tell him about his father.

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My father came to America, the land of opportunity, when he was 11 years old. He never said too much about how he came or anything about the trip, but we were told stories when we visited my father's birthplace in Germany in 1972. We were able to locate an elderly couple, Johann and Hermina Gelder, both in their 80s. After the shock of someone coming from America to see them, they told us the following story. They remembered well my grandmother leaving with her children to go to America. Her husband had died, leaving my grandmother to raise five children alone. Two older children had already left Germany for America, and they told her she should come, too, as things were so much better.

Johann and Hermina remembered that Grandma sold everything she had, including her food, by going up and down the streets of Lucthenburg, Ostfriesland, Germany, to gather money to leave her homeland. In 1905, six years after my grandfather died, she left Germany with my father and his four sisters. We remember the German relatives saying that they never heard from them again; it was as though Grandmother Gelder and her children had disappeared from the face of the earth. To say Mr. and Mrs. Gelder were happy to see us and learn about my family is an understatement. Johann told us that he and my father, Dirk, went to school together. I will always cherish the memories of this trip when my wife and I were able to walk the village streets where my father was born, lived and played.

Leonard Gelder
Wellsburg, Iowa


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.