Today I want to introduce you to Eddie White – my paternal grandfather.
Who is Eddie White?
Eddie White is the soldier, who impregnated my paternal grandmother, making him my biological grandfather. He is my father’s biological father as well as my paternal grandfather.
Who is my paternal grandmother and what were her life circumstances?
My grandmother’s name was Maria Elisabeth Eckert. She was born Sunday December 29th, 1918 in Flörsheim am Main. Her nickname was Elli. She was the second child of Lina Lehmann and Lorenz Eckert. Her 11 years older brother was called Otto Eckert. When Elli was 1 year, 11 months, 1 week and 5 days old, her father died of wounds caused by an explosion on the company grounds of the Farbwerke Hoechst.
Lina, Elli’s mother, re-married in 1926. The name of Elli’s stepfather was Johann Jakob Hartmann. Elli was about 8 years old, when her mother and her stepfather married in civil and church ceremonies. Otto probably didn’t live with the family anymore at this point. (He was 19 years old.) However I cannot verify this.
Shortly after the Second World War, Lina died following a botched operation. That was on June 1st 1945. Elli was 26 years, 5 months and 3 days old when she became an orphan.
I have difficulties reconstruction Elli’s life circumstances at this time: Did Elli live with her stepfather? Or had she started living on her own in Nauheim, Kreis Groß Gerau? Lina Lehmann, widowed Eckert, re-married Hartmann died in the hospital in Goddelau (which today is part of Riedstadt), Kreis Groß Gerau. But the family seemed to have lived in Nauheim, Kreis Groß Gerau. One detail my grandmother told me many times during my youth was, that their home was bombed out during the war and they lost everything. However I never asked if that was in Nauheim or Flörsheim am Main.
What happened, according to Elli, was that she met an American soldier. He lived in her neighbourhood in Nauheim – he lived in civil quarters. (During the war a lot of building structure was destroyed. There were great difficulties finding living quarters for the soldiers. It was not unusual to find civil quarters for them.) The name of said soldier was Eddie White. Around mid-1946 his unit got moved suddenly and since they hadn’t exchanged addresses, they lost contact. The US military didn’t want to give out any information about their soldiers or help get contact.
Elli was pregnant and grew desperate. Shortly before the end of that year, on December 14th 1946 in Nauheim, Kr. Groß Gerau, she married her stepfather Johann Jakob Hartmann. About a month later my father Roman was born in Nauheim.
What exactly did Elli say about Eddie, did she have any evidence or documentation?
My grandmother never talked about Eddie White with me. I have all my information from my father and my mother. According to my father, he (Roman) thought Johann Jakob Hartmann was his biological father. Johann Jakob died when my father was 14 years old.
On my father’s 18th birthday his mother Elli told him, that Johann Jakob was not his biological father. His biological father was an US-American soldier with the name Eddie White. Elli gave my father a photo (scanned and posted above), on the backside she had written with a pencil „Eddie Withe“. She said, Eddie had played the trumpet in a small band, his nickname was „Whitie“. (My grandmother didn’t speak English, maybe some very basics. But she said his nickname was not Withie but „Whitie“.) He had been a little younger than Elli. He had stayed in Nauheim, Kr. Groß Gerau from mid-1945 to mid-1946. He lived in civil quarters. That’s how they met, he lived nearby. His unit got moved without warning, they didn’t get to speak before he left. The military denied giving out any information about Eddie and didn’t want to make contact with Eddie. Elli went looking for Eddie or any information about him everywhere she could. At last she found the local photographer who had taken photos for the American soldiers. (Photos that the soldiers would send home to their families.) Elli was allowed to look through the photos and she found this photo you can see above and got herself a copy.
What other evidence is there to prove or disprove Elli’s story?
My father visited military archives many times in the US. During his research he found out the unit Eddie White belonged to was most certainly the 333rd Special Service Regiment. Only this unit was in Nauheim at the time. (I’ll note that my father has since stated that he wishes to confirm his findings about the unit. Although he was very certain at the time, he did the research.)
There is of course the photo Elli found. It was probably her writing „Eddie Withe“ on the back of the photograph. If it was not her, it would have been someone from the photo-shop.
There is the indirect evidence of the hostility in Nauheim towards her, which made her ultimately leave the city for good. According to my mother, people in Nauheim threw rocks at her in the streets of Nauheim, because she had not only befriended an American soldier, but had gotten pregnant by „the enemy“ as well. Back then the Germans having suffered under the allied bombardments still considered Americans as enemies, even when they had liberated Germany from the Nazis. My mother told me many times, my grandmother and her family left Nauheim because of the hostility towards her.
Did Eddie and Elli ever meet again? Has my father met his biological father?
No, Elli never saw Eddie again. My father has never met his biological father. We think that Eddie has already died.
What’s the history of the search for Eddie White?
I cannot remember the first time I learnt that Eddie White, an American soldier, was my grandfather. The photo shown above hangs framed on the wall of family photographs in our home ever since I can think back. I know as a child I was convinced the person on the photo was my father. Some day I asked my father why he was wearing the weird uniform and why the photo was black and white (actually it’s coloured). That’s when he told me about Eddie White.
I know in the 80s my father wrote letters to every Eddie White or Edward White he could get hold of. A few Eddies/Edwards wrote letters back, a few even including photographs. All of them said they were sorry, they weren’t the Eddie he was looking for.
My father visited military archives on many occassions. With the help of staff there he was able to identify the unit that was stationed in Nauheim at the time. It was the 333rd Special Service Regiment. My father and I are maintaining a website dealing with the history of the unit. You can find it here: 333rd Special Service Regiment A little later my father got hold of some rooster lists. (For further information, pls see the website.) Although we cannot confirm that this list is complete or what parts of the list were stationed in Nauheim, some of those men were.
Somewhere along the way I got involved. I began to go through the lists and I started to do background research to check the identities of the men. I made a list of people who I thought were likely candidates. Then I did research for each of those names. And indeed after years of research I was able to pinpoint the research to one possible candidate.
I will not write down his name here. But I did search long and critically and I was certain that he was the most likely candidate from all the people on the lists. His last name is White. His first name starts with an „E“ and is a bit unusual – unusual enough for being eligable for a nickname like „Eddie“ or „Whitie“.
As the story goes with genealogy, I got stuck at this point, not knowing what to do now and I concentrated on other subjects. Until one day my father and I received an email through our website, telling us, he had read about Eddie White, looked through the names on the lists, did a little research and thought the candidate I had found would be the most likely candidate. (He did not know about me having „picked“ him as my candidate!)
At that moment, when someone independently from me came to the same conclusion as me, I decided I should persue the matter actively again. I got into contact with so-called self-help-groups of „GI Babies“ (meaning people who had US-American soldiers as their fathers). People who had tried to make contact with their „candidates“ told me about Dr. Niels Zussblatt and his department in St. Louis. He is in charge of clearing up the identities of GI Babies, giving access to military files that even next of kin of the soldiers don’t easily get access to. (Reads: It’s pretty awesome the American government created this department helping so many people so much!) When my father and I wrote to Dr. Zussblatt, we got as a reply a copy of the military file of „my candidate“, meaning Dr. Zussblatt and his team had come to the same conclusion.
Another thing I had heard from other GI Babies was this: Don’t make contact yourself! Get a search angel!
Here in Germany we do not need search angel as every citizen has to be registered where he lives. This way you can try to make contact through city officials.
I think this whole idea of search angels is wonderful. And I am amazed that there are people who will take on this difficult dance on eggshells trying their best not to hurt feelings and trying to make contact. This is awesome, remarkable and a hard job as well – most of them do this job as a volunteer.
While I started looking for a search angel, I tried to do some research on my „candidate“ … and I found out, he had died during the 80s (that summer he died my family spend the whole summer in the USA), so we will never be able to just ask him. But with his date of death I contacted his local newspaper trying to find out if maybe his obituary had included a photo. It did not, but one of the employees was friends with someone from his church who had a recent photo of his. She scanned it and send it to me via email.
When I saw that photo, I almost fell off my chair, because at least in my eyes, he looked strikingly like my father looks now!
At last I found a search angel. I gave her all the information I had and the names of his children, that I hoped were still alive. My search angel confirmed this. Two daughters, two sons. My search angel decided to make contact with the two daughters.
And this is where it gets complicated. I will not repeat what I learnt about the conversations my search angel had with the sisters. Both were sceptical. So would I be!! One of the daughters went on to send me an email including a photograph of my candidate from after the war, she put one of her brothers in the CC. That photo shows no great similarities with our Eddie White photo. Also she wrote that her father had never played any instrument and never had anyone called him „Whitie“.
I would have liked to reply to that email – but what should I write? Everyone told me don’t make contact yourself, it is still to early … and I was quite overwhelmed with the situation too! Because basically I am contacting strangers implying their father had „strayed“ while away in Europe … that’s not really something I enjoy doing.
But doubt remained and remains.
My search angel told me that the reaction by the family was typical and therefore normal. To make sure that my candidate was not our Eddie White, we would have to try to get them to agree to a DNA-test.
And that’s how far my research went: There was no further contact as my search angel told me some time back she didn’t have the time to being a search angel anymore. That was a big shock. Now where at least I got a DNA sample tested and the results are in a database, I have no search angel and I don’t know how to contact the family …
Who is Eddie White? Who are the candidates, what alternatives and theories are there?
My most likely candidate I’ll just call E. White. His vital data fits. Dr. Zussblatt came to the same conclusion with his research. E. White was a carpenter and he was part of the 333rd Special Service Regiment. (The Special Service Regiments were on-site to repair or build infrastructure.) However his military file doesn’t fully prove this as his „leaving“ date is before (!) mid 1946. However other „GI Babies“ told me that that’s not too much of a worrying point. Back then soldiers remained in Europe longer than stated in their files. Simply because they were needed and bringing them back to the US wasn’t all that easy; it took time and their arrivals back home were indeed postponed.
Contacting the family of E. White brought doubts, the photo of him from after the war doesn’t have many similarities, but also it doesn’t complete rule out E. White. The remark by his daughter that he never played an instrument however is noteworthy.
„Eddie White“ – „Whitie“ – „Eddie Withe“
Next possibility in case E. White is not Eddie White – Eddie White is a completely different guy. Who – I don’t know. I would have to start my research completely from scratch. Eddie White however is the person in the photo shown above and he was part of the 333rd Special Service Regiment, his nickname was „Whitie“, he did play trumpet in a small band and he was in Nauheim from mid-1945 to mid-1946.
Johann Jakob Hartmann
I followed this theory too. Is it possible that my step-greatgrandfather (widower of my great-grandmother Lina), my paternal grandmother Elli’s step-father (since her childhood), did in fact Johann Jakob get Elli pregnant?
Well, he did. My father had a younger brother – Rainer.
Pictured from left to right: My father Roman, my grandmother Elli, my grandfather Johann Jakob and my (now deceased) uncle Rainer.
How do you talk about a supposedly black sheep? My grandfather Johann Jakob, who I never personally met as he died many years before my birth, was according to stories a very choleric person. (My mother who told me this never met him too.) To this day my father doesn’t really speak about Johann Jakob, who he doesn’t consider a family member, although he only learnt on his 18th birthday that he was not his biological father. I think that speaks for itself.
I know I asked my grandmother about my grandfather when I was a child. And everytime she avoided talking about him. Finally saying she didn’t want to talk about him anymore.
Of course I cannot reconstruct the family dynamics in detail. My father will not talk about it. My grandmother and my uncle are dead now. My mother told me about those dynamics when she tried to explain certain behaviours of my father, grandmother and uncle.
What she told me was that Elli more or less had been forced by her family and the (state or city) officials to marry her step-father. They told her the officials would take away her child when it was born. This was a common thing back then and backed by laws. She would have not been able to make contact with her child until it was considered an adult. Back then that meant turning 21 years old!
What happened within this marriage … Rainer was born in 1949. My mother, a teacher, pedagogue and feminist, said of this a lot of things. However I will not write them down here. Just like Mama I will not state my thoughts on this private matter publicly. And Elli and Johann Jakob cannot speak about this anymore.
Maybe Elli and Johann Jakob did fall in love? Without any pressure? I would like to hope that this is what could have happened. For my grandmother. But even this has a bad taste about it. Because Elli was 7 and 8 years old when her mother married Johann Jakob.
Summing up my thoughts on this theory: No, it is not possible Johann Jakob is my father’s biological father. Eddie White does exist and whoever he is, is my father’s biological father.
Only reason why I put this theory here: I have tested my DNA with FamilytreeDNA with the FamilyFinder test. Someone contacted me having seen my name Hartmann on my profile, asking me if I had ancestors from Hesse. That startled me quite a bit. However the last name „Hartmann“ shows up in Elli’s family lines also.
Someone completely different
My last theory: Someone completely different is the biological father. That photo has nothing to do with him. Reason against it is the facial similaries between Eddie White and my father, my brother and me. Why should grandma Elli tell this story if there was no truth to it? Her neighbours reacted so strongly against her pregnancy that at least something was really „off“. Maybe she did have a very inappropiate affair with someone from Nauheim? Who would the men be that had already returned from the war?
A DNA-test with the family of E. White is necessary. This way or that way, proving or disproving. That DNA-test needs to be done somehow. For that I will need to find a search angel …