Charles Kolker wanted to know the story of his family.
What he discovered is available for everybody to read in his first book: “An American Saga,” which he describes as a 340-page biography of his family.
“It’s basically a family history,” Kolker said about his work. “It’s a history of four families coming from Europe to the United States, and their saga — where they came from in different parts of Europe, what it was like, where they lived, coming here and what they went through here.”
And along the way, Kolker found a deeper understanding of the history and family traits that made him what he is.
While the book flap describes the work as a real-life story of families, mostly farmers, who fled Europe in the mid-1800s to set up life in the New World, Kolker said the work is much more. He said part of it is the adventures of maternal ancestor James Lafayette Brown, who came to the U.S. from France in an area near the German border.
“The family ended up in Kansas and made the Oklahoma Land Run in 1889. He made a hand-written story of that adventure, which is part of the book. He was only eight or nine years old. That amazed me,” Kolker said, adding he has that hand-written account. “He recounts details that would have been impossible to recreate without that. He even talks about one of their dogs being poisoned by Indians or somebody who put something out to kill coyotes.
“To me, that’s the most important part — a first-person account of the Oklahoma Run. It brings back a part of history.”
Family members in Kolker’s life contributed their own tales. Kolker said he interviewed his father, who built the Greer Addition between Northwest 31st and Northwest 38th streets, an area that includes today’s Comanche County Memorial Hospital. It’s evidence of his family’s deep involvement in their community. It’s also a tale of the struggles and jealousies of the era, he said, explaining his father also wanted to build houses in Elgin.
“They fought him,” he said, remembering his father was told “nobody wants to buy any houses here”, for it was an era where those who controlled things were anti-progressive and anti-growth. “Now look at Elgin.”
Kolker found other things: He has the marriage certificate of his great-great-grandfather — “in French, of course,” he said, with a laugh — that helped him identify some relatives. Some research was as simple as hitting Google, Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. While Kolker did a lot of research — he has subscribed to ancestory.com‘s world edition for more than six years specifically to get access to records in other countries — he also had help from his family. That includes the next brother down (Charles is the oldest), Robert.
“Robert should have been the one to write the book. He’s more of the genealogist,” Kolker said, explaining his brother was stationed in Germany while serving in the Army and decided to do some genealogical research.
More to the point, Robert speaks some German and he wanted to track down some of the family history while he was stationed in one of the family’s home countries.
“We did not know where in Germany the paternal side came from,” Kolker said, adding he had the name of a town, but three towns in East and West Germany shared that name.
Robert went from town to town until he found the correct one, discovering the family had been in that town for at least a century.
“He found a friendly bishop who led him to the records,” Kolker said, explaining such records were kept by the church, not the government. “That’s how it got started. And, once I got started, it’s hard to stop. Your family keeps branching out and branching out and branching out.”