Luxembourg man searches roots in northwest Iowa
REGIONAL — A man all the way from Frisange, Luxembourg, discovered more about the roots of northwest Iowa during his recent visit.
Marc Klein said he has been interested in genealogy since about 2010 when he discovered relatives of his in Yankton, South Dakota, and Ohio.
“When I found some people, I started searching for more and then automatically that led to finding more people,” Klein said. “I found out a lot of people in my family immigrated to the United States of America.”
His first visit to the United State was in 2016 during which he went to Belgium, Wisconsin, where the Luxembourg American Cultural Society & Center is located. The center is home to one of the largest collections of resources pertaining to Luxembourg genealogy, heritage and culture outside of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg itself.
“Luxembourg is a very small country, but it is its own country,” Klein said. “It isn’t part if Germany, France or Belgium, but it’s right in the middle. It’s its own country with its own language, which is very important.”
He continued his research after his first visit to America and helped genealogist Prosper Kayser compile information in book form about the genealogy of many communities in Luxembourg. Klein provided him with data about people who immigrated to the United States. Kayser died in 2020 but left behind more than 20 written works as well as a heritage museum in the town of Bech-Maacher.
Klein planned to come for the Luxembourg Heritage Society of Northwest Iowa’s 150th Lux Fest celebration in 2020, but it was postponed due to COVID-19. The event was held in 2021 in Alton, but Klein has not been able to return to the United States until now.
Klein was asked to join the Luxembourg American Cultural Society Board of Directors in 2020. He worked with the board remotely, attending meetings through Zoom. This year, however, he was able to attend the annual Luxembourg Fest in the town of Belgium on Aug. 11-14 before coming to northwest Iowa.
“People from Luxembourg and people from all over America come there to celebrate,” he said.
Klein highly recommend checking out the Luxembourg American Culture Society either online or at their facility in Belgium which includes a museum, activities throughout the year and lots of information for anyone interested in Luxembourg heritage.
Klein said the town in Wisconsin was where many Luxembourgers settled when they first came to the United States, and therefore remains the place where their heritage is maintained and celebrated in America.
“They say between 1830 and 1900 about 50,000 to 75,000 Luxembourgers immigrated to America,” Klein said. “So, you can imagine how many Luxembourg descendants we have today in America, which is amazing.”
He many people of Luxembourg decent in the United States get dual citizenship through the Luxembourg American Cultural Society.
“People do it for different reasons,” he said. “They do it for nostalgic reasons, but also so their children can work in Europe and have more possibilities.”
After his visit to Wisconsin, he made his way to northwest Iowa.
“I had this opportunity because I was here for Luxembourg Fest, and I said, ‘OK, I’ll take a car and jump over to Sioux and Plymouth County,’” he said.
Klein was in northwest Iowa for private research on his distant family members. He came with a list of names that he was looking for more information on in the archives of several libraries. He has a database of more than 50,000 people in his family tree, some of which immigrated to the United States.
Klein arrived in Sioux County on Aug. 16 and began his search in the Sioux Center Public Library and then went on to the Le Mars Public Library.
“You have a lot of information online today, but here at the libraries, you have newspapers, you have the atlas, you have the church books,” Klein said. “A lot of information that is not online.”
He said he found a lot of information at the Sioux Center and Le Mars libraries.
Klein said he was especially thankful to Wilma Vande Berg with the Greater Sioux County Genealogical Society who helped him find all the records the Sioux Center Public Library holds.
Four brothers with the last name of Alesch were of particular interest to Klein. He said the brothers came to Plymouth County from his village of Frisange. He had mentioned them in a few articles he had written and wanted to find out more.
“It was four brothers who immigrated to Remsen, and one even made a political career, Gustav Alesch, and was rather famous, which was very important because honestly, it wasn’t simple for people who immigrated from Luxembourg. They could not speak English. They came with nothing to start a new life in a new country,” Klein said.
He is thinking of writing an updated article with the information he has found and releasing it in English.
Klein explained a bit of the history of Luxembourg and what lead to an influx of immigration to the United State
“For a time, we belonged to Spain, we belonged to France, Austria, and then after the Napoleon wars, we belonged to the Dutch king,” he said. “After the 1830s, it was rather difficult because of the Dutch king. Taxes were very high, farmers did not earn a lot due to bad weather, and military service was mandatory.”
These reasons and others like job shortages led to many Luxembourgers looking for new opportunities.
“Other people who already immigrated would say, ‘Come over to America, it’s fantastic,’ and that’s why a lot of people came over here,” he said. “It is true that some people had problems here, but some became successful.”
Klein planned to visit a few other places before leaving northwest Iowa. He planned to attend a meeting of the Luxembourg Heritage Society of Northwest Iowa in Remsen as well as see the archives of Alton, Granville and Hospers.
He does genealogy research purely because it interests him. His job back in Luxembourg is as a deputy head of corporate sales for Luxembourgeoise-Vie, a life insurance company.
“It’s a hobby,” Klein said. “I enjoy traveling and coming to America, I enjoy the people here and my research isn’t just one direction, if the Heritage Society needs help to research in Luxembourg, they can contact me also.”
Remsen’s Oktoberfest will take place Saturday, Oct. 29, and the Luxembourg Heritage Society traditionally mans a booth during the evening celebration in the Remsen St. Mary’s High School gym. Ideas for displays and ways to attract new members will be discussed. In addition, updates to Luxembourg exhibits at the Remsen Heritage Museum will be planned.