COLUMBUS -- Gerhard Reese ran his fingernail across the gravestone, rubbing off a bit of grime that collected over the years.
In a thick German accent, Gerhard joked that he should have brought a toothbrush to clean off the marker in Christ Lutheran Cemetery. He was there visiting the gravesite of his great-great-grandparents, Johann Hinrich and Anna Marie Reese.
Gerhard traveled from Buchholtz, Germany, to meet up with a third cousin, Dan Reese, of Nashville, Tenn. The two came to Columbus last week, meeting for the first time face to face, to research their family history and visit their roots.
Dan, 56, who is originally from Grand Island and grew up in Kearney, has been into genealogy for years, claiming he got started when he was in kindergarten because of an assignment by his teacher. Wanting to dig deeper into his father’s side of the family, Dan put out an inquiry online about the Reeses. He knew that part of his family was from Germany, but wanted to know more.
Johann and Anna Marie Reese immigrated to Platte County in 1873 from Germany, bringing with them three of their six children. One of the children who came to Nebraska, a daughter, Engel Sophia Reese, married William Becker, brother of J.P. Becker, one of the founders of Columbus. Dan is a descendant of the son of William and Engel Sophia.
Dan had done extensive work on his family tree during history class at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He has information dating back as far as the early 1600s. He kept up the hobby after college, but wanted to know more about the Reese children who remained in Germany. That is when he posted a message about them online.
It took several weeks, but Dan eventually heard from Gerhard, 73, who explained he is a descendant of one of those children, a son, Caspar Ludwig Reese. That makes the men third cousins.
The two, along with a few other relatives, spent a day in Columbus visiting cemeteries where their family members are buried. Their first stop was Christ Lutheran Cemetery. Dan retold stories he discovered about the Reeses, confusing some of his own family members listening in who hadn’t quite memorized the bloodlines like he had.
One of the departed relatives he was most impressed with was William Becker, who was a city clerk for more than three decades in Columbus before he died in 1929.
“He worked for 30 years and never missed a day of work. He never took a vacation,” Reese said.
Becker’s obituaries claim he was a true pioneer of Columbus and that he never was absent from a meeting of the city council during his time as city clerk. He only left office because of failing health.
Becker came here in 1863 from Columbus, Ohio, to visit J.P. Becker. He liked it so much that he stayed, becoming the first city librarian, one of the first members of the Columbus Fire Department and a charter member of Immanuel Lutheran Church.
Discovering bits and pieces of their own family is what has kept both Dan and Gerhard on the quest to find out more about their roots.
Neither know when they will stop digging, but without their inquisitive nature, they never would have bridged the thousands of miles between them to meet.