Germany trip reveals Keighley man's lost family heritage

Mike Gilbert pictured with some of his German relatives and on his travels around the country. Picture courtesy of Giessener Allgemeine Zeitung

Mike Gilbert pictured with some of his German relatives and on his travels around the country. Picture courtesy of Giessener Allgemeine Zeitung

First published in Keighley by

A Keighley man’s investigations into his family history have uncovered European origins which he says may have been deliberately concealed.

Mike Gilbert, 63, of Emily Street, began trying to uncover his family’s story late last year. He initially thought his middle name – Winzer – indicated German roots, only to learn it is actually his surname that has German links.

He said he believed anti-German sentiment in Britain aroused by the two world wars could have led to his family’s background being kept hidden then later forgotten.

He has discovered his ancestors first arrived in Dover in 1839 after leaving the small settlement of Dutenhofen in the German region of Hesse.

The anglicised names of the immigrant family are recorded on a Dover customs certificate, which records the profession of the adults as ‘strolling musicians’.

After months of research, Mr Gilbert travelled to Hesse in September. He said he met many German Gilberts who were fascinated to encounter a distant relative and a descendant of the father, mother and four children who left for England 173 years ago.

During his week-long stay he was hosted by local amateur genealogist and historian Gunter Agel who had previously confirmed his ancestral link to Dutenhofen.

He said that thanks to Mr Agel’s knowledge of local parish records he could now trace his family history as far back as 1652.

He said he was overwhelmed by the hospitality he received in Germany, and very pleased that his careful genealogical detective work had finally paid off.

Mr Gilbert is retired but used to work as a medical photographer. He was born in Liverpool but has lived in Keighley for two years.

He added: “My visit to Germany generated a lot of media interest in the Wetzlar and Giessen areas and two newspaper articles were published about it. It was a really wonderful experience.

“The fact that the remaining German Gilbert family is still musical is interesting, as my father was first clarinet with the Liverpool Philharmonic, my uncle was Geoffrey Winzer Gilbert, Britain’s top flautist between the 1930s and 1960s, and my grandfather was a well-known oboeist.

“Other living and deceased family members have or had strong musical connections. I’m a blues singer and play American-style slide guitar. I’ve played semi-professionally and used to run a blues band in London.”

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