Returning to his roots: Chris Falteisek’s ancestral journey
The year was 1976 and Chris Falteisek was in sixth grade at St. Joseph Parish School in Prescott, Wis. He had been watching "Roots" on TV, and his teacher gave an extra credit option of researching family history. The rest is of course, history.
The Prescott native is not only the minister of worship and music director at Christ Episcopal Church in Woodbury, but a substitute accompanist, photographer, composer, recording artist, concert performer, professional genealogist and researcher.
Falteisek has been enamored with genealogy since he asked his grandmother, Mayme Dobos, for help in researching his sixth-grade project.
"She brought out a box full of newspaper clippings, obituaries, funeral cards, wedding and graduation cards and thought this box would be sufficient to start my project," Falteisek said. "I became hooked. ... It has allowed me to travel and meet relatives all over the world and find out more about my ancestors and cousins."
Falteisek spent five weeks in Norway, Sweden and Poland May 10 through June 15 visiting the ancestral countries and villages of his mother, Sylvia Dobos Falteisek.
His maternal grandmother, Mayme Steien Dobos, was of Swedish and Norwegian descent, while maternal grandfather Peter Dobos was of Polish descent.
While overseas, Falteisek connected with many cousins. This was his fifth trip to Sweden and his second to Norway.
"I first met cousins through email and have corresponded with them over the years," Falteisek said. "My cousins have made reciprocal visits to the U.S.—several cousins have visited the U.S. several times."
He kept family back home up-to-date with a daily blog. Highlights of his journey included:
• Visiting the ancestral villages of his Swedish ancestors in Gränna and Lindesberg
• Visiting Göteborg's port where his ancestors left Sweden for America
• Meeting and taking a picture of Jens and Mia Spendrup, owners of Gastgivaregard and Spendrups Beer, in Grythyttan
• Visiting the ancestral villages of his Norwegian ancestors in Folldal, Alvdal, Dovre and Lesja
• Performing in concert with recording artist cousins Audi & Bjørn Barstad in Folldal
• Attending the Barstad family reunion in Folldal
• Celebrating the Norwegian National Day, Syttende Mai in Trondheim
• Researching the archive system in Norway
• Visiting the ancestral villages of his Polish ancestors in Brzostek and Januszkovice
• Finding church documents of his Polish ancestors
Falteisek, who started playing organ and piano for church as a sixth-grader, has composed and recorded 15 contemporary Christian albums. He has performed in Sweden, Norway and around the U.S.
In 2014, his Norwegian cousins Kjell and Solveig Barstad surprised him at his concert in Guldsmedshyttan, which set the stage for him to perform May 21 with their children in the Dalen Church in Folldal, Norway. Audi and Bjørn Barstad are members of a rock group called Katthult. He called it the number one highlight of his trip.
"I wonder what my ancestors would think of my return back to Norway, as they left Norway almost 140 years ago so that they could have a better life in America," Falteisek mused.
This trip was his first visit to Poland. While English is spoken fluently by many in the Nordic countries, such is not the case in Poland. Falteisek relied on a family friend to translate.
"When in Poland, food was different than what I am used to, money was different," Falteisek said. "I could not understand the language and my journey immersed me into such opposites as rural city life and the big city life in cities such as Kraków and Częstochowa. In one sense, my time in Poland was exciting, new and something like I have never experienced before, but in another sense, I was out of my comfort zone and not in a life I was familiar with."
Unfortunately, Falteisek's return home from his five-week sojourn was bittersweet.
His father, Frank Richard Falteisek, died unexpectedly the morning after he came home.
"He and my mother were to celebrate their 60th anniversary with an open house that Saturday," Falteisek said. "Instead, we celebrated my dad's life and had his funeral."
Both of his dad's parents were born in the Czech Republic. Frank worked at St. Croixdale Hospital in Prescott for 38 years, while Falteisek's mother (who was born in Pepin) retired from Burlington Northern Railroad after 31 years.
His older sister, Cindy Penker of Marshfield, is a voice and piano teacher. His brother Andy works at ProAct in Red Wing. Sister Denise LaCroix transferred to the Ford Motor Company location in Louisville, Ky., where she recently married Rich Cornell.
Falteisek is a familiar name in Pierce and Pepin counties in Wisconsin, where he is active in preserving and recording the area's history.
His advice for beginners is to use ancestry.com and findagrave.com. His website shares several links he frequently uses in his genealogical research.
He's a member of the Prescott Historical Association and has served as an officer in the Pierce County Historical Association.
"I am a member of several genealogy associations and am the vice president of the nord-Hedmark og Hedemarken Lag—a genealogy and cultural group that has roots in the Hedmark area of Norway," Falteisek said.
He frequently gives presentations on his travels and genealogy research, weaving them into concert performances.
Wednesday, Falteisek gave a presentation on his recent journey at Christ Episcopal Church.
Anecdotes, insights, music, pictures and videos of Falteisek's travels were part of the presentation. Joining him to assist with Nordic and Polish music were local musicians and friends Michelle Sieben and Christine Shoemaker.
For more information regarding Falteisek's music, genealogical research and photography, visit falteisek.com.