I had the connection to my family and the world famous Spurgat body contortionists. Leo Spurgat born November 26, 1900, was a first cousin of my father, Alfred Spurgat born September 24, 1908.
Not only that but my aunt was born in Essen November 17, 1900, and Leo was born November 26, 1900, only nine days later. They probably played together as children until Emma immigrated in August 1905.
It seems likely that the family connection faded away with the death of father Johann Spurgat a year after his younger brother Adolf left in 1905. Yet Adolph must have kept in contact with someone in the family or why would he have taken his son Alfred with him to try to see theCircus Spurgats in Grand Rapids when the circus traveled there in 1934 and 1935?
In 2010 I had included only a portion of the advertisements, records, images I had collected. After all I could not prove the relationship.
Was there any way to find out about Leo’s career in Europe?
One day I simply googled Leo Spurgat. That led me to the My heritage.com where I found the name Leo Spurgat and the webmaster of the Kaadner-Solberg website, Flemming Solberg. Helga Christensen Spurgat was his grandfather’s sister (great aunt). Leo was my grandfather’s brother’s son (first cousin once removed.) Close enough.
Flemming had been intrigued by a picture of the performers that had hung on his grandfather’s wall and he also had seen the same picture from Life magazine. While I worked to imbed his findings into an expanded appendix, he worked on a timeline of their performances.
In the next six months the information about performances in American, Europe, and North Africa from the 1930s to the 1950s flew back and forth across the Atlantic. I sent Flemming everything I had from the Circus World Museum Archives and the Harvard Theatre Collection. He sent me all the advertisements, information from city directories, Danish censuses, parish records, civil records, family documents, and online research he could find. I must have rewritten the appendix more than a dozen times, expanding it to 31 pages! It is an alluring addition to the addendum.
Without establishing the blog and all the steps in between, I would never have known that the most famous people with MY last name were so closely related to be my father’s first cousin! Now it makes so much more sense. In 1934 or 1935 my grandfather took his son, my dad, to meet his nephew and my father’s first cousin, but were turned away. The same thing happened in New Jersey with my grandfather’s half brother who also took his son to see the Spurgat perform when they came. They went knowing they were part of the family, not just people with the same last name.
This complicated, 20 year search which combines American and German archival research, Internet research, collaborative research with two other European researchers, one German and one Danish, has been among the most productive searches I have completed. Ben and Flemming are my Pilgrim and my Mayflower! That is about as close as East Prussian-Lithuanians can get to finding a famous family connection!
Even this month Flemming and I continue to work together on locating descendants of his Danish family, who also assumed the Spurgat name as their stage name.
More recently, I learned the exact location of the Ciruqe Medrano in Paris in the Montmartre area where the Spurgats performed. Picasso also lived there during that time and that the Picasso Museum in Paris holds over 200,000 personal papers including ticket stubs from the Cirque Medrano. Is it at all possible that Pablo Picasso saw the Spurgats perform? One 1930 painting of a female “artist” suggests that Helga Spurgat might have been inspired by a Picasso painting. And is it also possible that the Spurgats performed there at the same time in the post WWII era that Buster Kreaton, who is associated with an artist colony in the city in Michigan where I grew up, performed at the Cirque Medrano? These leads are a long way from the East Prussia-Lithuanian area of interest to most readers of this blog, but these last two questions illustrate the extensivemss of family history to indulge in.