Tracing Your Roots: A Guyanese American with a distinctive surname wonders if family lore about Dutch or German roots checks out.
Dear Professor Gates:
I am a first-generation American whose family hails from Guyana (and, further back, Germany). My father has a German last name: Rohlehr (pronounced “Rohlair”). I would like to know more about my ancestors in that line who first came to Guyana from either Germany or the Netherlands.
The story goes that during the Bismarck era in Germany, my ancestor Gertrude Rohlehr had seven sons. Six were killed in war, so she sent her remaining son, Swartz, away from Germany to save him. He made his way to New Amsterdam, Guyana, from Holland, where he ended up having two sons, Peter and John, with an unknown African woman.
I’ve been told that my family line originates from William Rohlehr, but William’s name is not mentioned in relation to either Peter or John, so I have no idea how he fits in. I have attached a PDF version of the booklet I received of my family history. Can you help me learn more about Swartz, his sons, and how they may be related to William? —Sharifa Rohlehr
The only English-speaking country in South America, Guyana is populated by people of many backgrounds, including African, South Asian, Dutch, British and Amerindian—a result of its history of colonization, the slave trade and migration.