Joanie Schirm is a retired CEO who, in many ways, represents the new face of retirement. She’s still learning, still growing, still active in her community and still working. Only these days, she’s working on a passion project.
That passion is uncovering the secrets of her family’s past and it’s turned her into an expert on genealogy.
After her parents died within days of each other, Joanie discovered a collection of old letters written in Czech that revealed her parents’ and grandparents’ past — a past that Joanie knew little about.
When she finished counting the letters, she realized she had 400 letters written by 78 people. She quickly became engrossed by what they were telling her and what they could tell the world about pre- and post-World War II Europe.
Her discovery led her to write the book, “My Dear Boy.” The title is inspired by the opening words of her grandparents’ final letter to their son (Joanie’s father). After writing it, they were taken to a concentration camp and killed.
The letter is full of their wishes for their son and how they hoped he would live his life.
Once Joanie started digging into the letters, she couldn’t put them down. They eventually brought her into contact with seven of the letter writers or their descendants.
This journey inspired her to write another book, “The Golden Youth,” which chronicles her investigation and the people she’s met, including two 91-year-old letter writers, an MIT professor, a scientist in New Zealand, a law professor in Canada and the former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.
Joanie explains how her new passion for genealogy has taken her around the world, including a one-month trip to Prague that brought her into contact with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the former president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic Václav Havel.
Find out her tips for starting your own journey into your family’s past.
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