Reclaiming ancestral citizenship in Luxembourg



"Don't we have some ancestors from Luxembourg?”

The voice on the phone was that of my younger brother, Bob. Usually laconic and often needling, his voice was, instead, eager and excited.

“A bunch of them,” I answered confidently, although I was equally sure I couldn’t name a single one. “What’s up?”

“I just read an article in the paper about reclaiming our Luxembourg citizenship,” he said. “But we’re running out of time.”

Quickly he summarized the La Crosse Tribune article for me. A judge in Luxembourg found that citizens who had left the country in the 1800s had had their citizenship illegally taken away from them. A subsequent law issued by Parliament in 2008 gave the direct descendents of those affected 10 years to reclaim citizenship. (The window of opportunity will close in December 2018.)

Thus began a 2-year odyssey to achieve dual citizenship, maintaining our American citizenship and reclaiming our ancestral right in Luxembourg.

The how and why

We began by tracking down the genealogy of our mother’s side of the family, which a relative had compiled two decades ago. There I found the names of my grandmother’s parents, Maria Feyen and Wilhelm Zanter, from Welscheid, Luxembourg.

I asked my 88-year-old mother about them.

“You mean Grandpa Bill?” she asked.

She remembered him coming to live with her family when he was an old man. Born in 1853, Wilhelm died in 1944 and is buried in St. Joseph, a small town just outside La Crosse, Wisconsin.

With everything in place, we contacted the Luxembourg American Cultural Society (LACS) and set up a meeting at their national headquarters in Belgium, Wisconsin. There, we were told that about 80,000 emigrants from Luxembourg had gone to America in the 1800s. Their descendents accounted for about 2½ million Americans today.

Brothers Glenn and Bob Schmidt in front of Luxembourg City’s Hôtel de ville.

We signed up for their extensive two-part process for reclaiming citizenship.

The first part would require us to confirm our eligibility (through Grandpa Bill), and the second would require us to confirm our own legal status, including getting an FBI background check. LACS would translate everything into the mandatory French.

At this point in the story, most people ask, “What good is citizenship in Luxembourg?” Besides the obvious benefit of connecting with our past, there are three others:

1. You can vote in European elections. Check that. You must vote. It’s the law.

2. Your Luxembourg passport will serve as your health card. Anywhere in the European Union, you can receive free health care.

3. Your grandchildren (and their descendents) will qualify for almost-free college anywhere in Europe. (Great Britain is excluded because of Brexit.)

The last step of the process is to show up at city hall (Hótel de ville) in Luxembourg City to sign the papers. The first generation (me) and the second generation (my son) both will have to be there in person. The third generation (grandkids) does not.

While successful completion of the process assures citizenship, a Luxembourg/EU passport would still need to be obtained.

Luxembourg has embassies or consulates in three US cities: New York, San Francisco and Washington, DC. Applicants would have to go to one of those cities after citizenship has been confirmed in order to get a passport.

In the midst of our application process, my brother and I and our wives took a preliminary trip to Luxembourg in April 2017. We found a beautiful, affluent and cosmopolitan place nearly identical in size to Dane County, Wisconsin, where I live. Each is about 1,000 square miles and inhabited by a little more than half a million people.

Our next trip to Luxembourg is scheduled for June 2018. On that visit, we will sign the final papers, and our older sister will be joining us, as will nearly all of our adult children. It will be a family reunion in a place where our ancestors are from but where most of our family members have never set foot.

The details

A shopping street in Luxembourg City.

If you want to reclaim your Luxembourg citizenship (and you are eligible), there is still time. The Luxembourg government has adjusted the timetable a little. The application needs to be completed by the end of 2018, but the required in-person visit may now be postponed until the end of 2020.

While you can attempt to negotiate the process by yourself, your French had better be good — and your genealogical research abilities even better.

Contact LACS (phone 262/476-5086, www.lacs.lu) for assistance if you want to take the easiest route. Figure costs at about $1,000 per adult, although the pricing system for their assistance is more complicated than just a flat fee.The voice on the phone was that of my younger brother, Bob. Usually laconic and often needling, his voice was, instead, eager and excited.