To The Other Europe
2/1/2002
Hungary for your family history? Anxious to Czech out your ancestry? Stake out your forebears from Albania to Zagreb with our guide to tracing Eastern European roots.
Travelers to Eastern Europe trek to Sighisoara to see the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, better known as Dracula. The house itself is ordinary, bearing only a small plaque in honor of its famous occupant. But when you roam the citadel's medieval battlements and archaic, cotton candy-colored buildings, it's easy to understand why Transylvania has inspired so many spooky stories.

Romanians are quick to point out that the vampire lore is fiction — torture tactics aside, Vlad “the Impaler” is revered for his efforts to unite Romania. Yet Transylvanian tourist shops happily capitalize on foreigners' misconceptions by hawking Dracula merchandise.

Which I, of course, couldn't resist. Two “I Love Dracula” bumper stickers and a stack of Vlad postcards later, I trekked to the old Saxon cemetery behind Sighisoara's 16th-century Church on the Hill. Ambling between the overgrown plots, I recalled a conversation with a neighbor back home. She told me her husband had Romanian ancestry — her brother-in-law used to tease her kids that they were descendants of Dracula. She laughed and said the kids ought to look at the photos of my trip to see what their ancestors' country was really like.