Vision and Mission


TRACES brings people of different backgrounds and perspectives together to speak with each other, respectfully and expectantly, in order to exchange experiences and opinions. In the process, old stereotypes and current ideological limits shift, making space for greater openness and new possibilities when we encounter one another. We tap the past for clues about what to avoid repeating in the future, as well as what worked well in the past that might serve us well now as we seek a better way forward towards a more peaceable world.


Humans create and shape ways of living. In the process, we leave behind traces. In short: Humans make history.

TRACES sees history as encounters between various ways of living, transcending borders or eras. We invite people to converse about their own history and origins, and about the history of their nations as well as their ancestors’ roles in that larger story.

As we tell stories, we experience history. And, in as far as we live our own (hi-)story authentically, we shape history. Out of this awareness arises a responsibility to shape our world justly and peaceably. As a project, TRACES fulfills its role without belonging to a political body or espousing a certain worldview.  Still, we remain firmly convinced,

  • that we can learn from each other through conversation
  • that through conversation we can learn to better understand and respect each other
  • that no life is in vain.

For that reason, we actively advance understanding among people

  • through educational events (lectures, seminars, publications, films, etc.)
  • through exhibits (e.g., about U.S. or German prisoners of war during WWII, history-sensitive sustainable ecology or tracing family history)
  • through encounters between witnesses to history and people of other ages.

Through such means we explore

  • our own cultural roots and that, which sustains us
  • the biographies of people who have experienced war, ecological disaster, emigration or other dramatic, life-changing events
  • our own responsibility to create a future worthy of living, in the spirit of reconciliation and peaceability.

We look forward to your participation and support.

Thank you!

Note about website background images:

The eyes shown on the TRACES banner are those of Phyllis Thrams (later Luick), circa 1948.

The sod house scene shows her grandparents (Christian Ludwig on the far right and his bride, Lydia Elizabeth [Ehrhardt] Thrams, standing below the scythe on the shake roof), great-grandmother (Maria [Barlow] Thrams, near the doorway to the soddie) and great-uncle and -aunt (Hermann Thrams, near the horse and gig; Maria [later Weber] Thrams, standing between Christ and Lydia), near Onida, in what was then “Dakota Territory” (now “South Dakota”), northeast of Pierre. “Christ” (as he called himself) and Lydia had married in 1885 and were homesteading with his parents, brother and teenage sister. After “proving up” on their claim having stuck out four years of drought, then a fifth year when locusts came and ate every plant-based fibrous thing, the beleaguered family retreated to Iowa. There, their (great-)granddaughter, Phyllis (Thrams) Luick and her son, Michael Luick-Thrams, grew up on Ashlawn Farm, between Mason City and Clear Lake, which the family owned for 105 years. Their harsh homestead experience marked the family for decades.

This photo embodies cultural ties between Germandom and the United States: The Thrams family had emigrated three decades earlier from Pomerania (“Pommern” in German) to Wisconsin, where Christ met Lydia, whose family had emigrated from Alsace (“Elsass“). As seen in this photo, it was as if these uprooted Teutons had landed on the face of the moon.