In 1833, a small Baltic German periodical published observations on death and dying by a Lutheran pastor in provincial Ukraine named J.A. Rosenstrauch. Over the next seven decades, this text was published in German, Russian, and other languages, and was cited in debates about social reform, conservative ideology, antisemitism, nationalism, and other preoccupations of 19th century culture. Rosenstrauch himself remained an obscure figure, however, allowing readers – including Vasilii Zhukovskii, Nikolai Gogol’, and Nikolai Leskov – to imagine him as they saw fit. The afterlife of Rosenstrauch’s text sheds light on three major themes of microhistory: the role of non-elite individuals as intermediaries between centers and peripheries and between different cultures; the unreliability of texts, which can hide as much as they reveal; and the dialectical relationship between texts and life – how people construct the meaning of their lives through the texts they read and through those they write.