When our ancestors set off for America searching for a better life, they often didn’t know what to expect or even where they would end up. While many stayed near the East Coast, others, the German and Irish in particular, chose to travel inland and make lives for themselves in St. Louis, Missouri. After all, the city and surrounding area offered the Mississippi River for trade, forests for hunting, land for farming and even hills for wineries. While I am lucky in knowing who my ancestors were and where they came from (From Germany to Missouri: My Own Family Story), there are many Americans who remain extremely curious about their family history.
This is where St. Louis Genealogical Society comes in. Founded in 1968, StLGS has been guiding people around the world in their genealogical searches for almost 50 years. Below, they offer you some of their very own genealogical expertise and tricks of the trade to help you with your own family search:
The St. Louis Riverfront, 1840
1. What is something most people don’t know about genealogical research?
Most people don’t know that only 10% (or even less!) of existing genealogical records are available on the internet. There are many more records available at churches, libraries, court houses, archives and other such places. So it’s very important not to limit your search to the online world!
2. What is the best advice you could give family historians?
The best advice we can give is to start at the very beginning. By this, we mean that you should confirm your ancestors in America before trying to find your ancestors in their home country hundreds of years ago. Have proof of each generation, starting with your grandparents, then your great-grandparents, and so on. Many people make the mistake of being too excited and trying to locate their great-great-great-grandfather in Germany as their very first step. However, as there were many similar names throughout history, this can lead to researching the completely wrong person!
Other advice is to research more than only your direct line. It is amazing how many clues you can find from documents related to siblings and aunts and uncles. Town names, parents’ names, etc. can appear in documents where your direct ancestor may not even be mentioned.
3. What is the best advice you can give family historians who are more experienced in genealogical research?
Review, review, review. When you started out years ago, you didn’t have the experience you have now. Therefore, it is very beneficial to go back and check your work that you did when you began your family history search. You may have missed something important – a vital clue that could help you unlock a mystery of the past. Confirmation of all your research is also incredibly important.
Making a chronological timeline of everything is another piece of advice we find helpful. It helps to organize your information in a clear and concise way.
4. Can you tell us anything about German genealogy in particular?
Most of the German church books date back to the Reformation (16th century). Prior to the Reformation, there was no need to record names in church books, as everyone was the same religion and belonged to the parish no matter what. After the Reformation, people were both Protestant and Catholic, so it was necessary to record which people belonged to which church.
5. What are the oldest records available in St. Louis?
As St. Louis was founded in 1764, most of the records begin in 1765.
Records, Records and More Records Available at StLGS
6. What do you think is one of the most challenging aspects of genealogy? How can genealogical societies help family historians with this?
As we stated above, patience seems to be one of the most challenging aspects of genealogy. People are anxious to find ancestors from hundreds of years ago, but this can lead to errors if the more recent ancestors aren’t confirmed first. Genealogical societies can guide people throughout this process and help them find out where and how to locate important documents.
7. What has been one of the most rewarding moments for you at StlGS?
St. Louis Genealogical Society hosted the National Conference last year. We had over 3,000 attendees and 110 volunteers. It was a great week, complete with many workshops and events.
8. And finally, do you have anything you would like to add about St. Louis Genealogical Society in particular?
St. Louis Genealogical Society is the largest local county-level volunteer-run genealogy society in the US. We have approximately 100 regular volunteers, many of whom come in on a weekly basis to help index, scan and more. We also have about 2,000 members worldwide. We are currently working on our congregation project, collecting records from 1,000+ churches in the St. Louis area in order to place them online for our members. We also work together with the St. Louis County Library and offer free monthly genealogy lectures there, as well as free classes for our members at our office.
“The Ballroom”, where St. Louis Genealogy Society volunteers are hard at work.
So whether you are delving into the depths of your own Missouri ancestors or are simply interested in the history of the city, the St. Louis Genealogical Society is definitely worth a trip. And if your ancestors never set foot in Missouri, these tips and tricks of the trade from the St. Louis genealogy experts can be applied to ancestry searches all over the world. From all of us, best of luck in your genealogy search!
* For those researching their German ancestry, StlGS and the St. Louis County Library are offering a discussion meeting on “Missouri’s German Heritage”, led by Dorris Keevin-Franke, on Saturday, July 9, at 10 a.m. in the auditorium at St. Louis County Library Headquarters.
* St. Louis Genealogical Society is open Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. See their website for contact information.
St. Louis Photo: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/look-back/look-back-cholera-epidemic-firestorm-afflict-st-louis-in/article_444e5a39-e350-5800-9697-94cdab955cd5.html
All other images are my own.