Description: In this Vivid-Pix sponsored webinar, come learn the ten most important facts about names in German records! From spelling variations and suffixes to straight lines and “Rufnamen”, this presentation teaches you the German naming practices that will help you find, locate, and understand your ancestor.
I was recently introduced to Noah Smutz through a mutual friend. When she heard what he did for a living, she had a feeling he and I would hit it off – and she was right. On our Zoom call last week, I had to really try and stop myself from asking him too many questions – something I’m prone to do when I get excited about a topic – but I just found myself wanting to know more and more about his fascinating line of work. Because you all love history as much as I do, I asked Noah if he would be interested in doing a formal interview about his job. Lucky for us, he said yes!
Read on to find out little bit about his unique career, some expert tips on family bible storage, and where you shouldn’t be keeping your old family photos…
Hi, Noah. Thanks for taking the time to talk today. First, can you tell us a little more about what you do for people who are not familiar with your work?
Hello – and sure, I’d be happy to. I’m a conservator – someone who cares for and repairs cultural heritage objects. Specifically, I am a book conservator. This means I conserve and repair old books and all types of archival records.
In the past year, for example, I’ve had books from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century, French and Indian War officer commissions, books on St. Louis history, a few prints, and of course, some family bibles.
Wow, amazing. So what is a typical day’s work like for you?
Basically, I make items whole and usable again. This includes tasks like reattaching the boards to a book, creating a new binding for a book, flattening a map that’s been folded for 70 years and mending the tears, and other things like that.
Noah at Work
That sounds fascinating. How did you get started in the field?
I have a bachelor degree in Classics from the University of Kansas. My original plan was to become an archaeologist, which culminated in spending six weeks on a dig in Crete. I loved Crete, but soon figured out that archaeology and I weren’t a good fit. While on the dig I was introduced to archaeological conservators, which was my very first interaction with conservators – and I was intrigued.
So, when I returned to the University of Kansas, I got a job as a student worker mending circulating collections – any books that can be checked out of the library and thrown in a backpack or book drop. That was when I knew that this career was for me. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I went to West Dean College in the United Kingdom and completed a two-year masters degree in conservation studies.
Learning to work with old books in the United Kingdom sounds like an incredible experience. What’s the oldest item you got to work with there?
While interning at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, I worked to repair a book from 1342 (though the binding was from the nineteenth century).
You’ve got me beat! The oldest document I’ve worked with is 1533 – and that book is from a full two centuries before. That must have been a great experience. Is that the most interesting document you’ve worked with, or would you say something else?
That was definitely interesting, but at the Smithsonian Libraries, I had the opportunity to work on a book called Principles of Beauty. It’s from the late 1700’s and depicts women with different shaped faces in profile. Different hair styles were then printed on very thin, see-through tissue paper. The book allowed readers to mix and match these different hair styles to see how they look with different shaped faces.
It was a fascinating piece because of its function. It was also an incredibly rewarding treatment. The binding had to be fully re-sewn before the original boards were reattached and a new leather spine was created. The tissue paper overlays were dirty, creased, and torn. So we then had to wash, flatten, and mend those. Finally, I created an enclosure to house all of those pieces together (For more information on the process, see here).
Old Book Before and After Treatment
Wow, I would be so nervous I would accidentally tear something! What is the hardest task you face when conserving books?
Nineteenth century materials can be tricky. As I’m sure you genealogists know, paper from the nineteenth century is usually very poor quality and extremely brittle. Leather from the same time period is similarly poor quality. This is due to the industrialization of production techniques without fully appreciating the long term effects of, at the time, new chemical processing procedures. Due to the delicacy of these materials, brittle paper, and crumbling leather, it takes additional focus and sometimes time to coax these items into doing what you want.
You need a lot of tools to work with old books!
That’s so interesting to learn that about the nineteenth-century paper. It is very brittle, and I never knew why. In addition to letters, a lot of our readers have family bibles, which I know you work with a lot. What would you tell people who want to keep their family bibles in good condition? Any steps they should take?
A box of some type can be incredibly helpful to protect family bibles. These bibles tend to be large and their own weight can work against them. A box keeps the boards from getting scuffed on the shelf and protects the bible if it’s frequently going from one family member to another. I’ve seen many bibles where the spine was detached 20 years ago and has been misplaced, or the marriages page came loose and disappeared at some point. A box helps prevent things like that from happening.
Additionally, if the bible is stored in an open place – on a table for example – make sure it does not receive direct sunlight as that will cause damage over time.
Book Before Treatment
Same Book After Treatment
Those are great tips, thank you. I see that you also provide photo storage services. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Sure. My family, like many of your readers’ families most likely, has boxes of old photographs that typically lived in garages, basements, or attics. There’s very little organization and you’re as likely to pull a photo out from 1880 as 1980.
There are many photo storage products on the market that claim to be ‘archival’, but that term is a marketing term that doesn’t mean anything. So it can be difficult for individuals to determine which product to purchase and which product is best for the type of photograph they have.
There are many different photographic processes and they can’t all be stored in the same type of folder. In addition to these items, when a person goes to purchase photo sleeves or envelopes, they may only need 5 or 25 – but the minimum order size can be 100+. NS Conservation offers a service to rehouse all of a person’s family photos, and we then return them in an acid-free, archivally-sound box. This way all the items are stored correctly and the individual is not left with 75+ expensive photo sleeves that they have no use for.
That makes sense. I know a lot of my readers have some very old family photos. I always love when they share them with me and I get to see the faces of the people I am translating about! What’s your number one tip for photo storage?
Don’t put photos in the attic, garage, or basement. The climate in these areas is usually unregulated and large temperature and relative humidity fluctuations are especially damaging to photographs. It’s much better to store them somewhere in the main living space, even if it’s on a high shelf in a closet. Also, keep photographs out of direct sunlight.
All great tips, thank you! And finally, one last question for you, which you told me you get asked a lot. What is the difference between conservation and restoration?
Conservation is the act of repairing an item so that its lifespan is increased, while also not trying to hide that it has lived a life. Restoration is repairing an item in such a way that it looks like it did when it was new. For example, to conserve a book, the original boards will be retained even if they have water staining and are faded. Whereas restoring that book might mean making a new binding, or redying the cloth so that it is not faded and the water staining doesn’t show.
That’s a great explanation. I love the phrase “not trying to hide that it has lived a life.” That really fits well with what we also try to do as genealogists.
Thank you, Noah, for taking the time to explain book and photo conversation to us. Where can people find you if they want more information on anything we discussed?
Thanks for having me. My website is www.nsconservation.com and my other contact information is as listed below. Please feel free to get in touch!
Noah Smutz is a book conservator and the owner of NS Conservation.Noah has been in the field of conservation since 2011 when he started as a student worker in the University of Kansas Libraries conservation lab. He has since held internships for the Smithsonian Archives and Bodleian Library amongst others. He graduated with his Masters Degree in Book Conservation from West Dean College in the United Kingdom. Previously he has worked as a Book Conservator for the Smithsonian Libraries. Noah has worked with institutions such as the St. Louis Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Missouri State Archives, and the Missouri History Museum. He has been a member of the American Institute for Conservation since 2010 and a Professional Associate since 2019.
Maya Angelou once said, “The more you know of
your history, the more liberated you are.”
While studying history at the University of Utah about five years ago, I happened upon an article in TheNew York Times that changed my life. It not only reaffirmed my belief in the value of history, but also redirected my course of study within the field as a whole.
Entitled The Family Stories That Bind Us, this article provides scientific insight on the connection between doing one’s own family history and an increased capacity to develop resiliency in the face of opposition, specifically in the case of adolescent youth. In discussion of a study conducted at Emery University in the United States, this article concludes that:
The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.
insightful discovery! Having grown up in a society bursting at the seems with
childhood mental illnesses such as depression, ADHD, ADD, bipolar disorder, and
anxiety, I can affirm that the cry for psychological stability is literally
everywhere. Perhaps this is one way in which history, and more specifically our
own personal history, can have real, tangible benefits in the lives of everyday
people, children and adults alike.
How This Discovery Opened My Eyes…
After graduation, I began interviewing the elderly in my community. I listened to and recorded their life stories, and then made videos of their stories for their posterity to keep. The results were pretty incredible. My eyes were opened from behind the lens as I left each interview feeling inspired, strengthened and connected to something so much greater than myself. Their grit and tenacity, coupled with a greater perspective of life as a whole, changed me for the better.
It’s Bigger Than Me…
While I’d happily keep doing these 1-on-1 interviews for the rest of my days, I think that this is something bigger than just me. I believe with all my heart that every child, teenager and young adult need to have the experience of sitting with and really listening to someone much older and wiser than them.
I’ve come up with a way to make it easy and fun for young people to do just this; to interview and record their elderly relatives telling stories from their lives. (More on that here if you’re curious..). However, while COVID-19 is still a grave concern right now, I know we can’t physically visit our elderly loved ones in their homes. So! In the interim I’m instead encouraging *virtual visiting* of the elders in our communities!
My Challenge to You…
This week I challenge you or your kids to do a video-chat with someone in your life who could use a visit today. This could be a grandma, grandpa, a neighbor, or a family friend. Pick up the phone and FaceTime or Skype or Facebook video chat with them and just SEE the magic as they light up at the sight of your face. It will mean the world to them, and here’s the secret, it will mean the world to you, too.
And, if you need a little help to get the conversation rolling and keep it interesting, I wrote an ebook called Grandparent Chats a few months ago when quarantine began. It’s a collection of 10 curated questionnaires with the two-fold goal of:
-lifting the spirits of the elderly by engaging with them on a regular basis, and;
-inspiring youth to see personal value in the lessons our elders have to share.
The questions cover themes like ancestry, career, love & relationships, and spirituality. I’ve included a link to download thefirst Grandparent Chat for free here, if you’re interested!
In a society so focused on ‘having more’ and ‘being more,’ perhaps one way to thrive today is to better understand how we fit within history as a whole. Maybe one key to knowing how to best move forwards with purpose and confidence is to lean on the lessons of the past to provide guidance and context. I love these words written by historian Frank Harper nearly 9 decades ago in 1936:
While the outside is altered, the heart of life is unaltered.
We are, after all, a sum of many parts, and perhaps so much of that which has come before us actually does reside in who we really are.
Hi, I’m India – a new mom, fitness junkie and avid family historian. I believe that history gives us context, and I fear that in the midst of today’s fast paced world, we don’t take the time to appreciate the valuable lessons our elders have to share. My husband and I launched my passion project, Narrativo, in late 2019. We promote bonding between generations while giving families a way to preserve their stories with lifelike quality at a reasonable price. We strive each day to help young people find strength in the stories of the past, feel a sense of belonging in a greater human context, and to develop and intergenerational self. Check us out at www.narrativo.co!
Have you hit a brick wall? Is your one German ancestor giving you more trouble than you could ever have imagined? Luckily, there’s another source available – one you might never have considered. Thank you to Garth Wunsch for sharing his journey of using these fantastic sources with us!
How German City Directories Helped Me Find my Great-Grandfather
I’m seventy-five years old, which I seldom think about, but today is still the first day of the best half of my life… and at the rate my genealogical research is going, I may well need that next three score and ten… well actually, fifteen, to solve all the riddles my family history has posed.
Genealogy is strictly a hobby, so no professional letters after my name, no book credits, no public speaking… and in fact this is the first published article I’ve written outside my own genealogical society in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. So this is an amateur’s story using “ancient” city directories (German: Adressbücher) from Eastern and Western Europe. I was amazed at what they have to offer…
It all started with Grandma…
My interest in our family history began with a Q & A between my paternal grandmother and myself. Grandma was doing her usual thing… working at something or other around the giant flat-topped Findlay cook stove, the heartbeat of the home in pre-electricity Anywhere. Although that encounter was well over forty years ago, I still have the original notes I scribbled with a red pencil on buff newsprint!
Fast forward four decades…I’m attending one of our monthly genealogical meetings, and I come across a magazine left behind for us by another member. The feature article, on using the World Wide Web to research your German roots, included a website that I hadn’t seen before. I decided to check it out – and was very glad I did.
A Trip Back in time…
Once at the computer, I type in the link, and find myself inside thousands of pages of old German Fraktur text. I was, in effect, looking through pages and pages of digitized city directories spanning many decades of Berlin’s residents. In addition to names, these directories included:
Who else lived in the building
Double-index between name and address for businesses and individuals
Could my great-grandfather Adolph be somewhere in these historical pages?
To access these Berlin city directories yourself:
1. Go to https://digital.zlb.de/viewer/index/ 2. Click on the telephone and address book image. 3. Click on the little German flag at the top right, and it will switch to the British flag – and English text (no need to do this if you are fluent in German).
For other address books besides Berlin, simply Google “Adressbuch + your ancestor’s city” and see what comes up!
on the trail of my great-grandfather…
In 1900, the population of Berlin was 1,888,848 – a lot of names to go through! Luckily, the directory only listed the “heads of households”, so this narrowed down the search a bit at least…
From my Q&A with grandma forty years before, I knew that Adolph (the name he went by – and the only name I had for him) was a baker by trade, that he lived in Berlin, and eventually married the young Fräulein that delivered the baked goods every morning – the baker’s maid.
In the surname section, I began my painstaking struggle with the text, looking for our last name of Wunsch. I searched through the W’s, moving 50 pages at a time, until at last I landed in approximately the right spot.
But suddenly, those upper case W’s looked like fancy English M’s to me! Perusing page after page of Fraktur font had “fraktured” my brain and I had trouble remembering W’s looked so different! Because of that, I actually skipped past the name Wunsch on my first go. It appeared to my English brain as Munich. I was confused, how did I end up back in the M’s?
Then it dawned on me – again – hey silly, this is Fraktur and that is a W. So back I go, looking for that Fraktur Wunsch, and there it was!
I Found the last name, now what?
While the city directory is organized alphabetically by surname, under the surname, there are no rules. It appears they were just typeset in random order . So how to find Adolph?
Luckily, I only had six A. Wunschs’ to choose from. One was a female with her married name. (Useful tip… if a female is listed, she’s likely a widow, and you get her married name too). That narrowed my search down to five.
Recall I mentioned that occupations were listed in these records? There was a miller and and a cigarette maker… and my German isn’t good enough to figure out the rest… but thanks to Google Translate, I knew that “baker” was Bäcker. To my great good fortune, of the five names listed, there was only one Bäcker. I had him!
And the best part…
Based on the “A’, the last name, the location, and occupation, it had to be him, but what was that W before the A? I called up Gerry Rosenfeld, my German-speaking friend and a fellow researcher, to share my great discovery. Gerry had an Ancestry subscription, so off he went, and in twenty minutes called back with info on Wilhelm Adolph Wunsch. Everything matched with my great-grandfather, especially his birthdate!
Discovering this W was crucial to my future research – I could now use the name Wilhelm Adolph Wunsch to find more information on my great-grandfather (For more information on German names, see here).
And find it I did! Knowing his name was Wilhelm Adolph Wunsch allowed me to find his long-sought marriage certificate below:
I trust this little story will encourage you to keep up your search and find your own German ancestors!
1. City directories can provide you with the name, address, occupation, housemates, and business information of your German ancestor.
2. To access city directories, either use this link for the Berlin directories or type in the German word “Adressbuch + city name” to see if you can find your town’s address book.
3. The first names may be in random order under the alphabetized surname. Knowing the names are in random order is useful to remember if you happen to be searching a really long surname list, such as Schimidt. You just never know where your Schmidt is on the list…never give up!
4. Keeping a discovery journal as you make your great genealogy finds may be very helpful for future research (for yourself and other family members).
Born on a farm in 1944 in Mattawa, Ontario, I was raised in the mining village of Creighton Mine, now a ghost town, but technically part of the City of Greater Sudbury. The town consisted almost entirely of first and second generation European immigrants, so at an early age I developed an ear and love for those languages, which has proven valuable in my genealogical pursuits. In 2015 I was able to make a successful research and vacation trip to Poland, my paternal ancestral home.
I’ve been a member of the Sudbury branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, recently rebranded Ontario Ancestors, for about four decades. In that time I’ve been responsible for streamlining our cemetery transcription and publishing process, thus helping to greatly enlarge our database (and income). I also spearheaded the copying, indexing and publishing the employment records of about fourteen thousand employees of the Mond Nickel Company, the primary miner in the Sudbury Mining Camp from 1905 – 1928. Ancillary to all this is my ongoing support of the branch as an active photographer/memory keeper.
Description: Does the old German handwriting seem overwhelming? An obstacle insurmountable in your German genealogy journey? If so, it’s time to learn the top online resources that make deciphering that script much easier!
Professional German genealogy translator Katherine Schober will show you the tools she uses every day to make working with those scary squiggles doable – and – dare we say it – actually kind of fun. Register now to find the time that works best for you – limited spots available.