5 Overlooked Resources for Eastern European Genealogy Research (Guest Post by Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A)

When tracing Eastern European ancestors, it is no secret that church registers and civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths are the most popular and useful sources for extracting important genealogical information. However, there are other record groups to be searched that may prove useful for gleaning additional details, especially in the absence of church and vital records for your locality. This article will discuss five other key resources you might be missing.

Before You Search

Remember there are two key pieces of information you need to have before you can successfully trace your ancestors in the old country:

  1. You must learn the immigrant’s original name.
  2. You will need to obtain the specific name of the town or village of origin from searching records created for or about the immigrant after arrival, and then using maps, atlases, and gazetteers to pinpoint current and historical locations.

Search Strategy

Many one-of-a-kind resources (letters, photographs, and other ephemera) exist in libraries (especially those with dedicated Slavic/Eastern European collections), historical societies, ethnic genealogical societies, and museums located throughout North America. You will also want to extend your search to similar repositories in Europe. Accessibility and availability will vary by country and local area. Privacy laws may apply.

Below is an overview of some of the most overlooked resources.

1. Census Records.

As you probably learned from exploring US or Canadian census records for your ancestors, the prime value of census records is for grouping families together. In Eastern Europe, censuses were usually taken for tax and military conscription purposes. Searching census records can be hit or miss depending on the country, the region, and whether or not registers have been preserved. Because of shifting borders and the destruction of records during wartime hostilities, only relatively small portions of certain record groups survived in many instances. Therefore, you should check registers of births, marriages, and deaths (not census records) first, opposite of what genealogists typically do when looking at North American records for their ancestors. However, locating a family in a census record can help you place them in a particular location at a specific time period. Check the FamilySearch Wiki by country and look for a Census Records tab.

Figure 1: 1869 Census Record for Andrej Verbovszky Family Source: "Slovakia Census, 1869," images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L99V-FZS2?cc=1986782&wc=QZ77-BX7%3A323642201%2C323900301: 3 November 2015), Sáros > Milospuszta (Milpoš) > image 59 of 75; Bytča, Banská Bystrica, and Nitra Regional Archives.accessed 29 December 2020.

2. Military Records.

Military records are often considered a secondary resource because they are not easy records to locate. To find military records for the various armies in the Austrian, German or Russian empires, you will first need to understand the history of the time period in which your ancestors lived, as this determines whether your ancestor served during the Partitions of Poland, the Austro-Hungarian rule over the Czech and Slovak republics, etc. Next, you will need to know how the process of conscription worked and the regiment/military unit your ancestor served in. Finally, you will need to become familiar with the types of records (e.g., muster sheets, personnel sheets, military citations), which vary by regiment and period. Two excellent sources for research advice include, A Guide for Locating Military Records for the Various Regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by Carl Kotlarchik , and several excellent articles available from The Foundation for East European Family History Studies including the “Russian Central State Military Historical Archive” and “An Introduction to Austrian Military Records” by Steven W. Blodgett.

3. Land Books, Cadastral Surveys, and Tax Lists.

Land records, cadastral surveys, and tax lists are other documents that can provide additional clues about your ancestors. While often difficult to track down, land records may serve to fill in some of the generational blanks in a family tree, and tax lists can offer a glimpse into an ancestor’s financial and social status. Land records are primarily used to learn where an individual lived and when he or she lived there. They often reveal family information such as a spouse’s name, heir, other relatives, or neighbors. You may learn where a person lived before, occupations, and other clues for further research. The primary advantage of using land records is that they go back further in time than the parish registers of births, marriages, and deaths. Often, the same land was passed from generation to generation. Land records may be deposited in various archives, so you should check with the archivist to make sure you’re searching in the correct places. Cadastral maps were created to determine the economic potential of manors. Maps of manors depicted the actual configuration of farms, with bodies of water, roads, and other natural objects. The maps are accompanied by description books, which describe garden plots, fields, hay lands and pastures, and more. Just as we do, our ancestors paid taxes, and documentation from this process can be another potential source. In some countries, you will find revision lists that contain personal data on household members. Consult the FamilySearch Catalog, or check with state, regional or local archives.

4. Emigration Documents/Passports.

Most genealogists look for incoming passenger lists, but in some instances, there may be documents such as emigration lists, permissions to emigrate and records of passports issued. The information in these records may include the name, age, occupation, destination, and place of origin or birthplace of the emigrant, but if you don’t find them among family documents, they can be difficult to locate and typically reside in state or regional archives. Some countries kept records of those who left. Ancestry.com has Hamburg Passenger Lists, Handwritten Indexes, 1855-1934 and S., Passport Applications, 1795-1925 searchable online. To view a variety of passport documents, check out the Flickr Passport Photos collection by user mákvirág.

5. Town or Village Histories.

Individual towns or villages may also have published histories. These sources can come in book form or published or town or village websites. Search for the town or village name on Google, as your ancestors’ names could be mentioned in these narratives. While it could be a challenge to obtain a copy if you don’t have any living relatives in the town or village, you can always try contacting the local historian or mayor or check if the village has a page on Facebook. For example, my maternal grandfather’s family is mentioned in a book (Dejiny Osturne) about Osturňa, Slovakia, that was published by historians there. I also recently learned of a book about one of my other ancestral villages, Kučín, which mentions my book Three Slovak Women, and my 2010 visit there!

SK-Blog-EE-Image-003
Figure 2: Cover of Dejiny Osturne

Keep in mind that records are organized by location so be sure to check all parishes, archives, and local register and mayor’s offices in the ancestral town or village. While some record sets may be available online, others exist on microfilm or in print form, through FamilySearch or country-specific archival and other websites, so be sure to check back periodically for new or updated collections.

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A., is a freelance writer, instructor, and internationally recognized lecturer, specializing in Eastern European research and writing your family history She is the author of 11 books and hundreds of magazine articles. Lisa works as an online educator and writing coach through her website Research, Write, Connect, https://www.researchwriteconnect.com and developed the Eastern European Research Certificate Program for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies.  Visit https://www.lisaalzo.com  for more information.

10 Must-Knows When Starting German Genealogy (Guest Post by Kathy Wurth)

From Katherine: I first met Kathy several years ago, when I was in the beginning stages of moving my German translation business into the genealogy field in particular. Kathy and her colleague Cindy were  kind enough to meet up with me in St. Louis , hear about my business, and give me some insight about working in the genealogy field. At that meeting, I was also fascinated to learn about Kathy’s business – Family Tree Tours – and her genealogy group, Germans in St. Louis. Through both of those ventures, Kathy has gained a depth of knowledge about German genealogy – knowledge which she has kindly agreed to share with us today. Enjoy!

10 Must-Knows When Starting German Genealogy 

A few months back, I asked my German research group to give some examples of what they wished they had known when they were starting out with their German genealogy.  From their answers, we’ve come up with quite a helpful list! Below, find ten facts of German genealogy research you should know before you delve in to the world of your German ancestors:

#1. ALWAYS LOOK AT CHURCH BOOK RECORDS (at home and abroad).

Church books are the most important resource you will have to find more information on your German immigrant. Since many immigrants went to German parish churches when they came to the States, and the pastors did the books in the style of the Old Country, you have a good chance of finding a place of birth in a marriage, baptism, confirmation, or death record. Once you find your ancestor’s hometown, your next step is to look at the church books in Europe to verify your family was actually from there. You can then trace additional generations back and see if a previous generation originally came from another village.

To learn to work with German church records, see The Magic of German Church Records by Katherine Schober.

#2. THERE waS NO NATIONAL CENSUS IN the eighteenth OR nineteenth CENTURY IN GERMANY.

Germany was not a unified country until 1871, and they have no census like we know it. There are census records in a few places, but there is likely no indexed census to find where your ancestor lived.  However, Ancestry.com does have a few censuses for Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Lübeck city.

#3. IF YOUR SURNAME HAS AN AE, OE, OR UE, IT COULD MEAN YOUR SURNAME HAD AN UMLAUT.

If your name is written Mueller in the U.S,  it could be Müller in Germany. If your name is written Droege in the U.S., it could be Dröge in Germany. Search for both of these surname versions when looking for your ancestor. 

#4. HAVE A LIST OF COMMONLY USED GERMAN WORDS USED IN CHURCH BOOKS AND THEIR TRANSLATIONS.

Here is a link for a German Word Lists:  https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/German_Genealogical_Word_List

#5. HAVE A LIST OF COMMONLY USED LATIN WORDS USED IN CATHOLIC CHURCH BOOKS.

Here is a link for a Latin Word Lists: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Latin_Genealogical_Word_List

#6. DON’T EXPECT NAMES TO BE SPELLED THE SAME EVERY TIME – BE FLEXIBLE.

Try not to assume or be adamant that your people ALWAYS spelled their name one way. You must try to search all variants of your surname. It is also important to remember that in the nineteenth century, many Germans had three names (a Christian name, a second name (call name), and a third name, followed by the surname.  They may have written any one of those names on documents.

#7. ONLY KNOWING The german state – such as prussia – IS NOT ENOUGH – YOU WILL NEED TO KEEP LOOKING FOR A MORE SPECIFIC AREA.

Google German maps in different time periods (like 1815 or 1874) to see what area your German state (Prussia, for example) encompassed.  This may be the hardest wall to break to find what specific area of Germany your ancestor came from. You will have to continue to search U.S. documents to find an individual town name. 

#8. YOU PROBABLY WON’T BE ABLE TO SEE YOUR GReat-GReat-GRANDPA’S GRAVE IN GERMAnY. GRAVES ARE RECYCLED EVERY 20-30 YEARS.

This is one of the most asked questions from people going on our tours and I hate to have to disappoint them when I tell them that there are few nineteenth-century gravestones left. The grave plots in Germany are leased to the family for 20-30 years. At that point, if they don’t renew the plot, it can be leased to a new family. You will have to check church books for a recording of your ancestor’s death. In some cases, we have been a little lucky and found a few old graves, but this is not common.

#9. IF YOU HAVE A HOMETOWN NAME, YOU MUST ALSO KNOW THE STATE IT IS IN AND THEN FIND IT ON A MAP. THERE MAY BE MORE THAN ONE TOWN BY THE SAME NAME.

If you have a hometown name, you should also make sure to find it on a map! You will need to know a state (Bavaria, Baden, Hessen, etc.) and a Kreis (County) since there are many towns with the same name in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  You should always prove you have the right town by searching the church books there for your ancestor’s name and birth/baptismal date.

#10. EVERYTHING IS NOT ONLINE – YOU MUST USE BOOKS, MICROFILMS AND GAZETTEERS as well. 

Please do not only search online. My biggest recommendation is to go LOCAL. Try contacting the local genealogy or historical society in the town or county your ancestor lived. Often, these societies may have indexes, records, and resources that are not online anywhere.  The locals are also more familiar with surnames and may have insight that would help you with your search.  Also, if there is a local public library, they may have a history/genealogy department that would be able to help. Call or e-mail them!

What other tips would you add for beginning genealogists? Let us know in the comments!

For more information on German research or heritage travel, please get in touch with us at info@familytreetours.com  To see our 2021 tours, see our website www.familytreetours.com .

Kathy Wurth is a researcher, speaker, volunteer and owner of Family Tree Tours, a heritage travel company, specializing in ancestral trips to Germany and Ireland and other European countries.  She is a member of several Genealogy societies and leader and founder of the Germans In St. Louis Research Group in St. Louis, MO. Kathy has been leading tours since 2007 and has helped hundreds of people visit their ancestral hometowns. 

Genealogy Beat the Clock: Black Friday Extreme Deals

Sign-Up Link: Genealogy Beat the Clock Event 

Click “Going” on the event page to join the event and get access to the extreme deals contest

What: Beat the clock – and your fellow attendees! This Black Friday, there will be the highest discounts ever offered on the below genealogy products: one new offer every ten minutes for sixty minutes. At 11:00, 11:10, 11:20, etc., the new extreme deal will be posted in the event, and the first ten people to write their name under that post will get the exclusive discount!

Don’t miss out on these once-a-year German genealogy deals to take your German research to the next level. Exclusive offers on:

 

– Reading the Old German Handwriting Online Course ($100(!!) off)

– The Magic of German Church Records Book, Signed and Personalized (30% off)

– Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting Book, Signed and Personalized (25% off)

– Premium Vocabulary Article Package (50% Off)

– Journey into German Genealogy Lecture Video and Handouts (50% Off)

– Birth, Marriage, Death Certificate Reference Guide Package (50% Off)

When: Friday,  November 27 – 11:00 AM Eastern, 10:00 AM Central, 9:00 AM Mountain, 8:00 AM Pacific

Will I see you Friday?

All products can be viewed at https://sktranslations.com/shop ahead of time. 

A Family’s Quest for Truth: Is Their Treasured Heirloom the Famous X-Rayed Ring?

Have you ever seen an image of the very first X-ray? Look at the fourth finger. What do you see?

If you guessed “ring”, you are correct. When German physics professor Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered the X-ray in November 1895, the first image he took was of his wife Anna Bertha’s left hand – with her engagement ring prominently displayed for the world to see. Upon seeing the ghostly image , Bertha is said to have exclaimed, “I have seen my own death.” 

Fast Forward 120 years...

In 2017, I received an e-mail from a new translation client named Allison Stabile. She and her cousins, Frank Wilson and Paul Heidorf, all descendants of the Röntgen family, were on a quest to prove that the golden ring that had been passed down by their relatives for generations was the ring – the ring in the x-rayed image of Bertha’s hand that had become famous throughout the world. 

All signs pointed to the fact that it was. The interior of the ring was engraved with the name F. Röntgen (you’ll soon see why an F…) and the date 1869.  Family lore and photos of Bertha and other ancestors showed a very similar-looking ring on the women’s hands throughout the ages.  But Frank, Allison, and Paul wanted to be absolutely sure.

The ring, engraved with the name F. Röntgen and the year 1869

The ring's journey through time

Frank Wilson received the ring from his Aunt Julia (Louise Grauel’s granddaughter) in 1979. At that point, he determined to prove the ring’s connection to the famous x-ray once and for all. 

Through Frank’s extensive research, he came to believe that the ring was made at a workshop in Emmerich, Germany in 1839, as it was there that his great-great-grandfather Ferdinand Röntgen married Henriette Catharina on April 30, 1839 (there’s our F!). 

ferdinand
Ferdinand Röntgen, uncle of X-ray discoverer Wilhelm Conrad Rôntgen

After Ferdinand’s wife’s death in the 1860s,  Frank believes that Ferdinand passed Henriette’s ring on to his beloved nephew, future discoverer of X-rays Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. When Wilhelm and his fiancé Anna Bertha were engaged in 1869, it was this special family heirloom that he gave to his bride-to-be.

Close up of engravings in the ring
Anna Bertha (known as Bertha), posed with her engagement ring on her finger, sometime between 1869-1872. This is the first known picture of the ring.

After Bertha’s death in 1919 – during a time of economic hardship in post-World War I Germany – Frank believes that Wilhelm Conrad had the ring sent back to its original owners, specifically to his cousin Louise Grauel, now in America. She had emigrated with her brother Johann Heinrich and her father (Wilhelm Conrad’s uncle) Ferdinand in 1872. As you can imagine, this ring was extra special to Louise, as it had originally belonged to her mother, Henriette. 

As time progressed, this special family keepsake was passed down through the generations, until it eventually made its way from an aunt to Frank himself in 1979. 

KatherinaHusserRoentgen
The original recipient of the ring, Henriette Catharina (Louise's mother)
Louise Röntgen Grauel, seen with the ring on her pinky finger in 1929

The Quest begins

After he came into possession of the family heirloom, Frank was ready to prove its authenticity – and that required going back to the land where the ring had come from.
 
Over the years, Frank researched the life of Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, and then made multiple trips to Europe following in his famous relative’s footsteps. Röntgen’s physics laboratory at the University of Würzburg, Röntgen’s birthplace of Lennep, Germany, and Röntgen’s hometown of Apeldoorn in the Netherlands were just a few of the stops on his research trips. Frank also journeyed to Utrecht and Zürich, the cities where Röntgen had received his education. Along the way, he consulted with various experts – antique experts, goldsmiths, engraving experts, and more –  to assist him in his quest for verification. The Röntgen Museum in Lennep and the Deutsches Museum in Munich also became frequent points of contact as his quest continued. 
Cousin Allison joined Frank in searching for clues in Lennep, Germany in 2017 (Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen's birthplace)
Antique specialist in The Netherlands assisting with the ring

So what did the experts say?

While each expert assisted Frank in their own way, it was an expert goldsmith in Switzerland who told Frank that the ring had actually been resized in the late nineteenth century – which fit perfectly with the theory that the ring given to Bertha had originally belonged to someone else with a different-size finger. Henriette, perhaps?

An engraving expert then informed Frank that the ring engraver was likely not an expert himself and that he had probably been working without a magnifying glass. Based on detailed examination of the engraving, it was this expert’s opinion that the “1869” portion of the engraving had been done by a different engraver or with a different engraving tool – thus supporting the fact that the “1869” was added at a different time than the name “F. Röntgen”.Could it have been for Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen’s engagement to Bertha? 

Following these findings, multiple experts recommended that Frank have a DNA analysis of the ring performed. This could help solve things once and for all.

It was that path that Frank decided to embark on next. 

Many tests were carried out on the ring in Europe.

in the meantime...

While Frank was hard at work getting clues about the physical ring itself, Allison Stabile, Frank’s third cousin and great-great-great-granddaughter of Uncle Ferdinand Röntgen, was busy herself.

Allison – whose middle name is Röntgen – had hundreds of documents and photos in her possession, family keepsakes that had been passed down to her through her family line.  She met Frank on Ancestry.com while trying to identify certain shared ancestors in photos. But shared ancestors weren’t the only thing these two Röntgen cousins had in common…

After years of online contact, Frank and Allison finally met in person in November of 2016, researching with fellow Röntgen descendant Paul Heidorf in the archives at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. On that trip, Frank proudly showed Allison the famous ring – and more.

In addition to the ring, Frank showed Allison two forks and spoons that had been passed down to him from his Aunt Julia. These spoons, with hallmarks proving they were made in Amsterdam in 1842, were from the 1842 Amsterdam wedding of X-ray inventor Wilhelm Conrad’s Röntgen’s parents. Their monogram (RF, for Röntgen and the wife’s maiden name of Frowein) was carved on the back. More impressed with the ring than the spoon, Allison didn’t give them much thought, until…

Röntgen descendants Allison Stabile, Paul Heidorf, and Frank Wilson researching together at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio (2016)

Two years later, Allison was sorting through all the family heirlooms that she herself had received. Her eyes widened in shock as she stumbled upon two familiar-looking silver spoons. She turned them over –  that same R and F were on the back! They were from the very same Dutch set that Frank had showed her two years ago! 

While neither Frank nor Allison know how the spoons came to America or how the set got separated and divided up among two Röntgen family lines (who might never have met each other without Ancestry.com), this coincidence between the third cousins made Allison and Frank feel even more united on their journey to prove the ring’s origins. 

spoons
One of the 1842 Dutch spoons from Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen's parents' wedding in 1842

But let’s get back to the mystery of the ring…

With Frank searching for physical proof on the ring itself, Allison started looking for written proof. After all, she had those 19th-century letters and photographs from the Röntgen family in her possessions. Could the ring have been mentioned within those old German pages?

And that’s how I got involved. With the letters in German and the old German handwriting, Allison couldn’t read them herself. Through a series of referrals, she found my website, and I was so glad she did. The family’s quest to find the ring’s origins sounded like an exciting challenge to me!

I made sure to tell Allison what "ring" looked like in the old German handwriting, in case she happened to stumble across it when sorting her letters!

Starting in 2017, I began translating multiple letters for the family – beautiful handwritten letters from Friedrich, Wilhelm Conrad’s father, and Ferdinand, Wilhelm Conrad’s brother. While the discoverer of X-rays was mentioned in the letters (at one point, his father said they were moving back from Holland to be closer to Wilhelm Conrad in Germany), dozens of translations produced no mention of the ring itself. Back to the drawing board.

While we haven’t found any mention of the ring – yet!-, I’ve really enjoyed translating Allison’s special letters and learning the history of the Röntgen family. 

A cruel twist of fate...

With the letters not producing any written clues, Frank and Allison turned back to the physical ring itself. In 2019, Frank again set off to Europe, ready to follow the experts’ advice and have the DNA in the engraving of the ring tested in Switzerland. Perhaps DNA could prove the ring’s origins once and for all.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.

When Frank awoke from a nap on the train ride from Düsseldorf to Switzerland, the ring – along with some cash – had vanished from his nearby backpack. The thief had only left the ring’s plastic bag behind. 

Frank acted quickly, immediately reporting the theft to the local police in Düsseldorf. But despite the quick action, the police were unable to locate the thief. The ring was gone. 

But There's Still Hope...

For years, Frank, Allison, and Paul have been working diligently to trace the origins of their beloved family possession, an item that also has immense meaning to the scientific community. In fact, once the ring’s origins were proven, Frank was planning on donating a replica to the Röntgen Museum in Lennep, Germany, so that the entire world could share in this ring’s special story. But before he could do so, the ring was cruelly stolen – and the thief likely had no idea what he had taken from the family.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. In the last few months, interest in the Röntgen ring story has provided the cousins with a glimmer of hope. When I was in Salzburg last summer, author Alexandra Nagele became interested in the family’s story and decided to interview me about my work with the Röntgen letters and the ring itself. That article was published in the Salzburger Nachrichten, the main newspaper of Salzburg, this past September. Through that recent article, other newspapers have expressed interest in the fascinating saga and more articles are forthcoming. 

Perhaps, with enough media attention and getting the word out, the ring will resurface someday – and people will be able to recognize and return it when it does. 

 

121614146_1346651302348965_5188817612894435589_o
The article in the Salzburger Nachrichten Newspaper, September 2020
WCR
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen
FrankWilson
Retired neurologist Frank Wilson, who has done an incredible amount of research on the history of the Röntgen ring and Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen himself

Will you help to spread the word about the missing Röntgen ring? Share the story on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with your community and genealogy groups. The more people that know about the ring’s fascinating history, the more chance of it being found and returned someday. You never know what can happen when we all work together.

How One Word Traveled Around the World (Guest Post by Narelle Kukowetz)

Greetings from a beautiful, snow-dusted mountain in southern Austria. In the last weeks, I have been diligently working my way through Katherine Schober’s fantastic online course Reading the old German Handwriting. And in getting started with my new skills, a journey of one word ended up taking me around the world. Here is my story.

HELLO KURRENTSCHRIFT!

When someone discovers Kurrentschrift (the old German handwriting) for the first time they would be hard pressed to be anything but perplexed. 

“You’re telling me, THAT letter is an ‘e’?”

The letter "e" in Kurrentschrift

A Little About Me:

To give you my background: I am an Aussie living in Austria, married to an Austrian who himself has a Slovene father and a Croatian mother!

It was my husband Bernie’s fascinating history that inspired us to delve into genealogy and family history research and over time that led to the creation of our website Project Ancestry.

As explained in the German handwriting course, Kurrentschrift was used throughout the entire German-speaking realm, and it was while researching Bernie’s Slovene ancestors that I first came across this baffling (yet somehow beautiful) form of handwriting.

So what’s the best way to improve any new skill?  Practice!

THE JOURNEY OF ONE GERMAN WORD

My mum in Australia (who has avidly toiled over our own family tree over the last twenty years) was uber excited to find out that I am learning the Kurrentschrift.  So much so, that she didn’t waste any time recommending my (cough-cough) amazing new-found translation skills…. to a distant relative in Canada!

The next thing I knew, I had an 1885 civil marriage record from Berlin in my inbox, along with the question:

“Are you able to decipher the words between – Tochter der …….. ……. worker?” (daughter of the… worker)

A MISSION FORMED

Bernie is a native German speaker (which helps immensely) and he could clearly see that ‘jetzt’ (meaning now) comes after the word ‘der’.

“The daughter of the now…..”

But what comes next? We did have one clue! The word most likely describes what comes directly after it, Arbeiter – worker.

And so, armed with the key of the Kurrentschrift letters, Bernie and I attempted several different possibilities:

“verstorbene” – deceased

“pensioniert” – retired

“geschieden” – divorced

“arbeitslos” – unemployed

None of those words fit.

The first letter of the word had us completely stumped as, to our eyes, it bears little resemblance to any of the Kurrentschrift letters.

We tried different methods:

a) Entering potential words into the online script generator deutsche-handschrift.de.
b) Comparing the letters to others written within the document.
c) Enlarging the letters by zooming in the computer screen (this only makes it harder).

We were none the wiser.  A new tactic was required

The word "geschieden" (divorced) produced by the online script generator linked in letter "a" above.

We decided to send it to our clever German friend Ralf in Adelaide, Australia.

Nope, Ralf had no clue either.

So Ralf sent it on to his father Ernst, in Germany, who evidently ‘loves a good challenge’.

Nope, Ernst had no clue either.

Ernst then sent it on to his aunt (she is well into her 90’s) as she had learnt Kurrentschrift as a child!

SO WHAT WAS THE WORD?

We believe the word is “verehelichten” which is an older spelling of “veheiratet”, meaning married. (Genealogy Translator Katherine Schober: Yes, that is correct!

So if you look back up at the extract from the document, the complete sentence would be:

“Tochter der jetzt verehelichten Arbeiter Starick Johanna Friederike”

“Daughter of the now married worker Starick Johanna Friederike …”

Mystery solved.

We forwarded the solution to my mum in Australia, who then sent it back over to Magarethe in Canada, who in the mean time had also sent it to a friend in Germany for investigation!

SUCCESS

It took seven (very determined) people from four countries BUT we finally had an answer!

The moral of the story?

Use your network. Oh, and never give up on a good challenge!

Can you imagine the registry office employee from 1885, not knowing that some 135 years later, just one word they had written would have so many people interacting?

I think it’s amazing.

About the Author

Narelle (Nelly) and her husband Bernie Kukowetz are the founders of Project Ancestry.

Project Ancestry is an online platform and growing community for family history and genealogy research. We focus on a unique part of Europe that intersects three beautiful countries which historically have always been intertwined: Austria, Slovenia and Italy (Friuli Venezia Giulia). 

That’s in the Archives: Using State Archive Websites For Your Genealogy Research (Guest Post by Melissa Barker)

Are there records you aren’t finding because you don’t know they exist? We know that not all genealogy records are online, but they are being digitized and added to websites daily. Digging deeper into state archives websites to find your ancestor’s records just might be the next step in your genealogy research.

What is an Archive?

Understanding exactly what an archive is and the different kinds of archives is essential.

An archive is defined by the Society of American Archivists as: An organization that collects the records of individuals, families, or other organizations (http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms).

There could be one or more of these types of archives in any area where your ancestors lived:

  • County or local archives collects and preserves local government records and historical records
  • State archives collects and preserves government records and historical records from across the state
  • An historical society that collects and preserves local records is also considered an archive.
  • A genealogical society that accepts donations of family records is an archive.
  • A museum that has exhibits and displays may also have records collections and would be considered an archive. Don’t forget the museums!
  • Local public libraries that have genealogy rooms with records in them are archives.
  • University & Colleges with on campus libraries and archives is a great archive resource.
  • Religious denomination archives collect and preserves church records of all kinds within their specific denomination.

The term “archive” is not solely used to represent a county or state archive; any organization that accepts, collects and preserves government, historical and genealogical documents, records, memorabilia and artifacts is considered an archive, even if they don’t have the word “archive” in their title.

Where Do I Start?

Knowing where to find the records and how to find the records is the first step in digging deeper into archives. It’s always best to start at the local level and glean all you can from these archives:

  • Try to narrow down the area where your ancestors lived to the specific county (parish) and the specific city within that county (parish)
  • Find out what archives are in that specific area, where is the facility and obtain contact information.
  • Talk to the archivists, librarians, clerks, county historians and educate yourself about what records are available and where the records are physically located
  • Locate and bookmark the websites of each local archive.

Going to the Next Level

If the records you are looking for are not at the local level, they may be at the state level. All 50 states in the United States have a state archive and all of them have a building you can visit. Best of all, every state archive has a website. If you are not able to travel to the state archives to do research in-person, their website just might be the next best thing.

Locate the website of the state archive for the state where your ancestors lived. Doing a simple Google search should bring up the state archive website. Once you are at the website, explore and investigate the entire page. Getting yourself familiar with the website itself and how it is arranged will help you when trying to locate specific record sources. 

You will also see that you may have to dig and click on everything to find what you are looking for or to find the hidden sources on a state archive website. Some specific pages or sections that you should be on the lookout for are ones that have page headings having to do with genealogy or history. The records and information you are looking for most likely is not going to be on the front page of the website. Take some time to really dig into the website and make notes about what you find and where things are located so you can return to those pages easily.

Online Sources

Many state archive websites have sections entitled Online Sources. This is where you will most likely find indexes, finding aids and information about the records collections the archives have at their facility. This section of the website could have multiple layers, so don’t be afraid to click through the pages to see everything that is available. This is where the researcher will find indexes they can search for their surnames. 

Manuscript Collection finding aids can also be found in this section. The finding aid is a “road map” to any manuscript collection and will help you determine if there is something within the collection that is of interest to you and your genealogy research. You may also find indexes to the Vertical File Collections at the state archives. Many state archives also provide an index of the county records they have in their collections and this index could very well be on their website.

Online Exhibits and Displays

Many of our state archives have digitized their documents, photographs and artifacts and created online exhibits and displays for their visitors. Just like in-person exhibit and displays, this is a chance for the archives to show their patrons what they have in the back rooms of their facility. More and more archives are adding online exhibits and displays to their websites to attract researchers. These online exhibits and displays will have digitized documents, photographs, and artifacts on many different subjects. Some state archives will change out their online exhibits and displays periodically, so it is important to check back often.

 

Digital Archives

State archives are the epicenters of document collection and preservation for each state. More and more state archives are encouraging their institutions to digitize as many of their collections as they can so these records can be shared with the public. These digitized documents, photographs and ephemera can be found on the website for anyone and everyone to view.

State archive websites can be a true treasure trove for the genealogist. If you are not able to travel to the states where your ancestors lived to do research, digging into the state archive website might just be where you find that piece of information that tears down that brick wall.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Melissa Barker is a Certified Archives Manager and Public Historian currently working at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives. She lectures, teaches and writes about the genealogy research process, researching in archives and records preservation. She conducts virtual webinar presentations across the United States for genealogical and historical societies. She writes a popular blog entitled A Genealogist in the Archives and is a well-known genealogy Book Reviewer. She writes a bi-weekly advice column entitled The Archive Lady published at Genealogy Bargains. She writes history pieces for her local newspaper The Houston County Herald called From the Archives. She is a Professional Genealogist with an expertise in Tennessee records and she takes clients. She has been researching her own family history for the past 30 years.

Essential German Genealogy Vocabulary: The Collection

Genealogy can be challenging enough searching for records – but what if you don’t speak the language in which those records are written? In this post, I’ve gathered all my German genealogy vocabulary articles for you in one place, so that you can find the words that best fit your genealogy needs. Enjoy!

Five Year Anniversary Celebration – Celebrating Five Years With You!

This September is our five year company anniversary! Thanks to you, it’s been an amazing journey – click play to find out why…

be sure to Watch to the end for a special gift (Digital Items include all vital record reference guides, Journey into German Genealogy video, and premium article package).

Thank you for all your support over the last five years! – Katherine

Hof- und Häusergeschichten: How Farm and Building Histories Can Help Your German Research (Guest Post by Scott Holl)

When it comes to searching for genealogical information, researchers with German ancestry have the advantage of access to many high-quality published secondary sources. Prime among these are Ortssippenbücher (OSBs), which I described in the June 2019 issue of the SK Translations newsletter. Hofgeschichten and Häuschergeschichten are additional sources that can provide valuable information about your ancestor.

Hofgeschichten are farm histories (Hof means farm). Häuschergeschichten are building histories (Haus means house but can refer generally to a building). Both types of publications pertain to a specific village or town and include chronologies of each property in the community listing a succession of occupants. Häusergeschichten, as the name suggests, usually include a construction history of the property, although Hofgeschichten can also include this type of information.

For the most part, the succession lists (Höfefolgen or Bestizerfolgen) pertain to tenants, as property ownership was usually impossible for common people until the late 18th to mid-19th centuries. Leases were heritable depending on the area of Germany, making it feasible for a family to occupy a property over many generations. This feature can make the lists useful for connecting generations.

Data is commonly extracted from tithe and tax records and may be supplemented by genealogical information from church records. Non-German speakers should be able to decipher the information in the lists if they can identify common words and abbreviations.

The chronological lists usually appear in the context of a broader local history that can help researchers ground their ancestral research in the larger historical and social context. Information can include historical development of the community, descriptions of churches and other important institutions, lists of war casualties, information about emigrants from the village, and maps and photographs. Researchers who do not read German may want to consult a translator in order to glean this information.

Example: Oberpreuschwitz

A farm history for the village of Oberpreuschwitz near Bayreuth, Bavaria was written by Ernst Wiedemann and published in Archiv für Geschichte von Oberfranken, Band 47 (1967) (Bayreuth: Historischer Verein für Oberfranken), pp. 7–110 under the title, “Hofgeschichte der Gemeinde Oberpreuschwitz, Kreis Bayreuth”.

The Hofgeschichte for Oberpreuschwitz begins with narrative sections outlining the historic development of the community through its land divisions among various landholders, and descriptions of the boundaries, characteristics, and ownership of the fields related to each house number.

This Flurkarte (field map) from the Oberpreuschwitz Hofgeschichte shows the village in the center surrounded by fields associated with the community in 1682. The different shadings refer to the key below the map that indicates ownership. Text in the article give physical descriptions of the fields, which are referred to by the number on the map, and notes which farms are associated with them.

The main section features the Besitzerfolge, a farm-by-farm chronological listing of successive occupants. The article also includes a Hofgeschichte of the neighboring hamlet of Unterpreuschwitz. The chronologies are followed by lists of sources used, a table summarizing tax-list data, and a name index.

The following chronology appears on pp. 55–56.

 

 

TRANSLATION:

House No. 17, a manor, together with House No. 20.

1596 Peter Jeger and his son-in-law, Hans Neukam, a forest worker.
1620 Cunz Graßinger, subsequently Forkenhof
1620 Hans Hacker, mentioned since 1618 (still unmarried), died 1646.
1646 Hans Hacker’s widow, buried 16 Nov. 1678, 80 years old.
(1662) Hans Hacker, the son, buried 24 Oct. 1700, 73 years old; married on 26 Oct. 1660 to Margaret, widow of Hans Walther in Donndorf and daughter of Hans Ritter in Simmelbuch, buried on 19 May, 1699, 62 years old.
1700 Hans Hacker, birth name Seeser, baptized on 24 Oct 1670, buried on 1 Aug. 1704, married on 23 Nov. 1696 to Barbara Popp from Eckersdorf, buried on 18 Feb 1731, 60 years old. Second marriage on 26 Jan. 1706 to:
1706 Hans Roder from Vorlahm, born 6 Dec. 1677, buried 11 July 1713.
1714 Third marriage (of Barbara Popp) on 13 Nov. 1714 to Nicolaus Tressendörfer from Eckersdorf, born 21 Feb. 1683, buried 10. Feb. 1731.
First half
1731 Johann Hacker, the son [of Hans Hacker and Barbara Popp], see House Nr. 20

The other half
1731 Hans Roder, the son [of Hans Roder and Barbara Popp], born on 17 April 1707, died on 4 May 1761, married on 12 Nov. 1731 to Anna, daughter of Hans Rieß in Dörnhof, born on 23 April 1716, died on 11 April 1778.
1772 Lorenz Roder, the son, born 1 July 1745, died 20 July 1811, married on 2 June 1776 to Anna Neukam from Dörnhof, died 12 July 1825, 74 years and five months old.
1811 Margareth Roder, the daughter, born on 20 May 1784, died on 20 Jan. 1829, married on 13 May 1802 to Leonhard Holl from Oberwaiz, born on 10 June 1782, died on 25 Feb. 1862.
1844 Johann Holl, the son, born 6 July 1818, died 1 Feb. 1886, married on 13 May 1845 to Anna Barbara, daughter of Adam Hacker, born 19 July 1821, died on 24 June 1893.
1889 Konrad Holl, the son, born 13 July 1864, died 17 June 1921, married 1 July 1890 to Kunigund Margaret, daughter of Konrad Kirschner in Melkendorf, born 10 July 1871, died 9 Feb. 1953.
1928 Adam Holl, the son, married on 5 Jan. 1938 to Margaret Körber from Unterpreuschwitz.

 

ANALYSIS:

This example shows that the farm at House No. 17 had been occupied by the Hacker family beginning in 1620. In 1700, Hans Hacker became the occupant. When he died in 1704, his widow, Barbara, married two more times, first to Hans Roder in 1706 and, after his death, to Nicolaus Tressendörfer. Both Barbara and her third husband died in 1731. The property was then divided between Johann Hacker, a son from her first marriage, and Hans Roder, a son from her second marriage. The property was split so that both sons could inherit tenancy. Johann Hacker occupied one section of the property, which was designated as House No. 20, and whose chronology continues in a separate list. In 1811, Margaret Roder inherited the property. She married Leonhard Holl in 1802, and the property continued in the possession of the Holl family until the end of at least 1928, when the list ends. A footnote next to Leonard Holl’s name on the bottom of page 55 in this example lists his direct ancestors back to Hans Holl, Sr., who was born about 1588.

Tables in the Oberpreuschwitz Hofgeschichte list farms with their obligations at different periods. In 1499, house nos. 17 and 20 had the status of half of a manor and that occupants owed 26-1/2 days of labor to the margravial landlord per year. By 1682, that increased to 70-1/2 days per year. In 1812, land reforms gave financial support to farmers to buy their properties outright. In 1854, the Holl family in house no. 17 owed 35 days of labor in the community fields and 13 days in the communal forests. Communal rights equaled ½, and they were to harvest four cords of wood from the communal forest.
 

 

This map from the Oberpreuschwitz Hofgeschichte shows the property associated with house nos. 17 and 20 (pink highlight added by author). The key below the map shows that the farm was a margravial property.

 

FINDING HOF– AND HÄUSERGESCHICHTEN

Some Hof- and Häusergeschichten are stand-alone publications, but many are included in histories of the local community. Look for books in which the village name is the title and words such as Geschichte, Chronik, Hofgeschichte, Hausgeschichte, Höfe, Häuser, and Heimatkunde (local history). The following are examples of titles:

  • Häuserchronik Braschstadt
  • Häusergeschichte Kirchberg bei Simbach am Inn
  • Häuser und Höfe von Paitzdorf und Mennsdorf
  • 500 Jahre Haus- und Hofgeschichte von Bobing
  • Holzgünz: Heimatkundliche Beiträge zur Geschichte der Ortsteile Ober- und Unterholzgünz

 

The Haus- und Hofchronik for Holzgünz, a village in the Swabian region of Bavaria, is very different in format and content from the Oberpreuschwitz Hofgeschichte.  It offers historical information about building construction and alterations, including photographs, and floor plans, as in this example. Narrative sections within the building histories describe the circumstances of occupant succession. Occupants are listed with birth and marriage dates. The Haus- und Hofchronik was published as part of a more extensive local history. (Hermann Immerz, Holzgünz: Heimakundliche Beiträge zur Geschichte der Ortsteile Ober- und Unterholzgünz, Kempten: Heimatbund Allgäu e. V. Kempten, 1998).

Hof- and Häusergeschichten also appear as articles in journals published by genealogical and historical societies in Germany.

The St. Louis County Library History & Genealogy Department actively collects these and other sources for German research. Search the library’s catalog at https://webpac.slcl.org/ or contact the History & Genealogy Department at genealogy@slcl.org. Other libraries with sizable German research collections may also have them, and they are usually listed in WorldCat. Many are available for sale at abebooks.com and other online book sellers, as well.

Locating Hof- and Häusergeschichten for a village or town and interpreting the information in them can be a challenge, but the results can yield and substantial amount of genealogical data pertaining to your ancestor and valuable historical and cultural information to add to your family’s history.

 

Scott Holl is manager of History & Genealogy at St. Louis County Library in St. Louis, Missouri. He holds a BA in German from Fort Hays State University, an MA in Theology from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and an MLIS from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.

From Germany to America: An 1853 Journey

During the course of the nineteenth century, millions of our ancestors left Germany and embarked on a new life in America. Whether the reason was the failed 1848 uprisings, the effects of the Industrial Revolution, or simply seeking an opportunity for a better life, the end result was the same – our ancestors bravely left behind everything they knew and moved to a foreign land halfway around the world.

Photo: https://gcaptain.com/maritime-monday-august-29-2016/immigrant-ship/

Fast forward two hundred years. If we genealogists want to discover the stories of these emigrant ancestors who so bravely left their homeland, passenger lists, emigration documents, and other records may provide the only clues available. But for some lucky genealogists, there is more: personal letters, letters written in the very hands of their ancestors, letters that detail their journey across the ocean and the beginnings of their new life in America.

Susan Hennefield is one such person who was lucky enough to find such a letter among her father’s belongings. I recently had the pleasure of translating this 1853 letter, and she has kindly agreed to let me share it with you here to showcase what an emigration experience was like in the mid-nineteenth century. My own ancestor, Gerhard Wolken, sailed from Bremen in 1854, so I like to think that he might have had a similar journey to Susan’s ancestor Wilhelm below! Perhaps your ancestors did too?

1854 Passenger List of the Ship “Jeverland”. My ancestor Gerhard Wolken emigrated to America at the age of 23, much like Susan’s ancestor Wilhelm Riecker below.

Background Info:

Wilhelm Friedrich Riecker was twenty-two years old when he left Germany for a new life in America. He was the second son of at least twelve children, and his father was a soapmaker in Kürnbach, Karlsruhe. Read on below to see his first letter to his parents after arriving in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York after a 57-day sea journey…

Williamsburg, Sept. 10, 1853

            Dear parents and siblings,

After arriving in my new homeland on August 13 after a 57-day sea journey, I am now picking up the pen to write. I hope that this letter finds you all still happy and healthy, as you were at the time of my departure. We left Mannheim on June 12 at 5:00 in the morning, arrived in Cologne at 7:30 in the evening, and, since there were no more tickets being issued then, had to spend the night in Cologne. We then left for Bremen the following day. They checked all our passports in Preußisch-Minden, on the Hanoverian border. Those who didn’t have the proper documents (which the authorities were not happy about) had to go back.

We stayed in Bremen the 14th and 15th. On the afternoon of the 16th, we left Bremen on a small barge and headed towards Bremerhaven. We didn’t arrive there until the 18th. In Bremen I had to pay half of a Prussian thaler for board, and then had to buy tinware for 1 thaler and a mattress for ½ a thaler. I didn’t buy a pillow or woolen carpet so that I could save my money.

In the passenger building in Bremerhaven, there were people who had already been there fourteen days or even four weeks because they were dealing with cases against the Bremen shipping clerks. It could have easily been the case that I would also have had to wait 14 days at the port because when I was in Bremen, I received a ticket without the name of the captain or the ship that I was supposed to go on. But I went straight to the office and said, “Please be so good and fill in these two spots for me.” They replied, “You won’t receive that information until you are in Bremerhaven.”  But I went back in the afternoon and asked him again, and then he did as I asked. As we were arriving in Bremerhaven, they took us straight to the ocean-bound ship and said, “Whoever has a ticket for the ship Orion led by Captain Schwartz, bring your things on board.” It was only me and a locksmith from Saxony who did so. The barge then made its way to land and everyone went into the passenger building. There they received food like on the ship, just a little bit better. Everyone had to sleep on their own mattress.

So on June 18, we departed from the port. It was a Saturday afternoon with nice, warm weather, and the ship steadily made its way out of the port. The next day we had a good strong wind, we flew like an arrow. If that wind had stayed, we would have made it to New York in 24 days. We sailed on the North Sea for 10 days. It was shortly after 3:00 in the afternoon when we would have gone through the Channel, but we had bad wind and could have been stuck there for 14 days. So we therefore sailed between England and Scotland, which was dangerous – when we woke up in the morning we were heading towards both of the islands, but then the ship was turned about again so that we were being pushed away from the islands instead of going towards them. That same day looked stormy. At the beginning of our trip it was so cold that you almost couldn’t stand being out on the deck. Later it was warm. We didn’t have very favorable winds, so we always had to veer quickly off course, to the right or to the left, which caused it to be a long journey. There were often storms. One time there was a thunderstorm at 3:00 in the morning. The storm appeared within ten minutes, and all the sailors, except for those who were on watch, were still sleeping. Then there was a scream, and all the boxes slid down. The sailors couldn’t reach the ropes to shorten sail, and then they were completely blinded by fire and lightning and then the darkness. But after the sailors had shortened sail, the storm was over.

Births that took place: 2 Deaths: 2  

Things went well on my trip to Bremen, but I can’t say anything good about the sea: in the morning, we received black coffee, or if someone wanted to have hot water and had their own coffee or wanted to make soup, then they could. Throughout the week, lunch consisted of: peas, beans, rice, barley, sauerkraut, and salted bacon, beef, potatoes. In the evenings, tea or water, ¼ butter for the entire week, zwieback, almost so small that you all would have thrown it to the chickens, 4 small little cakes of white zwieback per week, and 3 half liters of sweet water a day for four people.

Aug. 12. On Friday afternoon at 2:00, we saw land, but we couldn’t tell at first if it actually was land or just a cloud. We anchored at 8:00 and stayed there for two hours. At 10:00 we continued on again, and in the morning we were in front of the fort. Then a doctor came and asked if there were any sick people on board. Then we were taken, with the boxes, into the harbor on a tugboat. That was 3:00 on Saturday afternoon, and I was then in New York until Sunday morning. Then I went over to Brooklyn. I found Joseph after about forty minutes, without wandering aimlessly around Brooklyn too much before. The first week, I boarded at a German innkeeper’s, then I stayed with Joseph at H. Vollmer’s at the bakery until we found work for me. I am now working in Williamsburg at a comb and whalebone factory for an American. I earn six thalers a week for every dozen, and from that I need 2 ½ thalers for room and board. I am actually boarding at Christiana Billett’s place. She says to tell you all hello, and hello to her relatives as well. They are all healthy, as are Gottlieb Veit and his wife and Sophie Schaaf. They live an entire hour away from Joseph. G. Veit came to the bakery a few days after my arrival without even knowing that I was here. We then drove out to his home. When we got there, Sophie Schaaf was sitting in front of the house with G. Veit’s girl. I didn’t recognize her then. Elisabetha was not feeling well that evening of my first visit. They were all excited about my arrival and our reunion. Gottlieb Pfeifer, Wilh. Müller, we all get together every Sunday. Weißert will have told you that Joh. Pfeiffer has gone to California.

 Furthermore: Joseph didn’t receive the letter that I myself took to the post office in Kalrsruhe right before my departure. Write again soon about what Gottfried is up to in Karlsruhe. Joseph didn’t even know that Gottfried had left Kürnbach.

 I would very much like to know how things turned out this year with the recruits. I would also advise everyone that they should not travel via Bremen, but via Haven instead. I think that is the shortest way. Going through Bremen always takes longer and the highly-praised food on the ship that people talk about is not how it actually is. 

Joseph and I send you all our affectionate regards, as well as regards to all of our cousins Karl Pfeifer, Ch. Scharpf, J. Riecker, our cousins Susanna and both Johanna’s, and especially to our esteemed uncle in Ellwangen, our Gother Kärcher, J. Hamman, W. Brand, and their children, cousin Baumwirth, Mayor Drechsel, and our neighbor Joh. Pfeifer, and my friends whom I visited the last few days I was there, as well as to Georg Schaaf and Engelhard Müller.

            Don’t worry about either of us.

                        Your

                                    loyal son,

                                    W.F. Riecker

Also say hello to the recruiting leader and his wife. If both of her brothers want to come to America, cobblers can make good money here.

Did your ancestor come over from Germany in the 19th century? How have you found information about their journey? Let us know in the comments!

More Info: German Immigrants: List of Passengers Bound from Germany to New York, 1847-1854