10 Must-Knows to Decipher Your German Ancestor’s Name

Deciphering names in genealogical documents can be a bit of a challenge. After all, you can’t just look in the dictionary to see if your transcribed name is correct. Having a grasp on the German naming system, therefore, can be very helpful for your research. Remember these ten facts below, and understanding those German names will become much more simple!

  1. “in” on the end of a last name is usually just a grammatical marker, indicating that the person with that last name was a female. My last name, Schober, may have been written “Schoberin” on a church record or certificate. When I am translating from German to English, therefore, I simply leave off the “in” of the last name, as it is a mere suffix to show that I am a female.This record reads “Jgfr (Jungfrau – Miss) Johanne Friederike Caroline Probstin”. Her last name would actually be Probst.

2. A straight line over a letter in a name will usually mean that the letter below is an “n” or an “m”, and that it should be doubled. You may see this on names such as “Anna” and “Johann”, and in last names as well. The “n” in Johann has a line above it. This means it should be doubled, and written as  “Johann”.

3. Names were sometimes written in the “normal” Latin script (the script we use) instead of the old German handwriting. You may have a document that’s written entirely in the old German script, but with your ancestor’s name written in  a script that looks like our modern cursive. 

Here the name August is written in the normal Latin script – no “swoops” above the “u”, a regular cursive “s”, etc.

4. If you see a name underlined in your document, that means that this name was the Rufname, or the name your ancestor was called. Below, the child listed is “Johann Gottfried”. As “Gottfried” is underlined, this would have been the name his family called him.

5. In older documents, you may see the Latin suffix “us” on a male name: Jakobus, for example, instead of Jakob. This is the same name, so it is important to recognize both variations in your records.

6. If an older sibling died in childhood, their name may have been used for the next child born (assuming it was also a boy or a girl).

7. Children were often (but not always) named after their godparent or baptismal sponsor. If you can’t read the name in the child’s column, look to the godparent/sponsor column to: 1)See if it could be the same name, and 2) To see if that name is easier to read there.

8. “chen”, “lein”, “l”, “el”, “erl”  are diminutive suffixes in German (the final three are more common in Bavaria and Austria). A young Barbara, for example, may have been called “Bärbchen”. This would be the English equivalent of writing “Danny” for “Daniel.”

9. Spelling was not always the same from record to record. You may see the name Schmitt in one record, Schmidt in the next, and Schmid in the third. Knowing the different variations of names and spelling can be very helpful, as it allows you to broaden your search for your ancestor. See Think Like A German: Spelling Variations in German Documents for more information. 

10. If you aren’t sure if a first or last name exists, google “name guess + Vorname” or “name guess + Nachname) and see if any results come up. “Vorname” means “first name”, and “Nachname” means “last name”. This will show you if your transcription guess exists in German.

Above, I typed in “Kunigunde + Vorname” to see if Kunigunde is a name in German. Looks like it is! 

Now that you know some tips about the German naming system, it’s time to go out there and find the names of your ancestors. Enjoy filling in that family tree!

My Church Records Aren’t Digitized – Now What?

While FamilySearch and Ancestry, along with Matricula and Archion, offer wonderful resources for finding your ancestors’ church records, there are still many, many church records that have not been digitized yet. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost! 

If you can’t find your ancestors’ church records online, you can reach out to the physical church in Germany and see if they can help you find your records. 

Not sure what church your ancestor belonged to? Scared to write to a foreign country? Don’t know how to contact the church? Read on to find out what you can do. 

Please Note: Before you can take action on the steps below, you will need to know your ancestor’s hometown in Germany. Some previous blog posts that may help you are:

Before You Cross The Pond: Five Places to Find Your Ancestor in America 

The Top German Words to Find Your Ancestor’s Hometown 

Finding Your German Parish Contact Information: Protestant Churches 

To find your Protestant parish information in Germany:

  • Go to https://www.ekd.de/en/Gemeindesuche-161.htm
  • Type in the name of your ancestor’s town in the Ort (town) search box.
  • Click Gemeinde suchen (search parishes).
  • If there are multiple parishes in that town, the website will provide you with the highest-ranking parish.
  • Write your request to the e-mail address provided (see how to write at the end of the article). 
Protestant Churches in Germany

Finding Your German Parish Contact INformation: Catholic Churches

  1. To find your Catholic parish information in Germany:
  • Go to https://www.dbk.de/bistumskarte.
  • Type in your ancestor’s town in the Adresse oder Ort (address or town) search box.
  • Press Suchen (search).
  • Click the red marker on the map.
  • Write your request to the e-mail address provided.
Catholic Churches in Germany

Contacting State Archives

If you are unable to contact the church, you can also try writing the state archives for your ancestor’s region. Fortunately for us, government archives often kept duplicate records from churches. 

If you want to find the archive for your ancestor’s region, simply google Landesarchiv or Staatsarchiv (state archive) + whichever region your ancestor came from (Example: Landesarchiv Baden). 

Once on the archive’s website, look for the Kontakt tab to find an e-mail address to which you can write. 

Translating Websites to English

Do those German websites overwhelm you? No problem!

If you use Google Chrome, you can simply right click with your mouse, and press “translate to English”. This will then provide a  machine-translated version of the website for you. The translation may not be perfect, but it will still give you a good idea of what the website is saying.

If you are not a fan of Chrome, you can copy and paste the website link into Google Translate, and then click on the new link Google Translate provides. This also gives you a machine-translated version of the page. 

Writing to the Church or Archive

If you don’t speak German, don’t let that stop you from writing an e-mail to Germany. FamilySearch has a wonderful German Letter Writing Guide that you can use to help you.

If you write to the church in German, they will likely reply to you in German as well. In that case, you can use the translation tool DeepL.com to help you find out what was written. 

However, more and more people are using English professionally in German nowadays. If you do want to write in English,  I would say that you could, but perhaps offer a brief apology for not writing in German upfront. We don’t want to assume that everyone speaks English!

Map Guide to German Parish Registers

If you prefer book resources, I would highly recommend Kevan M. Hansen’s Map Guide to German Parish Registers. This book series, which covers parishes in towns in specific regions of Germany, can be found by a simple Google search through a number of retailers.

Best of luck finding your ancestors’ records! For more information on locating and reading German church records, check out The Magic of German Church Records

How I Found a Mystery Prussian Town – And How You Can Too!

   I was translating a document recently – and that handwritten town had me stumped. I could not read that word for the life of me. Adding to the challenge was the fact that we (my client and I) did not know what part of the German Empire the record had come from. So what to do?

Time to pull out the detective hat! In the video below, I walk you through my step-by-step process of finding what that mystery handwritten town was – a town that was so important for my client’s research. It was a very fun challenge – with a successful ending! Check out how I was able to do it below – and how you can do it in your own research:

Auswanderungsakten: How an Emigration Record Got Me Across the Pond! (Guest Post by Stephen Wendt)

One of the most difficult challenges that genealogy researchers encounter in German genealogy is the inability to discover the last place of residence for a particular line back in the homeland.

When I first started researching my Wendt immigrant ancestors years ago, I was fortunate to have learned the name of their last place of residence early on in my journey. The family research passed down to me was that my Wendt ancestors were either from modern NE Germany or Poland (near historical Stettin). I wanted to know exactly where in the homeland they came from!

Brandenburg Breakthrough!

To that end, I entered basic family information into the database on Ancestry concerning my second great-grandfather, Christian Wendt. Within seconds, I experienced an unforgettable, genealogical epiphany!

The Ancestry result was an indexed entry based on German emigration records, known as “Auswanderungsakten” from Brandenburg, Prussia. In other words, I had just encountered a primary-derived entry of Christian’s (imminent) emigration, that of his permission to leave Brandenburg, Prussia to America.

The entry on Ancestry matched Christian’s known birth date. Moreover, it disclosed his full name, the year that he emigrated to America, as well as the exact village and its associated historical Kreis, or district, of his last place of residence back in the homeland. Consequently, this amazing development got me across the pond!

While this remarkable discovery made all the difference, I wanted to see a copy of the original Auswanderungsakt. I did not have to wait very long. While the Family Search microfilm/microfiche loan service was still taking place, I was fortunate to view a copy on microfiche!

Exploring the Brandenburg Auswanderungsakten

While sifting through the microfiche from Family Search of a copy of what was described differently-albeit slightly-as Auswanderungskartei (or emigration card file) for instances of the Wendt surname, I came across a record of interest. It was for a Wendt family who was from the village of Damme in historical Kreis Prenzlau. The card listed a certain Martin Wendt, a working man, who was 48 years old. He emigrated with consent in 1846 to America, along with his wife, Marie-Dorothee geb. (née) Sprenger and four children. Initially, I had asked myself where  the names of the four children were. How did Christian, my second-great grandfather, possibly fit in with this family? By advancing further through the microfiche, it did not take long to discover the names of those four children themselves!

As it turned out, the Wendt Family from the village of Damme consisted of Christian’s parents and sisters. The birth dates listed on the other part of the card corresponded to that of Christian and his sisters. Thus, by digging deeper, my quest to learn more about this particular Brandenburg record resulted also in tracing the Wendt line back another generation. At this point in my German Genealogy journey, I was in Prussian Genealogy heaven! I had discovered, then, that not only did I have German roots, but I had Prussian roots as well.

Ancestral Location on Meyers Gazetteer

If you know of a particular historical place name that was a part of the German Empire and wish to locate it, I strongly recommend using Meyers Gazetteer. It provides the historical, jurisdictional details that you would expect from a gazetteer. Moreover, in a majority of cases, it displays a corresponding historical map of what a particular location would have looked like during the period of the German Empire.

To locate a place name on Meyers Gazetteer, choose this link here: https://www.meyersgaz.org/.

Using the aforementioned Damme, Kreis Prenzlau example, one can view where my Wendt immigrant ancestors had resided decades earlier on a map from the German Empire era.

Prussian Genealogy on Facebook

Prussian Genealogy on Facebook is a global and supportive community with around 14,000 members. I created the community as an extension of my passion for Prussian genealogy and for the purpose of helping others just starting out or wishing to dive deeper into this fascinating area of genealogy.

The Prussian Genealogy community also promotes German and Polish Genealogy, DNA, History, Culture and other aspects as they relate to historical Prussia. The community would not be where it is today were it not for the help of the many members in the group who have made and continue to make a difference in the lives of those who wish to better understand their Prussian roots! 😊

To apply to join the Prussian Genealogy community, known officially as Prussian Genealogy / German & Polish Roots, DNA, History & Culture, choose this link here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/prussiangenealogy

German Genealogy Translations on Facebook

The Germany Genealogy Translations group on Facebook is dedicated exclusively to assisting members with their German Genealogy translation requests. The volunteers generously take time out of their busy lives to assist members with their requests.

To apply to join the German Genealogy Translations group, choose this link here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/germangenealogytranslations

German Genealogy Word List

Arbeitsmann – working man

Ausgewandert mit Consens – emigrated with consent

Auswanderungsakten – emigration records

Auswanderungskartei – emigration card file

Ehefrau – wife

Kinder – children

Kreis – district

Jahre – years

German genealogy can be fulfilling, fun and even a little frustrating at times. If you are having trouble finding out the last place of residence for your German ancestor back in the homeland, consider searching for an emigration record and other relevant records as a part of your research strategy.  Discovering and locating the ancestral location, especially before German Unification, is important in the pursuit of records on the other side of the pond. May you experience similar genealogical breakthroughs!

Stephen Wendt, MLIS, holds a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from K.S.U. He is a professional genealogist and speaker. At the virtual IGGP conference coming up in July, Stephen will be presenting, “Searching for Your Elusive Prussian Ancestors: A Case Study.”

Stephen founded Tree Tidings Genealogy and assists global clients with their Prussian and German research. You can learn more about his business at his website: https://www.treetidingsgenealogy.com/

You can follow him at the Prussian Genealogy and Heritage Facebook Page as well: https://www.facebook.com/groups/prussiangenealogy

9 Fun Facts to Decipher German Vital Records

  1. The bolded letters in the top corners of the certificates tell you what type of certificate it is:
      1. A = Birth
      2. B = Marriage 
      3. C = Death

2. Birth and death certificates are usually one page. Marriage certificates are always two pages. Be sure to “turn the page” so you don’t only download the first page of your marriage certificate. The first page lists information about the bride, groom, and their parents, while the second page lists the witnesses and includes the signatures of all parties. 

3. The first handwritten word on each certificate is the town where the document was issued, followed by the date the document was issued. This date could be the same day as the event (birth, marriage, death) or one or several days after. For marriages, it should be the same.

4. For birth and death certificates, the first person listed on the certificate is the person reporting the event. 

5. For marriage certificates, the person listed in spot #1 is the groom. The person listed in #2 is the bride. The people listed in #3 and #4 are the witnesses. 

6. The typed words “der Persönlichkeit nach ____ bekannt”, with nothing written on the line before “bekannt”, means that the person’s identity is known to the registrar. The typed words “der Persönlichkeit nach [type of identification] anerkannt” means that the person’s identity was verified by a certain document shown to the registrar.

7. The occupation will be listed before the names on these vital records. Example: “der Schneider Johann Schmidt” (the tailor Johann Schmidt) 

8. The place of residence can be found after the typed words “wohnhaft zu”.  

9. The typed word “am” (“on the” for our purposes here) signifies that a date will follow. The dates are written day-month-year on these certificates.

I hope these fun facts help you work with your vital records! Luckily, half of these forms are in the typed Fraktur font, so they are a bit easier than forms that are completely in the old German handwriting! For more help, with marriage, and death record forms, vital record cheat sheets are available in the shop. Good luck!

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. 

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!