Click the video player below to watch 10 Top Tips for Beginning German Genealogy now.
Episode 52 Show Notes
Researching ancestors in another country can be a little daunting. Challenges include foreign languages, moving boundaries, and spelling variations. This is certainly true for German genealogy.
If you’re new to German genealogy or your research has stalled, this episode of Elevenses with Lisa is for you. In fact, even if you don’t have German ancestors I think you will still find the principles and ideas covered very helpful.
Translator, author and German handwriting expert Katherine Schober shares her 10 Top Tips for Beginning Germany Genealogy.These tips are packed with tools and resources that you can start using right away.
Katherine Schober is a German / English translator, specializing in the old German handwriting. She is the author of “The Magic of German Church Records” and “Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting”, as well as the creator of the online course “Reading the Old German Handwriting.” And this year she will be one of the featured speakers at this year’s virtual International German Genealogy Conference.
Click the video below to watch the show. Then scroll down below to get all of the show notes. Premium Members will find the downloadable ad-free show notes cheat sheet PDF in the Resources section at the bottom of the page.
Mentioned in this video:
International German Genealogy Conference July 17-24, 2021. Use special code EARLY until April 30 to get $50 off the package of your choice. Registration here
Reading the Old German Handwriting Course online with Katherine Schober Register for the course here
Use Coupon Code GEMS for 10% off the course.
1. Start with What You Know about Your German Ancestor
Resist the temptation to start searching online immediately. Take the time to talk to your relatives, starting with the oldest. Review family documents, photo albums and other materials around your home. You may be surprised how much you already have, and the light that other relatives can shed on the family tree. Every step of the way its critically important to document everything!
2. Look for Resources in America Before Jumping Over to Germany
Family Bibles (Watch Elevenses with Lisaepisode 29)
Local church records
Passenger Lists (Watch Elevenses with Lisaepisode 34)
Records in Germany are kept at the local level. Make sure you have the right town in the right state.
Meyers Gazetteer About the Meyers Gazetteer from the website: Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs “is the most important of all German gazetteers. The goal of the Meyer’s compilers was to list every place name in the German Empire (1871-1918). It gives the location, i.e. the state and other jurisdictions, where the civil registry office was and parishes if that town had them. It also gives lots of other information about each place. The only drawback to Meyer’s is that if a town did not have a parish, it does not tell where the parish was, making reference to other works necessary.”
The Historic Gazetteerat The Genealogical Gazetteer provides “The precise identification of places is essential in genealogy. Unfortunately, too few researchers care in identifying places. The project “GOV” was initiated to help historians and genealogists with the management of place references and to provide high quality data for anyone.”
4. Identify Available Records for the Town in Germany
Some pairs of letters can find themselves interchanged in German words. Understanding which ones were commonly swapped can save you a lot of frustration as you attempt to interpret documents. Examples of commonly switch letters include B and P, and K and G.
Geogen v4 offers genealogists a way to discover the areas of Germany where a surname appears most frequently. Type in your ancestor’s German surname and press Enter on your keyboard. Try variations that you have come across in records to compare the results.
Geogen v4 offers genealogists a way to discover the areas of Germany where a surname appears most frequently.
10. Use the Genealogy FAN CLUB
If you get stuck, use the FAN CLUB principle by looking at Friends, Associates, and Neighbors. These are the people who interacted with your ancestors in important ways. They will come in particularly handy when you run out of records for your German ancestor. By reviewing the records of those closest to your ancestor you may find new clues that can move your search forward and lead back to your family tree.
Katherine Schober is a German-English genealogy speaker, author, and translator, specializing in the old German handwriting. She is the author of “The Magic of German Church Records” and “Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting”, as well as the creator of the online course “Reading the Old German Handwriting.” Katherine lives in St. Louis with her Austrian husband, and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website, www.sktranslations.com.
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Great-grandma may be listed as a widow in the 1900 federal census…but she might not actually be a widow after all. Women in the past sometimes claimed widowhood to protect their family’s good name. A recent reader’s question prompted this post for sharing some tips to finding widows, disappearing husbands, and lost relatives.
Widow or Not?
Genealogy Gems reader, Mary, wrote us the following comment:
“My grandmother Kitty’s first husband was Robert Lee Jeffries. They married in 1887 and had 4 or 5 children. He died in the very early 1900’s. She later remarried my grandfather, John, and they had four children together. All this took place in Hardin County, Kentucky. I cannot find when, where, or how her first husband died, or where he is buried. Can you help me?”
I think we can give Mary some tips to help her find Robert. As you read along, consider how these same tips and techniques could help you in finding widows, disappearing husbands, and lost relatives.
Finding Death Records in the Early 1900s
A death record is typically a good way to determine where someone went. If you can locate a death record for your lost individual, they aren’t lost anymore! Finding death records for the time period that Mary is asking about isn’t usually too difficult, unless there has been a record loss for that county. By doing a quick check on FamilySearch wiki for Hardin County, Kentucky, I learned that many records between 1852 and 1911 are missing, including some of the death records. That may be why Mary wasn’t able to find one.
When a death record can’t be found, there are many alternatives that we can exhaust. Cemetery records, newspaper obituaries, and probate records are just a few suggestions. But before we move into alternative records, something caught my attention.
With a last name like “Jeffries,” there could be several ways to spell it. Jeffrys, Jefferies, Jeffres, and perhaps many more. What can you do when you have a name, first or last, that could be spelled so many different ways?
One suggestion is to search by each of the possible name spellings, but another tool is to use an asterisk or wildcard. The first part of the surname Jeffries is always the same: J e f f. Whether you are searching records at Ancestry, Findmypast, or MyHeritage, you can use an asterisk after the last “f” to indicate you are looking for any of the possible surname spellings.
I didn’t find any great matches using the criteria you see in the image above, but I took off the death date range and Kitty’s name and found Bob Lee JeffERies living in his parents home in 1880 in Hardin County, Kentucky. Take a close look at this image:
Do you see the mistake? If you look at the digital image of the census, it spells the surname as Jeffries, however the record is indexed as Jefferies. Not to mention that Robert Lee is recorded as Bob Lee. This combination of name differences will always cause a little hiccup in our search process. This is why it is so important to consider name spellings when searching for records.
Even though using an asterisk didn’t produce a death record, you can see how using a tip like this can help when searching for any records online.
Alternatives to Death Records
Like I mentioned before, Hardin county had some record losses. Just because their death records may have been lost or destroyed, doesn’t mean the probate records were.
Using FamilySearch.org, I used the browse option to search probate record books in Hardin county, Kentucky. I found a record dated 25 Apr 1893, in which Kitty wrote her own will.  She mentions Lucy (possibly Robert’s mother found in the 1880 census) and others by name. What is strange is there’s no mention of a husband. I wondered if perhaps husband Robert had died before 1893. Unfortunately, there was no Robert Jeffries (or any variation) in the previous record books and the record book that Kitty appeared in was the last one available online.
When no will can be found, that doesn’t mean there is not a probate record available. The next step would be to visit the Hardin County probate office or State Archives to see if there is an estate packet available for Robert.
An estate packet is typically filled with all sorts of genealogy goodies! Receipts, list of heirs, and affidavits may shed light on many a burning question for your targeted ancestor.
The Disappearing Husband
Sadly, not all husband’s leave their families due to their demise. In the past, it was sometimes easier and more appealing to call yourself a widow or widower when your spouse left you. Kitty wrote a will in 1893 and did not mention a husband. In 1900, she was living in her father’s house and her children were divided up among the relatives, including her in-laws. Could Robert have left Kitty and the children? There may only be one way to know for sure.
Kitty remarried. To do that, either Robert had to die or she would need to be divorced. Divorce records can sometimes be located on a county level or at a state archives. I gave Hardin County Clerk of Courts a call and found out that divorce records between the years of 1804 -1995 are held at the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives. Their website provided details to ordering several types of records, including divorce records.
Looking in All the Wrong Places
Sometimes, we are so focused on one area that we can’t see past the end of our noses! Many of our ancestors lived on the borders of other counties. Hardin County, Kentucky is especially unique. It borders not only eight other Kentucky counties, but it also borders Harrison County, Indiana. It’s always a good idea to branch out to these nearby locations when you are having trouble locating records.
When struggling to find a record for any targeted ancestor, try the following:
Consider alternate name spellings and search for common nicknames.
When there has been a possible record loss, search for alternative records that may hold the information you are looking for.
Determine which counties/states your targeted location is bordering and search there for records as well.
Have you found a disappearing person or long, lost relative? If so, share with us (in the comment section below) your story and how you finally tracked the elusive person down. Maybe your story will help others still searching for that missing ancestor!
(1) “Kentucky, Probate Records, 1727-1990,” digital images online, FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org : accessed 10 Aug 2016); record for Kitty A. Jeffries, 1893; citing Will Records, Index, 1893-1915, Vol. G, page 12.
Looking for a Living Relative?
Join Lisa Louise Cooke of The Genealogy Gems Podcast as she reveals 9 strategies to find your living relatives. Unleash your inner private eye and discover the tools that will help you connect with long lost cousins who may just hold the key to your genealogy brick wall!
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This article was originally posted on August 24, 2016 and updated on April 18, 2019.
Here are the reasons every family historian should be writing a family history blog–and how can you get started NOW.
Why Start a Family History Blog
Many of us want to write up our family stories, but with busy schedules, a 300-page book may not be in our future!
You don’t have to have a lot of time to write and share your family history. Blogging about family history is a perfect alternative. Blogs are just simple websites that present articles in chronological order beginning with the most recent. This is a great format for telling a story that travels through time.
Blogs also allow your readers to “subscribe” for free much like a podcast. In other words, your readers don’t have to remember to visit your blog and read the latest. Instead, they can receive email prompts when you publish new articles, or they can receive those new articles alongside their other favorite blogs and podcasts in a blog reader. Very convenient indeed!
Still not convinced it’s possible to start your own genealogy-themed blog? Here are 7 reasons why and how you can start a family history blog.
1. You can write a little bit at a time.
You don’t have to fill hundreds of pages or lay out an entire book. With a blog you can write as little as a paragraph at a time. There are no rules because it is your blog!
Over time, even a one-paragraph blog post, once a week, will eventually result in many pages. It’s a great way to pace yourself and still get your family’s story in writing.
2. Every word you write is searchable by Google.
Gone are the days of simply posting a query on a genealogy message board that only reaches genealogists.
By blogging about your family history, other people who are researching the same family lines can find and connect with you through their Google searches. You’ll be writing about the family they are searching for, so you’ll very likely be using many of the same keywords, dates and information that they will include in their search query. This means your blog should pop up high on their Google search results list!
Think of your family history blog as your own big message board. Your posts can be found by anyone in the world searching for the same information. The connection possibilities are endless. So essentially, family history blogs are your way to “fish for cousins.” This of it as “cousin bait!”
Blogs typically include a Comment section at the end of each of your articles, so encourage visitors to your blog to leave comments. Don’t worry, you can set your blog to only show the comments after you have reviewed and approved them.
3. You might bust your toughest brick wall.
I’ve heard and shared countless success stories here at Genealogy Gems from readers and listeners. By just “putting it out there” on a blog they have opened the door to a distant relative contacting them with a treasure trove of new information about their family tree.
“Your encouragement to blog genealogy has given me courage and a vehicle for which I can share the stories of our family’s common history. So, over the past month I’ve been posting digital images of each day (from my great grandfather’s) journal from 50 years ago, the transcription of the journal and an historical image that gives context to what he was writing about. I plan to include family photos and other documents as I expand this blog.”
– Chris C.
4. You’re more likely to spot your mistakes and missing links.
Have you ever told a story out loud and discovered in telling it that something in the story didn’t quite jive? A blog can help you tell your family’s story “out loud” too.
The process of writing up your family history discoveries can often reveal gaps, errors, or bad assumptions in your research. And that’s a good thing! Use it to your advantage to identify further research that needs to be done. But those items on your research to do list.
And don’t be afraid to let your reader know what your gaps are and where you’re stuck. They just might be able to help!
5. Your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, etc. are online.
Your descendants probably prefer to read quick and easy stories on-the-go on their smart phones and tablets, and a blog fits the bill perfectly.
Putting your research on a blog provides your relatives with an easy way to digest the family heritage. And of course they can subscribe to it, since blogs can be delivered to their email inbox or to a blog reader like Feedly.
Blog posts are also super easy to share to Facebook, which means your post can get even more traction.
“The family response has been amazing. The cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles think it is cool and want to see more! They love the stories and can’t wait for subsequent postings so they can hear detailed history about (him) that they never knew about.
I believe this blog will be part of how our family begins healing and comes back together again.”
6. Because there are no excuses.
You can start a blog for free, so cost is not a barrier.
There are no rules, so you can decide how often and how much you write at once.
There is just one thing you have to do to successfully blog about your family history: begin.
7. Because your blog continues to share even when you aren’t researching.
The best news of all is that your family history blog will be out there working online for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Even when life gets in the way and you need to take a sabbatical from blogging and genealogy, your blog is still out there ready to be found. You will still be sharing your family’s story, and attracting relatives to it. And when you’re ready, your blog will be ready for you to add the next chapter.
How to Start a Family History Blog
Starting a family history blog isn’t hard. But some people find it intimidating. So I’ve created two entire series to help you get started.
The “Footnote Maven,”author of two popular blogs, talks about the process of starting a genealogy blog. She gives great tips for thinking up your own approach, finding a unique niche, tips for getting people to comment on your blog posts and more.
In this concluding episode, learn how to add a few more gadgets and details to your blog; pre-plan your blog posts, publish your first article, and how to help your readers subscribe. You’ll also get great tips on how to create genealogy content that others looking for the same ancestors can find easily online.
Share the Blogging Adventure!
Invite someone you know to start a family history blog of their own. Send them a link to this webpage or share it through social media. They’ll thank you for it later!
And if you have started a family history blog, please comment below and share your experience.