Show Notes & Video: Finding your German ancestor’s village is key to finding the genealogical records you need to go further back in your family tree. In this session you’ll learn:
How and why it is important to know the “Heimat” because many records are kept on the local level.
How to de garble a village name that is handed down to you (a common problem!)
Records to search for village names.
Resources for finding those records.
My guest presenter is James Beidler. He’s an expert on German genealogy and was gracious enough to share his expertise in the Genealogy Gems booth at Rootstech a few years ago. Visit James Beidler’s website. Get the book: The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany. (Thank you for using our affiliate link which supports this free content.)
Researching your ancestors deep into Germany simply doesn’t happen unless you know the name of the village of origin. This presentation goes over the sources to tie your immigrant to a Heimat and then find the village and its records! HIghlighted in this article are the strategies and resources referred to in this video.
German Methodologies Review:
Your first job is to find every document of the immigrant ancestor or that mentions the immigrant ancestor:
Prepare for surname variants
“Redundancy” is a virtue (e.g., obit may well have something tombstone does not)
Even items such as letters and diaries might give clues!
Be prepared for village names to be corrupted
Familiarize yourself with German maps / gazetteers
Look for “patterns of association” with other individuals
Process any piece of information that might distinguish the immigrant (e.g., occupation, names of other family members, etc.)
Utilize “whole family” genealogy
If specific records don’t exist for your ancestor, try others in family
Look for published sources
1700s families: Burgert / Jones / Yoder / Hacker
1800s families: Burkett / Germans to America / Emigration indexes
Search International Genealogical Index
References to individual
References to clusters of the surname if it is not common
References to shipmates
References to “associated persons”
Look for other sources of immigrant information:
Heitmatstelle Pfalz immigrant card file
Hamburg embarkation lists
Use the “concentric circles” strategy
If a village is found for the above categories of people (surname, shipmates, associated persons) but your immigrant is not found …
… work out from that village in “concentric circles” to other surrounding villages
“Things found on the way to something else”
Machmer / Magemer / Mahomer example
Never turn away luck!
Types of records that might yield a place of origin:
Declarations of intent (“first papers”) Naturalization petitions (“final papers”)
Baptisms of children
Church burial records
Fraternal societies’ records
Letters from relatives
Postmarks on letters
Internet Websites Resources for German Research
The resources listed below can help us answer some of the most common questions we ask as genealogists. Some examples of the questions and Websites that will help:
1. What was the village of origin for my German-speaking immigrant ancestor?
Genealogy records are about to expand online. It’s still about 9 months away, but in the time it takes to bring a new descendant into the world the National Archives will be delivering the 1940 US Population Schedules to the public. There are a couple of guys who have been on the forefront of this event: none other than Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub. (You’ll remember hearing from Joel from his past appearance on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast.)
Of course family historians are chomping at the bit to dig into the 1940 census even though there won’t be an index when it’s first released. However, the guys have put out a press release about what you can do now to get ready to search:
“It will not be name indexed, so it will be necessary to do an address search in order to find families. Address searching involves knowing the ED (enumeration district) in which the address is located.. The National Archives (NARA) earlier this year indicated they had plans to make available in 2011 the 1940 ED maps of cities and counties, and ED descriptions, but their recent move to consider having a 3rd party host all the images may have appreciably set back this timetable.
The only website that currently has location tools for the 1940 census is the Steve Morse One Step site. There are several such tools there, and it could be overwhelming to figure out which tool to use when. There is a tutorial that attempts to clarify it and an extensive FAQ.
We are announcing the opening of another educational utility to help people learn about the different 1940 locational search tools on the One Step site, and information about the 1940 census itself. It is in the form of a quiz, and should help many, many genealogists quickly learn how to search an unindexed census by location. The new utility is called “How to Access the 1940 Census in One Step“. Not only is it informative, we hope it is entertaining.”
Entertaining it is – at least to those of us passionate about family history! Now you can get started preparing to get the most out of the 1940 population schedules right away.
There’s another way to prep for the big release. Learn more about the 1940 enumeration process by watching the National Archives YouTube channel’s four short videos created by the US Census Bureau prior to 1940. These films were used to train enumerators on their general duties and responsibilities, as well as the correct procedures for filling out the 1940 census.
Though family historian tend to focus on the population schedule, there were several different schedules created and the films describe the main ones including the population, agriculture, and housing schedules. (Learn more about the various census schedules by listening to Family History: Genealogy Made EasyEpisode 10 featuring Curt Witcher.)
You’ll also learn more about the background of the census and the reasons behind the questions that were asked. And it’s the reasons behind the questions that shed even more light on what the priorities were back at that time and clues as to what life was like.
The films also cover the duties of the enumerators, highlighting the three major principles they were instructed to follow: accuracy, complete coverage, and confidential answers.
Cold Case files are as common in genealogy as they are in criminal investigations. So it seemed a no brainer to me that family historians could incorporate some of the same techniques that cold case investigators use. And that is how my presentation How to Reopen and Work a Genealogical Cold Case was born.
I recently brought this exciting hour to the folks at the Williamson County Texas Genealogical Society and they embraced it with open arms. Eyes were lighting up, and there was excitement in the air at the prospect of pulling some of those dusty old brick walls off their genealogical office shelves. I warned the group that they would be blaming for a sleepless night that night as they burned the midnight oil putting the tips to work. And as always, I encourage them to let me in on their successes by dropping me an email. I never cease to be amazed at what my wonderful audiences accomplishes!
An email from Teresa Hankins of Round Rock, TX landed in my inbox the very next morning,and her message was inspiring:
“I attended your lecture on Genealogical Cold Cases at the Williamson County Genealogical Society’s meeting just last night. It was late when I got home, but I wanted to check out some of your suggestions on cracking hard cases. I was particularly interested in Google Books, as I had just recently discovered it, but hadn’t used it much.
The Case: My 2nd great-grandfather, Joshua, was too young to serve in American Civil War, but he had nine brothers who did serve. These brothers are what first prompted my interest in genealogy, and I’ve spent untold hours reconstructing their movements and histories.
One of the most poignant stories is that of David, the youngest of the nine. He couldn’t have been more than 17 years old when he joined the Union regiment. He was wounded at the Battle of Lone Jack, discharged, and then married Margaret, a young lady from a neighboring farm. They had one child, named Thomas, and then David was murdered by bushwhackers. His young bride remarried and had two more children before she, too, passed away at a young age. My unsolvable case was with Thomas, son of David and Margaret, who seemed to vanish from history. He lost his father when he was an infant, his mother when he was about 12, and I wanted to know what happened to him!
Like all good genealogists, I was only going to research a little before going to bed. I wanted to play around on Google Books and see how the searches worked. I typed in a few key words that were unsuccessful before settling on a group of books based on Benton County, Missouri, which is where most of my ancestors in this line resided. I was just clicking on a book and searching for the surname, not looking for anything in particular. I only wanted to see what would come up and how the search engine worked. The next thing I know, I am looking at a record from the Supreme Court of Missouri, regarding some sort of land dispute. There are all the names involved, Thomas, his two half siblings, another family that I know are neighbors and relatives! I now know the month and year that Thomas died. I know that he sold some land one of his uncles. He was living there among family and friends, and though he, too, died young, at least I know what happened! This has opened up a cold case, and now it is on fire with new leads. I can’t wait to see what else I can dig up on Google Books!
Thank you for all the useful information you shared. I learned so much. I can’t wait to try out your other suggestions. You said to send you an email if we cracked a cold case, and that is what I’m doing. Have a blessed day!”
Well, I feel blessed every time I hear from my fabulous students / listeners / readers! I’m a lucky girl!
And I received one more blessing in Round Rock: At long last I finally got to meet my cousin Carolyn. You “met” Carolyn on the free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast episodes about contacting living relatives (see below for links.) Carolyn and I have been collaborating online for nearly ten years on our family history (her mother is my Grandmother’s sister) but we never had the opportunity to meet in person until now. She’s as sweet and warm as she is on the phone – it’s not wonder she has such great success reaching out to family relations.
It’s wonderful to hear from folks about how they have benefited from something I’ve shared, but I could write volumes on the blessings I’ve received in this job that I love.
Heritage Quilts Video with Carolyn: featuring a quilt in our family. Each block features one of our female ancestors.
Episode 14: How to Contact Long-Lost Relatives Connecting with someone who knows about our ancestors can really boost our research results—and even create new relationships among living kin. But it’s not always easy to send that first email or make that first call. In this episode, we chat with my cousin, Carolyn Ender, who has mastered the art of “genealogical cold calling” by conducting hundreds of telephone interviews. She has a knack for quickly connecting with folks she doesn’t know over the telephone in ways that put them at ease and bring to light the information that she’s looking for.
Episode 15: More Tips for Contacting Distant Relatives In this episode we talk more about “genealogical cold calling” with my cousin, Carolyn Ender, who has conducted hundreds of telephone interviews. Relationships are key to genealogical success and by following 14 genealogical cold calling strategies you will find your research relationships multiplying.
Recently we reported changes in the Ancestry.com site, now available to all U.S. customers. Genealogy Gems follower Nora then emailed us with three things she loves about the new Ancestry experience, and her instructions for merging facts related to the same life event. Below are her comments; I’ve added screen shots for the sake of illustration that don’t pertain to Nora’s ancestors.
“I’ve been playing around with the new version of Ancestry.com, and have the following comments:
1. YES, NO, MAYBE SO. “I LOVE that in the “hints”, it now asks you if the facts match your ancestor, and you have “Yes,” “No” and “Maybe” options.
In some cases, it is clearly not your ancestor, but sometimes you just aren’t sure. If you click “Yes,” you get the usual screen where you compare the items in the record to your tree and decide which points you want to use as “preferred” before you save the source to the individual in your tree.
If you click “No”, the hint gets put in the “Ignored” list. Yes, you could always go back and review these again, but you had to dig through all the entries that clearly did not relate to your ancestor. With the addition of “Maybe” there is now an “Undecided” list. If you think it is possible that this is your ancestor, but don’t yet have any additional information that would support an unconditional “Yes, save this to my ancestor” reaction, you can click “Maybe.” Then, when something else shows up in your research that supports that hint, you can search back through the “Undecided” list under hints for that ancestor, and maybe go ahead and save the info to them in your tree.
THUMBS-UP ON LIFESTORY VIEW. “I quite like the LifeStory view, especially as it gives the option to remove items you don’t want to include. For instance, the 1860 U.S. Federal census shows my ancestor as residing in New York, NY. She was actually visiting her parents with her firstborn, a toddler son named for her father. Her actual home at the time was in California.
Because I entered the census info on Ancestry, her LifeStory suddenly included “current event” items for New York in the years between the 1860 and 1870 censuses. While these are appropriate in her parents’ records, they are not applicable to her, as she returned to California and her husband.
EASIER TO MERGE FACTS. “On each ancestor’s Facts tab, it is now so easy to combine duplicates of life events that came from different sources! I’ve been doing editing there and then syncing with my Family Tree Maker tree. The page shows the list of facts for the individual, the list of sources for that individual’s facts, and the list of immediate family members.
For the ancestor [mentioned] above, there were four separate marriage “facts.” All of the documentation of the marriage date came from other members’ trees. Two of these trees had the information entered in exactly the same format, so they were both linked to the same fact. The other three trees each had the information entered slightly differently from any of the other trees. In order to consolidate down to just one “fact” with multiple “sources,” I did the following:
Chose which “fact” I wanted to keep (in this case, it was the one with the most detailed information about the event). I’ll call this the “Master Fact.” My “Master Fact” was showing one source. The “duplicate facts” were showing 2, 1, and 1 source respectively.
Clicked on the first “duplicate fact.” This drew a connector line to the associated “sources.”
Allowed my mouse to hover over the associated source, and clicked on the EDIT button that appears. At the top of the resulting screen, it listed the “facts” that this particular source is currently associated with. Below, it listed all the other “facts” for the individual.
In the lower list, I clicked the plus sign next to the Master Fact that I wanted to keep. This associated the current “source” with the Master Fact.
Next, in the upper section, I checked the “X” next to the “duplicate fact” that I intended to delete. This unlinked the current “source” from that “fact.”
I repeated these steps for all the “sources” associated with the “duplicate facts.”
Lastly, I went back to the Facts tab for this particular ancestor. My “Master Fact” was now showing 5 associated sources, and each of the “duplicate facts” showed no associated sources. I was able to click on each “duplicate fact,” select “Delete” from the “Edit” menu associated with that “fact,” and wind up with just the “Master Fact” for my ancestor’s marriage. Doing this really cleaned up the LifeStory view without having to “hide” a bunch of entries.”
Thank you, Nora! I appreciate hearing from you about the “gems” you’re finding in the new Ancestry site experience–and especially thanks for those instructions on associating several sources with the same life event.