How German Address Books at Ancestry.com are Helping Bust Brick Walls

My genealogy research looks a lot like yours. Some family tree lines go back to pre-Revolutionary War. Other lines are richly researched well into the early 19th century.

And then there’s THAT family line. You know the one I mean. The one where the courthouse containing the records we need has burned down, or the records were microfilmed ages ago but are still sitting in the FamilySearch granite vault due to copyright issues. Or worst of all, it appears the needed records just don’t exist.

Don’t let these obstacles allow you to give up hope.

bust brick walls with German Address Books at Ancestry

Every day, new records are being discovered and digitized. Records that have been languishing in a copyright stalemate might suddenly be cleared for publication. Or a cousin could contact you out of the blue and has the letters your grandmother sent hers. We never know when the records we’ve been waiting for, searching for, and yearning for, will bubble up to the surface.

Today I’m happy to share my story of a recent breakthrough that I never saw coming. Follow along with me as I take newly unearthed rocks and use tools to turn them into sparkling gems.

This is Almost Embarrassing

My one, agonizing family line that stops short in its tracks ends with my great grandfather Gustave Sporowski.

Gus & Louise Sporan German Genealogy Records Bust Brick Wall

Gustave and Louise Sporowski (personal collection)

It’s almost embarrassing to admit. I’ve been at this nearly my whole life, and genealogy is my career for goodness sake! But there it is, a family tree with lovely far-reaching limbs except for this little stub of a branch sticking out on my maternal grandmother’s side.

I was about eight years old the first time I asked my grandma about her parents and their families. (Yes, this genealogy obsession goes back that far with me!) I still have the original page of cryptic notes she scratched out for me during that conversation.

Notes German Address Books at Ancestry Genealogy Records Bust Brick Wall

Excerpt from Grandma’s original notes. (Personal collection)

She had several nuggets of information about her mother’s family. However, when it came to her father Gustave, she only recalled that he was the youngest of seven brothers. No names came to mind. I’ve always felt that if I could just identify some of the brothers, one of them may have records that provide more details about their parents.

According to his Petition for Naturalization, Gustave Sporowksi and Louise Nikolowski were married in LutgenDortmund, Germany. This indicated that both moved west from East Prussia before emigrating. While I knew Louise’s immediate family were in the LutgenDortmund area as well, I had no idea whether Gustave moved there on his own or with his family.

Naturalization Record German Address Books at Ancestry

Gustave Sporowski’s Petition for Naturalization.

Gus (as he was later known) emigrated from Germany in 1910, landing at Ellis Island. He toiled in the coal mines of Gillespie, Illinois, and eventually earned enough money to move his wife and children west to California in 1918.

After filing his papers and years of waiting, he proudly became a U.S. citizen in 1940.

On that paperwork, he clearly states his birthplace as Kotten, Germany. You won’t find this location on a map today. In 1881, the year he was born, the area was East Prussia. I remember the hours I spent with gazeteers many years ago trying to locate that little village nestled just within the border of Kreis Johannisburg. Being so close to the border meant that he could have attended church there or in a neighboring district. 

The records in the area are scarce, and today the entire area is in Poland.

Surprisingly, the records situation is quite the opposite with his wife Louise, also from East Prussia. She lived not far away in Kreis Ortelsburg, and the records for the church her family attended in Gruenwald are plentiful. I’ve managed to go many more generations back with her family.

And so, poor Gus alone sits in my family tree.

I periodically search to see if there’s anything new that has surfaced, but to no avail. I even hired a professional genealogical firm to review my work and suggest new avenues. I guess it is good news to hear you’ve pursued all known available leads, but it’s not very rewarding.

Over time, we tend to revisit tough cases like this less frequently. They become quiet. Digital dust begins to settle on the computer files.

And then it all changes.

German Address Books at Ancestry.com

I regularly make the rounds of the various genealogy websites, making note of new additions to their online collections. I typically publish the updates on a weekly basis here on the Genealogy Gems blog. It makes my day when readers like you comment or email, bursting with excitement about how one of the collections I mentioned busted their brick wall. I love my job.

This week I’m the one who is bursting!

It started simply enough. My third stop on my regular records round-up tour was Ancestry.com. The list of new records was particularly robust this week. The word “Germany” always catches my eye, and the second item on the list jumped out at me:

Germany and Surrounding Areas, Address Books, 1815-1974

German Address Books Ancestry Bust Brick Wall

“Recently Added and Updated Collections on Ancestry,” Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 05 Sept 2019)

I should have had a healthy dose of skepticism that I would be fortunate enough to find anything. But to be perfectly honest, I felt instinctively that I would! Have you ever just had that feeling that your ancestors are sitting right there ready to be found? If you’ve been researching your family history for a while, then I’m guessing you have. Such a nice feeling, isn’t it?

So, I clicked, and I simply entered Sporowski in the last name field and clicked Search.

Experience has taught me that there haven’t been a lot of folks through history with this surname, so I’m interested in taking a look at anyone who pops up in the results. And yippie aye oh, did they ever pop up!

German address books results list at Ancestry.com

“All Germany and Surrounding Areas, Address Books, 1915-1974,” Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 05 Sept 2019)

The results list include 31 people with the surname of Sporowski!

These names came from the pages of address books much like the city directories so common in the U.S. Since this collection was new to me, I took a moment to read up on the history.

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GENEALOGY RESEARCH TIP: Learning the History of the Genealogy Record Collection

To truly understand what you are looking at when reviewing search results, we need to acquaint ourselves with the history of the collection.

  • Why was it created?
  • What does it include?
  • What does it not include?

Look to the left of the search results and click Learn more about this database.

It’s definitely worth clicking this link because the next page may also include a listing of Related Data Collections, some of which you might not be aware. These could prove very useful, picking up the pace to finding more records.

In the case of foreign language records, look for a link to the Resource Center for that country. There you may find translation help and tips for interpreting handwriting and difficult-to-read script.

German Genealogy Help at Ancestry.com

Ancestry Help Features

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On the Learn more about this database page, I learned some important things about these search results.

First, not every citizen was listed. Only heads of households were included. This means that wives and children would not appear. I did find some widows, though, because they were the head of their household.

Second, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) was used on this collection. Ancestry suggests looking for errors and providing corrections. But this information about OCR also implies something even more important to the genealogist. We must keep in mind that OCR is not perfect. In this case, I planned on browsing the collection after reviewing the search results to ensure I didn’t miss anyone. This would include targeting people listed in the “S” section of directories for towns I might expect the family to be.

I was particularly thrilled to see the name “Emil Sporowski” on the list.

Several months ago I found a World War I Casualty list from a newspaper published in 1918.

German Military Casualty List Ancestry.com

On it was listed Emil Sporowski and he was from the village of Kotten. This was the first mention of Gustave’s birthplace in the record of another Sporowski that I had ever found. So, you can imagine my delight as I stared at his name in the address book search results.

German Address Books at Ancestry.com bust Brick wall

“All Germany and Surrounding Areas, Address Books, 1915-1974,” Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 05 Sept 2019)

The icing on that cake was that he was listed in the address book of Bochum. That town name was very familiar to me because I had seen it on a few old family photos in Louise Sporowski’s photo album. Although the photos did not have names written on them, I could easily identify the folks who had the facial characteristics of Louise Nikolowski’s clan, and those sporting the large eyes with heavy lids like Gus.

Sporowski from Bochum Germany photograph

Photo from Louise Nikolowski’s photo album.

Spreading the German Addresses Out with Spreadsheets

With one and a half pages delivering a total of 31 Sporowski names, I knew I had some work ahead of me to tease them apart. This got me thinking of Genealogy Gems Podcast episode that I’m currently working on, which features a conversation with professional genealogist Cari Taplin. When I asked Cari how she organizes her data, she told me that she uses spreadsheets. I’m not typically a spreadsheet kind of gal, but in this case, I could see the benefits. Spreadsheets offer a way to get everybody on one page. And with the power of Filters and Sorting you slice and dice the data with ease. My first sort was by town.

Excel Spreadsheet tracking German Address Books at Ancestry.com

My Excel spreadsheet tracking German Address Books search results at Ancestry.com

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GENEALOGY RESEARCH TIP: Free Genealogy Gems Download

Click here to download the simple yet effective spreadsheet I used for this research project. If you find your German ancestors in this collection, it’s ready to use. Otherwise, feel free to modify to suit your needs in a similar situation.

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As you can see in the spreadsheet, these address books include occupations. For example, Emil was listed both as a Schmied and a Schlosser. A simple way to add the English translation to my spreadsheet was to go to Google.com and search Google Translate. Words and phrases can be translated right from the results page.

Translating German words found in Address Books at Ancestry.com

Translating the Occupation found in the German Address Books using Google Translate (Available at https://translate.google.com. Accessed 05 Sept 2019)

You can also find several websites listing German occupations by Googling old german occupations.

I quickly ran into abbreviations that were representing German words. For example, Lina Sporowski is listed with as Wwe .

A Google search of german occupations abbreviations didn’t bring a website to the top of the list that actually included abbreviations. However, by adding one of the abbreviations to the search such as  “Wwe.” it easily retrieved web pages actually featuring abbreviations.

One of the top results was by friend of the podcast Katherine Schober and her SK Translations blog post called 19 Most Common Abbreviations in German Genealogy.

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GENEALOGY RESEARCH TIP: Use Search Operators when Googling

Notice that I placed the abbreviation in quotation marks when adding it to my Google search query. Quotation marks serve as search operators, and they tell Google some very important information about the word or phrase they surround.

  1. The quotation marks tell Google that this word or phrase must appear in every search result. (If you’ve ever googled several words only to find that some results include some of the words, and other results include others, this will solve your problem.)
  2. They also tell Google that the word(s) MUST be spelled exactly the way it appears on each search result. This is particularly helpful when searching an abbreviation like Wwe. which isn’t actually a word. Without the quotation marks, you will likely get a response from Google at the top of the search results page asking you if you meant something else.

Click here to receive my free ebook including all the most common Google search operators when you sign up for my free newsletter (which is always chock full of goodies).

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Katherine was my guest on Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode #151 available exclusively to our Premium eLearning Members. She’s also written a couple of articles for Genealogy Gems on German translation:

When to Use Google Translate for Genealogy–And Best Translation Websites for When You Don’t

Translating German Genealogy Records: 9 Top German Translation Websites

Deciphering Place Names Just Got Easier

I’ve written an article you may find helpful not only for translation but also to help you with pronunciation called How to Pronounce Names: Google Translate and Name Pronunciation Tools.

As it turns out, Wwe. stands for Widow. This tells me that Lina’s husband was deceased by 1961.

Finding the German Addresses in Google Earth

The most glorious things found in these old address books are the addresses themselves!

Google Earth is the perfect tool to not only find the locations but clarify the addresses. Many were abbreviated, but Google Earth made quick work of the task.

Unlike other free Google Tools, Google Earth is available in a variety of forms:

  • Free downloadable software
  • Google Earth in the Chrome Web browser
  • A mobile app

Each has powerful geographic features, but I always recommend using the software. The web version and app don’t have all the tools available in the software. All versions require an internet connection. You can download the software here

In the Google Earth search box I typed in the address. Don’t worry if you don’t have the full address or if you think it may be spelled incorrectly. Google Earth will deliver a results list of all the best options that most closely match.

In my case, reliable Google Earth not only gave me complete addresses, but also the correct German letters.

Finding the full name of the German address in Google Earth

Finding the full name of the German address. (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

Soon I found myself virtually standing outside their homes thanks to Google Earth’s Street View feature!

House of my Germany ancestor found in Google Earth

Home of my German ancestor found in Google Earth in Street View. (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

Here’s how to use Street View in Google Earth:

  1. Zoom in close to the location
  2. Click on the Street View icon in the upper right corner (near the zoom tool)
  3. Drag the icon over the map and blue lines will appear where Street View is available
  4. Drop the icon directly on the line right next to the house
  5. Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate in Street View or simply use your mouse to drag the screen
Using Google Earth Street View

Using Google Earth Street View. (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

I went through the entire list. As I found each location in Google Earth, I checked it off on the spreadsheet.

Addresses found in German Address Books marked in the spreadsheet

Addresses found in German Address Books at Ancestry.com marked in the spreadsheet

GENEALOGY RESEARCH TIP: Create a Folder in Google Earth

When you have several locations like this to plot, I recommend creating a folder in the Places panel in Google Earth. It’s super easy to do and will help you stay organized. Here’s how:

  1. Right-click (PC) on the MyPlaces icon at the top of the Places panel (left side of the Google Earth screen)
  2. Select Add > Folder in the pop-up menu
  3. A New Folder dialog box will appear
  4. Type the name of your folder
  5. Click OK to close the folder
  6. You can drag and drop the folder wherever you want it in the Places panel
  7. Click to select the folder before placing your Placemarks. That way each placemark will go in that folder. But don’t worry, if you get a placemark in the wrong spot, just drag and drop it into the folder.
How to Create a Folder

Creating a Folder for the German Addresses found at Ancestry.com (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

It didn’t take long to build quite a nice collection of Sporowski homes in Germany!

German addresses in the Google Earth Places panel

German addresses in the Places panel. (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

The beauty of Google Earth as that you can start to visualize your data in a whole new way. Zooming out reveals these new findings within the context of previous location-based research I had done on related families. As you can see in the image below, all the Sporowskis that I found in the German Address books at Ancestry.com are clustered just five miles from where photos were taken that appear in Louise Sporowski’s photo album. 

Data Visualization: My German Families found in Address Books

Data Visualization in Google Earth: My German Families found in Address Books. (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

I’ve Only Just Begun to Discover my German Ancestors at Ancestry.com

We’ve covered a lot of ground today, but this is just the beginning. There are additional sources to track down, timelines to create, photos to match up with locations, and so much more. In many ways, I’ve only scratched the surface of possibilities. But I need to stop writing so I can keep searching! 😊

I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this journey with me. Did you pick up some gems along the way that you are excited to use? Please leave a comment below! Let us all know which tips and tools jumped out at you, and any gems that you found.

 

How to find newspapers in Google Books for free

Show Notes: Google Books is known for having millions of free digitized books. But did you know that it’s also packed with hidden old newspapers? Since newspapers don’t typically appear in your initial search results in Google Books, I’ll show you two ways to filter down to only newspapers. Plus I’ll also show you some of the most effective ways to quickly find the right ancestor and the right article.

Watch the Video

Show Notes

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

Old newspapers are a tremendous resource for family history information. One of the most surprising places that you can find old newspapers is Google Books. However, newspapers don’t typically show up in the general searches we run at Google Books. It’s important to use specific strategies designed to effectively and find what you’re looking for.

We typically think of Google Books as a place where you look for books. However, we really need to change our thinking on that. Think of Google Books as a place to find printed material. At Google Books you could find not only books, but printed newspapers, catalogs, almanacs, magazines, anything that would have been published on paper. Google Books catalogs all the printed material it finds, and digitizes that which isn’t under copyright restrictions. That means that it’s more common to find older newspapers, books and so on that are digitized and searchable.

Dealing with Too Many Results

I love finding articles like this one about my husband’s grandfather, Raymond H. Cooke.

newspaper article found at Google Books

You can find newspaper articles like this at Google Books.

Newspapers clearly offer a lot more than just obituaries. You may be able to find all kinds of articles on what was going on in their life and their community.

We start searching at the Google Books homepage. There are a couple of different ways to find Google Books. You can just google Google Books, or you can go directly to the URL https://books.google.com/.

At Google Books, you can start by typing in an ancestor’s name such as Raymond H. Cooke, or topic of interest. What you will typically see is a list of books, many fairly recent, but no newspapers. In fact there will be typically be an abundance of results, many of which are not a good match. But don’t worry, we can improve these results.

Better Newspaper Results with Quotes

One of the easiest ways to fix this situation is to go back up to the search box and put quotes around the full name. This tells Google Books that I want this exact phrase (name), spelled the way I spelled it. This prevents us from getting results that contain the words but not within the context as a whole name. It also ensures that Cooke will be spelled with an “e”. Without the quotes we get too many non-matching results. Most included one or more of the words, often separate from each other, and some weren’t even spelled the way I spelled the name.

As you can see, using quotes is very effective at reducing unwanted results. However, we can do even more to improve newspaper search results at Google Books.

You’ll notice that most of the results you receive are books, some of which may be digitized and some that are not. What you don’t see typically are newspapers. So, our next strategy will fix this and give us only newspaper results.

Filtering to Only Newspaper Results

It might seem logical just to add the word newspaper to your search query. However, this doesn’t work. Google looks for the words in the text of the material. It doesn’t look at the word newspapers and understand that it’s a type of material.

However, Google Books does give us ways to filter results down to only newspapers. On the search results page you will see a filter menu below the main menu of tabs. If you don’t see it, click the Tools button.

Notice that Any Document is one of the filters. That means that right now our results are showing all types of documents that meet our search criteria including books, catalogs, magazines, newspapers, etc. Click that drop-down menu and select Newspapers. This will display only newspaper in the search results.

At the top of the results list you’ll see exact matches to your query. Sometimes, if there aren’t a lot of matches, Google will then remove the quotes you used, and show you additional results that match without quotes. So several pages of matches doesn’t always mean that they all match exactly. But the good news is, all the exact matches will display first.

Search Name Variations

My example of searching for “Raymond H. Cooke” is very specific. In order to find all the possible articles that mention Raymond, I will need to expand my search to include the name variations that might appear in the papers. Here are just a few examples:

  • “Raymond Cooke”
  • “Ray Cooke”
  • “R. H. Cooke”
  • “Raymond H. Cook” (because it’s very possible a spelling error could be made in the newspaper)

Another Way to Filter to Only Newspapers

Google Book’s Advanced Search is another way to filter down specifically to newspapers. It’s not as easy to find or use as the Tools menu, but it can prove very helpful.

There isn’t a link to Advanced Search on the Google Books home page. There are three ways to get to it.

#1 Use the URL

You can use the URL, but it’s not easy to remember. https://books.google.com/advanced_book_search   A nice solution is to go there with this link and then add it as a bookmark in your web browser bar.

#2 Google Google Books Advanced Search

The easiest way to find the Advanced Search page for the Google Books is simply to google it.

#3 Any Google Books Catalog Page

The Advanced Search link appears in the search box on the catalog page of all items in Google Books. To find the page, run a search (it doesn’t matter what item you search for) and click the book or other item to open it. If the item is “full view” or “preview” you’ll need to close it. You can do that in the most recent version of the Google Books user interface by clicking the X in the top right corner of the page. This will then display the catalog page for the item, and you’ll see the Advanced Search link in the search field.

The Advanced Search page provides you with a special form. You can use this to run your search as well. You can type the names or phrases that you want to be exact in the Exact Phrase field. Best of all, in the Content section you can click the button for Newspapers to filter your results only to newspapers.

So already, we’re quickly finding newspapers within this massive catalog of over 25 million items in Google Books. I have a few more suggestions of ways to find what you’re looking for in newspapers specifically.

Adding Location to Search

If you want to be look for ancestors in Google Books, it really helps to add a location.

When you look at the search results, you’ll notice that it doesn’t give you a location in the result’s short  descriptive paragraph (called a snippet). That makes it a little more challenging to be able to figure out if the items is talking about the right person. Where our ancestors lived is part of what sets them apart from everyone else by the same name. The result usually doesn’t tell us even where the newspaper was published. Try adding the name of your ancestor’s town, county or state to your search query.

Adding Timeframe to Search

While the snippets on the results page show the date of the item, we might have a lot of items to look through. It would be nice to narrow it down to items published during your ancestor’s lifetime. It’s not to say that there might not be a newspaper article published after an ancestor’s death, but it can help to start by first just searching during their lifetime.

On the initial results page, make sure the Tools filter menu it turned on. You’ll find Anytime in the filter menu next to Any Document. Click the Anytime drop-down menu. Here you can select a century. Click Custom Range and enter the years. For example, 1865 to 1930. This will filter your results list down to newspapers published between those years. It’s another great way to filter out results for other people with the same name who didn’t live at the same time. Filtering for both timeframe and the location can really help you zero in on the right person.

The Source of the Newspapers at Google Books

Google Books has not always had newspapers as part of their collection. The digitized newspapers found there today come from the old Google News Archive. This was a newspaper digitization project that was discontinued several years ago. In the last few years they’ve been adding the collection to Google Books. And now with the new Google Books user interface, they are easier to search and use than ever before.  

The old Google News Archive can be found at https://news.google.com/newspapers. This old website can come in handy if you’re not sure if Google Books has the issues that you need of a particular newspaper title.

Start by going to https://news.google.com/newspapers and click the letter at the top of the screen that corresponds to the first letter of the first word in the title of the newspaper. For example, if you want to check to see if they have The Lawrence Daily Gazette, and if so which issues, you would click “L”. If you find the newspaper the website will also tell you how many issues are in the collection and what dates they cover. Then you can head to Google Books and search on the title.

It’s possible that Google may have added additional issues since the old Google News Archive closed. You can check this at Google Books by searching on the title and using the Any Time filter to specify the years.

Start Searching for Newspapers at Google Books

Now you can find newspapers at Google Books quickly and efficiently. I hope you’ll leave a comment and let me know about the article that you find!

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

 

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