Finding Hard-to-Find WWI Era German Ancestors

This surprise discovery of a WWI German ancestor on a free website can inspire your own family history research discoveries. Bonus: watch a free video on how to find your German ancestor’s home village!

Following Our German Expert’s Advice

Not long ago, I made a surprising military record discovery. It came about because I was looking at the e-book we put together of handouts of all the sessions we presented in the Genealogy Gems booth at FGS 2016. I was reviewing the notes from one of Jim Beidler’s sessions. (These handouts really are a wonderful benefit of coming by our booth at the big conferences!)

In the handout, Jim recommends des.genealogy.net and I didn’t recall having searched that site before. Here you can search among several kinds of records that have been transcribed or indexed by volunteers, including tombstones, memorial cards, World War I casualty lists and directories.

my first find: WWI German casualty list

Following Jim’s advice, I performed a search and, sure enough, I found a one-of-a-kind digitized document. At first glance it wasn’t clear what I was looking. The result contained a VERY rare surname in my family tree, Sporowski, that appeared alongside the name of my great-grandfather’s tiny home village of Kotten, which is rarely mentioned anywhere. The document was a World War I casualty list dated December 22, 1914! Aside from my great grandfather’s naturalization papers, this was the first time ever I had found the name Sporowski and the town of Kotten on the same page of any document. Just seeing them together gave me goosebumps!

Reading German Gothic Script

In order to confirm that I was reading the German Gothic script correctly, I turned to Google for a quick search of German Gothic Script Guide and quickly found several reliable options. I used the Foundation for East European Family History Studies German-Gothic Handwriting Guide available here

The guide helped me confirm my suspicions that the first letter of the first word was “G”, and that I indeed had the first letter of the surname correct, “S”. The entry reads:

“Gren. Emil Sporowski – Kotten”

While this document was not for my great grandfather, I had found the first documentation of his brother Emil! (Gustav also served in the military. Here’s his picture, below.)

Understanding WWI German Military Terms

So what did “Gren.” stand for? I suspected “Grenadier,” but I returned to Google and conducted a search of German Military Abbreviations to be sure. 

Google did not disappoint. The search led to several very helpful documents including one entitled German Military Abbreviations which was prepared by the War Department during World War II.  
Because it was a long PDF document I shaved off a lot of time by using Control + F to find the term “Gren” in this 246 page document. This found the answer instantly on page 72:  

WWI Germany Military Uniforms

I’m a very visual person, so I bee-lined back to Google to get my first glimpse of a Germany Grenadier Military WWI soldier:

WWI German Genealogy Research Success!

What a find in just a few short minutes! And what a lead that may result in additional records that exist for Emil’s military service. (This is the brick-wall family that Legacy Tree Genealogists helped me with recently.)

It was a good reminder that when searching online you never know what you’ll find. Leave no stone unturned — or in this case, no website unsearched — when an expert recommends it, especially if it’s free! And remember to take extra time to familiarize yourself with the sites you search and the collections you find: their original intended purpose, how they are organized, and where they may lead you next.

Learn More Like this 

Genealogy Gems will be rolling out the red carpet and more mini training sessions (like the one Jim gave at our booth) at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree (May 31 – June 2, 2018, Burbank, CA) and FGS 2018 (August 22 – 25, Fort Wayne, IN). Come by the booth to check out the schedule and learn how to get the handouts.

How to Find the Germany Villages of Your Ancestors

Here at Genealogy Gems we’re devoted to helping you be successful in uncovering your family history. Here’s a bonus for you below: a videotaped version of Jim Beidler’s RootsTech 2018 Genealogy Gems booth presentation, “How to find your German ancestral village.” Enjoy!

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

New Digital Archives for Genealogy

Do you use digital archives in your genealogy research? You should! Check out these new digital archives relating to notable women in the U.S. and Sweden; Scottish WWI hospital records; the WWI Armenian genocide; Ohio; Irish-Americans; and African-American military service. Bonus: we also provide quick links to new archives for Kansas in WWI; historic Montana; post-WWII Manchester, England; vintage Tacoma, WA; and colonial Florida.

New digital archives: genealogy treasures

Irish-American resources at the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress announced recently on its blog the release of a new guide to researching the Irish-American experience and new images in its “Free to Use and Reuse” archive. The latter features “sets of themed content: travel posters, presidential portraits, Civil War drawings and all manner of dogs,” explains the article. “All the sets highlighted in the archive—and these are just a few examples—are fee to use and reuse, meaning there are no known copyright restrictions associated with the content, and you can do whatever you want with it.” New content comes from various Library of Congress collections relating to folklife, maps, music and prints/photographs.

Women’s obituary collection in the New York Times. “Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now, we’re adding the stories of remarkable women.” So states the home page of Overlooked, a new obituary collection at the New York Times website. The site goes on to explain how they will be adding belated obituaries—short biographical sketches—of women and others whose lives deserve recognition. You can read about many, search them and even suggest nominees for the series.

Oral history archive of Armenian genocide. The USC Shoah Foundation “has received one of the largest collections of testimonies from survivors of the Armenian Genocide” of World War I, PR Newswire recently reported. More than 1,000 oral history interviews comprise this collection. Only a small number appear online presently; more will be added as the files are digitally remastered and indexed. Click here to learn more about this collection.

Biographies of notable Swedish women. The Chicago Evening Post reported recently on a new online biographical dictionary of women in Swedish history. The site itself is Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexicon (it does have an English-language home page). Its home page encourages visitors to “Read up on 1,000 Swedish women from the Middle Ages to the present day. Use the search function to reveal what these women got up to, how they were educated, which organisations they belonged to, where they travelled, what they achieved, and much more. All of them contributed in a significant way to the development of Swedish society.” According to the Chicago Evening Post, the current collection of 1,000 biographical sketches will soon double (at least).

Scottish WWI hospital admissions. The records of a hospital that treated WWI wounded have been digitized and put online. “Erskine Hospital [in Renfrewshire, Scotland] – then called the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers – was set up in 1916 to treat soldiers who had suffered the loss of a limb during the war,” explains an article at BT.com. The original leather-bound admissions registers from 1916-1939 have been digitized and placed online at Erskine.org. In many cases, not just admissions are recorded, but patients’ progress, prosthetic fittings and other long-term care details.

Ohio Digital Network Collections. The State Library of Ohio recently announced that “over 90,000 new materials from Ohio Digital Network are now discoverable in Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).” Several institutions have partnered to contribute content, including the State Library of Ohio, Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLINK), Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN), and Ohio History Connection [the state historical society). “The Ohio Digital Network builds on strong digital collection efforts across the state including Ohio Memory and the Ohio Digitization Hubs project. Click here to start exploring Ohio Digital Network collections.

Digital archive of African-American military service. The Library of Congress has also launched the William A. Gladstone Afro-American Military Collection, named for a historian and author of books about black Civil War troops. According to the site, “The collection spans the years 1773 to 1987, with the bulk of the material dating from the Civil War period, 1861–65. The collection consists of correspondence, pay vouchers, orders, muster rolls, enlistment and discharge papers, receipts, contracts, affidavits, tax records, miscellaneous military documents and printed matter. Most items document African-Americans in military service, especially the United States Corps d’Afrique and the United States Colored Troops, which were organized during the Civil War. Also included are many documents concerning slavery and various other Civil War documents that mention African-Americans.”

More digital archives for genealogy: quick links

These smaller collections are more specific, so they won’t apply to as many of you. But if they DO apply, they may reveal unique family stories or documents.

Didn’t find anything here that applies to your family history? Let the diverse topics and record types in these collections inspire your searches for similar items about your relatives.

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

Millions of global records now at FamilySearch.org

Millions of records from around the world are new at FamilySearch this week, and are completely free! These new collections include Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, and South Africa. PERSI also got a big update this week at Findmypast, as well as new and updated records for Canada, England, and Ireland.

new genealogy records at Familysesrch

New collections free at FamilySearch

Australia. The new South Australia, Immigrants Ship Papers, 1849-1940 collection includes immigrants’ ships papers, containing a record of births and deaths aboard, 1849-1867 and 1873-1885. Indexed records in this collection include passenger lists arriving and departing from South Australia. (Original records in the State Records of South Australia, Adelaide.) Get started with Australian genealogy research with these tips from an expert at Legacy Tree Genealogists!

Denmark. FamilySearch has been adding census records for Denmark recently, and the latest new collection is the 1921 Denmark Census. This collection includes over 430,000 images, and these census collections were all provided by MyHeritage and previously from the National Archives of Denmark.

Finland. Church Census and Pre-Confirmation Books, 1657-1915: This collection contains church census books and pre-confirmation books kept by the Lutheran Church in Finland. These records come from a database at MyHeritage, citing Kansallisarkisto (National Archives of Finland), Helsinki.

France. Explore over half a million indexed records for Saône-et-Loire, Census, 1856, a complete indexing of the population censuses.

Italy. The Salerno, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1806-1949 collection includes civil registration (stato civile) records of births, marriages, and deaths within the custody of the State Archive of Salerno (Archivio di Stato di Salerno). Almost 6 million images are in this collection, and availability of records is largely dependent on time period and locality.

South Africa. Lastly, this collection of Pietermaritzburg Estate Files 1846-1950 is also new at FamilySearch. Records include death notices, vital records, wills, distribution accounts, and succession duty accounts.

Need help using FamilySearch? The Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org by Dana McCullough provides the guidance you need to discover your ancestors and make the most of the free site’s valuable resources. Learn how to maximize all of FamilySearch.org’s research tools–including hard-to-find features–to extend your family tree in America and the old country.

PERSI update at Findmypast

The Periodical Source Index (also known as PERSI) has had another large update at Findmypast. Almost 11,000 new articles and 30,000 new images have been added, covering Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Toronto, and Yorkshire. PERSI is an excellent resource for discovering articles, photos, and other material you probably won’t find using conventional online search methods.

Click here to learn more about PERSI for genealogy research. Genealogy Gems Premium Members can also check out Premium Podcast episode #135 for more tips on PERSI (sign-in required). Not a Premium Member? Click here to get started!

Canada – New & Updated Collections

From Libraries and Archives Canada: Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files. “As of today, 502,740 of the 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database…Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order.”

Ancestry.com updated two of their collections for Canada this week: Ontario, The Ottawa Journal (Birth, Marriage, and Death Notices) 1885-1980 and the Canada Obituary Collection, 1898-2017. Both of these collections come from microfilmed copies of the newspapers.

England Registrations

Recently announced on Twitter: “The General Register Office for England and Wales (GRO) is piloting a service from 12 October 2017 to provide portable document format (PDF) copies of digitized historical birth and death records. The pilot will run for a minimum of 3 months to enable GRO to assess the demand for this service over a prolonged period.” England and Wales records which are available as PDFs in this extended pilot include births (1837 –1916) and deaths (1837 –1957).

Ireland: Historical Newspaper

A new historical newspaper title was added to the British Newspaper Archive this week for Northern Ireland. The Coleraine Chronicle 1844-1910 was published by Alpha Newspaper Group in Coleraine, Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The collection features nearly 3,500 issues and over 26,000 pages.

genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheetGet the most out of your genealogy records websites subscriptions!

Use the jammed-packed Genealogy Giants cheat sheet by Sunny Morton to quickly and easily compare all of the most important features of the four biggest international genealogy records membership websites: Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com, and MyHeritage.com. Then consult it every time your research budget, needs or goals change. Tables, bulleted lists, and graphics make this guide as easy to use as it is informative. Available in print or digital download.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting the free Genealogy Gems podcast and blog!

Episode 207

The Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 207
with Lisa Louise Cooke

Download the show notes

In this episode, Lisa welcomes Mary Tedesco, a co-host of PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow. Mary shares stories and tips about tracing Italian and Italian-American roots. Also:

  • FamilySearch updates since the end of microfilm lending (and how YOU helped make the last days of lending more effective);
  • A listener uses Google to find her mysterious great-grandmother, with a success story she calls a “game-changer” for her genealogy research.
  • The premiere of Military Minutes with Michael Strauss

NEWS: DOUBLE THE FUN WITH MORE GENEALOGY GEMS PODCAST

This episode launches the NEW twice-monthly Genealogy Gems Podcast format. From now on, watch for two free episodes every month, each about 35-45 minutes long.

If you haven’t downloaded the Genealogy Gems app for easier listening on your mobile device, consider doing so now to make it twice as easy on yourself?and get twice the bonus content from now on!

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is?. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

NEWS: FAMILYSEARCH RECORDS ACCESS UPDATE

ALL of the microfilmed records that have been rented in the past 5 years have now been digitized, over 1.5 million films.

From now on, if you need a film that hasn’t been digitized yet, you can call FamilySearch Support toll-free (866-406-1830) and request it for the priority digitization list.

They continue to digitally scan about 1000 films per day. (That sounds like a lot, but at this rate it will still take them until 2020 to be done.)

New digital images are being put in the FamilySearch Catalog as soon as possible. This is not the main digital record search area! It will take collections a while to appear here. Instead, under the Search tab, select Catalog, and then search by place and record type or other categories. This is a master catalog of all the Family History Library’s collections, online and offline, and when you click on an item’s individual description, you’ll be able to see a link to its digitized version if it’s available.

If you or anyone else had any films on loan in family history centers and FamilySearch affiliate libraries when the lending program ended, those automatically have extended loan status, which means they can stay there indefinitely unless the management decides to send them back.

If all else fails, you can still go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT and order microfilmed records to view, or you can hire someone to do it for you.

FamilySearch Affiliate libraries now have access to nearly all of the restricted image collections as family history centers.

Click here to read or listen to Lisa’s special interview with Diane Loosle of FamilySearch. It goes into much more detail about accessing records on the site, at affiliate libraries and more.

Click here to read the August 30, 2017 update from FamilySearch.

To save 30% off a Care.com Premium membership, visit care.com/gems when you subscribe.

I had so much fun opening the box. They even sent me an apron!

Visit hellofresh.com and use promo code gems30 to save $30 off your first week of deliveries.

NEWS: FREE WEBINAR 9/23 LIVE FROM NYC

Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems presents:

Reveal Your Unique Story through DNA & Family History

Sponsored by Animoto

Saturday, September 23, 2017

11:00 AM EST

Turn DNA results into your family history

Turn your family history into a compelling story

Turn your compelling story into a video!

Learn from Lisa Louise Cooke, Diahan Southard and Animoto’s Beth Forester:

– Your DNA testing options (there are more than you think), and possible outcomes

– The best free resources for going beyond DNA, back several generations in your family (quickly!)

– Creative ideas for filling in the story gaps

– How to expand your story in ways you never expected by finding DNA connections

– Share the story you’ve uncovered with the world through riveting video

Can’t attend live? Register anyway to receive the slides and the video recording afterward.

Lisa chat with Hannah about Hurricane Harvey

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

MAILBOX: KRISTIN’S SUCCESS STORY

“Among the handful of mystery photographs of my grandmother as a child and the strangers who sat beside her, was a brief article from a newspaper. It was a lesson in manners, titled ‘Silence is Golden’ and it was written by Merton Markert, a student of the Modern Classics. A photo of a young woman with a disheveled Gibson hairdo was attached.”

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke teaches the search strategies you need to do searches like these.

Try Ebay! Lisa found a listing for a commencement program from 1902, old post cards of the school, and other yearbooks from Lancaster High School. Sign up for a free Ebay account, run a search, and then click to Follow the search. You will then be alerted to future auctions that match your criteria.

Click here for tips on finding yearbooks and other school records.

Genealogy Gems Premium member perk: Premium Podcast episode 16 has great tips for using Ebay to find family history treasures. Click here to learn more about Premium membership.

INTERVIEW: MARY TEDESCO

MARY M. Tedesco is a professional genealogist, speaker, and author. She is a host and genealogist on PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow” and Founder of ORIGINS ITALY. Mary speaks fluent Italian and travels often to Italy to conduct client genealogical research and visit family. She is co-author of Tracing Your Italian Ancestors.

Click here to watch a free interview with Mary Tedesco with more tips on doing Italian genealogy research.

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB

Murder in Matera by Helene Stapinski tells the story of the author’s journey to Italy to learn the truth behind the family stories about her Italian ancestors. Tune in to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 208 later this month to hear an excerpt from a conversation with Helene Stapinski. (The entire interview will play in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 151.)

MILITARY MINUTES: DRAFT REGISTRATIONS

INTRODUCING MICHAEL STRAUSS

Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner of Genealogy Research Network and an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.

BONUS handout to celebrate this new segment: Click here for a 4-page handout on U.S. draft registration records by Michael L. Strauss.

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Welsh Genealogy and More: New Genealogy Records Online

A new Welsh genealogy resource has been launched by the National Library of Wales! Other new genealogy records online: Canadian military bounty applications, English and Scottish newspapers, Peru civil registration, Swiss census, a WWI online exhibit, Massachusetts probate records, and Minnesota Methodist records.

(Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Thank you for supporting the Genealogy Gems blog!)

Featured: Welsh Genealogy

Article hosted at Welsh Journals Online. Click to view.

The National Library of Wales has launched Welsh Journals Online, a new website with its largest online research resource to date. It contains over 1.2 million digitized pages of over 450 Welsh journals. “Providing free remote access to a variety of Welsh and English language journals published between 1735 and 2007, the website allows users to search the content as well as browse through titles and editions,” states an article at Business News Wales. “The website also enables users to browse by year and decades and provides a link to the catalog entry for each journal.”

The collection is described as containing the nation’s “intellectual history,” valuable whether you want to learn about attitudes of the day, find old recipes, or explore popular products and fashions. According to the above article, “Welsh Journals Online is a sister-site to Welsh Newspapers Online, which was launched in 2013 and which last year received almost half a million visits.”

Canada military bounty applications

A new database at Ancestry.com contains the names of Canadian militiamen who served between 1866-71 against the Irish nationalist raids of the Fenian Brotherhood and survived long enough to apply for bounty rewards beginning in 1912. Raids took place in New Brunswick, Ontario, the Quebec border, and Manitoba; members of the Canadian Militia in Ontario, Quebec and even Nova Scotia were called up in defense. The database includes both successful and disallowed applications and some pension-related records for those who were killed or disabled while on active duty.

England newspapers

The British Newspaper Archive recently celebrated putting its 20 millionth newspaper page online! They’re running a flash sale: 20% off 1-month subscriptions until 6/20/17 with promocode BNAJUN20. New content there includes historical news coverage of:

Findmypast also recently announced 11 brand new titles and over 1.3 million new articles in its collection of historical British newspapers. New titles now available to search include Dudley Herald, Warrington Guardian, Willesden Chronicle, Goole Times, Weston Mercury, Annandale Observer and Advertiser, Bridgnorth Journal and South Shropshire Advertiser, Pateley Bridge & Nidderdale Herald, Fraserburgh Herald and Northern Counties’ Advertiser, Isle of Wight County Press and South of England Reporter, and Eastern Morning News.

Peru civil registration

Over a million indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s existing collection of Peruvian civil registration records, which span over a century (1874-1996). According to the collection descriptions, these records include “births, marriages, deaths, indexes and other records created by civil registration offices in the department of Lima, Peru.”

Scotland newspapers

The British Newspaper Archive has added more newspaper coverage from Arbroath, Angus in eastern Scotland. Issues from 1873-1875 from the Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin Review have been added, bringing the total coverage to 1849-1919.

Swiss census records

A new collection of indexed images of the 1880 census for Fribourg, Switzerland is now searchable at the free FamilySearch.org website. According to the collection description, “Each entry includes name, birthplace, year of birth, gender, marital status, religion, occupation.”

This 1880 census entry image courtesy of the FamilySearch wiki. Click to view.

U.S.: WWI Online Exhibit

The Veterans History Project has launched a web exhibit complementing the Library of Congress’s exhibition “Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I. ” The three-part web exhibit will help tell the larger story of the war from the perspective of those who served in it,” states an announcement. “The first part is now available at loc.gov/vets/.  Part II and Part III will be available in July and September 2017.”

The Veterans History Project has on file nearly 400 personal narratives from World War I veterans. Watch some of these narratives in the video below.

U.S.: Massachusetts probate records

The New England Historic Genealogical Society has added a new database: Berkshire County, MA: Probate File Papers, 1791-1900. “Drawn from digital images and an index contributed to NEHGS by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives, this database makes available 21,143 Berkshire County probate cases filed between 1761 and 1900.” Watch this short video for tips on navigating this collection:

U.S.: Minnesota Methodists

The cover of an original Methodist membership register from the Minnesota conference archive. Registers often include members’ names, family relationship clues, baptisms, marriages and more.

Now it’s easier to locate records relating to your Methodist ancestors in Minnesota. The archive of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church now has an online catalog of its holdings. The catalog contains about 700 items, according to a Conference press release, and continues to be updated regularly.

A Methodist conference is a regional geographic unit of government, similar to but often larger than Catholic dioceses. Each conference has an archive, to which congregations may send their original records. The online catalog has collections of photographs, archival material such as records of closed churches, and library material such as books about Methodism in Minnesota. Currently the catalog shows 42 collections of original church records, which are often the most useful for genealogists.

Stay current with new genealogy records online!

Sign up for Lisa Louise Cooke’s FREE weekly e-newsletter at the top of this page.

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