Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Irish Research and Famine Video

I recently taught a class for my local genealogical society on Irish Research Techniques. As those of you who have Irish ancestors know how difficult it is to find their records and/or hometowns, we are always anxious to learn new tips or tricks.  I showed some websites that have indexes from Ireland’s County Heritage Centers where you can check birth, marriage and death records. We also checked others that have free access to the Griffith’s Valuation, the tax survey taken between 1847 -1864, which is helpful since most Irish censuses taken during this time period has been destroyed.

There were a couple sites that had some emigration databases you can search for when your ancestor would have left.  One of them is on the website, www.dunbrody.com which is the page for the 1845 Emigrant Ship exhibit in New Ross, Ireland.  On our research trip last year we visited this exhibit and were able to see what the conditions were like on this small ship, sometimes when you stand in a spot that holds such history you can feel your ancestor’s story, maybe comprehend a little of what they must have went through.  I recently watched a video that really brought home what our Irish ancestors went through during those Famine years and I recommend it highly to you.

The story is in the Spring of 1849, a coffin ship called Hannah, carrying 180 Irish emigrants fleeing Ireland’s potato famine; hit an ice reef in the strait near Cape Ray, off the coast of Newfoundland. The captain, a 23 year-old Englishman, took flight in the only lifeboat, leaving his passengers to either drown or freeze to death. Seventeen hours later, the survivors were rescued by another famine ship, the Nicaragua.   The video is a Canadian production of descendants of these survivors who travel the route their ancestors did and “feel” their story by being there.  I’ve read many books and watched other things about the Great Famine but for some reason this really hit me as to what the horrors actually were and made me all the more determined to learn more about my Irish ancestors life during this time and what happened to the ones left behind.  Sometimes we have tunnel vision on our research and are only interested in that next document find, but it is good to stop and realize these names and dates were people and they laughed and cried and suffered like all humans and they want us to know their story.  

Good hunting and I hope you “feel” this video like I did.  If you would like to learn more about the Irish famine join us on our Irish Research trip in 2014. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Familienbuch, Burgerbuch and Ortssippenbuch.

Familienbuch, Burgerbuch and Ortsippenbuch's.

On our Rhineland trip this year (2013) we visited and toured the Evangelische Archivestelle Boppard (the Evangelish Church Archives in Boppard) Th
is depository has microfilms and many books for the Protestant church records in the Rhineland, we were shown their collection of Familienbuchs and were taken down into the stacks where we were shown some of the original church books. A couple of our tour members were able to find some entries for their families, which was exciting.  We were joined by a very interesting local historian from Boppard, Dr. F (we will keep his name private) who has written many Familienbuch's over the last 30 years or so. I asked him if he would take a little time and tell us what all is involved in putting together these books and we had a wonderful impromptu lecture on the subject which was fascinating.

Here is some of what I learned from this:

My prized possession

There are 3 different names these books can be called, a Familienbuch (family book), a Burger book (citizen book) or Ortssippenbuch (inhabitants of a place book).  Of course the first and foremost important things for these books are records from the churches. Without church books you can do nothing.

The two major religions of Germany, Catholic and Lutheran’s records mostly began in the 16th century, about 1570 but these records are sketchy and not too many have survived the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) so books usually start in mid-1600's. Sometimes you may find a couple of Familienbuch's for the same town, this could be because one book was written for the Catholic Church families and the other for the Lutheran church. (If the town has more than one denomination in town.)  We were shown 3 books for the same town, which was the Catholic, Evangelish and the Evangelisch Reformed church records. Also you may find that the books contain records for surrounding villages if this was the parish that a village was part of. (I suggest you use the books by Kevan Hansen'a "Map Guides to German Parish Registers" available in the States. These books help tell you what parish your village belonged to. They also will tell you what microfilm to order from the LDS library in Salt Lake to find your people's church records).

Dr. F has worked on Familienbuchs for the past 30 years. He usually starts by recording the marriages. He then works on Baptisms, matching all children to the correct parents. Of course sometimes the marriage or a baptism of current inhabitants took place in another village, the birthplace town is sometimes mentioned and sometimes not. Death records are a lot harder as sometimes a person’s name may not be mentioned, such as: Wilhelm Mueller’s infant son died today, age about two. The wife of Johann Schmidt died today at age 50. And then there is the problem of recorded ages. He told us that for some reason he has found that people’s ages recorded at death are a lot of times much older than what they really were! If you follow the name of the person who died and you see he was born in 1750 and died in 1815 he should be 65 but they may say he was 80. We asked why that happened and he doesn’t really know but it can be very hard to make sure you have the correct person.

Then there is the matter of Civil Records. This area of the Rhine (left side of the Rhine) Napoleon started Civil Registration in 1798. These records are usually good, written in French and sometimes using a different calendar) but a lot of church records stopped at this time, so there could be a gap in church records of 10 years or so when Civil registration was in vogue. Dr. F. uses these records of course too.

Dr. F also told us that he starts his books not with the oldest books but the ones from the mid-18th century because of surnames. The early records may not have surnames listed or names are spelled differently. (This led to a very interesting discussion of how surnames came about – too much for me to record here). He also told us that he also uses other sources too, records from the State or City Archives, so that he can tell more than just names and dates of each person, he likes to include occupations, where they lived, taxes they paid and more details of anything he can find. Wouldn’t you like to get one of his books for your family? In regards to taxes, we also sidetracked into why they liked being listed as the top 5 or 10 highest tax payers (this involved politics, voting and more interesting facts).

So, there is a lot of work put into these books and of course they are only as good as the author, which he also reminded us that if you have found a book for your town or see that there is a microfilm made for the book be sure to check the first couple pages to see what sources the author used to write the book. Perhaps it is only the Catholic Church records and you think it is the whole town. Dr. F. said he has heard that sometimes the first couple pages were not filmed by the LDS so on the microfilm it may not tell you what records were used. Just make note of that.

These books are not required to be written by anyone and they are only taken on as a project if there is a willing local historian, author or genealogy society that will work on it. There are a few places to check to see if your town has a book, a couple places that I know are:

Online heritage books

Printed books

Germany Town Genealogies and Parish Register Inventories on the Internet

Also try contacting the St. Louis County Library Headquarters as they have a wonderful collection of German Ortssippenbuchs.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

German Journeymen & Wanderbuch's

The Wandering Years

On my recent trip to Germany, I caught a news story on TV that was of interest to me (although my understanding of spoken German is very limited) and perhaps to others with German heritage. The story was about a traveling craftsman and his Wanderbuch.  This gentleman was an apprentice bricklayer, and told of his adventures on his journey of 3 years and 1 day.   He was in his “uniform” that apparently is centuries old and according to the rules he can only carry his sleeping bag, some tools, a few special clothes and travel around to master his craft.  He is allowed to ask for free food (by asking in a special poem form) and by asking other master’s, like bakers or butchers. He also will ask for work and a place to stay.  All these jobs must be recorded in his wanderbuch and stamped by the master he worked for.

So a little background on the Journeyman and the Wanderbuch.

Since the late Middle Ages, craftsman experience a period of wandering after completion of their apprenticeship. They may only go wandering if they have passed the journeyman’s examination and are unmarried, childless and debt free. They are labeled as strangers or foreigners since they must leave their home and travel, never coming back within 30 miles of their hometown for 3 years and 1 day.

The rules are defined by the guild of their craft including the length of time they wander, what they may carry (a gnarled wooden stick, a black wide brimmed hat and a waistcoat and jacket and trousers that designate your trade. (different for carpenters, blacksmith, bricklayers etc.)

The wandering years served to get to know their craft and new techniques and generally to collect life experience. They would have to wander throughout their country and even into other countries to learn from other masters and to hone their skills before coming home to start a career.  

Throughout this journey they would carry their “Wanderbuch”. 

The book made ​​it possible for the person in search of work to move from city to town. However, he had to meet certain requirements for it. At each place where the workers are staying longer than two days, he was obliged to report to the authorities and show his Wanderbuch for inspection. The book was then given a short entry and a stamp of authority. A stay over two days was also banned him unless he could not find work locally. The Wanderbuch also expressly forbid under threat of "prison-punishment" begging and "aimless wanderings." Also, any change to the book by the owner, such erasures or strikeouts, was found to be a forgery which also was punishable.

To enable the authorities a clear identification of the holder, the Wanderbuch includes detailed information about his appearance. Passport photos did not yet exist, so stature and facial features are therefore given exactly.
 Example: Johann Gottfried Dannenberg is "5 foot 7.5 inch" tall, of medium build and has gray eyes. Hair, beard and eyebrows are blonde. His face is oval, round the forehead, the nose "strong," the mouth "mediocre". A special feature is noted that he had "the right index finger a scar."  

Despite adverse circumstances, travelers have above all, the freedom. The wander years are also an opportunity to think about life and pursue philosophical questions. In journeyman evenings, however serene atmosphere comes down to what is partly due to the whim of drinking companions. After all the impressions and experiences many find it difficult to return to everyday life. As one Journeymen said: "It's hard to leave from home, but infinitely more difficult to come back."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Water Castles in Munsterland, Germany

On my recent post I talked about visiting a landlord’s house in Northwest Westphalia. It made me wonder who did the landlord answer to? He was the collector but was there someone over him. In some cases the landlord of a large farm was the collector for the noble family or church "owner" of the land. They would live in a larger castle or palace or ornate Residence House. So we traveled a little south into Münsterland to see some of these Castles or Wasserschloss (water castles) of the ruling classes.

The actual Münsterland: a settled landscape of woods, scattered farms, windmills, travel-poster villages with neat market squares, church spires, and a profusion of moated castles, fortresses, and manor houses all situated on islands in man-made lakes.

These Wasserburgen and Wasserschloss, as they are called, make the Münsterland one of Germanys most unusual and rewarding travel destinations. Nowhere else will you find as many old chateaus in such a small area.

What makes them all the more unusual is that, unlike other German castles, they do not perch atop craggy cliffs or steep mountains but simply pop out of the level plain.

Most of them have origins in the 9th and 10th centuries, after Münster itself had become a powerful church state ruled by prince-bishops who had ecclesiastical as well as worldly authority. Various knights and barons settled in the region as feudal lords and landed gentry. They never bothered trying to find a hill on which to build their castles because there are none. The land is as flat as a tabletop. But it is laced by innumerable waterways. Thus, the first sites, dating back 1000 and more years, were simply fortified houses on circular plots of land cut out of the fertile soil, surrounded by ramparts and moats, the water for which came from re-routing and damming the many creeks and streams. By the 12th century a more elaborate style evolved; man-made mounds of earth on which the castle stood, guarded by thick walls with towers and turrets, surrounded by artificial lakes. The chateaus, in effect, were on islands.

I had seen a picture of Schloss Nordkirchen in some travel brochure and Matthias agreed to take me to see it. Schloss Nordkirchen is called the "Versailles of Westphalia." The label is not just local bragging. Versailles was what Prince-Bishop Count Friedrich Christian von Plettenberg envisioned as a model when, in 1694, he bought the original moated castle of Nordkirchen from a local nobleman and commissioned architect Gottfried Pictorius to turn that modest property into a grand summer residence, replete with landscaped park and canals for pleasure boats.

Money, he said, should be no obstacle, so Pictorious spent what was then a king’s ransom, 240,000 thalers, to create a vast palace in the style of French chateaus. Neither the bishop nor his builder lived to see completion of the project and it was Plettenbergs nephew Ferdinand who retained Johann Conrad Schlaun to finish the job.

It is one of Germany’s largest, most lavishly appointed palaces: a complex of eight huge wings extending from a central tract in a strikingly harmonious juxtaposition of maroon-colored brick with carved sandstone embellishments. The 430-acre park surrounding the lake and canals is dotted with manicured lawns and flowerbeds, statues of Greco-Roman gods and goddesses, cupids, satyrs and figures of hunting dogs and charging wild boars. Chestnut trees, 200 years old, line the lanes and paths.

Though the building is now owned and used by Northrhine-Westphalia’s finance ministry as a training center for its tax agents, the ornate rooms and chambers, all splashes of intricate stucco work with gold leaf and ceiling frescoes, can be viewed on one-hour guided tours Saturday, Sunday and holiday afternoons. It so happens we were there during the week so no tour of the inside but it was gorgeous day weather wise, had some sun and it wasn’t as cold as it was the day before, so I enjoyed walking through the garden and seeing a Wasserschloss up close and personal. There were lots of people picnicking on the grounds, apparently since it is a public building the public can use the grounds. Nice day and all I can say is "It must have been nice to be the rich and powerful."

Monday, May 28, 2012

German trip May 2012

Well I am home from Germany now and I always have good intentions of blogging every day when I am there, but that never happens. Never enough time, although I do take train or car time to jot down a few notes.  So, I will try to write about things now as I look through the pictures.

We usually do a trip in May because Germany is such a pleasure to the eye in May. Yellow fields of rapeseed blooming in fields scattered over the hillsides looking like a patchwork quilt, tons of lilacs blooming and rhododendron and hydrangea.  It was gorgeous.

I had a few days before we met our clients for a personal heritage tour and we decided to visit a local “landlord’s” house called Schloss Hunnefeld, located near Bad Essen. In the olden days the landlord was the person who was in charge of collecting the rents and taxes from the small farmers.  In the 13th century Schloss Hunnefeld   was a moated “water” castle.  Today you come down a long lane into a large clearing and see the impressive residence. The building is a three-winged two story in the Renaissance style.  There is a small island in the moat now and behind it a beautiful English garden.  There also is French style dovecote from the 1700’s.  I could picture the small farmer walking his way down the long lane with his hard earned money or livestock or whatever he had as payment.

In the building where the café is now was the counting house, or the place where taxes and rents were collected.   I guess a little history of the “farm system” in Germany is in order.  Of course this is a generalization, different areas had different laws and different systems but the farm system had been around for centuries, its roots go back to the Germanic tribes, who were nomads and whose economy was based on summer military campaigns, in which the men earned the tribes living by plunder.  When they settled down to more agricultural pursuits versus the nomadic lifestyle, they needed the protection against other marauding tribes so they pledged service and fealty to their warrior overlords.  By the end of the Middle Ages, military protection by the overlords was not needed as much, so the overlords settled down too.  Land and income from agricultural products replaced plunder as their primary source of income, and the relationship of overlord and peasant farmer became firmly established.  At least this is what I have read and I am sure there are probably more complicated reasons but this serf and lord system was around for centuries and German villages and farms used to “belong” to someone that they owed taxes and rents too.  We have found records for some of these big farms that list all the small farms they owned and how much they collected etc.  Sometimes (not sure how often as I have not personally seen that many) they might list the farmers names that were under their control.  Of course in the Northwest of Germany the larger farms had the names and whoever lived there took that name. But that is a story for another day.

So, as it was a cool day we stopped in the café and had a hot, steamy bowl of spargel soup. Spargel is white asparagus which is also a big deal in May in Germany; you will get it everywhere and in every way imaginable.  But it was warm and tasty and I like to look out the window and transport back to centuries ago and imagine what would have been going on that cool, spring day.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

WDYTYA & Hessian Soldiers

Did you watch last week's WDYTYA and follow Rob Lowe’s journey of finding his ancestor that had been a Hessian soldier that fought in the American Revolutionary War?  Do you have or think you may have a “Hessian soldier” in your background?   Then here is a site from the Archives in Marburg, Hesse, Germany that has a database for Hessian Troops in America.  First a little background on Hessian involvement in the Revolutionary War from Wikipedia.

During the American Revolution, there were many German states loosely unified under the Holy Roman Empire. Many of these German states were officially Protestant, making them traditional allies of other Protestant nations, such as the United Kingdom of Great Britain, whose king, George III, was also the Prince-Elector of Hanover. King George III came from an ethnic German line, and was the first of the House of Hanover to speak English as his first language.[1] Great Britain formed strong German alliances during the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, and had combined forces with Frederick the Great during the Seven Years War to form a coalition that functioned as one Army.[2] When the British colonies in America rebelled a decade later, several German states contracted for the temporary loan of German soldiers to the British Army. Although the leasing of German soldiers to a foreign power was controversial to some Europeans,[3] the German people generally took great pride in their soldiers' service in the war.[4]

Americans were alarmed at the arrival of German troops on American soil, viewing it as a betrayal by King George III. Several American congressmen declared they would be willing to declare independence if King George used German soldiers.[5] German soldiers provided American patriots with a propaganda tool; they were derogatorily called "mercenaries," and were referred as such in the Declaration of Independence:

"He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat [sic] the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. [6]"  

Despite American propaganda, contemporary writers suggested that German soldiers were well respected and well cared for, both by Americans and British.[7] At the conclusion of the war, Congress offered incentives for German soldiers to stay in the United States.[8] Great Britain also offered land and tax incentives for German soldiers willing to settle in Nova Scotia.[8]

Here is the link:  http://lagis.online.uni-marburg.de/en/subjects/index/sn/hetrina

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You Must Go Home Again

When you are researching your German ancestors don’t forget to mine all the resources from the towns they lived in.  Perhaps before they settled someplace permanently they lived in several states and there were major life events that happened in that town.  Marriages, births, deaths or maybe just a mention in the local paper, these are all things you need to check out for the mention of a past hometown in Germany. 

Your first objective is to find them in every U.S. and State census since they arrived in the country.  This will show you all the places they lived and give you the town, county and state. (Find census images at Ancestry.com or your local library may have a subscription to Ancestry or Heritage Quest, also FamilySearch.org has free access to US census records).   I would then do a Google search for the town’s local Historical Society or Genealogy Society and see what is available on their website.  A lot of these societies are putting indexes and even some documents online. They also give information on local resources, perhaps where the vital records are kept, or links to other resources in the area.  These societies also have a wealth of information that probably is not online. For years people have donated their time to index local records or the people that volunteer there have lived in that town all their life and know many family names.  It is worth the time to contact them.

You may try your local library. Do they have a genealogy section?  Maybe you live near a larger library that does.  These institutions may have collected books or microfilms from other states and counties that are genealogy related and you can find what you are looking for close to your home.

Another great find is to do some searching on Google Books.  I did some searching for Germans in Ohio, and found some great books available on line to read.  One was Franklin County, Ohio history, which gives the founding of the county plus early settlers and hometowns.  So I suggest playing at this site with family names, county names, German immigration etc.  You may have a fantastic find.

The internet makes it easy for us to travel the world from our living room but you also must remember to look for printed items that are not on the internet yet.  You need to work the town they lived in for all possible resources.  Good luck!