Friday, October 2, 2009

Southwest Germany Tour 2009

Highlights from Southern Germany Tour with FamilyTreeTours

Everyone arrived on Sunday and we settled down in our hotel in Speyer. Speyer is a wonderful city in the Rhineland-Palatinate, dominated by its Dom (Cathedral) on one end of its cobble-stoned main street, Maximillianstrasse, and by its Old Gate on the other end.

I love the small town feel of this city on the Rhine and its history. We had a very interesting historical tour of the city by 3 women in costumes of the 1600’s, who gave us a very enlightening and amusing story of life for citizens of Speyer before the French attack on the city in 1688. This tour company does historical tours of several different time periods of Speyer history, I recommend them highly.

Onn Monday we headed out to a close by town called Neustadt an der Weinstrasse to catch the bus up to the Hambach Castle. This castle is located on a small mountain on the eastern side of the Palatine Forest and was at one time used as a protection castle and then as a robber baron palace over the trade routes through the forest. Today it is better known as the place where a demonstration by the Palatinate people was held in 1832 voicing their discontent of the harsh rule of the Bavarian administration. This demonstration was put down, as was the 1848 one, which led to many leaving the country. Perhaps you have heard of the "48ers." We met our guide, who gave us a tour of the outside of the Castle and then also the museum inside. She was very interesting and the tour was over 2 hours long. Guess we got our money’s worth.

Then off to the Wurst Fest in Bad

Dürkheim. This was a festival on the

order of Munich’s Oktoberfest, of course not as large, but we joined the locals on the benches and drank the .5 liter glass of wine. Fun Day!

Tuesday was the day everyone went out to visit their ancestral hometowns, armed with their train times and contact names, off they went. There was a couple of us left behind and we had decided to visit a town north of Speyer called Alzey to see an exhibit at their Heimat museum on 300 years of Pfalz Emigration. We had been in contact with a history Professor from the University of Mainz, who I am hoping to have give us lectures in the future. He has written numerous papers and books on German emigration. Anyway, we took the train up to Alzey and made our way to the museum where the Professor was just leaving. He was giving a lecture to a big group on his Emigration Research that afternoon but had promised to meet us and he gave us a fantastic tour of the museum. Surprisingly, the Pfalz area had more emigration than other areas of Germany, and a lot of them went to Wisconsin and St. Louis. They had lots of pictures and artifacts from German clubs and groups from these cities. I saw a picture of the St. Louis Turn Verein Society in 1910, which is where my grandparents met at a dance around that time, as they were married in 1911. Unfortunately, I didn’t look at the people in the picture that good, perhaps they were there! Professor Schmal was very interesting and it was so nice of him to take the time to give us this tour when he had such a busy day. After our tour, we took the train to Worms to check out the Cathedral and also to meet some friends from a previous tour. After all this we headed back to Speyer to wait for our “little chicks” to come home. And they did with great stories of hometown churches, newfound cousins, and charming medieval villages. One tour member was able to play the organ in the centuries old church her gr-gr-grandmother attended. Another walked through the church his gr-uncle had been a priest at in the 1880’s, plus met some cousins. Another person was given records back an amazing 10 generations! A good time was had by all.

Wednesday – Today was our lecture with Roland Paul at the Palatine Folk life Institute in Kaiserslautern. A widely known facility which has proved itself valuable to many researchers,it has over 300,000 card files on Palatine emigrants, literature, resources, and publications on the history of the Pfalz area. Roland Paul is the director and has spoken all over the world on the history of emigration from this region. We were able to purchase his book "Palantines in America". If anyone has ancestors from this area, this book is very interesting. Let me know if you would be interested in geting a copy of this book. ( He gave us another interesting lecture and then provided those who wanted an opportunity to check out the emigrant card file. I think someone had some luck.

Afterwards we took Herr Paul to lunch at a local restaurant in one of the oldest buildings in Kaiserslautern, the Spinnrädl “The Spinning Wheel”. We also were joined by Dr. Michael Gill, a member of a genealogy group in Germany called, The Genealogical Association of English Speaking Researchers in Europe, he gave us an overview of what their group is about and how they started. Seems like some military folks, plus ex-pat’s that now live in Germany. It was interesting to hear of what their group does.

Then train back to Speyer, those that weren’t too tired, stopped off in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. This is a neat city with another fabulous old town. The Stiftskirche with its two unequal towers is Neustadt’s main landmark. You can climb to the top of the south tower for a magnificent view of the town. Until 1970 this tower was home of the last “Türmer”in Neustadt, whose job, traditionally, was to watch out for fires in the town. The north tower is home to the “Kaiserglocke”, the largest cast-iron church bell in the world. Another interesting fact is that between 1708-1714 inside the church a wall was put up down the center to serve both Catholic and Protestant members. Finally in 1984 there was a door put in the wall but it is still standing.

Thursday – was another day of learning about researching in Germany. We had a tour/lecture of the Stuttgart Main Archives.


They do a good job of working with our group to explain how

the different Archives in Germany operate. There are State Archives, Municipal Archives, Church Archives and even local City Archives. It takes a little research on your part to find out what kind of documents each of these Archives have. My suggestion is to always start with church archives if you know your hometown, you need to find out if the the church books are still kept in the local parish or if they have been sent to a regional Archive. The very first suggestion is to see if your hometown’s records have been filmed by the LDS Library in the States. That way you can do that research at home and not waste time while you are in Germany. Most archives in Germany may require you make an appointment or if not, may have small reading rooms with limited readers. Check this out before you come and personally, I think, if you don’t read German and especially old German script, it may be hard for you to accomplish much on your own. I would recommend maybe hiring a German researcher to come with you. Our guide took us throughout the building, to show us how the records/books are stored. You wouldn’t believe the old books and documents they have there. Plus we had a chance to see some really old artifacts and also how they work to repair and preserve these documents. It is amazing to me that some of these items that are close to a 1000 years old have made it through. Now they are in climate controlled, specially made containers but where were they say 500 years ago? Amazing!

After our lecture we had a choice to visit another facility in Ludwigshafen that is a local genealogy society’s library that has a lot of books, etc. on the Pfalz area or go to Heidelberg. Everyone wanted to go to Heidelberg to visit the Castle overlooking the Neckar River. We took the funicular up to the top of the mountain and they got to explore the Castle grounds and I sat in the bier garten and had some kaffee und kuchen. It was that time of day!

Friday was our day to transfer from Speyer to Würzburg, but first we had the historical tour of Speyer mentioned earlier. That was very fun. What isn’t fun in getting on a train with luggage that is headed toward Munich on the Friday afternoon on the start of Oktoberfest weekend. It was madness, so crowded! No seats, but the only good thing was it was only an hour ride. We were really glad to get off that. Würzburg is also a beautiful city, with the Marienberg Fortress, high on the hill overlooking the city. The old bridge across the river is sort of a work of art itself. But in addition to the start of Oktoberfest, there also was a music festival in Würzburg this weekend, so it was a bit crowded too. Some of us found a great spot to sit and have a glass of wine near the river with the lighted Fortress and a big moon looking down on us.

Saturday – was another free day and some folks headed out to their hometowns again. The rest of the group had a chance to explore Würzburg. With the charming town square, the Marienberg Fortress high on the hill above the city, or the Bishops Residence Palace, there is plenty to see in Würzburg . You could also take a boat down the river (or up the river not sure) to the Summer Palace of the Bishops, with a large palace and beautiful gardens to explore. My German partner and I had an appointment to meet with a local researcher in a nearby town. This gentleman had been the former President of the National Genealogical Society of Germany and also is an expert for the Hesse area. He has a data base of over 1 million names! Now before everyone gets all excited, I couldn’t quite get out of him what he plans to do with this database. He does not speak English (German of course, Greek, Latin and French I think but no English!!) But before I jump ahead, I guess I should say he picked us up at the train station and took

us to his home. His wife had kaffee und kuchen waiting and she made me eat 2 pieces! Really she did. Now remember we are strangers to these people, but they were very, very sweet. His home was filled with books, books, and more books. He had a set of over 20 books kind of like an Encyclopedia Britannica of Germany from the 1700’s. Then he showed us room after room of more research books, town histories and the greatest thing of all was in his basement he actually had the kind of rolling shelves that Archives have, filled with books. 550 of them were town Ortssippenbuch’s (family heritage books from different towns). Matthias and I were in heaven. But like I said he uses these things for his own research and he is currently writing a history (or Ortsippenbuch) for a couple of his hometowns which coincindently happened to be one of our tour member’s hometowns. So he looked in his database and lo and behold he is related to her way back and had a big piece of the puzzle for her, as her ancestor had been born illegitimate and all she had was the father’s name. He filled in a few generations back for her. So it was great day. He does not want to be inundated with emails about his database but I sure hope that he realizes what a treasure this would be for so many people. We are going to try to stay in his good graces and perhaps get to use some of his resources. Returned to Würzburg and gave our tour member the good news about her found ancestor and as she was already on cloud 9 from her day out to more ancestral towns, she couldn’t hardly stand all the excitement.

Sunday - Today the group headed out to the Frankish Freiland Museum in Bad Windsheim. This is an open air living history museum. It so happens they were

having a Herbst Fest (Fall Festival) this weekend and this meant there were many old fashioned craftsmen there, showing us how things were done in days gone by. It was a lovely day, sun was shining, and we saw what our ancestor’s homes may have looked like and saw how the would have worked in their trade shops. There was some traditional singing and a German band and a bier garten with bier and brats. What more cou ld you ask for? It was a great Sunday afternoon.

Monday – Last full day for sightseeing and we were taking a bus down to the extremely charming town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We rode down the Romantic Road for about an hour and then had the whole afternoon to explore this medieval, walled city. It was another glorious day, with warm sunshine and blue skies. A lot of the ladies needed their shopping fix and there are plenty of shops to peruse, especially the world’s largest Christmas shop. Some of us went on the English guided tour in the afternoon, the guide was very entertaining

and we learned a lot. Fun day. We headed back home to our Farewell dinner, where we traded stories, enjoyed some local wine and said our good-byes. It was a great group and I think the hometown visits were a success and we all got to experience the culture and embrace this homeland of our ancestors.

Tuesday – Most folks headed home, some people extended their trips and went off to Munich and Italy, and I headed off to scout a place for next year’s trips. We are thinking of staying in the South east of Germany next September, perhaps in a town called Ansbach, with visits to Nuremburg and Bamberg, and Munich is certainly reachable. Also if you have hometowns over towards Stuttgart, we have a contact over there that has a network of people doing research on local families who will help us with hometown visits. I will be posting more on this in upcoming newsletters and here on the blog, so stay tuned.

Until later, Auf Wiedersehen!!

If interested in upcoming tours or would like help planning your own ancestral trip,please contact Kathy at

I will be posting more pictures, so check back for link.

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