Sunday, July 3, 2011

How They Lived & How They Left

Today we visit a “Freilichtmuseum”, an open air living history museum. These open air museums are scattered throughout Germany and give a good representation of how people lived in a certain region of Germany. We visited the one in Detmold, representing the Northern Westphalia area. One of the largest museums it has over 100 houses and farms.

We visited far
m homes typical for this area where the house and barn were in the same building. The large building would house the animals in the front and the living quarters in the back. The “kitchen” so to speak contained the open fire pit; without a chimney the smoke would rise to smoke the sausage and meat hung above the fire. Plus it would permeate the room. Without many windows, smoke in the air, and the smell of animals, I don't imagine life was too easy.

These larger farmhouses were home to the farm landlord or overseer. Most of our ancesto
rs who decided to emigrate would have been from the landless classes, the tenants (Heurerlinge), day laborers. They would have lived in smaller cottages. Interesting thing I found out on this trip though was through one of our tour members, she had traced her line back to the 1600-1700; s and found many family farms. Due to inheritance laws lots of the emigrants were sons who would not inherit the farm, so throughout the generations they would have become the Heuerlinge and eventually they emigrated. So if you want to find the farmhouse you need to trace back as far as you can. Of course, everyone's story is different but this is a goal to go back as far as you can.

(I have a few books left for sale by a local historian from this NW area who explains the farm system, the reasons for emigration, the voyage and how they made it to Bremerhaven or a port city and then the settlements in the U.S. There are lots of names of emigrants from the town and area around Venne, Germany. If you have an interest in this book let me know. It is called “Venne in America”).

In more explanation of a comment above, due to inheritance laws common during the 19th century, where in this area of Germany the youngest son inherited the farm. The other sons only had the opportunity to work for their brothers or as a day laborer at someone else's farm. Through in some marriage requirements (they might have to prove they were healthy, able to work, owned a cow and were able to lease a cottage) and you can see how the pull from America and other places helped stir emigration fever.

See video from Freilitchtmuseum.

Emigration – Bremerhaven

So we saw how our ancestors lived at the Freilichmuseum and learned a little about an occupation they may have h
ad (cigar-making) at the Tabak Museum, then we had a very interesting lecture from the head archivist from the County Herford Archives about emigration. This archivist showed us one of the 13 volumes of Emigrant Books containing “permission to emigrate” papers they have collected over the years. They have worked hard to index these and great news for us these indexes will be put online later this year. This is great news because without an index it would be very hard to find these papers on your own. The papers are usually kept in an Archive or the local courts filed by year and then maybe by month and if you knew this much then you would have to look through all the papers for that month (plus reading old German script) to find your ancestor's name.

After the decision to emigrate was made, a whole list of preparations had to be made. First, one had to get an emigration permit from the authorities’ at the government office. The emigrants who were tenants sold whatever they had of household goods, which was minimal. Those from the small cottage farms sold their house and land.

In addition to the cost of the ship passage, there were other expenses with which they had to contend with. The travel cost to Bremen or the port city was needed, meals and accommodations there until a ship was ready to depart, plus necessary travel accessories such as a mattress, pillow, blanket, and eating utensils. Imagine this journey with 4 or 5 children in tow; you thought a family car trip was bad.

We will have this video of the Lecture as a Webinar in the near future. Check back at our website or on Face book to get the date. It is an interesting talk on the emigration process. Also there is more detail on the whole emigration process in the book I mentioned earlier, “Venne in America”.

Next post HOW THEY LEFT, our visit to

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Northwest Germany Tour - Finding the Stories

It is always exciting for me to welcome another group to Germany on their discovery of their ancestor’s home place. They usually arrive with the facts of their family and hopefully they leave with a little more of the story of their family. So on Sunday the 19th we greeted our group to the Northwest of Germany to help them get their family stories. We settled in at the hotel and after a little rest we strolled through our home base town of Bünde with a quick beer at a charming biergarten near a slow moving river and then to dinner.

Monday after breakfast we head for a tour of the Tabak (tobacco) museum in Bünde. This sounds funny now in our PC world but this industry was very important for our ancestors. The first tobacco factory in Northwest Germany opened in 1843. Tobacco had been introduced in Europe to the nobility as a treasure from new worlds.

Our ancestors most often needed a second occupation to make ends meet, as farming and especially tenant farming was not enough to support a family. The northwest of Germany was a leading source for the manufacture of linen from the flax plant. The production and spinning of the flax into linen could be done during the winter months and in the evening after farming. But as the Industrial Revolution spread this occupation needed less manpower and the people were out of work. Once tobacco was more prevalent the manufacture of cigars was off and running. The tobacco arrived in ships mainly from the U.S. in the harbor in Bremen and then transported inland to smaller towns in the countryside where there were factories and home workers who made the cigars. Many of our ancestors brought this trade to the New World with them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Resources for Finding that German Town

(or other non-European) records for an ancestor who emigrated to America,

and his descendants (starting with yourself and working backward, without

interruption). These include birth, marriage and death records (issued by

BOTH the civil government AND a person’s Catholic or Lutheran church in

America—the church records of the same events are often more detailed than

the civil ones). Don’t limit these just to the immigrant—you might find

his birthplace in Germany specified on the birth, baptismal or christening

records of his American-born children, for example). Look for passenger

departure and arrival records, US military records, US national and state

censuses, naturalization papers, obituaries, probates, and Social Security

applications (for those alive in 1937 or later).

Online, see what you my find by trying the FREE online LDS Family History

Library “Family Search” feature and look up the ancestor in the

International Genealogical Index (IGI) (go to ). See if you can find your
ancestors in the FREE database searches for the immigrant processing centers

(for the port of New York) of Castle Garden [for immigrant arrivals from

1830 through 1891] at and Ellis Island at [for immigrant arrivals from 1892 to about
Even if your ancestors came before Ellis Island was opened check it again,

they might have gone back for visit and filled out a passport.

Also online, to see who else might be researching the same names or
families, check the surnames and data posted by others on Rootsweb

If you are just getting your feet wet in overseas research, I’d also
recommend the following great Web sites (all of which are FREE) to help you

get started in the right direction. :-)


1) soc.genealogy.german Frequently Asked Questions List

This helpful site answers the following often-asked questions in detail,

among many others:

How can I start researching my German or German-American family?

Can you help me with surname ________________?

Where can I register/find my surnames?

Where is the town/village ___________________?

How can I find out what village my ancestor came from?

How about German cemeteries?

What does my German surname mean?

Is my family from a town with a name like their surname?

How do I write to a German Standesamt, parish, or archive?


2) RootsWeb’s Guide “On the Trail of Germanic Ancestors”

3) RootsWeb’s Guide “Tracing Your Immigrant Ancestors”

4) LDS Family History Library Ancestor Search [look up your ancestors' names
(free) in the immense collection of extracted data gathered by the LDS


5) Cyndi Howell’s amazing database of genealogy links, Cyndi’s List (for


6) Regional Research in German-Speaking Countries

This should keep you busy for awhile, and if anyone has other helpful hints for how you found your town please let us know. Good luck!

Monday, May 23, 2011

I Can't Go Yet, I Don't Know the Town

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Walking Through Time

Less than two months before my next small group tour to Germany in June. This is about the time I tell the group to start walking. Do a little bit every day so that you don’t get tired out while visiting Germany. Also, if you plan on buying new walking shoes get them and break them in. Why all the warnings? Germany and Europe in general, is best appreciated by walking. Europe is not a drive by. So many American tourists come over and get on a big tour bus and drive by the magnificent palaces and castles and get dumped off in a touristy city for a few hours and come home and think they have seen Europe. Yes, in a way they saw things but did they experience it? Did they wander down windy, cobble-stoned streets and get off the beaten path? Did you venture out alone with your few phrases of the language and try eating in a local’s only café? Did you experience living like the locals and riding their public transportation? To me this is the experience I am going for. Scary, sometimes but it sure produces a lasting memory and makes me hungry for more.

When I started this business I wanted to find my home base towns and check them out personally, so with extremely limited knowledge of German and a map I got on a train and headed out. What an adventure but I made it and people were nice and responded to my “Sprechen Sie English?” and I found some delightful towns we use as home bases today. These are towns that you might not hear loads of people speaking English or see a thousand of other tourists getting “off the bus”. Yes, I know you want to see the famous sites and I try to include these in our tours especially for first timers but I also encourage you to experience the small villages we take you too. Walk the streets and wander around, sit at an outside café and enjoy an “Eis” (ice cream), walk through the local church and cemetery, visit the winery up the hill. Some of my favorite things I found just by wandering small town streets. I sometimes play a game with our tour members by giving them pictures of things I have found in our home base town and for those that find all of the things by snapping a picture of it and showing me they get a prize. This way I know they have experienced the town. At least I hope they enjoy the experience of wandering the town. Here are a few examples:

Of course, our tours include the thrill of visiting your ancestral hometown and there is no more important place to wander than here. This is where generations of your family walked the same streets, saw the same landscape, and touched the church door probably. This is certainly not a drive by, you must get out and walk the streets and experience the surroundings, I’m sure you will feel the ancestors walking with you.

Ready? Get your walking shoes on and let’s go!

Friday, February 18, 2011

WDYTYA - And Heritage Travel

WDYTYA (Who Do You Think You Are for those not in the know) is a hit, at least with the genealogy world. The blogosphere and Blog Radio and message boards are ablaze with opinions and comments about recent shows. Seems to me these shows are as analyzed as Sunday football games, not that this is a bad thing. We genealogists have been waiting a long time for someone to notice our little hobby.

What I find interesting is that the main comment being made is how simple the TV production makes genealogy look. All you have to do is show up and someone places generations of family records in your hands. We all know that in real life that rarely happens. Of course with the advancement of things on the internet you sometimes will find a family tree online that has generations of your family and this will point you in the right direction but as with most things on the internet you should always do your own sourcing of this information.

The other comment made often is, I wish I could pick up and go to my ancestral towns like they do. I think most people think this is something you must be a celebrity to do also, which is definitely not the case. Finding that overseas hometown for most genealogists is the jackpot and being able to visit that place is the icing on the cake. Just as things have become easier to find with the internet, planning and going on a heritage trip is easier too. It really is the culmination of all the time spent on researching your family lines when you get to walk the village streets your gr-gr-grandfather did. I’ll be doing another post soon on the 10 steps to a Successful Heritage trip or you can get the booklet from my website .

After having my own incredible experiences visiting hometowns in France and Germany, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of helping other people have that experience also. Family Tree Tours has taken many people to visit their ancestral hometowns in Germany and as one tour member commented, “All you have to do is show up”, much like the experience of the celebrities on WDYTYA, we take care of all the details for you. You show up and will we get you to your hometown and will have someone there to meet you, who speaks English, and who will show you around the town, church and perhaps your ancestor’s home. In some cases tour members have been handed generations of their families documents that helped fill in all their missing pieces. Add lectures by local historians who paint the picture of their life and the opportunity to see living history museums with examples of how they lived you come away with the whole story. Best part is you don’t need to be a celebrity, this trip of a lifetime is there for all.

For more information about our Heritage Tours see the website or email me at

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Treasures from Ancestral Hometown Visit

Snowed in, I guess you’ve heard that a lot of the country had a blizzard. So this gave me an opportunity to get some things done that I normally think I don’t have time to do. One of these things was to wash the dishes that I keep in my dish buffet. As I replaced some of them, my dishes from France took me back to my first trip to Europe and memories of my mom and our trip to her grandfather’s hometown.

I recently did an audio clip describing my ancestral hometown visit for our newly re-designed website (see and then seeing the dishes really took me back. I was a novice genealogist, way back then and this was way before internet and emails, I learned the ropes the old fashioned way. Anyway, my mom knew her grandfather came from France but nothing else. Don’t we all have these facts? We got some information from a cousin of my mom, with an address of some relatives she thought, that her father visited in 1931. Well this was almost 50 years later; this seemed like a dead end. But my mother was a bull dog genealogist, no stone unturned. She wrote them. Surprise, surprise, they answered! Some of the family still lived there. We did a genealogy dance that day.

Through the ongoing correspondence we had with them they translated, “We would like to visit someday” to “We are coming” and we were deluged with letters from other cousins to visit them too. So my mom, aunt and I decided to go.

I suggested since we were going all the way to Europe we should see some other things too, so did one of those “if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium tours”. Nice overview of lots of countries but nothing in depth and too rushed. When this was over we took a train from Paris to Metz, France where our elderly “cousin” had planned to meet us with a rose and a newspaper under his arm. This reminded me of something out of a 1940’s spy movie but was very endearing.

We were whisked away to meet about 100 cousins (well maybe 30) all with tables laden with food. French pastries are very hard to resist. We had a wonderful time, learning about our family, meeting relatives and sharing stories. Poor translators were working overtime.

After a few days in the city, we then were driven to the small village my great-grandfather was born. This is very small village near the border of France-Germany called Loutzviller. (I find it interesting he ended up in Louisville, KY)
He had been a blacksmith as his father and grandfather before him. The home he was born in was still there and three generations of the family lived there. They showed us a photo taken around 1900 of the home with the blacksmith shop attached, of course now it had been remodeled.

They showed us the room that the grandfather was most likely born in. Amazing. We walked through the village to the centuries old church, saw where the family had been baptized, married and buried from. The altar had a large canopy over it, something like what is over the altar at St. Peter’s in Rome. The story we were told then was how during WWII, the canopy was taken down and hidden in a nearby cave, they were afraid it would be damaged during the war. As this village was near the border of Germany it did suffer much damage and the church was pretty demolished, but they rebuilt using as much of the old material as they could and they were able to replace the canopy.

As I walked through this town and looked over the landscape that I know had not changed much in the century or so since my gr-grandfather left, I was filled with such emotion. He probably looked over this scenery one last time before he said goodbye to his mother. Was he excited to leave or sad? You who obsessively search for these elusive ancestors can understand how I felt. We know intimate details of these people’s lives, we’ve dug up every document of every important event in their life and to stand, finally, in his place, see the landscape he saw, walk his village streets, brings tears to your eyes and an emotion that is hard to describe. I felt him smiling down on us and for some silly reason, I felt at home too.

So, what do dishes have to do with this? While visiting this village we went to a local restaurant for a delicious regional lunch and the dishes they served it on contained scenes of village life from this part of Alsace-Lorraine. I had to have them. So we found out we could buy some and I promptly bought 8 plates and my mom bought 8 dessert plates.

For the rest of the trip I hand carried my precious cargo and although the memory of how it was to get through the airport way back then has faded, did we go through any kind of security in 1978? I do remember luggage with no rollers and bags packed with enough clothes for 2 months and my dishes that I had to get home. They made it and I still use them on special occasions. Every time I bring them out they remind me of our first ancestral trip, relatives that are now gone, the many years of joy I spent doing genealogy with my mom and the feeling of home I got in a very small village in France. I wish you all that feeling!

Have you had a feeling of home in an ancestor’s town, I would love to hear about it.