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."