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We Bring Home a Genealogy Treasure

We had vacation time last week and took a trip to Wyoming to visit family around that state. We also spent a glorious day swimming in the hot springs at Thermopolis State Park. And off course, we stayed with my mother-in-law for part the week.

She used to pursue genealogy, trying to track her Walz and Flottemesch families back to their German and Dutch homelands. Over the years she accumulated several folders full of documents on these lines.

We borrowed the folders from her and brought them home to add her information to our genealogy database. This week my husband/tech advisor has worked to scan and preserve those records we did not already have. Being a tech guy, he enjoys the computer aspect of our genealogy work.

As he works through this task, he has compared his mother’s genealogical conclusions with his own. Sometimes they differ, and he also enjoys resolving the conflicts by reviewing all the evidence.

In this way, he makes sure that we update our website with the most accurate information we can find. We always try to abide by the Genealogical Proof Standard by doing a reasonably exhaustive search for information and explaining any discrepancies we find.

These Germanic lines often present a challenge. Working with the language, the Gothic script, and the name variations make German research notoriously difficult. My mother-in-law made it a little easier by collecting and saving so much information.

Seminars, Anyone?

Last weekend we went to the fall seminar put on by our local Palatines to America (PalAm) group. They host these twice a year, and I have regularly attended these learning opportunities.

I began going several years ago when the Palatines leadership made the decision to bring in nationally-known speakers for these seminars. They put on great, fun events with good attendance. They would meet in a local hotel, sell German research materials, serve a German lunch, and once a year would stay late for a German dinner. We all learned a lot from these wonderful speakers as we enjoyed our ethnic food and fellowship.

Things started to change a couple of years ago. The group could not find a hotel to take their business. Apparently a bunch of sober Germans does not provide the bar revenue a hotel can get for a wedding reception on a Saturday. The PalAm events moved to the Denver Public Library.

Of course we could not enjoy all our German cuisine at the library, so meals turned into an on-you-own affair. The library does not provide tables for attendees to use. We also have to pay to park while visiting the library. I have not enjoyed these events as much as I used to.

Now this year, the group engaged a little-known speaker. I signed up anyway because the seminar topics looked good. I am sorry to say, I came away disappointed. I prefer to have seminar topics discussed in some depth. This time around, everything sounded pretty dumbed down and repetitive to me. I have been at this genealogy game for a long time, and I wish this seminar had been advertised as appropriate primarily for beginners.

Will I go to the PalAm seminer next time? It depends. I still like the opportunity to see my genealogy friends, and the PalAm group always has an awesome book table at their seminars. But the fun is gone from this event, and there is no reason for me to go if the speaker gives just an entry-level presentation.

I have attended a lot of genealogy seminars over the years. I usually attend most of them in the Denver area in an effort to learn more and to support the local genealogy community. But I cannot afford to waste my time sitting through a presentation on things I already know. When the next seminar rolls around, I plan to be more discriminating in my decision on whether to attend. One size cannot fit all.

A Genealogy Summer

We filled our summer this year with several trips, and on each one we collected genealogical information. Now we must sort and analyze all of it. We keep copies of the documents and photos–paper for me and digital ones for my husband/tech advisor. We will put the data into our genealogical software, The Master Genealogist, over this month. Then we will upload the new information into the family trees on our website.

Here is where we went and what we brought home:

  1. Virginia. This was a sad trip for my 25-year-old nephew Tyler William Reed’s funeral. We brought home documentation of his death.
  2. Finland and Russia. The church records for my Finnish family are available online, so we did not visit any repositories to collect documents in country. Instead, we picked up Finnish history information at the National Museum (http://www.nba.fi/en/nationalmuseum), and we took photos of all the places in Finland and Russia where we knew my family lived. We did not visit cemeteries because graves in Finland are reused after a generation. There are none for my family members, most of whom immigrated around 1905.
  3. Minnesota. We tracked my husband/tech advisor’s family across the state, taking photos at many cemeteries. In addition to putting this information on our website, we will create memorials on Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com/). In Minnesota we also visited the Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud (http://www.griver.org/) and the state’s Historical Society Library in St. Paul (http://sites.mnhs.org/library/). There we snagged death certificates and obituaries for both our families. Our big find, though, was the name of our Walz ancestors’ village in Bavaria (Ratzstadt, Underfranken). The information turned up in a Stearns County history, in a biographical sketch for a collateral relative.
  4. Wisconsin. This was another family occasion, and we returned with information on my niece’s marriage.

We had a productive summer of research. Processing and following up on all the information we gathered should keep us busy until our next trip—to Virginia again next summer for a wedding.

Do You Need Help With Your German Ancestry?

A large percentage of Americans claim at least some German ancestry. My mother-in-law came from a German-speaking heritage, so my children are about ¼ German. We have lots of Germanic ancestors to research in this family!

Alas, German research can be notoriously difficult. You get nowhere unless you can identify the village of origin for your ancestor. People spend years looking for a clue to this elusive fact.

One group that can help with this is the Palatines to America (PalAm). This national organization dedicates itself to finding German speaking ancestors and their place of origin in Germany, Austria, Alsace, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Poland, Russia, Denmark, Netherlands, East Prussia, Pomerania, Brandenburg, Silesia, Galicia, Bohemia or other German speaking areas.

We in the Denver area are blessed to have a local PalAm chapter. Twice a year they bring in a nationally-known speaker with expertise in German research. Today Baerbel K. Johnson, AG, a professional genealogist who works at the Family History Library as International Reference Consultant, presented a program in Denver. Wearing traditional German dress, she spoke to a large crowd of German researchers on several helpful topics.

My husband/tech advisor and I are thinking of taking a research trip to Germany next year. Ms. Johnson’s program today gave us many helpful tools for planning a productive trip. Thanks, PalAm, for offering this opportunity.

Busy As Bees on Our Genealogy

We have had a lot going on in our genealogy world over the past week:

 

  • On Saturday, I attended the spring seminar put on by the Colorado chapter of the Palatines to America http://www.palam.org/colorado-palam-chapter.php. Kory Meyerink of ProGenealogists spoke on various topics. As always, they had a good turnout for this seminar. The gentleman sitting next to me traveled all the way from Tulsa, OK. I feel so privileged to live in a city where seminars of this high quality occur regularly.
  • On Tuesday, the Germanic Genealogical Society of Colorado held its monthly meeting at the Denver Public Library. We heard a presentation by our own Joe Beine who runs the Online Searchable Death Indexes & Records website http://www.deathindexes.com/ and the German Roots website http://www.germanroots.com/. These are wonderful genealogical resources.
  • All week long, my husband/tech advisor has doggedly used his lunch hours to search for my Norwegian roots. He has now learned that they lived all along the coastline of Nordland and Helgeland. But even more surprising, many of them lived in the Bergen area before that. No way can we visit every site during our trip to Norway next month. The poor man is now busy re-routing our driving trip to enable us to visit as many of these new areas as possible. Meanwhile, I have been entering his data into my software program as fast as I can.

Whew!

 

Hammering Away On the Brick Walls

Every genealogist has his “brick wall” ancestors. You know the ones. No matter where you look, it seems you cannot find anything about their origins or fit them into a birth family. The family tree ends with them. The reasons for this vary from illegitimate births to immigration from unknown places.

My husband and I have our share of “brick wall” ancestors—Catherina Wohrmann, Katherine Stillenbaugh, John Davis Riddle, and Daniel Sherman, to name a few. We look at evermore obscure records trying to find them and still come up empty. So we sigh, give up on them for awhile, and look again when a new record set becomes available or we find a new clue. We have looked for these people for 20 years and wonder whether we will ever discover their origins.

This week local genealogist Pat Roberts spoke to the Germanic Genealogical Society of Colorado about breaking down brick walls. She, too, has had elusive ancestors, but she never gave up on them. Finally this summer she found some success with one and discovered an entire line of German ancestry in the Mohawk Valley of New York. She described her research process and gave us a checklist to use to develop an exhaustive research plan.

Her presentation serves as an inspiration to all of us. I will definitely make use of the checklist she provided next time I tackle one of these ancestors. Maybe I, too, can break down a brick wall like Pat did.

Say No to the Shotgun Approach

I find that I make more progress with my genealogical research when I focus on one familyline at a time. Recently I am feeling almost disoriented because I have not been following my own advice. All year, I have tried to find the discipline to study only the Finns, but I keep getting distracted.

Earlier this month, I went to Salt Lake City for a research trip. After one day with Finnish records, I needed a break from that difficult task. I spent the remainder of my time at the LDS library investigating my English and Scots-Irish lines in the American Midwest.

I resumed some Finnish research once I returned home, but a week later I attended the semi-annual Palatines to America seminar in Denver. This took my attention away from the Finns again as I spent an entire day learning about German research from Dr. Michael Lacopo.

What a harried month! The Finns, the English, the Scots-Irish, the Americans, the Germans! No wonder my head spins. I need to get everything I collected this month filed and put away pronto. Perhaps then I can get back to the focused research tool that works for me, the laser, not the shotgun.

Taking the Time

Several years ago, I adopted a genealogy mantra I first heard from genealogist Pat Hatcher, “Until you look, you don’t know what you’ll find.” Her point was to look at every potential source, never casting aside something just because you do not think it likely you will find anything of interest. You may be surprised at what you find when you take the time to look.

I try to follow this guideline in all things genealogical, not just in research. This week I applied this philosophy to my decision on whether or not to attend this month’s Germanic genealogy meeting at the Denver Public Library (a 45-minute drive one way for me). My first reaction when I discovered that the speaker would be someone I had heard just a year ago speaking on the same subject was to skip this meeting and work instead on getting ready for my upcoming trip to Salt Lake City. What benefit could I get from spending a morning listening to the same old thing I had heard before?

But then I remembered my mantra, “Until you look…”, and I wondered what I would find out if I took the time to drive over for this meeting. Our programming chairman must have scheduled the same speaker again so quickly for some reason.

I found that this speaker had thoroughly updated her presentation. It was totally different and packed with new information. I came home with several useful new genealogy tools to use. Here is a one she showed us, a tutorial on how to read old German script: https://familysearch.org/learningcenter/lesson/german-script-tutorial/91 Not bad for a morning’s work.

Getting Ready

Soon we will travel to Salt Lake City to visit the LDS genealogy library for three days, and we want to make the most of our time there. No using the online catalog or other online resources when that can be done ahead of time from home. I have a long list of Finnish records—microfilm and books—to view when I arrive. In case I run out of Finnish research before my time is up, I also plan to take a research plan for my Reed family in colonial New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

I want my husband to be able to use his time efficiently, too. He does not have the preparation time that I do, so I decided to lend him a hand. He has expressed curiosity about his German ancestor Catharina Woermann, and I looked at our database to see what information we still need about her. I put together what I thought looked like a days’ worth of work. He looked at it, and then to my surprise, he said he had already collected most of the information I thought he needed.

Sure enough, he pulled out a large file folder stuffed full of primary sources on Catharina Woermann’s family including baptism records, marriage records, and death certificates. I have spent all week analyzing them and doing the data input. Turns out, he views Catharina as one of those “brick wall” people because he knows nothing about her origins in Hanover.

Now, how can I help him with this? I did determine that he needs a few more American documents, and he could look for those in Salt Lake. A death record for Catharina. Additional information on her daughters, Elizabeth and Anna. I am preparing a list.

Beyond that, Catharina’s St. Louis marriage record gives us the name of her father, Gerhard. My husband has no information about him or any of his other children in either the U.S. or Hanover. It seems like a vague place to start, but one of the papers in the folder did mention the name of a Hanover village. With a name and a place, he might be able to pick up this line and move ahead a bit with his research. At least he is ready now.