German Genealogy Hints

Graphic by AI

Last week I wrote about solving a genealogical newspaper translation mystery with the help of my extremely knowledgeable cousin Gerhard. Gerhard gave me more useful information when doing German genealogy that I’d love to share with you.

First, he provided me with a resource that would help me transcribe older German alphabet letters. This resource is online here but I never used it. Old handwriting is difficult to read even in English so when I came upon a German document, I simply found someone else to transcribe and translate for me. Gerhard encouraged me to give it a try using the resource which I plan to do.

My family was from the Palatinate region which today encompasses Bavaria. Because that region was torn apart by war for years, the records were sometimes written in Old German, French, and Latin. It even belonged to Austria at one point in time. That’s a lot of customs from lots of regions! What I never understood was the meaning of the word Pfalz. I thought that was a county in Germany. Gerhard explained that Pfalz simply means Palatinate. Duh!

I had used FamilySearch for my German family church records but I wasn’t aware that FamilySearch also contained civil records from the region to the 1880s. Since my folks were here long before that time period, I will be exploring civil records to add to their vital info that I have already discovered.

Tracing Roots: An Afternoon with a Distant Cousin Exploring German Genealogy

Gerhard and I 23 May 2024

Last year I blogged about meeting a distant cousin through Whova, a conference ap. I also mentioned it in the lecture I presented for the National Genealogical Society in May. Social media is a wonderful way to connect with your disconnected relatives. We are 7th cousins. Definitely not close but we have been able to connect through a share German great grandfather Kettering.

On May 22, Gerhard and his girlfriend, Rita, visited my home. It was a wonderful visit! In the morning we visited our local farmer’s market, toured my town, went for brunch, and then returned to my home where we spent hours doing genealogy together.

Gerhard looked over my online family tree and corrected the many German name misspellings I had, particularly regarding locations. I have terrible trouble with diacritical marks!

He brought me updated tree info with sources found in German archives that are not accessible online. I agreed to create a tree for his colleague who found an old genealogy that claimed that some of his family emigrated to Indiana in the 1800s. I confirmed that indeed, they did, after stopping first in Kentucky. I was able to find living descendants for the colleague to contact.

The best part of our genealogical afternoon, besides spending time with a new cousin, was his explanation of a mystery newspaper article that I have written about previously. I had a dickens of a time initially getting native speaker consensus on the word “birthshaus.” I used a German teacher who was born and raised in Germany, some of my family members, a Facebook posting, and a posting to a genealogical group I belong to and received the translation as tavern or coliseum. I have even tried AI and gotten the same results. Clearly, there was no coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1834.  I did find a tavern so I selected that word to use in the lineage society application I was submitting.

Gerhard laughed when he saw the word. He explained a better word usage would have been “beer house.” I was confused so he explained German culture from that time period. After church on Sundays, the ladies would congregate together and spend the day chatting. Their husbands would retire to the house next door to the church that served beer. There, they would drink the day away until their wives came to get them to go home for dinner. Gerhard did not know that the culture had been brought with the immigrants to the U.S. Apparently, it had in Ohio, all because of the newspaper article I found and Gerhard’s knowledge of the customs of people from the home region.

In the United Kingdom, a public house where beer was sold and consumed was known as a beerhouse (Beerhouse act 1830 (11 Geo. 4 & 1 Will. 4 c. 64). That would have been the best term to use in the translation.

Having someone who was knowledgeable about the language, customs, and culture was what I needed to solve my genealogical mystery.

Next week, more helpful hints from Gerhard!

Disappearing Genealogy Books

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Are books disappearing from your local library or archive? I’ve heard concerns locally from several patrons and I do share their concerns. The books are showing up at library book sales and even Goodwill.

I asked a local librarian why this was occurring and was told that the books weren’t being used. I asked how would they know if the books were being used or not since they were all reference books not available for check out. Didn’t get an answer.

Last month I spent the day at the Indiana Historical Society. I asked Suzanne Hahn, VP of Archives and Library and Bethany Hrachovec, Director, Education and Engagement if there was a trend towards purging genealogical tomes. There is for the following reasons:

  1. They are a duplicate copy
  2. They have been digitized (though not necessarily by the library who is purging it)
  3. There is a copy at a larger library. In northeastern Indiana that would be Allen County Public Library, Indiana State Library, Indiana Historical Society, or a university library.

Many libraries are now moving to a theme – only railroad books, for example, or only books for their particular county. Could be but I’m seeing books meeting the purported theme also removed. I’m also not seeing communication between libraries so one removes a book that would be a great addition for another library’s theme. Instead of contacting the library it goes to the resale bin.

Which gets me to the current situation I see in my local library. Too many books for resale and not enough storage so they are giving the books to Goodwill. If they don’t sell they are then disposed of. So very sad!!!

There are people who cannot read digitized books. Perhaps they don’t have the tech or their eyes will not handle it. I see no sense in removing a book that has been digitized, especially not by the entity that was purging it. How do they know that book will stay available to the public? Think about the recent law suit with Internet Archives! The case is back in court again but that doesn’t mean that Internet Archive will survive their appeal. What a loss that will be for all of us.

Maintaining only one regional copy is also problematic. When it starts snowing here people stop driving, especially older folks. Having to travel up to two and a half hours to look at a book that used to be available five minutes from your home is a ridiculous waste of time and money.

If shelf space was at a premium I could understand thinning the ranks but in most cases, it’s not. If the library had funds to purchase new materials I could understand it but that’s not happening, either.

If this situation is occurring in your region speak up. Complete library surveys to voice your concerns. If you have the funds and space, purchase the volumes. Perhaps a genealogy club or society can scoop up the works and create their own check out system. Genealogy books need to be treasured and available to future generations. Help make that happen.