Germany, Uncharted Territory

Life has been pretty busy.  My day job continues to be more demanding, I’m getting a few requests for small projects, and my twins are leaving for college.  My blog has been ignored a bit as a result, though I am sure few are missing me.  I’ve had managed to dabble a bit in my family tree, but sporadically at best.  For quite a while my goal was to see if I had a Revolutionary War patriot of my own and join D.A.R.  I’ve finally gathered what I think is sufficient proof and I am just waiting for the local chapter to get back into session in the fall.  I’m suddenly without a personal project.

Up to now most of my research efforts have been US, England and Italy and to be honest that has been decision I have made on my part.  From a professional standpoint my desire really is to focus in areas where I feel I offer value to a customer.  This is clearly New Jersey, though I’m pretty well versed in Italian and New England records.  There are some things you just have to do on location.  From a personal standpoint, I’ve had more than enough to keep me busy with my English speaking ancestors, and my husband’s Italian family.  Every so often I peek at my mother’s side of the tree and see Germany and Ireland and shy away.  I’ve always had the perception that this research will be more difficult, Germany because of the language issues, and Ireland I envision great reliance on local records.  Ancestors usually stay put, so no pressure to rush into anything.

This summer my mother came out for the kids’ high school graduation.  Although her interest in genealogy isn’t quite where mine is she will humor me and spend some time researching.  My mom seemed to recall that her great-grandparents owned a farm in Hunterdon County, and that her biological grandfather may have worked there briefly.  While that seemed a stretch we were near our county hall of records so we made a trip.  Much to my surprise it proved to be true.  I guess it was enough to pique’ my curiosity but not enough to get me started.  About two weeks ago my mother emailed me that my Aunt may have found her great-grandmother’s resting place in Brooklyn NY, it was on records of Green-Wood cemetery.  Since I’m a little over an hour from Brooklyn I volunteered to make a run in the fall and get some pictures.  Because I have been around the block once or twice before I run out there I wanted to establish it is indeed our Emily Schellenberger and if there will be any other graves I should seek.  So I need to learn a little about Brooklyn.

Well, I know that Brooklyn is home to Coney Island, and Dominic the Italian Christmas donkey delivers gifts manufactured there.  I also hear that Green-Wood cemetery is worth the visit just because it’s so magnificent; at least that is what a fellow history nerd has informed me.  One ancestor has left a nice trail and the fine people at the LDS have indexed many of the records of that town.  I’ve got the list of tapes I need.  If the index proves correct I’m well on my way to filling out that branch nicely.  I email my mom she sends it to my Aunt. A sisterly debate takes place as to the veracity of my findings; wisely I stayed out of it.  In the end I get the virtual nod of acceptance and we all share trees.

I order a German ancestry book – a sure sign I am committed (or should be).  My Aunt likes what I found on the Steidle’s but she is really interested in the Schellenberger family.  There is quite a bit of family lore as well as some jewelry she inherited.  There are stories of a Hessen soldier, a colonial reverend and a duchesse in one line and much of it is conflicting.  So the best order of business of course is start with what you know and work backwards.

I worked for a German company for quite a few years, and have known many people who call Germany home.  I expected the records to be efficient and centralized; perhaps two sets one for East and West Germany.  It was then I recalled something else about Germany it has not always been one country.  Most of my former co-workers from Frankfurt and I had grown very accustomed to their accents, and management styles. After more than a decade our division was spun off and purchased by a company in Düsseldorf, very quickly I noticed a distinctly different accent and style.  I had a conversation with a friend from Frankfurt and mentioning the dialect differences, and comparing it to our own country with our regional differences.  He felt in Germany the difference was even greater.  He told me in their grandparent’s time that if a person from each of the two cities were to sit and try to have a conversation they would have barely been able to understand one another. Perhaps it is an exaggeration, but it could prove useful later.

Because I can’t fly off to Germany to research my family, I am dependent on the records I can order at my family history center.  Most of the records available are church records primarily Lutheran and Catholic.  Germany itself is not an old country, and it was a land of changing borders for a very long time.  Because of this it is really important to know where your ancestors lived, and then find the modern equivalent. The German baptismal and marriage records are one of the sets indexed by the LDS.  I imagine while prioritizing projects the need for an index of local records in Germany brought it to the top of the list.   I have to discover from where in Germany my Ferdinand haled.  In 1880  the Census indicated he was Darmstadt Hess, naturalization petition “Emperor of Germany”, and the rest just plain Germany.  Most records indicate he was born in March 1833, and I have found a match in Worms, Hessen, Germany.  However I need to get some more supporting data still.  Worms is about 26 miles from Darmstadt, so it’s not out of the question. The long and short of it is though because Germany unification occurred in 1871, when my 3rd great grandfather was born, it was not a unified country and church records are going to be the most reliable.

Given names are another issue.  I discovered my family in Ulm Germany each person had between 4-5 given names, and in all the families from Germany the first name was rarely used.  Here I thought I was unique using my middle name in everyday life, when my ancestors had been doing it for generations.  How very German, Prussian, Austrian or Bavarian of me!  My ancestors didn’t seem to know where they were from exactly or there names, how exactly am I going to find them?  When Heinrich stated on the ship’s manifest that his mother was Julie Steidle, what he really meant was that she was Anna Christiane Louise Caroline Julie Steidle.  I have to admit this piqued my curiosity.  Was this a naming convention unique to Lutheran Germans?  Time to dig a little deeper and find out German naming conventions.  The short version is that the first name is a “Holy” name and the middle the name used.  When you get into the areas that have multiple given/middle names there may be an indication in the church records of which name the person used in everyday life.   I’m sure I could do an entire article on the naming conventions and still miss something.  Suffice to say that it’s complicated.

I’ve just started my research of German genealogy so this is a very narrow view I am sure.  But it’s certainly has grabbed my interest, I love a puzzle.  Wish me luck in “proving” my family lore that my 3rd Great Grandfather who immigrated to the US in 1870, is descended from a colonial preacher, a Hessian soldier (yes as in 1776), as well as a mid 16th century duchess. I will not say that it is impossible because it seems whenever I cast my doubts about one of our family stories it ends up being true.  However I will continue with a very healthy dose of skepticism and find my Ferdinand’s death certificate, excuse me Fransiscus Ferdinandus’ death record.  Well I guess I have my new personal project.

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