Thursday, August 13, 2009

Breakthroughs and Roadblocks In Researching My German Ancestors ...

Although this article is late for the next edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy, I wanted to post on this topic. In the course of doing research into my German ancestors, I've had breakthroughs and roadblocks. Here are some of my experiences:

Breakthroughs

Several of my breakthroughs in my genealogical research has been on lines where I had German ancestors. One of my largest breakthroughs came about when I posted a query on my Kees ancestors, and received a response from a woman in Germany. Although she wasn't related, she had some information on my ancestors, and she kindly shared that information with me. In addition, she also contacted the historical society of the town my Kees ancestor was born in, and shared the information on his ancestors with me. Needless to say, I would not have been able to move back as far as I have in such a short time, if she had not shared that information with me, and I am especially grateful of her help.

Besides providing information on my Kees ancestors, the same lady also provided a little bit of information on Klippel ancestor, and from that information, I was able to locate that ancestor's place of birth. (I did have his marriage record at that time, but I had not had the record transcribed. Thus, I did not know where he was from.) After finding his place of birth, I was able to look-up and order microfilms from his birthplace, and I was able to do more research on my Klippel ancestors.
Other breakthroughs on other branches have been done so far through civil death records and secondary sources. With my Cotta ancestors, I was able to confirm the names of my ancestors' parents, and from there, look up secondary information on them. Most of the secondary literature is in German, so it will take me longer to process the information. That problem, of course, leads to the roadblocks I have encountered in my research.
Roadblocks
As I mention in the previous paragraph, most of the secondary literature on my ancestors is in German, but that has only been a slight problem for me. I have taken several years of German, so the language barrier is not as much of problem for me as it might be for others. Of course, it just takes me longer to process the information, and when I lack the time to read the information, I generally stop the research on my German ancestors and work on another ancestral branch. Most of my roadblocks stem from this lack of time, although I have had problems with the handwriting in primary German documents. When I first started to do research on my German ancestors, I discovered that the handwriting styles were very different from what I was used to, and thus, I wasn't able to transcribe the records. I had to find someone who could transcribe those records for me. After spending time with researching in these primary documents and learning the letters, I am able to make out more of the information in the records. I do still have a little trouble because I am still learning how to read the handwriting, but it is not as much of a problem as it was when I first started.
Outside of those roadblocks, the only other roadblocks I have come across so far happen to deal with not being able to continue researching, whether it is due to the lack of time or I haven't had the chance to order the records I need to research. Since I am in school most of the year, I do not have very much time to do research, and thus, I can't always order all of the records I want to look at because I would not be able to get through all the microfilms I want.
In the case of my German ancestors from Russia, Anton and Caroline, I haven't ordered Anton's naturalization records because I haven't had the time in the past. Of course, it just happens to be my luck that Anton went through the naturalization process in Detroit, and as a result, the card image doesn't list the number for his records. I have held off applying for his records because I would have to pay for a search to find the record number, and then I would have to pay even more to get his naturalization records. (To read more about how Detroit is different, click here.) Thus, I have put off ordering the records because of the expense and lack of time that I have at the moment. Until I can get those records, I have to put off doing any research on that branch because I need to know where in Russia they were born and cannot do any further research until I learn where Anton and Caroline were born or lived in Russia.
A different roadblock that I have encountered is with my Klippel ancestors. As you may remember from what I wrote about my research into the Klippel family in the past few weeks, I have not been able to move back farther on a branch because I cannot locate the marriage record of my ancestors. The church microfilm is missing several years, and in between those years, my ancestors married. I might have to look and see if civil records for those years exist or if the church has a copy of those years; but either way, I don't have the time at the moment to follow up on those possibilities because I am back at school.
With another branch of my German ancestors, I am stuck trying to figure out who the parents of my great-grandfather are, and I am still trying to figure out where and when he was born. Family tradition and different records like his death certificate, World War One draft card, marriage record and census records vary between two different years as to when he was born (not to mention different places of birth), and those two years span about four years. On top of that, family tradition suggests that he was born under a different name and informally adopted. Thus, I'm not completely sure as to where I should go with my research, and with the lack of time, I have put this branch on the back burner because of these problems.
And then, there is the issue of the birthplace of another ancestor. I have the birth date for Carl, but as to where he was born, I just know that it was in Germany. I've uncovered the court document that lists when he became a naturalized citizen, but that record doesn't list a place of birth. All it states is that he came to the country in a certain year, but I haven't been able to find proof of him coming in that year. To make matters even worse, there is another man with the same given and surname as my ancestor who arrives in the country at the same time. Additionally the passenger list that I think has my ancestor on it is from about four years before he claimed to come into the U.S. (Of course, I now suspect that the year of arrival that he gave was incorrect or was the year that he came to Michigan.) If, as I suspect, he came earlier, I cannot find him in the 1880 census, and thus, I have no idea at the moment as to where I should look for other naturalization documents. The only other clue that I have is the inclusion of his relative Fred in the 1894 Michigan state census, but I'm not even sure how Fred is related. The census lists him as Carl's son, but that is impossible due to the fact that it would been biologically impossible for Carl to have a son at the time that Fred was born. The only other option I have is believe that the relationship was put down incorrectly, and that Fred might be either Carl's brother or a cousin. Of course, I don't know how they are related except that there is a connection. I'll have to find the church records where Carl and Anna married, but at the moment, I don't have the time to figure out if those church records might have survived.
So, as you can see, most of my roadblocks are only roadblocks because I lack the time to do my research. Most of these research problems could be solved if I had access to the records, but until I have more time, I probably won't be able to solve all of the problems in one summer. I'll have to settle with trying to break through maybe one or two of these lines when I am out of school the next time. Of course, if anyone has any other ideas as to what I can do with my research, please feel free to leave me a comment. Thanks.

2 comments:

Claudia's thoughts said...

I am glad I am not the only one having trouble with my elusive German ancestors. I have the original birth certificate of my grandmother Anna Bartels, and the parish is listed as Blumage in Celle Germany. Are there any church records at the LDS Library.....NO. I guess I should write to the church and hope the pastor knows English.

Claudia

Craig Manson said...

Jessica,

Breakthroughs happen when you're ready for them to happen. That's not quite as "Zen" as it sounds--it only means that it often helps to have discovered other things before you can see the whole landscape that will reveal the ancestor.