Saturday, August 20, 2011

One Day of German Research

For the 31st edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy, the theme is to write about "Personal Research, Research Experiences, and Tips."

I found this to be perfect timing as I have been spending a lot of time on some of my German surnames.  A few weeks ago I spent a whole day on these families, especially my Bergers.  I had never been able to get far researching them, mainly because they never showed up where they were supposed to be and because I was pretty ignorant when it came to German research.

It didn't start off as a Berger research day, or even a German research day.  It started off with me checking out the online classes at FamilySearch.  It had been several months since I had seen what they had to offer and it wasn't long before I was thoroughly engrossed in The Journey Takers, presented by Leslie Albrecht Huber.  One of the many things about the video that stood out to me was that the place where a family lived (especially if it was in a small community) might not have had the parish they attended.  It was entirely possible that they attended the parish in a nearby, larger community.

With that in mind I decided to play around with the German records on FamilySearch.  I knew that my Bergers were from an area near the border of France called Rinnthal.  The problem was that whenever I looked for my Bergers in Rinnthal I came up with zip.  So, with the lesson I had just learned in mind, I broadened my search.  I started typing in the names and dates I knew and to my surprise I was getting matches, only they weren't in Rinnthal they were in some place called Wilgartswiesen.  A map of the two communities can be seen here (Rinnthal is on the far right, Wilgartswiesen on the far left):

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The two towns are right next to each other (less than three miles apart) and Wilgartswiesen is the larger of the two.  The Berger children I was expecting to find all showed up in Wilgartswiesen, as well as some additional children who must have died young.  My second great-grandfather, John William Berger, was born after the family came to the US but all except one of his many siblings were baptized in Wilgartswiesen.  Another interesting tidbit is that most of John's brothers (who I knew as Philip, Jacob and Michael) were actually named Johann Philipp, Johann Jakob and Johann Michael.  Obviously, my John Berger wasn't the first in the family, although he seems to be the only one who actually went by John.  Then I read this article at Arlene Eakle's blog and this article at FamilySearch wiki and it cleared up a lot about German naming traditions for me.

I continued to spend time looking through the Wilgartswiesen records (type C02454-0 in the Batch Number box to browse these records at FamilySearch) and started to see a pattern with some of the mothers, their maiden names seemed to always end in "in."  For example, Katharina Kupperin, Anna Maria Weilacherin, Elisabetha Daulin, etc.  After some hunting, I found a thread that somewhat answered my question regarding the surname endings.

The day wasn't over yet, however.  With a lot of my questions concerning German research in Germany answered, I started to shift my focus to my questions concerning German research in the US.  Specifically, I wanted to get a better idea as to why my ancestors left Germany for the US.  They arrived in the early 1830s, first settling in Stark Co., Ohio.  By 1840 they were in Marshall Co., Indiana where they remained.

While I was formulating what to look for next, I remembered the wonderful presentation I had seen in June thanks to the SCGS Jamboree Live Streaming.  One of the things Curt Witcher stressed in the presentation was to study not just your family in an area but their neighbors as well because they were likely connected in some way.  With that in mind I wanted to look for any common threads between my Bergers and their neighbors in both Ohio and Indiana.

The first census the Bergers appear in is the 1840.  I pulled it up and made a note of their neighbors, especially those with German sounding last names.  Then I did the same with the 1850 census.  Nothing really jumped out at me, but it is an avenue I will continue down.  Something else I'm going to look into?  Bergers and Matz in the Stark Co., Ohio area in 1830.  My ancestors weren't there yet but their relatives might have been.

I also remembered this wonderful narrative lineage from the BCG's Work Samples page.  The author's family also had German roots and had settled in Stark Co., Ohio.  They were also members of a similar religious order - could that have been the reason my Bergers came to the US?  It is something I will also continue to look into.

To end my day of German research, I headed over to one of my very favorite places, the website for the Bremen Public Library.  While going through my Berger database I realized I was missing some obituaries I should have.  Luckily, the Bremen Library has put them online - free to view and download.

I accomplished a lot that day, but even better I formulated a plan of what I need to do next.  I also learned some lessons that I'll apply to my other German lines and future research.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go look for my Bergers in the Stark Co. court records over at FamilySearch...

Disclosure:  I am in no way affiliated with any of the blogs, websites, organizations or institutions mentioned and/or linked to in this post.  I received no prompting or remuneration of any kind for this post.


  1. What a wonderfully informative post! For you and for any reader! my son-in-law is just getting involved with his German roots and there is a lot that he can use! Thanks! Edna

  2. Sounds like a terrifically productive day! One thing I know about the German language may help with understanding the "in." In Germany, "in" is added to the end of words to make them feminine. For instance, in German a teacher is called a Lehrer. If it is a female teacher: Lehrerin. Konig=King, Konigin=Queen. Hopefully that sheds some light on the "in." Thanks for sharing all of these great resources!


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