German Genealogy Tip #6: In Germany, People Used Their Occupation as a Title

When looking at genealogical records in Germany, especially from the pre-20th century era, you will often find that individuals’ names were prefixed by their job title. These occupational prefixes were capitalized, so don’t confuse the job title for being part of their given name.

Common examples are:

Taglöhner Johann Brack (English: day laborer Johann Brack)
Leinweber Friedrich Jungcurth (English: linen weaver Friedrich Jungcurth)
Taglöhnerin Margaretha Schuchardt (English: day laborer Margaretha Schuchardt)
Kochin Elisabeth Hotzel (English: cook Elisabeth Hotzel)

This is an important piece of information to note about your ancestor, not just because it’s an interesting historical tidbit, but also because it can help you keep track of individuals in a community where several other people probably share the same name. There might be half a dozen Johann Bracks all alive at the same time in the same little village, and it can be easy to get them confused. However, one might be a Teerführer (tar hauler), one might be a Musikant (musician), one might be a Soldat (soldier), and so on, which could help you keep track of who’s who.

However, keep in mind that many individuals in Germany held multiple occupations, or changed occupations throughout their life. It is possible that Friedrich Jungcurth was trained as a linen weaver (Leinweber), and served temporarily as the town mayor (Bürgermeister), and also made extra money doing odd jobs as a day laborer (Taglöhner). Different records might list the same individual under different occupations.

German language records in America tended not to list job titles in front of people’s names as much, however. This was mostly a practice that took place in Germany.

One of my favorite resources for translating and learning about German occupations is the “German English Genealogical Dictionary” by Ernest Thode. It contains hundreds and hundreds of German occupation words–including very rare ones that might otherwise stump you when you’re trying to translate a German record. This book doesn’t contain every single German occupation title, but it is by far the most comprehensive resource I’ve found on this subject.

German Genealogy Tip #5: Lots of Free Resources on Genealogy.net

For those of you who research German ancestors, did you know about the existence of a website called Genealogy.net (also accessible at CompGen.de)? The website is mostly in German, but you can use Google Translate to translate pages (either copy and paste the text into Google Translate, or paste the entire URL of the website and it will show you a translated version of the whole webpage), or you can use Google Chrome as your browser and a pop-up will appear asking you if you’d like the browser to translate the website into English, or you can use it as an opportunity to brush up on your German language skills.

Genealogy.net has all kinds of German resources for family history research. It includes a sort of German version of our American-based FindAGrave resource under the heading “Grabsteine” (grave stones). Click here for a list of Friedhöfe, or “cemeteries,” in which you can search interments.

There is also an amazing collection of historic address books dating back into the 1800s. You may be able to find your ancestor living in a German city, if it is one of the cities included in the address book database.

Another great resource on Genealogy.net is the GEDBAS database. The GEDBAS database includes family history data that mainly German genealogists have uploaded to the website. These German researchers may have gotten their data from small village church parish books and other little-known sources that are not yet available online. When you find a file for a pertinent ancestor in the GEDBAS database, scroll to the bottom of the page to see the name and email address of the German researcher who uploaded that data. You can then contact that researcher for more information on that ancestor or that village.

There are countless other German resources on the Genealogy.net website. Explore away and Viel Glück!

German Genealogy Tip #4: Name Spelling Didn’t Matter to Germans

Today’s German genealogy tip of the day is this: do not get tripped up by differently spelled names. Prior to the 20th century, name spelling really didn’t matter, especially to Germans. Many Germans from that area could not even write, and would sign documents with their “mark” (usually an “X” or a “+”).

This can sometimes make it difficult to find your German ancestors in written/typed indexes, even when searching by a Soundex or similar system. “Lindemann” may have also been written as “Lindeman,” “Linderman,” “Lendeman,” “Lenderman,” “Linden,” or even “Lingemann.” The given name “Gertrud” may have also been written “Gertraut,” “Gertraudt,” “Gertrude,” “Gertruda,” “Gertrued,” “Gertrüt,” etc. This wasn’t just a mistake on the part of the census taker or clerk–the individuals themselves may have spelled their own name these different ways on different occasions.

Germans prior to the 20th century spelled proper nouns phonetically. They just made sure it sounded correct. This also applied to town and place names. An ancestor from “Hessen Kassel” might have also variously spelled his place of origin as “Hesse Cassel,” “Kurhessen,” “Cohassen,” or other variations.

If you can’t find your German ancestor, try searching for them under every conceivable spelling that sounds phonetically like how they would have pronounced the name. If you can’t decide which name spelling is the right spelling, don’t worry. For the most part, they are all correct, as long as they’re pronounced correctly.

German Genealogy Tip #3: Look Up Hessian Mercenaries in the American Revolution

According to Wikipedia, “About 30,000 German soldiers fought for the British during the American Revolutionary War, making up a quarter of all the soldiers the British sent to America. … Nearly half were from the Hesse region of Germany (which is the origin of their name); the others came from similar small German states. … Hessian prisoners of war were put to work on local farms and were offered land bounties to desert and join the Americans. Some did, while most returned to Germany.”

Did you know that there is a database where you can look up Hessian mercenaries who fought in the American Revolutionary War? The database is sponsored by Philipps University Marburg in Marburg, Germany. It is located here, at: http://lagis.online.uni-marburg.de/en/subjects/index/sn/hetrina

You can search by place name or by person name. Simply type in a Hessian town name like “Nentershausen” or a name like “Schuchardt,” and see all the Hessians who fought in the American Revolution from that town or with that name. The database also usually states when each soldier was recruited, appointed, transferred, took leave, died, and/or deserted.

German Genealogy Tip #2: Germans Often Went by Their Middle Name

Happy German-American Heritage Month! In honor of Oktober, I will be posting a German genealogy tip on this blog every day for the entire month. If you have any German ancestors in your family tree, stay tuned for these helpful hacks.

Today’s German genealogy tip is: remember that Germans often went by their middle name.

If you find a baptism record for a Johann Peter Schultz in Germany and you want to locate documentation of them after they immigrated to America, it is more likely that they went by “Peter” than by “Johann” or “John”.

Why is this? Because in pre-20th century Germany, a small handful of names was often used for first names. An entire village might be populated by boys with the first names of Johann, Dietrich, and Georg, and by girls with the first names of Anna, Martha, and Catharina. The middle names were often where the variety came in. Perhaps even a single family might have children with names like: Johann Peter, Johann Karl, Johann Heinrich, Johann Zacharias, Johann Balthasar, etc. The only way to tell them apart, therefore, is if they used their middle names.

Thus, it was popular for Germans, when Anglicizing their names, to switch their “first” name and “middle” name, and make their original “middle” name the one that they preferred to be known by. Even if a German-American was born in America, their German church might have recorded their name as “Anna Margaretha Moeller”. But you will find that many or all of the English-language documents refer to her as “Margaret Anna Moeller,” or just “Margaret Moeller”.

There is no single, “right” order of names in this case. Do you record the person in your family tree as “Anna Margaretha” or as “Margaret Anna”? It’s up to you. Both are equally valid, and the person to whom the name belonged wouldn’t have seen any meaningful difference between the two forms.

100 Questions About Your Childhood

Have you ever wanted to ask a parent or a grandparent about their life story, but not been sure what to ask? My new book, “2000 Questions for Grandparents: Unlocking Your Family’s Hidden History,” is designed as the ultimate guide to help you conduct family history interviews. You can even answer the questions yourself to write your own life’s story.

To get you started, here are the first 100 questions from the book, from the “Childhood” section. For more questions pertaining to childhood memories, and on other topics like military service, marriage and family, politics and spirituality, travel and migration, memories of previous generations, and memories of world events, purchase the full book here. The distributor, Lulu.com, is selling the book at an early bird discount, for only $13.49. Take advantage of the deal while it lasts!

  1. What is your very earliest memory?
  2. Are you named after anyone, or do you know the reason why your parentsgave you the names that they did?
  3. Did anyone ever tell you which people were present at your birth? If so, whom?
  4. Did you ever hear any stories about anything interesting that happened during or soon after your birth?
  5. Was anything memorable (and perhaps funny) said by someone during or soon after your birth?
  6. How many siblingsdid you have?
  7. Did you ever share a room with siblings?
  8. If so, how many siblingsdid you share a room with?
  9. If you shared a room with siblings, which siblings in particular did you share a room with?
  10. If you shared a room with siblings, how did you feel about doing so?
  11. Did you ever have to sleepin the same bed as a sibling?
  12. If so, which siblingin particular?
  13. If you slept in the same bed with a sibling, how did you feel about having to do so?
  14. If you had one or more older siblings, how did you get along with them?
  15. If you had one or more younger siblings, how did you get along with them?
  16. Which siblingwere you the closest with?
  17. Which siblingdid you quarrel the most with?
  18. How would you quarrel with your sibling(s)?
  19. How often did you spend time with your cousins?
  20. Who were your favorite cousinsto spend time with?
  21. Where was your first childhoodhome?
  22. Did your first childhoodhome have electricity?
  23. Did your first childhoodhome after indoor plumbing?
  24. Did your first childhoodhome have a telephone?
  25. Whom did your parentstalk to on the phone most often?
  26. What did your childhoodhouse look like?
  27. How big or small was your childhoodhome?
  28. What rooms were there in your childhoodhome?
  29. Do you remember any particular smells or scentsfrom your childhood home?
  30. Can you recall any familiar soundsor noises from your childhood home?
  31. What kinds of sounds and smells do you remember when you first woke up in the morning?
  32. Did everyone in your household speak Englishas their first language?
  33. Were you or anyone in your family able to speak a languageother than English?
  34. If so, when and how did they learn that language?
  35. Did you ever have any pets, as a child?
  36. What were your pets’ names?
  37. Who got to choose those pets’ names, and how were they decided?
  38. How and when did your family get those pets?
  39. Did you have to work to convince your parentsto get the pet? If so, how did you finally convince them?
  40. Did the pet(s) belong to you personally, or did the pet(s) belong to one of your siblings, or did the pet(s) belong to the whole family?
  41. Who cared for the pet(s) (fed them, cleaned up after them, took them for walks, etc.)?
  42. What was involved in caring for your pet(s)?
  43. What kinds of gamesor activities did you play with your pet(s)?
  44. How long did the pet(s) live?
  45. How did you feel when each petdied?
  46. How would you usually cool off during the summer, when you were a child?
  47. How would you usually warm up during the winter, when you were a child?
  48. What was your favorite meal, growing up?
  49. Who cookedthat meal the best?
  50. What was your least favorite food, growing up?
  51. What would your parentssay or do if you didn’t finish some of your food?
  52. What were family meals like, in your household?
  53. Did you all sit and eattogether for every meal?
  54. What kinds of topics were discussed at the family dinner table?
  55. Were there any topics that were off-limits at the family dinner table?
  56. If so, which topics?
  57. Did your family ever grow, pickle, can, or home-make any food?
  58. What kind of oven did you have in your kitchen, when you were a child?
  59. Did you ever cookor help with the cooking, as a child?
  60. Did your household ever have a cooking disaster, or a meal that turned out really badly one time?
  61. If so, were you responsible for it?
  62. What kind of refrigerator did you have in your kitchen, when you were a child?
  63. What would your parentsdo for you when you were sick? Any special remedies?
  64. What was the sickest you ever got, as a child?
  65. Who was your best friend, as a child?
  66. How did you and your best friend become friends?
  67. What kind of things did you and your childhoodbest friend do together, that you didn’t do with other friends?
  68. What kind of gamesdid you play as a child?
  69. What was your favorite game to play?
  70. Did you ever play any video games, arcade games, or carnival games as a child?
  71. If so, which ones?
  72. Which video, arcade, or carnival game were you the best at?
  73. What was your favorite toyto play with?
  74. How big was your yard?
  75. What kind of trees or flowersgrew on your property?
  76. What kind of critters (bugs, birds, small animals, etc.) would you find on your property?
  77. Did you ever catch any bugs or animals on your property and try to keep them as a pet?
  78. Did you ever have your own garden as a child, or did you ever help someone else out with their garden?
  79. Did you live in the city or on a farm?
  80. If you lived on a farm, what kind of produce and livestock did your family raise?
  81. If you lived on a farm, what kind of farm-related choreswere you responsible for?
  82. What was your favorite farm-related chore to do?
  83. What was your least favorite farm-related choreto do?
  84. If you lived on a farm, did you ever give names to any of the farmanimals?
  85. If your family farmed or made produce, did you sell it at a grocery store or a farmer’s market perhaps?
  86. If so, which market, and where was it located?
  87. Did you have a favorite treatyou liked to buy for yourself at the grocery store or the soda shop?
  88. What was it, and how much did it cost you?
  89. Did you have a piano or a pump organ in your house, as a child?
  90. Did you ever take piano lessons or try to teach yourself to play the piano?
  91. If so, how good at playing the piano were you?
  92. Who were your family’s next door neighborswhen you were a child?
  93. What were your next door neighborslike? Friendly, mean, sociable, reclusive, etc.?
  94. How old were your next door neighbors?
  95. How often did your family or your next door neighborsvisit with each other?
  96. Did you ever receive any giftsfrom your neighbors?
  97. If so, what were they?
  98. Who would babysit you when your parentsweren’t home?
  99. Who was your favorite babysitter?
  100. What kind of gamesor activities would your babysitter do with you?

Click here to purchase the full book.

Available Now! “2000 Questions for Grandparents: Unlocking Your Family’s Hidden History”

My new book, “2000 Questions for Grandparents: Unlocking Your Family’s Hidden History,” has hit the presses! It will be available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble within the next few weeks. In the meantime, the distributor is selling it with an early bird discount at: http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/josiah-schmidt/2000-questions-for-grandparents-unlocking-your-familys-hidden-history/paperback/product-21804295.html Use it to help you ask your parents or grandparents about your family roots, or answer the questions yourself to help you write your own life’s story!

German Genealogy Tip #1: There are Usually Multiple People with the Same Name in the Same Town

One of the first lessons I had to learn when researching German genealogy is that German names are repeated very often. There is usually more than one person with the same name, of approximately the same age, in the same area. Sometimes they are even born in the same year, making it potentially difficult to tell them apart in historical records.

This is not because Germans were unimaginative or boring people who couldn’t think of names other than Johann and Anna. It was because babies, in old Germany, were named after their baptism sponsor(s). Baptism sponsors in those days were not just an honored family friend or a favorite relative. The position of baptism sponsor carried weight and responsibility. Baptism sponsors were responsible for the spiritual well-being, and sometimes even the physical well-being, of the child who was christened after them. The reason that Germans rarely seemed to get creative with baby names was because names were repeating due to the baptism sponsor system.

Thus, Germans tended to stick to a small selection of names, and the more local you get, the smaller the selection of names becomes. A village might seem to be populated entirely by boys named Johannes, Conrad, and Heinrich, and girls named Anna Martha, Anna Catharina, and Martha Elisabeth.

In fact, early on in my German family history research, I had a fourth great grandfather and his brother (my fourth great granduncle) who both married women named Martha Elisabeth Lindemann (and both Marthas were close in age). This caused some confusion at first, as I initially thought perhaps one woman had been married to both men at different times. I would soon find out that there were two Martha Elisabeth Lindemanns in the village of Machtlos, Germany. And though this village only had a population of about 200, my family tree would grow to encompass eight Martha Elisabeth née Lindemanns from Machtlos (born in 1753, 1815, 1820, 1833, 1837, 1839, 1852, and 1880), and I have only yet explored a fraction of the church records for this village. I will likely find several more.

Here in America, when I speak to my Schmidt relatives about our ancestors, I often have to spend several minutes explaining, when I speak of a relative named Henry John Schmidt. The problem is that in the small, German-American farming town of West Bend, Iowa, not much bigger than Machtlos, Germany, there were three Henry John Schmidts, all related to each other, who lived near one another, and who were all alive at the same time. The oldest Henry, of course, served as the baptism sponsor of the two younger Henrys.

When it comes to German villages, be wary about merging records even for two people with the same name, the same hometown, and the same age. You have to pay very close attention to the birth dates (i.e. day and month) and the parents’ names. You must even tread carefully in German church records when equating two people with the same names and the same parents, because sometimes parents gave two of their children the same exact name. The best key to distinguishing individuals with confidence is the exact birth date.

Index of Vital Records in Iba, Machtlos, and Gilfershausen post-1876

I am happy to announce that I have added a “Free Genealogy Resources” section to my website, at http://www.SchmidtGen.com/Resources.php. My first offering is a set of three indexes I spent hundreds of hours translating and compiling. The indexes cover births, marriages, and deaths in the German towns of Iba, Machtlos, and Gilfershausen in 1876 and afterward.

These are only indexes. There is more information in the original documents that they reference. When you find an index entry for one of your ancestors, I encourage you to use the record number to acquire the original document. Here is another blog post that explains how to access original Hessian vital records online.

When you acquire the original document, it will be in German, so you will need to translate it. If you need help translating from old German handwriting into English, I offer such services at a reasonable fee.

Different Y-DNA results from different companies?

Did you get slightly different Y-STR values in your Y-DNA test results, if you took the test from two different companies? Fear not.

This happened to me when I took Ancestry.com’s 46-marker Y-DNA test (which is no longer for sale) and then a year later, took FamilyTreeDNA.com’s 37-marker Y-DNA test.

Now, the two Y-DNA tests examined most of the same markers. There were a few markers that Ancestry examined, which FTDNA did not. There were also a few markers that FTDNA examined, which Ancestry did not. These were not the markers that worried me.

When I got my FamilyTreeDNA Y-DNA test results back, I had no matches in their database at any level. Not a single DNA match, even at the 12-marker level. This surprised me, because I had had dozens of matches in Ancestry.com’s (now defunct) Y-DNA database, and the whole reason I had purchased the FTDNA Y-DNA test kit was to try to find more matches who might be located in a different database.

This caused me to ponder if it was ever possible for someone in a laboratory to accidentally enter in a wrong value. Has such a thing ever happened, and might it have happened to me? Might this be why I did not have one single Y-DNA match, anywhere in the entire FTDNA database?

I started comparing the Y-STR values that Ancestry.com had given for me with the ones that FTDNA had given to me. Everything was matching up fine until the last handful of markers.

Lo and behold, Ancestry.com had told me I had a value of “17” in my DYS442 marker and a value of “13” in my Y-GATA-H4 marker, while FTDNA told me I had a value of “12” in my DYS442 marker and a value of “12” in my Y-GATA-H4 marker.

Either some lab technician had made some serious typos when entering my results (could they really be that sloppy?) or my genes had mutated between the time I took Ancestry’s test and the time I took FTDNA’s test (I knew my town’s drinking water was bad, but seriously Emmetsburg?).

Well, with some sleuthing around, I discovered that Ancestry.com used to have a notice posted on their website (they don’t seem to, anymore) stating that they utilized a different scale for counting markers than other Y-DNA testing companies do.

Specifically, Ancestry.com’s Y-DNA tests always showed DYS442 values as 5 steps higher than FamilyTreeDNA’s DYS442 values; Ancestry showed Y-GATA-H4 values as 1 step higher than FamilyTreeDNA’s Y-GATA-H4 values; Ancestry showed DYS441 values as 1 step higher than FamilyTreeDNA’s DYS441 values; and Ancestry showed Y-GATA-A10 values as 2 steps higher than FamilyTreeDNA’s Y-GATA-A10 values.

If you notice that your Y-DNA test results are slightly different on some markers according to different companies, don’t freak out. It may just be that the two different companies use different counting methods. Be careful when you get Y-DNA test results from one company and then manually enter them into a database on another company’s website. That other company may use a different counting method, and your Y-DNA results may be incorrect on that site. When in doubt, contact a company representative directly and ask them if there are any counting differences between them and the other company you used.

Furthermore, don’t freak out if you take a DNA test and don’t have a single match in the database. DNA is still a very new field, and relatively few people are in these databases yet. Also, yes, there are some of us with particularly rare DNA, and that doesn’t (necessarily) mean you’re some sort of mutant or were secretly adopted from Azerbaijan.

Now, if you take two Y-DNA tests from two different companies and every one of your Y-STR values are off by 7 steps, there might be a case for a severe mix-up at the laboratory, or you might need to move out from underneath the power lines.