German Genealogy, Double-page from the baptismal record of the catholic St. Johann church in Sigmaringen, 1851 # 23-31

But I can’t speak German! The challenge of German Genealogy

Editor’s note: The following post on the challenge facing an English speaker deciphering his or her own German Genealogy is written by professional genealogist Ernest Thode. Mr. Thode is an author, columnist, librarian and German translator with degrees from Purdue and Stanford.

You, the family genealogist, have a dilemma. You have discovered that your ancestry is German. Those old family letters in your possession are written in some kind of hen scratching that no sane person could possibly interpret, even though you have a vague feeling that those Germans of a century or two ago may have been successfully communicating with one another. To top it off, now you have researched back to your German-speaking immigrant ancestor couple. You can’t even read the pre-printed part of that form you found in the attic that you think might be a passport, let alone the hand-written words that fill in the blanks. Why, for all you know, that passport might not be a passport at all, but a graduation certificate or a marriage license.

What do you, the designated family historian, do now? You don’t know German other than “Gesundheit” and “Auf wiedersehen.” You face a daunting task, probably an impossible task, or so it would appear to any reasonable person. Even though you have traced your English lines back to the 1600s with much satisfaction at your genealogical prowess, you are practically ready to abandon your German immigrants prior to the moment they set foot on American soil at Castle Garden in 1881 because of the language barrier.

Fortunately, there is help. Even though I had the advantage of at least knowing the German language as I did my research, I became frustrated by the many different reference books I had to look through to find explanations of the words I found in genealogical documents. I had surname books, given-name books, gazetteers for place names, German genealogical guides and word lists, Latin word lists, French word lists, lists of weights and measures, lists of diseases, and guides to the old script. With such a plethora of aids, I saw the need for a “one-stop” German-English genealogical dictionary that could be used in conjunction with a basic German-English dictionary.

For nearly a decade, I pored through records that I had translated, genealogical periodicals, passenger lists, village chronicles, and historical documents, gleaning words and definitions, exhausting numerous German genealogical word lists. Finally, I compiled a reference book that I actually still use myself (you should see the notes in my desk copy!). My reference book, the German-English Genealogical Dictionary, includes the genealogy-related words that regular dictionaries either miss or don’t define in a way that applies to genealogy. There are no etymologies, pronunciation guides, parts of speech, etc. – just pure meanings for somebody translating, literally, word by word. It is just what someone needs to make sense out of a German genealogical document.

Image credit: By baptismal record of the catholic church in Sigmaringen 1851 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

1853 map of Canadian Maritime Provinces

New England and Canada’s Maritime Provinces: Differences in Record Keeping, II

Editor’s Note: This post is by Dr. Terrence M. Punch, CM FRSAI, FIGRS, CG(C), the leading authority on immigration into Canada’s Maritime Provinces. In this two-part article, Dr. Punch explains the differences in record keeping between the New England states/colonies and the neighboring Maritimes, which some future New Englanders used as a stopping-off point. Part I of this article, originally published in last week’s “Genealogy Pointers” and here on this blog, concerned the differences between New England and Maritime census and citizenship records. Persons with Scottish or Irish ancestry should refer to the linked notes following this article for more information about possible family connections in the Maritimes.

A reminder from last week: There are four potential stumbling blocks when working with Canadian Maritime records. To reiterate them briefly (points one and two are in last week’s post): 1. Canada has no federal records prior to 1867. 2. Different citizenship – British subjects going and coming until 1947. 3. Canada has a different pattern of governance. 4. Canada is affected by a lack of/incomplete records.

 

Maritime Provinces – a Different Path to Governance

 

The third point is a different path of governance. Nova Scotia was founded as a royal province. Many of the thirteen colonies had been established by corporations, such as Virginia; by proprietary grants, as were Pennsylvania or Maryland; or by religious groups such as Plymouth Bay or Rhode Island. In Nova Scotia’s case there was no lord proprietor, nor a tradition of townships which elected their own officials and largely governed their local affairs. Control was vested in a governor and council appointed by the mother country. This model continued until the attainment of responsible government in 1848.

In 1759 Nova Scotia’s mainland was divided into five original counties: Halifax, Lunenburg, Annapolis, Kings and Cumberland, but merely for administrative convenience to permit the setting up of county land registries, probate courts and the appointment of local petty officials. Until the charter of Halifax as a city in 1841 there were no self­ governing municipalities in Nova Scotia, hence there isn’t much to seek in terms of local governmental records prior to the 1840s. New Brunswick was part of Nova Scotia until 1784.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick did indeed have townships, mainly in areas settled by New Englanders in the 1760s and 70s. There survive a number of useful township books, in which at least the births and marriages of the proprietary or shareholding families were recorded, along with such information as the earmarks of cattle and the like. Some books were well kept while others were not, or have been lost. Continue reading…

780_Raynal_and_Bonne_Map_of_New_England_and_the_Maritime_Provinces_-_Geographicus_-_Canada-bonne-1780

Canadian Maritime Provinces and New England: Differences in Record Keeping, I

 

Editor’s Note: Terrence Punch is the leading authority on immigration into Canada’s Maritime Provinces. In this two-part article (part I published below) Dr. Punch explains the differences in record keeping between the New England states/colonies and the neighboring Maritimes, which some future New Englanders used as a stopping-off point. Persons with Scottish or Irish ancestry should refer to the link in Footnote #4 for more information about possible family connections in the Maritimes themselves. This post was written by Dr. Terrence M. Punch, CM, FRSAI, FIGRS, CG(C).

From the perspective of most of North America, the New England states and the Canadian Maritime provinces are near neighbors, sharing many cultural and genealogical similarities. Yet, an international border separates them and the story of their settlement and record keeping reveals some differences that affect genealogical research. Let’s look at four of these potential stumbling blocks.

The first thing to remember is that the Maritimes were not part of Canada until 1867 or afterwards, which means that there are no records at the federal level until then. This gives Americans about a 90-year head start. The second point to keep in mind is that people born in the Maritimes or coming there from the British Isles before 1947 were British subjects when they sailed from Britain and remained so over here. The third thing to remember is that the pattern of government evolved quite differently. A fourth matter to recognize is that record keeping was not very assiduously carried out here and that, when records were created, they were not always preserved for posterity. Each of these facts impinges on what records were required, and therefore, exist to be utilized by researchers now.

These facts are so important that we should reiterate them briefly: 1. We have no federal records prior to 1867. 2. British subjects going and coming until 1947. 3. We have a different pattern of governance. 4. Incomplete records.

Continue reading…

CU Heritage image

Evidence Explained: An Interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills

Dipping into the Genealogy Pointers archives, we unearthed a fascinating interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.”

As one of the most respected and influential persons in American genealogy, Published widely in academic and popular presses, she was editor of the “National Genealogical Society Quarterly” (NGSQ) for 16 years.

Mrs. Mills has also taught for 13 years at a National Archives-based institute on archival records and, for 20 years, headed the program in advanced research methodology at Samford University in Alabama.

Mrs. Mills knows records, loves records, and regularly shares her expertise in them with audiences across three continents.

“EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” is Elizabeth Mills’ third major publication pertaining to source citation. Her earlier works include: “EVIDENCE! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian” (1997) and “QUICKSHEET: Citing Online Historical Resources “Evidence!” Style” (2005). The groundbreaking “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” analyses citation principals and includes more than 1,000 citation models for virtually every source type. In the process, it covers all contemporary and electronic history sources–including digital, audio, and video sources–most of which are still not discussed in traditional style manuals.

“Genealogy Pointers” spoke with Mrs. Mills about the making “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” and how researchers can benefit from it. Here are the exchanges from that conversation:

GENEALOGY POINTERS (GP): Why did you write this book?

ELIZABETH SHOWN MILLS (ESM): Researchers need help and want help, but what they need today is not available elsewhere. Those who study history now probe far beyond the materials covered by standard citation guides–combing long-ignored original, grassroots-level records for fresh insight into our world. Thanks to modern technology, billions of these original records are now easily accessible through many different media. However, today’s researchers also know two things: First, all these records are not created equal. Second, the real reason to carefully identify sources for each piece of information is to ensure that we use the best sources possible. Otherwise, we just can’t reach reliable conclusions. Analyzing evidence is no easy task, considering the volume of information available, the diversity of the records, all the quirks within each type of document, and all the media formats.

Since the 1997 publication of the original “briefcase edition” of “EVIDENCE!” (which compactly covers 100 of the most common types of history sources), researchers have deluged me with questions about thousands of other materials. I definitely understand their angst, after three decades of my own research in the archives of most western nations, as well as writing for journals and presses in several academic fields and 16 years of editing a major scholarly journal. The new “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” draws on that experience–but it’s also rooted in four file drawers of inquiries and debates generated by the users of that first edition.

Continue reading…