Bye Bye, Brick Walls – And the Walls Came Tumbling Down



Sometimes we feel that we stand in front of a brick wall with no way of pulling it down. Actually we often think there is a brick wall, but there still is one or the other source we have not looked at. Let me share with you how one of our alleged walls came tumbling down!

We were searching for the ancestors of a couple that married in 1899 in Gerresheim, today a part of Düsseldorf. We did have a so called Heirats-Bescheinigung, a confirmation of marriage. This record provided us with the following information:

  • Groom: name and date of birth in Eisenstein in Bohemia, his occupation: stoker
  • Groom: his parent’s names and his father’s occupation: glassworker
  • Bride: name and date of birth in Trechel in Pomerania, her mother’s name (it was an  illegitimate birth)
  • The date of marriage


Marriage Confirmation, issued by the Standesamt Gerresheim on 12 January 1889,

Photo Private collection of D. Abel


We checked Eisenstein (today Železna Ruda I in the Czech Republik) and Trechel (today Trzechel, Poland) and found interesting information; but it remained unclear what had become of the groom’s father and the bride’s mother, her husband and her half-siblings. They had vanished from earth. Where could they have moved? And how on earth did the bridal couple end up in Gerresheim, when they had been born many hundreds of kilometers away?


Map Germany, by google maps


I first took a closer look at the town of Gerresheim. This town had one main employer – the Gerresheimer Glashütte, once the biggest glassworks in the world with up to 8000 employees. The workers and their families came from all over Germany, especially from Northern Germany and Pomerania.

With the groom working as a stoker, he might have worked at this foundry. With his father being a glassworker this would not be unthinkable. And maybe his parents lived there as well? And who knows, maybe so did the bride and her parents?

The Marriage Certificate

There was one record that could answer this question: the marriage certificate. You might wonder why, as we did have the marriage confirmation and knew all there was to know. But the marriage certificate holds much more information. I sent a request to the City Archive of Düsseldorf and when the record arrived, it took less than a minute to make our brick walls come tumbling down.



Marriage Certificate, Standesamt Gerresheim, Marriages, 2/1899.

©Stadtarchiv Düsseldorf


This record gave additional information to what we already knew.

The Groom: he lived in Gerresheim.

The groom’s father: he died in Mitterteich, a town in Bavaria, not far from Eisenstein; Mitterteich was known for its glassworks as well.

The groom’s mother: lived in Eisenstein

The Bride’s mother: she died in Gerresheim



But the biggest surprise were the two witnesses.

The first one was a young glassmaker, and the other one actually was the bride’s youngest half-brother, a glassworker in Gerresheim as well.

So, it did seem as if at least the family of the bride did reside in Gerresheim. And as only the oldest half-brother had been born in Trechel, the family might have moved to Gerresheim when the bride was a child; her siblings might have born here. And, maybe, who knows, the bridal couple had met through her brother or other family members.

Next Steps

What will be our next steps? We will search the vital records of Gerresheim for family members to find out who was born, lived and died there.

Also, we will check if there is a Melderegister (Register of Inhabitants) that will give information on when the family moved there. And, if we are lucky, there still is an archive of the Gerresheimer Glashütte.

This is how we had our alleged brick walls came tumbling down just be ordering one single record!


Find out more about civil records in my blogpost 110-80-30!


This blog post was first published on the blog of the In-Depth Genealogist on 26 January 2016.





Do What Bob Does!



Before starting your research in Germany, it is good to learn a little bit about Germany. It can be very helpful to know more about the country your ancestors came from. You should take a look into German geography so that you know your way around. Knowing German history isn’t bad either same for  German customs.

Where to start?

However, it isn’t that easy. Where to start? Reading books on these topics is highly recommendable and there are many great books available. But sometimes reading a book feels like a big obstacle. You need to find a book that gives the information you want and most of us have so many other things to do and taking an hour to read a book on German history every once in a while simply isn’t possible. So the books remain unread. But what do you think about my friend Bob’s idea? This is what he does.

Do what Bob does!

We post a picture of Germany on our facebook and twitter accounts every day. It is called “Good morning from Germany” and it shows a building or a landscape of todays’ Germany. And every morning Bob starts his day with looking up information on the place or the building I posted. It takes so very little time and thanks to the internet, information is so very easy to access. Usually Wikipedia has a lot of information that mostly is correct. And when you look it up on google maps you will even know where the town is situated. You will find out so many things like the local history, how the town looks and how to get there. Maybe you even get interested in this area and do some more reading? Maybe you get lucky and we post a picture of the place your ancestor lived? It only takes a few minutes every morning to get to know Germany! Meanwhile Bob sure knows his way around! So, do what Bob does, visit our facebook or twitter page and start getting to know the country your ancestors once lived!

They Came From Hesse

Do you have ancestors from Hesse? Are you still looking for their exact place of residence before they left? Then looking at the Auswanderer-Nachweise (statements of emigration) from the Hessian State Archive in Darmstadt might give you a lead on where to search. And they’re available online!

Call to Creditors, Church Books and other Governmental Files

Before World War 2, two genealogists started searching different sources and collecting information on emigrants. One genealogist was Walter Möller who searched the so called Ediktladungen (call to creditors, legal term: publishing notice). After 1821, an Ediktladung was issued when the emigrant had declared his will to emigrate in front of the provincial government. The creditors then had three months’ time to stake out their claim. First after these three months the emigrant was allowed to leave.  Walter Möller then set up index cards. This collection today is called Auswanderungskartei Walter Möller.

The other genealogist was the Pastor Ernst Wagner who worked with church books and other governmental files.

Many of these governmental files were destroyed in World War 2 so often this is the only information that survived. Today, these statements are still updated by archivists whenever information is found.

However, these “only” are index cards with names and the town of origin. There are no files attached to it. But if you once have the town of origin, you will be able to search the church records in this very place. Also you should know that this collection is far from being complete, you might not get lucky. Should your ancestors have left before 1821, they will not be listed either.

How to Find The Collection

The signature for this Auswanderungsnachweise is R 21 B and unfortunately it is a bit hard to find. I will now show you how to get there.

1) Go to  which is the archival information system Hessen.


2) Then choose Staatsarchive from the menu on the left.


3) Then click on HStAD Hessisches Staatsarchiv DarmstadtNavigator.


4) Move down to the letter -R -and click on Sammlungen und Karteien.


5) Scroll down to HStAD R21.


6) Click on Navigator.


7) Click on Navigator again at HStAD, R21 B Findkartien und Datenbanken: Auswanderer-Nachweise.


8) You will then see this page and can click at the letter needed.


9) You will get information like the following.


This is the information listed:

  • surname,
  • first name,
  • place of origin,
  • date of emigration,
  • emigration to,
  • remarks for example passport, or port or if there are family members following.


These statements of emigration might be important for those of you who do now know the exact place their family emigrated from. So don’t miss this free opportunity to check for your ancestors from Hesse!

Good luck!

All images ©Land Hessen, Hessisches Landesarchiv, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv


Do you want to learn more about how to find out more about your German ancestors? Watch our webinar Finding Your Ancestors’ German Hometown! at Legacy Family Tree Webinars!

September 25, 1555

Did you know that the year 1555 is one of the most important years for German genealogists, especially when you are looking for your German ancestors’ hometown? No? Well then let me tell you why!
Let’s just go back in time. When Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses in 1517, this did not only start a new religious movement, it also changed the balance of power in Germany (and even in Europe). There was no German Empire at that time, there was a political construct called Holy Roman Empire, led by the catholic Emperor Karl V and consisting of many sovereign countries and free cities. The sovereigns were princes, dukes, bishops and councils. The emperor, princes and dukes, who based their power on the catholic faith, had more or less absolute power.


And all of a sudden this power was questioned by the lutheran princes and dukes who had gained more and more influence and power. Don’t think that the fight for the “true religion” was about faith, it was about power and money. It led to riots and the Schmalkaldic War in 1546/1547. But even the settlement of this war did not end this conflict, it simply did not lead to the catholic side regaining absolute power as the Emperor Carl V had hoped for. Things had changed and there was no way back to how things were before.

The opposed parties needed to sit down and talk. Therefore, in early 1555, the catholic side and the lutheran Schmalkaldic parties came together and negotiated the terms on which they would be able to live in peace. Then finally, on September 25, 1555, 461 years ago, they adopted the Treaty of Augsburg. This so called “Peace of Augsburg” (Augsburger Religionsfrieden) not only established peace between the both opposing parties, it also was the beginning of the Lutheran movement as an official Lutheran Church.

Cuius Regio, Eius Religio

But why would this be of any interest for us today? It is because they agreed upon a policy that should still be noticeable until this very day. This policy was rather simple; each sovereign could determine the religion of their people in their territory, be it either the catholic or the lutheran (or reformed) religion. For our ancestors that meant that either they could stay if they were of the same faith of their sovereign, but if not, they needed to leave and look for a place to live in the country where their faith was the “official” faith. Some sovereigns tolerated other religions, most did not. This led to Germany being split into catholic and lutheran/evangelical areas.


And even today, with full religious freedom, we still find these areas to be mostly evangelical or catholic. Mecklenburg, for example, became Lutheran and still is, Bavaria remained Catholic and the majority of its population still is of Catholic faith.

And when you have ancestors but do not know where they came from, this will help you lower down the region where they might have lived. And this is the reason why until this very day, September 25, 1555 is of such an importance for German genealogists.

Do you want to learn more about how to find out more about your German ancestors? Watch our webinar Finding Your Ancestors’ German Hometown! at Legacy Family Tree Webinars!


The Power of Words

The Power of Words_Marketing

Is there anything better than reading or listening to a well told story, especially to one on your own family? I doubt there is! And I am sure that it has always been the same, for every generation. I would think that many of you spent Christmas together with your loved ones and simply cuddled up in the sofa, talking, talking, talking….

And now imagine our ancestors sitting in the dark, their faces flared in the firelight. They tell stories on walking through the forest in the darkness, through the snow, listening to the wolves howling and coming closer and closer. Or about your great-aunt Freda who never smiled? Did you know that she was not allowed to marry the love of her life but forced into a marriage with a wealthy old man (thankfully she was widowed soon)? Or did you know that your Uncle Fredrick had to leave for America because he had an affair with a married women… but shush, don’t tell anyone…

It has been these stories that made us a Gemeinschaft that is somehow glued together not even by blood and gens but by who our ancestors were, what they experienced and what they passed on to us and what gave us our identity. That made us who we are, a family. But do we pass on these stories to those to come?

We all are genealogists, have hundreds of records in our files, thousands of names in our database, a lot of information about the place they lived in and their occupation. We have statistics on the number of children who were born and the number of children who died as infants. But do we have the stories about the mother’s grief? Or the father’s struggle to provide what was needed to keep his children healthy? And the disappointment of not being able to do so?

There are computer programs being able to write family stories for us, but are these stories the stories you would really like to listen to? Let me give you an example:

“Johannes Harder was born in Cossin, County of Pyritz, Pomerania, on 11 December 1901, baptized by his father, a Lutheran pastor, the next month. He was educated at home by his father, learned Latin and Greek. He worked as a land worker. In the summer of 1926 he was sent away by his father. On 02 Sep 1926 he boarded a ship in Hamburg and came to Quebec on 11 September 1926. He was allowed to return and visited his parents with his bride in 1929. He came back to Germany in 1969 and 1970. In his last years he lived in the Yukon. He died there in 1975 and is buried next to the church he had helped build.”

How about this one:
“John Harder had made up his mind: he would help build a Lutheran church in a town in the Yukon territory, now that he finally felt as if he had found the place to settle, after all these years of wondering around. Although it didn’t really look like the home he came from. Home, that was Germany, Pomerania, flat, no mountains in sight, wide fields of flax and grain. Not even mentioning the different climate (except for the cold winds!).
But although this land he had once called home, was wide it had always felt confining, there was something in him that always kept him on the move.
Maybe things would have been different, if his mother hadn’t died young, she had been ill for many years, had never really recovered after his little brother’s birth in 1910. He and his brothers had carried her around, upstairs and downstairs through the old cold drafty parsonage. They had always hoped that she would recover. But she did not and when he was 19, she died. He wondered if his father had ever really cared about her, she seemed to be useless for him as soon as she wasn’t able to do her job as a pastor’s wife. She had always been full of laughter. His father was so very quiet and intellectual, harsh and rigid, and demanding. John felt that he had disappointed him all the way, he was not the son his father had wanted him to be. He was everything his father disliked, not intellectual, always running around with the bad boys and, even worse, with the girls… And then, one day, after the scandal broke through, he was sent away, not to another part of Germany, no, across the ocean, as far away as possible from the small town he grew up. There were things a pastor could and would not accept!

And then he was free. But heartbroken and alone. He missed his 4 siblings, who were not allowed to get in touch which him (but did anyway). And he never lost the feeling of having to make it up to his father. In 1929 he was allowed to come back and visit his family, he even stayed for four weeks. And this time he brought something that he figured would make his father happy, his bride Gretha, who would soon become the second daughter in law. Hadn’t he done everything to show his father that he had learned and that he could now be proud of him? He grew older, became a father of four, enjoyed all that life had to give (and life had a lot to give), quit many, many, jobs and never seemed to be able to settle down. He didn’t even become a Canadian Citizen. And he never could get rid of the feeling of having disappointed his father; this feeling didn’t even stop when he learned that his father had died in a refugee camp after WWII. But in his late years he found something that would have made his father proud and would bring him inner peace. He would help build a Lutheran Church in the Yukon town he lived in. And so he did! And finally he had found the place to stay and settle down. He was buried next to the church he had built. In his new home that he loved, far from the small Pomerania village he was born.”

Now, which story would you keep in mind and tell to your grandchildren?

So, maybe it is time that we shut down the computer, take an old fashioned ink pen and start writing. And why not plan a family reunion? How about sitting together, all of you at the fireplace, in the dark, the faces flared in the firelight, telling the good old stories that made you who you are, a family?

Rootseekers would like to wish everyone

peaceful holidays with many unforgettable stories!

[and cookies and hot chocolate]



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