On the long and winding road to finding our German ancestors we all work with German church records. We look through the pages, trying to find a trace of our forebears, their siblings, their parents and cousins. If we get lucky, we find them. We learn a lot of names, dates, residences and – most important in German society – their occupations. Still, it often feels as if something is missing. We want some information on their daily lives and the circumstances they lived in, a sense of the small things that happened around them which determined the course of their lives.
It would be good to read a book about this village, a book that tells about local events, like epidemics. The book that gives this kind of insider information is already written – the church book. So why not get out your German-English Genealogical Dictionary and start reading? By going through every single entry in the church book, you will find out more about the people. And it was those people who made this village the village that your ancestors lived in.
You will read about families and follow them through the years. The records will tell you who’s who in the village. What kind of professions are there? Are there farmers, day laborers, serfs, craftsmen, a railroad worker, a street builder? A noble landlord? A pastor and a teacher? Or even a midwife and a doctor? Are the inhabitants literate or do they sign with a cross? How big might the village be? The marriage records will tell you about who marries whom – do the bride and groom belong to the same social class? Does middle class marry middle class? How old are they when they get married? Do they have permission to do so? Do they have to get married because the bride is pregnant? And how does the pastor react to that fact? Will she be punished? Perhaps there was a war going on in the year in which no marriages were celebrated, as all the men were gone. Look for more marriages than usual, after the war ended.
The birth records will give further interesting information. How many children were born, and how many children did a family have? How many children were born illegitimately? Who were the mothers of those children? Study the godparents. Were they related to the child? What might the relationship between parents and godparents have been? Did they live in the village or close by? Was the child named after them? What was their occupation and social class? Follow these children through the years. What is the profession shown in their marriage record? Did the sons take over their father’s profession or did they have the chance to do something else? Or might they have died in childhood?
The death records show interesting details as well. Did more people die than were born? What was the average age? What did people die of, and what were the most common diseases? Did more children die during the harvest season? Were there epidemics of scarlet fever or diphtheria? When adults died, did they leave a family behind? Was their profession at death different from when you found them in earlier records?
While reading, you will grow closer and closer to the families you are following. Who knows, you might even end up finding out that you are related to many of them….
Read here what Gerald Perschbacher of the German Special Interest Group of the St. Louis Genealogical Society ( www.stlgs.org ) and the German American Heritage Society, St. Louis, Mo. (www.gahs-stlouis.org ) writes about this in his newsletter: Read >