I Registered for Session One: Determining Place of Origin of Immigrant Ancestors–and Stayed the Whole Day!

Saturday, 9 June, The Family History Library offered an all day course on German Genealogy–5 sessions. Since I had a ton of research to do, I thought I would attend only session one, then cut out to do my work. Wrong! The course was taught by Larry O. Jensen. So I left my research on the table and stayed the whole day, attending all 5 sessions.

Larry Jensen is, in my opinion, the premier professional genealogist in America for German Research. Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of good ones, some with specialties that few can match. Larry Jensen surpasses them all.

And good news for your genealogy!

I’ll share some key things I learned. Then, as you use the new third edition of Germanic Genealogy: A Guide to Worldwide Sources and Migration Patterns, you will have a winning research strategy to go along with it. I plan to spend several issues of this Genealogy News Sheet examining the essential parts of this new Guide.

German ancestry is next to British Isles origins in the settlement of this country. And in some states, German ancestors were so common that there was a time when the government almost took a vote as to the official language we would speak. So your chances of having a German ancestor hiding somewhere in your family tree are very good.

What really electrified me was the German research process Jensen described: You must know the specific place of origin. Every one of the preliminary searches you make are aimed at this objective. Begin with what you know and add to those facts as much as you can from American records before searching in Germany.

A. Verify the correct ancestor in German Records.

  1. Make a survey of birth /christening records for a ten-year period–5 years on either side of your ancestor’s birth date.
  2. Extract every person with the same name as your ancestor. You can expect to find multiple entries for children with the same given names. And you have to study each one carefully. Make a list.
  3. Verify the correct entry–eliminate the entries that do not belong to you. Not the right village of origin, not the correct date of emigration/immigration.
  4. Begin with the death records. If 30-40% of children born die under age 10. And if a married couple averages 3 living children each. And if 35% of children are raised by a step-parent because remarriage occurs rapidly after the death of a spouse– Specifics of identity can be found best in death records.
  5. Eliminate those entries which do not belong to you. And zero in on the ones that are left on your list.

If you eliminate all the candidates, do an area search. If a child was expected to die, they usually went to the nearest parish church to have the baby christened before the death occurred. Examine a detailed map for your area of research and identify the closest parish churches and search them.

B. Build the whole family by searching for siblings.

  1. Check the birth/christening records before and after the birth of your ancestor for other children born to those same parents. This way you can narrow down the time to search for the marriage of the parents.
  2. Where does the marriage partner come from, if not from that parish–some 50% of spouses come from outside the parish.
  3. Check for illegitimate births to ensure that you have all of the children born to both of the parents. From 1701-1750, 13.3% of births are illegitimate. From 1751-1800, 26.9% of births are illegitimate. Only 1 in 50 couples could afford to marry because the fees were increased. From 1801-1850, 35.9% of births are illegitimate. Only 1 in 250 couples could afford to marry. From 1851-1900, as high as 44.7% of births are illegitimate. Illegitimate children take the maiden name of the mother as their surname, by law. And after 1826, the law stipulates that the father’s name also be listed. The father could legitimize and give the child his surname. The church books include these details.

The church was required to record the christening date. This will be the most accurate date. If the birth date is also supplied, that information was given by the family. It may not be accurate.

This genealogy research strategy applies to other countries too.

Is it any wonder that I stayed all day? I took a pile of notes and Larry gave us a pile of handouts–more than 25 of them. So I still have a lot to digest. And I decided that the beauty of the research process he uses, is it can apply to any place where parish records are the beginning record of choice–the British Isles, Switzerland, Italy, and many others. So if you don’t have German ancestry, don’t dump the strategy. Use it wherever else it applies. And remember that it comes from Larry O. Jensen, not from me. Your expert genealogist of choice, Arlene Eakle

P.S. Next Saturday, 16 June 2007, the course is Scottish Ancestry all day taught by Mark Gardner and Phillip Dunn. I have registered for that one too–and I plan to stay the whole day. I believe that we can never get enough education in genealogy records and procedures for increasing their effectiveness in our research.

P.P.S  And I am working on my own guide to Scottish research–been at work quite some time.  I’ll keep you posted when I have it ready.  Stay tuned in…

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