If you Want Genealogy Success Mr. Genealogist, “Tear Down this Wall!”

June the 12th was the 20th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s famous challenge to Russia, and spoken on an amplification system rigged so all the world could hear, “If you seek peace… Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” In what seemed like almost a heartbeat although it was over two years later (9-11 Nov 1989), the people themselves poured over the wall. And on top of the wall. And through the wall.

The image of the brick wall in genealogy is universal. A recent ad for genealogy training shows a brick wall, in full color, with a laptop-toting gentleman trying to scale it. And I could see you all in my mind’s eye facing brick walls with barbed wire along the top in your own genealogy.

And since I get mostly hard-to-find lineages as research assignments, I decided to focus today on some of the major “brick walls” you bring to me in response to my invitation to help “tear down those walls”–little-known migration patterns, unrecognized naming practices, cultural details that determine what sources to search and where they can be found. These are the kinds of issues Germanic Genealogy: A Guide to Worldwide Sources and Migration Patterns (2007, 3rd edition) covers in great detail. See Genealogy News Sheet, 5 June 2007, for initial description of this awesome new genealogy reference work.

Germanic Genealogy–Chapter 9, pp. 98-130, History, Migration, and Genealogy of Various Religious Denominations

While this chapter focuses on records in or from Europe, we began to realize that the standard works on American genealogy might not be adequate for tracing ancestors back to Europe, at least as far as the records of historically German parishes in North America are concerned. Thus we broadened the scope of this chapter to include all churches in North America known to have had any German-speaking congregations. (p. 98)

The italics are mine. This is exactly the problem. Most American genealogists, both professional as I am and amateur as many of you are, have little experience in searching beyond American resources. We are literally clueless where to find the records we need to extend our ancestry into Europe. This is a major handicap and a big reason we make mistakes jumping the ocean with our pedigrees.

We could use a whole book on the subject of European churches and their record holdings–a book at least as long and as detailed as this one we are describing here. With a year-by-year checklist of changes, mergers, migrations of parts of the population. With detailed arrow-laden maps showing locations of precise churches and surviving cemeteries and major geographical routes our ancestors followed to move from one place to another. With name lists of ancestors who were members of those congregations and who left for America. With internet URL’s for genealogy and geographic databases where we can locate ancestors on the move quickly and differentiate them from others of the same name who never left. With book lists of references which name names and supply dates.

In the meantime, I suggest that you begin with Germanic Genealogy. This book is for the serious genealogist who wants to find ancestors whatever your level of research skill is. When I began my genealogy career, I plunged into reference books and source materials way beyond my level of skill. For one thing, I didn’t know that many instructors recommend you begin with guides written for beginners. I read what I could find at hand.

you see, I was a serious genealogist from age 20. Being serious about finding your ancestry changes things–moving you quickly from beginner seeking an overview to one who desires information that fits. And I know that most of you who read this News Sheet are also serious genealogists. Germanic Genealogy is not over your head. Although you may want to study rather than read this chapter. Comparing parts of the text with the rich atlas of maps at the end of the volume. Checking the text from pp. 98-112 with the resource guide from pp. 113-30.

And you will want to digest the descent chart on p.110 developed by David H. Koss. “Genealogy of Churches with Emphasis on German-American Churches.” This chart is one of the most important parts of the chapter. It is based on Dr. Koss’s “Unscrambling the American-German Churches,” The Palatine Immigrant IX (Winter 1984) updated in Pages of the Past, #6 available from Palatines to America, 611 East Weber Road, Columbus OH 43211-1097. <http://www.palam.org>

The resource guide includes precise and detailed listings of American church archives with postal addresses and websites, a summary of their importance, and denomination affiliations as well as merged congregations. The significant changes in direction are also discussed in the text.

Remember that the major difference between this guide and all other European and American genealogy reference books is MIGRATION. Populations are not static and most of all, are not stable. They move around: Within their own districts. Within their own countries. Across neighboring boundary lines. Across major geographical barriers like mountain ranges and rivers and oceans. Your people and mine, seeking peaceful and profitable pursuits of happiness MOVED.

What we as genealogists want to know is where and when they moved. The why is interesting and explains why they left, perhaps even how they moved. My experience these past five years is that even serious genealogists want to concentrate on the where and the when.

Now don’t get me wrong, I find that knowing the reasons why behind what our ancestors did enables me to understand better how to trace them and where I can expect to find their tracks. This knowledge contributes to my professional success rate of 96%. So I always carefully study the why and how. I am neither a “drive-by genealogist” nor a “search only the records that are indexed” genealogist. But I recognize that many are impatient and want instant ancestry. And that internet databases contribute to that desire for instant answers. But I digress…

Specific churches, especially the smaller denominations, get definitions, changes in name and affiliation, schisms and mergers, migrations of their populations before and after–all anchored to particular time periods. This is one of the strengths of this chapter–orienting these facts to time periods. And you can take note of these periods and use them as a guide in your own research.

The index is extensive and quite detail specific. Societies and libraries are not listed in the index. Check Chapter 22, pp. 567-78 where they are alphabetically organized by category. Additional resources are interspersed through the chapters.

Attention is given to such shifts in belief as from Quaker to Huguenot–both of which are based on a reformed perspective. The Huguenots have a tendency to adapt in order to survive. If their are too few of their number for a whole congregation or the local area of settlement is unfriendly to a separate congregation, they will attach themselves to the nearest convenient upscale religious group.

For example, early Huguenots into Charleston SC aligned themselves with the Anglican parish because that is where the political power and economic action was. They intermarried with the English families merging their Dutch-French-German background with that of their English neighbors. Eventually, only their surname and given name patterns identify their Huguenot origins. This is in America. For the European subtleties, read Chapter 9. Your favorite professional genealogist, Arlene Eakle

P.S. Remember, when you need a pro, I can help. Just call 800-377-6058 describe your interest to Afton–who has been answering the phone when it rings from the day she got home from the hospital! She can send you research information, set-up an appointment to talk with me, take your research order right over the phone.

P.P.S. I attended the all-day Research in Scotland event (Saturday 16 June 2007) at the Family History Library taught by Mark Gardner (skilled and knowledgeable son of David E. Gardner) and Phillip Dunn. It was amazing. Billed as a course for beginners–and many beginners attended–and I took over 30 pages of notes! So tune in for some key learnings from that course. There is a new map internet site you don’t want to miss!

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