Today’s episode of Research Like a Pro is about researching German ancestors who immigrated to the U.S. in the 19th century. Heidi Mathis shares the importance of getting the surname right and learning enough German to be able to understand the records we find. She shares tips for doing wildcard searches in databases where names may have been transcribed incorrectly or spelled differently than we thought. She also gives hints for reading German handwriting.
RLP 156: Tracing 19th Century Germans Part 1 – https://familylocket.com/rlp-156-tracing-19th-century-germans-part-1/
Part 3: Tracing Your 19th Century German Ancestors: Tips for Getting the Surname Right – by Heidi – https://familylocket.com/part-3-tracing-your-19th-century-german-ancestors-tips-for-getting-the-surname-right/
Part 4: Tracing Your 19th Century German Ancestors: Comprehend Enough German – by Heidi – https://familylocket.com/part-4-tracing-your-19th-century-german-ancestors-comprehend-enough-german/
Meyers Gazetteer – https://www.meyersgaz.org/
Research Like a Pro eCourse – https://familylocket.com/product/research-like-a-pro-e-course/
Study Group – more information and email list – https://familylocket.com/product/research-like-a-pro-study-group-wed-1/
Research Like a Pro: A Genealogist’s Guide by Diana Elder with Nicole Dyer on Amazon.com – https://amzn.to/2x0ku3d
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Transcript of the Audio
Nicole (0s): This is Research Like a Pro episode 157 Tracing 19th century Germans part two.
Diana: Hi Nicole, how are you doing today?
Nicole (48s): I’m doing good. How are you? I’m doing well. Thank you. I’m excited to have Heidi Mathis back to talk with us about German research.
Diana (57s): Yes, Heidi. Thanks so much for coming on and for writing this great blog series on beginning German research. And I know there are a lot of books out there. There’s a lot of help with German research. So we just wanted to mention this isn’t all inclusive, but just some really good tips for someone just getting started and wanting to dip their toe in the water. Let’s get started.
Nicole (1m 23s): We make sure that you’ve read Heidi’s blog posts, because we can’t talk about everything that she has included. She has so much more that you can learn from reading. All right, Heidi. So how are you today do and
Heidi Mathis (1m 32s): Get I’m excited and talk about Germans again.
Nicole (1m 36s): All right. Well, let’s talk about understanding more about our German ancestors surname. How can we get that? Right? Cause sometimes it’s hard to know.
Heidi Mathis (1m 45s): Oh yeah, this is definitely one of the tricky parts and kind of another one of, you know, along with the church record and kind of another holy grail for people researching their ancestors. And I feel like I got really lucky with the name Schlag you know, not very many syllables, it’s kind of unique, but yet not too unique. So that might be the perfect name, but obviously there’s, you know, it can be tricky when your name is very common, like Schmidt or Schneider or Mueller. You’re going to have a little bit of a tricky time, distinguishing them from other people of the same name.
And then other times you’re just going to have a name that, that your, your ancestor ends up writing it down one way. But as you research back, you find out that it was a very different name back in Germany. So, you know, just because of the language differences and the pronunciation differences, our German ancestor was coming over in pronouncing their name to the people who were English speakers often, and they wrote it down in the best they could often. And then sometimes our German got tired probably of trying to get people to understand their name.
And so they would just make it easier for people to pronounce. And so I have noticed that very often the surname is going to be different in Germany than it was in the United States and kind of untangling that is going to be one of the challenges for a lot of people,
Nicole (3m 5s): For sure. If that makes sense that you’d wanna know what it was that back in Germany. So we can go back there and find them in Germany.
Diana (3m 12s): I think that the church records might be the one place where the name was recorded accurately because the minister actually spoke German and knew how it was spelled and knew what it was. So I think that’s a good point to think about who was writing down the record. Was that a census taker who was just doing this by ear? Or was it someone who actually knew German?
Heidi Mathis (3m 30s): Yeah, absolutely. Like one thing to think about is I have ancestors that their last name was folks and that’s Foxx and they just immediately changed their name to Fox just to be more understood. And, you know, a lot of people’s names were just translated. In fact, I was listening to a webinar and they were saying that William Penn, the person who founded Pennsylvania, when that the Pennsylvania Dutch were coming in there, he just translated everyone’s name. If your name was Zimmerman, he wrote down carpenter in your name was Schneider, you wrote down tailor.
And so that you knew that very often is the case. And, and I was watching, you know, I just love the show, finding your roots. And there was just such a great example in that one, Eric Stonestreet is, is an actor and they were doing his genealogy and they found out his grandfather was from Austria. And if they were looking for Stonestreet in Austria, there, they’re never going to find him, but it turned out his actual name was dying. Gossner and I’m probably not pronouncing that. Right. But anyway, that’s just a great example of someone directly translating their name, apparently Stein Gaston, or mean stone street.
Diana (4m 39s): That’s awesome. Well, we have Shults is my maiden name and we were doing some translation on that and trying to figure out what that came from. And now I can’t remember, I think it was the sheriff or something like that, but they came back, you know, and the early, early times too. So, so fun to think about what those names were. Absolutely.
Heidi Mathis (5m 2s): And those Pennsylvania Dutch names, just because spelling is, is something that I hadn’t thought about before, but spelling was not really formalized and codified really until towards the end of the 18 hundreds. And so spelling just naturally just shifts around a lot up until that period. And so if your German ancestor came before that period, especially in Pennsylvania, Dutch, you know, that name has had a lot of chances to shift around. And I have just been fascinated as I’ve looked at Pennsylvania Dutch research and looking at collateral lines and just seeing all the variations that started from one ancestor, like your Eisenhower line.
That’s fascinating just to see all the different spellings I imagine that you’ve
Diana (5m 43s): Seen, oh yes, we have a few of those different spellings. So
Nicole (5m 49s): What are your tips for how to find our ancestors when there are so many different spellings, how can we use the search boxes and databases to our best advantage?
Heidi Mathis (5m 57s): You want to think about how to do your wild card searches and that’s putting in the little star or the question mark in place of letters. And one thing I’ve found that was a little bit counterintuitive for me is that often, you know, but, you know, I was using the first part of my ancestor’s names as being well, they can’t mess up the first part of the name, you know, but I found that they can mess
Speaker 4 (6m 20s): Up the first one and on. And so
Heidi Mathis (6m 23s): You have to think about using wildcards, even for those beginning parts of their names in the blog post. I talk about the different letter combinations. That sound the same to an English speaker. When a German is pronouncing it like one is the D and the T I have an ancestor called Burkhart. I think when a German pronounce, it sounds like there’s a T there for the last D, but its actually a D I and I found some just really interesting example. My favorite favorite one is I have a Dutch line and my second great grandmothers had a step-father named van and Dolan.
So her name is in records under her stepfather’s name. And so when she got married and in a couple of other places, you know, that the word van den Doel is how I would say it. It’s actually written as Fondow with an F. I found this trick of where you can write the surname into Google translate and you can click on the button to have it be pronounced by the AI person, but with the Dutch accent, van den Doel sounds a lot like Fondow.
So you could see how a poor English speaker would have written down Fondow. That
Diana (7m 34s): Is a really good tip. I love that. Well, another one of the tricky things is the handwriting. You know, that’s hard when you’re reading English, but it’s even harder when you’re trying to find your ancestor’s name and the old term and handwriting. So what are some tips for handwriting is a little different than you’re used to. This is probably
Heidi Mathis (7m 55s): Kind of the scariest part of German research. It’s super exciting. You get your record and its got that German hand-writing and, and so they had a different kind of cursive that they were teaching people in in this time period and it’s called Suder Lin or current and they’re very similar and I’m sure I’m mispronouncing the hoes, but they, they formed their letters, some of their letters entirely differently. So it takes some effort to learn, to read those scripts and you know, handwriting is going to be challenging, even if it’s an English.
I think you and everybody knows, who’s tried to translate an old record, knows that. But the exciting thing is today, there are some amazing tools and tips for teaching yourself to read those records. And I would say it’s worth doing, you know, it’s, it’s really exciting to be able to get back into a German church book and be able to go through it and really decipher a family tree in there. So I just highly recommend
Nicole (8m 59s): It. What a good idea to learn, to recognize your ancestor’s name in German handwriting. Do you have some tips for how to do that? Yeah.
Heidi Mathis (9m 7s): The first step I, that I recommend that you take is to use as a script generator and I list one in the blog or to download a font. There’s one called pseudo Berlin dot T T F that I have listed in the blog. And so you can, if you download that font, you can write your ancestor’s name. You can write their village, you can write any of their relatives. You can write their occupation, you can write their birth month and their birth date written out.
All of those things are going to help you start to be able to pick out that name within all of this. It’s going to look like chicken scratch to you. But by doing that, you’re going to at least be able to pick out your ancestors name and their surname. And you’ll be able to like if you’ve gotten back into a village and you’re not even sure if it’s your ancestor’s village, if you’re looking through the records and you just never see your ancestors surname, you know, that’s a clue that you may be in the wrong in the wrong village, but if you’re seeing your ancestors surname all over that village, then it’s, it’s a clue that you are and the right place.
And you can start looking for their first name.
Diana (10m 16s): I love how you’ve got the example on the blog post. And I think it’s great to have that tip of just kind of getting the feel for what the surname looks like and then skipping through the records and see if you can find it. I recommend that everybody go read Heidi’s blog posts because you can actually see some of the examples that are so helpful, but you’ve got another tip that is watching some webinars. And I love webinars for learning things like this, these really specific things because sometimes just watching it and then trying it is the best way to learn.
So do you have simple, good resources? I’m with you Diana?
Heidi Mathis (10m 55s): I love watching webinars and it just such a good refresher course often, even if you’ve done some of this research before, there are some amazing webinars out there and obviously legacy family tree has fantastic ones, but you know, my favorite ones or at family search and they’re free. I explain how to get into those webinars and they have done a recent one that was 10 parts on German hand writing. And believe me, if you go through that 10 part series, you know, you’re going to be well on your weight and you may not even have to go through all 10 parts, but they have great practices and handouts.
I just can’t recommend enough taking one of those series. Cause they’ll, they’ll start showing you letter combinations. And the fact that in German, they had three different ways that N S can appear in the middle of a word and the fourth and fifth way that it can be seen at the beginning. In the end of a word. Also, it’s very difficult to tell the eyes from the use from the EAs, but they have some little hints on how to do that. And so family search the people there have done such a good job.
I have learned so much from watching the great German and general webinars
Diana (12m 8s): There. Oh, that’s a really good clue. And I know that those are not always super easy to find on family search. So I’m glad that you have the weight points for how to get those in the blog post because they can be a little bit hidden in the website. They can be.
Nicole (12m 26s): Do you have any tips for what to do when you find a word or a phrase that you just can not decide that
Heidi Mathis (12m 31s): This happens a lot, and this is something that you can use, whatever language you’re or working. And maybe if you do crossword puzzles too, and use this, this website and it’s called word mind.info, it allows you to switch to a language. So in this case, you’d be switching to German and let’s say, you can read the beginning of the word. And so you S you select for what part of the word you can read and you write in the letters that you’re pretty sure have. And then you count up the possible number of letters and that word. And then it gives you just a list of words in German that it could possibly be an and so it really is such a great way to narrow down the list of what it could be.
Cause, you know, you’re trying to find a word in a language you don’t speak. And so it’s hard to think of what alternatives this word could be. And so I love that word, mind.info. It’s I recommend it for, even if you’re trying to transcribe a document from English, it can be really helpful too. Wow.
Nicole (13m 29s): I am so excited to try that. There are so many times when you just have most of the letters, but you cannot figure it out. And sometimes it’s just so
Speaker 4 (13m 37s): Maddening or you’re looking at it and I’m like,
Nicole (13m 40s): I know that that has to be that I can
Speaker 4 (13m 43s): Really see it right now. Absolutely, absolutely. And you can waste a lot of time. Are we
Heidi Mathis (13m 47s): Doing that? And so this I think is a, a great tip.
Diana (13m 52s): Wow. I do a lot of crossword puzzles, so that might help in that too. And no cheating, she just gets stuck and you just don’t want to think anymore. So that’s a great tip. I love that word, mine and fall. And for transcribing in any language, that could be a great help. Well, let’s talk about wordless because I heard a lot about wordless in whatever language that you’re researching in that, as long as you know, the main words that would be in the record that you’re interested in, you can read a record.
So what are your thoughts on that family
Heidi Mathis (14m 25s): Search again, has some great word lists. And I gave the links to those in the blog post that you’re going to want to learn all the basic words. And often when you get to a record German records or often in column’s and that’s super helpful, or you’re going to need to translate what each of the columns are. You know, what’s helpful about that is that they’ll have a column that just has the baby’s information in it. And so, you know, when your looking in that column, not going to find the parent’s names, you’re just going to find the baby’s name, but some German records can be in a paragraph style.
And those to me, or the hardest, you know, those are the records where you’re gonna just want to focus on the words you can find from your word list. You know, all the basic words like father and mother burial, birth marriage. And then there are some great word lists for occupations, and there can be archaic occupations occupations that we no longer have. And then Germans tended to have a lot of different words for each dialect of German. There tends to be different synonyms for the same occupation.
And so you’re going to want to check those archaic occupation list. And as a tip, you may want to check those. If you have a surname that you just cannot figure out because often people’s surnames were from occupation’s. And so I think that’s a really helpful thing. And then I wanted to mention just briefly, and I can, I may not pronounce her name, right, but barbell Johnson. I saw her lecture at the last German geological conference. That’s coming up in July again. And I saw her a couple of years ago in Sacramento.
And she, I just love the fact that she is really interested in all the names in German that there are for farmer, apparently in English, we just have one word, but she has found, and she’s kind of just had an interest in writing down every word she can find for farmer. And she’s up to a few hundred, I think, different words for farmer in German. So you’re going to want to know some of those words. The other thing that I would highly recommend is this dictionary called, and I’m not, I’m gonna butcher it, but it’s, Vertin Booch net’s.
And it’s basically this dictionary that is kind of a combination like you in English. We have the Oxford English dictionary that lists a lot of how words were formed and a lot of archaic words. And so this, this dictionary is a combination of many, many different dictionary. So it covers current usage and also usage from centuries ago. And so that’s going to be really helpful if you get a word in, in your German record that you cannot find a translation for it, and that’s all in German.
So when I get a website, that’s all in German, I use Chrome to translate it all into English, but then I also keep up a page on the other side in German so that I can kind of make sure I can follow along and don’t get myself last in it. Very often the German websites are much better than the English sites. And so when you’re using this dictionary, it’s kind of a little bit daunting, but I think if you’ve got a surname or word that you just cannot find the meaning of, I think this is worth delving into great
Nicole (17m 43s): Tip. I had a question about place names and locations. So sometimes that’s the to figure out, do you have any ideas for how we can figure out what that in place names are? Yeah,
Heidi Mathis (17m 56s): Th that Meyers Gazetteer is, you know, every German researchers, best friend, it’s just that amazingly well organized. And I go through and the blog posts exactly how to use it, but you’re going to want to use Meyers to help you zone in on the correct name for your ancestors village, because often, you know, it’s going to be misspelled and the record that you find in America, and you’re going to want to use the wild cards. And often you’re going to get to a village name that there’s going to be several villages with the same name in Germany.
And so you’re definitely going to want to pay attention to what state and what Christ’s in crisis county in German. So you’re going to want to keep those jurisdictions together with the village you’re looking for. I can’t recommend using Meyers enough, just helping you zone in on that correct village name. Really super important thing to remember is that family search uses the jurisdictions from Meyers. And so those terms for Myers, once you find that right village, we are going to want to use the terms that Meyers uses when you search for things in family search.
So that’s another huge takeaway that I I’d love for everyone to have going away.
Diana (19m 12s): I had no idea about that. Thank you for telling us all about that. Well, our time is up for this episode. So in partying, do you have any final tips for us?
Heidi Mathis (19m 25s): Yeah, I would highly recommend joining an online community to help you with, you know, when you get stuck, if you’re diving in there and try to read your records, if you get stuck, I’ve listed the online community at family search and also some great Facebook groups that you can join. Cause that’s an awesome way to kind of crowdsource your research.
Diana (19m 46s): Oh, that is a great way. And I think maybe we don’t think about that enough. Facebook groups are wonderful in as well, that community on family search. Well, thank you so much, Heidi. This has been great to talk about how to tackle some of these challenges with reading the handwriting and figuring out the name. So we will continue with this podcast series in a bit with Heidi, and we’re excited to keep learning how to research our German American ancestor.
So thanks so much Heidi for coming on, and that was so much fun for me.
Nicole (20m 20s): All right. We will talk to you guys again next week. Bye.
Both episodes with Heidi Mathis were excellent. I enjoyed the tip of writing out what your ancestor’s name and information looks like in old print to easily scan and compare it against any old records in order to identify it more easily! I’m still attempting to break through a brick wall on my Foltz line in the early 1800s in Maryland, though I do have some hints thanks to DNA ThruLines.
These podcasts on finding your German ancestors are great. I have two sets of great grandparents from different sides of my family from Germany. I have been trying to find the great- great-grandparents from the one family. I have wonderful new avenues to research based on what I’ve just learned. Can’t wait to read all of Heidi’s blog posts on the subject. I guess I should have known Pennsylvania Dutch were German people, but it never crossed my mind. :))