Every year on 21 February the communities on the North Frisian islands, on the coast and in Southern Denmark say goodbye to winter by lighting bonfires shortly after sunset. Every community and even some farms have their own bonfires. Today the contents of the fires are old Christmas trees and decorations.
On 15 February 1797, Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg was born in Wolfshagen/Harz in Northern Germany. Can you guess? Later known as Henry E. Steinway, the founder of one of the leading piano manufacturers of the world, Steinway and Sons, was a German emigrant.
How could genealogical research be conducted without time and dates? After we have already explained the different calendrical systems in former blog entries, in this article we would like to present the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar, the latter is valid today in Western countries.
Who would think that a painting from a church would reveal a complete family history?
In 2009, we researched the German ancestors of the popular Australian cook Maggie Beer for an episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" in Budenheim near Mainz. The focus lay on the Ackermann and Krohmann family lines.
In the course of the investigation we came across a painting which had hung in the former Catholic church St. Pankratius in Budenheim. During reconstruction works a few years before, two portraits had been discovered: a woman and a child depicted as an angel hovering above a family father with 5 children. After they had been painted over for many years these pictures were revealed and renovated upon discovery.
After presenting the church calendar and – with it – the influence of religion on the time calculation in our last blog, we would like to inform a little bit more about the different calendar systems.
For evaluating sources in genealogical research, it is important to know not only the specific temporal period but also in which region or under which political rule these sources were made. By these factors the calendar systems were influenced as well.
Dates are basic for doing genealogical research. By knowing specific dates we as genealogists are able to look for searched persons and to create complete ancestral charts. While doing genealogical research, the different calendrical systems need to be considered.
Different calendrical systems
In history there were always calendars, already in older civilizations systems were elaborated to classify time and the unit of a ”year” systematically. Hence different calendrical systems were established: The Romans brought in the Julian Calendar, in France the French Republican Calender was established in 1792. Moreover, every religion has its own computation of time which is guided by the holidays among others.
In the urban region of Hamburg there are for example several granite steles that are unimposing at first glance. But these steles are evidence of the history of Hamburg and Holstein. One of the granit steles is located in the Tarpenbekstraße in the Hamburg district Eppendorf. On it several letters and numbers are written, they might appear cryptic at the moment.
Before riddling the stone’s and its inscription’s meaning, let’s talk about the history of Hamburg and Holstein.
November is the month in which the traditional lantern processions take place in Germany. Children walking through the streets with their parents and colourful, self-made lanterns in the early hours of the evening is a custom that - like many other customs - traces back to a clerical holiday. In this case the holy Martin of Tours is to be honored by the rite.
It's happening again: this weekend in the night to 30thOctober the clocks will be switched to standard time. Since 1996, the EU has uniform regulations for the summer time; hence daylight saving time starts on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October. With the beginning of standard time in fall, the clocks are set back by one hour.
The Chinese were first, introducing family names already about 2.850 B.C. The ancient Romans were then followed on the European continent; they usually had three names. For the German speaking regions, the history of family names starts in the 12th century. Here, for many centuries a single forename was sufficient to identify a person. However, even back then there were fashionable names so that the variety of names was reduced and led to a decline of Germanic forenames.
In addition, the population grew drastically between the 12th and 14th century. At some point there were, for example, three persons by the name of "Josef" in one village. Thus one name was not enough anymore to clearly identify a specific person.
Back in 2011, we received an inquiry from an Australian client who had been born in Rotenburg/Wümme, Germany shortly after World War II. Her father had been stationed there as a soldier in the German air force. After a short British war imprisonment he decided to return to his wife and two children to his home town Vienna, Austria. This decision meant that he left the mother of our client and his illegitimate daughter, our client, even before she was born. After these events the family of our client never heard of the man again.
After 65 years, the daughter finally wanted to know who her biological father was - what kind of person had he been, had he lived a happy life, when and where had he died? She hoped to find answers to all these questions with our help.
During the air raids of "operation Gomorrha" in the summer of 1943, large parts of the animal park were destroyed. Luckily some of the animals survived and thus it was that elephants helped with the clearing work afterwards - not only at the zoo but also in other areas of Hamburg.
The walrus lady Antje is also unforgotten as she was both the mascot of Hagenbeck and of the NDR [North German Broadcasting Corporation] from 1976 until her death in 2003.
There is a song well-known in Hamburg called "Geh'n wir mal zu Hagenbeck...." ["Let's go to Hagenbeck..."] and when somebody sings it everyone knows it's about a visit to the zoo. It must be remarked though that Hagenbeck is an animal park strictly speaking: the enclosures are embedded in a park with artificial lakes and mountains and also the concept of laying more emphasis on species-appropriate husbandry in outdoor enclosures was developed by Carl Hagenbeck in 1896; later he even had the patent for it.
Over the decades, what had started as a small animal shop with 6 seals in 1848 escalated into an animal park which was opened at today's location in Hamburg-Stellingen in 1907. "Hagenbecks Tierpark" became the animal park Hagenbeck over time showing several attractions like the "polar sea" and the tropical aquarium.
Apart from the animals, Hagenbeck was also famous for something else: the ethnological exhibitions. At a time when not everybody could read and owned books at home, when there were no cinemas and TV sets, these exhibitions were considered an appropriate measure to let the people of Hamburg " gaze" at other cultures which were considered to be savage and uncivilized; thus, Inuit, Saami, or indigenous peoples of Africa and America became a kind of special exhibitions in addition to the animals.
Not only 50 Million Americans have German ancestors – the Dollar has German roots as well!
This is due to the fact that mining in Germany made a lot of progress in the 15th century and that through the “discovery” of the new world more and more silver made its way to Europe. When gold became rare and more expensive, silver was the choice for coinage. Gold had a higher worth than silver though and as the silver gulden was to be of the same value as the golden one, it had to be nine times as heavy as the gold gulden. A silver gulden weighed 30 grams and was called “Guldiner”, a word close to “Gulden”.
For every genealogist the Ballinstadt Emigration Museum is one of the where to go addresses in Hamburg. On the spot where ship owner Albert Ballin once built “Emigrants’ Halls” for those leaving the country in which they could wait for their departure, “BallinStadt” was erected in 2007.
Today was a good day. We had the opportunity to experience a rare ancestry research sensation.
For more than four years we have been looking for information on a client’s biological father about whom she only knew the name and his place of residence in 1945/1946. Not even the date of birth was known. Hearsay in the family indicated a connection to Austria, but we were not able to verify anything about this for a long time.
It is the anniversary of one of the lesser-known war crime trials after the end of World War II, which were first initiated by the Allied Forces (such as the Nuremberg Trials 1945-49) and later also brought before German courts (Auschwitz Trials in the 1960s and -70s): The “Neuengamme Main Trial”.
On 03 April 2016, an icon of Hollywood’s “Golden Era” turned either 92 or 94 years old – that we don’t know for sure is a phenomenon of the times when the truth about stars could more easily be hidden or manipulated then in today’s digital age.
Happiness is a central theme and concern of our modern society: Self-help books line the shelves and discuss in every imaginable facet how we may walk through life not just content, but happy. Proverbs and motivational statements such as “Laughter is the best medicine”, Laugh and the world laughs with you” or “A day without laughter is a lost day” are everywhere from calendars on the wall to bed linen.
The display of happiness plays a central role in our lives: Someone who never laughs is prompted to do so (although this is overwhelmingly true for women) and when taking portraits or group pictures, photographers try to make people laugh by any means possible. Even without a paid photographer people smile – most selfies show laughing and smiling faces.
„ [...] do not try one but three.” (Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900)
Although there is a lot yet to be done in the area of gender equality, a lot has changed in the last one hundred years: While today a woman, Angela Merkel, is the head of Germany’s government, women did not even have the right to participate in political elections until far into the 20th century. Much less did they pursue a career: When, in our genealogical research, we work with documents from the 19th century or earlier we very rarely encounter women who carried on a profession. Responsibilities were clearly divided back then.
The topic “Eating” and “Nutrition” is (Caution: a pun!) on everyone’s lips at the moment.
Be it low-calorie, vegan or lactose-free – there is something to cater for all tastes these days, as long as it’s healthy and balanced! Little helpers nowadays are nutrition apps and food ‘traffic lights’.
What we experience as one year is exactly the amount of time it takes the earth to circle the sun. In fact, this does not take exactly 365 days but 365 days and 6 hours. For our calendar year to nevertheless remain synchronized with the so-called tropical (or solar) year, the leap year exists: every couple of years February 29 is added to the calendar year; a leap year therefore consists of 366 days. Such as 2016 has been.
In today’s German passport (the word originates from the Latin “passus”, passage) eight attributes and a photograph can be found.
In previous times – without the photograph – the descriptions and attributes had to be lengthier and more accurate. In the beginning of the 18th century there were 20 individual points of reference to be named. Name, age, nationality and height of the person as well as an exact description on the nature of different bodily parts. Color and completeness of teeth were registered as well as strength of beard hair or lip shape. Especially identifying features like “limping” or “hunchbacked” and even habits and character traits were dutifully noted. Because this level of detail was practiced over several generations sometimes you can learn quite a lot of interesting particulars about famous people. For example it is known that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had brown eyes and hadn´t turned fully gray by the age of 57.
According to the German dictionary, the term "first language", or "mother tongue" describes "a language that a child learns (from its parents) [and that it uses primarily]". Hence language is a cultural good that is part of us from an early age on and that makes us part of a family or community.
But all languages are not created equal: while doing genealogical research you discover that language and scripture change over time, new meanings develop for certain terms or they disappear from the language usage completely. While doing genealogical research, we often come across terms which are dated: In case our ancestors got married in the 19th century, they arranged a “copulation” [marriage]. At a christening feast there were „Gevatter“ [godparents] standing at your side.
Yes, sending children with parcel service was actually a possibility in the land of opportunity, the USA! And it is another example for how genealogy can lead you towards bizarre and unbelievable stories from the past.
In 1913 and 1914 it was apparently possible - or not explicitly forbidden - to send human beings via parcel service. This was right after the postal service in the US started its parcel service on January 1st 1913. The service was received well. Within the first six months 300 million parcels have been sent.
Today on February 2nd 2016, King Willem Alexander and Queen Máxima celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary. Prior to their wedding there was made a big fuss about it since Máxima neither was aristocratic nor had she a proper ancestry.
While doing genealogy research and reading about marriages of our ancestors nowadays, we ascertain that love was not the main reason for contracting a marriage. During the filming for "Das Geheimnis meiner Familie" [„The secret of my family“] with Christine Neubauer the Historian Dr. Martin Ortmeier explained that only 2 % of the marriages contracted before 1900 were contracted because of love (click here to see the film - in German only).
There is a specific relationship between our French neighbors and us: lots of Germans read the comics of Astérix the Gaul in their childhood, some Germans choose the Eiffel Tower as the setting for a marriage proposal and the croissant is an inherent part of breakfast on Sundays.
The year 1919 represents one of the most important caesuras in our history: After the First World War had claimed millions of lives it was officially brought to an end by signing the Treaty of Versailles. In 2016 the days in which that historical contract was closed have their 97th anniversary.
Whether the cream “Nivea”, the adhesive film “Tesa” or a care lipstick called “Labello” – everyone knows the products, also the producer is known all over the world: the Beiersdorf AG. The persons behind those brands are known much less.
In 1880, Paul Carl Beiersdorf born in Neuruppin in 1836 settles down as a pharmacist in Hamburg and fiddles with the dermatologist Paul Gerson Unna (1850-1929) about an adhesivebandage for wounds – the patch as we know it nowadays is invented!
A German and not-so-German Christmas tradition at the same time.
A few years ago we received a “Happy New Year” card from a client, she told us she had spent Christmas and New Years Eve with her children and her grandchildren. They were delighted by the German Christmas Tree and this year it was Peter who was the first to discover the pickle. Pardon me? A pickle in the Christmas tree?
At first we thought this was a typo as even during living for 10 years in New York, I never came across a pickle in a Christmas tree. So we went back to that client and asked her about this. She instantly and told us that even her grandparents had followed this German tradition of having a Christmas pickle in the Christmas tree.
Tomorrow night, the night from December 5th to December 6th, the „Klaasohm“ will be walking abroad again.
This old custom is said to date back to the time when the mostly poor population of Borkum earned a little bit extra by whaling. In late autumn and after long absence aboard ship, the men returned to the island which had been firmly in the hand of the women during the summer. In this special night the men come to claim back their supremacy.
If you are about to commit a capital crime in Wiesbaden, Frankfurt or Kassel: Think again! Of course, we do not suspect you of criminal energy but it would be important to know that in Wiesbaden and the whole state of Hesse the death penalty is still in effect. At least since the state constitution was adopted on the 1st December 1946. Article 21(1) states that for extreme offences the death penalty can be given. Hesse is therefore not only the first state that passed its constitution, but the last that has not come around to delete the passage in question. So much for the last shall be the first.
When you visit Hamburg there is a distinct difference between going for a walk around the Alster or along the Elbe. As a native your cultural milieu will factor quite a bit into the decision where your steps will lead you. The same can be observed for the local soccer teams HSV and St. Pauli or if you live on the “right” or “wrong” side of the Alster.
On 16 November 1960, Clark Gable, one of the most iconic and successful Hollywood actors, passed away. Born in 1901, he had made movie history with classics such as “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “Gone with the Wind”. He was said to be a box-office guarantee and was honoured with an Academy Award for his role in “It happened one night” in 1934. He played alongside Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly, just to name a few, and became a movie legend.
November 9th is a special day in German history. Four times in the 20th century has this day made history – in positive and very negative ways. This is why today a lot of commemoration festivities are taking place all over the country. They remember the crimes as well as the positive developments that are forever connected to this day.
On November 9th 1918 seamen that were tired of the war revolted against the command to once again go out to sea to fight against England. World War I had cost about 10 million lives and double as many were wounded, people were exhausted. The revolt spread like wildfire over the whole country. The November Revolution led to Emperor Wilhelm’s abdication and the formation of a German Republic with a government that was legitimated by democratic vote.
When Daylight Savings make you reconsider time, questions arise. How did today’s time zones get defined? The sun takes 24 hours to circle around the 360 degrees of the circumference of the earth, that is 15 degrees an hour, one degree of longitude in four minutes. Each line of longitude therefore has its own timezone that bases on the position of the sun. And this is exactly how it worked until less than 140 years ago: The result was that every location had their own time, and the time difference between Cologne and Berlin for example was 26 minutes. Today, this seems unthinkable!
When an American, John Brinkmann, contacted us a while back, we had the opportunity to look at a very exceptional family history. You see, John Brinkmann Sr., his father, was director of photography at NASA and as such was responsible for bringing us all of the spectacular pictures from the Gemini and Apollo space programs, in particular the first photos from the surface of the moon in 1969 - photos that went around the globe then and still do (and you are probably visualizing them while you are reading this). John recalled to us how his father shared these photos with the family around the morning breakfast table, before they had been revealed to the press. The collectively shared memory of history that manifests itself in these images stands in contrast to each individual life and its often unclear ancestral past. Now, with his father advancing in years, John wanted to help reconnect his father with his forefathers roots in Germany.
Today, on World Food Day, the media focus especially on the food situation in areas of crisis all over the world, informing the public and appeal for donations. Here in genealogy research, our thoughts immediately go to our ancestors that, especially in Germany, these problems were a big issue not very long ago. It has been only one or two generations since World War II led to a catastrophe for the German civil population and the food shortage took a lot of imagination and cunning to be able to feed a family. Our parents or grandparents tell us so many stories about the creativity that was needed to get something to eat and of the trauma the hunger caused.
We at Beyond History research the German roots of US-citizens almost every day. Our American clients try to find out, where their families came from, why they made the big trip across the Atlantic Ocean and what their lives in Europe had looked like. The shared German-American heritage is huge – and today it has its own commemoration day.
This year on October 3rd, festive acts all over Germany celebrate the 25th anniversary of the reunification of what was the German Democratic Republic (“DDR”) in the East and the Federal Republic of Germany (“BRD”) in the West. The German national holiday commemorates the joining of the DDR with the BRD that was decided on in August 1990 and concluded in October. With this happening, the federal states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and all of Berlin, the so-called “new federal states”, became part of the republic.
When Justus and Frieda got married on a Thursday in June 1907, they had no idea they would later have a daughter that would write Hollywood history!
Justus Samuel Bergman, a Swedish man from Stockholm, married the Hamburg resident Frieda Henriette Auguste Louise Adler on 13 June 1907 at the civil registry office 3 in Hamburg-Eimsbuettel. It was a sunny, although with 20° C not too warm summer’s day, when the two entered into marriage, traditionally at the bride’s place of residence.
For genealogists, cemeteries can play an important role when searching for some ancestor’s life dates. A photograph of a grave stone may even render a complicated research in an archive unnecessary! Some graves also tell stories about the family of the deceased, his or her occupation or other unique features that are able to bring us closer to the lives of our ancestors.
Our mysterious birthday girl would have turned 125 today and has left an impressive lifework of literature behind. The daughter of an American salesman and his English wife developed a literary talent very early that let her publish her first pieces at the young age of 11 years.
Early on the 4th July 1885, the baker Joseph Meister sent his son of the same name to the next village to get yeast from the brewery there. When young Joseph entered the village center, he was attacked by a dog and bitten into his hand and his legs. Some villagers who had witnessed the incident came to hunt away the dog and wash the boy’s wounds with water from the village well. Then they gave him a coin to make him feel better. Little did they know the little boy would make history as the first person successfully vaccinated against rabies!
Electoral campaigns often make weird headlines. When Barack Obama first ran against Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential elections in the USA, genealogy played a part in it as well. Everything of interest in the ancestry of the candidates was brought to the media’s attention. Obama and Clinton are, as it turned out then, distant relatives. The tabloids loved the fact that while Obama was apparently a distant cousin of Brad Pitt, Clinton was related to Angelina Jolie. Also, in Obamas ancestry there were connections to many presidents such as George W. Bush, Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson, while Clinton’s family history on the French-Canadian side shows relations to Madonna, Celine Dion and Alanis Morissette.
When working with historical records and church book entries, unfamiliar professional titles let you pause and leave you puzzled regularly. Often the titles refer to occupations that don’t exist anymore or whose names have simply changed: The “oeconomus” for example might be called janitor, or, in a more modern way, facility manager today.
The history of their own family is something of a mystery for most people. If you can’t wait any longer and want to finally find out more about your ancestors, keep calm and take one step after the other for a successful research. For the perfect start we present to you today: Five tips for your genealogy kick-off.
According to researchers at the academy of science in Mainz, those good things are spread all over Germany! They showed with vivid illustrations how many people in Germany carry summery names: For example Sommer (summer), Urlaub (vacation), Sonnenschein (sunshine) or Pool. Based on directory entries it was made apparent that ‘Sommer’ is a name that is spread evenly in Germany, while the ‘Urlaubs’ gather in Stuttgart and the ‘Sonnenscheins’ and ‘Pools’ in North Rhine-Westphalia.
It was one of these cases that seem almost impossible to solve. For the research of the German ancestor of our US-American client we had close to nothing to start with: A name that did not sound German at all, the fact that he immigrated from Germany and a possible time frame of 10 years of his possible birth. An unrelated person of the same name that had lived close to ‘our’ German emigrant and came from the area of Oldenburg allowed the presumption that he, too, could have come from there.
At home in the United States our client’s father was a successful engineer and business man. To honor him, his children planned an exhibition about his life, his successes and his origin. His family came to the US from Germany in the late 19th century.
The heat wave that currently traverses Europe often causes severe weather and thunderstorms. The fear of thunderstorms is called Astraphobia and it has a long history - which is understandable when we take into account that while we today are startled by thunder and lightning our ancestors not even had an explanation for this natural spectacle...
It seems there are endless reality shows on German TV these days that follow German emigrants on their way to their new homes all around the world. The families sharing their hopes, dreams, and problems in front of the camera always make me think of the emigrant ancestors we researched so far. One of the favorite emigration destinations for Germans is and was Australia. Today, people go there for the friendly people, nature, beaches, and the sun. That sure was different back in the days…
When our parents, grandparents or great grandparents went grocery shopping, it sure looked different from today. Shops were smaller, the range of goods was limited and you couldn’t check what you needed for that special lasagna recipe on your smartphone in the middle of aisle 4!
But shopping also had a different sound back then. The monotone beeping at the check-out is something we are used to today. But it is the sound of one of the greatest supermarket innovations of the 20th century: I’m talking about the barcode-system. On 26 June 1974 the first product marked with a barcode was registered: It was a pack of “Juicy Fruit” gum in a supermarket in Ohio.
The trains were late, kindergartens were closed and now mail services are slow: The year 2015 seems to be the year of strikes in Germany. While strikes always are a pain for everyone relying on public transport, childcare and the like, they seem to be crucial when it comes to negotiations over fair working conditions.
Some days, we put our heads together and puzzle over a document. Is that an H? Is it an S? What kind of occupation could this be? The reason for this is not our defective sight but the old German handwritings that we decrypt daily in records, church book entries and so on. After many years of experience, there is a certain routine in doing so – but even after a thousand records a bad copy, smudgy ink or just the particularly scrawly handwriting of a registrar from 200 years ago can bring us to verge of despair.