31. October 2017, Emigration, Genealogy, General, Germany, Historical Events, Knowledge
Detail of a church window in the War Memorial Chapel at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington D.C. Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Picture by Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clerestory_window_12_-_War_Memorial_Chapel_-_National_Cathedral_-_DC.JPG)
On 31 October 1517 Martin Luther is supposed to have nailed his 95 theses against the sale of indulgences to the door of the church in Wittenberg. Today it is debatable, if this really happened, but for many the date still stands for the beginning of the reformation. It is celebrated as Reformation Day in Germany and Austria.
Religious refugees during reformation
17. September 2017, Family, General, Genealogy, Internet, Knowledge, Personalities
Gravestone of the family Duden in Bad Hersfeld, Germany, an example of a famous German personality that might be of interest for a virtual cemetery. Konrad Duden had quite an influence on German spelling (more information: https://www.beyond-history.com/blog/permalink/191/). Picture by 2micha (Own work) [GPL (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grabstein_duden_hersfeld.jpg)
In 2015, we addressed the value of cemeteries for genealogy in the context of German cemetery day. We referred to the cemetery 2.0 and the habit of putting QR-Codes on gravestones to allow people to access further information on deceased persons. But with advanced technology there is always something new.
31. August 2017, General, Germany, Historical Documents, Knowledge
“Duden” from 1891 (3rd edition), picture by Merker Berlin (own book, own scan) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DUDEN_1891_0302_PAF1.jpg)
Probably every genealogist knows the problem: In old documents, the spelling of words often varies. That doesn’t make it easier to read old handwritings. For genealogy it is especially difficult, if personal data is affected, in particular names.
Today the spelling often appears to be arbitrary. The reason is, that in Germany for a very long time there were no orthographic rules. Regarding personal data an aggravating factor is that many people weren’t able to write themselves. Therefore they couldn’t verify the information for example in church books. If I think about how often my name is misspelled and in how many different ways even today (and even when I spell it), it is no wonder that there were various notations.
What does it say? Spelling in Germany
25. August 2017, Emigration, General, German-American, Historical Events, Knowledge, Personalities
Neil Armstrong working on the moon near lunar module Eagle, 20 July 1969. Picture by NASA / Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:As11-40-5886,_uncropped.jpg)
The first man on the moon, a German? No, of course not. But Neil Alden Armstrong had indeed German ancestors.
He was born on 5 August 1930 in Ohio and died in the same state on 25 August 2012 when he was 82 years old. Inbetween Neil Armstron made history with one step on 20 July 1969 (American time). It is not surprising that Armstrong, sometimes compared to Columbus, descended from immigrants as most Americans do. His ancestors had the courage to take steps on unfamiliar ground. To start all over in a new country was certainly not an easy thing to do. Especially as keeping in touch with the people that stayed behind wasn’t as simple as today.
A small step for [a] man – From Germany to the moon
20. August 2017, General, Hamburg, Germany, Knowledge
Through the tidelands to Hamburg’s most remote quarter Neuwerk
More than 100 km to the northwest of Hamburg you can find the quarter Neuwerk, that belongs to the district Hamburg-Mitte. Scarcely 40 people live on the approximately 3 km2 tidal island Neuwerk at the Elbe estuary. Despite its location it has (with short breaks) been a part of the Hanseatic city for more than 700 years. The uninhabited neighboring islands Scharhörn and Nigehörn are part of the quarter as well.
The islands are in the center of the Hamburg Wadden Sea National Park. With its 13,750 hectare, it is the smallest of the three German Wadden Sea National Parks. You can reach Neuwerk at low tide from the Lower Saxony coast on foot or on a “Wattwagen” (a horse-drawn carriage). During the summer there is also a daily ship connection from Cuxhaven.
Are we really in Hamburg? The island Neuwerk
13. August 2017, Family, General, Genealogy, Germany, Hamburg, Knowledge
Picture by Andreas Bohnenstengel [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hochzeit_08.jpg)
Many people probably know the question, when they will (finally) marry, all too well. At least it isn’t much of a problem in the western world to live together and have children without being married. In the past it would have been a scandal. But at what age did people marry? And is it true that it happened much earlier than today?
These questions are relevant for genealogy as well. To find ancestors or specific marriage or birth dates it may well be relevant to have an idea how big generations spans may have been or which age of marriage might be probable.
When will you marry? Age of marriage in Germany
31. July 2017, Emigration, General, German-American, Hamburg, History, Knowledge
Chicago Skyline at sunrise (2009), Photo by Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chicago_sunrise_1.jpg)
Since July 1994, to be precise since 20 July 1994, Chicago is Hamburg’s twin city. After the first initiative was made in 1957, the idea was readopted in the 1990s.
There are good reasons for being sister cities. Both are characterized by their waterside location (at Lake Michigan and the Elbe), despite at the same time being located at the inland. They are both economical as well as cultural centers and there are furthermore historical parallels and connections. Just to mention it briefly, both cities were affected by great fires (Hamburg in 1842, Chicago in 1871) that changed their appearances permanently. But most of all, both cities played an important role in the migration from Germany to America in the 19th century: Hamburg as an emigration harbor, Chicago as a place of refuge for immigrants.
Hamburg’s sister city Chicago
21. July 2017, General, Historical Events, History, Holiday, Knowledge, Personalities
Leopold I of Belgium, Picture by unknown (Zeno.org, ID-Number 20001849204) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AL%C3%A9opold_I.jpg)
Since 1890, 21 July is the Belgian National Day. This goes back to 1831 when the first King of the Belgians, Leopold I, took the oath on the constitution of the newly independent nation. He came from a German dynasty.
Why a German became the first King of the Belgians
15. July 2017, Genealogy, General, Germany, Historical Documents, Knowledge, Tips and Tricks
First page of a marriage certificate by a civil registry office from 1880, picture by Mediatus (Own work (Familienarchiv)) [CC0, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Standesamtliche_Heiratsurkunde_Wilhelm_Carl_Friedrich_Gräber_-_Sophia_Caroline_Wilhelmine_Jörß,_1880,_Teil_I.png)
Some time ago we published a top-10-list of sources for genealogy in Germany on this Blog. Today, we would like to start keeping our promise by providing more information on the particular sources. Let’s get started with the civil registries.
Sources for genealogy: Birth-, marriage and death certificates
09. July 2017, General, Germany, Knowledge
Street sign of Namenlose Straße (Nameless Street) in Glückstadt, Germany.
You can find streets or parts of streets that never had any official name – for whatever reason. But that there actually is a street that is called “Namenlose Straße” (Nameless Street)? Yes you can find that as well! Namely in Glückstadt, Germany.
Street names: What do you do, if you don’t know how to name something?
30. June 2017, General, Germany, Knowledge, Onomastics
Figure „Der Schmidt“ (the smith) from a book of classes by Jost Amman and Hans Sachs from 1568 (Amman, Jost; Sachs, Hans: Eygentliche Beschreibung aller Stände auff Erden, hoher und nidriger, geistlicher und weltlicher, aller Künsten, Handwercken und Händeln..., Frankfurt am Main 1568, p. 77) [Public Domain], via Wikipedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schmidt-1568.png).
Some time ago we released The history of German family names – Part 1 here on our blog. We didn’t forget that we promised a sequel. Today it’s finally here. This time we will talk about professions and nicknames as family names.
The history of German family names – Part 2
19. June 2017, Anniversary, General, Genealogy
On 19 June 2007 the first blog post went online on Abenteuer Ahnenforschung (adventure genealogy, only in German). It was one of the first genealogy blogs in Germany. Our head, professional genealogist and company founder Andrea Bentschneider, still chats there about her daily work, shares tips and informs about various aspects of ancestry and family research. Our corporate blog on this site is with (almost exactly) 2 years comparatively young. Both blogs are characterized by years of experience in professional genealogy.
The very first blog post on Abenteuer Ahnenforschung was about "Genealogy and why one starts with it or At the beginning is curiosity…" (only in German). Motives can hardly be separated from the personal gain that accompanies genealogy. Following this, we ask today, which advantages professional genealogy provides and which limitations it has. What can be achieved and what not?
Happy Birthday Abenteuer Ahnenforschung! Or: What can professional genealogy achieve?
17. June 2017, General, Genealogy, Germany, Historical Documents, Knowledge
Detail from the register of marriages of the parish Münsterdorf, available at the Kirchenkreisarchiv (church district archive) in Wrist, Germany (https://www.kk-rm.de/unser-kirchenkreis/kirchenkreis-archiv.html)
What has a „Vaccinationsschein“ (vaccination certificate) to do with a wedding (and what is it)? Or is there something else written in the church book?
Is there any genealogist who doesn’t know the situation? Finally, you have found a document regarding a sought-after person, but you are not able to read everything. Even after deciphering the words, or after you think you might have deciphered them, you are not sure what to do with the information. Often, background information is necessary to understand what this is all about.
No marriage without vaccination!
08. June 2017, General, Historical Documents, Tips and Tricks
Reading room of Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin (Evangelical Central Archives in Berlin), photograph by Clemens Schulz (Own Work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABenutzersaal_des_Evangelischen_Zentralarchivs_in_Berlin.jpg)
Today we like to start our new series on sources of ancestry and family research. For what would we genealogists be without our sources? We start with an overview and will address the various mentioned sources at irregular intervals and provide further information. What relevance they have, were you can find them, what is to be considered…
Top 10: Sources for genealogy
01. June 2017, Family, General, Germany, Holiday, Knowledge, Traditions
Campaign to collect waste material in order to buy an animal that was to be given to Berlin zoo on International Children’s Day in 1959. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-59459-0002 / Ulmer, Rudi / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-59459-0002,_Aus_Altstoffen_ein_Tier_f%C3%BCr_den_Tierpark.jpg)
Even if there are no two states any more, there are still differences between East and West Germany. There are structural inequalities, but there are different traditions as well, for example in celebrating. For instance, on 1 June is Children’s Day. One of the Children’s Days, to be more accurate. In fact there are two Children’s Days that are celebrated in Germany. International Children’s Day on 1 June and Universal Children’s Day on 20 September. The first of them is of greater importance in the eastern parts of the Country.
Children’s Day = Children’s Day? Celebrations in East and West Germany
23. May 2017, General, German-American, Germany, Knowledge, Personalities, Emigration
21. May 2017, Archives, Societies, Museums, General, Germany, Hamburg
Pringen Hof from Kakenstorf, built in 1797, furnished according to about 1800.
Pretty groups of houses and gardens, vivid and sensorial history, old domestic animal breeds and many opportunities to try out things – the Kiekeberg open air museum near Hamburg is always worth visiting: For interested genealogists who want to know more about how their ancestors might have lived in the region, for general history fans or whole families. There is something for every interest and every age.
Tangible history – The Kiekeberg open air museum
12. May 2017, Archives, Societies, Museums, Genealogy, General, Germany, Historical Documents, Tips and Tricks
Archive file register, photo by moi (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AArchives_entreprises.jpg)
Genealogy isn’t always simple. Sometimes legislative restrictions that are in themselves very reasonable can complicate our work. Today we would like to give a short overview of different periods applying to archive material in Germany. This is further complicated by German federalism. Many regulations only apply to one particular federal state.
Periods applying to archive material
02. May 2017, Emigration, General, German-American, History, Knowledge, Personalities
American and Czech Budweiser, Photo: Dorisall at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABud_and_Budvar.jpg)
Without question Anheuser-Busch is one of the best known breweries worldwide. Today the American company is part of the international corporation Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABInBev), just like the German beer brands Beck’s, Franziskaner, Hasseröder, Diebels or Löwenbräu. The brewery originated in the 1850s in St. Louis (Missouri). It was acquired by Eberhard Anheuser and a partner in 1860. Anheuser died 20 years later, on 2 May 1880 in St. Louis.
Germans and their beer – Part 3
28. April 2017, Emigration, General, German-American, History, Knowledge, Personalities, Professions
Frederick Pabst, Picture by S.L. Stein (The Pabst Mansion) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frederick_Pabst_by_SL_Stein.jpg)
No more than Germans invented beer they were the first to brew it in the USA. Breweries are documented from the 17th century at the latest. Until the middle of the 19th century they mostly produced British-style ale. This changed with enhanced immigration from Germany and the associated higher demand for lighter lager. This was met by German brewers from about mid-century. Until the end of the 19th century lager had become the predominant beer in the USA. And especially German-American brewers like Busch, Pabst or Schlitz had made themselves known.
Germans and their beer – Part 2
23. April 2017, Anniversary, Emigration, General, Germany, Hamburg, Knowledge
Various beer types. By Personal Creations (www.personalcreations.com) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABeer_in_glasses_and_steins.jpg)
The favorite beverage of the Germans? Beer! At least that’s the cliché. There of course is reason to that. One is certainly the “Reinheitsgebot” (German beer purity law) that supports the good reputation of German beer. It was passed on 23 April 1516, therefore every year at that day, German Beer Day is celebrated. The beer purity law is the oldest food law in the world. It states that German beer can only be made of water, hops and barley. The role of yeast that influences fermentation wasn’t understood at the time. Today adding yeast allows a constant quality of the beer. Prior to the German beer purity law, many things were mixed into the beer to for example add a special flavor, heighten the intoxicating effect or to make beer drinkable again that had turned sour. The first verifiable predecessors to this law can be found in 1156 in Augsburg.
Germans and their beer – Part 1
21. April 2017, Archives, Societies, Museums, General, Tips and Tricks
It is great to have the opportunity to do research in original files. Therefore it is very important to respect some ground rules to preserve them for the future. Experienced genealogists and archive user usually know them by heart. As there are still problems from time to time, we would like to point out some fundamental Things:
Top 7 archive sins
11. April 2017, Emigration, German-American, Germany, Historical Events, Literature, Personalities, WWII
United States Army portrait of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., by United States Army [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKurt-Vonnegut-US-Army-portrait.jpg)
On 11 April 2017, author Kurt Vonnegut died in New York. Born on 11 November 1922 as the youngest of three siblings in Indianapolis, Vonnegut was a fourth-generation German-American. Both of his parents, his father Kurt Vonnegut Sr. and his mother Edith Lieber, descended from German emigrants, that arrived in America in the 19th century.
Kurt Vonnegut and Germany
06. April 2017, General, Germany, Knowledge
Dike at Beltringharder Koog in North Frisia, Germany, Foto by Goegeo (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lahnungsfelder_vorm_Beltringharder_Koog.JPG)
Dikes are characteristic for the German North Sea coast. They were used not only for flood protection but for land reclamation as well. According to this the Statement „Deus mare, Frisio litora fecit“ (God created the sea, the Frisian created the coast) can be understood. Flood protection is very important untill today. In February we referred to the storm flood in 1962. But who is and was responsible for the preservation of the dikes?
31. March 2017, General, Germany, Knowledge
Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Dülmen, Kirchspiel, St.-Jakobus-Kirche -- 2015 -- 5586” (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42826497) / CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode)
Even today a wedding or a funeral may be expensive. Especially if you want to marry, there are many things that can affect the costs: the number of guests, the dress, if you get a DJ or a band… And there are many older people that save money for their own funeral to unburden their descendants. Usually those financial burdens aren’t caused by fees charged by the churches though. This was different in the past.
We can’t afford more!? – When you have to pay for official church acts
26. March 2017, Family, General, Germany, Literature, Personalities
Cover of the book „Sie kam aus Mariupol“ by Natascha Wodin, copyrights by Rowohlt Verlag GmbH
In February 2017 the German publisher Rowohlt released the new book of writer Natascha Wodin. “Sie kam aus Mariupol” not only tells the moving story of her mother but also describes her ancestry research as such vividly. The literary biography was rightly awarded with the Leipzig Book Fair Prize 2017. We hope it will be translated into English one day.
Literature tip: „Sie kam aus Mariupol“ by Natascha Wodin (German language)
19. March 2017, Archives, Societies, Museums, General
This week was a good week. 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.
When the impossible happens
11. March 2017, General, Germany, History, Knowledge
As genealogists we often come across addresses. We have written about the topic in this blog before and will do so again. Addresses people had years or centuries ago have often changed names over time. Sometimes it’s important to find out, how streets are called today. Mannheim, Germany, is a good example for even current street names that pose us riddles.
Street names: Circle the square and start a new life!
28. February 2017, Archives, Societies, Museums, Germany, Hamburg, Historical Events, Historical Documents, General
Flood in Hamburg, 17.02.1962; picture by Oxfordian Kissuth (own work). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHamburg_-_Flutkatastrophe_1962.jpg
In the night of 16 to 17 February 1962 the hurricane Vinicinette caused a storm flood at the North Sea coast of Germany. Hamburg was affected especially hard, the early warning systems failed and the danger wasn’t taken seriously. The residents of Hamburg were surprised by the water in their sleep. 315 people died in the city alone (of 340 people in total).
Documents that might have helped genealogists today were destroyed as well. The public record office itself was left unharmed, but the records of some administrative bodies were affected. It’s hard to estimate, how many records of private companies were lost as well. If one of your ancestors worked in any of those affected companies prior to 1962, it might be hard to find information today.
Flooded… Catastrophic influences on genealogy
21. February 2017, General, Germany, Old Customs, Traditions
„Biikebrennen in Wassersleben (2014), Entzündung, Bild 013“ by Sönke Rahn – own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Biikebrennen_in_Wassersleben_(2014),_Entz%C3%BCndung,_Bild_013.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Biikebrennen_in_Wassersleben_(2014),_Entz%C3%BCndung,_Bild_013.JPG
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.
Biikebrennen in North Frisia
15. February 2017, Birthdays, Emigration, German-American, Hamburg, Personalities, General
Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg/Henry E. Steinway https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASteinway_factory_Schanzenstrasse_Hamburg_Germany.jpg
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.
To build the best piano possible
25. January 2017, Genealogy, General, Knowledge, Historical Documents
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.
The meaning of calendars in genealogical research in Germany – part three
19. January 2017, Historical Documents, Personalities, General
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.
The unexpected hiding places of sources in genealogical research
29. December 2016, Genealogy, General, Knowledge, Historical Documents
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.
The meaning of calendars in genealogical research in Germany – part two
15. December 2016, General, Genealogy, Historical Documents, Knowledge
Source: state archive Hamburg, 514-6 No. 9 marriage register of St. Nikolai, Finkenwerder 1794-1848, 1822.
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.
The meaning of calendars in genealogical research in Germany
22. November 2016, General, Germany, Hamburg, History, Knowledge
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.
History set in stone
11. November 2016, Historical Events, Personalities, Traditions, Anniversary
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.
Walking with lanterns
22. October 2016, General, Hamburg, Historical Events, Knowledge
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.
07. September 2016, Family, Onomastics, Traditions
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.
The history of German family names - part 1
30. August 2016, Family, General, WWII, Personalities
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.
2 Families, 2 Generations, 2 Continents, 1 Search, 0 Birth dates
26. July 2016, Hamburg, Personalities, Historical Events
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.
Hagenbeck - a long-term institution in Hamburg - Part 2
06. July 2016, General, Hamburg, Historical Documents, Historical Events
Source: State archive Hamburg, collection: 373-7 I, VIII (Auswanderungsamt I). VIII A 1 Band 227, Mikrofilmnummer: K_1815, page 2269; also searchable on Ancestry.com.
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.
Hagenbeck - a long-term institution in Hamburg - Part 1
16. June 2016, General, Knowledge
Have you ever noticed that on clocks with Roman numerals, the 4 is often a “IIII” and not, as it would be right like we learned in math class, a “IV”? No? Well, you will from now on!
The Wrong Four
13. June 2016, General, German-American, Knowledge
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”.
The Low-German Dollar
06. June 2016, Emigration, Genealogy, German-American, Hamburg
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.
Reopening of the „BallinStadt“
31. May 2016, Anniversary, Tips and Tricks
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.
When the impossible happens
17. May 2016, Genealogy, General
Sometimes it is not only the histories we are researching, but also the stories behind the people we do research for that make our job so fascinating.
A very exceptional case
09. May 2016, Anniversary, General, Knowledge, WWII
In Germany and numerous other European countries, on May 8th the End of World War II and National Socialism in Europe are commemorated.
Liberation Day / Victory Day May 8th and 9th
18. April 2016, Anniversary, Historical Events, Knowledge, WWII
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”.
70 Years Concentration Camp Neuengamme Main Trial / Curiohaus Trial 1946
03. April 2016, Birthdays, Celebrities, Knowledge
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.
03 April - Whose birthday are we celebrating?
22. March 2016, Hamburg, Knowledge
Next time you may pay a fine because you were caught in the act of parking illegally or driving too fast in Hamburg, don't fret about it too much.
Illegal parking for a good cause
19. March 2016, Anniversary, Old Customs, Photos, Traditions
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.
20 March – International Day of Happiness
08. March 2016, Anniversary, Historical Events, History, Knowledge
„ [...] 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.
“Anyone looking for a beautiful woman, good and intelligent, ...“
07. March 2016, General, Old Customs, Recipes, Traditions
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’.
Eating Then and Now: Thoughts on the Day of Healthy Eating
28. February 2016, Anniversary, General, Historical Events, Knowledge
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.
22. February 2016, General, Germany, Historical Documents, Knowledge
picture source: http://data.dm2e.eu/data/place/sbb/kpe_DE-1a_995/Berlin
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.
Passports in the past and the present
17. February 2016, Anniversary, General, Historical Events, Knowledge, Traditions
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.
International Mother Language Day
09. February 2016, General, Historical Events, Knowledge
Source: Smithsonian Institution Collection: National Postal Museum, Curatorial Photographic Collection. Photographer: unknown. Image number: A.2006-22.
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.
Sending children with parcel service
02. February 2016, Family, General, Old Customs, Traditions
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).
„So Hedge therefore, Who Join Forever” – The marriage then and now
26. January 2016, Emigration, Genealogy, General
Passenger lists from the 19th and 20th century are important sources for genealogical research because they make the paths of emigrants across the sea and to foreign countries traceable.
Most of the ships we come across during our research have an emotional story. So does a Hamburg ship for emigrants called “Cimbria” the story of which is as tragic as it is legendary.
The Gold Ship
22. January 2016, General, Historical Events, Holiday, Knowledge
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 “day of German-French friendship”
21. January 2016, Anniversary, General, Germany, Historical Events, Knowledge
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.
A little peace: Anniversary of contracting the Treaty of Versailles
12. January 2016, General, Hamburg, Knowledge, Personalities, Professions
The Troplowitz street in Hamburg
Big company – tragic story!
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 adhesive bandage for wounds – the patch as we know it nowadays is invented!
Series: Street names and their stories
27. December 2015, General, German-American, Old Customs, Traditions
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.
The Christmas pickle – a German Christmas tradition largely unknown in Germany
04. December 2015, General, Germany, Old Customs, Traditions
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.
So what exactly happens in this night?
The carrot-and-stick-policy on the isle of Borkum
01. December 2015, General, Germany, Knowledge
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.
Death penalty in Hesse
18. November 2015, General, Hamburg, Historical Events, Traditions
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.
Of Swans and Ravens
16. November 2015, Birthdays, Celebrities, General, German-American
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.
Clark Gable’s German Roots
09. November 2015, General, Germany, History, WW I, WWII
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.
November 9th – a Fateful Day in German History
03. November 2015, General, Historical Events, Knowledge
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!
Daylight Savings and Time Zones
27. October 2015, Emigration, Family, General, German-American, Personalities
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.
From Warburg to the Moon – a special family history
16. October 2015, Genealogy, General, Knowledge, Recipes, WWII
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.
Our Ancestors’ Hunger
06. October 2015, Anniversary, General, German-American, Historical Events
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.
30. September 2015, Anniversary, General, Germany, Historical Events, History
Every year on October 3rd, festive acts all over Germany celebrate the 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.
German Unity Day
29. September 2015, Celebrities, Family, Genealogy, General, Hamburg
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.
A Wedding in Hamburg and a Hollywood Star
21. September 2015, Family, Genealogy, General, Knowledge
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.
15. September 2015, Birthdays, Celebrities, Genealogy, General
Our mysterious birthday girl 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.
Whose Birthday are we celebrating today?
08. September 2015, Anniversary, Family, General, Historical Events, Personalities, Professions
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!
Rabbits and Rabies or The Story of Joseph Meister
03. September 2015, Celebrities, Genealogy, General, Personalities
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.
The Ancestry of Barack, Hillary and Co.
25. August 2015, General, Professions, Traditions
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 Secrets of the Night’s King
18. August 2015, Genealogy, General, Tips and Tricks
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.
Five Tips For Your Genealogy Kick-off!
14. August 2015, Family, Genealogy, General, Onomastics
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.
Summer, Vacation, Sunshine!
06. August 2015, Birthdays, General, Personalities
Sometimes you need a hero, an empowering story about courageous people. And where else should I look for one if not in history?
28. July 2015, Emigration, Family, Genealogy, General
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.
The needle in the haystack or a genealogy miracle
17. July 2015, Emigration, Family, General, Photos
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.
A Photograph from a Flea Market
09. July 2015, General, Old Customs, Professions, Traditions
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...
07. July 2015, Emigration, Family, Genealogy, General, Historical Events
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…
Germans Down Under
30. June 2015, Family, Genealogy, General, Hamburg
Sometimes it is not only the history we are researching, but also the stories behind the people we do research for that make our job so fascinating.
A short while ago a very special case opened when we got a letter from a prison in Great Britain! That’s not exactly something we experience every day…
A very exceptional case
26. June 2015, General, Historical Events, Old Customs, Traditions
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 Sound of Shopping
23. June 2015, Anniversary, General, Historical Events, History, Knowledge
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.
„We are hungry!“ – 3200 years of strike
17. June 2015, Emigration, Genealogy, General
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.