Cover of the book „Walter Ulbricht. Mein Urgroßvater“ by Florian Heyden, copyrights by Eulenspiegel Verlagsgruppe.
Our job is very exciting and full of interesting stories: Long kept family secrets are uncovered, unknown family members found and many questions answered. A very special case was from the beginning the one of Florian Heyden. We have spent many years to search various archives worldwide for him in order to find new information on his famous great-grandfather - none other than GDR politician Walter Ulbricht. Today, a book written by Florian Heyden is published at the German publishing house Das Neue Berlin: „Walter Ulbricht. Mein Urgroßvater“ (Walter Ulbricht. My great-grandfather).
Advertisement for the emigration to America, source: United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in Washington, D.C., LC-DIG-pga-13282, Auswanderung nach Amerika. Amerika und seine Freuden. Public domain, via Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003691148/).
Those who engage in genealogical research will probably sooner or later discover that family members packed up and emigrated. Emigrants left Germany for overseas mostly from the cities Hamburg or Bremen. North and South America and Australia were common destinations. However, it was not unusual either to travel eastwards, all across the continent to reach Bessarabia (Southern Russia) for example.
After the new travel regulations have been announced, thousands of GDR citizens cross the border at Invalidenstrasse in Berlin on 10 November 1989, Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1110-041 / Hirschberger, Ralph / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-1989-1110-041,_Berlin,_Grenz%C3%BCbergang_Invalidenstra%C3%9Fe.jpg).
09 November is a special day in German history. In the year 1989 this finally meant something positive. On this day, the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) announced a new and long-desired travel regulation. People now could directly leave the GDR in the direction of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). This caused the fall of the Berlin Wall and finally led to the German reunification.
For genealogy, the division of Germany plays quite some role, too. The foundation of two separate states and especially the construction of the Berlin Wall and the closing of the inner-German border tore families apart and led to very different living environments in East and West Germany. Until today this affects the German society. On the occasion of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall we are having a look at the historic events and also discuss sources that can be useful for researching ancestors and relatives in the former GDR.
First page of the 1987 census questionnaire, Ramessos [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Volkszaehlung.JPG).
The first census of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was conducted on 13 September 1950. However, this was not the first census on German territory. As early as during the 18th century, kingdoms and principalities occasionally took censuses of their population. From 1816 onwards, censuses became a periodical habit throughout today’s German territory. Until now, this data is an interesting source for genealogists, although civil and church registers are better accessible and preserved.
Archives and especially the preserved documents stored there are indispensable for genealogy. Hardly any research would be possible without them. However, they are not only relevant for family research, but function as information stores as well as places of commemorative culture.
Due to a lack of space and financial reasons, it is impossible to preserve everything. Every archive therefore has to appraise the offered collections and to make choices. Everything that is disposed leads to a loss of information. The question is how serious the loss is. Therefore, it is important to determine the archival value. In order to do so, among other things the source value and the epistemological value play a role. One problem is that appraisal might vary - due to different times and different persons/groups of persons - as perspectives and research interests are changing.
Soldier in World War I on the western front, Source: Bundesarchiv (Federal Archive), picture 183-R05148, unknown photographer, CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-R05148,_Westfront,_deutscher_Soldat.jpg)
Today 100 years ago, World War I ended. The armistice of 11 November 1918 ended the fighting. However, formally World War I ended with the Treaty of Versailles. Signed on 28 June 1919, it became effective on 10 January 1920. On this occasion, we compiled some sources for researching German soldiers of World War I.
„Hamburg. Ansichten von der Freien und Hansestadt“ from 1923 and „Bauer’s Neues Kochbuch“ from 1935.
Since 24 October 1995 Library Day is celebrated in Germany. It is supposed to bring attention to the countless libraries in Germany and all they have to offer. Many libraries organize special events for this day. For us as genealogists, books are important sources. This is why we would like to highlight this day by going on a little treasure hunt within our private company library.
Poster of the German Archive Day 2018 under the motto „Democracy and Civil Rights“, VdA (www.tagderarchive.de).
Since 2001, thanks to the initiative of the Verband deutscher Archivarinnen und Archivare e.V. (VdA, Organization of German Archivists), German Archive Day takes place every two years. It is to display the multifaceted purpose of the archives to the public and appears since 2006 under different mottos. This year Archive Day takes place on 03 and 04 Mar carrying the motto "Democracy and Civil Rights".
The predecessor of today’s “Stolpersteine” was installed in front of the historic town hall in Cologne on 16 December 1992. It displays the beginning of the implementation rules for the order to deport Sinti and Roma by Heinrich Himmler. Picture by Horsch, Willy (own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:K%C3%B6ln-Stolpersteiin-Rathaus-024.jpg).
It is probably one of the best known commemorative projects. By now more than 60,000 “Stolpersteine” of the artist Gunter Demnig can be found in more than 1,000 places and cities – not only in Germany but in more than 20 countries throughout Europe. The victims are commemorated in front of their last address of choice. Individual fates become visible within the cityscape. It becomes clear that deportations happened right there in the neighborhood. They are a reminder on the persecution and annihilation not only of Jews but of all victim groups of National Socialism. “Stolpersteine” are for example installed for Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, people who were persecuted on political and religious grounds as well as victims of euthanasia.
“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.
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)
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.
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…
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.
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.