September 27, 2001
Researching in Germany
Q: I'm trying to find information on a couple of my family names. Is there a way you can find the information about them in a foreign country? For example: Carl Wilberding was born in Steinfeld, Germany in 1827, I have no information on if he has any siblings or if his parents had any siblings themselves. Do you know if there's a way to find this information out? -- Traci
A: Researching our family history sometimes requires an understanding of not only our own family but also the locality where they lived and the records that are available. Having a research problem can be frustrating enough but combining it with uncertainty about a foreign country can be overwhelming.
It is times like this that we need to first turn to a good how-to book. Angus Baxter's In Search of Your German Roots, published by Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc. would be a good place to start. His easy-to-read books introduce you to the records and research hurdles you may encounter.
It is also a good idea to get in touch with fellow researches who share your current research problem. Bulletin boards and mailing lists are a good way to begin. You will want to check out the GenForum boards for Germany and perhaps post a query. You never know who may be reading. Also, you can find mailing lists of every conceivable nature at RootsWeb.
Finally, once you have a better understanding of what is involved in German research, you will want to turn your attention to the Family History Library. It routinely sends microfilming crews around the world, thus making its collection the best worldwide genealogy collection in the United States. You may discover that the records you need are available on microfilm through the Family History Library. Be warned that these records will be in German, so you may need a word list and a dictionary to begin your research in them.
Q: I'm interested in obtaining information regarding the French-Indian War soldiers. I found a document in a petition for land that my ancestor stated that "his father lost his life at the taking of Niagara, as he served in the Jersey Blues." I've contacted NARA, New Jersey State Archives, US Military History and no one can shed some light on where these records might be, if they exist at all. I would appreciate any information you might be able to provide. -- P5Bertrand
A: We have spent so much of our lifetime dealing with records created by different city, county, state and federal agencies that we cannot conceive of a time when such records did not exist. In truth, though, the earlier you get into the history of the United States and before that the American Colonies, the fewer records you will find exist.
The first step would be to see what has been written about New Jersey's involvement in the French and Indian War. Instead of searching specifically for military records about the Jersey Blues, attack the problem from a more general approach, looking first at the French and Indian War, and then more specifically at New Jersey.
In reading up on the history of the war, and New Jersey's involvement, pay close attention to the source citations and notes included in such volumes. These will often lead you to obscure manuscript collections that you would not have been aware of any other way.
It is not unreasonable that the federal government doesn't have any compiled service records for those who fought in this war. After all, we were still a colony of England. In fact, it is possible that the records you seek, if they do exist, may be found in a repository in England.
African American Research
Q: Just thought I would ask you a question on the difficulty of researching African American families. Just how hard is it or how much work is involved in researching in this area? -- Rich
A: There are two schools of thought in regard to African American research. One school maintains that it is different from the outset. The other school claims that it is the same until you get back into the 1860s, and thus back to the time of slavery. In the past I belonged to this second school, however, having done a great deal of African American research of late, I have changed my opinion.
A lot of the difficulty of obtaining and accessing records depends on where your family was living. For instance, when working on one family, researching a marriage that took place in the 1920s, I found myself needing to look for the marriage volumes devoted specifically to the marriages of the African Americans in the county. As I worked with these segregated volumes, I discovered that they were not always as well kept, nor did they cover the same years, as those for the white marriages that took place in the same county.
Other states and counties did not segregate in this manner. They simply make a notation on the record that the individuals listed are "colored." Still others did not discern in any way on the records. If I hadn't known enough about the family to properly identify the person in the record, I would not have been able to say with certainty that it was the right individual.
Eventually, it is likely that you will find that your research takes you back to slaves. This is where the research gets really tricky because your ancestors were considered property. You may find them mentioned in wills or found in land records since they were bought and sold and enumerated by gender and age under the name of the owner of the plantation or farm.
It can be done and you may want to start by getting a couple of books devoted to this subject. They will let you know some of the hurdles and some of the solutions to those hurdles. They will introduce you to some of the unique records you may find yourself seeking. The more informed you are at the outset, the better your chances are of a positive research experience. One new volume, released earlier this year is Tony Burrough's Black Roots, A Beginner's Guide to Tracing the African American Tree. Another book that is Finding a Place Called Home, A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity by Dee Parmer Woodtor.
Q: I have Family Tree Maker, but can't figure out how to chart situations where (1) several marriages and remarriages have occurred by various spouses and (2) each spouse has had children by a previous husband or wife. -- Jay
A: Genealogy programs often require us to do a little extra thinking to get just what we want in the way of a chart or form. The first hurdle is to make sure that you enter the information properly. For each couple, be sure that you enter the date of marriage and then enter the children for just that union. If necessary, disconnect all of the individuals in question, using the Fix Relationships option and then reconnect them to be sure you have the right parents with the right children.
Once you have them entered properly, then you must decide what you want in the way of a report. There are some reports that will just not give you what you want. This is because each report is designed with a different purpose in mind. For instance, a Family Group Sheet report is designed to give you the information known on a single family unit. It will not show you all of the other spouses and their children. The Outline Descendant Tree, on the other hand, will show you each spouse and the then the children of that union indented under the appropriate spouse. Through the Items to Include button you can control how much or how little information is listed for each individual.
If you are trying to plot a tree such as a descendant tree, then you will find that in order to get everyone, you will need to look at the Descendant Tree or the All-in-One Tree to be sure you get all of the marriages and all of the children. For more information or answers to lots of different software questions, you might want to take a look at Genealogy.com's help section.
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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