Wednesday, July 4, 2018

A Possible Cure for Brick Walls

Over the years, everyone who has begun researching their family history has had their share of successes and disappointments.  We rejoiced when great grand dad showed up in the census records along with aunts and uncles that we may or may not have personally known.  The census record we found put us in touch with them.

Of course we also found ourselves facing those brick walls that kept us from discovering the next generation of our family.  We searched all the records, books and journals we could locate without finding the information we needed.  We posted our queries in magazines and on bulletin boards, without receiving a reply.  I remember eagerly searching the name index in each issue of Everton's Genealogical Helper  when it arrived in my mailbox, hoping that someone would have answers for my Vanderhoof or Stager brickwalls.  I spent two days in the Family History Library library in Salt Lake City, reading through every New Jersey Stager or Vanderhoof will looking for one that would mention William C. Stager or Ann Vanderhoof.  Unfortunately I returned home without finding them.

In the early days, everything moved at a slow pace.  Your next opportunity to search for answers might have to wait until you could find the time to make a trip to a courthouse or archive hours away from home.  You eagerly awaited the release of the 1920 or 1930 census so that you could place the microfilm in a reader and search for new records.  The wait for the next census to be released was a long ten years.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered that the local LDS church had a Family History Center where I could rent a microfilm or fiche that might contain the information I needed.  It might have only taken two weeks for the film to arrive at the FHC closest to home, but it seemed like a long time to me.  Those were also the days when you might have to wait your turn to use one of the microfilm readers available at the center.

Times have changed.  For someone new to family history research, the picture I painted above may seem unreal.  Today, anyone researching their family has grown accustomed to doing their searches on the internet without trips to libraries, court houses, archives or Salt Lake City. That is of course a mistake, but one that many people make today.  But, it is certainly true that more and more can be found on the internet.  Ancestry, My Heritage, and Find My Past all have a constantly growing library of online records that can be searched.  The resources of the Family History Center in Salt Lake City have increasingly become available to researchers comfortably seated at their home computer or at the nearby FHC.  You no longer have to rent a film and wait for it to arrive.  In fact in 2017, the Family History Library stopped duplicating films for rental and began making more and more available on their website.  If you don't find what you are waiting for when you first look,  try again in a few days, or next week.  It may have been added to the online collection.

At the rate material is being added, I suspect that many brick walls may fall.

Ebenezer: the Community of True Inspiration

Contributed by Linda Schmieder for the August 2012 issue of the Yorker Palatine
In 1842, seeking religious freedom, a group from Ronneburg, Germany immigrated to America. For over a century, these people, known as the Community of True Inspiration, a pietist sect, had been suffering religious persecution in Germany. The Community of True Inspiration has its roots in the Hesse region of Germany, the founders said to be Eberhard Gruber and Johann Rock. They practiced avoidance of military service, refusal to send their children to state schools and refusal to take an oath. They were being arrested, fined, stoned and assaulted. Four men from the community, led by a twenty-four year old carpenter, Christian Metz, were sent to America to establish a new homeland for themselves. They purchased a 5,000 acre parcel at $10.50 per acre in Western New York not far from Buffalo. They named their land Ebenezer.
Four hamlets were established: Middle Ebenezer (Gardenville), Upper Ebenezer (Blossom), Lower Ebenezer (Ebenezer) and New Ebenezer (Elma) — all of these today are part of West Seneca, N. Y. Each hamlet's boundary had border streets or footpaths, so strangers could travel around the individual hamlets without entering the communities. This was purposeful so as not to interrupt their daily life. The border streets of Middle Ebenezer still exist today, they are: North Avenue, South Avenue and West Avenue. East Avenue is now called Weigand Avenue. By 1844, more than 800 followers had arrived from Germany.
These Inspirationists revolved their lives around the Word of the Lord. Mandatory prayer services were held each evening in the Meeting House and on religious holidays the entire day was spent in meeting, breaking only for meals. Services were held on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon. Services were simple scripture readings and singing with no instrumental accompaniment. The Meeting House was unpainted with no ornamentation. Males and females sat separate. The Elders read sermons and the congregation joined in by reading Bible passages. At Christmas, there were no trees or presents. The women wore long, dark colored dresses, a white cap and dark colored shawls and aprons. A white apron was worn to Meeting. The men also wore dark coats and trousers, leather boots and brim hats. Men grew beards but no moustaches.
The Ebenezer Inspirationists formed their own governing body, the Elders of the Church. They had a communal society. Each man had a job or trade which benefited the entire community. Families lived in separate dwellings and all meals were eaten in the common kitchen buildings where women prepared the meals for the community. Men, women and children each ate at separate tables and no conversation was allowed during the meal. Taken from a book "Recipes of the Old Ebenezers", they ate sauerbraten, raw potato dumplings, oatmeal cookies, hot potato salad and cream cakes.

The Ebenezers lives centered on agriculture. It was a self-sufficient community, providing for their own food, furniture, tools, clothing and utensils. Goods and services were not sold, but instead given to the community for use by all. They had their own school. All children started school at an early age but girls attended only a few years before they were sent to the kitchen or laundry houses to work. Boys went to school many years longer with additional apprenticeship training in a trade. The school day was from dawn to dusk, six days a week, all year long except for religious holidays. During the fall, older children were allowed to leave school early to help harvest crops in the fields. Both boys and girls learned how to knit and made their own mittens, hats and scarves.
Women lived at home with their parents until they were married. Unmarried men could live in a Brother's House once they learned a trade. Church Elders granted permission for couples to marry. Once granted, a one year waiting period began at which time the man went away and the couple had no communication. When he returned, if they still wanted to get married, they could.
The Ebenezer community continued to grow as did the encroaching city of Buffalo. About 1855, they purchased 18,000 acres along the Iowa River in the new state of Iowa and established the villages known today as Amana Colonies and the then 1,200 people strong congregation. By 1865, there were no more Inspirationists remaining in Ebenezer. Today there are original buildings remaining from that time such as a restaurant which was originally a book bindery, and later a Kitchen House. A building on Clinton Street was the butcher shop; meat hooks remain fastened to the joists in the cellar. The house that Christian Metz occupied is now 12 School Street, and has been granted historical significance by Erie County. It is currently being renovated into a museum.

Christian Metz Home, West Seneca, NY

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A New Way to Use Meyer's Orts

Anyone researching their German ancestors is probably at least aware of the gazetteer known as Meyer’s Orts.  It lists all the place names that were part of the German Empire before World War I. For each place, Meyer’s provides the location of the local government office, civil registration office, courts, and military office. It also indicates what churches are in the town.  This information may help you locate further information about your ancestor beyond the usual vital records.

Meyer’s Orts is a great resource, however, it is probably underutilized.  It is written in German using a font that many find difficult to read.  Abbreviations are frequently used to make the entries more compact.  My mother’s g-great grandparents came from the town of Biengen in Baden.  When I found the entry for Biengen, it took a while to interpret the information it provided.
Entry for Biengen in Meyer's Orts

Using Meyer’s Orts has suddenly become much easier because of a new website developed by Marion Rainey and a computer programmer, Brad Coleman.  The new website provides the tools needed by those researching German ancestors.  It can be found at

Finding the town of Biengen on the website is as easy as entering the name in the search box.  However, if needed, wildcards can be used.  When the town was found, the page shown included the entry in German as above for Biengen.  A map was displayed to locate the town.  On the right side of the page, the website provided an interpretation of the entry, beginning with an extraction of key pieces of information. The extraction first noted the volume and page in Meyer’s and then that Biengen is a dorf (shown by the abbreviation “D”).  It then listed the information found with the abbreviations and data.
Extraction for Biengen entry
Even this would be useful for the researcher trying to make sense of an entry in Meyers, but the website goes further.  Below the extraction is an explanation of the extracted data.  It explains that Kr is an abbreviation for Kreis and that the Kreis for Biengen is Freiburg.  It then goes on to say that a Kreis is a governmental district similar to a county in the U.S.  Each of the abbreviated entries is explained in that fashion.

In addition, the entry points out that there is a Catholic parish in the town, and that Biengen had a population of 603.

It should be noted that not all the information in each entry is listed in the extraction and explanation.  The fact that Biengen had a postal telegraph, loan association, brewery, and brick and tile factory is part of the entry that readers are left to find out for themselves.

The website has also used data from Karte des Deutschen Reiches to provide addition useful information.  Clicking “Ecclesiastical” at the top of the page will provide information about churches near Biengen.  It showed that there was a protestant church two miles away in the town of Mengen.

The website provides free access to the wealth of information found in Meyer’s Orts.  It is definitely a resource that researchers should explore.

Thanks to Fritz Juengling for pointing out the existence of this helpful website.  He sent an article for use in the Palatines to America chapter newsletters.  It was published in the NY Chapter newsletter in August.

Monday, May 30, 2016

2016 Palatines to America Conference

Palatines to America offers a conference each year for those interested in researching their German speaking ancestors.  This year's conference will be held at the Hilton at Grand Wayne Conference Center in  Fort Wayne, IN.

Pre-Conference activities will begin with a bus trip on Wednesday, June 22.  The trip will include a tour of the home of Friedrich Conrad Dietrich Wyneken,  St. John Bingen Church which was founded by the missionary efforts of Rev. Wyneken, Emmanuel-Soest Church, which is the largest confessional Lutheran church body in America, and St. Paul's Church which was established in 1837.

On Thursday, there will be time for attendees to become familiar with the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) and to research their ancestors in the extensive genealogy collection of the library.  For those who have never been to the ACPL, the library will be a pleasant surprise.  The genealogy collection contains matter that spans the country and includes resources for researching your German ancestors.  The library contains more than 350,000 printed volumes and 513,000 microfiche and microfilm items.  If you plan to go, it would be helpful if you visited the ACPL genealogy website at to organize your research needs before arriving.

Teresa Steinkamp McMillin, one of the main speakers at this year's conference, will present five talks, including ones on understanding German historical jurisdictions, using internet sources for your German research, and interpreting German farm names.  Carolyn Wright Whitton will present four talks.  Her topics include: German Village Not Yet Found?, Reading Handwritten German Church Records, and Researching Pre-1800 U.S. Germans.  Other speakers include Ernest Thode on German surnames, and a search for missing passenger lists.  Speakers from the ACPL Genealogy Center, John Beatty and Mellisa Tennant will speak about the available resources at the ACPL.

It isn't too late to register for this conference, but you need to act quickly.  Go to the Palatines to America website, to find what you will need to do to register.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The General Slocum disaster, a German-American disaster

I have attended more than one presentation about the disaster that befell the passenger steamship General Slocum on 15 June 1904.  The story of the loss of the steamboat and more than 1000 of its passengers is one that many of us have encountered.  But how many are aware that the disaster involved primarily the members of  St. Mark German Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 223 Sixth Ave. in lower Manhattan?  It was one of many German churches to be found at the time in the German section of Manhattan known as Kleindeutschland.

The Slocum had been chartered for $350 by Pastor George C. F. Haas. When it left its Manhattan dock on Third St. at 9 A.M., it carried 1358 passengers plus crew.  Most of the passengers were women and children from St. Mark Church.  Only 10% of the passengers were men. It was bound for a midweek church picnic at Locust Point, on the north shore of Long Island.  Shortly after leaving the dock, fire broke out. By the time Captain William Henry Van Schaick made the first announcement of the fire, passengers were already beginning to panic.  Many passengers were unable to swim, and the life vests and other safety equipment was found to be useless.  The fire trapped people where they had fled for safety, and many were forced to jump into the East River, where they drowned.

For some reason, Captain Van Schaick ordered the boat to continue on to North Brother Island before making for land.  It was a decision that probably added many to the casualties.  When the toll was taken, there were only 321 survivors.  Over 1000, including Pastor Haas' wife and daughter, died in the fire, or the waters of the East River.

The fire aboard the General Slocum had a profound effect in the German community of Kleindeutschland.  The church community of St. Mark was devastated by the loss of so many of their church members, especially since the toll was high among the women and children of the church. The loss of so many lives had a disheartening effect on the German community in lower Manhattan in general.  Within the previous decade, many in the community had begun to move north in Manhattan to the newer upper east side German community of Yorkville.  The Slocum disaster caused many to leave behind the sad memories by moving out of Kleindeutschland and north.


Karen T. Lamberton, Angels in the Gate: New York City and the General Slocum Disaster, (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2006).

Edward T. O'Donnell, Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum, (Broadway Books, 2003).  The site contains a searchable list of dead and missing.  Where possible it lists the county where the death was recorded (Bronx for all I found), and the death certificate number.  Contains transcription of newspaper articles about the disaster and lists of dead and missing by address and surname.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ancestral Churches Project

Researching our ancestral families at some point will bring us back to a church that our ancestors called home for several generations.  In that church we find the records of baptisms, marriages and burials that enable us to link together the generations.  However the attachment to an ancestral church goes beyond the records that can be found in that church.  There is also a bond with church because it was the church of our ancestors.

The Palatines to America web-site,  began a project last fall that is meant to provide information on the churches our German ancestors attended, both those in Europe as well as those.  Information about several churches has already been posted on the web-site.  The information on the site has pictures and more extensive narrative, but here I can only give a listing and brief details.  The following churches are online.

New Hanover Lutheran Church (2941 Lutheran Rd, Gilbertsville, PA 19525):  The congregation was established around 1700 and is claimed to be the first German Lutheran Church in America.

St Paul’s Dutch Reformed Church is also known as the Mannheim Reformed Church or Snell’s Bush Church, Mannheim, New York.  The first church was built around the time of the American Revolution.

Fort Herkimer Church (German Flats, Herkimer County, New York):  The first church was built of logs in 1725 by the Palatines who lived in the area.  A more substantial structure was erected in the years from 1751 to 1753.

Stone Arabia Reformed Church, (near Nelliston, Montgomery County, New York):  The church was constructed sometime prior to 1743, since the first church book that is in existence was dated October 1742.

St. Servatius ev-lutheran Kirche, (Duderstadt, Eichfeld, Niedersachsen):  The oldest part of the current church is dated from around 1370, while the tower was constructed in the first half of the 16th century. 

(The Field Chapel) Flurskapelle,  (Ulmet, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany):  The first church at the site was probably built in 1091.  It was destroyed during the 30 year war. The current church was rebuilt in 1737.

St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church, (323-327 Sixth St., New York):  The building was the home of a German speaking Lutheran community in what was at the time Manhattan’s Kleindeutschland (Little Germany).  The congregation was devastated in 1904 when the General Slocum sank in the East River with many of the congregation aboard for a church picnic on Long Island.  The building now houses a synagogue.

If you have an ancestral church and can provide a picture and some information about that church, you are invited to add your ancestral church to those already published.  Send your information to

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Germanna at NGS

When I looked through the program for the NGS conference in Richmond,  I noticed a talk entitled "300 Years in Virginia:The Germanna Colony and Their Legacy".  I put it on my schedule of sessions to attend.  In the meanwhile, I found that the Germanna Foundation had a table at the conference.  I spent some time talking to those manning the booth to learn more about Germanna. On Thursday, I attended an excellent talk by Katherine Lowe Brown about Germanna.

She related how Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Spotswood arranged to recruit men from the region of Siegen, Westphalia.  Spotswood was interested in mining for silver in Virginia and hoped to recruit miners from Siegen.  In 1714, a group of forty-two miners and their families arrived in Virginia.  The miners were put to work by Spotswood.  This first colony at Germanna were German Reformed and brought their own minister with them.  When Spotswood's mining venture failed, these families resettled on the Northern Neck, which was later to become Farquier County.

A second, larger group of settlers from Wuertemburg, were Lutherans. They formed a congregation while they awaited passage in London, and arrived in Germanna in 1717.  Most later migrated to Culpeper County.

However, that was not the end of my "Germanna experience".  While wandering the vendors' hall, I found that "German Life" was giving away copies of the June/July 2014 issue.  In there, I found an article, "Silver on the Rapidan?  Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Spotswoood and the Founding of Germanna, 1713-1718" by Robert A. Selig.  The article provided more of the backstory of Spotswood and the Germanna settlement, including some of his questionable land deals by which he obtained possession of the land for Germanna.

Even that wasn't the end of my exposure to things "Germanna".  A book caught my eye as I wandered through Mia's Books, one of the few book vendors.  The book was entitled "The Germans in Colonial Times", by Lucy Forney Bittinger.  It was copyrighted in 1901, and reprinted in 2007 by Heritage Books. The author attempted to provide the story of German settlement in the colonies from 1683 to 1783.  It will take a more thorough reading to see how accurate a story the author tells about those early German settlements in Virginia.  However, I consider it my good fortune to find and purchase the book.