From the beginning of last night’s “Who Do You Think You Are?,” Chelsea Handler knew her mother’s father had been a German soldier in WWII. She just wanted to know the extent of his involvement. Her Jewish heritage through her father’s family heightened her curiosity.
The Leistungsbuch (“performance book”) mentioned in yesterday’s post and seen here:
wasn’t a military service record after all. Rather, it was a record of the grandfather’s scores in the Nazi party’s Sports Badge Program, part of the mandatory labor service program and a way to provide military-style training without violating the Treaty of Versailles.
A few things I liked about this episode:
- It shows the importance of learning the historical context in which your ancestors lived. Knowing about post-WWI life in Germany helped Handler understand why many Germans supported Adolf Hitler when he first came to power. Finding out about her grandfather’s experience in the Camp Algona (Iowa) POW camp revealed his likely motivation for later moving his family to America.
- It showed a side of WWII history—the lives of ordinary Germans during that era—that I didn’t know much about.
- The WWII historian who met Handler on the beach, and who was there serving in the Army the day her grandfather was captured. I bet he could tell some stories!
Foreign archives and languages makes the research in this episode more difficult for the average person than Kelly Clarkson’s Civil War research or Christina Applegate’s 20th-century research in New Jersey.
But if your German ancestors, like mine, immigrated to America in the 1800s, church records will be your main source of information in Germany. Chances are you can find German church records yourself. I know this because the October/November 2013 Family Tree Magazine will have Rick Crume’s step-by-step guide to German church records. I’ll let you know when it’s available.
Because so many Americans have German ancestry, we have a number of German genealogy guides in Family Tree Shop:
- I’m using our German Genealogy Cheat Sheet to help me read my relatives’ obituaries in German-language newspapers.
- Our Mastering German Place Names video class can help you pinpoint the locate of your ancestors’ hometown in Germany (making it possible for you to search German church and other records).
- A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your Germanic Ancestors digital book by S. Chris Anderson and Ernest Those is a comprehensive German genealogy guide.