In some ways, what has happened to online German genealogy in the last few years reflects what’s been going on in the wider family history world: more instant communication and loads of ways for people to connect. Guest writer and author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide and the newly released Trace Your German Roots Online, James M. Beidler, shares how collaboration made possible by the internet has affected his genealogy research.
Two correspondents who the internet figuratively brought to my doorstep stand out to me when I think about my experience with online German research.
The first crossed my path a dozen-plus years ago, when I was trying to track down a female ancestor for whom I (frustratingly!) had an exact birth date but no maiden surname. Her married name was Gertraut Rauch, and I knew her husband had been born in the northeastern section of Berks County, Pa., but all the information I had on her came from her tombstone. I was prowling online bulletin boards, having just realized that these were replacing the “queries” of my first years of doing genealogy (now most people have moved on to online family trees).
In any case, within hours of posting a Rauch query, a researcher named DelLynn Leavitt from Idaho Falls, Idaho, replied saying he knew Gertraut was the daughter of a man named Jacob Sicher. With that small fact, my brick wall came tumbling down. And this type of connection would have previously taken months or years to form, but it took less than a day for us to connect thanks to the internet!
Fast-forward to 2010: After many years and a dozen trips to Salt Lake City’s Family History Library, I finally unearthed the German hometown (Gerolsheim) of my surname immigrant ancestor, Johannes Beÿdeler. Coincidentally, I had already made plans to go to Europe that year to take in the once-in-a-decade Passion Play, so I simply added Gerolsheim to the itinerary. I tried to contact Gerolsheim officials in advance through the town’s own website—but there was no email contact listed. Instead, I contacted the local tourist bureau (which did have an e-mail address, and a few days I had a response from the town’s deputy mayor, Klaus May.
I still think Klaus and his wife would have put us up for our entire stay in Germany if we had just asked! Klaus showed us around the town and introduced us to the Ortsbürgermeister (village mayor). With Germany’s largest wine festival in full swing in nearby Bad Dürkheim, we toasted a local Riesling wine with Klaus, his wife, and the mayor to celebrate our newfound friendship. What a great connection to have made through the internet!
Learn more about what the web can do for your German genealogy research in James M. Beidler’s Trace Your German Roots Online, available now on Family Tree Shop; order between now and April 28 to get free shipping.