Category Archives: Genealogy tips

Fall calendar 2013 — German genealogy events

Steam generator outside Western Reserve Historical Society


If you live in the Cleveland area and want to make progress on your German ancestry research, don’t miss the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Researching German Ancestors presented by Warren Bittner, CG. The event is being held this coming Saturday, September 14 from 9 to 4 p.m. For more information, click here.

In the Seattle area, the Eastside German Interest Group (EGIG), an adjunct of the Eastside Genealogical Society (Bellevue), meets on the first Friday of every month. September’s topic was “Using Wikis in Your Genealogy Research” presented by Dorothy Pretare. What is a wiki? According to, it’s “a website that allows collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users.” Embedded in and and other genealogy search engines are wikis created by users, wikis that offer loads of information.

On Friday, October 4 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m I’m pleased to report I’ll be the guest presenter. I’ve been asked to share the genealogy research tools I used and/or discovered during my research for The Last of the Blacksmiths. The presentation will be at the LDS Church at 10675 NE 20th St in Bellevue, Washington.

On Saturday, October 19, the Seattle Genealogical Society will hold its Fall Seminar from 8:30 to 4, called: Potpourri: a Little of This and a Little of That. Presentations include “Evaluating Web Sites” by Cyndi Howells (of Cyndislist!), “Homestead Act and Homesteaders” by Karen Sipes; “Peopling the British Isles “ and “Unearthing the ‘Real’ New England Immigrant” by Steven Morrison. For more information, click here.

Writing family history

Is there a story in your family you’ve always wanted to record, for posterity? A family member who is getting older, who you’ve always wanted to interview? Or are there cherished stories from your own experiences growing up that you’d like to share with the generations that follow? Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming to know where to begin, but I encourage you to give it a try, both for your sake, and for those who come after you.

Plenty of resources for writing family history can be found on the web. Below are just a few:

Cyndi’s List 127 links to writing your family’s history –

10 Steps To Writing Your Family History –

Ancestors: Writing Your History –

Family History Lesson (from LDS genealogy site): Conduct Family History Interviews –

Family History Lesson (from LDS genealogy site): Write a Personal History –

Have fun!

Dialects and archaic words

My cousin in Germany found land records for my ancestors (in the Landesarchiv in Speyer) and her English skills are impressive, so she did me the favor of translating and explaining the documents.

“The sizes of the land pieces are measured in an old Bavarian unit. Tagewerk, which means ‘a day’s work’ and Dezimalen, which is the 100th part of one Tagewerk. One Dezimal is 34.07 square meters, and one Tagewerk is 100 Dezimale, or 3,407 square meters.” [I found substantiation of this measurement, and others, in a google books document: The Science of Measurement: A Historical Survey by H. Arthur Klein. 3,407 square meters equals .84 of an acre.]

My cousin also noted the four fields in four separate locations were described as being hinter der Burg (behind the castle), in der Thalweide (in the valley pasture) and so on. “The first piece is a vineyard (Wingert) of 32 Dezimale. The second piece is a field (Acker) of 34 Dezimale.” An interesting side note is that the fields were not located all in one place. My cousin tells me this was a kind of insurance, to protect against total crop loss if, for example, one field was hit by hail, or another by frost, etc.

The land records were in the “Kataster-Buch,” which was started by the Bavarian state (rulers of the Palatinate in that time period) in 1840 noting each landowner of the community and his property for tax reasons.

Persons who know German will have paused above at “vineyard (Wingert)” because the German word for vineyard is “Weinberg.” Isn’t it?

Now we’re talking dialects. When I briefly studied German in college, I learned there were two varieties, High German and Low German. I had no idea that each of those were also splintered into many different dialects.

Today, the German word most commonly used for farmer is Bauer, but in my ancestor’s day, the farmer (as opposed to the wine grower–Wingertsmann) was known as an Ackermann. Wait, Ackermann, as in “acre man?” Sorry, while my brain makes that association, the direct translation is husbandman, an archaic word by English standards, too. According to Merriam-Webster, a husbandman is one who plows and cultivates fields.

Regional dialect in the Palatinate is not as common as it once was, but it is still in use. This humorous book by Uwe Hermann, Die Abenteuer von Weck, Worscht & Woi: Der Wegweiser zur Pfälzer Lebensart (Weck meaning bread in Palatine dialect, Worscht meaning wurst or sausage, and Woi meaning wine) gives a glimpse into the dialect and culture. My relative Matthias sent it to me when I kept nagging him about Palatinate words. A translated title of the book would be: The Adventures of Bread, Wurst, and Wine: The Guide to Palatine Living. In the book, a cartoon bread, sausage, and bottle of

Weck, Worscht & Woiwine explore the humor, confusion and frustration sometimes created by the Palatine dialect, and also the fun-loving spirit of the people. A helpful glossary is provided beside each cartoon. Even some French words have seeped into the dialect (for instance, bottle is “Buddel (bouteille)” instead of “Flasche”). In part, this French influence came about because France ruled the Palatinate from 1794-1815, first by the French revolutionary armies, later by Napoleon.

Interview with Freinsheim historian Dr. Görtz

Recently, after a few years of email correspondence with Palatinate historian Dr. Hans-Helmut Görtz, I drew up the courage to ask him to review my completed manuscript Harm’s Way: A Blacksmith’s Journey for historical accuracy, in light of the fact I will send it soon to a publisher.

Dr. Görtz answered almost immediately in the affirmative, adding:
Harm’s Way – what a coincidence! A very short time ago I read a very touching book Out of Harm’s Way. The British author Jessica Mann (British crime writer and herself a war-time evacuee) … describes the fate of thousands of children sent overseas when the threat of a German invasion in England was imminent. Jessica’s grandfather Richard Mann, who in 1938 settled in Oxford, was a friend of Hermann Sinsheimer [a native of Freinsheim] and is mentioned in Sinsheimer’s letters to Frida Schaffner née Reibold. Together with Erik and Gabriele Giersberg, I have edited these Sinsheimer letters in a comprehensive book Briefe aus England in die Pfalz which came out only recently. But finally let’s come to your question. Of course I will support you as far as I can …”

Help me he did. As we have continued our email exchange, it occurred to me others will benefit from Dr. Görtz’s extensive knowledge, writings about history (a comprehensive list of his publications follows this interview), and insights about the Palatinate region he calls home.


For a number of years, Dr. Görtz, you have been a scholar of the history of the Palatinate. What is especially intriguing to you about this region?

Since 1983 I have lived with my family in Freinsheim. From the beginning on – as it is a tradition in my family – I was an active member in the Freinsheim Catholic community (a member of the parish council, a member of the parish administration council). In 1995, we decided to make a restoration of the historical organ (installed in 1825) in the Freinsheim Catholic church. I took responsibility to set up a Festschrift to be presented at the re-inauguration ceremony of the organ. For that purpose, for the first time I studied a little bit about the history of the Catholic community in Freinsheim during the 18th and 19th centuries, and I was quite fascinated. For me it was the starting point for an intensive and deep preoccupation with the history of Freinsheim and its environs. Since that time I published 4 books and about 35 papers in historical journals and have given a couple of slide lectures in Freinsheim, Mannheim and Heidelberg.

According to your internet bio (link here), you originally studied ancient languages, then went on to do graduate work in chemistry. What made you return to a study of history?

To avoid any misunderstanding: After elementary school, I attended a so-called “Altsprachliches Gymnasium,” a secondary school where we learned the ancient languages Latin and Greek and the modern language French (not English ! I never learned that formally in any school !). But at this school we also had an excellent education in mathematics and sciences. After the Abitur (final exam) I decided to study chemistry (a good choice !) doing my studies at the universities of Mainz, Freiburg and Ulm. After having finished my Ph.D. thesis in Ulm I joined BASF polymer research in Ludwigshafen in 1981 and worked there until my retirement in 2012.

It appears you follow in the footsteps of your grandfather, who was also a historian?

My grandfather Joseph Görtz, who unfortunately died in the age of 46 in 1934, was a teacher at the elementary school in Venningen and later on in Edenkoben in the southern Palatinate. He was very interested in history and wrote a remarkable booklet about the combat around the so-called “Schänzel” near Edenkoben during the invasion of French troups in 1794-95. He also left a manuscript on the history of the village Venningen, which has been edited decades later by my father Hugo Görtz. My father himself, a tax inspector, after his retirement spent a lot of time (together with my mother Marga) researching our ancestors. The result of their work is an elaborate book “Unsere Ahnen” in three handwritten and hand-drawn copies for my two sisters and me.

The town of your birth, Edenkoben, is the seat of the Schloss Villa Ludwigshöhe. Did this offer an early influence for your love of history?

Perhaps you also could observe that young people have little or no interest in history, but my experience is that, with increasing age the interest in history also increases. Such is the case for me. In my youth I had no special interest in history. My memories of Villa Ludwigshöhe are very simple: Villa Ludwigshöhe is situated at the eastern border of the Pfälzerwald, this border consisting of chestnut trees. So my memory is walking there every fall with my grandmother to collect chestnuts to sell to a local grocery – a very welcome revenue for a boy in the late 1950s/early 1960s.

You must be a frequent visitor to the Palatinate archives at Speyer. Do you have any advice to genealogy researchers, for how to navigate the search for their ancestors at this archives and others in the region?

I have been in many archives, not only in Speyer, but frankly, I don’t feel too comfortable with your question, since genealogy is not my main area of study. So I would like to avoid your question a little bit by saying that there are genealogical societies with much knowledge and expertise, which it would be very worthwhile to contact. The corresponding society for our region is the Pfälzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde with a very useful library located in Ludwigshafen/Rhein.

Regarding the book Briefe aus England in die Pfalz, released at the end of 2012, which you co-authored to publish the letters of the Sinsheimer family. The writer and journalist, critic and lawyer Hermann Sinsheimer was a native to Freinsheim, and wrote about the city, did he not?

Hermann Sinsheimer (1883-1950) was born in Freinsheim. A lawyer by training, after practicing only a few years he abandoned his profession for theater, his true passion. Living in Munich in the years 1916 to 1929, he was a director of the Kammerspiele, chief editor of the satirical magazine Simplicissimus, feature writer and critic of Münchner Neueste Nachrichten. In 1929 he moved to Berlin, were he worked for the Berliner Tageblatt. Since Sinsheimer was Jewish, in the advent of the Nazi terror in 1938, he fled to England. He died in London in 1950. From 1946 until his death, Sinsheimer wrote numerous letters to his former Freinsheim schoolmate Dr. Frida Schaffner née Reibold. These letters as well as letters of his widow to the same addressee are the core of the book you are asking about. You see – the authors are Hermann Sinsheimer and his wife Christobel – not me and my colleagues. Nevertheless we have added an extensive introduction providing a lot of material and photographs about Sinsheimers ancestors, his brothers and sisters, his first wife and his second English wife Christobel and also about the living descendants of Sinsheimer’s sister in America. The book (768 p., hardcover, many photographs) is edited by the Stiftung zur Förderung der Pfälzischen Geschichtsforschung in Neustadt an der Weinstraße. It costs 49 Euros. Whoever is interested in buying a copy should just send me an email at The foundation will send it on their account.

Is there anything I should be asking, that might be of interest to genealogists and scholars of the Palatinate?

The history of the Palatinate is fascinating and nearly inexhaustible. For me the fascination is based on its historical diversity and lack of homogeneity: our small region was ruled by a lot of parallel rulers with their own territories: the prince electors of Palatinate, the counts of Leiningen, the bishops of Worms, the bishops of Speyer and so on … But not only diversity of lordship but also diversity in religion/confession: Reformed, Lutherans, Catholics, Mennonites, Jews …. last but not least: France …. we are close neighbors to France and remember: all the time before 1870/71 the invasions were from west to east, which the Palatinate had to suffer. The Palatinate region also benefitted from France, for instance with the introduction of the Code Napoleon, the Civil Code which remained in existence even after the French occupation ended.

Thanks so much, Dr. Görtz.
Dr. Hans-Helmut Görtz can be reached at
Am Wurmberg 11
67251 Freinsheim
Tel. 49 (0) 6353-7189

Books and Booklets by Dr. Hans-Helmut Görtz

Festschrift zur Orgelweihe der restaurierten Seuffert-Orgel in der Pfarrkirche St. Peter und Paul Freinsheim, Freinsheim 1996, paperback, 108 p.

Das Freinsheimer Gottfried-Weber-Haus und seine Besitzer in kurpfälzischer Zeit
, Sonderdruck, Freinsheim 2004 (offprint of identic paper from 2003 with some additions), paperback, 40 p.

Der kurpfälzische Vizekanzler Johann Bartholomäus von Busch (1680-1739) und seine Familie, Freinsheim 2005, paperback, 136 p.

Das kurpfälzische Amt Freinsheim – Entstehung, Personal, Amtsbeschreibung, Freinsheim 2005(reprint of identical paper from 2005), paperback, 72 p.

Das Kallstadter Gerichtsprotokollbuch 1533-1563, Stiftung zur Förderung der Pfälzischen Geschichtsforschung, Reihe A, Bd. 6, Neustadt a. d. Weinstr. 2005, LXXX, 328 p.

Das Kallstadter Gerichtsprotokollbuch 1563-1740, Stiftung zur Förderung der Pfälzischen Geschichtsforschung, Reihe A, Bd. 7, Neustadt a. d. Weinstr. 2010, CXL, 899 p.

Mit Köpf(ch)en durch Freinsheim
Brochure with coloured illustrations, Freinsheim 2012, 16 p.

Hans-Helmut Görtz, Gabriele Giersberg und Erik Giersberg
Hermann und Christobel Sinsheimer, Briefe aus England in die Pfalz
Stiftung zur Förderung der Pfälzischen Geschichtsforschung, Reihe E, Bd. 1, Neustadt a. d. Weinstr. 2012, XI, 752 p.


“Zur Veränderung der Einwohnerschaft von Freinsheim in der zweiten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts,” Pfälzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde 15 (2002), 129-136.

“Ausländische Zuwanderer 1650-1710 im reformierten Kirchenbuch von Weisenheim am Sand,” Pfälzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde 15 (2002), 137-140.

“Zum Taufnamen von Gottfried Jakob Weber, Mitteilungen der Arbeitsgemeinschaft” für mittelrheinische Musikgeschichte 76/77 (2003) 387-389.

“Das Freinsheimer Gottfried-Weber-Haus und seine Besitzer in kurpfälzischer Zeit,” Mitteilungen des Historischen Vereins der Pfalz 101 (2003), 173-210.

“Das Freinsheimer Kirchenzinsregister von 1658 und das Freinsheimer Almosenregister von 1700-1702 als personengeschichtliche Quellen,” Pfälzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde 15 (2003), 195-200.

“Dorf – Flecken – Stadt. Anmerkungen zum Status von Freinsheim bis zum Ende der Kurpfalz,” Pfälzer Heimat 55 (2004), 42-49.
Die Nagel’sche Erbteilung vom 27. Mai 1574 als Quelle für Freinsheimer Namen, Pfälzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde 15 (2004), 418-420.

“Juden im kurpfälzischen Freinsheim – eine Spurensuche,” Mitteilungen des Historischen Vereins der Pfalz 102 (2004), 139-155.

“Das Rittergeschlecht Nagel von Dirmstein, in: Michael Martin (Hg.), Dirmstein – Adel, Bauern, Bürger.” Stiftung zur Förderung der Pfälzischen Geschichtsforschung, Reihe B, Band 6. Neustadt an der Weinstraße 2005, S. 83-118.

“Das kurpfälzische Amt Freinsheim – Entstehung, Personal, Amtsbeschreibung,” Mitteilungen des Historischen Vereins der Pfalz 103 (2005), 243-312.

“Kurpfalz 1690er Jahre: Führungspersonal gesucht – Hauptsache Katholiken. Zur Herkunft der Familien Gobin, Müssig, Lippe, Morass.” Mannheimer Geschichtsblätter. Neue Folge 12 (2006), 73-94.

“Vom Eichsfelder Jesuitenschüler zum kurpfälzischen Vizekanzler: Johann Bartholomäus von Busch (1680-1739).” Eichsfeld-Jahrbuch 14 (2006), 141-151.
Die Stadtdirektoren des 18. Jahrhunderts. In: Ulrich Nieß und Michael Caroli (Hrsg.), Geschichte der Stadt Mannheim, Bd. 1, 1607-1801, Ubstadt-Weiher 2007, S. 309-310.

“Personen ausländischer Herkunft im lutherischen Kirchenbuch Kallstadt 1656-1739,” Pfälzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde 16 (2007), 296-302.

“Von Menschen und Büchern – Prozessakten erzählen über den Flecken Freinsheim vor 1600,” Pfälzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde 16 (2008), 393-400.

“Juden im Herxheimer Gerichtsprotokoll (1780-1818),” Pfälzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde 16 (2008), 433-442.

“Refugium Freinsheim: Der Dichter Julius Wilhelm Zincgref (1591-1635) und der Verleger Nikolaus von Pierron (1707-1760).” Heimat-Jahrbuch 2009 des Landkreises Bad Dürkheim, Haßloch 2008, S. 88-93.

“Johann Bernhard von Ehm und die Schlacht vor Freinsheim im Jahr 1638.” Mitteilungen des Historischen Vereins der Pfalz 106 (2008), 337-351

“Portraits in München aufgetaucht: Nikolaus von Pierron – ein Name bekommt Gesicht.”
Heimat-Jahrbuch 2010 des Landkreises Bad Dürkheim, Haßloch 2009, S. 200-201.

“Reisenpforte und Heimpforte. Die Freinsheimer Stadttore und ihre ursprünglichen Namen.” Heimat-Jahrbuch 2010 des Landkreises Bad Dürkheim. Haßloch 2009. S. 201-203.

“Leyfart von Heppenheim – ein unbekanntes Geschlecht des pfälzischen Niederadels.” Mitteilungen des Historischen Vereins der Pfalz 107 (2009), 111-121.

“Die „avita nobilitas“ des Johann Bernhard von Ehm – doch wörtlich zu nehmen ?” Mitteilungen des Historischen Vereins der Pfalz 107 (2009), 457-458.

Hans-Helmut Görtz und Reinhard Düchting, “Poesie in Freud und Leid: Das Leben des lutherischen Kallstadter Pfarrers Elias Saur (1642-1694),” Blätter für pfälzische Kirchengeschichte 77 (2010), 169-181.
Hans-Helmut Görtz und Mark Spoelstra, 300 Jahre Retzerhaus in Freinsheim – aber nicht dasjenige, das man kennt. Pfälzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde 17 (2010), S. 72-77.

“Das Haus verkauft, die Brücken abgebrochen – Freinsheimer Auswanderer nach Amerika im frühen 18. Jahrhundert”
Pfälzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde 17 (2010), S. 118-128.

“Betreutes Wohnen Anno dazumal – Verpfründung in das Spital Dürkheim um das Jahr 1600.” Heimat-Jahrbuch 2011 des Landkreises Bad Dürkheim, Haßloch 2010, S. 96-99.

“Literatur war sein Leben – Freinsheim verdankt Gert Weber Bücherei und Sinsheimer-Preis.” Heimat-Jahrbuch 2011 des Landkreises Bad Dürkheim, Haßloch 2010, S. 134-137.

“Von Freinsheim nach Melk: Der Benediktinermönch Johannes Wischler (1383 – 1455).” Heimat-Jahrbuch 2011 des Landkreises Bad Dürkheim, Haßloch 2010, S. 230-233.

“Graf Emich VIII. hilft Ostertag-Stiftung – Urkunden-Fund im Zentralarchiv der Evangelischen Kirche der Pfalz.” Heimat-Jahrbuch 2011 des Landkreises Bad Dürkheim, Haßloch 2010, S. 193-194.

Hans-Helmut Görtz und Andreas Hecht, “Freinsheim und die Herren vom Stein,” Mitteilungen des Historischen Vereins der Pfaz 108 (2010), S. 121-151.

“Johannes (Giovanni) Praga – ein Migrant des 18. Jahrhunderts – der erste Italiener in Freinsheim war Kaufmann und gut integriert”
Heimat-Jahrbuch 2012 des Landkreises Bad Dürkheim, Haßloch 2011, S. 49-51.

“Unterwegs zu den Wurzeln – Sinsheimers Großneffe Fred Kolm besuchte Freinsheim”
Heimat-Jahrbuch 2012 des Landkreises Bad Dürkheim, Haßloch 2011, S. 190-192.

Dr. Görtz also presents a number of lectures with slides.

Emigration table of Freinsheim 1853-1881

In 2010, when I traveled to Freinsheim, it was my privilege to have a meeting with Dr. Hans-Helmut Görtz, a local scholar of Palatine history. He openly shared his knowledge and supplied me with many materials, including journal entries of the Protestant parish priest in the era my novel is set, articles about emigrants from Freinsheim during the decade my great-great grandfather left for Cleveland, and a book he had authored about local historical figure Johann Bartholomäus von Busch (Der kurpfälzische Vizekansler Johann Bartholomäus von Busch (1680-1739) und seine Familie). At the end of our meeting, Dr. Görtz assured me I should feel free to email him with questions. For the past couple of years, from time to time I have taken him up on his offer.

Cathedral at SpeyerHistory Museum of the Palatinate at SpeyerOver the holidays, Dr. Görtz sent me a pdf of a “Survey in table form of emigration to overseas countries from Freinsheim.” He found a copy in the Landesarchiv in Speyer (where one also can visit the 11th century cathedral and History Museum of the Palatinate, both pictured here). So far, I’ve been able to discern the following names: Wiegand, Selzer, Höhn, Schneider, Hoffmann, Kaufmann, Gumbinger, Diehl, Schulz, Amend, Retzer, Depper, Bisgen, Schwab, Bloch, Drescher, Haas, König, Kirchner, Weilbrenner, Weibert, Schalter, Arter, Reichert, Heinz, Schmitt, Först, Fränkel, Aul, Adler, Heim, Hermann, Jacob, Kohl, Köhler, Bawel, Debus, Schaadt. Check it out for yourself: Tabellarische Übersicht der Auswanderungen. The table is not complete (my ancestor Michael Harm, who left at age 15, is not listed), but I include it here for others who might have better luck, both with finding their ancestors and/or deciphering the Alte Deutsche Schrift.

Why didn’t I go there sooner?

Early on in the research trail of my immigrant ancestors, I talked with writing friend Christine about my quest for passenger lists. She suggested the Seattle Public Library (SPL).

“Have you been to the 9th floor? There’s a great section on genealogy. You should definitely go.”

I knew she was right, but as time passed, whenever I thought about going something else always got in the way. Until the other day when I was riding the bus along 4th Avenue with 45 minutes to spare, and that smushed 4-layer cake of a library building loomed into view. On impulse I pulled the bus stop cord and hopped out to have a look.

When I finally arrived on the 9th floor (it was a long and winding up-ramp), the first thing I happened upon was a shelf of “Germans to America” bound volumes. I had no idea that “Lists of Passengers Arriving at U.S. Ports,” exclusively Germans, had been compiled in chronological order. I had found my ancestor Michael Harm the hard way, by scrolling through hours and hours of microfilm at NARA.

I pulled out the “Germans to America” volume for the proper time period thinking, this looks so easy. Why didn’t I come here sooner?

Sure enough, there he was, June 30, 1857 on the good ship Helvetia. You see him there? Michael Harm? Okay, Michel Harne. Still, I’m convinced that’s him, because from letters in my possession I know he made a 43 day journey in 1857 when he was 16, leaving behind his immediate family, voyaging from Le Havre, France to New York City. One other corroborating piece of data on the list clinched the deal. Nearby Michel Harne on the list was the name Philipp Haenderich of the USA. Haenderich (Handrich) was the same last name as Michael’s grandparents on his mother’s side. It makes sense that Michael’s parents would not send him unaccompanied, not if they could help it.

But when I looked in the “Germans to America” volume for the name Philipp Haenderich, to my surprise, no Haenderich was listed. If I had relied on this bound volume alone, I might have missed some vital data.

A cautionary tale. These volumes are called “Germans to America,” and on the handwritten list, Philipp Haenderich is listed as a U.S. citizen so his name was not included.

The presence of Philipp Haenderich also brings up another point. When checking passenger lists and census data, it is almost as important to look at the names nearby as at the names of whoever we’ve been searching for. People tend to wait in line with people they know. Census information also provides more data than we might realize, because relatives often live on the same street, so you might find someone else nearby. At the very least, if you look at those listed around your ancestor, you’ll get a glimpse of the people in their lives.

Just the facts, Ma’am

I am very impressed by the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS). Unless you’re a history buff, you might not know the term “Western Reserve” refers to the northeastern part of Ohio.

The Wikipedia entry for the Connecticut Western Reserve describes it thus: “the lands between the 41st and 42nd-and-2-minutes parallels that lay west of the Pennsylvania border. Within Ohio the claim was a 120-mile (190 km) wide strip between Lake Erie and a line just south of Youngstown, Akron, New London, and Willard …” The strip of land in Ohio included Cleveland. Hence, names like “Church of the Western Reserve” and “Case Western Reserve University.”

Among the Western Reserve Historical Society’s incredible collections, exhibits, archives and online databases, are the following: local funeral home indexes, Jewish marriage and death notices, biographical sketches, Bible records, Early Families in Cleveland Project, Allen E. Cole African American Collections and more. To see the comprehensive list of databases, click here. To search what’s available in their extensive library catalog, click here.

Each time I see something like “Bible Records Index” or “Early Families in Cleveland Project” my heart beats a little faster. Maybe I’ll find my ancestors there, I think. So far, nothing much has turned up. Why not? For one thing, they were German, so kept to their German clan. Perhaps their names appear in the German newspapers, hard copies of which are available in the WRHS archives library, but not digitized or inventoried by individual names. For another thing, these first-generation immigrants were working men. Furnace operators, barrelmakers, blacksmiths, machinists. The salt (and grit) of the earth. For instance, my great-great-great uncle Jakob Handrich, who immigrated to Cleveland in 1840, appears rarely (often with alternate spellings, Handrick, Hendricks, Henry). If at all. Here’s what I know.

Jakob Handrich Life Events
*Born circa 1822, presumably in Meckenheim
*Arrived July 29, 1840 in New York on Ship Anson, 18 years old, traveling with his parents, 2 older sisters and 1 older brother
*In 1841, Jakob settled in Cleveland, Ohio, trained as a cooper (barrelmaker) and earned $5 per week.
*In 1843, he found work as a blacksmith in a factory “where steaming kettles and machines for steamboats and railways were being built” and earned $1.50/day
*In 1848, he made a journey into the southern states, approximately 2000 miles, including Cincinnati, St. Louis, Mobile and New Orleans
*In 1849, he bought a property ($600 cash) and built a house himself (nicknamed “House Place”) and lived there with his elderly parents until their deaths in the mid-1850s.
*By 1858, Jakob had been swept up in the California Gold Rush and traveled around South America by ship to California. At first, he made a lot of money as a blacksmith in San Francisco, but then the times got bad and he traveled to Sacramento Sutte to dig for gold and try his luck.
*In 1862 he was still in California, and had amassed approx. $12,000 in the bank.
*In 1864, he was in Cincinnati and contemplated returning to California.
*In 1869, he had married, had one son, and lived again in Cleveland.
*In 1870, he went to look for work in Columbus, and traveled between Columbus and Cleveland in subsequent years.
*In 1896 he was laid to rest at Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio.

Little of the above info turns up in genealogy databases; it all comes from several dozen letters in my family’s possession. I have no birth record, marriage record, proof of children. Only his name on a ship manifest, and his gravestone, where his name appears as Jacob Handrick. Maybe that’s not even him, but it’s as close as I can get. Which leads me to believe there have to be thousands and thousands of others like him. Invisible souls. And he was male. Think of the invisible women–early city directories list only the men of the household, women’s names changed when they married, and so on. Without the letters, the fact that Jakob Handrich ever existed would seem a mere mirage.

Palatines to America: Ohio Chapter

In my first couple of years as a member of the Ohio Chapter of Palatines to America (Pal Am), I have become a fan (and Facebook friend). I happen to be descended from people of the Palatine region, as were the founders (in 1975) of Palatines to America, but the mission of Pal Am has broadened so much, the society might better be named “Germans to America.”

PALATINES TO AMERICA (Pal Am) is a national genealogical society of persons researching German-speaking ancestry, with emphasis on migration from the Germanic regions of Europe to North America (primarily the United States and Canada). Most of these immigrants were from Germany, but there was also a significant number from other areas of Europe including Switzerland, Austria, France, Poland, and other countries. … Now our membership includes people who have ancestors from all German-speaking areas. (from “About Us” at

The organization, with over 2,000 members and chapters in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania (anyone with an interest in German-speaking immigrants can join, whether from North America or abroad), offers a wealth of German genealogy resources, newsletters, a bookstore, and more.
This year’s annual conference is coming soon:
June 14-16, 2012
“German Research: Methodology & Technology”
Indianapolis, IN

With seminars on researching, surfing the Internet, and more.

Pal Am is also offering a 74-hour search-till-you-drop genealogy research excursion to Salt Lake City September 23-30, 2012. Visit Pal Am’s web page, under Events, for details.

Pal Am also offers research and translation services.

Mythic Palatines in America

I did not realize this book was so rare. My relative Angela gave a copy to me–Pfälzer in Amerika (Palatines in America) by Roland Paul and Karl Scherer–to help in my thesis research. Searching out a link to it for this blog, I notice it sells for a high price. I can see why.

It’s not such a big volume, but it’s packed with cross-cultural historical info. Published in 1995 by the Institute of Palatine History and Folklife, it offers articles about 18th and 19th century immigration to America from the Palatine region. Most of the text has English translations. Included are  maps and explorations of the “waves” of immigration and their causes, bios of notable personalities, and letters written by immigrants to America (only in German).

I find the bios especially intriguing. I had not realized that Thomas Nast (b. 1840), “cartoonist, moralist, and ‘president-maker'” was a contemporary of Michael Harm (b. 1841).

When in Germany, I visited Villa Ludwigshöhe above Edenkoben, and walked through that town, but missed the part of Edenkoben with the Johann Adam Hartmann fountain. Born in Edenkoben, Johann Adam Hartmann emigrated in 1764 to America, finishing his days in Herkimer, NY. A neighbor of James Fenimore Cooper, many claim the main character of Cooper’s most famous series (Last of the Mohicans, The Deerslayer, The Pioneers, etc.) is in part based on Hartmann. Pfälzer in Amerika states:

[After arrival in America in 1764], Hartmann became a woodsman and hunter on the Indian frontier. When the War of Independence began in 1775, he had already had ten years of hunting and fighting experience which he now put to use. In particular, he is said to have been instrumental in winning the Oriskany battle against the British troops and their Indian allies in the Mohawk Valley on 6 August 1777.

A memorial plaque has also been installed in the village. “In Edenkoben and elsewhere, it is firmly believed that next to Daniel Boone, the man from Edenkoben formed the most important model for J. F. Cooper’s character, Leatherstocking.”

Leafing through old books

When my father downsized from his house into a retirement center, he sent my brother and me a list of books, and from afar, we chose which ones we wanted.

Years have passed, and I hardly remember what I picked out, except that I had an eye for old books. The other day I came across an especially old one, dated 1867. I know it came from my childhood home due to the bright orange bookmark tucked inside, Dad’s code for “Claire.”

Old books can be like treasure hunts. In The Psalms of David In Metre I was captivated by the subtitle: With Annotations explaining the Sense, and Animating the Devotion, By John Brown, late minister of the Gospel at Haddington. This John Brown was an Anglican minister who lived from 1722 to 1787. It turns out he was a self-made man, a shepherd in Scotland who taught himself to read Greek, Latin and Hebrew. In the songbook in my possession, each Psalm of David begins with Brown’s notes about content and meaning.

But there’s more. Tucked in the pages was also a postcard from 1911 advertising the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the First Presbyterian Church of Cleveland, founded in 1811.

In the heat of a big move, or at the end of a parent’s life, we might find ourselves in a hurry to get things squared away, to shuttle boxes off to the donation center without a second glance, oblivious to the treasures inside. Moral of the story: leaf through those books, including the ones you hang onto. You just never can tell what you’ll find inside.