Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Plainview Family History Center:the Stutzmanns of Grossbockenheim, part I

More and more over the past few years, I have become convinced that my German heritage is going to prove the most fruitful. (Those Germans sure did keep meticulous records!) The thing is, I know the information is there, but trying to get my Germans to give it up is like pulling teeth. Worse, actually. They don't like to be forced. You can't move too quick. You have to get to know them very well. They have to feel really comfortable with you. There has to be mutual trust. And then the doors open up and the information - all that beautiful, meticulous German record-keeping! - just pours forth. For the most part. There are always those stubborn ancestors that still hold out on you, like they're waiting for a formal invitation to join the genealogy party. But overall, it's unbelievable. And extremely exciting. And rewarding, from the standpoint of a genealogist, but also as a person - I always identified with my Irish heritage, because my name is Irish and it was the side I knew the most about. But the more I learn about my German branches, the more I realize I'm starting to identify more with my German family. (See aforementioned stubbornness...)

So on that note, let's get to it! I went to the Plainview Family History Center to look at the microfilm of actual records for my Stutzmann line for which transcriptions had been posted on the FamilySearch website. I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to have as specific a place as possible for your family, especially in German research, because often their meticulous records are organized by town name, not family name - case in point being that the German lines I have had the most success with are the ones for which I have the most specific starting point, namely the town from which they orginated.

In the case of the Stutzmanns, that town in Grossbockenheim, in the Rheinland-Pfalz region of Germany. The town of origin was recorded in an anthology of genealogy books, Schlegel's German American Families in the United States, published in 1916. While Schlegel's got a lottttt of info wrong, they at least got the town name right. Stutzmann is my paternal grandmother's line, and because her grandfather, Rudolph Stutzmann, was such an influential member of Queens County German society at the turn of the 20th century, his genealogy had actually been pretty extensively (though somewhat inaccurately) recorded, at least back to *his* grandfather, Peter Stutzmann. Rudolph's father, Friedrich - don't you love all these perfectly German names?? - was born in Grossbockenheim in 1844. He died in Ridgewood Heights, Queens County, New York, in 1906. Friedrich's father, Peter, was born in Grossbockenheim in 1812 and died in Brooklyn in 1892, about six months after arriving in New York. Schlegel's had listed parents for Peter - Christoph and Jacobine. Boy, did that throw me off forever, mainly because those were not his parents names! I don't care how official your sources look...unless its primary or secondary sources, you need to doublecheck. And you should doublecheck and verify anyway because even primary sources get it wrong!


So, in the course of exploring the newly designed FamilySearch website, I discovered that they had a ton of Stutzmann information on there! The source they were using was mainly the kirchenbuch, or church book, for the Protestant church used by residents of Grossbockenheim. It was here that I discovered that Peter's mother was, in fact, Jacobine or Jacobina (Blasius, to be precise) but that his father's name was Johann Michael Stutzmann. And I'm working on a hunch, based on Michael's possible parentage, that while Peter's maternal family and maternal grandmother's family had been established in Grossbockenheim for centuries, that the Stutzmann line is actually from the nearby town of Asselheim. Anyway, these records were great, but they were transcriptions of original church records at best and transcriptions of transcriptions of original church records at worst, so in order to get a degree closer, I decided to order them to my local Family History Center.

On that first visit, I looked at several Stutzmann records in the kirchenbuch, namely Friedrich Stutzmann's baptismal record, as well as those of his two older brothers, Rudolph and Peter; the record of his father Peter Stutzmann's marriage to his mother, Luise Charlotte Schlick; and a possible death record for Michael Stutzmann. For anyone else doing Stutzmann (or Schlick or D'Huy or Blasius) genealogy, the exacts records I looked at were Family History Library microfilms #193800, #193801, and #193802, all covering baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials for the Protestant kirchenbuch for Grossbockenheim, 1633-1927. I also looked at #193970, the
parish register transcripts of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, burials and sermons of J. P. Lattermann, covering Grossbockenheim between 1837-1848.

Unfortunately, I had a crap camera, so I didn't get the pictures I wanted the first time, and also, I ordered so many rolls and it takes me an hour and half to 2 hours to go through each roll, so I had to go back again tonight and I'm going to have to go back again at least two more times I'd say (and of course more times after that, since I have other rolls for other branches that I want to order, but that'll for a story for another day...)

But this post is getting long, so details and photos to follow!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Family history ADHD: glancing at my Danish heritage

Never fear - I am still in the midst of my FHC/Stutzmann research - I've just had to postpone my return visit to the Family History Center and I don't want to post any photos of the records I've found so far and hope to find until I bring my good camera with me!

But over the weekend I was watching a show on the History Channel with the boyfriend and they were talking about Viking burial mounds in Denmark and it made me realize how almost completely I've ignored the Danish branch of my family tree, even though it might prove to be the most unique of all my family history.

I think part of it is that it's such a small percentage of my family history, at least in comparing it to the twin behemoths of Irish and German ancestry. It was my great great great grandfather, Peter Hansen Berg, who was born near Copenhagen, Denmark about 1824 before, according to family stories, running away to sea and coming to America about the age of 12.

Another part is that I don't know much beyond that. As with most of my Irish ancestry, my Danish immigrant ancestor is my brick wall ancestor. And while I can pinpoint his place of origin more exactly than my Irish family, I don't really have much else to go on. I do have a relative who has parents and dates and places for Peter's parents, but I've never been able to verify that on my own and I don't know where that information came from, so I don't know if that information is reliable in any way.

And a third part that is more recent is simply the language barrier. I can fake my way through a lot of English-looking German words and I have my German language cheat sheet. But Danish is a language completely unfamiliar to me. It might as well be Chinese. Which isn't a good excuse for ignoring a branch but it's a reason for the feet-dragging.

But talk of Danish Vikings on this show really did pique my curiosity about this country and culture and family branch that I know nothing about. So I guess I might start with the one lead I'm actually lucky I have - the cousin who has possible parents for Peter Hansen Berg - and try to trace that line of information and see if anything reliable turns up, and if that might lead to any threads I can trace backward from there. You know, after I finish the stuff I'm already working on.

Welcome to the world of family history ADHD! :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Genealogy field trip: Plainview Family History Center

So I've been doing genealogy for about 15 years now and this was the first time I'd ever been to a Family History Center. Three weeks ago I ordered several microfilm rolls from the LDS Family History Library and on Tuesday, I got an e-mail that they had been received at the FHC in Plainview. Not too bad of a lag time between ordering and delivery. The Plainview FHC only has evening hours twice a week so today I took off from work to make my first FHC field trip. The one in Plainview, like many Family History Centers, is adjacent to a Mormon temple, like this one:

And this is the Family History Center, right next door:

Now, I had done some research on how FHCs work but I didn't know exactly what to expect. The centers are staffed by volunteers, who were immediately friendly and helpful. At Plainview, they ask you to only bring your notepad, pencil, and camera/phone into the library with you. Also, in accordance with Mormon religious views, they ask you not to consume caffeine on the premises, so it was a good thing I had just finished my coffee when I arrived. The FHC is very small - in Plainview there's an office, a reading room, and a microfilm machine room. The films I had ordered were right there in the back, nicely labeled. They let you take out one roll at a time. It had been awhile since I used a microfilm machine so the volunteer helped me load it. First disappointment - there's really no method available to make copies of any records you find. There's apparently a wonky photocopying machine, but that's it. Luckily, I had thought ahead of time to bring a digital camera to take photos of any records I found. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to charge it. Thank God for camera phones...so, important, bring some kind of camera with you if you make the trip, preferably one that's charged. And then I was in it! I was there for two hours today - I had ordered five rolls and only got through two of them. Part of the problem was that the records were in German, making them difficult to read. Another problem was, as always, messy handwriting, also making them difficult to read. But I found my great great great grandfather Friedrich Stutzmann's baptismal record, his parents' marriage record, and his grandfather's death record, all handwritten and old looking, which was awesome. They may be harder to read, but original records are so much better at actually drawing you into the past. I will talk about what I found in my next post(s). For now, I have these 5 rolls until April 8th, and I can extend my borrowing time if I need to. I have about 250 years further back to look through and from I skimmed when I glanced at the third roll, the handwriting gets even messier and closer together. This is going to be some hard work. But this is the kind of work that is so necessary and that, for now anyway, you absolutely can't get done unless you go out into the field. The Internet got me started on this particular search, but any good genealogist will take it to the next level. Looking forward to my next trip back!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Running into family in unexpected places

The father of a friend of the boyfriend's died this week, unfortunately, but when the bf told me the news, he said, "Guess where the wake is going to be. Stutzmann's." R. Stutzmann and Son is the official name of the funeral home and it's just a little bizarre to look at that name on the side of the building and know that R. Stutzmann was my great great grandfather, Rudolph. He opened the doors at his first location in Ridgewood, Queens, in 1901. The funeral home is no longer a family business - it was bought out by a conglomerate some years ago (think what the Fishers were trying to avoid in Six Feet Under, if you ever watched that show) - but the name is still there so I guess it's still part of Rudolph's legacy. He was a real mover and shaker in his day and though I think of him every time I see a Ridgewood Savings Bank (which he helped found and of which he was the first president) it's kind of cool to see his name still attached to the other successful business he founded.

Expanding my genealogical horizons: diving into the Caribbean (records, that is)

My family history is totally American and Western European, so whenever I do genealogy research, records pertaining to those two areas are the ones I am most familiar and comfortable with. Because of the request of two of my friends with Italian ancestry for help, I've dabbled in some Italian records, too. But the world is a lot bigger than just the United States and Europe and I'm starting to realize that in my genealogy research. For me, personally, having a narrow geographical view of the world has been okay, and probably more than okay, as I really feel well-versed in a lot of those records because I have to use them so often. But I've recently gotten requests from friends with Caribbean ancestry for some help on where to look and what to look for, and so, since I'm in a lull in my own personal research, I've started dabbling in that. The Family Search website is a particularly good place to start. They have an array of records online outside of the American-European genealogy sphere, although be forewarned, a lot of these records are not indexed. My best friend's family is from the Dominican Republic and with a name and date and place, I was able to find her grandfather's death record as well as his baptismal record (VERY enlightening and interesting), but it took hours of scrolling through page by page by page...yes, folks, genealogy is not as easy as "Who Do You Think You Are?" makes it seem! Luckily, I took five years of Spanish, so reading these records was a lot easier than whenever I use German records. Which is a lot. Anyway, my sister has a friend who is Jamaican and whose grandfather was born in Cuba. He has questions about what his grandfather did for a living and any siblings he might have had. So the past couple of days I've been looking to see where he might be able to go to get those answers. No matter what kind of genealogy you're doing, you're going to have to go beyond records that have been put online. European and American family history is much more easily accessible online but even then you can't just depend on the Internet to do thorough research (although you can use the Internet to find out what on-site records might be available). And of course the boyfriend's family is Honduran - there aren't many records from Honduras available online although Ancestry.com was very helpful in finding passenger manifests that showed his great-grandfather's many trips to New Orleans and provided a lot of good biographical information. More info may be available in Honduras - next vacation perhaps? I also realized this weekend when my sister asked me where her friend might be able to find info on his grandfather that for people who don't do genealogy, they literally have no idea where to even start. For us, it's second nature to think "birth certificate, census, city directory, will, immigration" etc. etc. but the "lay person" if you will doesn't even know half of what's available to them. So you can be helpful to a friend (or a stranger) just by pointing them in the right direction. Plus, every genealogist uses different records and may have discovered something obscure but helpful that you may never have heard of, even if you're a well-versed genealogist in your own right - which is today's reminder of the importance of sharing!! :) Rambling, done. Have a good week everyone!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Expanding my genealogical horizons - planning a visit to a Family History Center

A little late to the Family History Center game? Probably. My dad started his genealogy research on his Gorry line by visiting the local Family History Center and he found really great records to help get us started on that. I have been a great advocate of the FamilySearch website ever since they dropped all the user-submitted content and started uploading real primary and secondary sources. They continue to add records every day and thanks to the help of "civilian" volunteers, more and more of those records are getting indexed every day.

Another recent change to the FamilySearch website is that now you can order microfilm and microfiche to view at your local Family History Center online. I don't drive, which has been part of the reason I've never actually made a visit to my local FHC yet - I would have had to make a trip there to order records and then made another trip back to view them and it would have been a bit of a hassle.

Yes, sometimes I'm a lazy genealogist. It happens to the best of us.

But as part of their recent uploading records effort, I've discovered some great information about my Stutzmann family line, which until that info was posted, was a dead end at about 1775 in Grossbockenheim, Germany. But records from the local kirchenbuch (church book) and familienregister (family register) were transcribed that trace this line about three generations and 100 years further back. Which was an awesome find. But transcriptions are at best secondary or even third-generation sources, and sometimes there's pertinent information within the original document that the transcriber didn't feel was worth copying, but which you might find important or at least interesting, and so I finally bit the bullet and ordered my very first microfilms from the LDS. And because I always go big or go home, I ordered 5 of them. (At $5.50 a pop they're not exactly free but still waaay cheaper than ordering records from, say, the NYC municipal archives, state archives, or NARA).

The website said it could take up to six months for orders to go through, but I got the e-mail today that they had been shipped, which I'm very excited about. It's been awhile since I've felt anything but frustrated by genealogy research. The records are all in German of course but in the past few months where I've had some luck with my German lines I've gotten familiar with some of the important words and the layout of their records, so I'll brush up on that ahead of time and bring some cheat sheets with me, but I'm feeling really good about this. And if this experience continues to go well, I already have other records I've jotted down for other family lines that I'd like to look up on microfilm.

It's nice (and a relief!) to feel excited about genealogy again!

Friday, January 6, 2012

NBC Announces The Celebrities Tracing Their Family Trees On Season Three Of 'Who Do You Think You Are?' Premiering February 3

NBC Announces The Celebrities Tracing Their Family Trees On Season Three Of 'Who Do You Think You Are?' Premiering February 3

I hate how easy this show makes genealogy research look - on our NEHGS field trip, Cousin April and I teased online genealogist David Allen Lambert that we were waiting for him to simply present us with our completed family tree, drawn out on a fancy scroll and everything, like it happens for all the celebrities who visit the NEHGS on "Who Do You Think You Are?" - but I love that this show brings genealogy to the forefront of pop culture, I love seeing the excitement and wonder and awe each celebrity feels upon each new family history discovery, and I love that it might spark a genealogical interest in at least one viewer who is not me :)

Looks like a good mix of family history backgrounds - welcome back, show!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Heppenheim, Hesse, Germany, home of the Meinberg and Neher families, and Starkenburg castle

The village of Heppenheim in the Hesse region of Germany, ancestral home to my Meinberg and Neher families, from which my third great grandmother Eva Meinberg Haase (1861-1919) is descended. They were living here at least as far back as the late 1600s. This is the marketplace, with the medieval castle Starkenburg high on the hill - picturesque, right?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday: Mel Blanc

My father is quite possibly more into headstones than I am. (He has a coffee table book idea of photographs of angel headstones). He e-mailed me this photo of voice actor Mel Blanc's headstone just last week. Good thing we have each other for this kind of thing. Someone normal who received this photo might think it was creepy. I just think it's cool. :)

Happy New Year everyone! May everyone have fruitful genealogy research in 2012!