Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Trip to Canada for Genealogy - and Fun!

I spent most of last week in Canada. It was one of those work/fun trips - my favorite kind. The original purpose was to speak about my book and about the immigration experience to the Ottawa branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society for the Ryan Taylor Memorial lecture. Soon after I got the invitation, I began to develop a second part to this trip though. Ever since we moved to Massachusetts over five years ago, I have wanted to visit Quebec City. Once, I even had a trip in place to do it. My husband had meetings there and I convinced a friend to watch our (then) three kids for three days so I could go too. It was going to be a second honeymoon of sorts. But then, it turned out that the NGS (National Genealogical Society) Conference was going to be in Richmond at the same time - and that one of my magazine articles was going to receive an award from ISFHWE (International Society of Family HIstory and Writers). AND it turned out that I could get a plane ticket for less than $100 and stay at my brother's house in DC. In the end, I couldn't resist. I ditched the second honeymoon in favor of the genealogy conference. (Terrible, isn't it?)

But now I had a second chance - genealogy and vacation in one! We decided that the whole family would drive, spend a day in Quebec City, a day in Montreal, and a day in Ottawa (and lots of time driving too, of course). Initially I had thought it unfortuntate that the trip would take place in October instead of the summer, but I soon decided that the middle of October was perfect. The leaves on the drive through Vermont and in Canada were absolutely breathtaking.

It's a little embarrassing to admit that the only other time I had been to Canada was in 2004 when we went to Niagara Falls. Of course, we only spent four nights there this time, but it was fabulous. And, as I told the group, now I can put on my biography that I'm an internationally known speaker, right?

Here are a few highlights from the trip:

First, the classic photo of the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. Rachel (age 11) liked the old city so much, that she decided we should move there!

We also made a stop at the nearby Montmerency Falls.

Did you know Montreal is famous for its bagels? Two bagel shops compete for the title of "best bagels." The kids sampled bagels from both to determine who was the winner of what we called the "Great Bagel Debate." (I originally called the "Great Bagel War", but Sarah Ann (age 6) wanted to know if they used swords...) Christian slept through our taste test.

We loved Ottawa! The downtown area was beautiful - even better than I expected. We loved walking by the government buildings and the Rideau Canal.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Everything You Need to Know About German Research in Two Hours or Less

I guess I really am breaking back into this blogging thing slowly...Where does the time go?

As I mentioned in my last post, Friday I flew to Toledo, Ohio (actually, I flew into Detroit and then drove to Toledo)to do a two-hour seminar on Saturday at the Toledo Public Library on tracing German ancestors. First, I have to say that I get really excited when I get to talk about JUST German ancestors. I like to talk about lots of things, but since I am a resident of Massachsuetts and do the majority of my speaking engagements in New England, I don't get to do many lectures that focus exclusively on German research. It's just often too narrow of a topic around here. Now, the same is not true in Toledo because just about everyone from Toledo is German (well, okay - that may be an exaggeration - but not by much).

I had two hours to share with people everything they ever needed to know about tracing German ancestors. Well, as I'm sure you know - that's impossibe. German research is not the kind of topic that can be covered in much depth in two hours. So, that is where the challenge was: choosing which information to share. The program coordinator and I had worked together to select two of my already-prepared lectures: 1) Jumping Over Hurdles in German Research and 2) The Journey Takers: An Inside Look at the German Immigration Experience. It was a nice combination of talks. The first focused on sources and methodology and the second brought it together in a case study.

I felt good about the seminar and really enjoyed doing it. Still, when it was done, my head was still filled with all the other things I COULD have told the attendees about German research.

The main message I wanted to get across was this: German research is NOT impossible. You can do it. People get intimidated of German research easily - mostly because of the language barrier and the handwriting I think. But truthfully, I really believe that German research is easier than US research. When I told my audience that, they all looked at me like I was crazy. It takes a little while to used to German research, but once you do, it really is very manageable - and lots of fun too!

So why do I say German research is easier? The main reason is because German research relies very heavily on one source: parish records. There is no source as important to US research as parish records are to German research. So I am going to focus the rest of my comments on using parish records.

In order to access these local records, you need the name of your ancestor's German hometown. This is the first hurdle I talk about in my lecture - and for many researchers, the highest of the four hurdles.

Once you have a hometown, you need to access records (the records hurdle). First, you must figure out where your ancestors went to church. This may not be the same as their hometown, because many villages were too small to have churches of their own. You can utilize gazetteers to find this information. Very few German parish records are online. Fortunately, many have been microfilmed and can be ordered to your local family history center. Otherwise, you may have to write for them.

The third and fourth hurdles are almost a combination hurdle: language and handwriting. Here's my advice: take advantage of the resources available at Click on the "learn" tab to search their wikis. Here, you will find word lists, letter-writing guides, and handwriting guides (as well as research guides). Be patient with yourself as you become familiar with the handwriting in particular. Go slowly and it will start to come together, little by little!