Skip to main content

This is really a response to a comment in a very recent Genealogy & Family History Community diary, Books So Bad They're Good: Defenders of the Bell Curve, by Ellid.  Specifically, it is my response to the reply titled “Family Trees,” by quarkstomper, who said:

“My own German ancestors came to America in the 19th Century, so I don't know if we have any relatives who became Nazis.  We think that Johann Sebastian Bach's second wife, Anna Magdelene, might have been related to our family, but my more genealogically-inclined relatives have never been able to trace our lineage quite that far.”
And because I haven’t wanted to impose on that exchange, I’ve taken my two cents into a separate diary.  So, here’s what I have to say....

IF you have an unusual German surname in your family tree, by which I really mean one that is very likely primarily associated with a particular small region of pre-1945 Germany, and IF you not only have your immigrant German ancestry pegged to a specific hamlet, village, town or city, BUT ALSO have gone back (usually via that locale’s church books as filmed by the Family History Library) a generation or two before the emigration, THEN I have a suggestion for your further research into your German ancestry.  

Back in a moment....

Consider this a kind of case study on German genealogical research as augmented by captured German SS records that are held in microfilm copy by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  That’s right, your taxpayer dollars at work!

The back story is that conquering American troops at the end of WWII laid their hands on the SS records and realized the value of what they had.  Usually SS troops -- certainly the officers -- had a high probability of also being members of the Nazi party.  And, if the Americans, British and French wanted to set up a post-war government free of Nazi party members, it stands to reason that they first had to identify as many Nazis as possible so as to exclude them from office.  The SS records serve that purpose, and that explains how such a collection eventually ended up with NARA.

Where in the NARA organization?  Specifically at the Archives II facility in College Park, Maryland.  On the 4th floor is a magnificent collection of filmed German WWII-era records -- more than just the SS files.  But that’s a larger story.

What I wish to emphasize is that even if you don’t think you can read German script, you will find it worth the investment of your time to devote a day to exploring this resource the next time you find yourself in the Washington, DC area.  The NARA personnel on the 4th floor are very knowledgeable and very helpful.  They will show you where to access the materials I’ll describe.  And consider that you will be looking at pedgree charts, albeit set up according to German Ahnentafel (“ancestor table”) conventions.  Therefore, the German script you’ll encounter will largely relate to (1) given names and surnames, (2) place names, and (3) occupations.  Make copies of what you see, if necessary, and take them to experienced readers if you still find you can’t interpret what you see.

Why would you go to all this trouble?  That’s why I’m resorting to a case study instead of going with my usual style of presenting ideas in general terms, without specific reference to my ancestors by name.  If you’re still curious, I’ll describe now my own experience.

In 2006, the National Genealogical Society (NGS) hosted its “Conference in the States” in Chicago.  In a program session entitled “German Ahnentafels By the Thousands!” the late John T. Humphrey, then president of the Mid-Atlantic Germanic Society, spoke of his accidental discovery of this NARA record group.  He described how the information is available in Germany only to direct descendants of the German (SS) soldier because of privacy laws, but that access to the NARA-held copies is available to anyone.

He noted that the only index to the names contained in these Ahnentafels is to the name of the SS man who submitted them, but that the paper index fills 31 three-ring binders at Archives II.  No further guides to the Record Group exist and, beyond being helped to locate the film reel you need after finding a name of interest in the index, there will be no further assistance available (other than from fellow patrons, if you’re lucky).

In these military versions of the Ahnentafels used for the civilian Ahnenpass, the ideal was to prove Aryan ancestry back to January 1, 1800.  If the soldier did that successfully, and if the records end up relating to the place where your own ancestor(s) may be found, then you may discover additional information to help you extend your pedigree -- as well as learn more about a branch of the family that stayed in Germany through the Third Reich.  Remember, with the only index being to the names of SS soldiers, there’s no way to limit a search to a place -- you just have to be “lucky.”  But you improve your chances significantly if the surname of interest is itself likely to pertain to a locale of interest.

Now, what about the “ick” factor?  This was the first issue addressed by John Humphrey, because he knew it would be the main question in the minds of most.  He didn’t say it, but I will.  Aside from the fact that a German had an obvious motivation to hide any “suspect” ancestry, it’s generally true that the best records for genealogical research are those that were created for a purpose other than for “genealogy.”  

Here the intent was a negative -- proving that one didn’t have a certain ancestry.  And, because the Nazis required the Ahnentafel entries to have the official stamps of civilian registry personnel and of the clergy holding the church books, I’ll bet that the data to be found here is more than likely sound information that’s only indirectly tainted.  It certainly helped me, and here’s how.

Through my known German relatives, I was aware that I had a great-great-grandfather by the name of Johann Wilhelm Ballaseus (1803-1885).  He did not come to the United States, but his first wife and all of his children did.  And, through research by a grand-uncle of mine some 80 years ago, my family had a photograph of this man with his second wife.

The photo was a bit of a puzzle.  My mother had taken the original out of its frame and inscribed on it what she’d been told by her own mother -- that this man had bought horses for the King!  Wow.  Just the kind of interesting trivia that one likes to have at the ready when trying to interest one’s own children in their ancestral background.

Except there didn’t seem to be any way of validating this, at least not from church records.  And when I went to the church records for the village of Gaitzuhnen, just west of Insterburg in East Prussia, what I found was that this man’s father had been a farmer, following the tradition of three generations of this father’s male forebears (who had each also been the appointed village mayor).  But my Johann Wilhelm had left Gaitzuhnen at some point following the Napoleanic wars, and had ended up marrying in Marienwerder at the age of 35 (where he stayed on to become an Amtsmann).  In fact, since I couldn’t find a birth record for him in Gaitzuhnen, the possibility exists that he was born instead at an undetermined nearby locale -- owing to possible disruptions at the time of his birth.

So how was I ever to address this interesting family story?  When I heard John Humphrey speak that day in the summer of 2006, I knew what I must do.  I had to contact him and ask if he would conduct research-for-hire for me at his source, as I was unlikely to get to the Washington area to do this on my own.  Correctly, as it turned out, it seemed to me that if there had been any German SS man by the name of BALLAS***, then he would probably turn out to be a relative.

Yes, there was just such a man waiting for me in those records.  His name was Manfred Wilhelm Ferdinand Ballasejus, born 12 November 1918 in Darlingerode.  And he had been able to supply at least the names of most of his 3rd GGG-Grdpts (all but four of 32 names).  On the paternal side he hadn’t bothered to get the official stamps on this last generation, because the births of the 2nd GGP’s had already occurred before 1800.

Then my heart lept.  The 2nd Ballasujus GGF was “Friedrich,” born 12 September 1797 in Gai(t)zuhnen!  In pen for the next generation, he had helpfully recorded the names of this man’s parents:  Christions Balasejus (R: ev.; Ber: königl. Oberschülze) and his wife Regina Razies.  Those were my 3rd great-granparents as well, and so we were 4th cousins.  Further research on the internet revealed this man had been an infantry captain who was killed on the Russian front before I was born, but despite the discrepancy in birth years of almost three decades he was truly my fourth cousin.

And the added information about our shared male ancestor meant so much to me.  Because it suggested a solution to the perplexing family story, as recorded on the back of the photograph.  As often happens when family stories are passed along, the generations can often collapse upon one another such that information one believes to apply to one person actually applies to a parent.

Such was the case here, I believe.  It wasn’t my Johann Wilhelm who “bought horses for the King,” it was his father Kristions.  And it wasn’t even Johann Wilhelm’s brother Friedrich who would have had that distinction, because his occupation (Beruf) was that of Colmann (a particular type of farmer) and Wirt (inkeeper).  No, the father’s occupation as “kingly appointed mayor” tells the story.  Gaitzuhnen was clearly (by the term “königl.”) the village for the men (and their families) who tilled the soil in the surrounding lands owned by the King of Prussia.  

Much of East Prussian land was actually owned by the King, so this isn’t surprising.  But the King didn’t have a family member living in Gaitzuhnen, so how was the King to manage the affairs of his tenant farmers?  He did this by having his administrators appoint a “mayor” who took care of such matters as presiding over a local council (& possibly a minor court as well), selecting men to be drafted into the King’s army, collecting the taxes, and providing what was needed to do the farming.  And what might that latter responsibility cover?  Why, buying draft horses for the plowing.  Doh!!  As a kid I’d naturally developed the romantic picture in my mind of an ancestor buying carriage horses for the King at his castle....

Technically, except for the collapsing of the lineage by a generation, the story was accurate as best I can tell.  I did have an ancestor who “bought horses for the King,” but it was plow horses he was buying, and I’d now bet the King never laid eyes on those poor nags.

Yet see what the Ahnentafel of that misfortunate (and probably misguided) SS captain did for my research!  That one piece of data made all the pieces of the puzzle suddenly fit together.

And you can do that research, too.  In fact, given a small out-of-the-way village like Gaitzuhnen that’s blessed with scads of unusual German names -- actually, in this instance they’re “Baltic” names passed down from the original Prussian tribesmen of the area (conquered a millenium ago by German knights who then took the tribe’s name for their new lands) -- one doesn’t have to restrict the search to ancestral names.  

Because you’re looking for SS men who come from a particular village, you’ll need to look for any SS man with a surname that could well come from your village of interest.  That means you’ll have to develop a list of such names and have it at the ready for your research opportunity at Archives II.  What you hope to find, of course, is that your surname of interest shows up in such a soldier’s family tree (even though it isn’t his own surname).

By looking for several “target” surnames, you’re hoping to increase your percentages for success.  And, if you can’t or won’t do it yourself, then hire a researcher (as I did) to do it for you.  [Maybe John Humphrey’s old MAGS organization has such a person?]

What are you waiting for?  Get going!!

Originally posted to Genealogy and Family History Community on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 05:12 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  What if immigration gave you a new surname? (14+ / 0-)

    Which is what I assume was the case with my recent paternal ancestors?

  •  What about ethnic germans in other parts (12+ / 0-)

    of Eastern Europe. I've been trying to find my grandmother's history from Bessarabia, but can find nothing. I know she emigrated to Canada (via US?) but she's not even listed in Canadian records (and neither is my mother who was born there).

    Some of these genealogic records are really missing a lot (because history was destroyed) and even the Mormon's databases don't have much of this stuff.

    I wonder if they are working to get all that Nazi stuff into their records as well!

    I reject your reality and substitute my own - Adam Savage

    by woolibaar on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 05:37:19 PM PDT

    •  We're having issues with the Anhalt family name. (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      akeitz, kaliope, Temmoku, Ice Blue, Jay C, dewtx

      The Mormon databases don't have anything.  We don't speak German.  The Anhalt that came to the US was from Magdeburg, but the Duchy/Principality of Anhalt went from Magdeburg to Dresden and we know what happened to Dresden more than 60 years ago.

      •  That the name of one the the larger noble families (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mimi, Temmoku, Ice Blue

        plus the name of a place, which again could have created surnames.

        You will find people w that name in quite a few places.

      •  that doesn't mean that there aren't many (0+ / 0-)

        many "Anhalts" somewhere else around. It's a pretty common place.

        "Im Land der Schatten ist die Wahrheit eine Lüge"

        by mimi on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 06:19:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Von (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dewtx, nchristine, libnewsie

        Have you tried looking under "V"? Anhalt is a place, a former principality within Germany? The word "von" means "of" in German. As in the "Prince of Wales" or the "Duke of Edinburgh". Try looking under von Anhalt or Von Anhalt. There's a good chance it's there. If that's your family, you may come from dukes, duchesses or other such nobility.

        The Bush Family: 0 for 4 in Wisconsin

        by Korkenzieher on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 10:36:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  We can't find anything in Germany because of (0+ / 0-)

          our lack of being able to read and understand German.

          Yeah, we get that there's the possibility of being related to a Royal house.... but, my opinion is that Willhelm Anhalt was dogging something for a while.  We do know that he returned to Germany about 10/15 years after coming to the US and then back to the US after a short time (but long enough for him and his wife to have another child).  This Anhalt was my grandfather's paternal grandfather and my grandfather's sister claimed that Von was a part of the name prior to coming to the US.  Until I see 'proof', I'll take the claim to royalty with a grain of salt.

          •  Claims to royalty (0+ / 0-)

            Everyone wants to be royal, of course, but most people's ancestors were farmers or ordinary workers. Your name, however, will turn heads in Germany. You are one of the few who shouldn't take claims to royalty with a grain of salt. Because it's royalty, or at least may be, you may be able to find stuff about that name based on a history of that royal family rather than just the immigration records at Ellis Island that the rest of us rely upon. You may be able to sort of merge the known info about the von Anhalt royal family with what you know about your family on this side of the Atlantic. Google is your friend and there's English info on Wikipedia about Anhalt the place and the family. Good luck.

            The Bush Family: 0 for 4 in Wisconsin

            by Korkenzieher on Tue Aug 06, 2013 at 07:15:52 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  My mom's people are Donau-Schwabian (8+ / 0-)

      from S Hungary-N Serbia. They came in 1920, and one sibling of my grandmother is still alive due to extreme cussedness more than anything else. The region went through several changes (Austrio-Hungary ended in 1918, Nazi rule in 1940-1945, American expulsion of all germans from Hungary, Roumania, etc in 1945, etc) that I wonder if records exist.

      •  I've been able to look through the Mormon (6+ / 0-)

        records at a local Mormon database site (Concord, CA). They have records from around the world, but they are extremely limited when dealing with information around the WWs.

        If you have a local Mormon database site near you, it is free to go in and use their databases for searches (better than

        They say they are always adding new records from around the world, but much of what they have are images and not the information. I was able to find my father's mother's marriage certificate that way, but only one record of my father (at the age of 2).

        I reject your reality and substitute my own - Adam Savage

        by woolibaar on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 06:24:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Where? There are extant church records for (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Temmoku, WorkerInUSA

        Apatin/Abthausen, where my grandmother came from (serbia).

        If you go to Apatin, though, the serbs have cleansed every evidence that there were ever any Germans there - down to removing the German gravestones (including my g-grandparents, g-g-grandparents, you get the picture).

        There are German organizations for the former inhabitants of that area as well.

        •  They were from the Voivodenia (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jay C, Mike Kahlow, libnewsie, llywrch

          My grandfather was born in Torshau, now Savina Selo, near Novi Sad. My other relatives were born in places like Feketisch and other such villages. These villages were all majority Donau-Schwabian. My g-grandparents all came to the US in 1920 or so. Some family members remained there in Budapest, Yugoslavia.

          Then, during the ethnic cleansing after the war in which the US government sent Germans back to Germany (they had left 4-5 generations earlier), some 3-4 th cousins were sent to DP camps in Germany. We saw some of them in 1960-1961, when I lived in Germany as a young person (I was 7-8). Still in the camps, and due to US policy. 12,000,000 Germans were sent back to Germany.

          It was an ethnic cleansing, but few are aware of it.

          •  still in camps? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I doubt that.  Most of these were short-term places, destined to give shelter to newly arriving refugees.

            There was much emphasis of getting people out of there - and that certainly applied to refugees who effectively had citizen status.

            Oh, and for what it's worth, Budapest is the capital of Hungary, and never was part of Yugoslavia.  (and, no, I doubt there is a Yugoslavian Budapest, either - Wikipedia knows two in the US, but none other in Europe).

          •  Torshau... (0+ / 0-)

            about 20-30 miles down the road from my maternal grandmother's family...

      •  Donauschwaben (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Zwenkau, Mike Kahlow, libnewsie, llywrch

        There are Donauschwaben societies here in Milwaukee. They'll have ideas as to how to dig around in old archives. I spoke to a genealogist briefly at German Fest here, and he said it isn't always the case that non-German governments of formerly German areas fully purged all the old German records. He said sometimes they were kept for the purpose of having accurate real estate and property records. Consider: if Polish farmer X has a land dispute with Polish farmer Y, and the property in question was surveyed when that area was part of German Silesia, it's useful to the Poles to have maintained the records.

        The Bush Family: 0 for 4 in Wisconsin

        by Korkenzieher on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 10:43:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Relatives in WWII Bessarabia? (11+ / 0-)

      I don't know anything about this region, but another part of the Archives II 4th floor pertains to records kept whenever the Germans took over another part of Eastern Europe.  As you know, the SS men were intended to be one part of the new "Master race," at least the young single ones.  The other part was the marriage partners they would have, who were also vetted according to the same Aryan b.s.  And single girls from Germanic families in the East were seen as appropriate wives, so long as their lineages held up to the same scrutiny as lineages of the SS men.

      What would happen, I'm told, is that when the military entered a new town, representatives of a so-called resettlement office were not far behind.  They'd set up a table in the center of town, and the call would go out for all Germanic people to present themselves for registration.  Naturally, families came together, not quite knowing what to expect.  With the families came their close relatives.  A line usually formed, and interviews took place in accordance with placement in this line.

      As we know, the Germans have always been record keepers.  This was no different.  All the information was duly recorded, and it had to do with their Germanic background(s).  The films preserve the order of the interviews, so related folks are likely to appear just in front of or just after a family of your relatives (if you find them).

      It's a bonanza of information, so I'm told.  But I haven't any experience with this since none of my family have any known Eastern European connection outside of the German provinces.  So just take this as a "tip" and not as anything authoritative.

      "There is no way to give to honest toil its just reward--its full share of all wealth produced--but by the full application of the single tax. And righteousness and justice require it to be done." --A. Moll, 1897

      by Zwenkau on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 10:56:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Unfortunately, my grandmother came to Canada (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jay C

        around the turn of the century (my mother was born in Canada in 1912). Canadian records don't even have Alberta as a separate province - it is included in "western areas" rather than a separate record.

        I know more about my mother's father (Gustav Wunch) than I do about her mother (Bertha Christman). I know Von Wunsch (German nobility) became Wunch (probably when they came to Canada), but not much beyond a couple of generations back.

        I reject your reality and substitute my own - Adam Savage

        by woolibaar on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 06:54:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Years ago I visited the city in Germany (5+ / 0-)

    that bears my family surname.  However, I'm not sure if any of my ancestors in the last several generations actually came from there.
      My dad was doing some genealogical research (his family came to the US in the mid-1800s), but kept running into dead-ends because of 1) language issues (not knowing German), and 2) some of the men had more than one "family" as wives died and the men remarried.   So as you mentioned, sometimes a similar name appeared in records, but it was difficult to know if that person was the correct generation "William Smith" or in some cases which wife was "William's" maternal parent.   My dad passed away before he finished the research, and I'm not sure what point he got to.

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 05:43:21 PM PDT

  •  If you make it to Germany to do research, (17+ / 0-)

    there is a wonderful museum in Bremerhaven that is specifically about German emigration and immigration.  At the end of the tour is a room of computers one can use to search the ship lists of people who emigrated from Germany via Bremerhaven, as many did over a couple centuries; there is also free access to  We intended to go to two museums the day we were there (they also have a tremendous climate museum there) but spent nearly the whole day at the immigration museum and on the computers.  It was a fascinating place and we got addicted to the research.

    Thanks for this diary.  I'm forwarding it to my son who is now living in Germany and has done some research into our family who emigrated from a little town called Dockendorf, near Luxembourg, sometime in the early to mid 1800s.  I grew up near the University of Maryland and knew they had put the Archives nearby but have never visited.  You've piqued my interest so I may head over there one of these days.

  •  Thank You Very Much (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zwenkau, Marko the Werelynx, kaliope

    I'm afraid I have only a small interest in my family's geneology, but I have other family members who have gone into it more deeply.  I will pass your information on to them.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 06:46:19 PM PDT

    •  Usually interest (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Kahlow, schumann

      in family history starts in your 50s, which is roughly the time that all the people you wish to ask questions of are dying.

      •  I Suppose So... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Zwenkau, mrkvica

        One of my mom's aunts once compiled an oral history from all the surviving relatives she could find.  I tried browsing over it, but great-aunt's handwritten manuscript about people I didn't know proved to be difficult reading.  Since we never had much contact with Mom's family outside of her parents, I'm not sure who ended up with great-aunt's manuscript.

        But I do have a little memoir my Mom wrote about our family's experiences in one of my Dad's parishes.  It's a brief thing, running maybe twenty pages or so that dad mimeographed and stapled into booklets for each of us to have.  And a songbook Dad compiled of his favorite campfire songs.  These are things I treasure and will save for my daughters.

        A couple years ago, my Dad's brother did a fairly extensive geneology tracing our family back to Mecklenburg-Schwerin Germany in 1770, roughly a generation or two before the first members of our family came over and settled in Minnesota.

        "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

        by quarkstomper on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 01:58:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  My family left during Bismark's reign (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kaliope, terabytes, Ice Blue

    They lopped off the Von and at some point began pronouncing the surname so it sounded English.  It's obscure enough that I've never come across another sharing my name that wasn't related to me save for some listings in the NYC phone book 20 years ago.

  •  Everything Is Illuminated (5+ / 0-)

    This reminded me of the story behind the novel and movie, Everything Is Illuminated. According to the movie DVD's "Making of" commentary, college student Jonathan Safran Foer decided to go to Europe to search for his ancestors who were unaccounted for after WWII. He thought he'd write a nonfiction book about finding closure with regard to his missing family members. He couldn't find much information, nor closure, nor material for the book he intended, but he turned his disappointment into a fictionalized account of his search, with a fictional happy ending. I haven't read the book yet. I see it's taken some critical flak.  I found the film amusing, goofy, and enjoyable, however.

    Thanks for this informative diary.


    Most models are wrong, but some are useful.

    by etbnc on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 07:28:23 PM PDT

    •  Regarding the movie vs. the book... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      etbnc, dewtx

      I read the book after I saw the movie Everything is Illuminated. But in this case, I thought the movie was much much better. The book was difficult at best. If I hadn't seen the movie, the book wouldn't have made much sense. Usually it's the reverse.

  •  Thanks for the diary, Zwenkau! (10+ / 0-)

    My family has found two men who bear both my paternal and maternal family names. One was an out-and-out war criminal, having worked for Reinhardt Heydrich in Prague as head of the German police there. He was responsible for the roundups and executions following Heydrich's death, including Lidice. He disappeared in 1945 in the fight for Budapest, and was never seen again. He was from Frankfurt on der Oder, which is near where my mother's family had lived for a time outside Berlin in the 1800's. The linkage to him may be very slight, but his name was spelled exactly the same as my grandfather's family, and it isn't common.

    The other was a Waffen SS officer who won the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, fighting on both the Eastern and Western fronts, and being wounded badly several times. No knowledge of him being a war criminal, but the mere fact he was on the Eastern Front in the Waffen SS ('41 to '43, wounded there) says volumes. He fought against the Americans in France in 1944, was wounded again and ended the war in Berlin, protecting the Reichs Chancellery. He was captured, interrogated by Marshal Zhukov himself, and was imprisoned by the Russians for some time. He died in 1989. He came from a small city only 30 miles from where my fifth cousins live today: everyone in the area with our surname is related, so there is a high probability he's family, one way or another.

    One of these days I'll go to Washington and look this stuff up! I want to know for sure.

    A great tool for looking at the current distribution of German surnames can be found here:

    It is based on the current phonebooks for Germany, but it does correlate in my case with the historical knowledge of where my ancestors came from.

    Zwenkau: nahe Leipzig, ja?

    And yeah, I know tarantulas don't really act like that at all, so no snarking, this is the internet damnit!

    by itzadryheat on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 08:02:24 PM PDT

    •  Zwenkau: Gibt es hier in der Nähe....? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kaliope, dewtx

      Ja, Leipzig!  Gehen Sie die erste Bundesstraße südlich....

      As if I really spoke German!  But seriously, that's the place where I track my paternal line as far as the early 1830s, when the spelling of my surname changed (not at Ellis Island or some such...) to what it is today.  But my surname family is one German line, my DK avatar photo & signature quote are from yet a second German line, and this East Prussian connection represents finally a third major line -- the three of them together equating to the three of my eight great-grandparents who immigrated in the mid-19th century.

      Good luck with your search!

      "There is no way to give to honest toil its just reward--its full share of all wealth produced--but by the full application of the single tax. And righteousness and justice require it to be done." --A. Moll, 1897

      by Zwenkau on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 10:27:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Meine Familie kommt nach Fulda. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Zwenkau, Jay C, dewtx

        At least, from near Fulda. That's the paternal (name) line at least, and my GGG-Gf arrived in 1855, going to Cumberland, MD first for a few years. His offspring eventually made it to the West Coast, where I grew up.

        Some of the others were Mennonites from the Rhineland, a Luxemburgerin, and on my mother's side, Kashubian German speakers  from Pomerania. Oh, and some Irish/Scots/Welsh thrown in for good measure.

        My parents did the DNA test a few years ago, and they turned out to have identical haploid types. They were entirely Central European, and the Celtic heritage from my dad's mother was fully within those haploid groups, no outliers seen.

        And yeah, I know tarantulas don't really act like that at all, so no snarking, this is the internet damnit!

        by itzadryheat on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 06:15:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sorry (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Zwenkau, dewtx, Mike Kahlow

          Ihre Familie kommt AUS Fulda.

          "Nach" in this context means "to", in the sense of "towards". Ich fahre nach Deutschland; I'm going to German. Ich komme aus Amerika; I come from America.

          Knew what you meant, should have left it alone, but couldn't.

          The Bush Family: 0 for 4 in Wisconsin

          by Korkenzieher on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 09:46:24 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Vielen danke, Korkenzieher! (0+ / 0-)

            My German grammar was a very long time ago, roughly 40 years or so.

            Any and all corrections gladly accepted!

            And yeah, I know tarantulas don't really act like that at all, so no snarking, this is the internet damnit!

            by itzadryheat on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 08:03:17 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  DNA (0+ / 0-)

          There's a 2012 book out that I just purchased last night:  "DNA USA."  By the author of "Saxons, Vikings, and Celts," "Adam's Curse," and "The Seven Daughters of Eve."  You can read further about "Saxons, Vikings, and Celts," which was first published as "Blood of the Isles," on the Wikipedia page about the author, Bryan Sykes.  On that same Wikipedia page are links to the other two previous works I cite above.

          "There is no way to give to honest toil its just reward--its full share of all wealth produced--but by the full application of the single tax. And righteousness and justice require it to be done." --A. Moll, 1897

          by Zwenkau on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 10:50:16 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  lol. Well, if they came from Fulda (0+ / 0-)

          they are least  most likely didn't start there as Mennonites.  That place is about as Catholic as it gets in Germany :-)

          Prew-war it used to be nearly 100% (save for a small Jewish community, and the occasional immigrated Protestant)

          •  Oh yeah, we were RC to the core. (0+ / 0-)

            That is from the paternal side; it was on my mom's side that those Rhenish Mennonites came from. Before that, they were actually some of those apostate Anabaptists, immigrating from a village near Zurich down river.

            We were a bit split growing up: nominally RC (Irish-American grandmother with a bit of an iron fist, doncha know), but our mother was a rather unconvinced Presbyterian. Our dad wasn't all that convinced as a Catholic either, so needless to say any sort of religious devotion fell apart in the early '70s. You know, godless heathens and all that dirty effing hippie stuff.

            And my extant German cousins? Very RC still, 160 years after our mutual relative immigrated to the US.

            And yeah, I know tarantulas don't really act like that at all, so no snarking, this is the internet damnit!

            by itzadryheat on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 08:17:26 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  My family are from Alsace (6+ / 0-)

    (Bas-Rhin).  Some years ago, working in the Mertzwiller Catholic KB on microfilm, I found a c1941 letter stuck into the book.  It was on swastika letterhead and though it didn't state the reason for inquiry (the SS didn't need no stinking badges), it was seeking particulars on a woman born here in 1777.  She was the illegitimate daughter of a farmer's son named Bowe and a woman named Ruch whom I had never heard of until I saw the entry for the child's baptism, on the previous page.  Bowe I knew, because he subsequently married a distant cousin of mine in another connection.

    The Ruch are a very large family of shepherds and herdsmen, who are spread all across the region.  My 5th ggf had 2 sisters who married different men named Michael Ruch, both shepherds and first cousins to each other.  In tracing their descendants I've also had to sort out all of the other shepherd Ruchs in the area.  Shepherds moved about quite a lot and may turn up just about anywhere; it doesn't help that the Ruch tend to use a handful of given names, over and over and over, though naming patterns in the region are pretty conservative anyway.

    This Margaretha was brand new to me and would have fit OK chronologically into the family of my distant great aunt who lived in Mertzwiller.  There's at least one of her children for whom I have a death and age but not a baptismal record, and the spacing leaves room for another or two.

    Regrettably for me, the SS wasn't interested in Ruch's background, though the Catholic KB doesn't give it in the record of her child in any case.  She's just "Lutheran, from here." (In the old regime, all illegitimate children were baptized Catholic per regulations, though the majority population of the region was Lutheran.  So if you're working in northern Alsace, be sure to check the Catholic KB for the town of interest.  I recently solved an old mystery in my files when I figured out that Imbsheim Catholics are in the Bouxwiller KB.  Of course I didn't know till quite recently that the mystery woman was from Imbsheim in the first place, as the birthplace wasn't given on her death record.)

    Eventually I did find Margaretha's conversion to Catholicism, a few years later, at nearby Bitschhoffen, and this record told me she was not the daughter of my great-aunt but of my great-aunt's brother-in-law. Which makes 11 of his children now, all of whom survived into adulthood.  I don't have bps for any because they were all born at Schweighouse-sur-Moder, where the Lutheran KB disappeared during the Revolution.

    I still don't know which distant shirttail cousin wanted to join the Alsatian SS contingent in 1941.  Ruch and her daughter both married Catholics and lived in a little place called Uberach, where the records should be available on-line through 1912, but I haven't traced the family yet.

  •  Ostpreussen (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zwenkau, marsanges, kaliope, dewtx, Ice Blue

    My family came from Neidenberg and Soldau in East Prussia. I'm always interested in the history of the "lost kingdom".

    I buy and sell well trained riding mules and American Mammoth Jack Stock.

    by old mule on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 08:51:36 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the tour! History is a hoot. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zwenkau, dewtx
  •  We have a German name that is unusual in the (6+ / 0-)

    USA, though I imagine that it's more common in Germany.  There are at least two distinct branches of our name, one Jewish, and one related to the Mennonites.   There is a famous early American painter who bears the name; and then there are the handful of the rest of us, Jews descended from a couple of people who passed through Ellis Island at the end of the 19th century, one of whom was my father's father.

    Now, we've gone to the Ellis Island records and tracked down my father's father's name, and surprise!  It was changed at Ellis Island by whomever was doing the recordkeeping entries when my GF passed through.  The original spelling is phonetically identical, but it is nothing like a German spelling.  Only the changed spelling converts the name into an actual German name that is born by some famous German people and is the name of a town in Germany not far from Nuernberg.

    Taking the original non-German spelling, I've gone onto the largest Jewish ancestry site and done several searches, and there it's completely depressing.  There are thousands of variants of this kind of name (which was a name as common among Jews in central and eastern Europe as "Smith" or "Taylor" was in Anglo-Irish areas).  But the biggest problem is that so many of us don't know exactly where our descendants came from or whom they were related to, as so many relatives who'd stayed behind in Europe were killed in concentration camps; as their ancestral towns shifted from locations in Russia to locations in Poland or back due to war and politics; and as Jewish records were burned en masse in the lead-up to, and during, WWII.  

    So there you have it.  I have a German name, one that is exactly the name of an existing town in Germany.  And yet the SS records at the NARA will be of no help to me I suspect, because the Ellis Island recorder who spelled my GF's name thought he was anglicizing it, when really he germanicized it.

    That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

    by concernedamerican on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 04:48:16 AM PDT

    •  changes (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jay C, concernedamerican, dewtx

      My mother's family name was Jewish back in  Greifswald, where her family were linen weavers, but by 1880 in the USA it was changed to a phonetic-spelled version and it was not.
      Wish someone was still alive who could tell me about those old things.

      I buy and sell well trained riding mules and American Mammoth Jack Stock.

      by old mule on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 05:34:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  my question is to those who want to find (0+ / 0-)

    out if the off-spring of their German anchestors from 1700-1900 later became Nazis and SS members, why is it really that you want to know that?

    If the anchestors became proven Nazis and SS members, what would that mean to you? And if they were not, what would that make you feel?

    I am curious as to why that is important to you?

    "Im Land der Schatten ist die Wahrheit eine Lüge"

    by mimi on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 06:23:21 AM PDT

    •  I have a cousin once removed (11+ / 0-)

      who fought with the Wehrmacht in Russia and was a POW in a Russian camp. I don't know what his unit, or political affiliations, might have been. His children, living in Germany, are my second cousins.

      I've got another relative who was a WWI ace. And not for the winning side.

      What does it matter? Good question. I can think of several reasons.

      First - I do not believe that the sins of the father/cousin/distant relative are visited upon others. We've tracked down approximately 5000 descendants of my gggggf Ernst Heinrich Goetsch, from Maskow, Pommern. It's inevitable that there are more than a few bad apples in that bunch. And you're not trying to find an SS relative so much as trying to use their information to find a common ancestor.

      Second - I think it's good to realize that the horrors of Nazi Germany were not just the creation of some monsters at the top. It took the actions of many and the acquiescence of many, many more, many "decent people". When you see that your "blood" did it, you realize that it's easier than you thought. We joke about Godwin... at our peril.

      As to my father's cousin. I stayed with him and his mother (my great aunt) for a week in 1981 while bicycling through Germany. Although I spoke little German and he spoke no English, it was clear that whatever his political views were in 1941, he was a pacifist now. Yes, I believe in redemption.

      •  The Banality of Evil (5+ / 0-)

        Mike, I like the way you think, and the two points you make cause me to comment further about the SS files.  Not only will one find the Ahnentafels that were required of all, but for the SS officers there's usually some really eye-opening stuff -- like their personnel file.  I paid John Humphrey to dig up what he could on another of those rare surnames I was following, only this one really was a Germanic and not a Baltic surname.  The personnel file had information about this man's wife and kids, and the kids may well still be living.  Which is why the German privacy laws limit who can see these files in Germany today.

        Anyway, it was interesting to read what the man's superiors said about him, to see the documentation of his joining the Nazi party, etc., etc.  But the really gripping stuff was on page two, where his "educational" credentials are given:

        SS-Schulen:  ...   v. 12.1.43 - 14.4.43 Dachau.

        "There is no way to give to honest toil its just reward--its full share of all wealth produced--but by the full application of the single tax. And righteousness and justice require it to be done." --A. Moll, 1897

        by Zwenkau on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 11:02:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Gustavus Adolphus had a cavalry captain (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mike Kahlow, mrkvica

        (i.e., a colonel) with my mother's maiden name. When I googled it, it said her family is from a somewhat prestigious line. I know one of my ancestors worked for the House of Saxe-Coberg-Gotha before he emigrated. He actually knew Queen Victoria's beloved Price Albert back before he got all important and all. Now there was a true gentleman.

        My great uncle served in WW2. He never spoke of his experiences but his wife told me if he didn't take part in the Battle of the Bulge he was awfully close to it. She also hinted his unit liberated a concentration camp. Any time America went to war Mom's family felt obligated to serve.

        Dad's name is much more common and of lower class. I think his family's from either Rhineland or the Palatinate. From some of things he told me I gather they were hit hard by the Thirty Years' War. He said stuff like people have been found dead of starvation with stomachs full of grass and that. There were a lot of peasants' uprisings in that part of Germany. People defied their nobles and took down the ubiquitous passing mercenaries. There was another notable uprising in that part of Germany in 1848-1849. Basically the people got tired of being pooped upon by their Prussian overlords. Jonathan Sperber does an excellent coverage of that in Rhineland Radicals: The Democratic Movement and the Revolution of 1848-1849. Most of dad's family still always takes the side of the little guy.

        Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one.--Sam Rayburn

        by Ice Blue on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 03:49:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The 48ers... (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Zwenkau, itzadryheat, llywrch, mrkvica

          Many of the original settlers of Wisconsin were refugees of the revolutions of 1848. (I'm one of few who can trace my German history in Wisconsin to before the revolution.)

          That the state was settled by the sons and daughters of revolutionaries is part of our state's DNA. From the wikipedia:

          Northern Europeans, many of whom were persecuted in their home countries because of their support for the failed bourgeois Revolutions of 1848, often chose Wisconsin because of the liberal constitution of human rights such as the state's unusual recognition of immigrants' right to vote and rights to citizenship.
          Oh, Wisconsin. How we have fallen.
      •  patriotism (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mike Kahlow, llywrch, mrkvica

        I had two relatives in the German military during WWII. One was a welder in the airforce in Africa, and another an infantryman in Kreta and the eastern front. He was captured by the Russians and didn't get home until 1951.
        The other surrendered to the Americans in north Africa and was a POW in Texas.
        When I was a little kid in the 1950s I thought a lot about this, and about the meaning of patriotic duty. I constantly wondered if my relations joined up to get training as a welder, or to get away from home, or any of the many possible reasons...of course I wondered if they were party members- given the religiousness of our family, I doubted it.
        When Vietnam came and I broke from my family, I wondered if the soldiers there would b remembered for war crimes like My Lai...

        My father and uncles were in the American armed forces too, my dad in training in San Antonio while his cousin was a POW in west Texas.

        It was a lot for a little kid, in the days of "Sgt Rock comics", to think about.

        I buy and sell well trained riding mules and American Mammoth Jack Stock.

        by old mule on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 06:06:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  That goal is to find Nazis and SS members (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Zwenkau, schumann, mimi, dewtx, brook, cris0000

      who are distantly related because the Ahnentafels they were required to submit as proof their Aryan ancestry contained valuable genealogical information.

      If garbage collectors (or any other groups) were required to provide Ahnentafels, we'd be searching for them, too.

    •  I could quote my grandfather (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      who was one of many who volunteered to fight in WW I. His father had immigrated from Germany -- although his mother's side of the family could trace their lineage in the US back three or four generations, at the minimum. (There's a family story we may have native American blood in our veins.)

      According to the story, when his sister learned he had signed up, she was outraged. Ties to the Old Country was still strong: she had toured the Old Country a few years before with her father, & one of their brothers had gone to college in Germany. (I can't recall the name of the university off the top of my head.) "What if you end up killing one of your own cousins?" she asked him.

      His answer: "That's their problem. They picked the wrong side to fight for."

  •  If you're surname is "Gross" forget about it. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mike Kahlow, Ice Blue

    It's basically the German equivalent of Smith.

  •  Relative was in SS records as Judicial Officer... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zwenkau, schumann, Jay C, dewtx

    A collateral relative in my family (same last name as mine, of my grandfather's generation) was at a high enough level in the German judicial system in Nazi Germany that he was required to have his genealogical background researched.  My father & grandfather brought back a copy of it from a visit to Germany back in the early 1960s, and one of the fascinating tidbits was the revelation that Joseph Mohr (who wrote the lyrics to "Silent Night", is a direct ancestor of mine.  In fact, there were many professional musicians in my ancestral German lineage, unfortunately however I seem to have missed out on any genetic talent for music.

    Fortunately, my German-born grandfather himself escaped participation in BOTH world war 1 and 2, through an extremely fortuitous accident of timing that left him stranded in the U.S. for the duration of WW1 (and he became a US citizen prior to WW2).  He was a seaman aboard a German merchant vessel which was en route from N.America back to Germany bearing precious metals and other cargo useful for munitions, just a couple of days from reaching Europe and intended port in Hamburg, when Britain declared war with Germany.  Knowing the ship faced certain interdiction by British vessels if they continued forward, the captain immediately turned the ship around and literally eluded and outraced British naval ships back to Nova Scotia, and from there the ship hugged the coast in Canadian waters to Boston, where it was effectively marooned for the rest of the war.  Given the wreck that was Germany after WW2, my grandfather sagely decided to stay in the US, eventually making me possible.  Had the declaration of WW1 happened just a day or two later, I probably wouldn't exist.

  •  Knippling, Anstötter, Ovel, Hüdepohl, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zwenkau, dewtx, brook

    Tenspolde, Tanking, Assmann (well, that name's not all that unusual, but it makes me giggle each time I type it), Lappe, Burwinkle (I always think moose), Berlingen. Nieberding, just to name a few.

    Of course, I've got plenty of commons names; Kramer (my maiden name), Kremer, Becker, Schmitt, Schroeder, Riemen, Johannes, etc, etc.

    I had no idea these Ahnentafels existed.  I admit to being a bit clueless about military records, so it makes sense that I've missed them.

    A trip to the D.C. area is high on my agenda in order to do more research on my husband's line, but I'll be adding a review of this index to my "to do" list.  At minimum, any information I find could be additional confirmation to what I already know - or could blow holes through it ;-)

    Great Diary.  Thanks!

    •  Bullwinkel & German moose (mooses, meese??) (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dewtx, edwardssl, llywrch

      Actually, Bullwinkel is a German name, as you'll discover if you plug it into the search box of or  And, I might add, the image of a moose driving a classic VW Beetle is sometimes used as an icon for German families (collectively) that came from East Prussia.

      "There is no way to give to honest toil its just reward--its full share of all wealth produced--but by the full application of the single tax. And righteousness and justice require it to be done." --A. Moll, 1897

      by Zwenkau on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 11:13:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  And here I am (6+ / 0-)

    as a German - living in this country since 1999. Knowing Grandma, Grandpa, Great aunt Fredericke and and and and so forth.

    And the first few years the ancestry thing confused me. I did not understand why it was important to know where great grandpa and great aunt Louise was coming from.

    Today I do understand --- and as longer I am looking for friends into this - as more I am amazed.

    And please - if you get discouraged - don't give up in your quest to find out the past - some little pool of information will come along one day and all these question mark will turn into exclamation points.
    I found just over the name and landmarks for a friend his family in Germany. Misspelling, misinterpretation, changes in geography and so forth made es nearly impossible to find out where his family was from.

    Already when living in Germany I studied where names where originated from - who tribes over the years came together to name certain areas and how events created changes in names and areas.

    How wonderful for all of you if you can find out about the past. Mine is boring :)

    A German in America - often confused but still trying to understand and happy to share the European point of view with a smile to everybody who is willing to listen

    by agermanfullofhope on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 09:15:56 AM PDT

    •  A boring German ancestry?? (8+ / 0-)

      All I can say is, "Welcome to America!!"  ...where we all come from "boring" ancestors.  As you've probably observed, Americans have a certain fascination with royalty, wealth and privilege.  Many genealogical "newbies" try to link back to someone having those features as if that was the only thing that mattered.  But in truth, those who came to these shores came for the opportunity -- because there wasn't much at home for them to "lose" by trying their luck here.

      I've researched the four 19th c. German immigrant families my children can claim, and I found different reasons for emigrating in each case.

      1.  Seven interrelated family groups came on the same ship from villages in the Principality of Lichtenberg as it was about to be turned over to Prussia.  They had been happy, it seems, with earlier French administration and liberalization, and didn't fancy having to face border trade (& smuggling) restrictions as well as the death of their dreams for a greater voice in their governance.

      2.  The husband and father of the family, having been illegitimately born, had suffered restrictions on how he could earn a living, etc., etc.  He was now free of any military obligation by reason of having reached middle age, and his sons were fast approaching the date when they would be required to stand for service.  It was time to go.  And in Brooklyn he could work at whatever he was capable of doing.

      3.  The husband and father, having been defeated at Dresden in 1849, had finally scraped together the funds for his family of ten to emigrate.  The eldest son had already located a former comrade-in-arms in St. Louis, and there was work to be had for both father & son in this booming city.

      4.  The wife and mother, knowing that she had cancer, came with her eldest daughter -- probably to meet someone unknown to me whom she knew might help her.  The first daughter fell in love with a seaman on the ship, who soon was able to captain his own vessel; they married, and she returned to Germany.  Whereupon the dying mother sent for the second daughter (my ancestor).  

      Did I say "boring"?  Hey, I really didn't mean it.  I should have said "fascinating."

      "There is no way to give to honest toil its just reward--its full share of all wealth produced--but by the full application of the single tax. And righteousness and justice require it to be done." --A. Moll, 1897

      by Zwenkau on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 11:41:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In 1859 my great-grandfather's family had him (7+ / 0-)

        leave Germany by himself on a boat to the U.S. to avoid being conscripted into the Prussian army. I've written a previous diary about my great-grandfather's (and some of my own) history previously (so I won't go into all that detail here): My Great-Grandfather, a Rich Merchant's Son, Me, and Mitt Romney.

        In short, my family has been interested in the history of my great-grandfather primarily for a few reasons. First, that he made this transatlantic voyage from Germany to New York by himself and then had to travel by himself halfway across the country to Chicago (knowing no English) and search for his relatives in the large German area of Chicago. Now how many 19-year-olds today could perform the same arduous journey all by themselves to a new and distant foreign land that speaks a different language, and all the while knowing that they are never coming back? Maybe some could, but we still marvel at all our great-grandfather had to endure.

        A second point of interest is that two years later he then enlists in the Union Army near the start of the Civil War after being paid to do so to take the place of a rich Chicago merchant's son who was drafted (this was a legal and not uncommon practice at the time), and served until the end of the war. My great-grandfather fought with Gen. Grant at the siege of Vicksburg in the 3rd Illinois Cavalry (and had his horse shot out from under him). We've visited Vicksburg Military Park and the large Illinois memorial there. In our family we find this episode particularly interesting for the totally ironic reason that my great-grandfather's family made him leave Germany to avoid being conscripted, and then two years later he volunteers in the place of another for the bloodiest war in U.S. history. Now that's just pure irony! I can't imagine what his parents said (or maybe I can) when they got the letter from him telling them what he had done!

        And lastly, after his Civil War service my great-grandfather returns to Chicago and marries my great-grandmother who was a girl who also emigrated from the same area of Germany he came from (Hanover), but didn't know each other until they met in Chicago! They later bought farmland in Iowa and moved there and became farmers (and this same farm is still in the hands of the 6th generation of his family). In fact all of my great-grandparents were from the same Hanover area of Germany, but none of them knew of each other until they met for the first time in Chicago or Iowa.

        So it's that history of irony and coincidence that we in my family talk about the most, and shake our heads over, when we talk about our interesting German ancestors. I also had an aunt who was very interested in genealogy and who did a tremendous amount of research going back to our great-grandparents in Germany, and then collected and wrote it all up and gave copies to every member of our family. It sure was wonderful that we had someone like her--we still dig out her book from time to time and look over the family tree, old photos, maps, newspaper clippings and military records from that time. I wish everyone could be so lucky to have an aunt like that.

        But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, ... there are few die well that die in a battle; ... Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; — Shakespeare, ‘Henry V’

        by dewtx on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 01:28:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Miller or Müller .... (0+ / 0-)

    My paternal grandmother's family name. The most common of German surnames.

  •  Being a Volga German that won't work for me. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mike Kahlow, Ice Blue

    Katherine the Great of Russia invited certain Germans to Russia. So we left Germany well before the 19th century.

    However, don't get all excited, we aren't commies either because we left Russia in 1910 because they were being so rude to Lutherans.

    When people start talking about ancestor bones I think of that Johnny Cash song. I've been everywhere.

    •  volga Germans (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      88kathy, mrkvica

      I think it is interesting that tumbleweed (Russian Sage) ws brought to America in 1882, in the barrels of hard winter wheat seed that the Volga Germans brought from their homeland to Kansas and Missouri.
      Unintended consequence, indeed.

      I buy and sell well trained riding mules and American Mammoth Jack Stock.

      by old mule on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 03:47:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Another resource (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zwenkau, llywrch

    The Max Kade Institute is another possible resource for German-Americans who are interested in genealogy or family histories.

    Max Kade Institute

    The Bush Family: 0 for 4 in Wisconsin

    by Korkenzieher on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 09:53:55 AM PDT

    •  Yet another resource (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Korkenzieher, DamselleFly, llywrch

      I'll now register a shameless plug for another resource, the Immigrant Genealogical Society, in Burbank, California.  I edit the newsletter and try to give readers ideas and tips for researching any and all European ancestors.  Our IGS Library has many German-language genealogical resources, and for modest fees one can pursue the lookups mentioned on the web page.

      "There is no way to give to honest toil its just reward--its full share of all wealth produced--but by the full application of the single tax. And righteousness and justice require it to be done." --A. Moll, 1897

      by Zwenkau on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 11:49:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm not sure how useful (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ice Blue

    that would be in our case.

    Dad traced the family back to a specific village in Germany, but they left there in 1642 to come here.  The wars were pretty bad there, and I don't blame them, but it makes some searches more difficult.

    Also, the name has changed enough to make searches more complex.

    But I'll give it a shot.  Thanks for the tip.

    I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

    by trumpeter on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 11:11:35 AM PDT

    •  as a genereal rule (6+ / 0-)

      The Thirty Year's War is where most genealogical research ends.  This war was so devastating that it actually came close to wipe out Central European civilization completely.  25-40% of the population perished, in some areas much more. Württemberg lost three quarters of its people.

      Most records were lost during that time. Unless you trace back some really high noble ancestry, that is where the pursuit ends.

      •  Yup. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ice Blue

        That's about where it fades away on that side of the family.  Farmers who managed to get away from the war.

        I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

        by trumpeter on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 02:38:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Also led to some interesting migrations... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ice Blue, llywrch, mrkvica

        Some of northern Pommern was controlled by Sweden after their intervention in the Thirty Year's War.

        I was contacted by a Swedish Kahlow about what I knew about the family genealogy. Apparently his ancestors left for Sweden as refugees when Napoleon came through & Sweden relinquished its lands on the continent proper. (Family lore was that his ancestor was a local functionary of the Swedish government.) Unfortunately my Kahlow family history ends at the same point - the Napoleonic Wars.

      •  Roughly half the population of Saxony (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        died in those thirty years, most from disease and starvation.

        Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one.--Sam Rayburn

        by Ice Blue on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 03:55:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  All my ancestors came from Germany and (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Zwenkau, llywrch, mrkvica

        there's only one set of churchbooks that I've encountered with my family' information that traced back before 1648 (the end of that war).  That one had entries starting in 1621.  Lucky it survived.

      •  Not that it would have stretched much further (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mrkvica, Zwenkau

        In England, which I'm told has the richest collection of records concerning common people, parish registers -- which recorded baptisms, marriages, & deaths -- were first required by law in 1538. When they were actually first recorded for any given parish, well your guess is as good as mine. English manor records stretch back to the 14th century in some rare cases, but even those are not complete.  

        Italy is another country with a wealth of records stretching back into the Middle Ages. But unless the person owned land or was part of the Church hierarchy, I doubt they'd merit a mention, & genealogical material would be even more rare.

        So before 1600, unless one was royalty or nobility, there would be little documentation about a given person. And considering that the majority of aristocrats of that age were either some local bully who acquired a title for one reason or another, or his children, the genealogical material is awfully thin for anyone who's not a royal before 1500.

  •  Don't (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zwenkau, Mike Kahlow, edwardssl, mrkvica

    have time to read through all the comments.  My gg grandmother had cousins who submitted their pedigree charts during the 1930s in Germany.  It's just chilling to think why they had to do this.  However it did provide some very good clues regarding my German ancestors.

    The War Machine will pry my 25 and 22 year old sons from my cold dead fingers.

    by Momagainstthedraft on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 01:20:23 PM PDT

  •  My surname goes back to the 16th century (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but I can only trace my specific lineage to 1820s Trier.  Thanks for bringing these archives to attention.

  •  Terrific diary - thx! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    llywrch, mrkvica

    I spent the entirety of this past weekend doing research on my ancestry, which I have been working on for many months.  One leg of my family tree I have documentation going back 13 generations to 1599 England.  Much of this information was taken from another person's work, which happens to intersect with my family.  That work was very well documented, and I am checking those references.

    I also found documentation showing one ancestor taking passage on a boat from England to New England in 1635.  

    Two lines of my ancestry run into a dead end only 2 generations back, and it is because of this issue of changing names, not to mention the fact that folks just plain lied to census takers about who they were or when and where they were born.  One of my ggg-mothers gave Maine as her place of birth in one census, Nova Scotia in another, and Scotland in yet another.  

    It really would have been helpful if the census records showed not only the country of birth, but the city of birth.  

    I was so engrossed I have no idea where my weekend went.  But I think I was having fun :-)

    I fall down, I get up, I keep dancing.

    by DamselleFly on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 05:24:23 PM PDT

  •  It Was The Nuremberg Laws Of 1935 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Germany's Jews were probably Europe's most assimilated and cosmopolitan Jewish population, and many had converted to protestantism and intermarried with the hereditary christian population.  They were also loyal germans that served in ww1.

    The rural christain parties remained fiercely antisemitic, and stopping the intermarriage of jews and christians was something of a national obsession.

    The Nuremberg laws was one of the final steps leading up the Holocaust, stripping the jews of their few remaining rights.

    It made intermarriage and sex illegal.  (DOMA anyone?) and required germans to document their christian bloodline back to the grandparents.

    This was quite controversial, since even priests were at risk of being declared hereditary Jews.

    There was also an "honorary Aryan" category for people who were politically useful but of questionable lineage.

    Men are so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness -Pascal

    by bernardpliers on Tue Aug 06, 2013 at 09:20:02 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site