esterday I attended the Fall Family History conference in Lansing, Michigan, an event sponsored by the Michigan Genealogical Council and the Archives of Michigan. The speaker was James M. Beidler, the author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Book, a fabulous handbook you should purchase if you have any German ancestors or if you do research for clients with German ancestors. To my knowledge, I have only one German surname in my tree—Horner—and I have done very little research on this line.
In the past, I have enjoyed James Beidler’s presentations at national genealogy conferences, so I was eager to hear him again. In his first presentation, Mr. Beidler discussed the two main waves of German migration: the Germans who came to this country in the 1700s and those who came in the 1800s. He showed maps of Europe illustrating where these different groups originated. In addition, he spoke about the various ports they used to enter this country and how they migrated to other areas. There was also a discussion about the availability of records both here and overseas. My Horner line entered this country in the 1700s and settled in North Carolina and then Tennessee.
The next presentation was on Pennsylvania German church records, and the various religious denominations were summarized. Mr. Beidler showed images of different types of church registers, and he explained the most common types of records. There was a fascinating discussion of German naming patterns, information you need to know if you ever do German research. He then showed us a photograph of a beautiful Taufschein, a German birth and baptismal certificate, and told us they sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Click here here to view the Taufscheine/Fraktur page of the Berks History Center.
I learned about the German inheritance pattern, which was unlike the primogeniture custom of the English. If I understand the German law correctly, the oldest son didn’t inherit the land but instead the land was usually divided equally among the children. Later those children divided the land amongst their children. Eventually the land parcels became very small, and those small parcels caused many Germans to come to America seeking more land. This is a summary only of how I interpreted Mr. Beidler's speech. For a much more detailed explanation, you should read his book.
In the afternoon Mr. Beidler spoke about the Pennsylvania State Archives and Library and later presented a German case study. I squeezed in a visit to the Michigan State Archives to do some research late in the afternoon. It was a long, but rewarding day.
Thanks to Mr. Beidler’s presentation, I am now anxious to explore my German roots. Just now, I Googled the words “Horner” and “German” and found the Horner Library and Reading Room, a large repository of German books located in Philadelphia. I like having a variety of ethnic groups in my family tree.
If you have German roots, be sure to check out The Family Tree German Genealogy Book.
Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, Electronic Clip Art, "Victorian Decorative Letters," 1999.
Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, Electronic Clip Art, "Old-Fashioned Nautical Illustrations," 2002.