German (and other) search tips

Having been in something of a blog-storm today I’ve responded to a number of comments made on my posts. I thought it worthwhile to consolidate some of the general tips I’ve passed on in case they’re useful to others. Although focused mainly on the German research under discussion, they have general applicability to other immigrants.

Church Archives

Most of the established churches have archives to which you can gain some level of access. If your family traditionally belongs to particular religion don’t forget to seek out their archives and follow up baptism or marriage records. These church registers can provide additional information even compared with our detailed Australian certificates. Importantly, don’t forget to pay them for this service – family history is not their core business, so recognising their help is critical.

In terms of overseas records, the LDS church microfilms of centuries-old parish registers is a resource not to be missed and burial records can be particularly useful especially to weed out those annoying people with the same name as you’re looking for 😉

Shipping sources

The critical first step is ascertaining which ship your ancestors arrived on. Many will find their ancestors via the keyname search on the State Records NSW site: Referring to the unassisted passenger lists for Victoria will sometimes provide additional information as some passengers transited through there and as it was not the Victorian colony subsidising their fare, they were unassisted on these records albeit assisted on the NSW ones, for example.

Once you have these details you can refer to the microfilm of the original record. This will give you invaluable and necessary information about your family. You will also then be able to follow up the story of the voyage through books or contemporaneous newspaper articles. 

Another good source for German immigrants, which will help you with confirming which ship your ancestors came on, is the Kopittke books published by the Queensland Family History Society (can be ordered direct from them or referenced in a library). The important thing about this information is that it lists the passenger lists from the Hamburg (emigration) end and so includes all passengers not just those assisted by the NSW government. Hence this is where you’ll find the single people who emigrated and who were not eligible under the vinedresser scheme -the single people had usually signed contracts to work for various landholders before they left Germany.

Another good source of info on the Geman immigrants of this era who were brought in for wine-growing (well that was the theory!) is AncesTree, the magazine of the Burwood and District Family History Group which has fantastic articles by Jenny Paterson on some of the German immigrant ships.

Missing death records

Can’t find someone’s death? There are a number of possibilities: 1. He/she wasn’t identified at the time, so may be under “unknown male” or “German” or such but the story may have made it into the newspaper so check those out eg I’ve just found one male “unknown” on the Qld records in 1856. 2. His/her death never made it onto the registers (particularly in the early days) 3. He/she didn’t die but went AWOL ie cleared out/deserted etc etc. I have instances of all these in families I’ve researched. It also wasn’t unknown for an inquest to be held but the death not to be registered so if you can’t find a death, try inquest indexes if they exist. Unfortunately church records are less likely to be available for burials. For sudden deaths in the Australian bush, the heat was against them and the dead were usually buried within 24 hours, even when an inquest was held. If the death occurred near a larger town you might find the person in the burial records of the local cemetery even though no death is documented on the civil registers.

Newspapers may report on a sudden or violent death so for Australian sources try the online Australian newspaper website at the Australian National Library.

Play the Indexes/Indices

When responding to Lesley’s comment (on my Broadford page) I found that her ancestors’ marriage is indexed against a different year when comparing the Queensland and NSW online records. I can’t recall ever encountering this before but it’s obviously something worth cross-checking. Also, checking both indexes may give you different information eg NSW provides the registration district…every little bit helps.

Queensland indexes can be manipulated to search for the surname plus country of origin (under Mother’s name), as this may help you narrow down whether it’s the right person or not especially with common names like O’Brien.

German maiden names

A warning note on the maiden surnames of the women on some German immigrant ships: in some cases the women obviously reported their names in the traditional way and so the name recorded as the maiden surname is actually the woman’s mother’s maiden name. How did I find this out? Two ways: the name of the woman on the birth record of Australian-born children, or the local history records for their originating village. It is something to keep an open mind about.

Local histories

Don’t forget to search for local histories of the village or area where your family came from. Dorfprozelten has several wonderful histories of the village, one of which is very useful for family historians. I’ve mentioned it elsewhere but it is called Dorfprozelten Teil II by Georg Veh et al.

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