Serendipity down the rabbit hole

The research week started off with a plan to translate a document about one of the Dorfprozelten families: simple enough with a very large dictionary to one hand, or so I thought. Throw in some rather archaic terms about 18th century events, and my extremely rusty German, and it all went downhill rather quickly. I did manage to sort the families into clusters and reached the conclusion that there were two men by the same name in the village, at the same time….complicated. Now I have to compare notes with the local historian for the village.

Down we go: where will there be more carrots?

Some of the archaic terms defeated my dictionary, so back to my trusty friend Google where I found some other old translations. Before I knew it I was off down the rabbit hole chasing information following one lead at a time. However:  the research diversion was definitely serendipitous!  Last week I mentioned that the German emigrants were supposed to advertise their departure in the newspaper. I also commented that I didn’t know if any were online. Well Google Books answered that question with a bang, and my occasional whimpers.
So here’s the good, bad and ugly of the research process (stories and translations to follow later).


  1.  I found some ground-breaking information on my George Kunkel’s family in Dorfprozelten which has made me think completely differently about why he might have emigrated (story will be forthcoming).
  2. As you know I pursue a group of about 30 families from Dorfprozelten – I’ve managed to track down the advertising for about 70% of them. Woo hoo!
  3. The advertisements provide an opportunity to do a timeline for each of these immigrants: notification of departure from village; departure date (sometimes); departure information from the Hamburg shipping lists and then arrival in Australia (mostly Sydney) and mostly via Port Philip.
  4. The Christian names on the departure advertisements sometimes vary from those on the immigration records because they were using their second name: this confirms which of the villagers I’m looking at. In one case, this is particularly helpful because while he arrives as Franz Zöller, he leaves Germany as Ignaz and appears in Australian BDM and newspaper reports also as Ignaz. Bingo!
  5. A small group of Dorfprozelten single people arrived in Australia in 1862. The advertisements revealed they were planning to go to Brazil! How the change occurred we may never know, but it makes a big difference, especially in the case of one family whose story was already particularly tragic and is now much more so. (again, more anon)
  6. Google Books search does a “good” job of reading the Gothic print and finding your search term.
  7. My new best friend in terms of web sites is the Reverso dictionary which quickly lets me translate from German to English (or vice versa). I’m in love with it and it’s so much less weighty than my real-world dictionary and equally effective.
  8. The newspapers of most use to me have been those based in Aschaffenburg and Würzburg as Dorfprozelten as situated between the two.
  9. I learnt/reconfirmed that some of the emigrants were not married when they left Dorfprozelten. As they had to arrive as married couples in Australia, they must have been married somewhere en route, perhaps Aschaffenburg, Frankfurt or Hamburg.
  10. My advice is to limit your search to the 19th century in Advanced Google Book search as that brings up “hits” that don’t appear when you restrict it by a block of years.


Dorfprozelten am Main (click to enlarge).
  1. Google MAY find the term you’re looking for, but like any OCR on old books or newspapers it is decidedly unreliable. I found more “hits” going in a convoluted way rather than directly.
  2. The page may/may not be able to be enlarged and the search term may/may not be highlighted. Both of which can make it challenging.
  3. Once inside the “book” further searches are unreliable/unpredictable.
  4. You can’t print off the page (as far as I can tell)
  5. You can download the file but some are huge.
  6. I tried my usual strategy of searching by a header that was regularly associated with these ads eg Bekanntmachung or TerminKalender. Somewhat bizarrely this proved to be even less reliable than just searching for “Dorfprozelten” or perhaps “Prozelten”.
  7. General unreliability: it seems a bit harsh to carp about this, given the hoops Google is jumping through, but if you get a negative result I encourage you to be lateral in your search terms.
  8. I also eventually had the sense to use advanced google books search and limit the time frame.


I do look a bit bug-eyed right now!
  1. Between relearning Gothic script which we used to do occasionally at school and reading it in a foreign language, my brain is suffering from overload and my eyes are out on stalks. ( I knew I should have done that calligraphy class).
  2. My strategy has been to retype the Gothic print into normal print German. Phase 2 is then to translate the German to English. This is partly underway but see (1) above.

Hopefully I’ve given you some sense of how exciting, as well as how tiring, these discoveries have been. I’m thrilled to bits with it and know there’s going to be hours of exploration and translation ahead. Perhaps time to swap to the external monitor like a sensible person?


12 thoughts on “Serendipity down the rabbit hole

  1. Hi Pauleen, what search terms did you use in Google Books to find the newspapers? I’ve also found that you can’t print pages viewed through google books, but I grab a selection with my image viewer (Preview) on my Mac at home, or take a screenshot on my pc at work, and print that. It’s not always very clear, but much better than nothing.
    I’d love to catch up sometime – I have been very remiss about getting in touch. Work has been, surprise surprise, somewhat stressful ……. Hope you and Peter are well.


    1. Hi Rebecca, Great to hear from you -have been most lax about getting in touch and only said at the weekend I haven’t spoken to you for ages. Not surprising about work…will comment on that via email. A good idea to take a screenshot (It’s not the thing I think of first sadly). Having the image makes it easier to transcribe and translate.

      And now to search terms: I don’t quite know how to advise you as I got different results from different searches (stupid statement). What I mean by that is, if I search for Dorfprozelten plus a name, or the word “auswandern”, it gives me unpredictable results and not nearly as many as exist. I just kept adding different combos of terms to see what turned up…not at all reliable but the best way to find them. Plus I knew for the Dorf people I was mostly looking in 1854 when they’d have left Germany to emigrate, and I knew the towns/cities. All too intuitive but….What I definitely found was that searching by a section header in the paper (not unlike searching for “funeral notices”, only one or two came up whereas there should be quite literally hundreds.

      Will email NOW. Pauleen


  2. Wonderful post and fun illustrations! I love the term “rabbit hole.” I’m sure that lots of people use it, but I first saw it in one of your previous posts–and now use it all the time since I’m forever going down rabbit holes.


  3. I had no idea that they had to advertise – that gives me a lot more work to do – but I love it so that’s not a complaint – more likely to find wonderful new discoveries!!!

    Glad that you’ve had such success. I look forward to reading the stories. : )


    1. I was pretty pleased actually locating some of these advertisements…I thought I’d only be able to see them in Germany and couldn’t see having the time to trawl microfilms there. Just don’t give up on your’s far from fool-proof so be as lateral as possible. Good luck.

      yes, the stories -I’m still making sense of what I’ve said and trying to type it all up. Cheers Pauleen


  4. I’ve had no luck finding any newspapers yet, let alone advertisements. Many of the people who emigrated from my area of Germany went on the vinedresser ships and there’s been a lot written about them, so that’s mostly what’s coming up for me in my searches.


    1. Prue, Yes these people I’m following mostly came on the vinedresser ships & I’ve found some/many of them. Have a try of Advanced Google Book search and limit it to the 19th century. You won’t know you’re seeing adverts until you go into the link eg Wurzburger Abendblatt etc. Hope this helps. Pauleen


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