Monday, July 30, 2012

GRIP: Final Thoughts

Turquoise-banner-with-gray2-copyAfter a weekend to decompress from GRIP, I wanted to put my thoughts in order.

  • Are Institutes Worth the Cost and Time:  Beyond a doubt.  In fact, I can’t wait to go back next year and am contemplating adding SLIG to my January plans.  Institutes are a great way to look in depth at a topic that a typical lecture cannot do.  Cost-wise, GRIP is an amazing deal.  For under $700, I received one week of lectures, syllabus, room, board and an awesome polo shirt.  This is probably one of the best values available in genealogical education.
  • The Best Part of GRIP:  The people, just like at conferences.  I met so many interesting people in class, at meals and as a roommate.  The coursework is great, but the people you meet are even better.
  • What to do Next: Write research plans, order FHL microfilm and search the German newspapers of Buffalo.  I also want to practice reading Gothic Script.
  • Adding on a Research Trip: Always a great idea if you can do it.  Since I was driving past Eden, NY, where my Gress ancestors settled from Germany, I stopped by the library.  They had a three volume history of Eden which included a few pages on the German migration there (apparently, most came from the Alsace-Lorraine region) and on which churches the German immigrants went to.  I now have a much more specific list of churches to contact and great information for writing an immigrant profile.
  • Which Course Next Year:  Can I take them all?  Next year’s courses are:
    • Intermediate Genealogy: Tools for Digging Deeper with Paula Stewart-Warren
    • Skills for Proof with Dr. Thomas W. Jones
    • Bridging the 1780-1840 Gap: From New England to the Midwest with D. Joshua Taylor
    • Military Records: From Cradle to Grave with Craig R. Scott
    • Your Immigrant Ancestors’ Stories: Writing a Quality Narrative with John P. Colletta
    • Advanced Research Tools: Land Records with Rick and Pam Sayre
    As you can see, these are some fantastic courses!  I’m leaning toward the Immigrant Ancestor’s Stories or Land Records, but it is going to be a tough choice.  Hopefully, I will see you there!

Friday, July 27, 2012

GRIP Day 5: Back to Reality

Turquoise-banner-with-gray2-copyMy brain was pretty done after 12 hours of lectures and talking and learning yesterday.  It is amazing how much information I have learned in such a short time.  Today (Friday) I woke up ready to take in as much as possible on my last day here, which was a good thing, as the records discussed today should lead to much genealogical success. 

Our first lesson today was on the German records held at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.  These records, the Rasse und Siedlungs Hauptamt (RuSHA), were created in Germany by the SS in the 1930s and are full of Ahnentafel charts and other genealogical information.  These charts can go back to the 1600s in some cases, but always until ancestors born by 1800.  If you can find an ancestor or collateral relative, they will be tremendously useful to you.

I do not normally quote syllabus materials, as they are under copyright and one of the ways genealogists are able to make a living, but I feel that the following sentence about the SS records is important enough to break this rule; it is copyright of John T. Humphrey.  “These records, the activities associated with these records and the reasons for their creation demonstrate the role of genealogy in establishing racist policies during a tragic era in Germany and they serve as a warning for generations in other countries yet to be born.” 

I like to think that genealogists are less racist than others, as they see firsthand that everyone is connected/related, but as we can see, this is not always the case.  These records are useful for many genealogists, but when searching for them, remember why they were made and have a moment of silence for the victims of the policies that created them.

Our second lesson was on researching Germans in American repositories and libraries, particularly the Library of Congress.  The LoC has one of the largest German collections outside Germany.  By searching their catalog, you can find lineage books, information created by state societies and other books of interest to German genealogy, such as Marion Dexter Learned’s “Manuscript Materials Relating to American History in German State Archives.”  It is important to use both English and German spellings of items in order to see their full holdings.  In addition to the LoC, it is important to check the Family History Library, university libraries and public libraries.

Our day ended with certificates, goodbyes and long trips home.  Since one can never have to much genealogy, I am planning to stop in Eden, Erie, NY on my way to Buffalo to see what I can find on Joseph and Caroline Gress.

GRIP Day 4: So Many Sources, So Little Time

Today (Thursday) John said that genealogists have 3 jobs:

  1. To identify sources
  2. To find the information about your family in those sources
  3. Write up our findings (they are of no use in a notebook)

He made sure to give a multitude of sources for us to look for.  Whether church records from the seventeenth century, compilations, maps or online databases, I now have dozens of items to look for while looking for my ancestors across the pond.

We began the day looking at maps and gazetteers.  In German research, the Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs is the most important gazetteer in German research.  There is a “how to” book by Wendy K. Uncapher that is very useful.

Our second session was on sources of information in Germany.  Published sources from Germany are much more accessible than archives in Germany.  It is important to look for civil records (especially family registers for those from Württemberg), land records, and house books, among others.

After lunch we discussed how to find your ancestors in those published records.  Although there will always be transcription and translation errors, these are still great sources to use.  Make sure to check the US first, both the Family History Center and WorldCat, before heading to Germany to look for them.

Our last course was on finding German ancestors on the internet.  John said that the internet has revolutionized the way we go about researching.  One of the most important things to remember in searching is to use German key words as well as English.  You can also search through for more German language hits.

Our evening sessions began with a Q & A with the instructors.  My favorite line from the entire week was when Josh Taylor was discussing Who Do You Think You Are? and mentioned that he had told producers “I don’t do southern Indian princesses.”  An amusing line with an important point: every genealogist has a different area of expertise; one does not have to know everything.

Our second session was by the creator/director of the Photo Antiquities Museum in Pittsburg.  He went through the history of photography complete with examples that he passed around.  He was tremendously passionate about the subject, which made the presentation even better to watch.  I look forward to visiting his museum in the future.

Only 1 day left!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

GRIP Day 3: The Center of the Labyrinth

2012-07-25 19.40.17

Wednesday means we are halfway through the Institute, which is pretty hard to believe.  Our morning session was on the Pennsylvania Germans.  Although I do not have Pennsylvania ancestry, many of the records discussed would be useful to any research.  In the end, it is all about the research strategies and methodologies you use.  The second session continued this theme with case studies of immigrants to the area.

After some excellent discussion at lunch (where I met Karen of Karen’s Genealogy Oasis blog), we came back to “Finding Places of Origin in Germany.”  Although I have a few ancestral villages, I do not have them for most of my German immigrant ancestors.  John reiterated that whole family genealogy (aka cluster genealogy or FAN research) is tremendously important in these cases.  Newspapers, particularly German language newspapers, can be very useful in this.  Even if you have the obituary from an English language newspaper, which is often just a short death notice, find the obituary in the newspaper of their native language for more information.

Continuing to the last session of the day, we learned about “Typefaces: Published Sources and German-American Newspapers.”  Finding those newspapers mentioned above takes work, as does being able to read them.  After learning German Gothic script yesterday, learning Fraktur, which is the typeface German newspapers use, was much easier.  Since it is typed, it is always the same, plus, you can cheat with it using a word program with the typeface installed.  Newspapers can also be used to bring your family history to life through items such as society notices, weather and passenger ship advertisements.  The advertisements shown were fantastic.  Check out the Library of Congress Chronicling America site.

After class we went to work on our “homework” deciphering an obituary typed in Fraktur.  It is much easier to decipher with 4 sets of eyes and a little help from a paper dictionary and the Leo online dictionary.  Then came dinner with more lively discussion, followed by reading the BCG certification examples.  I know I can get to that level someday, but I am definitely not anywhere close yet!

A few of us then went to explore the grounds of the college.  First we hiked to the cemetery, which is lovely.  I will post on that Tuesday.  From there we went to the labyrinth, which according to the brochure is part of the Keams Spirituality Center.  Although I have always wanted to, I have never walked a labyrinth before.  What an amazing experience!  One which I plan to repeat in the future.  The image above is of the center of the labyrinth.  I have to say that I am much more a fan of this than corn mazes.  There is a distinct path; it may be long and winding, but eventually you reach the center.  You can then take that relaxation/reflection/knowledge and head out, onto other paths.  In many ways GRIP is like that path.  We are given a roadmap toward the knowledge, rather than having to wander around aimlessly.  We stay in the center of knowledge for a while and then head out on our own following the recommendations given.

Tomorrow we look at maps and gazetteers, explore sources of information in Germany, learn about published sources in the US and then find our German ancestors on the internet.  I see lots of note taking in my future!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

GRIP: Day 2

Turquoise-banner-with-gray2-copyAnother early start today (Tuesday) for breakfast and catching up online.  Our first session today was on German church records.  John discussed how church records brought the common man out of obscurity.  Prior to these, you can only research nobility or the winners of history.  With local parish records, every person has a name and a spot in the past.  These are the records that will help you put together families and the joining of families (through marriage).  They are the most important record group for German research.

After our church record introduction it was time to learn to read said records.  The Germans used Gothic script, which is what has kept me from ordering parish records from the villages I have identified as my ancestral home.  After a couple hours of reading words and paragraphs with his Gothic script font, I was a parish reading rock star.  Then came the copies of actual parish registers after lunch and it was like I had never seen these characters before.  As with anything, this will be a skill I learn in a slow and steady manner.  I intend to practice as much as possible on films from the FHL when I get back to Syracuse.

After dinner tonight, I purchased my pile of books which will make for some interesting reading for German research and narrative writing.  Then I headed to Rick and Pamela Boyer Sayre’s lecture on Google Earth for Genealogists: The Sequel.  This was one of the lectures I was not able to attend at the NGS conference, so it was nice to have a second chance.  I am amazed by all that you can create with Google Earth and all of the ways it can help in your research.  I have to admit that it is not a program I use frequently, but I will be ordering some introductory books on it when I get home.  The Sayre’s will be teaching a course on advanced land records at the 2013 GRIP which I am told is fantastic.  Deciding which course to take next year is going to be tough.

The lecture ended at 8:30 and after dropping off my belongings I took a walk around campus.  La Roche is a beautiful campus surrounded by the woods.  They have large statues of the Stations of the Cross that lead down a gravel path toward the woods which ends at a cemetery.  Since it was late, I did not make it all the way to the cemetery, but I plan on wandering around it tomorrow.  Only a genealogical institute would have attendees excited by a cemetery on the grounds.

Our lectures Wednesday will be the Pennsylvania Germans, finding places of origin in Germany and typefaces, published sources and German-American newspapers.  At night there is a public lecture on Pennsylvania Research, which I may not attend due to my lack of Pennsylvanian ancestry.  I do have a great-great uncle who randomly got married in Scranton, however, so maybe they can tell me why (he and his wife were from and living in Buffalo).

Get a GRIP on German Genealogy: Days 0-1


I arrived at the La Roche College campus Sunday afternoon for the inaugural Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburg where I am taking the German Genealogical Research track with John T. Humphrey.

After registration (where we received our course notebook and GRIP polo shirt) and unloading my car, we had a simple buffet dinner and a welcome to the institute.  Then it was back to the room to begin reading Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff, followed by an early bedtime.

Monday began with an early breakfast and then off to class.  We began with participant introductions and it was interesting to hear the variety of reasons people were taking the course.  We were then given an introduction of the course and a background of Germans in the US.  My biggest takeaways from the morning sessions was that genealogy is local, both in the US and in Germany and to find a document that your ancestor has signed, as it will give you their German surname.  This is a tactic that I imagine would work for any immigrant ancestor.

After lunch we were taught German language skills for genealogist and a primer on German history.  The language skills were similar to what I had learned in my German course in Hamburg.  The German history was interesting, particularly since it made me look at Germany differently, as Germany didn’t exist as a country in 1871.  He also said that jobs can be as important as surnames for German research, as they tended to be the same through the generations, even in the US.

After class ended, we had some downtime, then dinner and browsing through the books brought by Maia’s Books.  At 7:30, there was a public lecture by Pam Stone Eagleson on Telling the Tales: Writing the Family Narrative.  This was the type of lecture that you wish lasted longer than the one hour provided.  Pam showed her writing process, particularly how to add historical to your research to create a story.  After her workshop, I want to write, write, write (hence this blog post). 

Tomorrow will be church records and handwriting skills, which is rather daunting and one of the main reasons I took this course.

Back to Basic: July

July went quick! GRIP  went virtual! I attended (most) of the sessions in Documentation and then continued my citation work with my ProGen a...