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Nov 22, 2016

Big changes

I'm undergoing some major changes in my life.  For the time being, I'm blogging over at One Woman, Reinvented.  Come visit me there!

One Woman, Reinvented

Recent post:  Reinvented Yet Again

And I've discovered a great blog that you German genealogists might enjoy:  "A German Girl in America."  It's filled with wonderful things that those of German background will recognize and enjoy.

May 14, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun

Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings sets a topic every Saturday night.  Here's tonight's topic:

1)  Tell us about your "other" hobbies or interests outside of genealogy and family history research, writing, speaking, etc.  Be mindful of your family's privacy, though!

Although I am passionate about genealogy, I do have other interests.  I'm a fine art photographer, with a website here.  Here are a couple of examples of my work:

I've also been studying watercolor painting for the past few years.  I love doing it, but watercolor is a devilishly difficult medium!  Here are a couple of my paintings -- 

after a Turner painting

Beyond this, I love to travel.  In the past several years, we've gone to the UK, to Italy, and to Paris.

The Eiffel Tower after the terrorist attack

Bath, England

Florence, from the Uffizi terrace

Beyond this, as a retired English professor, I am still interested in research and writing.  Obviously, my blog presents an opportunity to write, and genealogy to research.  But I'm also working on a book on German genealogy research for beginners, which I hope to have published soon.

I'll let you know as soon as it's out!  

What other pastimes do you have, other than genealogy?

May 8, 2016

Sentimental Sunday: Mother's Day, 2016

We siblings have missed our mom for a very long time -- she passed away far too soon, in 1989, when she was only 62 years old.  Because her side of the family is so long-lived (her mother died at 96, her brother at 94), we expected to have her for many more years, and her passing left a great hole in our hearts that can never be filled.  There's so much we'd like to talk with her about, show her, ask her -- especially whether she's doing fine now, and is she with our dad and everyone . . .

I think this might be my favorite picture of her.  I can't quite figure out where it was taken -- it seems it might have been on an airplane, but there's a companion photo of my dad, and it looks like they weren't sitting together.  Oh well, yet another genealogical mystery never to be solved.

Waltraud Marianna Sophie Berneburg Ortman

This is what I love:  Our mom, all dressed up, hair all done nicely, looking so pretty.  What's most attractive is her look of interest in what someone is saying; her look of affection and love.  She was a very loving person.

I keep an empty purse-sized container of her perfume, Shalimar, in my dresser drawer.  If I take off the cap, I'm transported back to the days when we would sit on her bed, watching her get ready to go out.  The lovely dress (which she had undoubtedly made), the nice jewelry, the hair spray, the Shalimar.  Two little girls watching her and hoping to grow up to be her.  (I don't remember our brother taking part in this ritual.)  Did we do it, Mom?  Have we carried you into our lives in a loving, positive way?

Here's a little collage of some of the moms in my life; our mom, her mom Sophie Berneburg (holding me as a baby), our dad's mom May Ortmann (as a nurse, and holding the hand of little Billy), me and my little son Devin in Yellowstone, my mom modeling for a live drawing session in high school (she was studying fashion design), and the small picture at the top that includes my cousin Marianne's mom, Hilda Berneburg.  All are loved and missed (well, except for me, of course -- I'm not missing yet!).

Click to see larger

So much love, so much caring in those pictures.  To all the moms in our lives, thank you, and God bless.

May 7, 2016

Looking for a German Surname? Try Geogen.

This morning I was contributing to a thread in the German Genealogy facebook group; a researcher had asked for help in figuring out the German equivalent of the surname Workman. One of the most useful sites I've found for investigating German surnames is Christoph Stoepel's "Geogen" sites. "Geogen" stands for "genealogical geography," and his site will help you locate possible points of origin for your German ancestors. When you put in a name, a map will show you where your family name is found today; the information is current rather than historical but still very useful, since German families tend to be a lot less mobile over the years than are families in the United States. A caveat, though:  if your ancestor's name is Schmidt or Meyer, you'll have a much harder time getting a lead because those names are so common. The less common the name is, the more luck you're likely to have.  Also, the site is most helpful if your family came from what was West Germany post WWII to 1989, and no help if your family came from historical parts of Germany that are now Poland, the Czech Republic, and so on.

I'll give you a couple of examples from my own family. Herr Stoepel offers two versions of the site -- a toned-down original version and a jazzed-up space-age version (my favorite).  Let's look at my father's grandmother's maiden name:  Schwietering.

From the original site:

Map from Geogen

This map shows the relative distribution (x number per million) across Germany of the uncommon name of Schwietering. A note on the results says, "Considering the population density the most Schwieterings can be found in Landkreis Borken (NW), namely 117 phonebook entries per million people."  If I did not already know where the Schwietering branch of my family originated, this would be a major breakthrough, because in fact, my great-grandmother was born in Nienborg, Landkreis Borken, Nordrhein Westfalen.  This map would have pinpointed it exactly for me.

The "space-age" version of the site gives a similar result (click to see it full-size):  

Again, you can see that the name Schwietering is concentrated in the northwestern part of Germany. The height of the post indicates where the concentration is greatest. You can scroll in and manipulate this map in various ways (lots of fun). If I click on the little map to the left, I see this image (again, click for the full-size version):

This map shows the same information in a different form, with the addition that I can see exactly how many Schwieterings are in the telephone book in Landkreis Borken today:  44.  So now I have a clue as to how many people I'd need to contact to see if we're related!

One more bit of information the results can give the user:  spelling variants of the name.  In the case of Schwietering, Geogen offers no variants, but if we look at my maiden name, Ortmann, Geogen generates this wonderful word map:

And there I have all the possible variations of the name Ortmann, valuable information indeed.

If you haven't used Herr Stoepel's site, give it a whirl.  If you're stuck on the origin of a particular German branch of your family, you may strike gold.

When you try the site, leave me a comment about how it worked for you!

May 3, 2016

Searching for Your German Ancestors Online? A Book Review

As I finish my e-book on German genealogy for beginners, I am of course interested in what others are doing/have done in that area.

The cover of my e-book

Over the past few days, I've been reading a new book by James M. Beidler, Trace Your German Roots Online.  It's terrific.

Whether you're a newbie to German research or an old hand, Beidler's book will have something of interest for you.  His list of online resources is mind-boggling, and though it includes some you may well be familiar with, I'd bet cash money that you'll find more than a few you've never heard of.

A unique feature of the book is its step-by-step instructions for how to access information from various sites, from good old Ancestry.com to the new site Archion to the notoriously difficult Genealogy.net.  These detailed instructions will have you mining German sources in no time.

He also offers ingenious "Power User Tips," such as looking at the German and English versions of Genealogy.net side-by-side as a way of becoming more familiar with the German vocabulary (he highly recommends that you acquire some facility in German as a research tool, a point of view with which I wholeheartedly agree).  

The book includes worksheets of various kinds, maps, and a chapter on how to go about contacting possible relatives in Germany.  About the only thing I miss in the book is a section on essential German vocabulary, perhaps in an appendix, though he does provide links to sites that offer help in that area.

Since my book is organized around case studies, it doesn't occupy the same niche as Trace Your German Roots Online, which is a very good thing.  However, I will definitely recommend Mr Beidler's book as an excellent resource for German genealogy beginners.  

To-Do Tuesday: What's on Your List?

I had intended to write something for Motivational Monday, but the day got the best of me. Since I'm getting back in the saddle again, I think I'll take stock of where I am and make a list.

1.  Number one of all things is to finish my book, "Lost in the Homeland:  German Genealogy for Beginners."  I'm getting close to being done; I need to write a chapter on German sources beyond the ones I use in Case Study #2 (about my great- grandfather, Maximilian Langer) and a conclusion, and after that I can ship it off to my two expert readers.

2.  Once this is done, I need to round up some novice German genealogists to read an advance copy of the book and to give me some feedback (if you're interested, leave me a comment, though there will be an official request soon). 

3.  I have some branches of the tree I need to be working on.  One of great interest is that of Amanda Sells Manson -- I so want to find out what became of her.  Had she died, as her scalawag husband Fred Manson said when he dropped his girls off at an orphanage, or did she suffer from a mental illness that caused her to go back to her family?

4.  On this task, there's nothing to do but to wait:  I sent a letter two weeks ago to the office that has the historical records of Camarillo State Hospital, asking if they can release information to me about Mabel Manson Ortmann (Amanda's daughter).  I want to tell her story, and to do that I need to know why she was committed to Camarillo in 1934 or so and stayed there until her death in 1967.

Camarillo State Hospital in the 1940's, when Mabel was there

5.  Speaking of which, doesn't it kill you to know that there were ancestors living during the part of your lifetime that you weren't particularly interested in genealogy?  Gaaakh!  

6.  This summer, I need to mine the New York Genealogical and Historical Society.  Last August, when my sister and I were on the cruise to Alaska with the Federation of Genealogical Societies, I won a year's membership to the NYG&HS.  I have to get into it and see what I can find before the membership runs out.

7.  I need to connect with the Berneburg/Werneburg Family History Society in Germany to see if there's anything else I can discover on that line and also to get some documentation of sources on the information they've given me.  I trust that their information is well-sourced, but I still need the information.

8.  I need to seriously think about whether I (and my sister?) can go to the Berneburg/Werneburg family reunion in Germany next year.  I would so like to go.

9.  The Bellmer-Schulze connection is still calling to me.  Can I get a birth certificate for Christiane Bellmer, or a marriage document for Sophie Bellmer and Christian Schulze?  So far, I haven't had any luck, even at the FHL in Salt Lake City.

10.  Hockmeyer?  Huskemeyer?  How many spelling variants could there be?  This is the one great-grandmother on my father's side that I'm stuck on.

11.  Make a decision on Grandpa Berneburg's mother:  Hanne Schmidt or Hermine Kleeman?  Make up your mind and explore it.

12.  Scan, scan, scan!  I have so much scanning to do.  Pick a day and just do it.

So there you have it, at least for the moment.  When I get stuck and don't know what to do, I can . . . just pick something!

What on your list is calling your name right now?

Apr 30, 2016

Entering the Tardis: Genealogy Block Party!

Elizabeth O'Neal at "Little Bytes of Life" has started something that should have a great future:  The Genealogy Block Party.  She sets up a situation, and bloggers jump in and write about it.  This is my kind of fun, so I'm participating.  (Good thing I discovered it, because the deadline is midnight tonight!)  So here's the situation:


You and The Doctor (of Doctor Who fame) have just finished saving the Earth from nasty, alien monsters. As your reward, The Doctor has offered to take you for a ride in his TARDIS to meet one of your ancestors!

  • Who is the ancestor you will meet?
  • What question(s) do you need him/her to answer?
  • Is there a problem you can help your ancestor solve?
  • Will you reveal your true identity to your ancestor? If so, how will your visit impact the future? (Remember what happened to Rose when she went back to meet her father.)
  • Will you bring your ancestor to the future to meet his/her descendants? What will be the outcome, if you do?

This is such a hard one!  Who will I choose?  I have to choose my great-grandmother, Annie Schwietering Ortmann (1856 - 1936).  She doesn't present a brick wall, since I can follow her line way back in Germany, but I have so many questions that I'd give anything to have a chance to meet her.

I'd probably need a couple of hours to talk to her because my list of questions is long!  I'm going to put aside 19th vs. 21st century proprieties and ask my questions bluntly -- no time to pussy-foot around.  Here goes.

How did you meet your husband, Joseph Ortmann?  You were married in Tremont, New York -- is that where you met him?  You were 18 and he was 29; what attracted you to him?  Was the idea that he was a Civil War veteran appealing?  Was he handsome?  Funny? Kind?

This is one of my frank questions:  You were four months pregnant when you and Joseph married -- is that why you married him?  Was it a shotgun wedding?  Would you have married him otherwise?  

Another blunt question:  Between the ages of 19 and 44, you gave birth to 12 children, three of whom died.  How did you feel about having that many children?  Was it just an accepted thing, being pregnant every other year?  Being Catholic, did you use any birth control at all?  Did you ever say, "Not tonight, Joe," or was it your duty to be there for him any time he was in the mood?  (Sorry, really, for getting so personal.)

Why did your family move so often?  When I look at both state and federal censuses, I see that you're always living in a different place in either New York or New Jersey.  Were you moving to a bigger place?  Was it upward or downward mobility?  Joseph had quite a few different jobs over the years; was it feast or famine, depending on how he was doing, and did the "famine" parts of the cycle cause you to have to move?  In 1900 you were living at 327 W. 36th Avenue, undoubtedly a tenement, in Hell's Kitchen, an unpleasant and dangerous place.  Was it ever better than that?

Was this the kind of place where you lived?

With so many children, what were your living conditions like? How many rooms did you have in your apartments?  Where did you all sleep?  How did you cook for all those people, do laundry, clean?  I'm assuming that as the children grew up, they were tasked with helping around the house and with the younger children, but wasn't it hard for you?  Were you always tired?  

Your daughter Anna never married, never left home, although she seems to have worked at various sewing kinds of jobs -- was Anna mentally or physically disabled?  Was she born somewhat prematurely?  

Why in the world did Joseph try to pass himself off as Irish rather than German?  As a German immigrant, wasn't it obvious that he wasn't Irish?  Did this all result from a mix-up during the Civil War that he was just trying to live with, or did he actually, intentionally, say that he was Irish?  Wasn't it worse at that time to be Irish, rather than German?  This created terrible problems when he and later you wanted to receive his pension, but in a way I'm grateful for it, because all the confusion resulted in a 60-page pension file I was able to get from the National Archives.  

Why was my grandfather, William Ortmann, disowned?  Was it really because he married a Lutheran, or was there some other reason?  Did you never see him again or meet his son, my father?  If disowning him was Joseph's stance, did you ever sneak off to see your youngest grandchild? Did you see them after Joseph passed away?  My grandmother said that no one in the family ever talked to him again -- I have a hard time understanding that, and if it's so, it's very sad.

Once your husband passed away, were you able to live a quiet and happy life?  You were poor, that's certain, with an income of $40 a month from Joseph's pension; did any of your many children help to make life easier for you?  (Herman, in particular, was rather prosperous.)  Did you live a quiet but happy life?  Were you able to spend time with your grandchildren?

Did you have dreams, Annie?  Was your hope always to be a wife and mother, or did you have other dreams?  Did you want to paint, or travel, or write -- or were those things foolish notions for a woman of your class and time?  What were you good at?  Embroidery? Did you like to sing?  I've always assumed that the musical talent in our family came from our grandmother's side, not yours, but I don't know that for sure.  Maybe you were musical too.  You were literate -- did you like to read?  (Did you ever have time?)

I think the biggest problems you had must have been related to poverty and to Joseph's changing jobs all the time.  I'd like to go back in time and make you "Queen for a Day," to take you away from where you lived for a little while, to a place where you could rest and feel safe and even be pampered.   

I would definitely reveal myself as her great-granddaughter.  I guess this should have been a harder choice, but I don't think I could stand not telling her and not being able to give her a long, long hug.  (All I'd have to do is explain about the Tardis, right?)  The one thing that I would hope to change would be her attitude toward her son, my grandfather.  My father's maternal grandmother was long gone; maybe he would have enjoyed having a grandmother in Annie.  I think I could have made my grandparents and father happier if I could reconnect them with their family . . . but then I could be wrong.  I can't know what the reasons were.

I can't decide whether I would bring Annie Ortmann to the future.  Would it make her happy to know that life became better for her descendants, or would it make her more unhappy about her present circumstances?  None of us, starting with her children's generation, lived in such poverty -- maybe she had an idea that things were going to get better in the future.

What an interesting exercise this has been!  Thanks, Elizabeth, for the prompt, and I'll look forward to joining you again next time.  (By the way, I am the Renegade Time Lord known as "The Explorer."  Sounds about right.)

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