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?




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