My “favorite” discovery always seems to be the elusive record I have finally managed to track down. It might be a census record where the enumerator mangled the name on the page, or the indexer misread what was written. Or it could be a marriage record or obituary providing the missing information linking several generations together. Sometimes it’s just the random newspaper blurb about my mom’s second birthday party, or her cousins being vaccinated.
A lot of the cool discoveries have already been written about. If I has to pick one, though, it might be the microfilm records in Kreuzebra, Thurigen, Germany (Kreuzeber, in the 1800s). That’s the ancestral town for my dad’s great grandfather, John Haase. I’ve mentioned that microfilm, but never went into much detail. Let’s take a closer look.
When Katherine Rueby provided me the Family History Library (FHL) microfilm numbers with my 2nd great grandparents’ marriage record, I was excited. Finding the opportunity to access them proved to be difficult. The microfilm reels needed to be ordered from Salt Lake City, at $3.25 each, for a 3-week period. The local FHL wasn’t far away, but its hours were limited—as was my time! I still homeschooled my two youngest, so the library’s daytime hours didn’t work. Research would have to wait a while.
A couple years later, I finally committed to ordering the film. The scheduling was tricky, but worked. Three “renewals” allowed the film to stay at the local center perpetually.
I knew the marriage date for John Haase and Elisabeth Nachtwey, so it was easy to find and confirm. Working backwards from their ages at marriage, I also located the birth records for both John (1825) and Elisabeth (1827), and I was able to obtain their parents’ names. I also confirmed the birth date for their oldest child, Elisabeth. It was great finding documentation for dates I’d received second hand, plus acquiring new information.
Looking back at that research, I now realize that was first time I’d looked at actual record images that weren’t census pages. It was also my first experience with German records in German script. That was quite a learning curve!
As I searched for the dates I already knew, I noticed lots of other records for the same surnames. Were they related? Maybe. I knew Elisabeth Nachtwey had a brother, Anton, but that was it. I was able to identify John Haase’s older brother, Joseph, from the birth records (same parents’ names), and a younger brother, Nikolaus. I’d never heard of them. But who was Kasper Haase? Ferdinand Nachtwey? More siblings? Cousins? Uncles? I didn’t know.
Kreuzebra was a fairly small town. It still is. The population recently hovered around 700 people. While it’s possible the population has been higher, it’s unlikely to have been markedly more. It certainly seemed likely that same surnames equated to relatives, but how did they connect? It became clear that I needed to gather all the records and piece people together. There were just a couple problems . . .
It was the early 2000s. The microfilm readers performed one task: displaying film images. The center had one reader with a printer, but patrons couldn’t hog it. You needed to find the frame you wanted on a regular reader, slide the film out of that reader, and slide it onto the spindles of the reader with the printer. After you printed your page, you needed to return the reels to your original reader. Use a digital camera, you suggest? If they existed then, I did not have one. It was not an option.
I decided the better plan was to make notes on a legal pad, recording the record type (birth, marriage, death), year, record number and name. By doing all the research on the non-printer microfilm readers, I could take my time with trying to read the script. After I’d viewed all the records, the next visit found me on the microfilm printer. Using my list, I could move directly to the pages I needed to print.
The plan worked well, and I took home a stack of 139 pages. I started to process through them, connecting names together. I’d made the decision, though, to do it on paper, rather than in my software. Why? I sometimes wonder that, myself! We had three desktops (with three different operating systems!)—but four children, needing computers for assorted reasons—sometimes, even homework! “Mom time” on the computer had to be scheduled. Filling out paper forms allowed me to multi-task and work on this project while watching TV.
I started creating family group sheets. A birth record placed a child in the kids’ section, with a father and a mother identified. Marriage records created two family group sheets (bride and groom each as a child on their parents’ sheet)—three if I decided to start one for the couple, too. Deaths were a little trickier, because the deceased person wasn’t necessarily identifed too well. A child might have a father identified. But if it was the child of a Johann Haase—which one? There were half a dozen! Without a wife/mother identified, I couldn’t attach a child to a particular couple, unless their age at death could point me back to a specific birth record. It was slow, tedious work.
Then life happened. House painting. Twice. Renovations. Weddings. Grandkids who needed Christmas stockings. Working on my Kreuzeber records was tabled indefinitely. All the paperwork was packed into a canvas tote bag, where it has sat for at least 15 years. Doing nothing. Not forgotten, but left to languish.
I created 84 family group sheets before stalling out. Some are undoubtedly people needing to merge, but I don’t have enough information to do that, yet. This is clearly a project I need to resume. The information tucked away in those records is invaluable, and will answer questions I didn’t even know I had. This time, though, I will build the tree on the computer, in its own file, while I sort these people out. That will be more managable than shuffling sheets of paper around.
In the meantime, the Family History Library has digitized that microfilm reel, though it’s not accessible from home. I’m not sure if I would be able to access the images from my local FHL, or if it would require a trip to Salt Lake City. That is something I need to check on. Digital images from the original film would be far superior to scans of the printouts I have.
Once I finish with the pages I have, there are two more films covering 1815-1842 and 1843-1850, and a third reel covering 1867-1874. Those should fill in additional ancestors, as well as following up on the descendants of Joseph and Nikolaus, and the other, collateral relatives. I need a solid handle on the people surrounding my 2nd great grandfather, though, before I start looking earlier or later.
Looks like my work is cut out for me!