By Michele Simmons Lewis, Student
I am really moving along through the German courses. I just finished German: Record Repositories. This course was not as intense as my last one, German: Reading the Records, but still very informative. I thought I knew how to navigate the Family History Library (FHL) catalog pretty well but when it comes to the German microfilms it turns out I didn’t know as much as I thought. There are several categories of films I had not paid any attention to because I didn’t think they were of any value. One of those is the Inventories. The Inventories microfilms tell you what records actually exist. If you can’t find something, is it because it hasn’t been microfilmed or is it because those records were destroyed in World War II? Knowing the answer to that question will save you a lot of time. Module 1 and 2 of the course outlines everything you need to know about what the FHL has and doesn’t have. Why the emphasis on the FHL? Because the FHL went to Germany and filmed countless church and civil records and their collection is second to none.
Module 3 switches to the German Archives. When you say German Archives you aren’t talking about one entity. Germany has many archives. There are civil archives and there are church archives. There are archives at several different jurisdictional levels. There is a lot to know. You need to be familiar with how to navigate the various inventories (inventories again!) for these archives so that you will know what is available and where it is located. The German archives are slowly putting their holdings online. The Historische Archiv Köln (Historic Köln Archives) is one of the archives that has online holdings. Lucky for me most of my family was from the Köln area and I have been able to find many civil birth, marriage and death records there.
Module 5 concentrates on genealogical societies. There are German genealogical societies here in the United States and these focus mainly on immigration but there are also many genealogical societies based in Germany itself. Even if you are not fluent in German you can join a society that covers the area where your ancestors were from. Many Germans speak English and you can do some serious networking. Some of these societies have online databases you can tap into as well as other helpful resources.
Module 6 is all about corresponding with archives. Included in the materials is the FHL’s Letter Writing Guide which has all of the parts of a letter you will need so that you will get exactly what you want. You can mix and match the parts. You have the greeting, introduction, biographical information of your person of interest, genealogical requests, referral requests (if they don’t have what you need), payment, closing remarks, return address and follow-up. One of the assignments is to craft a letter for a document you need. The supplied materials make it easy. There is no reason to be afraid to write to an archive because they will understand your letter with no problem.
I have three more intermediate courses to complete and then on to the advanced courses!