Back in February, I spent quite a bit of time at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I hadn’t planned on working on my Miller/Wach/Wietzke clan, but after discussing German research with some friends over dinner, I shifted gears. Later that night, I headed over to the reference desk to talk to an expert and after about 15 minutes and a pile of books, he had figured out where my second great-grandmother, Hulda Wach, came from.
Mind you, I had some clues. I had a town name from her obituary, but unfortunately, there were several Bernsdorfs to choose from. I knew that they were Lutheran, which narrowed the pool down a bit more. He asked what other information I had and off the top of my head, I had nothing. So, with my Kindle Fire in hand, I went through all the notes/events in my Legacy database.
On the passenger list for her departure from Hamburg, her previous place of residence was listed as Zerrin, Pommern. That was all he needed to narrow the choices down to one likely location. A search in the FHL catalog revealed that the FHL did not have any church records for this town. Back to the stack of books that had now amassed, the light bulb went off, and back to the catalog he went. This time, it revealed that there were a few years of civil registrations available for Damsdorf, which, he said, covered Bernsdorf. Lo and behold, in the few years of records (1874-1878) I confirmed that this was the place where Hulda came from. Although her birth was not available (she was born in 1869), I did find the birth of her brother, as well as several other records with the Wach and Wietzke surnames (Wietzke is Hulda’s mother’s surname).
Until the other day, I had no idea how he found the correct location, what books he consulted (I assumed gazetteers), or how he knew that the civil registrations in Damsdorf would have what I needed. Having attended the Tazewell County (IL) Genealogical Society fall workshop last weekend, I now had an idea about how he found the location.
Carol Whitton presented Using and Understanding the German Gazetteer, in which she discussed how to use the Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs. After my crash-course in German gazetteers and reading the script, I immediately accessed the Meyers Gazetteer through Ancestry (you can access this resource even without an Ancestry subscription).
I printed out the entry for the Bernsdorf location of interest and proceeded to transcribe and translate it. Now I can see why the location of Damsdorf was relevant in my search—it’s the location of the civil registry office for Bernsdorf. I also now know the government district, county, lower court district, and other things that might help me further research this family. Additionally, I know that this town had both a Catholic and Evangelical church, and that there was a savings and loan, a mill, and a brickyard. Of course this particular place is now part of Poland and will likely make my research a bit more difficult, but at least I now have some basic information to hopefully get started.
Below is the transcription (into English characters) and translation (including the deciphering of the abbreviations) of the Meyers Gazetteer entry for Bernsdorf (clicking on the image will open a PDF file). And for fun, I found a font that does old German script so I did an exact transcription. (The font that I used was MarsFraktur Normal and I found it at Fraktur German True Type Fonts and Others. Of the fonts listed, this particular one included all of the special characters.)