The Basics: A Guide
Unique challenges when researching German and Swiss connections
Some readers of the Windmill Herald have asked about genealogical research in Germany and Switzerland. From personal experience I enjoy dealing with Swiss archives. Whereas most archives charge a lot of archives, the Swiss tend not to charge for their services. They will bend over backwards to help you. A good guide for research in Switzerland and Germany is Angus Baxter's book "In Search of your European Roots". This book is also an excellent guide to research in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. One remarkable resource in Switzerland is the family book.
Even though members of a family may have left Switzerland, they and their descendants (if the information is known) are added to the record of that family in the town in which they lived. This information will take you back into the 1700's.
Research in Germany requires a lot of skill, time and patience. The most serious problem for me was the old German handwriting, although in some of the areas I researched along the upper Rhine, the records were in Dutch. The other problem was the constant change in names. For example, my forebear Peter Kersten was born in 1802 in Repelen, Rheinland, Germany. He married in the Netherlands in 1822 with Adriaantje Schenk. According to the Dutch records his parents were Arend Kersten and Elisabeth Kastors. Research into his birth in Repelen showed his mother was Elisabeth Tastor, alias ten Buecken. She was the daughter of Johannis Pieter Tastor (alias Johannes Tastor ten Buecken) and Anna Christina ten Buecken. Arend Kersten was son of Pieter Franssen and Oeltgen Voorvelds (alias Aaltje Spikkers, alias Aeltge Kersten). Pieter Franssen was son of Arndt Franssen modo Hougen and Oeltschen Huffen (alias Aeltge Hoeven). Oeltgen Voorvelds was daughter of Peter Kersten (alias Spikker) and Margaretha Mollers.
This type of name change takes place in many parts of Germany but in other parts last names have been fixed for years. My forebears from the Palatine area of Germany had the same last names for at least 300 years. If you have forebears coming from the Palatine area I would suggest that you write to 'Arbeitsgemeinschaft fuer Pfaelzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde, Rottstrasse 17, 6700 Ludwigshafen am Rhein'. They have an excellent collection of material including an alphabetical listing of families from the area, including whole families with birth/baptism dates, death dates, marriage dates, etc.
If your forebears are Catholic and coming from Germany then make sure that you check the Status Animarum. This document indicates all the people living in a particular area, who lives with them and then goes on to tell about their ancestors, sometimes taking you back from the 1700's to the late 1400's. For our research in the Osnabrueck area of Germany we wound up hiring a researcher. He was excellent. He supplied us with many names and details that I was unable to find using the resources of the Mormon church.
In researching in Germany and in Switzerland make sure that you know the religion of your forebear. It is very important. If you are writing to an archive, church or government office in Germany try to write in German but English is usually understood. Enclose two International Reply coupons for return postage. Unless you like bad surprises make sure that you ask what the cost is going to be for them to find the material that you want. Make sure that you read Angus Baxter's book or that you look at a copy of 'Genealogical Research Directory'. This directory lists many genealogical organizations and also researchers that you can hire. It also lists names around the world that people are researching. Many libraries have copies of the Directory and Baxter's book.