Category Archives: Personal Family History/Research

Decoding an old German-language Obituary

Prior to the craziness of the holidays, I was mining the “Reading Adler” on GenealogyBank for obituaries. The “Reading Adler” was a German language newspaper published in Reading Pennsylvania. GenealogyBank has scanned issues of the paper from 1796 to 1876. It’s been a small treasure trove for finding deaths and marriages of my Pennsylvania German ancestors and relatives who lived in the area. The big drawback, of course, is that all the articles are in German – a language foreign to me – and in a Fraktur font. Add to this the occasional misspelling and/or archaic spelling, poor image quality due to age and condition of the paper, and, well, there are challenges!

Fortunately, most of the “obituaries” I found were more like death notices – short and sweet and fairly easy to decipher with the help of a German Genealogy word list and a listing of English equivalents of Fraktur letters. But there were some longer, more detailed ones – and that’s where the fun began! I needed to decipher the Fraktur writing and enter the text into google translate. After much trial and error, I downloaded a fraktur font to my computer and typed a transcription into notepad. This step allow me to see how well my interpretation of the Fraktur matched the original, before copying and pasting into google translate.

The whole thing was very much an iterative process – typing my best guess at the letters/words and seeing if the result was something google could translate. For example, if you’re looking at a scanned image of an old newspaper and you see a word that looks like “thc,” you know right away it is really “the.” But if you aren’t familiar with the language and don’t know that “the” is a common English word, it’s a much harder problem. (i.e. Did you misinterpret the “c” or was it the “t” or the “h”?)

One such obituary that was of particular interest to me was that of a William Bechtel. His obituary appeared in the June 19, 1855 edition of the paper. Since it is against the terms of use of GenealogyBank to include a scan of his obituary in this blog post, I’ll include an image of the transcription that I made in a Fraktur font:

bechtel-william-jun-1855-transcription

And google’s translation:

“Alößlicher death. – A man of intemperate habits, named William Bechtel, from the neighborhood of Pottstown, who had taught at the guest house of Levi Savage here, is on the last Thursday when he dined, choking, probably by an attack of apoplexy. The Coroner held by Rühn investigation: Jury did the pronounciation: “death by suffocation, caused by an attack of apoplexy at the lunch table.” The deceased was about 45 years old.”

As you can see, google could not come up with a translation for the very first word. And I couldn’t come up with any letter substitutions that stayed “true” to the original scanned image and produced a meaningful translation. However, the rest, though a little stilted, looks pretty good.

My interest in this obituary is because I feel that there is a good possibility that William Bechtel was a descendant of my ancestor Johan George Bechtel who immigrated in 1743 and lived in the area that is now Amity Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania. I would love to hear from any Bechtel researchers who may know more about William. And if anyone can provide an improved translation – well, that would be wonderful too!

The Onion Snow

I know — I’ve been completely ignoring this blog for a long time. I’ve been caught up in transitioning my genealogy database to RootsMagic as well as some other research activities. I’ll post some updates on that shortly. But this morning when I looked out my window and saw snow — yes, snow covering the ground and clinging to the trees — I just knew that I had to write about the onion snow!

onion snow - March 25, 2013

the view off my front porch this morning

What’s onion snow, you ask. Well, a couple of weeks ago I was discussing a forecasted snow shower with my Mom. (At this time of year in this part of Pennsylvania we don’t usually get snow — and on the rare occasions that we do, it does not amount to much. So to call it a snow storm at this point in the year is typically a bit of an exaggeration.) Anyway, at that time she told me about the onion snow.

Now I had probably heard this story before because as she was telling it to me a vague recollection was tickling at the back of my memory. But now that I’m trying to be more of a family historian, I am trying to pay more attention to the stories being passed down. You know, not letting it go in one ear and out the other! (See – I was paying attention to the theme of this year’s recent RootsTech conference.)

But back to the onion snow. According to my Mom’s Mother, my Grandmother, the farmers in our area plant the onion bulbs in the early part of March. Ideally, there should be a small snowfall after the onions are in the ground. This is called the “onion snow,” and it should happen by about March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day. The onion snow enables a better crop when the onions grow and are harvested. At least that’s the family lore from the farmer ancestors and relatives of my Grandmother!

So when I woke up this morning and saw the snow, my very first reaction was that the onion snow is here, but it’s about a week late! Hope all you farmers out there have the onion bulbs planted. I am ready for spring and once this melts away (which should be soon) I don’t want another, even later in the season, onion snow this year!

Time for a Change

I am in the processing of doing something that I never thought I would do — that is porting my genealogy database to a different software package. After using Legacy Family Tree since 2004, I have decided it’s worth the pain to switch to RootsMagic.

Don’t get me wrong — Legacy is a great program. But lately I have been feeling an ever growing disconnect between the features I want in a genealogy program and what Legacy provides. So I decided it was time to take another look at the competition to see if there was a better fit for me.

The first time that I took a close look at the competition was when Legacy V6 was released without the much anticipated “witness” feature which would have provided for shared events. We (the users) were told that the programmers wanted to include it, but it required too much “restructuring.” At that time I looked at RootsMagic as well as other products. My perception was that RM did not support tagging, and that was a Legacy feature that I did not want to give up. After evaluating the competition,  I decided to stick with Legacy and hope shared events would be addressed in the next release.

Fast-forward about 7 years. Legacy is now on Version 7.5. It still doesn’t support shared events, and, as I blogged about before, it also doesn’t support shared source detail (citations). These 2 pet peeves, coupled with some other minor annoyances, caused me to really give RM a good look when I got the email about their Version 6 release. And the more I looked, the more I liked!

The more I looked into RM’s implementation of shared events – or as they call it, shared facts – the more I decided it was a must-have. First and foremost, this feature allows you to create, for example, a single census event/fact and have it attached to all the members of the household. As a software engineer who specialized in database design, I personally feel this implementation is much better than having multiple copies of the event – as Legacy would have you do. (Or my work-around which was to create the census event as a marriage event and basically ignore attaching it to the children.)

Additionally, shared facts allow for the capturing of relationships beyond spousal and parent/child. For example, a baptismal or christening fact can be shared with the godparents and even the officiating clergy. RM did an excellent job implementing shared facts in a very flexible and powerful way, including user-definable roles and sentence structures.

Sadly, RM does not support shared source citations, but shared facts are a step in the right direction.

And what about tagging – the lack of which stopped me from switching to RM all those years ago? I have found that the named groups give me about 80% of the functionality of tagging — and I can live with that. I am also liking the interface now that I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks.

On the other hand, there are certain things that Legacy has that I miss – like hovering the mouse over a child in the family view to see the spouse list and all the shortcut mouse clicks. But all in all, I think (hope) that I’ve made the right choice – for me, for now.

I am now going through the tedious process of cleaning up – changing the christening facts back to baptism, fixing up the place list, changing the census (family) fact to a shared census fact, etc. And then there’s sources.. That can of worms probably deserves a separate post!

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday – Wedding Day

Today my Aunt and Uncle celebrate their 54th wedding anniversary! Here’s a scrapbook layout with their wedding photo. (Used a scrapbook kit that I am currently working on.)

Anna Maria Who??

Although it’s way late, today’s post was inspired by Randy Seaver’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – Who is Your Third Most Recent Unknown, as well as an email I received from a lady whose husband is also a descendant of Anna Maria and David.

Rather than just a plain vanilla blog post, I decided to work this in to a project that I’m doing in my “other life” as a digital scrapbook designer. My latest venture there is into the world of Art Journaling – which I’m doing with a vintage/heritage flair.

So here’s the page I made:

Anna Maria Who scrapbook page

And here is the text:

One of my 4th great-grandmothers was Anna Maria (nee Unknown) Reinert. She was the wife of David Rienert and mother of Elizabeth Reinert who married Matthias Levengood (my 3rd great-grandparents).

Anna Maria was born circa 1765 and likely died prior to 1820. Her first name is known from her children’s baptismal records. David and Anna Maria lived in Colebrookedale, Berks County, Pennsylvania. David died between 10 Mar 1840 (when he wrote his will) and 13 Sep 1842 (when his will was proved). Early census data appears to indicate that Anna Maria died prior to 1820, and, indeed, David does not mention a widow in his 1840 will.

So who were Anna Maria and David’s FANs (Family, Associates and Neighbors)? Well the census records for Colebrookedale in the early 1800s were (loosely) alphabetized, so we can’t say for sure who were their close neighbors without looking at land records.

Most of David and Anna Maria’s children were baptised at New Hanover Lutheran Church. The surnames of Davidheiser and Gilbert appear most often as baptism sponsors. Among the Davidheiser sponsors were Henry and wife Catherinne in 1790 and again in 1794. Online trees show a Henry (1732-abt 1810) married to Anna Catherine (1735-1795). Tax records and early census records show a Henry Davidheiser living in Colebrookedale – presumably the same Henry Davidheiser that was married to Anna Catherine.

Henry and Anna Catherine are known associates (through the baptismal records) and potential neighbors (per census and tax records). They are also of the age to be potential parents of Anna Maria. Unfortunately I cannot find a comprehensive list of their children. None of the online trees include an Anna Maria; however, there is a gap in the named children where she could fit. In addition, there is no estate file listed for Henry Davidheiser in Berks County and no baptismal records have been found for his children – yet.

So the search continues and the question remains — Anna Maria Who??

As always, if you are related to Anna Maria and David Reinert or have any further information on this couple, I would love to hear from you!!