Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lessons Learned

The bulk of my peeps immigrated to Cincinnati and/or Covington.  My mom's dad's people came over in the 1700's and early 1800's and seemed to stay in Virginia and Pennsylvania.  Their roots have already pretty much been traced and written about (I totally scored on those fronts).  Grandpa "Bud" (Mom's dad) was a bit of a mutt.  His ancestors were German, Swiss, English, Scottish, Irish, etc.  I think we may even be a bit French through him. :)

However, the majority of my obsession has consisted of finding my German Catholic people.  And, by and large, they have fully cooperated with their granddaughter.  They filed paperwork (wills, naturalizations, estate papers, etc.), they included themselves in city directories, and they were Catholic.  Catholic sacramental records are a HUGE source of information.  I don't know about any other religion's record keeping, but I have come to fully appreciate a priest who's detailed in his paperwork (and who has legible handwriting).

If you're looking for your Catholic Germans (and perhaps specifically your Catholic northern Germans) who immigrated to Cincinnati and/or Covington, maybe I can be of some help.  I assume you already know about Ancestry.com, Fold3.com, and FamilySearch.org.  If you don't, these sites are well worth looking into.  However, they don't have everything.  So you'll need some other places to search.

First of all, if your people were Catholic, you need those sacramental records!  I can't begin to tell you how important these are.  Today, the records are pretty standard (still important, though)--Name, Parents' Names, Parish Name, etc.  But back in the 1800's, priests sometimes included a lot more information.  I've found occupations and places of birth listed for the parents and godparents.  Those clues lead you to new records.  And before you know it, you may have a few more generations in your tree.

In order to get those old records (baptism, marriage, death), you will need to find out how to contact that diocese's archivist.  Some Catholic records are available on FamilySearch.org, but most are not.  Each bishop (as head of the his diocese) decides how to make these records available.  So that will be the first thing you need to uncover.

For example, the diocese of Covington, KY, has their sacramental records (within a certain time frame) available on microfilm in some libraries.  I've searched through them at the Kenton Co. library and also at the genealogy library in Salt Lake City.  I've also e-mailed the archivist, and he's wonderful in getting back to you and helping in any way he can.



The archdiocese of Cincinnati is different.  You must write them and ask for the records.  There is a set fee for up to 10 records in one mailing, and it takes about 6-8 weeks to get the records.  They do have a sample letter on their website to help you.


I know that this seems like a lot of work, but it's worth it.  Trust me.  :)

The Cincinnati library has created a pdf with genealogy resources available for Hamilton County.


Another great resource is a city directory.  The Cincinnati Library has the Cincinnati ones online.  Magnificent!  Not only do these old directories give the address of your ancestor, but it usually also gives his/her occupation.  And don't forget to look in the business directories if you think your ancestor owned a business.  If you don't find your person, make sure and look for misspellings of the name.


A Facebook friend of mine pointed me in the direction of the Hamilton Co. Probate Court archives online.  It will take you a little while to figure out how to find the exact records (Volume # or Book #) you need, but the information contained in this website is amazing.  Through it, I found out that my great, great grandfather became a naturalized citizen when he was 64 years old.  I also read my great grandmother's will (as well her father's).  And I found the estate records of a few of my family members (with a couple of surprises).


Also, make sure and look at the Hamilton Co. Genealogical Society's database.  You can check the marriage and death indexes to see if any of your ancestors are on there.  And from that, you can check FamilySearch.org for a Hamilton Co. marriage record.  If you find an obituary listed for your German ancestor, you'll need to look through the microfilm for that specific Cincinnati German newspaper.  The microfilm is at the Cincinnati library and also at the local LDS genealogy libraries (they may have to order this film for you, however).  I'm very lucky because I have a few friends who are able to read "old" German script and have been able to translate these obituaries for me.


The City of Cincinnati kept birth and death records before those records became mandatory and "official."  The Blegen Library has put these fabulous cards online.  However, you have to have the exact spelling of the name.  So if you can't find anything with one spelling, try some different ones.  That worked for me more than a few times.


The library also has information concerning Hamilton County naturalizations and wills.  However, if you don't find your ancestor's information, don't assume it doesn't exist.  For example, my great grandfather's naturalization (restored) information is here, but my great, great grandfather's info is not.  I found that on the Hamilton Co. Probate Court website.  Also, none of my people's wills are listed on the Blegen Library website, but I've found them on the probate court site.    Don't get discouraged if you don't find it on the website you think it should be on.  Keep looking.


The genealogy departments at both local libraries are amazing.  The people who work there have been incredibly helpful to me.  They're happy to answer questions and help you to figure out clues.  Ask them for help.  This sounds stupid, but it actually took me more than a few visits to the libraries to go up to the desk and just ask.  Sometimes your "brick wall" just needs a new pair of eyes.  And sometimes, the librarian knows an angle that you need in order to solve whichever mystery is giving you fits at the time.

Another important area of research is cemetery records.  I'll admit it.  I LOVE my cemetery workers.  I have story after story of them going out of their way to help me.  I've literally had one jump on his mower and zip in and out of graves (that doesn't sound right, does it?) as he helped me locate a couple of ancestors.  And he was the one who found them!  I had another one who had the groundskeeper go to my great grandfather's grave and take a photo of it so that my father could see his grandfather's tombstone (this was up in Zion, IL).  They've walked me over to the grave so that I would definitely be able to find it.  They've sat in their office (and stopped whatever work they were doing) and gone through records with me.  I can't say enough about how wonderful they are.  They "get" it.  They understand the obsession.

In my research, I've found that most German Catholics were buried in German Catholic cemeteries.  Makes sense, huh?  Don't hesitate to call or e-mail a cemetery and ask questions about any records they may have for your ancestor.  In my experience, they're happy to help.  The Cincinnati library has a lot of cemetery records on microfilm.  And if you're lucky, your ancestors filled out their family member's information card.  On two of my great, great grandparents' cards, their German hometown was listed.

Make sure and ask not just for the information card or record, but also ask for information about who owns the plots and when those plots were bought.  IMO, that's always very interesting.  Some records are online but most aren't.  Don't worry.  Send an e-mail.  Call.  Go to the library and look through that cemetery's microfilm.  You can eventually find the info.

A few Cincinnati Catholic cemeteries have some of their records online now.  But if you don't find your ancestor listed, don't get discouraged.  Not all records are online.  For example, at Old St. Joe's cemetery in Price Hill, my great grandmother is listed but my great grandfather isn't.  They're both there.  Side by side.

And even if you find your ancestor on a cemetery website, make sure and still look at the actual information they have on him/her.  Each cemetery is different in the information they have.  Old St. Joe's/St. Mary's/St. John's has one of the (potentially) best slew of information on each person.  If you're lucky, your ancestor's parents may be listed, place of birth, date of birth, parish buried from, home address, etc. The funeral home should also be included on the information card (another avenue of information).


As a side note, there's nothing like actually visiting the cemetery.  I've found one great, great, great grandfather and a set of great, great grandparents in cemeteries that have no records of them.  Major score!  Keep in mind that record keeping was not as meticulous back in the 1800's as it is now.  If you're able to go to the cemetery, do it.  Take a look.  Pay your respects to your people.  And just see if there might be a surprise or two in store for you.

I want to include a little note about using FamilySearch.org.  Not all their available online information is indexed.  Which means that if you put your ancestor's name in their general search engine, certain documents won't show up. And these might be very important pieces of info.  You may have to go into each state's documents and try to find your people (by county, date, etc.).  Well, well worth it.  Start poking around these records and see what you may find.


I've been to two Family Search Research Centers in the Cincinnati area (the ones in Montgomery and Norwood), and the people who work there are very helpful.  They can order microfilms and will let you know when it arrives (there's a small fee involved to cover shipping and handling).


Another research possibility is the Cincinnati History Library & Archives.  I didn't have great luck here, but that might be because my people didn't join anything (too busy drinking beer and Korn, I guess).  However, I do plan to go again and look through more records in the hopes that I can find someone!


My next area of research is to try to find legal papers regarding my great grandfather's business and voting registrations for them.  I'd also like to find real estate papers (buying and selling) since I know my great, great grandfather owned some rental homes at the time of his death.  Now I just have to find the time to figure out where exactly I need to go for these records.

If your people were Catholic northern Germans, I've got a few websites you may want to take a look at.

The Archives for Niedersachsen may be of help.  To get to the search engine, click on "Online-Recherche" at the top of the page.


If your German Catholics lived in the Osnabrück diocese, then you're in luck.  The archivist there is wonderful!


However, your northern Catholic Germans may have lived in the Münster diocese.  The archivists there are wonderful, too.  Are your detecting a theme?  I love my Catholic church archivists and cemetery workers!! :)


Another area of contact and research (if you know the exact town your Germans came from) is the town's Heimatverein.  Members of the Haselünne Heimatverein have been so helpful to me in getting to know a bit more about my Kerkhoffs and about their lives in the town.


As wonderful as all the online sources are, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty and go to where the records are.  If you haven't looked through microfilm since you were in 7th grade, it hasn't changed.  It's still time consuming, usually dull, and incredibly tedious.  But when you make a discovery, it's all worth it.  More than a few times, I've sat in front of a microfilm machine and cried.  I discovered the date of my great, great grandmother's death.  I read the newspaper article describing my great grandfather's horrible death.  I've found wonderful baptismal records.  Those moments make it all worth it.



  1. Hi Marti! Thanks for posting all this helpful info on finding German Catholics! I have a lot of them in my tree too.

  2. I love old churches too. Welcome to Geneabloggers! Look forward to reading more of your posts. (The Root Digger) www.yvetteportermoore.com

  3. Thanks Yvette. I can't wait to read more blogs on Genabloggers. Finally, a group that understands my obsession! LOL!