The following book review was written by Bobbi King:
James Beidler is a longtime German researcher, writer, and lecturer. He writes a column for German Life magazine and his newspaper column “Roots & Branches” appears weekly in the Lebanon Daily News and the Altoon Mirror (Pennsylvania).
The first documented German to the New Country was Dr. Johannes Fleisher who disembarked at Jamestown with the first colonists. Today, more Americans can claim German ancestry than any other ethnicity, a testament to the waves of immigrants to America from the German-speaking regions (Mr. Beidler makes distinctions among the definitions of “German-speaking,” “Germanic,” and “German”).
Mr. Beidler examines the history of Germans’ settlements in the United States, their influences on American culture, and then begins directing the researcher towards discovering his or her own German roots on the family tree.
Part 1 details “Linking Your Family Tree to German-Speaking Nations,” with chapters outlining the steps preliminary in your search. Part 2 expands on “Getting to Know the Old Country” with chapters on German geography, language, and names. Part 3 is “Tracing Your Family in German-Speaking Nations” with chapters on the civil registrations, church records, census records, and printed records. Part 4 is “Advanced Sources and Strategies” with a chapter titled “Putting It All Together” and just in case you couldn’t, a following chapter titled “What to Do When You Get Stuck.”
I particularly liked the section on German language. Mr. Beidler describes the nuanced differences in reading and translating Fraktur (or Gothic) font, German cursive script (Modern, Fraktur, Sütterlin Kurrent), vowels and consonants, and the ubiquitous Umlaut. You don’t need to be looking at Germany-generated records to find all this language information helpful. My small-town Nebraska Catholic families had German priests who wrote the parish sacramental record entries in a confounding mixture of native German, church Latin, and idiosyncratic penmanship. German Genealogy Guide is going to be a great help for me there.
Throughout the book, sidebar text boxes add points of interest to the focus topic. Throughout the book are abundant images of old-style certificates, historical records, explanatory maps, and numerous old ledgers bearing handwritten entries. Accompanying captions helpfully explain the illustrations, and any serious German researcher will learn as much from the examples as from the text. (The real thing is always more interesting than the explanation.)
Mr. Beidler has given us a well-written and well-organized German research manual. He generously sprinkles website URLs throughout the text and conveniently refers us to other reading resources while we’re on the topic. The seven appendices offer extensive lists of German civil records and church archives, U.S. sources, German societies, and publications and websites. The “Understanding German Script” appendix will prove indispensable for deciphering tombstones, records, and documents.
A cautionary note to students of the Germans from Russia and the Donauschwaben groups: you will find little direct information here, but there are references provided for further research for these colonial populations.
And kudos to the book designer. The whole book has a look of “German-ness” about it, with distinctly reproduced images and expert use of muted greys for highlighted contrast. The body text font is somewhat smaller than I prefer, but it’s easy to read, further credence to expert formatting. I love a good-looking book that accurately reflects its contents, and this book hits the mark on all accounts.
This is a smartly composed new German research guidebook, invaluable in many ways, and the best published German genealogy guide to date.