LDS (Mormon) Family Search
Shtetl Seeker, an online tool created by the Jewish Genealogy community that allows you to find towns within a given number of miles from a specified city or town.
The crucial missing years : Between 1789 and 1815, the Rheinpfalz was occupied by the French. During this time, all records of births, deaths and marriages for this time period will be found in Civil records, not church records. If you can't find the years you're looking for in church records, check the civil records. The LDS often has filmed both.
"Jews & Mormons Join Forces to Achieve Genealogical Victories"
Well, not exactly, but it sure feels that way sometimes. Between the Mormon microfilm and the online Jewish resources, I made great strides in my research. Here’s what I did:
The more I wrote down, the more connections I started to find—not yet to our Buffalo Betzes, but within and between the little towns south of Bad Kreuznach. Then I found one particular family with a set of children with the same names as my Buffalo Betz set: Philippina, Elisabetha, Philip, and Margaretha! BUT! They were not of the right generation. This set—from Feilbingert, two miles west of Altenbamberg—was a generation older than our Buffalo Betz set. But the fact that they ALL had the same names seemed to me to be worth exploring further. An experienced genealogist would remind me that these names were so common back then that the existence of these names in two families is hardly extraordinary. But my intuition said go for it, so I did.
As I often do, I turned again to Darcy, and suggested that she order the microfilms for the Feilbingert Protestant church records. She did, but my travel date had approached before the films arrived.
One week is not enough time!
Off we went to Hannover for the lovely wedding of our friends, Wolfram and Kirsten. We spent about a week there, with side trips to Berlin and Essen, before heading south with the newlyweds for our weeklong genealogy adventure through the Pfalz and Schwarzwald.
The day before we left Hannover for the south, I was able to check my email. And it’s a good thing I did. Darcy had great news.
She’d been busy the first week I’d been gone. Not only had she received the Feilbingert films, but she’d made a great discovery: the Buffalo Betz Group of Five (Philippina, Elisabetha, Heinrich, Philipp and Margaretha) were indeed siblings! And they’d all been born in Bingert (which had later merged with next-door Feil to form Feilbingert). The LDS films were difficult to read, but she’d deciphered enough to confirm that our five were born to Johann Heinrich Betz, himself son of a Valentin Betz. [Editor's Note: We subsequently learned that Joh. Heinrich was NOT the son of Valentin, but son of Joh. Jacob Betz and Anna Maria Seitz. This information has been corrected on final "tree" you'll see in the next "chapter".] Not only did she confirm the familyhood of our five Betzes, including our great-great-grandmother, but we now had gained two more generations!
Let me review the steps that led to our success:
The irony of all this is that there is yet no direct connection between this generation of Betzes and the family of same names that I found one generation back in the same town. (I hope to confirm relatedness soon.) Still, the similarity of the names spurred me to pursue the Feilbingert films, and there they were! I can't stress enough the importance of looking at witnesses on marriage records and godparents or sponsors on baptism records. In our case, it resulted in finding new generations.
In the meantime, I had also learned that the civil records in Bad Kreuznach were only for events that occurred in the city of Bad Kreuznach, not in any other nearby towns. Given that I now had confirmation that my Betzes were from Feilbingert, not Bad Kreuznach, I cancelled my appointment there, and decided to focus instead on the Feilbingert records at the Speyer Archives. I wondered why Kreuznach had been recorded as the hometown on the records of two of my five Buffalo Betzes. The Speyer archivist later surmised that because it was the closest big city, immigrants in the U.S. referred to it instead of the less-likely to be recognized small village of Bingert, four miles away.
If you don’t find record of your ancestors in the town their U.S. records say they’re from, check out the neighboring smaller towns.
Our first night on the road, after leaving Hannover, we spent in Altenbamberg, ancestral home of Catharina Dern, wife of my recently confirmed great-great-granduncle Heinrich Betz. Altenbamberg is a small village located on route B48 along the Alsenz River about 4 miles south of Bad Kreuznach.Gasthaus & Pension
There is one Gastehaus (guest house) on the main street, "Gastehaus zur Linden" (Guest House under the Linden Tree), owned and operated by Herr Otto Berens and his wife. We paid only 80DM per night, which in May 2000 translated to $40 per night. This included breakfast… and lots of advice. With Wolfram and Kirsten acting as interpreters, we learned that Herr Berens is quite fond of the region’s history, knows a fair amount about genealogical resources in the area, and in between his duties as chef and handyman, loves to talk about it. In addition, we learned that I was not the first American to visit Altenbamberg looking for Betzes and Derns. It turned out that another Washingtonian (DC, that is) had come through two years before, a military man, looking for the same names.
We looked through the guest book from that time period, but no luck. We found very few Americans had been through this town (or at least signed the guestbook) in the last several years. I continue to be very curious about this researcher, and hope we find each other some day. We’re probably related.
By the way, German adults, even young ones, are not as informal as we Americans are. When you ask someone’s name, they give their last name, rarely their first name. I only learned the first name of our Altenbamberg innkeeper because we overheard someone call him Otto. The archivist I would meet later in Bad Munster also only shared her last name. This is the "German way," according to our German hosts.
Herr Berens confirmed for me that for now, my time would best be spent in the Speyer archives, so the next day, that’s where we went.
Census Records | Vital Records | Family Trees & Communities | Immigration Records | Military Records Directories & Member Lists | Family & Local Histories | Newspapers & Periodicals | Court, Land & Probate | Finding Aids