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My Elisabetha, Part IV:
The Speyer Archives

This page updated 19 September 2000

Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Resources
A Postscript

Zentralarchiv der Evangelischen Kirche der Pfalz

To visit:
Domplatz 6, in Speyer
(along the Rhein River, due south of Frankfurt)
Telephone: 06 232 / 677-180/181
Fax: 06 232 667-234

Postal address:
Postfach 1720
67343 Speyer, GERMANY

Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 10 am-4pm; closed for lunch. Appointment required.

Fee: 8 DM for up to 4 hours
15 DM for all day
(no additional charge for having a second person there to interpret.)

Limited research available via postal mail, for a fee of 25 DM per half hour up to about 200 DM.  Requests must include at a minimum, a full name, date range and town (microfiche is organized by town). Allow 3 or more weeks to receive results.

UPDATE Sept. 2000: Since writing this report, the director of the Zentral Archive contacted me and requested that I add the following:

  • The Zentralarchiv has some English-speaking staff.
  • Requests for research may be sent in English, but responses will be in German.
  • The Archiv will accept requests through email at Evzasp1@aol.com.
  • And they have a new Web site: www.zentralarchiv-speyer.de .
 

The Speyer Archives

Kirsten and Jillaine after a successful (thumbs up) visit to the Central Protestant Archives in Speyer As I mentioned earlier, Iíd learned through the Pfalz-L mailing list that most old Protestant Church records for the Rheinpfalz region are located at the Zentralarchiv der Evangelischen Kirche der Pfalz. This is part of the German Protestant church system, which has some sort of regional headquarters in Speyer.

I came very organized, and with an interpreter. This radically affected the success of my visit.  All genealogists with whom I'd correspondended prior to my trip told me to expect  no English-speaking assistance.  After e-publishing this story in May, 2000, the director of the ZentralArchiv contacted me to let me (and you) know that some staff at the archives do speak English.  If you do need English-speaking assistance, you should request this at the time you make your appointment.

I also witnessed first-hand the benefits of treating people from whom you need help with the utmost of respect. I fully expected that the archivist would set us up at the microfiche reader, provide us with the specific records we needed to review, then leave us to our own devices to decipher the old script. And, in fact, this is what previous visitors told me would happen.

However (and this is what transformed this woman into the Archive Angel Sent By God), after some informal chatting as she set us up, she sat herself down at the reader, inserted the microfiche, and asked me (in German), "What name first?" Okay, I thought, sheís going to get us started on the first name. Thatís great. How nice of her. This was particularly good because my young German friend was not familiar with the old German script (which German schools stopped teaching sometime before World War II).

Two-and-a-half hours later, the archivist was still with us, and had added details that Darcy had been unable to decipher, including another generation up on several of the branches. Our family tree sprouted several additional branches. The archivist also provided an incredible amount of contextual and historical information that will help in our ongoing research.

I am forever grateful for her warmth, kindness and generosity, as well as for her impressive knowledge of the region, and her amazing grasp of the old German script.

Schmidt/Betz family tree after incorporating information from the Speyer archives

I realize that my experience diverges wildly from the past experience of other U.S. genealogists who have visited the Protestant archives at Speyer, almost all of whom have reported that they were on their own once there. One researcher reported on Pfalz-L that s/heíd been told by a Speyer archivist, "Go to Salt Lake City; these are the same films that are there." Maybe something was lost in translation, perhaps the archivist was just conveying information. Maybe they just werenít very busy on the day I visited. But I think my experience was made so positive by the following significant factors:

(I also later sent her a thank you note, along with a photo of my German friend and I.)

I raised an issue above that needs re-emphasizing. Currently, the microfiche at the Speyer archives are predominantly the same as the films orderable by the LDS. (Apparently, there is a German project underway to use new technology to make new and better films.) In fact, the Mormons made the initial microfiche now housed at the Speyer archives. The archivist told us this herself.  Why go to Speyer, then? Well, if you can decipher every single word of old German script, if you are familiar with German surnames, if you have a strong background in the regionís history, including geography, politics and religion, and you can zip through the records as quickly as the Speyer archivists, and if you want to wait days or weeks for the next townís film instead of a few moments, then you certainly donít need to go to Speyer. But if you do go, either know your German, or bring someone along who does. And be prepared. And be nice. And send a thank you note afterwards.

I have since learned that not all the Pfalz Protestant church records are at Speyer, but most are. Also, the Mormons did not film all the old records. In addition, because the Speyer archives also house most of the original books, if the microfiche is indecipherable, staff will pull out the original records. Fred Krebs says that some of the really old books have wooden bindings.

[Jillaine and Philip in the Speyer Plaza] My cousin Darcy had looked at the LDS-supplied copies of these same records. She found them very difficult to read. The Speyer archivist could glance at a page and in a few seconds know whether or not the information I sought was on it. It would have taken me many minutes to review each page of text to determine if it even contained what I was looking for. Granted, we were extremely fortunate that the archivist had the time to work with us. What we found in Speyer that we didnít find in the U.S., thanks to her assistance, were not only the names of the godparents, but their relation to the child born. In my case, this information provided a whole new generation that we didnít have. In addition, the archivist was well versed in the history and geography of the region, and when one file didnít pan out, she knew which other one to try. And it was loaded into the microfiche reader in moments, not weeks.  This is a significant advantage of visiting the Speyer archives, if you have the opportunity to do so. (Plus Speyer is a nice place to wander around; down the street from the archives are many outdoor cafes, and the huge cathedral there is home to the tombs of many old German emperors -- visit online at www.speyer.de).

After leaving Speyer, we headed south to the other region where I had ancestors, along the Nagold River on the eastern edge of the Black Forest. Unfortunately, our German friends were called back to Hannover and we had to make a decision about what we would do for the remainisng few days of our trip. Should we stay in this new region without interpreters and transportation, or should we return to Altenbamberg where we knew the innkeeper and even if I got no more genealogy work done, we could hike, drink the local wine and simply enjoy ourselves. We decided to do just that. What this meant was that I was unable to do any research into my Baden-Wurttemberg lines, especially the Fassnachts. Nor was I able to link up with living relatives in Unterreichenbach (Bohnenbergers, Erhardts and Gengenbachs).

Snapshot of Altensteig borrowed from the town's Web site - www.altensteig.deBefore our German friends had to leave, we did spend a lovely day in Altensteig, at the southwestern end of the Nagold River.  There we picked up, at the tourist information center, an Ortsippenbuch for both Altensteig ($20) and the nearby Altensteigdorf ($7.50). An Ortsippenbuch is a compilation (typed!) of mostly church records for a particular town, grouped by surname, and excellently cross-referenced. Genealogy.Net, a German-based genealogy Web site, maintains a list of all the Ortsippenbuchs currently published. The LDS has most of them in Salt Lake City. The information inside of the Altensteig Ortsippenbuch fleshed out related branches on our Fassnacht line.

We also drove down from Pforzheim along the Nagold River, where my ancestors had been "flosser" Ė raftsman transporting lumber by roping logs together and riding them downstream. We only briefly went through Unterreichenbach Ė mostly a health resort town. We walked through the lovely Calw, with its large, half-beam architecture, birthplace of Hermann Hesse.

Then our German friends dropped us off in Altenbamberg on their way home to Hannover.


 

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