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Contact Info and Frequently Asked Questions



Comments, corrections, and contributions are appreciated and encouraged.
And please help me keep this site current by reporting broken links. Thanks!

Email me,
Michelle Stone, at:
mstone@fisherstone.com

I very much enjoy hearing from my readers and am deeply indebted to my contributors, who extend the helpfulness of this website beyond what I could ever do myself. I answer all emails, so if you do not receive a response from me, please try again. Emails sent to me without a subject heading never arrive thanks to my spam protection service. If you email me, please make initial contact in text only, with no attachments, and include a subject heading with something specific like "Syracuse," "Onondaga," or "German Immigrant Ancestors."




Frequently Asked Questions



Q. Why doesn't this website feature easier-to-use, pop-up email forms?
Q. Who are you and why are you running this website?
Q. Why did the Germans choose Syracuse?
Q. Do you have any advice for researching records from a distance?
Q. Can you give me any advice on researching Germans from Prussia/Poland?
Q. Where did Syracuse Germans bury their dead?
Q. Where can I find help in translating old German-language documents into English?
Q. How can I find out the town in Germany where my immigrant ancestor was born?


Q. Why doesn't this website feature easier-to-use, pop-up email forms?

A. Because those forms also make it easier for internet-robots to harvest your and my email addresses and send us unsoliticted spam email. All the email addresses that appear in this website are encoded to help keep that from happening.



Q. Who are you and why are you running this website?

A. I am an American hausfrau and stay-at-home mom who has been doing personal genealogy and family history since 1993 (strictly for fun, love, posterity, and charity). Tracking down my German roots in the Syracuse area led me to want to know more about the history of the German community there. After discovering the 1897 book, Geschichte der Deutschen in Syracuse und Onondaga County, I realized this was exactly what I wanted to read, but couldn't because it was in German. There was a solution: type up a transcript of the book (I am also a fast typist) and pass it through some online translation machines. Having done all this work, it then seemed a small yet worthwhile step to share this information with others who might be interested in or related to the many people named in the book. With the help of Rootsweb's Freepages program and my in-house computer and HTML gurus, this website was born in August 2001.

My purpose and hope in maintaining this website is for it to grow to be the first place to look on the World Wide Web for a central repository of German/Onondaga history and genealogical research help. It is also my major Random Act of Genealogical Kindness, as well as a continuing education for me.



Q. I was surprised to find info that shows many Germans coming from the same area in Germany all the way to Syracuse. I guess they all wanted to stay together but why did they choose Syracuse?

A. The earliest German immigrants to Syracuse arrived long before the Civil War and were real pioneers. They joined those of other heritages (primarily British) in more or less individually settling what was practically a primeval wilderness. Their reasons for coming were varied, but usually involved the search for religious or political freedom, adventure, autonomy, and/or a little land they could call their own. The first substantial "wave" of German-speaking immmigrants arrived in Syracuse and Onondaga County (as they did in other parts of the U.S.) following the German crop failures of 1846 and the upheavals and mortal dangers of the failed German Revolution of 1848. In fact, these latter immigrants were often called Forty-Eighters, and
exerted a marked influence in the United States as a whole.

By 1848 more than one-third of the population of Syracuse was German. Many German immigrants arriving in Syracuse before the Civil War established themselves in the salt industry for which Syracuse was world-famous; others found work in the barrel-making industry which sprang up to support the salt industry. Certainly some of these Germans must have been seeking work they were already familiar with (Württemberg, for example, was a major salt-producing area in Europe through the 18th and early 19th centuries). In addition to the salt trade as an economic magnet, beginning in the 1820's Syracuse was a central stop on the Erie Canal, which provided transport for freight and passengers between the U.S. Midwest and the port of New York City (and beyond that, the world).

After the Civil War (during which immigration temporarily came to a halt), Syracuse was riding high. It became the permanent home of the New York State Agricultural Fair. Its dynamic transportation system (now including its famed railways radiating in all directions, along with the Erie and Oswego canals) and its banks and financial institutions had all flourished during and because of the war. Now, with its central location secured, and the technological boost of the new telegraph system, Syracuse was positioned to become a booming manufacturing town attracting a huge variety of different industries. Odd as it seems to contemplate today, in its heyday (from the Civil War into the early 1900s) Syracuse was one of the largest and most important cities in the United States, with its products known the world over.

In every decade, the immigrants who settled in Syracuse would've written home to friends and family about the economic and other opportunities that immigration to Syracuse afforded. In the 1850's,
despite the hardships, economic conditions in Syracuse seemed to offer a better future to immigrants than what they faced back home. In the boom years there was plenty of work for industrious Germans toiling in the manufacturing, building, or merchant trades, catering to the city's population explosion. And as more immigrants arrived, the more the German neighborhoods felt like "home," with German traditions, dialects, products, newspapers, music, churches, clubs, societies, foodstuffs, and practices abounding. The letters back to Germany (like this one from 1889) would've been widely passed around and discussed in the homeland German villages, where economic prospects turned increasingly bleak and farmland and living space grew scarcer as the decades went by. This is how the so-called "Chain of Migration" pulled generations of Germans to Syracuse and Onondaga County through "word-of-mouth" (actually, "word-of-pen").

I've also heard that some Germans thought it comforting that the landscape and climate of Onondaga County seemed to resemble that of the "Old Country" they left behind--an advantage over settling in, say, Iowa or Texas.

See also my General German/U.S./Immigration Information page.



Q. I too do not live near Syracuse. Do you have any advice to research records from a distance?

A. Unfortunately there is no magic answer for doing genealogy at a distance, other than the magic access the internet provides today to open some worldwide doors instantly (which is real magic indeed). Of course I'm sure you already know that anything learned from the internet must be confirmed by true documentation, with sources cited, in order for your hard-earned research to be any good. Trust nothing until you see the documentation--and then, evaluate the documentation as well. I think determination, education, and patience (and a willingness to devote some time and occasional chunks of money) to the problem, and the willingness to learn a lot of background information (getting to know your area and networking with the experts) are still the best way to get results.

Here are some of the major tools I've used, most of which require the use of a computer and the internet:


Interlibrary Loan:
Have you contacted your local library's Interlibrary Loan department to request that they bring to you a book held elsewhere in the world? There is nothing like the excitement of getting the call from your local library to come by and pick up that precious text or microfilm you've requested. Start by accessing the computerized catalog of the local libraries in the area in which you are researching. Browse the historical collections, and search for topics, biographies, special collections. Spend time just seeing what the library holds (and each local branch may have different holdings). This is how I discovered the existence of Geschichte der Deutschen in Syracuse und Onondaga County, the 1897 book of the history of the German community in Syracuse and Onondaga County. I requested it through my local library's Interlibrary Loan department, and it was loaned to me for 10 days' viewing at my local library's genealogy room from the public library in Buffalo, New York (Thanks, Buffalo!). I couldn't read any German at the time, and wasn't allowed to photocopy the fragile old book, so I transcribed chunks of it in longhand and took photographs of some of the illustrations. From this beginning (and with a lot of external help) sprang the idea and then the reality of my website. Of course, more and more materials held by libraries are being scanned, digitized, and made immediately available direct to you on the internet. But Interlibrary Loan is still invaluable to me for learning about my target area's local history at a distance.

Also, it should go without saying that you should check your local library's genealogy/local history room for their own offerings, reference books, resources, and access to online databases that may help you, including fee-based subscription services like Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest.com.


The Mormon Church:
You don't have to be a Mormon or anything else besides a family history researcher to be warmly welcomed to use their network of Family History Centers located in their church buildings. These libraries are open to all genealogists (including beginners) and they and the volunteers who staff them have been invaluable to advancing my research. If you haven't familiarized yourself with the genealogy databases and services offered by the Mormon (LDS) Church, you should. Much is already available online from their website,
http://www.familysearch.org (click on "Search" or browse their "Library" catalog). But much more can be viewed by paying a small fee to rent microfilmed documents viewable at a local FHC library near your own home. Each library has many resources available onsite, including access to online services and patient volunteer staffers (some of whom may be able to translate foreign languages or decipher old handwriting for you). Every FHC library seems to have its own specialization, so check out as many as you can near you to find one that suits you.


GenWeb, Mailing Lists and Message Boards:
There is no substitute for being able to "ask the experts" when you're stumped. By visiting the Genweb sites and subscribing to and regularly monitoring the mailing lists and message boards pertinent to your areas of research (surname, geographic area, or topic) you become part of a community of generous genealogists focused on what you want to know. I have been helped and guided by so many wonderful people over the years through this venue. They have sent me photocopies of documents they have found, transcripts of obituaries and city directory listings, photographs of houses and tombstones--you name it (and I have tried to reciprocate, which is just as much fun). Computer access makes possible a worldwide get-together, a "virtual genealogical society meeting" on whatever topic, surname, or locale you are interested in. My personal favorites over the years have been the Rootsweb bunch, but there are others:

The World Genweb Project: http://worldgenweb.org/
The U.S. Genweb Project: http://www.usgenweb.org/
Rootsweb's many offerings, including mailing lists to subscribe to and message boards you can read or post to (don't forget to check the archives): http://www.rootsweb.com/


Online Subscriptions & Services (free and fee-based):
As a beginning genealogist I gathered most of my education from the community of online genealogists. Much help and many clues for (and links to) research avenues were available for free on message boards and mailings lists (above), but here are other online sources that helped me as well:

Rootsweb Review (a free online newsletter): http://rwr.rootsweb.com/

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter (free blog online, fee-based newsletter edition available): http://eogn.typepad.com/

Ancestry.com (lots of online data, including U.S. census images, at a steep subscription price; I access this for free at my local public library): http://www.ancestry.com/

The Post-Standard Newspaper Archives (online old newspapers of Syracuse, not just the Post-Standard but other newspapers as well; fee based): http://poststandard.newspaperarchive.com/

The Godfrey Memorial Online Resources (fee-based subscription; includes access to the Post-Standard Newspaper Archives, plus other databases, all for a lower total fee): http://www.godfrey.org/

Mapquest, Google Maps, and GoogleEarth (a fabulous map service that can show you what your area of research looks like today): http://earth.google.com/

Babel Fish translating service (free): http://world.altavista.com/

See my own Links page for other online services and sites I consider helpful and vital, including local ones (courthouse, libraries, OHA, etc.) in Syracuse and Onondaga County:

http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~mstone/links.html

And my "German Research Resources in Onondaga County" page:

http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~mstone/resources.html


Local Researchers:
Sometimes the frustration of begging for lookups and trying to do long-distance research grows so great that it is finally worth it to you to pay someone in the area of your interest to cut through the fog and go get you the documentation you'd like. Sometimes, when you've pinpointed exactly what it is that you'd like but can't get, it is well worth paying someone (perhaps with more expertise and knowledge than you) to cut through the long-distance red tape. I have used local researchers in the Syracuse area and have been very pleased with the results. Email me for my recommendations, contact the Onondaga County Public Library and or the Onondaga Historical Association, or check this list of researchers at the Onondaga GenWeb site:

http://www.rootsweb.com/%7Enyononda/RESEARCH.HTM


Visualize a Visit
When all else fails, start to visualize yourself visiting the area someday. Familiarize yourself with maps, history, stories, and design your dream research trip. Start to believe and work towards making a trip there to do your research yourself. Ask for it for your birthday! Makes lists and schedules of what you'd see and do, and explore how you'd get there and what the costs would be. Who knows--if it becomes conceivable to you, perhaps it will become reality in time. There is no thrill comparable to being there yourself, feeling those goosebumps as you visit the spots your ancestors knew, seeing some of what they saw, and reclaiming a part of your history that means more to you the more you learn.

Hope this helps!




Q. I too am researching Germans who lived in Prussia, or a part of the former German Empire that is today Poland. Can you give me any advice in figuring that out?

A. This kind of genealogical problem can be hard to figure out, since most of the names of the locations have changed and often the original records have been lost. Try these suggestions on for size:

Websites (explore them):

PolandGenWeb site (so much here to help you):
http://www.rootsweb.com/~polwgw/polandgen.html

Especially note this page on town locators:
http://www.rootsweb.com/~polwgw/loc.html

FEEFHS MAP LIBRARY (includes old maps of Prussia):
http://www.feefhs.org/maplibrary.html

Kartenmeister: German/Prussian/Polish/Lithuanian/Russian town names finder:
http://www.kartenmeister.com/preview/databaseuwe.asp

ShtetlSeeker – Town Search (a great little town-finder):
http://www.jewishgen.org/Communities/LocTown.asp

Index of German-Polish and Polish-German names of the localities in Poland & Russia:
http://www.atsnotes.com/other/gerpol.html

Foreign websites:
Just as the suffixes for U.S. websites are .com, .edu, .net, and .org, the suffix for German websites is .de and the suffix for Polish websites is .pl. So try entering URLS in your browser for your towns of genealogical interest, such as [town name].pl and see what comes up. Some foreign websites will even have English versions available. For those that do not, bring up a translator in another window of your browser and do the best you can. (I recommend AltaVista/Babel Fish for German-English and www.poltran.com for Polish-English).


Mailing lists (subscribe and post questions):

Prussia Roots: http://lists.rootsweb.com/index/intl/DEU/PRUSSIA-ROOTS.html

German surnames: http://lists.rootsweb.com/index/intl/DEU/GERMAN-SURNAMES.html

Poland Borders surnames: http://lists.rootsweb.com/index/intl/POL/PolandBorderSurnames.html


Message Boards (read to learn, and post to ask):

Prussia: http://boards.rootsweb.com/localities.ceeurope.histreg.prussia/mb.ashx

See also boards for East and West Prussia and other historical regions of Central Europe: http://boards.rootsweb.com/localities.ceeurope.histreg/mb.ashx


Books:

The invaluable gazetteer book for all German genealogical research, Meyers-Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs, is available at nearly every LDS Family History Center, as Fiche no. 6000001. It describes approximately 210,000 cities, towns, hamlets, and dwelling places in the entire German Empire during the period 1871 to 1918. Because this book is printed in German and in a Gothic font, you may want to spend some time learning how to read that font, or find a volunteer at the Family History Center who can help you. A good source to aid in using Meyers-Orts is Wendy Uncapher's book or Larry O. Jensen's book. The FHC may also have the Muellers Grosses Deutsches Ortsbuch (Fiche no. 6000343 - 6000354). This 1958 gazetteer of Germany, Poland, and parts of Russia lists modern German and Polish place names and is printed in a modern typefont. While at the FHC, you may also want to consult the German map known as the Karte des Deutschen Reiches (FHC film no. 68814). On the microfilm roll there is a grid map at the beginning, followed by very detailed maps (scale 1:100,000) showing the entire German Empire as it existed prior to WWI.

If you can find someone on a mailing list, message board, or at your local LDS Family History Center, genealogy society, college campus, or research room of whom you can ask further specific advice, you may soon find some breakthroughs.




Q. Where did non-Catholic Germans living on the north side of Syracuse bury their dead before Woodlawn Cemetery opened in 1881?

A. Rose Hill Cemetery on the north side was just about the first municipal cemetery for all faiths. Here is a helpful summary of the history of what happened and how Oakwood Cemetery came into being as its successor:

http://www.shadesofoakwood.com/pages/oakhistory.html

For more on Oakwood, explore the Shades of Oakwood website: http://www.shadesofoakwood.com/index.html

You can find about 300 burials listed at Rose Hill Cemetery on Findagrave.com. You should always check Findagrave.com for all burials and cemeteries, but Findagrave.com is of course an unofficial and very incomplete (yet terrific) source. Caveat Emptor--but have fun.

You can access Onondaga Co. Public Library-supplied burials at both Oakwood/Morningside and Woodlawn Cemeteries (as well as other cemeteries and some censuses) online at this valuable website (check the sidebar on the left):

http://nortonresearch.com/gen/index.php

For a summary of Catholic cemeteries, there's this from an Onondaga Historical Association brochure, “Portraits of the Past,” Bicentennial Special, no. 6: “Echoes of Our Past: The Historic Landscapes of Syracuse's Cemeteries,” 1994:
“Assumption Cemetery, 1894 to Present. Assumption Church opened its new Northside cemetery after St. Joseph's became too crowded. The new site along Court Street was further out, where more land was available. Its oldest section, near the main entrance, now boasts a mature landscape of trees and an array of monuments, many with German surnames. Assumption's newer sections, however, are dominated by burials from Syracuse's Italian community.”

“St. Joseph's Cemetery, 1859-1966. The Northside's Assumption Church began as a German Catholic parish. In 1859 it established St. Joseph's as the City's second Catholic cemetery. Its 8 acres occupied a hillside at Pond and First North Streets, then on the city's outskirts. St. Joseph's became filled with over 6000 burials. By 1950 inactivity, lack of funds and vandalism had left it an overgrown embarrassment. Assumption Church decided to relocate the bodies to their newer cemetery on Court Street. During 1965-66, 6567 individual remains were disinterred but only 509 could be identified. A mass grave at Assumption Cemetery holds the unknown.”

“Old St. Mary's Cemetery, 1845-1919. Prior to 1845, Catholics in Salina and Syracuse used municipal burying grounds since no separate consecrated cemeteries existed. During that year, Syracuse's 4-year-old St. Mary's Church established a hillside cemetery on the village outskirts alongside today's Renwick Avenue. Catholics from all over the County were buried there, however, it was used primarily by those of Irish origin from Syracuse, Geddes, and Onondaga Hill.”



Here's St. Joseph's Cemetery at Findagrave.com (burials for a Catholic cemetery that no longer exists!)

Browse Onondaga County at Findagrave.com for more cemetery names, like First Ward Cemetery and Anshe Sfard Cemetery (one of a handful of Jewish and Orthodox cemeteries at the southern end of Jamesville Ave. in Syracuse).

There is also some further information at my Cemeteries webpage: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mstone/cemeteries.html

and a list of Irish lot owners at St. Joseph's Cemetery: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyononda/CEMETERY/List_of_Irish_Lot_Owners_St_Josephs_Catholic_Cem.html

and a roundup of Onondaga Cemeteries at Onondaga Co. GenWEB:
http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyononda/cemeteries.html




Q. Where can I find help in translating old German-language documents into English?

A. In the Onondaga County area, check with the Onondaga County Public Library's Local History and Genealogy Department to see if they know of any local volunteers who can help you. You might also try contacting the staff of the German program at Syracuse University, the Turn Hall at 619 North Salina Street, or the Onondaga Historical Association in downtown Syracuse. Finally, you can at least connect with singers who may know German via this website:
http://nyssb.org/.

Have you tried contacting your local Mormon Church Family History Centers? The volunteers there may know of one or more among their ranks who can easily help you decipher your documents. Call around to various FHCs within your territory.

There is also the Yahoo Transcribe group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/transcribe/

Cyndi's List has some leads:
http://www.cyndislist.com/handwrit.htm
http://www.cyndislist.com/language.htm

You can try making a transcript of the handwriting yourself and running it through an online translator like http://babelfish.yahoo.com/. Difficulty may vary!

Have you posted your plea on all the available genealogy message boards? I would post by both geographic locations of interest (in Germany and in the U.S.) and by surname. Perhaps a genealogist cousin will step forward to help you, as has happened to me. This route can take time, tho.

Here is the Rootsweb Onondaga Co. board: http://boards.rootsweb.com/localities.northam.usa.states.newyork.counties.onondaga/mb.ashx

Here is the one at GenForum: http://genforum.genealogy.com/ny/onondaga/

I would be glad to add a "blurb" and plea from you on the alphabetical pages (by surname) of my website, if you would like to submit something.

Patience and persistence will get you there, I think!




Q. How can I find out the town in Germany where my immigrant ancestor was born?

A. Keep checking records. Did you find your ancestor entering the United States at castlegarden.org or ellisisland.org? Depending on the era of the immigration, the ship's passenger manifest may indicate the town of origin or last residence. Check all possible variations of spellings there for your ancestor's (and/or his emigrant family's) names. Try all versions of the names (Joh., Johann, Johannes, John, Hans, etc.). Try thinking of how the name might be pronounced in German and spelled phonetically or carelessly (Gilcher, Guelcher, Gilger, Kalcher, etc.). Think how it might be incorrectly indexed due to illegible handwriting.

Keep trying to find every U.S. document you can find on him. Many times German-American church records would include towns of origin. Also try researching all of his relatives, because often a sister, nephew, or other relative will have records that produce the name of a German home town. Sometimes it ends up that you research the entire family in the U.S., but that way you do find out a much bigger picture. Cast a wide net!

Checking a general genealogy research book like
The Red Book may give you new ideas of the kinds or categories of documents you might be able to search (land records, voting records, etc.).

My most fruitful places of finding towns of origin for German-Americans have been church records, obituaries and other newspaper clips, published biographies, naturalization documentation, and the kinds of personal records (diplomas, passports, letters) that come down through families, so posting queries on message boards (by surname and U.S. geography) can sometimes connect you to cousins who may have such documents and will know more and be happy to help you. And as always: Good luck and persistence pay off.



Copyright 2012 Michelle Stone. All rights reserved. The information presented on this website may be used for personal and/or scholarly research only. Commercial use or reproduction of any information contained on this website is strictly prohibited. Information contained on this site is not to appear on any web site on the Internet or in any printed format without written permission.
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