Thank you to Bob Vornlocker for this article on his German genealogy research.
In the following article Bob has shared a personal story of breaking down a long-time brick wall and the process he used to create that “lucky break” for himself. He discusses using wildcards, the importance of accessing original records, his experience working with professional on-site genealogists, how common it is to confuse people of the same name when looking for ancestors and, most importantly, the determination and creativity required to solve complex family history questions that may otherwise appear to be permanent “brick walls.”
Bob also wrote “How to Use Wildcards to Find Your Ancestors” for Family History Daily in the past. You can read that article here for help with using wildcard searches.
Please note that Bob has made available all records mentioned in this article for your review here. We have included a couple of them below.
For the past 3 years, I’ve been teaching once a month at my local library about how and where to search for ancestors. Although most of the lessons focus on the Internet using search techniques like wildcards, every session includes a mention of the importance of evidence in building a family tree. So often, people are satisfied by a record of a marriage in an index and cite that as proof of the marriage. They do not even bother to obtain a copy of the marriage record, although the information to do so is often included in the index information.
In 2009, I was searching for information about my father’s grandparents, both of whom had emigrated from Germany to the USA in the late 1800s. All I knew was that his name was John and hers was Theresa. While searching online for sites with German databases I discovered the German Genealogy Group in New York. Their database manager was so far advanced for the time as to allow wildcards in the search fields.
Of all the churches in New York City, my great-grandparents chose to be married in St. Leonard’s Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan, one of a few churches indexed by the GGG. I searched for V*rnl*r, which I used after finding several other badly misspelled ancestors, and found John Vornloker marrying Theresia Pfister on 11/7/1886.
I also found a record for the baptism of their son, John, very near the date of my grandfather’s birth. I entreated the president of the GGG, Liz Lovaglio, to look at the record for any additional information. She kindly did so and sent me the following:
Date of Marriage: 7-Nov 1886
Groom: John Vornloker
Place of origin: Burg Eberach Bavaria
Father’s Name: Peter
Mother’s Name: Regina Mueller
Bride: Theresia Pfister
Place of origin: Herrpoldsheim Baden
Mother: No name in records
Witness 1: Joseph Klimmer
Witness 2: George Metzner
Priest: John Joseph Raber
I spent some time deciding that his birthplace might be Burgebrach, Bavaria, Germany and quickly wrote to the Archiv des Erzbiztums Bamberg (Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bamberg). I employed an excellent archivist, Carolin Ott, who confirmed a Johann Vornlocker, with a father named Peter and a mother named Regina Mueller.
The record reads:
Born – 04.03.1862
Baptized 06.03.1862 Burgebrach House 100
Father – Peter Vornlocker
Mother – Regina Mueller
Next, she found the marriage on 11/22/1858 of Peter Vornlocker & Regina Mueller. Peter was baptized on 12/4/1829, the son of Conrad Vornlocker & Anna Maria Ursprung, who were married in St. Vitus, Burgebrach on 2/12/1820. Conrad was baptized in St. Vitus on 10/20/1788, the son of Friedrich Vornlocker and Margaretha Linser, who were married in St. John the Baptist Church in Schlüsselfeld on 11/15/1774. Friedrich was baptized on 4/9/1757 in St. Laurentius Church in Elsendorf, the son of Johann Vornlocker and Anna Margaretha Haering, who were married on 2/5/1754 in St. John the Baptist in Schlüsselfeld.
She supplied copies of all the records, but work at the Catholic archives then came to a brick wall. There was no Catholic church in or near Frimmersdorf with Johann Vornlocker’s birth. Ms. Ott recommended that I contact the Landeskirchliches Archiv der Evangelisch-Lutherischen in Nürnberg. (Bavarian Lutheran Church Archives).
There, I employed Annemarie Müller to do my research. The first order of business was to find the baptism record of Johann Vornlocker, son of the late Johann Vornlocker and his wife, Kunigunde. She told me I was fortunate to know the name of Johann’s mother as there were four Johanns with basically the same name living around the time of the marriage. But, she had found my Johann. His father was:
Hans Fahrnluger [the Younger] Farmer of Frimmersdorf, christened 2/18/1693, as a younger son of the farmer Hans Fahrnluger of Frimmersdorf, who died 5/11/1769 as a farmer in Frimmersdorf, age of 76 years, 3 months, 9 days. He married on 1/28/1721 Kunigunda Schaub, daughter of farmer George Schaub of Großenseebach, [probably baptized in Kairlindach].
Their children included John, christened 07/11/1725.
Next, she sent me information on ancestors, back to Blasius Fahrenluger, originally Fachenlueger, but that’s another story, who arrived in Germany from Austria in the 17th century.
Johannes (Hans) Fahrnluger, farmer in Frimmersdorf was christened on 12/01/1657, the son of Blasius Fahrenluger and Anna. He married on 1/31/1687 Catharina Kayser, daughter of cooper and brewer Hans Keyser of Frimmersdorf and died on 9/15/1721 as a farmer in Frimmersdorf at the age of 64 years, 8 months and 4 days.
Their children included:
– John christened 3/4/1689, two marriages in 1718 and 1719 [more information was not sought] – John christened 2/18/1693
I couldn’t get copies of the original records and this was very disappointing, but the Catholic and Protestant ancestors seemed to be acceptably connected. However, I continued looking for additional evidence of my heritage.
About 5 years later, archion.de, a portal to Evangelical Lutheran Church records in Germany, was announced in an article in Dick Eastman’s newsletter. My good fortune was that Lonnerstadt was one of the first places to become available and my work there was going to result in several corrections to my tree.
First I obtained the baptism record for Johann, the son of Blasius and Anna and then his marriage to Catharina Kayser, which read:
1687 Proclaimed here on the second Sunday after [greek letters] Septuagesima and Sexagesima Sunday, and married on 31 January:
Hans Forluch, unmarried young man, new farmer in Frimmersdorf, legitimate son of Blasius Forluch in Frimmersdorf, and the young maiden Catharina Kayser, legitimate daughter of Hans Kayser, cooper and beer brewer, and citizen here [in Lonnerstadt].
When I began searching for their children I discovered that there was a problem with one of the Johanns. The record for the baptism of the Johann, born 3/4/1689 read:
On the same day [as the previous record], 14 March Hans Fahrnluger, farmer in Frimmersdorf, and wife Catha[ina], baptized a little son. The sponsor was Hans Franck, farmer in Ailsbach. The son was named Johannes. But, there was another child, also named Johannes.
In 1691, on 15 July, Johann Fahrnluger in Frimmersdorf and his wife Catharina, baptized a little son. The sponsor was Johann Schoring, mill worker in Fetzelhofen, legitimate son of the deceased Johann Schöring, former miller here and mayor of the Brandenburg principality in Lonnerstadt. The son was named Johannes.
There had been no mention of this child in Ms. Muller’s records. The Johann born in 1693 turned out to be the son of Andreas Fachenlueger, another child of Blasius.
This record read:
1693; On 18 February, Andreas Farnluger, farmer in Frimmersdorf, and his wife Barbara, baptized a little son. The sponsor was Johann Staudt, farmer in Unterwinterbach. The son was named Johannes
So, the archivist at the Lutheran archives had made a mistake. Strange that she had the correct page and baptism number!
Now, I looked for the marriage and death of the 1691 Johannes which had to be prior to his son’s marriage in 1754.
The marriage record read:
Married on 28 [January 1721]
Joh. Fahenloger, unmarried, new farmer in Frömmersdorf, legitimate son of Joh. Fahenloger, farmer in Frimmersdorf, and Kunigunde, legitimate daughter of Georg Schaub, farmer in Großenseebach.
The death record read:
Death Place: Frimmersdorf
Burial Date: 1742 Oct 12
Burial Place: Lonnerstadt
Deceased Given & Surname Joh. Fahrenlucher, farmer in Frimmersdorf
Age at Death: 51 yrs, 2 months, 2 weeks?
I then looked for his son’s marriage record, thinking that marriage banns might be published in his home church in Lonnerstadt. And, I found it!
The marriage record read:
Married on 5 February  in Elzendorf, after three proclamations:
The honorable young man Johann Fahrnlucher, new farmer in Elzendorf, legitimate, oldest son of the deceased Johann Fahrnlucher, formerly farmer in Frimmersdorf, but now stepson of the honorable Conrad Klöpffer, farmer in Frimmersdorf, and the young maiden Anna Margaretha Hering, youngest daughter of the deceased Johann Georg Hering, formerly farmer in Elzendorf.
With this new information about his mother, I looked for her second marriage and I found Kunigunde Fahrenlucher of Frimmersdorf, widow of Johann Fahrenlucher, deceased, marrying Conrad Klöpfer on 6/15/1744.
The record read:
Marriage Date: 1744 Jun 15
Marriage Place, Lonnerstadt
Groom Given & Surname: Conrad Klöpfer, unmarried
Groom Home Town: Fezelhofen
Groom Father’s Name: Andreas Klöpfer, deceased, smith in Fezelhofen
Bride Given & Surname: Kunigunde Fahrenlucher
Bride Home Town: Frimmersdorf widow of Johann Fahrenlucher, deceased
And, with this last piece of information, the brick wall between the Catholic and Lutheran archives came down.
With the two marriage records for Johann Fahrnluecher(Lonnerstadt)/Johann Fornlocker(Elsendorf) to Margaretha Haering, the change to my surname, evidently due to the dialect differences for which the area is infamous, was documented. My persistence had been rewarded.
OK, so there was some “luck” involved in finding my great-grandparents’ marriage record. But, if I wasn’t looking in the right place, I wouldn’t have been so lucky.
I teach the people who attend my class that it is critical to find the hometown of our emigrant ancestors. If I hadn’t asked for a complete transcript of the marriage record, I wouldn’t have the hometowns.
So, point number one – get a copy of early ancestor records. I found a hometown on the marriage record of an ancestor’s daughter.
Point number two – find out where records of your ancestor are archived. FamilySearch may have this information in their research wikis or Cyndi’s List may be able to help you with the location.
Point number three – If you have to hire someone familiar with the repository, ask the repository for names of archivists or genealogists they recommend.
Point number four – be very specific about what you want from the person you hire. Try to hire them for one hour with the object of finding your ancestor’s marriage or birth, depending on their marital state on emigration. Give them what you know. Ask them to go backward as far as they can and list the information you want. Emphasize that you want copies of every record.
And – extremely important – tell them not to look for death/burial data. Unless the information is indexed by name in the record books, that is a sure way to burn through a lot of money. A good archivist should return about 3 generations in an hour if you know the date to start within 2 years, assuming your ancestor is in the records. That would consist of an ancestor’s birth, the parents’ marriage, each parent’s birth and the names of each parent’s father and mother – maybe even their marriage records. Pay promptly with lots of gratitude, particularly if you receive more than the 6 records I just described. Ask for a quote on doing additional work, being very specific about what that work is.
Happy researching! I hope you’re as “lucky” as I was.
–Have you read our recent article about the “Location Traps” that many are experiencing on Ancestry.com? Find out how you may be missing important records and how to overcome this issue.
–You might also like: Need Help Deciphering Old Genealogy Documents? Explore These Free Handwriting Resources
Bob Vornlocker is a retired – 76 years young – IT Professional, living happily with his wife of 52 years,Sandra, and their cat, Dave. A graduate of Fordham University – BS Chemistry and the New Jersey Institute of Technology – BS Industrial Engineering, his career was spent in manufacturing companies, mostly in the design and implementation of software for production and inventory control, today known as logistics management. His first interest in genealogy sprang from being introduced to a 19th century ancestor through a newspaper article that claimed the ancestor was “Chief Joel Skidmore, the last of the Canarsie indians”. Although this claim proved dubious at best – Joel’s mother may have had Indian blood, Bob was hooked on genealogy and, 35 years later, has traced 6 of his 8 great grandparents back to the 1600’s, no mean feat, with 6 of the 8 German immigrants who reached our shores in the late 1800’s. Bob has written an article for us on his Dutch ancestor, who arrived in New Netherlands in 1658. The remaining great grandmother was a Skidmore whose immigrant progenitor reached the USA in the 17th century. He is always ready to help friends find their ancestors and teaches genealogy once/month at his local library.