Three years ago or so, shortly after my interest in genealogy began, I found this photograph among others my father had saved. On the back my Grandma Bernthal recorded “Dad & Roy planting spruce for fathers day 1975.” Forty years later the spruce tree still grows in the front yard of what was my grandparents’ retirement house. Now when I pass by it, I think of my dad and grandpa planting the seedling together.
If you follow my Tweets (and I know you are ;) ), you’ll know I’ve been traveling recently including to the National Genealogical Society (NGS) annual conference in May and the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University this month. Both are excellent opportunities to learn and improve your skills as a genealogist.
The 2015 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference was held in St. Charles, Missouri, just north of St. Louis. This provided me with the opportunity to not only attend the conference, but to do some research, sightseeing and indulge in another favorite pastime: wine tasting. Look for a couple of future posts highlighting my experiences in the St. Louis area.
This was my first time attending the four-day NGS conference, and I’m happy to report it exceeded my expectations. I also attended a day-long pre-conference workshop on German genealogy. While some of the information presented in this workshop was not new to me, I still benefited from it. F. Warren Bittner’s primer on German history was informative and entertaining. If you’re researching German ancestors and not familiar with F. Warren Bittner, you should be. He is one of the premier genealogists in Germanic genealogy having performed fascinating original research in the field, as well as being an engaging speaker. You can find some of his work published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and hear some of his lectures recorded by Jamb Tapes, Inc. Although not presented at this workshop or conference, I particularly recommend his lecture “Understanding Illegitimacy: The Bittner Bastards of Bavaria.” Illegitimacy among our German forbears is not uncommon (yes, there is even one amongst my Bavarian ancestors!), and definitely not for the reasons you may expect. This lecture is available from Jamb Tapes, Inc.
In addition to the German pre-conference workshop, the conference also featured a German track. Baerbel K. Johnson’s talk “So You Think You Want to Get Married: Marriage Records, Laws, and German Customs” informed listeners of German marriage records beyond those created by the church. Town council proceedings include petitions to marry and may illuminate circumstances surrounding your ancestors’ marriages or indicate why they could not marry.
Cutting edge methodology was presented by Elizabeth Shown Mills in “The Problem-Solver’s Great Trifecta: GPS+FAN+DNA.” Here she demonstrated how she proved four generations of a maternal line for which no documents provided direct evidence of the relationships.
Other educators included Thomas W. Jones, Judy G. Russell, Julie Miller, Alison Hare, Angie Bush, and John Philip Colletta, cementing NGS’s distinction as the premier genealogical conference. The 2016 conference will be held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. More information can be found at the NGS website.
This past week was spent honing my genealogical skills at Samford University Library’s Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research in Birmingham, Alabama. Each year about ten different courses of study are taught by faculty distinguished in the fields of genealogical education and research. Courses include beginning, intermediate, and advanced methodology, genealogical writing and publishing, and specialties such as military records and research in the South.
This was my second year at IGHR. I was enrolled in Course 3: Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis. The course coordinator and main instructor was Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL. Additional course instructors were Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA; David E. Rencher, AG, CG, FIGRS, FUGA; Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL; Craig R. Scott, CG, FUGA and Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS. In addition to having fancy post-nomials, they are all excellent teachers. Classes in this course included reasonably exhaustive research, conflicting evidence, legal foundations of genealogy, government documents, ethics and DNA evidence analysis, correlation, interpretation.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to see Judy speak, you’ll know she’s an excellent educator, and her teaching in Course 3 did not disappoint. So much so that she received a standing ovation from her students at the end of the week. I have no hesitations about recommending her course. If you are interested, be sure to register as soon as on-line registration opens. Course 3 fills up within a matter of minutes.
Unfortunately, after 51 years IGHR will no longer be hosted by the Samford University Library after 2016. Its future is uncertain, although IGHR is eagerly looking for an appropriate new “home” to continue its mission. On its homepage, IGHR has posted a video lecture titled “Time to Make the Doughnuts!” which addresses this issue. I will certainly miss the beautiful Samford University campus and the dedicated SU Library staff. If you’re looking for a solid genealogical education, I highly encourage taking advantage of next year’s IGHR offerings.
I love it when pop culture and history collide.
Yesterday I received an advertisement for this little guy in my e-mail inbox. It was for Playmobil version’s of Martin Luther. I thought it was pretty funny. And since ALL my ancestors were German Lutherans, I thought he had a place on this blog (a stretch, I know; he’s just so darn cute). Released ahead of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the toy has broken Playmobil sales records. The figurine even has his own hashtag on social media: #LittleLuther.
Little Luther will be released in the United States on July 1st, 2015. He is available online at Concordia Publishing House.
 “Why Martin Luther is the answer to Playmobil’s prayers,” The Guardian, 18 February 2015, Web edition (http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2015/feb/18/martin-luther-playmobil-figure-sold-34000-in-72-hours : accessed 6 June 2015).
 Little Luther web page, Concordia Publishing House (https://www.cph.org/t-littleluther.aspx? : accessed 6 June 2015).
Today our family celebrated Memorial Day by attending Frankenmuth’s annual Memorial Day parade. Before the parade, my niece and nephew searched the Frankenmuth Veterans Memorial honor wall looking for bricks with the names of their grand-uncles who served our country. Above, they examine the brick of their grand-uncle Willard A. Bernthal who died (non-combat) in 1954 while serving in the United States Army.
Thank you, Veterans, for your service. You are our heroes.
I grew up with the theory that I was of 100% Germanic stock. So far, all the lines of my family tree bear out that theory. Yet, I still thought it would be fun to test my DNA with Ancestry.com. And the results of my ethnicity estimate surprised me:
(Click on graphic to enlarge.)
Of course, the Europe West and Europe East estimates were no surprise. Both areas encompassed Germanic lands. Scandinavia was not expected, but since I have Prussian ancestors that lived in what today comprises Poland and with Sweden and Denmark not exactly lying very far off, a connection there is a viable possibility. The real kickers were Great Britain and Ireland. I mean, Ireland, really? The estimates could be a fluke or a reflection of tribal movements well before we can expect to find any ancestral documentation. Acting on a hunch, though, that this may not be the case, I decided to have my mother tested, or rather, she agreed to have her DNA tested.
Her results were not what I expected. While her majority estimates reflect Germanic heritage, her results also came in with 26% Scandinavian and and 21% British. These percentages are not so easy to dismiss as anomalies.
And so, my quest for my ancestral origins has taken an interesting turn…
Sahrah Miksiwe was a Chippewa woman. She is buried at Bethany Lutheran Indian Cemetery along the Pine River near St. Louis, Michigan. The inscription on her small headstone reads:
Mother of the Chippewa
Died 110 Years Old
12 April 18[?]
I have waited for Thy
salvation, O Lord. 
 Bethany Lutheran Indian Cemetery (Riverside Drive, St. Louis, Gratiot County, Michigan), Sahrah Miksiwe marker; personally read, 2012. The year of death is partially illegible.
E. R. Baierlein, Anitz Z. Boldt, translator, and Harold W. Moll, editor, In the Wildnerness with the Red Indians (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996), 143. An appendix to this volume listing the burials at Bethany Lutheran Indian Cemetery transcribes the year of Sahrah Miksiwe’s death as 1859.
Recently I visited my nephew and niece and together we made family tree posters. A fill-in poster came with the children’s book Evie Finds Her Family Tree by Ashley B. Ransburg (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 2006). The book is a basic introduction to the family tree concept probably best geared towards children ages three to six. With simple words and pictures it describes how each family member is unique, yet they all fit together to make a family.
The family tree poster project was right on target for my niece’s and nephew’s ages, five and seven. Beginning with the child, the tree goes back four generations. For each ancestor there is a space for their photograph and a place to write the ancestor’s name. The project absorbed the kids’ attention and sparked discussion on how different family members were related, the concept of maiden names, and interest in their ancestors’ occupations. It was a fun project for both me and the children. Recommended.