It’s cold in the Frankenhöhe. Tiny white thingies swirled around me when I stood in front of the parish office. I had a little difficulty to find the house – I was expecting the typical baroque or at least 19th century sandstone affaire, but found myself in front of a normal two family house with front garden patch and garage at the side. That means a working heating, yay!
The most important person I have to deal with on such trips is the parish secretary, the lady who runs the business. And to make it clear – it IS a business and these people have a remarkable level of professionalism. In all those years I only once, and exactly once, met a man in this position. The lady was friendly despite the stress, the group of volunteers for grafting these terribly necessary christmas decorations had occupied another room seemingly without warning … it would be a bit difficult to find me a place. She sat me in a small office room directly in front of the metal filing cabinet, I think I used the vicar’s desk. I was a bit late and had to start immediately, because these offices are always only part-time manned, what means that the secretary has only half of the necessary time and sometimes between 12:00 and 13:00 the fun is over.
I thank those men on my knees who made registers. After some praxis you develop a feeling whether you can trust the registers or not, sometimes they are made very careless or lax and you do better in reading through the books. The register is a tool to safe time and to help for orientation in the paper and ink desert we call archive or church books. These were splendid. A joy: Well written, accurate, every minister dutifully kept them in order, I recognized some hands when I read the original records or entries.
My starting point was the birth of my customers Great-Grandfather 1870. Bingo. He was born there while his mother was working as maid or farmgirl; the father is known, another farmhand. I went through the birth entries (via register) from 1914 back to 1750, the first child with the family name was born in the 1780s. I checked the marriages via register until 1801 and went through the book from 1779 to 1800 – very well written, good paper, no ink munching through, a joy! – just to be sure, the earliest marriage I found is from 1804. Time was running out, so I could only check the death entries for this time (1779-1800).
The result is: The family lives in the area at least from the late 18th century (1780s) onwards. The name of one hamlet pops up over and over again; the men’s profession is given as „Bauer“ (farmer) or „Gütler”, what is less than a farmer. And one of the earliest is a dressmaker by trade, what I like.
Barbara, the mother of my client’s GGF had at least two children earlier. This indicates not an immoral lifestyle, but it means that she simply was dirt poor and was not allowed to marry. Later, in the 1890s when this son of hers will marry, a note says she is married in another village not far away. But she’s not born where I searched. As I mentioned before her name is not too common, and I found only two women with the same name throughout the century: One was born 1855 and so the GGF would be her third child at the age of fifteen – a bit over the top even for this region; the other died as child. She originates from another village not far away, where seemingly another branch of the family blossomed. This parish was – and seemingly still is, despite the fact that it actually has no vicar – independent, the office is kept open once a week for some hours by the friendly lady I already had to deal with. So in three weeks I’ll drive again into the Franconian woods to look for them, but this time I know that I am on the right way.