Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Some European Genealogical Customs
Usually when I travel, it's with a family research goal in mind. In August I took a trip to Europe solely for pleasure but couldn't help looking for genealogical clues to how Europeans do their family history.
In the Netherlands when a couple marries, they are given an ornate lacework to hang in the window of their front door. A unique type of family tree, two bells hang from the branches representing the bride and groom. Each time they have a child, another bell is added so all the townspeople can share in the happy occasion.
In Germany we participated in a home-hosted lunch. Our groups of eight persons shared lunch with Frau Massler, a middle-aged widow. As she took us on a tour of her home I spotted an elaborate hand-drawn genealogical chart of the Hoffman family. It depicted the ancestry of our hostess who had come from Croatia and settled in Germany in 1963. The base of the tree was her 5 thgreat grandparents with all their descendants represented including her grandchildren.
In Bonn, we visited the Beethoven Haus, where Ludwig van Beethoven spent many years of his married life. Here again I spotted an elaborate hand-drawn chart prepared in 1812 of several generations of his family. The house had been emptied of furniture for a special display, and since all the text was in German the chart was the highlight of the tour.
In one town in Alsace a wooden heart placed on the front peak of the roof indicates an eligible young woman lives inside. A young man places a wine bottle similarly on his roof to advertise his desire for a wife. When a betrothal occurs, the man covers the neck of the bottle with a wine glass to warn the other maidens not to bother him. We saw many hearts but only wine bottle, already covered. Poor girls!
Most cemeteries in both France and Germany are attached to a church. French graves are generally raised above ground, covered with a stone slab and an elaborate monument. They are very close together, and instead of grass, the ground is covered with fine gravel. Cemeteries are usually behind stone walls with locked gates. Families are charged an annual maintenance fee to maintain the premises.
We find many genealogical clues in cemeteries in the U.S. Not so in Germany. After two or three years, the remains are exhumed and cremated so the grave can be reused. Memorial stones are taken home by an heir and used as a garden decoration. The grave is reused and the process repeated over again due to the shortage of available land for cemeteries. Information about a death must be sought in town or church records, not the cemetery.
Every town has an impressive town hall with an imposing clock tower, but records have often been moved to an archives, perhaps miles away. Many European town and church records have been filmed by the LDS church and can be borrowed at our Sahuarita Family History Center.
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16 November 2009