Friday, March 4, 2011

Learning a new language:deciphering and reading the Heppenheim sippenbuch

First, I want to thank Tom M. yet again for obtaining copies of 12 pages from the second and third volumes of the Heppenheim sippenbuch.

Second, I want to head all you smartasses off and say that yes, I know the book is in German and is therefore in a different language. Got it out of your system? Okay.

Can I just say that this was one of the most overwhelming pieces of documentation I have EVER come across in my entire life. As already stated, the book is in German. On top of that, there are a lot of abbreviations and symbols. This is where this handy little legend courtesy of the St. Louis County Public Library special collections department really came in handy:

Ok, confused yet?

Now, the way it seems to work, as far as I can tell, is you have a family entry with husband, wife, kids, dates of birth, dates of death, dates of marriage, places for all if known, and sometimes little notes about occupation or running off to America without your wife and kids in the case of Martin Neher. The family entry has a number, and next to each name and/or marriage there is also a number, in parentheses. If you follow it, for example, from the father of the first family entry, it will take you to another family entry, where the father is the kid listed with his parents, and you keep going like so until you reach the end.

So there actually is a bit of order to it all, although once you start following several lines, you need to keep track of which parents belong to which kid. But the fun doesn't stop there. For that extra kick, in the case of Heppenheim and vicinity, it was a small town, so on top of being in German and abbreviated, we have the same first and last names repeating over and over again as the same families intermarry with each other for generations.

And then there are those who married more than once.

If a man married more than once, a family entry might list him with two wives and all his kids - I couldn't tell which wife belonged to the first wedding date and therefore did not know which kids belonged to which wife (and god forbid she married more than once, too, and so her first husband's name or next husband's name was also listed). I got so bogged down in one entry I just wanted to cry. Instead I read it several times and then wrote it out several times, but couldn't make heads or tails of it. So I decided to leave the wife for now and follow the husband's line back.


In the entry for the husband where he's listed as the child, his marriages are written in order, each wife next to the date of the right marriage. And so I was able to move forward again from there and follow the proper mother back.

The moral is, you are going to have to read this thing both forward and backward and then forward again.

Also of note - if a person is married more than once, there may be multiple family entries, one for each marriage.

The moral of THAT is, make sure you follow the right family numbers.

I'm still going through everything, but from the looks of it, I have very deep Hessian roots, and I'm just so excited to find out more...

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