Recently I tried searching the collection of German vital records at the FamilySearch Record Search site. There are three indexes for Germany:
The information in these indexes was extracted from original sources and entered into a database. Because there is no list of actual sources used for the indexes, and no list of place names included, it is hard to determine if the collection is useful to your area of German research without trying a search. (FamilySearch: If you are reading this, consider adding a listing of all localities or microfilm rolls used!) I tried my various Bavarian lines and found a few familiar names, but to summarize my findings I will echo a previous posting of mine – An Index is Only as Good as Its Spelling.
When using these indexes, beware of name errors. For example, I searched for the names of my 4th great-grandparents, Wolfgang and Juliana Fischer. In my previous research using original records that were microfilmed by the LDS, I learned their names in the marriage record of their son, Franz Xaver Fischer, and his bride, Barbara Gürtner (my 3rd great-grandparents).
In this original record, I had transcribed Franz Xaver’s parents’ names as Wolfgang Fischer and Julianna Guggenberger and confirmed these names in his birth record. On the FamilySearch site, I searched the Germany indexes for Wolfgang Fischer and found three hits in the marriage record collection. Two are for Wolgang and Julianna’s son, Franz Xaver (his marriage to my ancestor was his second). One is for Wolfgang and Julianna’s daughter, Therese. Although it is the same couple, the spelling of Julianna’s maiden name is listed in 3 different ways in the index:
On 21 May 1839, Xaver Fischer marries M. Anna Breu in Pfaffenhofen. The index has Xaver’s (or Franz Xaver, depending on the record) correct date of birth and birthplace – 06 Oct 1813 in Langenbruck. His parents are listed as Wolfgang Fischer and Juliana Huffenberger. The source film number is listed as 816429, which is Heiraten, Tote 1827-1872 – Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888, Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen).
Next, Xaver’s sister Theres Fischer, born 11 May 1816 in “Agilberg” [which is incorrectly spelled in the index and should be Agelsberg], marries Joseph Rainer on 25 Feb 1840 in Waal. Her parents are listed as Wolfgang Fischer and Juliana Guggenberger. The source film number is 817563, which is Taufen 1864-1882 Heiraten, Tote 1803-1878 - Kirchenbuch, 1551-1956, Katholische Kirche Waal (BA. Pfaffenhofen).
The third record is for Xaver’s marriage on 27 Apr 1841 in Pfaffenhofen. Since he is now listed as a widower, it is presumed his first wife died. His birthdate and place are the same as the previous record. The bride’s name is listed as Barbara Hürtner (born 14 Dec 1814). Xaver’s parents are listed as Wolfgang Fischer and Juliana Huttenberger. The source film number is 816429 (same as above).
So, is Julianna’s maiden name Huffenberger, Huttenberger, or Guggenberger? Well, based on viewing the original source for Franz Xaver’s birth as well as his marriages, my guess was Guggenberger – despite the fact that the index lists her name as Huttenberger for the marriage record to my ancestress. It should be noted that the indexer also records Gürtner as Hürtner, so maybe they had difficulty distinguishing the priest’s handwriting for G’s and H’s.
I decided to pull out my copies of the original records to see why the name’s spelling varies so much. On the birth record for Franz Xaver, which does not appear in the FamilySearch collection of birth records, the mother’s name is clearly Guggenberger (well, it’s clear if you are used to reading German handwriting):
In the two marriage records for Xaver (who did not use “Franz” as a first name), it is easy to see why an indexer may have difficulty with the mother’s name. In both records, the “gg” in the name appears to be written over a “tt”. His father’s name is written over a crossed-out stepfather’s name since his father, Wolfgang, died when Xaver was a young boy.
Xaver’s first wife died shortly after giving birth to their first child, Casper, in December, 1840. The baby also died at 10 days old. Xaver found a new wife five months later, which was a necessary custom of the time.
As you can see from the original records, it is easy to understand why the indexer could not get the name “right”. I would not be sure of the correct spelling unless I looked at other sources, such as Xaver’s birth. I do not have a copy of Xaver’s sister’s marriage, which is the only one of the 3 indexed records to show “Guggenberger” as the mother’s name. Interestingly enough, I have the record of Juliana’s second marriage after Wolfgang Fischer’s death. In it she is listed as the widow Juliana Fischer, but her parents’ names or birth information are not provided. I have not been able to locate the marriage of Wolfgang and Juliana either.
Just as you can’t trust online family trees without verifying the information by using original sources, you also can’t trust online indexes. In the case of the indexes I list above, you are not able to see the original records online, but the source microfilm number is provided. It is highly suggested that you turn to that source to confirm and verify.
Because the indexes can be wrong – as shown above – it is also recommended that you try a variety of spellings when performing name searches. In fact, if you click on “advanced search”, you can even search for a first name “Wolfgang” and a spouse name of “Juliana”, then narrow down the results by choosing a particular collection of records (I can’t figure out how to do this in the “beta” but the regular FamilySearch allows it). This won’t work very well with overly common names, but for unusual first names it might work.
It is also important to note that FIRST names don’t follow any set rules in the indexes either. For example, Josef may be indexed as Josef, the anglicized Joseph (though it wasn’t likely to actually say that in the German record), or the Latinized Josephum.
While these indexes can be a useful tool in guiding you to other sources, they are just that – a tool. The indexes should not be used as an original source, but instead should lead you to that original record source. Take note of the record’s source information, look up that microfilm roll in the catalog, and then order it to check it for yourself.
When you try the indexes, keep an open mind when it comes to spellings, because you might miss out on a potential source if you are too “strict” with your spelling choices!