Faith of Our Ancestors

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

~ Faith of Our Fathers1

The theme for the 99th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is Religious Rites.  My ancestry is mostly Polish and a quarter Bavarian.  Since Poland is about 99% Roman Catholic and Bavaria is the Catholic region of Germany, it is no surprise that my family is Catholic.  I come from a long line of Catholic ancestors with the exception of one great-grandmother who was Protestant.

For my Catholic ancestors in Poland and Bavaria, religion played a major role in everyday social and cultural life of the towns and villages.  All of the vital records I’ve found for these ancestors come directly from church records of baptisms, marriages, and burials.  It is easy to see that my ancestors’ lives were intertwined with the church’s rites – many of my ancestors were baptized, married, and laid to rest in the same parish.  It is impossible to know if my ancestors had a strong faith or if the church merely represented a cultural presence in their lives.  Regardless of the answer, I am Catholic today by choice, but also in part due to the faith of all the fathers and mothers in my family history.

Top Row: My Grandmother and her two children - my father and aunt. Bottom Row: My brother, me, and my niece. All photos were taken on the day we received First Holy Communion.

Once my ancestors immigrated to the United States, they continued to practice their faith and their American-born children were baptized, made communion, confirmed, and married in the church.  Whether or not my great-grandparents or grandparents had a strong faith, it was still passed down.  Today, my parents, brother, and I all share a deep love for our Roman Catholic faith.  For us, the celebrations of baptism, Holy Communion, confirmation, and marriage are not merely excuses for a worldly celebration, but they represent defining moments in our walks with God.

Faith is a rather serious topic, and since my genealogy adventures are usually on the lighter side, I’ve decided to approach the topic a little differently.  In honor of the seven sacraments2 celebrated by Catholics, I present a list of unique, odd, or curious facts about my family’s participation in religious rites!

7 Sacramental Fun Facts About My Family

1.       My maternal grandfather, Henry Pater, did not know he was baptized at all much less in the Catholic Church.  When he and his wife had their civil marriage blessed in the church, the record indicates that he received a dispensation, presumably for not being Catholic.  However, I found the record of his baptism at Our Lady of Grace Church in Langhorne, PA.  My mother theorizes that since his mother was the Protestant in the family and they were living with his father’s Catholic parents and grandmother, the Catholic half of the family must have had him baptized without his mother’s knowledge!

2.       We do not know where my paternal grandfather, James Piontkowski (later known as Pointkouski), was baptized.  I plan on searching the churches near the address the family lived in 1910 when he was born, but Philadelphia is a very large city with many Catholic churches.  The irony of not knowing where he was baptized in the city is that I found his brother’s baptismal record at Św. Stanisława in Warsaw, Poland – another very large, very Catholic city.  I thought that would be impossible to locate the correct church, but it was an easy find.  Surprisingly, I found out that Philadelphia has more churches than Warsaw!  According to the 1912 Catholic Enclyclopedia3, Warsaw had 414,620 Catholics and only 40 churches and chapels.  In comparison, the 1911 entry for Philadelphia4 indicated that there were 525,000 Catholics in the city in 1910 with 434 churches!

3.       My mother and aunt have the unique designation of being the oldest baptismal candidates in my family tree.  Their father was the agnostic son of the Catholic-Protestant marriage, and their mother was the lukewarm daughter of Catholics.  For whatever the reason, my aunt, who was born in 1932, and my mother, who was born in 1935, were both baptized together at Nativity B.V.M. – around 1938-39, likely at the insistence of their maternal grandfather.  My mother was old enough to remember walking into the church, and she remembers her horror when the baptismal waters wet her fancy new dress.  My aunt just remembers being embarrassed that she was so old and getting baptized like a baby.

4.       In Philadelphia, or upon meeting a fellow Philadelphian, it is common to ask, “What parish are you from?” rather than “What neighborhood are you from?”  The Catholic identity was so strong, and the parish boundary rules were so strict, that parishes and neighborhoods were one and the same.   I received the sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, and Confirmation in the same parish (Our Lady of Calvary).  While my parents and grandmothers also received the sacraments in the same parishes (St. Peter’s, Nativity B.V.M., and St. Adalbert’s), my brother and grandfathers did not.  My maternal grandmother can add to her list one more sacrament received at the same parish – Marriage.

5.       I never thought to ask my parents about their Confirmation names until writing this post.  In the Catholic tradition in the U.S., the candidate often adopts the name of a saint that they admire.  In my family, the confirmation names of my father, mother, brother, and me are John, Patricia, Richard, and Jamie.

6.       If it was not for the baptismal record of a collateral relative, I never would have found the birthplace of my Bavarian great-grandparents.  All other records including passenger lists and death records did not list the town from which the Bergmeister’s came.  It was only in looking for their children’s baptismal records that the town was identified; their oldest son’s record listed the town name!  This information may not always be included, but the fact that they attended a German-speaking Catholic church helped (St. Peter’s).

7.       According to Canon Law, a person’s baptismal register should also include annotations for their confirmation and marriage or holy orders.  I’m not sure when this rule was instituted – I’ve occasionally seen it in my ancestors’ records, but not always.  But I have a rather curious honor – I entered my confirmation date into my own baptismal record!  In 1981 my friend and I were helping out at school, and one of the tasks that Sister needed help with was the recording of confirmation data in the parish registers, including our class’s confirmation from 1979.  Since I was baptized in the same parish (my friend was not), I got to annotate my own baptismal record.  I don’t think too many folks can say they’ve done that one.

Down in adoration falling,

Lo! the sacred Host we hail,

Lo! o’er ancient forms departing

Newer rites of grace prevail;

Faith for all defects supplying,

Where the feeble senses fail.

~ Tantum Ergo5


1Faith of Our Fathers is a hymn with words by Frederick W. Faber, 1849 and the refrain (cited above) by James G. Walton, 1874.

2Get out your catechism, class!  If you forgot what all seven are (or if you are not Catholic), they are: Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.

3Palmieri, A. (1912). Archdiocese of Warsaw. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 30, 2010 from New Advent:

4Loughlin, J. (1911). Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 30, 2010 from New Advent:

5Tantum Ergo is a hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas written in 1264.

[Submitted for the 99th Carnival of Genealogy: Religious Rites]


Laboring Over the Details

…and detailing their labors

Recently I finally admitted defeat with my complete lack of organization of all things genealogical, so I’m on a crusade to rebuild my database from scratch and take care of some of those pesky little details like, oh, you know, source citations and whatnot.  In addition to documenting the sources I’ve used, I also wanted to make sure I document all of the details from documents that I may have previously neglected.

In light of this, I had a few minutes of my lunch hour to spare today so I decided to make sure I had some digital copies of certain records.  For no reason in particular, I decided to copy the U.S. World War II Draft Registration cards for my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, and his brother, Stephan.  I’ve had good luck in researching the Pater family – I know where and when they were born and can trace the family back a few generations.  But in looking at the draft cards, which undoubtedly I had already seen at some point in my research, I came upon the curious fact that in 1942 the brothers worked for the same company.

But that’s not the spooky part…

The Pater brothers worked for the Ardross Worsted Company.  The company name meant nothing to me.  But the address made my eyes widen in disbelief…it is about a half a mile from where I was sitting at my desk in work.  What are the odds of that?

Employer information from the World War II Draft Registration card for Stephan Pater. Source:

I knew the entire Pater family worked in the textile mills – not only in Philadelphia, but in the town in Poland from which they immigrated, Żyrardów.   But I assumed the factories were in the neighborhood in which they lived – which is not close to the neighborhood where I work (at least when you consider that they didn’t have a car).  This factory, which is no longer standing, was literally blocks from where I work.  In another coincidence, my career involves today’s shrinking U.S. textile industry, so in yet another way I am “connected” to my ancestors (and how I knew that a “worsted” company was a textile manufacturer).

Last January I wrote a post entitled Fun with Maps in Philadelphia in which I highlighted the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network.  This is a wonderful resource, and it allowed me to see my current work neighborhood through the eyes of my great-grandfather and his brother.  One of the available maps is a “Land Use Map” compiled by the Works Progress Administration in 1942 – the same year the Pater brothers registered for the “Old Man’s Draft.”  The map is available courtesy of the Map Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia, but the GeoHistory project provides it as an interactive map with an overlay for current map images.  Here is where the Ardross Company resided in 1942:

Location of Ardross Worsted Company, Philadelphia, in 1942.

Just when I think I have gleaned all the information I can from some particular document, I am surprised by some detail that I overlooked.  It was a pleasant surprise to find out that my great-grandfather and I worked in the same neighborhood sixty years apart!

Have you seen, virtually or in reality, the workplaces of your ancestors?  You might be surprised by what you find!

Genealogical Smackdown: Colonials vs Immigrants

I had to knock down a brick wall with my own hands to find my ancestors!

In this corner, weighing in with over 300 years of American roots, crossing the ocean on the Mayflower and other sailing vessels, we have the sons and daughters of the Revolution, the founders of the Republic, our COLONIAL ancestors!

In the opposing corner, coming to the ring in the late 19th and early 20th century, the tired, poor, and huddled masses of Ellis Island and other ports, emigrating from many different European countries, our IMMIGRANT ancestors!

Let’s get ready to RESEARCH!  Who will win the genealogical research match of the ages?

[Note to readers: Yes, I fully realize that the colonials were once immigrants, too, but just work with me on the analogy…]

Only a very small percentage of Americans can call themselves “native” to our great country; the rest of us are immigrants.  However, in the world of genealogical research, I have always pitted what I call the “true” immigrants – those who came late in the country’s history – against the colonial immigrants.  As the great-granddaughter of Europeans who immigrated in the first decade of the 20th century, all of my genealogical research has been strictly in the Immigrant camp.  In the early days of my research, as my fellow Immigrant-researching friend and I slogged through misspelled Polish names on census records and tried to decipher passenger arrival lists, we looked on with envy as her Colonial-descending husband went back six generations in the time it took us to find our eighty possible matches in a poorly spelled index.  My then-boyfriend, another Colonial, would search the internet and find instant cousins who could document the family tree back seven generations (to this day, I swear he is related to at least three Colonial genealogy bloggers).   While the Colonial guys did the genealogical happy dance together, we Immigrants would share a sympathetic look and charge on, sometimes for years, before going back one more generation.

Without any Colonial ancestors of my own to research, I never thought much about any pitfalls that Colonial researchers face.  All I saw from my Immigrant side of the fence were published record books and the English language.  Nor did I ever consider anything about Immigrant research to be “easy” even though the internet has speeded our searching considerably.

But, the grass is always greener on the other side.  Leave it to Randy Seaver to make me think.

Back in March, Randy of Genea-musings wrote a post called “Can you document all names back 10 generations?” based on a debate on another blog. 

In discussing European records (i.e. what I call Immigrant records) he commented “the civil records and the church records usually go back to the 1500s, unless there are major record losses in the country or provinces.”  In comparing to his own research on his New England ancestors (i.e. what I call Colonials), Randy points out that states did not have civil registration rules until the mid 1800s – “but there is not 100% coverage within a town or 100% coverage of all towns. That’s just the facts of genealogy life in the USA. We generally use military, church, land, probate and tax records to try to define our families and relationships before 1850.”

I have to admit – Randy has a point!  I thought of one of my “easier” Immigrant lines that I’ve researched.  Finding the immigrant’s hometown was the difficult part, but once I did, the town’s records are available on microfilm at the FHL.  Back to 1597.  Yes, 1597.  (On this line, I am “only” back to the late 1600s since the handwriting on the earlier records is hard to decipher.)

So were my original assumptions about Colonial research completely wrong?  Or did I just need to consider the subject objectively?  What I really wanted to know after all these years of genealogical research was:

Which “camp” has it easier when it comes to research?

Both Colonial and Immigrant research has some pros and cons.  For Colonials, researchers get to deal with the English language and there are many printed compilations and resources available.  But, even research of records written in English can be hampered by bad handwriting, and despite printed resources it may be hard to determine where to find them.  Rules on vital record registration varied from town to town, and there is no central repository for records.

In contract, Immigrant researchers may find that their ancestors’ hometowns have church records that go very far back, and thanks to Napoleon, most European countries required civil vital record registration beginning in 1808.  But, it is also common to find that a town’s records were destroyed in a war, and researchers have to learn some basics of foreign languages for effective research.

There really is no “winner” in this research match, because a lot of the research depends on luck…if only the town of your ancestor has records and if only you are able to access them, you can find another generation.  Instead of a boxing match in which one opponent needs to “knock out” another to win, perhaps a more appropriate representation of the Colonial vs. Immigrant research is that of a race.  From the starting line, the Colonial researcher is able to quickly sprint ahead several generations.  U.S. federal census records alone can often allow a new researcher to go back a few generations if their ancestors have been in the country for a long time.  But then the Colonial research might come to a halt or a much slower pace while record resources are sought after.

Meanwhile, the Immigrant researcher is barely out of the gate, plodding along trying to find clues to their ancestors’ hometowns in the old country.  With diligent research however, at some point the Immigrant researcher may actually go past a Colonial on the track if the hometown has readily available and accessible records.

In the end, who wins?  In genealogical research, there is no end unless you’ve reached the end of recorded history for your ancestors.  The bottom line is that whether you are researching COLONIALS or IMMIGRANTS or both, genealogical research is HARD WORK!

In truth, the counting back of generations isn’t necessarily the end goal, just part of the process of learning and finding out where our ancestors came from, how they lived, and who they were.  Who wins?  Both Colonial and Immigrant researchers!  Whether it’s a small tidbit find or knocking down the proverbial brick wall, it’s all fun if you’re a genealogist.  Get your boxing gloves on and get to work – put up a fight to find those ancestors!

Surname Saturday: DROGOWSKI


Meaning/Origin – The name DROGOWSKI (hear it pronounced in Polish) is derived from the Polish word drogi meaning “dear” .   (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Country of Origin – The surname DROGOWSKI is Polish.  According to the World Names Profiler, Poland has the highest frequency per million residents with this name at  4.12 per million.  The United States comes in a distant second at .56.

Spelling Variations –  Other names derived from the same root include DROGOŃ, DROGOŚ, AND DROGOSZ. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman) The feminine version of the surname is DROGOWSKA.

Surname Map – The following map illustrates the frequency of the DROGOWSKI surname in Poland.  The name is not very popular – there are only 158 individuals listed with the surname, and they can be found in 36 different counties and cities.  The large yellow area in the left center area of the map is where my Drogowski family comes from (Konin area).

Distribution of the DROGOWSKI surname in Poland.

SOURCE: “Mapa nazwisk” database,, accessed October 16, 2010.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – none that I have found.

My Family – My Drogowski family comes from the town of Wilczyn near Dobrosołowo in Poland. My earliest ancestor so far with this surname is Wojciech Drogowski, who was born in Wilczyn in 1773.  The line of descent is as follows: Wojciech (b. 1773, Wilczyn – d. unknown, married Maryanna née Przygodzka) > Jan (b. 14 June 1818, Wilczyn – d. 29 October 1896, Wilczyn, married Konstancja Kubicka) > Stanisława (b. 23 May 1860, Wilczyn – d. 30 December 1918, Dobrosołowo).  Stanisława married Wincenty ŚLESIŃSKI on 03 September 1879 in Wilczyn.  Their oldest daughter, Wacława Ślesiński (b. 14 Aug 1885, Dobrosołowo, Poland – d. 20 May 1956, Philadelphia, PA, USA), is my great-grandmother.  She immigrated to the United States in 1903 following her husband, Jozef ZAWODNY.

My Research Challenges – I found the 1818 birth record of Jan DROGOWSKI earlier this year when I visited the FHL in Salt Lake City.  I am very fortunate that the Catholic church records for the town of Wilczyn are microfilmed beginning in 1750.  From Jan’s birth record, I learned that his father Wojciech was 45 years old and from Wilczyn.  Therefore, I should be able to locate Wojciech’s birth around 1773 in the Wilczyn records and go back one more generation!   The Wilczyn films are at the top of my genea-to-do list.

Other Drogowski Researchers – Paul Kankula has a web site with research on his DROGOWSKI great-grandparents.  Some of the Drogowski families on his “Unknown Individuals” page were born in Wilczyn and immigrated to Pittsburgh, PA.  I will have to investigate to see if this Drogowski family are cousins to my Drogowski family.

Surname Message Boards – Ancestry has a Drogowski message board.  There are some Drogowski graves listed at Find A Grave here.

Links to all posts about my Drogowski family can be found here.

This post is #9 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

Vacation Lampoonery

The following article first appeared on June 27, 2009 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed.   footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.  I’m currently on hiatus writing this column for Shades, but I encourage you to visit the latest edition of the digital magazine (The Mourning Issue) for some excellent writing and photography!

When it comes to summer vacations, it helps to maintain a sense of humor. The same can certainly be said for vacation photos. On vacations in the pre-digital camera age, photographers were limited by the amount of money they had for film and developing. This resulted in a certain stinginess when it came to taking photos. If that one photo you took in front of Mt. Fuji was fuzzy, that was your only shot. Which explains why a lot of out-of-focus photos exist in my parents’ collection of photos. Or the family went away for an entire summer and you have three photos to show for it.

Today, we don’t have that problem, but the opposite…a glorious glut of photographs. It’s free, take another! We don’t have to print them all! After the vacation photo-taking blitzkrieg ends, you can be left with hundreds of photos from your two weeks away. If you have had to suffer, or rather ENDURE, with either a computer-generated slide-show or a phone-book size photo album of Aunt Suzie’s trip to the Blarney Stone, raise your hand! Better yet, if you are the one making your family suffer, raise BOTH hands!

Okay, I admit it – sometimes I take too many vacation photos, and quantity does not always mean quality. Over the years I have discovered that those textbook perfect landscapes of famous sights throughout the world are great if you want to make prints to frame and display. But if you really want to remember the FUN in vacation, find the humor of it! Everyone remembers to get a shot of the Eifel Tower, but do you have a photo to capture that moment when the rain nearly drowned your family, or the waiter dropped your lunch, or your teenager nearly feel asleep while standing up on your twelfth museum visit of the day?

Fun in the Louvre, Paris, France, 2007

I’ve seen several articles recently both online and in print all on the topic of summer vacation photos – how to take better photos, how to frame your shots, and other great suggestions. Here are a few non-serious tips on putting the humor back into your vacation photos.

Road Trips – If you’re cruising the highways this summer, be on the lookout for interesting signs.

Acadia National Park, Maine, 2001 – Hmm, what do they mean by that? I think I’ll look for another restroom.

Or maybe they only seem interesting because you can’t understand them.

Croatia, 2008 – At least this town has some vowels.

Cultural Outings – If city tours with lots of architectural and cultural sights are on your schedule, don’t forget to liven things up a little when too many museums have you feeling tired.

The Louvre Museum, Paris, France, 2007 – Thank God he didn’t get too authentic…

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Poland, 2001 – Even pilgrimages have their lighter moments!

Nature – Visits to national and state parks are always fun in the summer! Don’t forget to take some photos of people in addition to the beautiful vistas.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 1995 – It’s a rocky mountain indeed, but all that hiking makes you stronger!

Traveling with Children – With children in tow, it’s inevitable that boredom will strike – just as you’re about to take a photo. Don’t let a surly face spoil your fun times – encourage the kids to strike a pose instead!

Mystic, CT, 2000 – Strike a pose!

Mystic, CT, 2000 – A striking resemblance!

Remember, kids, capture the moment you’ll want to remember. For every place I’ve been, I can marvel at the history or beauty with the “usual” photos. But when I want to remember the fun I had, I pull out the Other Photo Album and have a good laugh.

The Name Game: Week 1

Welcome to the first edition of the Name Game at What’s Past is Prologue.  Names are integral to genealogy, and very quickly researchers discover that it really doesn’t matter whether the records are in English, Latin, Russian, Italian, or any other language – bad handwriting is bad handwriting! So, to help you sharpen your handwriting deciphering skills, each week I’ll pick a particularly ugly example for you to interpret.  Post your guesses in the comments – first one who gets it right wins! Wins what, you ask?  Uh, well, the bragging rights and the esteem of the genealogy blogging community, that’s what! I will post the game on Wednesday and edit the post the following weekend with the correct translation and source information for the record from which the name was excerpted.  Try your luck and impress us with your scribble-reading skills!

Week 1 Hint:  Maximilian II reigned in the time and place this record was written.

And the name is…?

Update 10/10/10 – Kreszenz Bergmeister

Kreszenz is a German female name – the Latin form is Crescentia.  This particular Kreszenz was born Kreszenz Zinsmeister on 01 April 1776.  She married a miller, Josef Bergmeister, on 30  November 1800.  The couple had 12 children – at least two lived to adulthood.  The name above comes from Kreszenz Bergmeister’s own death record, shown in full below (click on the image to see a larger view).  She died on 8 June 1852 in the town of Puch (Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern)  She died at the rather old age (for the time) of 75. Unfortunately, my own handwriting-deciphering skills don’t allow me to read or translate her cause of death, which is shown in the fifth column of the record.

The full record for the death of Kreszenz Bergmeister, who is shown on the third line. Source: Katholische Kirche Puch (BA. Pfaffenhofen). Kirchenbuch, 1612-1900. FHL Microfilm 1981574, Tote 1803-1888.

Page 2 of the record showing the date of death and burial, and the age of death.

Stay tuned next week for another edition of The Name Game and thanks to those who “played”!


Online Indexes and Flexible Spellings

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):

Mother's name in birth record for Fr. Xaver Fischer, born 06 October 1813 in Langenbruck, Bavaria. Source: Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen). Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888. FHL Microfilm 816428, Taufen 1736-1816.

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 parents' names on his 1839 marriage record. Source: Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen). Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888. FHL Microfilm 816429, Heiraten, Tote 1827-1872.

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.

Xaver's parents' names on his 1839 marriage record. Source: Katholische Kirche Fahlenbach (BA. Pfaffenhofen). Kirchenbuch, 1732-1888. FHL Microfilm 816429, Heiraten, Tote 1827-1872.

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!